Authors: Connie Suttle
"I can't do anything for anybody until I feel better," I wheezed. Just wiggling out of pajamas with help from Trajan wore me out.
"You think we don't know that?" Bill swirled a hand in the bathwater, then stepped back so Trajan could place me in the tub. "Kevis and Karzac would punch all of us if we tried to push you too hard. Hell, I'd kick my own ass if I did something that stupid."
"I'll push you some, but I'll take care of you, too," Trajan grinned and
a mesh sponge and a bottle of liquid soap into his hands.
"Somebody's way more talented now than he was the last time I saw him," I pointed out.
"Yeah. Ashe happened," Trajan nodded. "We're gonna get you clean, so just relax and enjoy," he said.
* * *
After my bath and a considered decision on how to dress me (I ended up in fleece pants, a T and a matching fleece jacket), I was folded into the massive dining room at SouthStar. Bill and Trajan had that talent, now, but Trajan did the honors. Both settled me on a chair between them, while people, already seated, watched. Was I embarrassed?
"I suppose you're all wondering why I called this meeting," my voice wobbled on the much-used joke. Drake and Drew snickered. Well, at least I didn't feel horribly uncomfortable around them.
"How are Travis and Trent?" I asked Lissa's Falchani mates.
"Getting in trouble on Falchan," Drake grinned.
"You talked about our kids?" Lissa blinked at Drake.
"She knew, just from looking at us," Drew nodded in my direction. "So we talked about them for a little bit when we moved her out of that closet office she had and into yours, after they made her look like you."
"That's when I didn't know how to shield, so I was forced to read everybody," I said, staring at my plate.
"How did you learn how to shield?" Ashe asked. He accepted a plate of food from a servant and nodded his thanks.
"From Kalenegar," I said. "Do you know who he is? I still want to kick his ass. He thought the best way to correct my behavior and inability to learn was to give me severe headaches."
"Larentii have not used that method of training in a very long while," Graegar said softly. "And he regrets those things, now." Several Larentii sat at the table—all of them together, and they'd altered their bodies so they'd fit with the rest of us on the chairs provided.
"He can't say that to me himself?" A bowl of soup was set in front of me, while everyone else was served a regular meal.
"He worries that you may be unwilling to listen."
"He may have to wait awhile, until I feel more charitable toward him. And a little stronger," I added.
"I have a question," Winkler said.
"I hope I can answer," I replied.
"What happened to Erithia Cordan's casino?"
"Ah. Well. That." My shoulders drooped. "I blew it up." Drake and Drew chuckled at my admission.
"Why?" Lissa asked, holding back a smile.
"Because Erithia Cordan wasn't dead," I said. "She was Sirenali, and she's the one who placed the obsession on Cheedas to kill you. She also had a lot of other people obsessed to kill, too. Ildevar was a target. Teeg was a target. She had her scaly claws in lots of people. Most of them were in her casino when I chased everybody else out and blew it up."
"She wasn't dead? Rathik didn't kill her?" Gavin stared at me in surprise.
"No. She set somebody else up to be killed in her place. Somebody surgically enhanced to look like her. Rathik was her lapdog. He'd never lay a hand on her unless she told him to."
"You were doing this investigation while you lived at the palace?" Rigo asked.
"Yeah. I sent a message to Kooper, telling him that Erithia was still alive. I don't know whether he ignored it, didn't get it or had already forgotten about me by that time. Either way, there was no response, Erithia was still plotting murder and nobody was willing to listen to me. What else was I supposed to do?"
Gavin cursed softly in Italian at my explanation. Lissa frowned at him. I could tell she was having a mental conversation with my sire, but I didn't want to guess what it might be.
"Was this the only Sirenali you destroyed?" Pheligar asked.
"No. I killed another one on Bexari," I said. "He was Erithia's brother. Hank killed one in San Francisco, but there were four others working with that one," I said. "I really need to go hunt them down."
"Breanne, you're not going anywhere until you recover," Kevis pointed out.
"Kevis, I can't walk from here to the door without feeling faint. What makes you think I could go anywhere right now?"
"Are we sparring?" Kevis grinned mischievously.
"If that's what you want to call it," I shrugged uncomfortably. Everybody was watching me again, and I felt as if I were the only fish in a fishbowl, surrounded by children who were all tapping on the glass.
"Dearest, Kevis only means to keep you from harming yourself," Graegar pointed out.
"Eat, now. Your food is getting cold. We will speak of other things later."
I was tired when I dipped into my soup, although the soup was good. Someone knew how to make miso soup with seaweed and small chunks of tofu, so I almost emptied the small bowl placed in front of me.
* * *
Breanne almost passed out after eating, so Trajan put her back in bed. Graegar and Barrigar went with him. Surprisingly, all three reptanoids followed.
"Ashe," I said, while setting my fork down with a sigh.
"Lissa?" The Mighty Hand gazed at me from across the table.
"Can you remove compulsion?"
"Ye-es," he said cautiously.
"Good. Will you come with me after dinner? There are three instances of compulsion that need to be removed, with no trace left behind."
"That may be a little harder, but I think I can do that," Ashe nodded.
"Great. Thank you. I'll explain on the way."
"I'd appreciate that." Ashe went back to his chateaubriand with a nod.
* * *
"Kooper, this is Ashe." Ashe and I walked into the office Kooper kept inside my palace.
Kooper looked up from the comp-vid in his hand, a puzzled expression on his face. "Lissa? I thought you were off-planet for the evening."
"We made an unplanned trip back. I found out how Erithia Cordan's casino was destroyed," I began. Ashe moved carefully behind me, and I knew he was gathering energy to do what needed to be done.
"How?" Kooper's interest was immediate. "Trevor and I have been trying to solve that conundrum for a while."
"The compulsion is removed," Ashe stepped forward, his eyes darkened and filled with stars. "You will not recall it or who placed it," he added compulsion of his own.
Kooper blinked for a moment, before his eyes focused on me again. "How?" he repeated his question.
"Breanne destroyed it," I explained, almost holding my breath. Would he remember her now?
"Bree?" Kooper stood almost faster than I could follow the movement. "Where is she? Is she all right? I want to talk to her. Now."
"Kooper, we need to talk," I said, gesturing for him to sit down again. "But there are two more we need to talk with at the same time. Ashe, will you get Trevor and Stellan for me?" I turned to Ashe, who nodded silently and disappeared.
"Is Breanne all right?" Kooper repeated. He was worried. Terrified, actually. He loved her, there was no doubt, and I silently wept for him, Trevor, Stellan and my son.
* * *
"She was wounded?" Stellan looked as if he wanted to rip something or someone apart.
I didn't tell him she'd died. Somehow, the Larentii had managed to heal her body and hold it in stasis while waiting for her to return to it. Ashe had gone home, leaving explanations to me.
"She was wounded. Severely," I acknowledged.
"Lissa, what is her condition?" Trevor had remained silent for the most part, but I could tell he was seething; he just wasn't exhibiting outward signs.
"She is very weak. The Larentii helped heal her body, but the damage took a toll. She was only awake for around two hours today. We're hoping she's better tomorrow."
"I never received a message from her," Kooper had gone through his comp-vid twice, searching. There'd been nothing. I knew Gavin had deleted it, but all three who sat in front of me in my study were upset that they'd gotten nothing from Breanne for months. I'd explained that she'd attempted a message to Kooper.
"Gavin, as you know, prevented contact," I began. "But that has since been rescinded."
"I hope Gavin has been reprimanded," Stellan hissed.
"Gavin is sorry for his behavior," I explained. "He was affected—as were others—by something beyond his control. He admits he mistreated Breanne, and hopes for a better relationship now."
"Has someone else taken over her education? What about Casimir? I heard she was engaged to him—without her consent." Trevor wasn't just seething—he was about to reveal claws and fangs. That wasn't a good thing.
"Trevor, that engagement was a sham and I recognized it as such. That has also been rescinded. Breanne is free to choose her own mates. As for her education, let's say that it has been completed. If Breanne needs further instruction, Adam Chessman or I will supply it."
"I'm satisfied with Chessman," Trevor leaned back in his chair. He knew, just as I did, that my education had never been completed, either. In his vampire opinion, anyway.
"Look, I may be able to get you to SouthStar tomorrow to see her," I said.
"I don't want to see her. I want to stay with her. Protect her while she's down," Kooper said. "I have plenty of time, and frankly, Norian owes me—and Breanne."
"I have time as well," Trevor said.
"I'm taking off, whether Teeg says it's all right or not," Stellan added.
"He'll agree," I nodded at Stellan.
"Yeah. He's been a lot better lately. More approachable. No idea what changed, but I don't think it'll be a problem."
"He and Breanne are friends now, I think," I said. "He won't mistreat her, I know that much. He owes her too much."
"Definitely," Stellan agreed. "Where should we meet tomorrow? I'll have my bags packed and ready to go."
"Meet me here; I'll have to tell the people at SouthStar you're coming."
* * *
"There's enough room," Ashe raked fingers through his hair when I broke the news to him. "And I probably owe her that. I just don't want to scare Kay, if she happens to see them in the house."
"Why don't you go ahead and ask Breanne to read her, so you'll know what you're dealing with?" I suggested.
"Yeah. I guess we could do that, and maybe it'll help Kevis. It might be better if Bill or Trajan asks her," Ashe sighed.
"True. She cares for both of them," I agreed. "If she needs anything, let me know. Gavin has placed money in an account for her."
"Lissa, I can handle anything Breanne might need, as can Trajan and Bill," Ashe replied with a smile. "Tell Gavin to invest for Breanne, so she'll be taken care of in the future."
"I'll see to it," I said. "Will Trajan come to Le-Ath Veronis tomorrow?"
"He'll be there," Ashe nodded.
* * *
Something tickled my chin, waking me to sunlight shining through a bedroom window. The suite I'd been given at SouthStar was quite large, as it turned out, with a separate sitting area, a vidscreen, the huge bath I'd seen the day before and an enormous closet space with an island in the center, which held drawers and storage spaces all around.
Someone had also provided clothing, and I had no idea who that was. My chin was tickled again as I stared at the sunlight filtering through wide, pale wood blinds, made from a tree that only grew on a few worlds.
Lifting a hand to my chin, I immediately understood the source of the tickling. "How did you get here?" A friendly lion snake blinked at me as I touched the top of his head. Two more snakes popped up around me, bringing the total count to three lion snakes. They all blinked hopefully at me, as if they expected something.
"Hey," I stroked the head of the first one gently. No, these weren't as long or as broad as the friendly snake on Le-Ath Veronis, but I had the idea he was an anomaly and they weren't normally that big.
Eventually, all three snakes curled about me while I petted them with both hands. They seemed to enjoy that immensely, and blinked pitifully if I pulled my hands away for any reason.
All three lifted their heads when Bill walked in. They didn't hiss at him, which meant they recognized and liked Bill.
"Time for breakfast," Bill announced. "Want to help get her dressed?" he spoke directly to the snakes.
"We help." I gasped when the first one changed to humanoid. These were lion snake shapeshifters—I just hadn't thought to read any of them. The other two changed, then, and my bed was suddenly crowded.