Vikram, page 1part #1 of Barbarian Bodyguards Series
Table of Contents
A Barbarian Bodyguards Romance
Copyright © 2018 Isadora Hart
All Rights Reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and incidents described in this publication are used fictitiously, or are entirely fictional.
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Cassie peered out of the window at the media frenzy as Archie brought their little ship in to land.
Their corvette, built for just five people, was tiny compared to the yachts most of the politicians attending the conference had brought to the space station. "Maybe we won't have to deal with too many cameras," she said to Archie, who cut the engines on the ship.
"We want to deal with the cameras. We need media coverage just as much as the people we're standing against."
She knew it was true, but the media aspect was one aspect of being part of such a contentious charity that she wasn't looking forward to. She'd joined the Universal Rights Foundation to help people on the ground originally, but had been quickly ushered up the chain of command and was now the second to Archie, one of the faces of the foundation. She'd only been at the foundation for ten years and already she was being groomed as a negotiator, and attending the biggest conference on universal rights in years.
Archie stood up and stretched, peering out of the window again and straightening his tie. "I'll get them over here when we walk out," he decided. "Stop chewing your lip. We're confident, not worried. How you appear is the most important thing about this whole conference. Even if someone says something that completely destroys one of our arguments, you smile, say something back, and move on. You can never let someone know they've beaten you. Especially not when all you're doing is leaving your spaceship on the first day."
She chuckled, redoing the top button of her blouse she'd undone for comfort on the flight. "Okay. Straight face."
"Slightly bitchy straight face," he advised. "You're good at that one."
Archie had been her mentor for four years now, and they were close. She'd gone from not being sure she wanted to be out of the on-the-ground support at all to hanging off his every word. She’d loved being a medic in combat zones. It had been immediate validation that you were helping someone. But, he was so intelligent and passionate that she wanted to be just like him, to inspire the same hope and certainty that they were fighting for the right cause in everyone she spoke to.
"I think the bitch face is going to be a lot easier to keep on when we get into the conference. The moment I have to play polite with people advocating for torture it's going to be hell trying to smile."
Archie leaned against the console, watching a delegation leave one of the bigger ships to manic flashes of cameras. "We can't compete with the Agalaxian Crown Prince. We'll wait until he's gotten inside. And stop seeing them as people, and see them as potential boyfriends. You've got to woo them to your side, not batter them." Prince Qugrom was one of their biggest opponents at the conference. Agalax was a large, wealthy trade planet with seemingly infinite natural resources—they paid a lot of tax to the Intergalactic Union, and held a lot of sway.
Cassie pulled a face as she watched the scaled, reptilian body of Prince Qugrom as he spoke to the camera. He was flanked by two bodyguards. "That's going to be a tough one." Archie clapped her on the shoulder, and she frowned. "If you're about to make a comment on how I'm in dire need of a boyfriend and I shouldn't be picky, don't bother."
He held up his hands. "I'd never say such a thing."
"Yeah, sure you wouldn't." It was true that she'd not had a relationship the entire time she'd been working at the foundation, but she didn't have time to juggle work and a boyfriend, and work was infinitely more important. She'd deal with the fact she wanted a family at some point in the future. She still had a good few years left in her.
The prince finally made his way through the glass door and into the space station's main building, leaving the media hungry to film the next arrival. "This is our time," Archie said. "You've got your memory card?"
She felt the pouch she'd sewed into the inside of all her bras. The small piece of plastic and metal sat there, completely unseen to anyone who looked at her. "I've got it."
Archie hummed. "You're right, you don't need a boyfriend if that's where you're keeping our trump card."
"I like to think security aren't going be patting my under boob during my search. I don't want to know where you're keeping yours."
"With these men, I wouldn't be surprised," he muttered. "You know how the Union is." He shook his head. "Anyway. We need to get out there. Miranda!" he called. "We're about to leave."
Miranda was the assistant they'd brought with them to help with research and clerical issues. She trotted out of her bedroom with a grin on her face. "Ready!" She was quite a bit younger than Cassie, and always walked with a spring in her step, despite everything she'd seen on the ground.
Archie looked from the window one last time. "Okay," he said. "Let's do this."
They stood in formation behind the door of the corvette. Archie was in front, naturally, his back straight and his head held high. Cassie stood just behind and to his right, hands folded politely in her lap and her lips curled in indifference. Miranda was behind her, eyes downcast and disengaging from all the attention. She was just an aide, and the media wouldn't be interested in her. She needed to fade into the background.
Archie pressed a button and the side of the corvette opened and lowered, creating a ramp for them to walk down on. Archie stayed still for a moment, giving the journalists a chance to get over to their ship and take photos and video of their disembarking.
It was nothing like the frenzy Prince Qugrom had received, but a good semi-circle of cameras surrounded them, lights flashing.
Archie walked down the ramp, and Cassie foll
She was enamored.
But her bitch face remained until she could escape later and wander around the building, admiring it at her own discretion.
They stopped in front of the cluster of microphones the journalists held out. Archie had been rehearsing his speech on the entire two-day journey to the Union. "This week we have the power to prevent further injustices to minorities in the Union." His voice was clear and crisp, passionate but controlled. No one could argue that he was just in his position for the money—he truly believed what he was saying. "For too long the Intergalactic Union has allowed unspeakable acts of torture to go unpunished—"
Four gunshots rang out in the crowd, and all hell broke loose.
Archie collapsed to the ground, his mouth still open on the last word of his speech, blood flowing from his lips. Cassie stared, wide-eyed, reactions delayed as the light in Archie's eyes dimmed. He couldn't even focus on her, just stared at the roof.
Before she could drop to her knees and hold him, she was faced with the barrel of a laser pistol. Lilac eyes met hers, and she froze. Her brain screamed to run, but it would make no difference.
She flinched when a gun sounded, but it wasn't the one pointed in her face. What must have been a dozen followed it, all into the body of the assassin. She ignored him, though, and finally dropped to the floor beside Archie, taking his hand in hers and pressing the other to the side of his face. The wound was through his neck, and that he'd even held on this long to squeeze her hand was a miracle.
He wasn't going to make it.
"Archie," she whispered, voice choked. "Archie, you're okay."
He moved his eyes slowly to her, and they were laughing behind the pain. He opened his mouth but no words came out. She knew he was saying "You're a terrible liar," in his mind.
"You'll be all right." She was a terrible liar to herself, too. "Everything is going to be okay."
"You'll be okay," he croaked, his whisper barely audible over the clamor going on around them. "You'll win."
The pressure on her hand slipped away, and his head lolled against her knee. Blood seeped from his wound onto the floor around them, covering her pants.
It was in a small moment of clarity that she began patting down his body, as subtly as possible in the face of the cameras, to try and find where he'd hidden his memory card. It must have been in there somewhere. He wouldn't have kept it hidden where he couldn't protect it.
Someone pulled her away too early, though, and immediately his body was crowded by people, stopping her being able to see him. Several microphones were pushed in her face. "Who do you think it was?" someone demanded.
"Do you have a few words?"
"Will the conference go on?"
Endless questions were thrown at her, and the bitch face wasn't difficult to conjure now. "No comment," she said, cold, turning away from the hungry journalists who were eager to snap pictures of her grief; of Archie dead on the ground and the man who'd killed him lying dead just a few feet away.
Miranda was watching the scene play out from the sidelines with wide eyes, clutching her binder with white knuckles. Cassie went to her, and wrapped the aide in a hug. She wasn't sure if it was for her benefit or Miranda's, but it felt right, so she did it.
"I'm so sorry you had to see that," she whispered, keeping her voice low and away from prying ears. "No one should have to see that." No one at the foundation was unfamiliar with death. They'd all been on the ground during war zones, during State executions. They'd seen victims of torture and sexual violence reliving their stories in court and in interviews.
But she knew Archie. Archie had been her friend. Her best friend. The only person in the world she truly looked up to.
And she'd just seen him murdered in cold blood.
She didn't know how to cope.
"Let's get out of here," she decided, releasing Miranda and squeezing her upper arms. The aide's eyes were red-ringed, and Cassie's shoulder was wet from being cried on.
She gave the scene one last look, and wondered whether she should make a statement now. She should be the first one to speak to the press about Archie, shouldn't she? She should tell them what a brilliant person he'd been, how he was the last person in the universe who should be attacked.
She wanted everyone to know. She didn't want to hear speculation on what he might have done wrong, or whether he'd done something to deserve it.
One look at the hungry press told her she needed to wait, though. She wouldn't be able to hold herself back from telling them how disgusting she thought it was that they were profiting off people's grief right now. "Let's go," she repeated, turning away and going to one of the guards who was securing the glass doors through to the main building. "Can we leave?" she asked. "I can't stay in here any longer, with all that going on. It's too much right now."
He looked around, but then nodded. "Of course." It wasn't like there was anywhere she could hide or leave once within the headquarters. The hangar was the only way out. Teleportation was disabled on the space station. "Speak to someone at reception and they'll give you your room key. The police will want to speak to you soon."
She did as he'd said. Miranda trailed after her, head down and her gaze on the floor.
The architecture barely registered as Cassie walked. She'd been so excited to see the old marble statues, the famous fountain in the lobby. Union headquarters was as much a museum as a parliament building. It was a blur now, though. Everywhere she looked all she could see was the red of Archie’s blood, was the laugh Archie had given her before they left the corvette, the encouragement he'd given her for years.
He'd even been encouraging her on his deathbed.
She wanted desperately to drop out of the conference. To retire to her small apartment back on Luseck Six and grieve properly.
The memory card in her bra was like a dead weight, though. If they missed this chance it might never come up again. They were the only three people in the world who had this information.
She planned to do exactly what Archie had told her to with it.
She planned to win.
Cassie threw herself into action when she was back in her room. She walked Miranda to her room, gave her another hug, and told the aide to buzz her if she needed anything, even if it was just to talk.
Then she retired to her own room and made a list of things she needed to do before she collapsed onto her bed and cried.
She needed to write a speech for the press, about Archie's life and about how she was going to stay at the conference as lead diplomat in honor of his memory.
She needed to get his memory card back, somehow. If someone got hold of it before she had the right moment to use the information it might all blow up in her face.
She needed to get herself some protection.
The assassin had pointed the barrel of the gun in her face, and the eyes that had watched her hadn't been unsure. They were cold and detached as they prepared to pull the trigger.
She was sure she'd been a target, too.
And so she needed someone to have her back.
She looked at her bed, tempted to sit down to make the necessary call to her director, but was worried she'd never get up again. She sat cross-legged in front of the floor length window at the edge of the room, instead. She was back in the new quarters of the space station: her room was absent of stone, and included every modern convenience she could think of. The glass didn't have curtains, it had a button to tint it to darkness when she wanted to sleep.
From here she could see plenty of things on the station below her, thou
Just before she was about to press the call button to the director, she saw the stretcher carrying Archie's body being brought across the courtyard. They'd covered him, but she could see his outline beneath the black plastic—see his hooked nose and the outline of his wedding ring where his hands were crossed over his chest.
Tears stung in her eyes, and she pushed them back. Crying was for later, when she'd done everything she could to make sure she was prepared.
She was a professional first and foremost.
Everything else was secondary.
She waited until he'd been taken to an elevator and out of sight before turning and leaning her back to the glass instead. It was only distracting her. Then she pressed the call button.
The director's PA answered. "Jensen Lassen's office, how can I help?"
"Dala, it's me. Cassandra. I need to speak to the director. Have you heard yet?"
She could picture Dala's frown. The older woman had seen a lot of shit over the years, and she knew how to read when something was wrong. "What's going on?"
"Put the news on. Any station will do."
There was a pause, and then a gasp. "Oh my Lord," Dala breathed, her voice catching. "It's really true? Archie?" There was another gasp. "How can they be allowed to play the footage like that? Oh, no. No. No. This is not okay."
"Dala," Cassie tried to soothe, though it came out as more of a bark. "I need to speak to the director."
"Of course! He's on a phone call, but I'll make him hang up. He's going to be devastated. Oh, Archie. He never deserved this."
Cassie's chest felt hollow, and she dug her nails into her palm to stop her bursting into tears. She just needed some time alone, to get it all out. To scream and punch and cry until she was worn out and could deal with people without flying off the handle. But she didn't have that time.
ISADORA HART SERIES:
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