Iced, p.4

Iced, page 4

 part  #10 of  Valos of Sonhadra Series



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  He frowned. His lips moved against my palm as he tried to say something else. I tightened my hold on his mouth.

  “No!” I said, pointing a menacing finger at him.

  We held each other’s gaze for what felt like an eternity, then I felt his lips stretch into a smile beneath my palm. It tickled and lit a fire in my belly. How the hell could I be getting turned on by such an annoying man?

  I slowly lifted my hand away from his face, still shocked by my boldness. His heartstone glowed, and his lips twitched. The minute I stepped away to go check on the meat, he started talking again. Aggravated, I pulled the meat off the heating plate, turned around, and ordered him out of the kitchen. Visibly fighting the urge to laugh, he gathered the carcass of the rikshu.

  I watched in fascination as he waved his open palm over the blood covering the table. It solidified into a frosted layer. He waved his hand over it again and, this time, the frozen blood folded into a solid roll, leaving the table pristine. Duke picked up the bloody roll and walked out of the kitchen without a fuss.

  Torn between aggravation and awe I sighed, then turned back to the stove to finish cooking my meal. The delectable aroma made my stomach growl and my mouth water. I cast a glance toward the closed kitchen door and almost felt guilty. He’d been kind and protective with me, and I wouldn’t have minded some company during my meal, but damn the man, he would try the patience of a saint. Worse still, he seemed to be doing it on purpose. Was that the Northern Valos sense of humor?

  I climbed onto one of the too-high chairs and settled down to eat. The flavor of the meat on my tongue all but gave my taste buds an orgasm. My irritation with Duke melted like so much snow under a tropical sun. Even without condiments, the fat of the meat had given it its own seasoning while keeping it tender and juicy. It almost tasted like beef but with a slightly gamey undertone like deer or boar meat.

  In my hunger, I pretty much inhaled the first steak. Having taken the edge off, I took my sweet time savoring the second one, forcing the last bites down into my overfull belly. Despite that, I still licked my fingers and considered licking off the plate.

  My mama taught me better than that.

  A flash of pain stabbed at my heart at the thought of my mother. I’d done rather well in the past few months, keeping my family out of my mind. Two years into my life sentence, locked up in a space penitentiary over a stupid mistake, would do that to anyone. We Lindbergs were a tight-knit bunch, and I’d fucked it all up.

  Chasing the somber thoughts away, I picked up my plate and cleaned up after myself. Stomach full to bursting, the trials of the day finally caught up with me. Intense weariness crashed over me. I trudged groggily to the bathroom to wash my hands and face.

  As soon as I exited the kitchen, my eyes zeroed in on Duke’s muscular frame looming over what looked like a massive slab of ice which he used as a table. From where I stood, he appeared to be cleaning the bones of the rikshu, its pelt waiting for its turn on the far corner of the table. By the reverence with which he had carved all the edible parts of the animal and put them away in the cooling units, I realized Duke—if not his people as a whole—didn’t believe in waste or dishonoring prey. He would make use of every part of Zak’s kill.

  As it should be.

  Duke watched me go to the bathroom. Although he remained silent, I could feel the weight of his stare following me. When I returned and stopped at the top of the three steps leading down into the main area, he paused and faced me. He wouldn’t understand my words, but letting him know I was going to bed felt like the least of courtesies.

  I tapped my chest, pointed at the kitchen, then placed my joined palms against my cheek, and closed my eyes in the universal symbol for sleep. Seeing as the Fire Valos didn’t sleep, chances were Duke didn’t, either, so I couldn’t be certain he would understand. Yet, he nodded in understanding and turned back to his task.

  For some reason, that stung.

  Feeling dismissed, I turned on my heels and headed for the wide bench across from the dining table. I nearly moaned with pleasure at the softness of the cushion. After five days sleeping on the ground during our trip from Caldera, the creature comfort felt heavenly. Dreamland swallowed me even before my head touched one of the two red pillows.

  JONAH, THE SICK SON of a bitch that served as a guard on the Concord, led me from my cell to a section I had never seen before but had heard plenty about. The bastard seized every opportunity to cop a feel. Any form of disobedience, even merely giving him lip, would be an excuse for him to use his shock baton. If you happened to be a female, and even remotely attractive, chances are you’d get dragged away to be ‘disciplined’ for your misbehavior.

  Although I knew better than to challenge him, as we entered the Science and Research area of the ship, I wanted nothing more than to turn tail and run back to my cell. Yet, I kept my mouth shut and forced one foot in front of the other. We passed two large operating theaters and a series of isolation cells for ‘special’ inmates. Imagining why those prisoners needed to be quarantined from the general population made me shudder.

  We stopped in front of an unremarkable door. Jonah knocked then opened the door when a feminine voice bid us come in. I walked in behind him and froze where I stood once I saw who occupied the desk of the small, impersonal medical office.

  “Ah, there you are,” said Dr. Edith Sobin.

  She didn’t acknowledge Jonah, her horsey face turned towards me. A pleased, smug smile danced on her near non-existent lips.

  “Small world, isn’t it, that we should meet again all the way up in the stars?” she asked, gesturing with a hand for me to sit in the chair across from her desk.

  Eyeing Jonah’s pudgy face warily, I circled around the chair and did as Sobin bid me. He pulled the shackles from his belt, no doubt to bind me to the chair, but the doctor waved him off. Although grateful, I stayed silent and kept my expression as neutral as possible under the circumstances.

  “No need for that,” Sobin said. “Kira is no hardened criminal. We are among civilized people. Aren’t we, Ms. Lindberg?”

  I shuddered at the cold, calculated way she spoke the words but nodded, nonetheless.

  She flipped the pages of a folder on the desk before her. “That was a rather harsh sentence they gave you for your boyfriend’s mistake.”

  “He wasn’t my boyfriend,” I replied, instinctively. When she raised a dubious eyebrow at me, I continued, “James and I had broken up almost a year ago, specifically because of his drinking. Since we remained on good terms, people assumed we were still together.”

  “You break up over his drinking, then you not only allow him to perform surgery while under the influence, you assist him!”

  “He... he had assured me he was fine.”

  And he had been. Legally, his alcohol level had been just over the acceptable threshold to be allowed to drive. But in our field, you weren’t allowed even a single drop. I knew James enough to know it wouldn’t affect his performance. And although I knew it was wrong, I couldn’t say no when he begged me not to tell on him and to let him operate.

  “The patient died,” Sobin said, her tone icy.

  And not just any patient. The son of an influential politician.

  “He would have died anyway,” I countered, not that it mattered. “The boy would have died regardless. James made no mistake. His procedure was executed flawlessly.”

  Why the hell was I even arguing? I admitted freely that I had been criminally negligent in allowing James to perform surgery, but Sobin rubbed me the wrong way.

  “Be that as it may, you made the wrong choice, at the wrong time, and with the wrong patient,” Sobin said with a shrug.

  And the bereaved family wanted someone to blame and threw everything at us to make sure we got the maximum sentence. What should have been losing our license to practice and a few years in prison, with early parole for good behavior, became a life sentence on the prison for the worst criminals on Earth.

  She leaned
back in her chair and gave me an assessing glance. “A few months before your fall from grace, you had interviewed with me for a position as surgical nurse, then declined my offer. Why did you? And don’t give me the same BS about not wanting to part from your family. The truth!”

  I squirmed on my chair beneath the cold intensity of her stare.

  “The nature of the procedures you were performing made me uncomfortable.”

  That was the understatement of the year. What Sobin did qualified more as unethical and immoral than James’ actions or my poor judgment. For years, she’d been hailed as a scientific mastermind, her genetic research deemed among the most revolutionary of our time. After numerous awards, rumors began circulating about her questionable practices on human subjects, often without their consent. When I first heard of a position with the illustrious Dr. Sobin, I jumped at the opportunity... until she gave me a glimpse of her work under the gag of a rock-solid NDA.

  A horrible thought crossed my mind.

  “Did you have something to do with this? Did you set me up to be sent up here?” I asked, horrified.

  Sobin huffed, “Get over yourself, dear. You were a good nurse, but certainly not worth that kind of scheming and plotting. Providence put you back in my path.”

  The rebuke stung, but I actually believed her.

  “So why am I here? You wish me to reconsider?” I asked.

  She scoffed, “Oh no, dear. That ship has sailed. Maybe it will come back around, someday. I have no need of you as a nurse, right now. I’ve got a new recruit called Lucie who is quite capable. No, you, my dear, will help me with my research after all. See, you happen to have some genetic traits I’d been looking for.”

  I stared in disbelief while she explained how I would prove the perfect subject for her cryogenic research for a secret branch of the military. Once she completed her experiments, I would be able to lower my body temperature far below zero, freeze objects in seconds with a mere touch, even create ice and snow by manipulating the moisture in the air.

  She droned on and on about the technicalities of the procedure. With each word, her voice deepened and her words slurred until they became incomprehensible. Foreign. Alien.

  My eyes snapped open as I brutally emerged from my dream. I raised my head from the pillow to find Duke, sitting at the table, cleaning the pelt of the rikshu... and talking.

  “Are you fucking kidding me?!” I exclaimed.

  Heartstone flaring, Duke startled and jerked his head towards me. He stopped talking, mid-sentence and gaped at me, eyes wide.

  “What the fuck is wrong with you?” I asked, sitting up on my makeshift bed. “Are you insane? I’m trying to sleep and you creep in here to run your damn mouth again? GET OUT!”

  I pointed at the door, breathing heavily in anger. Duke rose to his feet, a frown marring his forehead.


  “DON’T KIRA ME! I don’t want to hear it,” I yelled, slapping my hands over my ears. “Get out, you freak! GET OUT!”

  I got up and pointed at the door again. Duke tightened his jaw, looking mightily annoyed.

  Where the hell does he get off being annoyed!

  When he failed to leave, I gestured for him to get a move on and repeated, “Out, I said!”

  Duke sucked in air through his teeth with aggravation, grabbed his fur tanning paraphernalia, and marched out of the room.

  “And stay out!”

  He gave me an angry look over his shoulder and went to the ice table to work.

  The kitchen door closed in front of me, and I stared at it for a minute, still reeling over what had just happened. Dragging my feet back to the bench, I let myself drop on top of it, feeling every possible shade of freaked out. What had started out as an irritating behavior had dove, head first, into super-creepy territory. What was that about, anyway? If I were superstitious, I’d think he was trying to brainwash me or cast some funky spell on me.

  Needless to say, it took me forever to fall asleep again, the slightest sound making me jump. At some point, exhaustion got the best of me, and I zonked out again. Somehow, it didn’t turn into the fitful, restless sleep that should have resulted from that creeptastic experience. I emerged from my slumber feeling refreshed, if still a little sore from my belly slide.

  When I opened my eyes, it took me a moment to figure out what looked off in my surroundings. The uncomfortable, giant-tailored dining table had pulled a shapeshifting act and been scaled down to human size. Duke stood like a statue by the door, so still that I wondered if he had shutdown somehow. He stared straight ahead, the glow from both his eyes and heartstone fairly dim. As soon as I sat up, his head turned toward me and he gave me a thin smile.

  I smiled back, feeling awkward and shy. “Hi.”

  “Hi,” he said back.

  I rose to my feet and crossed the few steps to the table. He watched me quietly, looking a smidge tense as I examined his work. It was the perfect height, and the legs looked so polished you couldn’t even tell he had modified the original, taller version. The chair slid almost soundlessly on the floor as I pulled it out to sit down facing him.

  Absolute perfection.

  Looking up, I stared at him in awe and gratitude.

  “Thank you,” I said. “It’s wonderful and so thoughtful of you.”

  Especially considering how I had yelled at him last night. Then again, maybe that was his attempt to make a mea culpa for his freakish behavior. As he likely hadn’t understood my words, I pondered on how to express my thanks in a way he would understand, but he didn’t give me the chance.

  “I am glad it pleases you,” Duke said, with a satisfied smile. “You will be more at ease to eat now.”

  “Yes, definit...”

  I paused, my jaw dropping.

  His smile broadened, taking on a smug edge.

  “I understood everything you said, and you understand me!” I exclaimed, flabbergasted.

  “Of course you do,” Duke said with a shrug. “I taught your translation device my language, despite how difficult you made it. Now, you can speak my language.”

  I blinked in confusion. “You taught my device...?”

  My voice trailed off as I thought back on the events of the previous day. I obviously knew that my translation device could learn languages, but human ones. Never in a million years would I have imagined it could learn alien ones, too. Our grammar and syntax had to be far too radically different for the computer to figure it out. Lucie and Amber had both learned the Fire Valos’ language. As they were romantically involved with multiple valos partners—the Fire Valos mated in triads—it made sense they would learn how to communicate.

  I fingered the implant behind my ear, realizing that Duke’s never-ending babbling had been to train my device.

  He was trying to help us, but I yelled at him and called him a freak.

  My face burned with embarrassment. With my pale complexion, it had to be somewhere between lobster and crimson red. He tilted his head to the side, his eyes glowing brighter, and his crystalline eyebrows twitching.

  “Right... I didn’t know. You should have told me what you were doing. You were starting to scare me.”

  “When I tried to explain, you kicked me out,” he teased.

  I squirmed uncomfortably on my chair.

  “Sorry,” I mumbled.

  He smiled. “No need to be. Thankfully, it is done now. I was out of ideas of what to talk about.”

  Duke’s obvious attempt at putting me at ease only made me feel guiltier. He could have rubbed it in and made me grovel for forgiveness. I was beginning to suspect that beneath his big-and-badass exterior, Duke might actually be a fluffy teddy bear.

  “So, hmm, how long did it take?”

  He shrugged. “About seven or eight hours. With Lydia, it had only taken four hours, but she had been open and willing.”

  My jaw dropped, and I ignored the little jab about Lydia, whoever she was. By my calculation, he had talked maybe a little over a couple of ho
urs while I was awake. I hadn’t been asleep for five hours by the time I woke up from my ‘nightmare’ on the Concord and found him talking to me. My eyes narrowed at him.

  “Did you come back to talk to me again after I chased you out last night?”

  He sucked in his plump bottom lip and scratched his belly, just below his navel, looking slightly embarrassed.

  “Yes,” he reluctantly admitted.

  I chuckled and shook my head in disbelief. He responded with a shy smile.

  “So, how did you know when to stop?” I asked.

  “When you talked in your sleep and told me to shut up in my language.”

  This time, I burst out laughing, and his smile broadened. I loved how it softened him. Duke was definitely a teddy bear.

  A teddy bear with a cute, alien face, and a drool-worthy body.

  I forced my eyes to remain on his face instead of roaming over that scrumptious body of his. “Well, thank you for not giving up. It really sucked not being able to understand you. And a million times thank you for adjusting the table and chairs for me. That was very considerate of you, especially seeing how mean I had been.”

  Duke’s fingers found their way back to his tummy and he once more scratched below his navel. I was beginning to suspect this was his nervous or shy tell.

  “I am happy to have pleased you, Kira.” He shifted on his feet, picking up an interest with the floor and then the wall, before clearing his throat. “You must be hungry. How much meat would you like? Two pieces like yesterday?”

  I gave him a sympathetic look. Most people I knew couldn’t get enough compliments and would milk every ounce you’d be willing to give. And here was alien teddy bear squirming with discomfort. He opened the cooling unit and my gaze landed on the large quantity of meat he had neatly stacked within. Despite my morning hunger, I no longer felt ravenous like I had the night before.

  “One piece will be plenty, thank you,” I said with a grateful smile.

  He pulled out a piece and showed it to me. I nodded my approval and watched him head straight for the heating plate. My lips parted, ready to argue about being able to prepare my own meal, but I didn’t have the heart to shoo him off. He seemed too eager to please.

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