Viola Grace - - Return of the Nine 03 - Hiding, page 1part #3 of Return of the Nine Series
Making herself unseen was Daphne’s skill until a forest encounter made her want to be noticed by the new Ambassador of the Nine.
Daphne has spent her adult life since the Tokkel invasion fighting for jobs to support herself. With her parents dead, her family consists of one. Desperate to earn some income she takes a position as wait staff at the reception for the Gaian, Tiera MacKenzie and her husband, Tonos of the Nine.
Daphne is trained to be invisible to the members of the Nine who are attending this first cross-planetary event held on Gaia.
After the reception she is desperate for rest but a peculiar interview by the personnel coordinator of the Nine drives her into the woods and a collision with destiny.
Apolan has accepted a position as Ambassador of the Nine on Gaia. The embassy is underway and all he needs now is an assistant. He has just the Gaian in mind if she will simply stop hiding and allow him to offer her all he can.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Viola Grace
Cover art by Martine Jardin
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The first time she heard of a Gaian marrying one of the Nine, she didn’t believe it. Daphne Hallow still didn’t believe it when it was announced that the reception for Tiera McKenzie and a huge pixie named Tonos was going to take place at the hall where Daphne worked.
Now, surrounded by alien warriors from the ship above them, Daphne was finally cluing in that it might be true.
She and the rest of the serving staff were on alert, waiting for the introduction of the couple. Her heart pounded as the gathering filled with beings that were similar to those of Gaia but different in a variety of ways.
They were predominantly male and seated separately from the Gaians. The Nine were in the shape of creatures of myth and legend, from fairies like the groom, to shadows that clung to living flesh.
Daphne and the other servers had been selected after a rigorous security scan to make sure that the incoming Nine would be safe with them. She had never been a high-security waitress before, but she supposed that there was a first time for everything.
They had been through days of etiquette training, practice runs and disaster drills. It was the most intense thing that Daphne had been through since her parents were taken in the first of the Tokkel raids and never seen again.
The facility manager and the etiquette advisor of the Nine passed their ranks with careful attention. All the hair on the females had to be braided and fastened at the back of the skull. Sleeves needed to be long to prevent accidental contact. Trousers were to be loose and a wide sash on the long shirt fastened and flattened everything into a column. The men were dressed the same. They were all completely sexless and lacking any individuality. Perfect.
Daphne had to admit that she was happy to be lost in a crowd. Normally, she needed to exert herself into being ignored, but in this group, she blended into nothing.
The uniforms that they wore were unrelieved black. Normally, the colour would not be considered for a wedding banquet, but this was a special occasion. It was the first celebration between a Gaian and a member of the Nine.
The member of the Nine sent to prepare them was a woman of the Wilding clan. She sniffed the air carefully as she passed, shaking her head at a few of the women, sending them back for another shower to remove all traces of scent from their skin.
That the Nine were scent sensitive was an oddity that made a certain sense to the Gaians. They were picking up their own peculiarities as time went on and enhanced senses were only the tip of the iceberg.
When Daphne was authorized, she relaxed slightly. Her station in life had taken a turn when her family had died, and she had turned from a student of Gaian and Terran histories to a general labourer.
Most around the colony had something that needed doing, and she was excellent at being unobtrusive in her work, no matter what the task was.
She perked up as one of the McKenzie family stood to speak. “Ladies and gentlemen from Gaia and the Nine, welcome one and all to this celebration of the union of our two races in the embrace of this couple. Tiera and Tonos.”
The crowd turned and applause rang out as Tiera McKenzie and her husband, Tonos, made their way to the head table and sat down.
With the signal given, Daphne and the others moved into action. It was time to serve.
The first hour was peaceful. A lazy dance of filling and setting of plates, but as the heat in the room increased and they began to sweat, the heads of the men of the Nine began to turn as they passed.
As she slipped between two of the seated men to refill a cup with water and another with wine, she could feel gazes on her. With a shaking breath, she pulled herself inward and disappeared to their senses.
Hours passed and several of the women were removed from service as the men of the Nine became too attentive.
Daphne’s service went from three tables to ten. She forced herself to move faster, but holding the veil of perception around her became a strain by the end of the night.
She watched some of the bolder women of the bride’s side haul warriors of the Nine to the dance floor, but she didn’t have time to watch.
Daphne’s break time came and went, with the dismissed servers working in the kitchen to clean dishes and prepare the next courses. Her feet throbbed, her back and arms ached and her head pounded.
A hand clasped her shoulder when she was on her way to retrieve another round of plates. “You have done well, Daphne Hallow. You are dismissed for the evening.”
The woman of the Wilding smiled gently at her, but pointed teeth still showed.
Daphne looked around and saw that the remaining servers were almost done cleaning up, the flowers were wilted and only a few guests remained. “Thank you. But I did not get your name.”
“Arvina Hekoway. My cousin is wed to another of your people, but she is restricted to the warship. I came to make sure that what happened by accident did not happen again.” The woman made a gesture, and Daphne walked with her out of the warm hall and into the evening air.
A forest bordered the gardens surrounding the hall, and it was a nice, quiet night with the new star of the ship of the Nine burning above.
“It was a very nice reception.” Daphne was unsure what the woman wanted to speak to her about.
“It was. Tell me, do you know of any other Gaians who have exhibited extraordinary abilities?” Arvina walked slowly down a garden path.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t be shy. Six of the
Daphne swallowed. “Um, perhaps there were women more suited to them?”
Arvina laughed. “Perhaps. The Gaian women do seem interested in the men of the Nine. Are you one of them?”
Daphne blinked, “I hadn’t given it much thought. They are all of standard attractiveness, I suppose. I didn’t have much time to shop around this evening.”
The woman coughed another laugh. “Valid point. But if you are something unusual, would you consider the suit of one of the Nine?”
Feeling put on the spot, Daphne paused, her mind on the woods and how long it would take her mind to put her beyond Arvina’s sight. “I suppose I would, however, I am nothing unusual here on Gaia. I am nothing at all.”
She blinded Arvina to the sight and scent of her and ran for the woods.
The woods enveloped her as they always did. Daphne called herself seventeen types of fool. Arvina knew who she was, probably knew where she lived. There would be no hiding from her, which was a pity. Hiding was all Daphne knew.
The leaves of the trees caressed her as she passed. The moment that she thought she could draw breath and relax, she stopped and leaned against a helpful trunk. Arvina had not followed, that much was certain.
In the darkness, dressed in black, she slumped to the ground and let the aches of her body unclench a little at a time. Her feet had a pulse, her arms were in agony and her back was screaming. It had been a heck of an evening.
The branches near her moved, and she froze. It was not uncommon to have predators this close to town, but they usually stayed away from the hall on nights where a party was going on.
The branches shifted again, whispering lightly to each other. With her body protesting, she got to her feet. “Who is there?”
“Arvina thought that her presence would not be welcome.” The trees were speaking Gaian, so Daphne knew she had gone insane at long last.
She staggered down the path and stopped abruptly when she struck a tree that wasn’t supposed to be there. To her shock, the tree was wearing the formal clothing of the Nine.
Hands cupped her elbows and held her upright. “Easy, miss.”
Her impression of a tree was not far off, his body was hard, tall and the same shade as the trees next to him.
“Who are you?”
He released her and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I messed this up. I am Apolan Leoraki. I am the new ambassador to Gaia on behalf of the Nine, and I need an assistant.”
The light from the single moon illuminated him for a moment. He was indeed one of the tree folk of the Nine. It took her a moment to catch onto his statement. Giggles flowed through her. “You have stalked and ambushed me in the dark to offer me a job?”
She snickered, hooted and howled with laughter.
He waited patiently for her to cease.
Daphne finally straightened. “I don’t think that this is a conversation for the dark of the forest. May we go into the light?”
“Of course. May I help you through the path?”
She smiled in the darkness. “Aside from the occasional alien in the path, I have never had any problem.”
He made a noise that was low and similar to the rustle of leaves. She imagined it was his version of a laugh.
Daphne turned and led the way back to the hall grounds.
The pool of light was surprisingly welcome to her, considering that hiding was her normal default. She wanted to see the wall she had collided with, and there was nothing better than light to dispel the fears of the dark.
Arvina was waiting at one of the outdoor tables. Apparently, she knew what Daphne would find in the woods.
She still had an expression of relief as Daphne and the tree man exited the woods.
“I was not sure that she would be in the mood to let you find her, Apolan.”
“She was gracious enough to let herself take a break under the trees. They told me exactly where she was.” He spoke, and Daphne turned to look up at him.
He was indeed walnut coloured, his clothing the deepest green with slightly darker embroidery, which matched his hair. The only things that stood out were his eyes. In the light, they were a leafy green.
A tea service and three cups were in front of Arvina. They were expected.
When she dropped her exhausted body into a chair, she took a cup of tea gratefully. “All right, what do you want?”
Apolan sat next to her, fairly close. He lifted his cup as gracefully as Arvina lifted hers.
Arvina started, “We have been asked to build a presence here, but Apolan thinks that a Gaian in the administration will help the locals to accept and adjust to us. That is where you come in.”
“Out of all the Gaians interviewed for the reception, you were the only one who didn’t ask about the guests, merely about the details of the service. You were fixated on the job and not seeing and gawking at someone new. That is an admirable trait. Also, when I began to do scent trials, you disappeared right under my nose. That is not something that happens often, I can tell you.”
Daphne blushed. “I simply needed to know what was needed for the job. Nothing more.”
Arvina smiled, “I know. It was the first in the more noticeable traits around you. The other was your disappearing. How do you do that?”
She shrugged. “I have no idea. I simply look at a person and disappear from their perceptions, by whatever method they use.”
“Are you free to work with Apolan as his assistant?” Arvina raised her cup to her lips and arched her eyebrows.
Daphne had no jobs lined up after this one, so she nodded. “I am free. Does it pay?”
Apolan was indignant. “Of course it does.”
Arvina raised a hand. “Twice the rate per hour that you were paid this evening, plus a clothing bonus as I am sure that you do not have the correct items for the position. We may have to have something that works sent down from the ship for you. I will make a note to have a seamstress visit.”
Daphne wanted to be indignant about the offer of a clothing allowance, but she really didn’t have anything appropriate. “When does the position start?”
Apolan smiled grimly. “Tomorrow? We have been given offices at city hall until our building is ready. It should be finished within the month.”
“What time?” She could probably scrounge some proper clothing out of her mother’s things if she had to.
“It is late, so noon? Ask for the temporary Embassy of the Nine, and they will direct you.”
She nodded. “Fine. Yes. I agree. We will discuss duties and such in the morning. For now, I am far too tired.”
Apolan asked, “Do you have a conveyance?”
It took her a moment to figure it out. “Oh. No. I walk home. It is just over that ridge there. Not too far at all.” The skimmer had been the first thing sold after her parents’ death and the bill collectors had come to call.
Her father’s penchant for inventing had never born fruit, but debts seemed to bloom in his wake. His death just made the men more insistent on getting what was theirs.
She had sold everything worth selling, pared down her antique books and taken on any job someone would pay her for.
She shook her head. “Come to think of it, I should get home. There are things to do before I start my new job.”
Apolan rose and helped her pull out her chair. “I will escort you home. This is no place for a lady alone.”
She blinked up at him. “No one has called me a lady in a very long time.”
“Then, it is overdue.” He offered her his arm, and she took it. “Please direct me to your home. The trees were not very forthcoming.”
She grinned and pointed. “That way. Straight line more or less.”
They walked in the direction she pointed for a few minutes before she asked, “Why were you chosen for the position here on Gaia?”
“Extraction is a good word. Was there a reason that Arvina selected me aside from my lack of scent?”
He cocked his head as if deliberating his next words. “I believe it was also your lack of interest in the men of the Nine. Many of the others selected for the event were intrigued by the thought of meeting and mating with a man of the Nine. We do not give our affections lightly, nor do we engage in casual encounters with alien races. It seems your women were not ready to accept that.”
She snickered, “Something different and new is always more attractive than the toy one already plays with. It goes for men as well, and the men of the Nine are very attractive as far as such judgements go.”
“You find us attractive?”
To her amusement, he seemed to grow a little taller at that. “I do, but it is not my opinion that matters but that of your lady wife.”
“I am not married, bonded or attached… yet.” There was meaning in his tone, but she ignored it.
She nodded. “Fair enough. So, what will I be doing?”
“Your position will entail taking appointments from a variety of sources, running my calendar and accompanying me to public functions.” His tone was matter of fact.
“You will have a clothing allowance and be dressed in the fashions of the Nine. The clothing of the Forest clan will suit you very well, I think. Arvina is sending for the seamstress soon, so you will be kitted out before the grand opening of our embassy.”
They reached the rise that overlooked her tiny house in the centre of a ring of trees. The wildness of the area was the reason that the colonists didn’t bother trying to plough through the ground. Removing the woods was far too much labour and the ground only suited to growing trees.
VIOLA GRACE SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Break the Mold (Mechanical Advantage Book 3)ForecastTwisting Sanity (Mechanical Advantage Book 5)WrappedDragon Engaged (The Covert Dragons Book 3)MADeBreak the MoldCone of Silence
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