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Authors: Autumn Dawn

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BOOK: When Sparks Fly
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She sat on a bench and watched Blue work
out, unwillingly mesmerized. He was a beautiful man. When she saw
him like this, the urge to touch him was stronger than she liked to
admit. Instinct made her want to lean on him, made her want to let
him hold her. Maybe he really could make it better.

Yeah, right.

Blinking at where her mind was going, she
changed the track of her thoughts. “You have to stop raiding
Jamir’s special trays. One of these days he’s going to fricassee
you.”

Blue snorted. “He can try.”

“You like to annoy him,” Gem pointed
out.

“He’s a righteous little prig.”

“I’m asking,” she clarified.

That made him turn. “What’s my
incentive?”

“I won’t have to fire you.”

Blue grinned. “I’m not on your payroll
anymore.”

“What?”

Hyna Blue slowly shook his head. “I’ve given
up being your errand boy. That’s not what you need from me.”

She let that dangerous comment simmer, then
said slowly, “This is an inn, not a flophouse for ex-cons. I won’t
have a loose cannon on my property. You can’t stay here unless
you’re working or being served, Blue.”

“Then it’s time to get serving.” He moved
toward her, his eyes full of hot intent.

Gem stood up in a hurry, ready to ward him
off, but he only reached for the towel beside her. She noticed it
was one of her good towels, and he was using it as a sweat sop. Her
blood burned with both adrenaline and anger. At least now she had a
good reason to tremble. “You’re going to ruin that! We’ll never get
the smell out.”

He smiled, his eyes glowing as he stared at
her. “Do you really care?”

She gritted her teeth, hating his arrogance.
“I care. I care that you’re mocking me. And if you won’t work, you
can’t stay.”

“I plan to work: hard,” he corrected, a
gleam of humor entering his gaze.

“Not the way I want you to,” she ground out.
“I’m not paying you to be my bodyguard.”

“You’ll realize I’m worth it,” he promised,
and took a swallow of water from a bottle near his feet. “Your
security system is archaic. With all these miners running amok, I’m
surprised you haven’t been robbed blind already. The way you take
risks, you’d think your address was Pleasantville, Nirvana. I’ve
got a list of surveillance equipment that needs to be set up to
make you current. If you can open your wallet wide enough to buy
it, I’ll save you the installation fee and set everything up
myself. I know just the place to pick it all up. I figure I’ll go
this afternoon…”

Bright fury rose in Gem, making her fingers
shake. He was assuming power that wasn’t his, taking liberties he
wasn’t due. Since her father had died, she’d answered to only one
authority; her own. She’d compromise with her sisters, because this
was a family establishment, but the final say was hers. Now, here
Blue was, offering advice, making criticisms, trying to take over
and pushing too hard.

As she opened her mouth, he placed a finger
over it. “Before you say something nasty, consider. I’m trying to
help you. Who else is doing that?”

She jerked away. “You’re an ass!”

“I
saved
you.” That serious look was
back.

Gem calmed a degree. “I don’t want your
help.”

“You have someone else lined up?” he asked.
“Show him to me and I’ll back off.”

Scary, how that reasonable response shook
her. “You know I don’t.”

Blue remained calm. “Then let me show you
what I can do. You have nothing to lose but your life.”

“Fine.” She was caving and couldn’t stop it.
“Fine, but you’re not installing anything in the guest rooms or
bathrooms. No surveillance equipment anywhere like that. Not in my
room, either!”

He smirked. “Something interesting going on
in there?”

“No!” Color stained her cheeks. “You’re just
not going to invade our privacy.”

Blue rested his weight on one leg. “I don’t
need to. The cameras are for the grounds and the public areas. I
don’t need to see you strutting around naked. I have a good
imagination.” His smile was sly.

Gem’s eyes narrowed. “That’s the only place
you’ll ever see me like that.”

His light touch on her arm stopped her as
she turned to go. “I’ll come to you with the list later. Then I’ll
head to the store.”

“Fine.” She forced herself to walk away. She
stumbled on a rock, cursed, and kept going.

Forget the sniper. Blue is the dangerous
one.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

The wake started at six that evening. While
Gem’s presence wasn’t required, she liked to look in and make sure
things were progressing smoothly. The band, a bunch of moonlighting
miners, had already arrived and arranged themselves. She could hear
them warming up, and they weren’t half bad. Maybe she’d talk to
them about doing some work for her. She could envision a small
corner stage in the bar. If they brought in enough business, she
might even be able to expand the taproom. Maybe they could even try
having an open mike some evenings, host a dance…

Her head full of ideas, she showered quickly
and threw on some clean pants and a slinky, sparkly shirt. A touch
of makeup and a sparkly clip later and she was done. She hadn’t
known the dead miner, but this wasn’t the first wake they’d hosted
at The Spark. Mine accidents were common enough, and the inn made a
good place for both celebrating and mourning. They were hosting
enough events recently that she was thinking of adding a complete
banquet room. Maybe she’d see about getting some estimates in the
morning.

Brandy had taken the night off, rightly
assuming the staff could handle things. She’d been spending more
time tinkering in the distillery lately, trying new recipes for
sodas and ales. At least that’s what Gem hoped she was doing. For
all she knew, Brandy was carrying on an affair with the
brewmaster.

Gem frowned and decided to take a walk
through the distillery later. A girl ought to know what was going
on in her inn.

Her family’s private apartments were on the
south side of the inn, above the office. Each sister had her own
bedroom, and they shared the sitting room. Their father’s room
remained vacant. They dusted it from time to time, but that was it.
Gem supposed whichever of them married first would take it
over.

It suddenly occurred to her that Xera might
not come back. It was very possible that she would find a man in
the GE and settle down somewhere else, maybe even off-planet. Her
sister Brandy showed no signs of doing so, but what if she left
also? Gem would be stuck alone in the old family suite, no husband
in sight. What a depressing thought!

Shaking it off, she left her room and headed
for the private stairs that let out by her office. Opening the door
at the bottom, she froze. She’d locked her office door but now it
stood open. Someone was inside.

She glanced over at the kitchen, which was
full of people coming and going. That, to her mind, narrowed the
suspects. A peek around the corner confirmed her suspicions:
Blue.

He glanced her way as she pushed the door
wide, then continued fishing things out of his box and laying them
on her desk. Packing material was scattered around like confetti,
along with bits of electronic equipment. Zsak was there, too, and
he was preparing to drill a hole in her wall.

“Hold it!” Gem thundered. “What do you think
you’re doing?”

Zsak was standing on a ladder with his power
tool, poised to do untold damage. He lowered the drill at her
bellow. “Wow! You look tasty,” he said with appreciation. She
ignored him.

Blue leaned his hip against her desk and
crossed his arms. “Setting up your security system. I assumed you’d
want it centralized in your office. We need a place to monitor
everything.”

“I don’t think so! You’re not turning my
office into some kind of…of…” The idea of Blue and his overgrown
buddy constantly underfoot was unacceptable. “Find someplace
else.”

“Okaaay. Which one of the guest rooms do you
want me to use?”

She glowered at him. “None of them. They’re
all let out.”

“You have forty rooms here!”

“And they’re all in use,” she repeated. In
fact, she was making plans to build a new inn on the other side of
the property. They certainly had the demand. “We’re at full
capacity. Go use the potting shed or something,” she grumbled.

“Unacceptable.”

She huffed. “Look, if I’d realized your
little project was going to cause so many problems…”

“We’re not doing this slipshod, girlie,” he
said sternly. “We need a room to work in, something with access
limited to a very few people. What else do you have?”

“The only other spot is our private suite,
and I’m not interested in you tromping in and out of that at all
hours.”

“You’d rather be shot?” he asked politely.
“You did approve this list and spend a bundle on this stuff, and
we’ve already installed the cameras and sensors. We can’t return
them.”

Sometimes she hated him. This whole thing
was being blown far out of proportion, considering there hadn’t
been any new attempts today…But he was right: She’d paid for the
stuff and wasn’t one to waste assets. “Fine. You can use my
father’s room. But I want to know exactly what you’re going to do
before you do it. Everything.”

“Well, first Zsak is going to run to the
bathroom. Then we’ll do a perimeter check…”

“To the room,” she said crossly, knowing he
was deliberately misunderstanding. “I have to check on things in
the banquet hall, but then I’ll be up to supervise. Don’t make any
holes in the wall until I arrive.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Zsak saluted her with the
drill.

She muttered something nasty under her
breath and headed for the door, then turned suddenly. “And don’t
ever pick my lock again!”

“I’d like to pick her lock,” Zsak said
mildly after Gem left. “She has no appreciation for what a deal
she’s getting. You work too cheap, you know.”

Blue snorted. “She won’t find out from
you.”

“What you mean is, she won’t believe a word
I say, considering I’m a friend to your own charming self.”

Blue threw monitors back in their box. “I
am
charming.”

“Not around her. It would smooth our way if
you could be a little slicker. I’ve seen you do it.”

“I don’t want to do it. Not with her.”

“Now that’s a lie if I ever heard one.” Zsak
laughed as he folded his ladder. “Try again.”

Blue sent his friend a dark glance, then
continued packing. “We’re going to leave here when this assignment
is over. She’s the type who would want me to stay. You know how the
women are on this planet. They have strict moral codes. And me? I’m
a professional.”

“Never stopped you before. Remember that
little Ispian princess? You said she was worth the official
reprimand.”

“This is different.”

“Ah.”

“Bite me,” Blue said. “Grab that ladder and
let’s go.”

 

 

Chapter 5

 

Gem assumed a pleasant expression as she
entered the bar. She’d been looking forward to a little
socialization until Blue had thrown her into a foul mood. It’d take
effort, but maybe she could salvage the evening. The place was
starting to fill up, and there were a couple of good-looking men
present. Mourners milled around the buffet tables or socialized in
clusters. She wouldn’t stay late, of course; miners’ wakes could
get wild as the night rolled on. Jaq and the servers would handle
anyone who got too crazy.

They’d turned on the bar’s sparkly lights
for the occasion, making the ceiling look like a shifting nebula of
stars with pink and blue swirls. They’d just installed the lights,
and Gem was proud of them, like she was proud of the new kiwi arbor
near the inn’s entrance. She and Brandy had strung some sparkly
lights out there, too. The look was simple and not sophisticated,
but it was beautiful. She had dreams of someday transforming The
Spark into something special and artistic, something more than just
a watering hole and flophouse for migrant miners.

“Gem. How lovely to see you this
evening.”

Gem stiffened at the familiar voice. There
was no reason for
him
to be here; she would have been
content never to hear that deep, cultured voice ever again.
Memories of what might have been made her fight for a neutral
expression.

“Cirrus,” she said, and slowly turned. “I
didn’t know you were a friend of the deceased.”

He smiled affectionately, lingeringly. “I
came to see you. You look lovely this evening.”

She suddenly felt like crying. At one time
she’d had hopes this man would marry her. They’d spent a great deal
of time together. Anyone might have thought he was courting her.
Unfortunately, she must not have been an attractive enough
proposition, because suddenly he’d become distant, gently
discouraging. It hadn’t taken much to make her back off. She wasn’t
the sort to pursue an uninterested man.

Drawing in a deep, discreet breath, she
smiled politely. “How’s your business?”

He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “We
import, we export. Today it is Aliskan sea worm caviar that is hot.
We’ve had an influx of Calisti immigrants. They have a soft spot
for such delicacies.”

“Well, best of luck with that.” Having
exhausted her stash of polite business conversation, she gave a
polite nod and prepared to make a dignified exit.

“I am having a small party at my house this
Friday,” Cirrus said slowly, making a polite little bow. “I would
be honored if you would join us.”

She allowed herself to frown. “I doubt that
would be wise. Sadly, I must decline.” He always brought out
formality in her, as if she had to live up to his standard of
polished speech. Sure, she was educated, but she didn’t usually
speak so stiffly. She wasn’t sure she even liked it.

BOOK: When Sparks Fly
10.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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