Locked in a soundproof room and with nothing else useful she can do, Jeanine gets some much-needed sleep.
It was my old friend, Sam. And Sam had brought his friends, George and the guys whose names I still didn’t know. I decided I didn’t care to know their names. After all, there’s no sense getting attached to someone you might have to kill. Then again, I knew Sam’s and George’s names and I felt no attachment to them.
“What do you want, Sam?”
“It doesn’t matter what I want. I follow orders. My orders are to bring you to Mr. Colin.”
I stood up and headed for the door. “It’s about time. Lead on.”
Sam did as I bade him, followed by me, and then George and the other two. Maybe I should call the other two the Twins. They didn’t look like each other—far from it—but I was getting tired of mentally referring to them as ‘the other two guards’. So, yeah, the Twins it is.
For some reason, I looked over my shoulder. I think it was because I just named the Twins and felt an unconscious need to associate their faces with their new name. I never got around to looking at them, though, because George’s eyes were locked on my butt. Typical male behavior, which I rewarded by working my hips in an exaggerated manner.
“Do you like what you see, George?”
I flashed a devilish smile over my shoulder. The poor man never noticed, since he appeared incapable of keeping his eyes off of my ass. I gave a mocking laugh.
“They don’t let you guard women very often, do they, George?”
“Why, George, I think that might be the most intelligent thing you’ve said since we met.” I turned away from George and stopped working my hips. “Ogle all you want, but if you try touching what you’re watching, I’ll break your neck.”
“If you do, I’ll… Uh…” George stammered.
“Shut up, George,” Sam ordered. “As for you, my lady, leave George alone.”
“Why, Sam, that’s the first time you’ve referred to me by any kind of title. Does that mean you’ve accepted that I’m the Duchess of Gaunner?”
“The Star Stone Recognized you. It is not for me to question Recognition.”
“That’s very wise of you, Sam. As your Duchess, I hereby order you and your friends to get me to safety.”
“No, my lady.”
“You’re refusing a direct order from your Recognized Duchess? To me, that’s an awful lot like questioning Recognition.”
“I’m committing treason, my lady. It’s not the same thing.”
“Semantics, Sam, nothing more. However, I am relieved that you recognize what you’re doing. When I sentence you to death for your part in this, I expect you to accept the sentence with equanimity.” I looked over my shoulder. “Don’t worry, George, I expect you to protest and complain and swear your innocence up and down. It won’t change anything, but I’m confident you won’t disappoint me.”
“That will be enough, my lady.”
Sam didn’t raise his voice, but his tone left no doubt that he was issuing an order that he would enforce violently. Since I had no desire to get hit in the stomach again, I did as he commanded and the rest of our walk passed in silence.
One floor above my hidden prison, Sam led me into a large room. It was obviously a man’s retreat, with animal-head trophies on the wall, a well-stocked bar, a large vid screen, and even crossed swords on the wall behind the bar. Comfortable chairs were scattered about the room, each with a small table next to it to hold drinks and the like. It could have held thirty or forty people. Right now, it held one.
“Imagine meeting you here, Colin. The last time I saw you, you were unconscious and rolling out of the back of the truck. Alas, it looks as if you’ve made a full recovery.”
“Hello, my lady.” Colin offered me a wan smile. “I do hope you’ve been treated well?”
“You mean, other than being drugged, kidnapped, brought here, held against my will, and beaten?”
Colin turned an angry expression on my guards. “You beat her?”
Sam met that look without flinching. “I hit her in the stomach, sir, to stop her from shouting when the troops were here. It knocked the wind out of her, so she could no longer shout.”
“I see.” Collins expression returned to its normal impassivity. “I’d hardly call that a beating, my lady.”
“Perhaps, that’s because you weren’t on the receiving end of the punch.” I looked at Sam. “Disloyal subject, I order you to punch Colin in the stomach so he can see what it feels like.”
“Really, Lady Jeanine, may we dispense with the comedy?” Collin’s lips turned down in disapproval. “There is no need to make this matter any more distasteful than it already is.”
I crossed my arms and gave Colin my most haughty look. “Are you truly trying to blame me for anything distasteful about the situation? That’s about as reasonable as blaming an old man for being old.”
“That is beside the point, my lady.”
“No, it’s exactly the point. If you would like to wash the distaste from your mouth, simply give me a comm. Once I am safely back at the palace, we can discuss this in tasteful comfort.”
“I rather doubt that, my lady.” Colin’s voice was as dry as a desert or, considering how cold it was outside, a tundra. “Though, I am willing to provide you with a comm, but only after we work out a few details.”
“Is this where you threaten to kill me, if I don’t cooperate?”
“Absolutely not, my lady. I need you alive to issue pardons and then, while touching the Star Stone, renounce your claim to Gaunner.”
“Ah, so that’s your nefarious plan.” I shrugged, “Sure. I’ll do that. Now, where’s that comm?”
Colin gave a hearty laugh, “Very droll, my lady.”
“I don’t know what you’re laughing at, Colin. I just agreed to exactly what you asked for.”
“So it seems. But, what assurances do I have that you will keep your word?”
“You doubt the word of your Duchess? What kind of monarchist are you?”
“A practical one, my lady. I am not so foolish as to simply accept your word, regardless of your title.”
“That does put us at a bit of an impasse, Colin. I can’t remain your prisoner and renounce my title at the Star Stone. So, you’re just going to have to trust me.”
“You’ve overlooked one possibility—I could threaten someone you care about.”
I knew we were going to get around to this sooner or later. Strangely, I was relieved it was finally out in the open.
“You could try that, but I believe you will discover that everyone I hold near and dear is extremely well protected. With the exception of Drake, none of them are even on Gaunner.”
“Your family would be very difficult to harm, especially with the rather tight schedule events have imposed upon me.” Colin flashed a particularly nasty smile. “Fortunately, you’ve given me an alternative.”
Colin lifted a control from the table next to his seat and tapped a button. Then, he pointed toward the large vid screen. A cityscape came into view. I was pretty sure it was Gaunner’s capital, but it was still dark and I couldn’t tell for sure. The scene shifted, swinging away from the city and pointing toward a residential neighborhood. Then, it closed in on one of the houses.
“Do you recognize the house, my lady?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Young Sasha’s room is the one on the upper left, I believe. The boy—his name slips my mind—is in the room on the upper right. And their parents have the room in between them. They’re quite a lovely family, the Holders, if a trifle naïve.” Colin offered me a bland smile. “I won’t order the parents be killed, you know, just the children. Imagine how that poor young couple will feel, knowing their children are dead because they met… You.”
“You are a monster, Colin, and I swear by all I hold holy that I will kill you myself if anything happens to that family.”
“There’s no need for threats, my lady. Simply agree to my terms, and all will be well.”
“You’re not giving me any other choice.”
“That was the idea, my lady. And, might I add, how delicious it is manipulating you with the family you used to manipulate me?”
“God above, you moron,” I cried, “I wasn’t manipulating anyone. I was just trying to form a connection with some of my people!”
Colin’s face darkened. “It seems I have overestimated you, my lady. And, you have most definitely underestimated me!”
At least, he didn’t cackle maniacally.
Is there any hope Jeanine can get out of this without giving Colin effective control over tens of billions of Gaunner subjects? Find out more in Chapter 41, coming Wednesday.