As Jana and Tilly begin their search for Fox, Olivia finds herself involved in a search of her own.
I finished my morning retch, cleaned up, and got dressed. Morning sickness did not become me. I doubt it suits any woman. Some of my friends among the nobility would finish that sentence by decrying that something so common should affect women of their rank. Thank God I’m not one of those shallow twits who believe nature should change itself to suit their image of themselves. On the other hand, if biology suddenly gave the Princess of the realm a pass on morning sickness, I wouldn’t complain.
I emerged from our sleeping chambers to find a servant waiting with William. My husband ignored the attractive young woman in the way only those born into wealth can. I doubt William gave her any more thought than he would a pretty painting he saw every day.
After giving William a quick good morning kiss, I turned toward the servant. “Yes, Marie?”
Marie dipped a quick curtsy. “Her Majesty, Queen Charlotte has called for you, Your Highness. May I escort you to the subspace communications chamber?”
“Thank you, Marie. Please, lead on.”
As Marie and I entered the hallway, William’s assistant arrived at the door. He bowed and murmured, “Your Highness.”
I nodded and said, “William awaits within, Peter. You may enter.”
I barely noticed the door opening and closing behind me as my mind began sifting possible reasons behind Mother’s call. She and King Bernard were making a Royal Progress through one of the duchies. I should probably know which duchy—especially since they’d have dragged William and me along if I hadn’t used my morning sickness and the stress of the recent kidnapping to beg off from the trip—but I couldn’t find it in myself to care.
A moment later, Marie opened the door to the subspace communications chamber. “Shall I wait in case you need me, Your Highness?”
“That won’t be necessary, Marie. I’m sure you have too much work to waste time being at my beck and call.”
My father always taught me to respect those who made our lives easier. He taught me that showing respect to servants made them feel appreciated and encouraged loyalty from them. Marie’s warm smile, given in response to my words, once again proved the wisdom of my father’s advice.
“As you wish, Your Highness. Should you need me, press the call button and I will return immediately.” She curtsied again and pulled the door to the chamber closed.
Matilda, Mother’s assistant, nodded from the screen and said, “I’ll inform Her Majesty you’re here.”
A moment later, my mother-in-law appeared and offered me a maternal smile. “I’m sorry to rouse you so early, my dear, considering your condition. Unfortunately, it’s late evening here on Ontarie and I’m quite worn out from all the festivities we’ve attended.”
I offered a small smile. “That’s all right, Mother. My stomach has already offered up its sacrifice for the baby this morning. At least, I hope it has.”
Mother laughed, “Have I told you how much I love having such a droll daughter-in-law? In all seriousness, how are you doing, dear?”
“As well as can be expected, for someone who was forced to kill her mentor.” I blinked rapidly against the tears that welled up. “William has been most attentive and caring, and not just because of the pregnancy. I do believe that planning and leading my rescue has done wonders for his attitude and self-confidence.”
Mother gave a smile maternal pride, “I, too, noticed a change in my son. Perhaps Bernard and I should have let William do something truly dangerous years ago. Then again, had we done so, I might not have you as a daughter-in-law.”
“Thank you, Mother. I love you as well. But, I know this isn’t why you called.”
“You’re quite right, Olivia. I’ve received the final report concerning the events surrounding your abduction.”
My eyebrows rose in surprise. “William and I told you everything, Mother. What was there to investigate?”
“Relax, dear, the investigation had nothing to do with you or William. Or Jeanine and Drake, for that matter. No, the investigation centered around the slicer who apparently entered the Star Stone successfully and, more surprisingly, exited safely.” Mother’s brow furrowed, “I can’t say why, exactly, but I’ve had a feeling of unease about this slicer ever since William rescued you.”
I found myself nodding, “I’ve had the same feeling—at least when I’m not suffering from morning sickness.”
“Well, if both of us find something…disturbing about this slicer, then I was correct to order an investigation. I could believe one of us was unreasonably concerned, but both of us?” Mother shook her head, “Absolutely not.”
“What did your investigators discover?”
Mother frowned, “Not as much as you might expect. For example, they started with the security vids from the car I sent to the Neert Palace on Xapreathea. The driver gave a ride to two young women whom he described as an extremely attractive brunette and an attractive, but unassuming, blonde.”
“That’s not a very useful description, but at least you have the security vids.”
Mother shook her head. “Alas, we do not. Something interfered with the security cam while those two young women were in the car. The cam recorded nothing but static. The security cams at the spaceport where the experimental ship is kept were better—but not where the two young women were concerned. They appear as nothing but blobs of static.”
“How is that possible, Mother?”
“The man in charge of the investigation tells me there are highly classified devices that can do that. He would have sworn only the Royal military and the Royal Intelligence Agency had access to them. Upon learning differently he ordered an investigation into the security breach and found nothing.” Mother met my gaze through the subspace communications screen. “Whoever stole the designs for that device is, in the words of my investigator, supremely talented and extraordinarily dangerous.”
“What about the ship’s pilot? He spent over twenty hours with them. Surely, he could provide descriptions?”
“He certainly did better than the driver, but the pilot also spent the majority of the trip in the pilot seat. I’m told this is standard for experimental ships, and doubly so for this ship. Apparently, the pilot must pay close attention to the course and any stellar objects along that course. If we could track these two women down by the size of their breasts, the shape of their backsides, and the tightness of their clothing, the pilot’s description would be invaluable.”
I offered a wan smile. “The pilot is a young man, so I’m not surprised at what he noticed.”
“Yes, you’re right. His commanding officer suggested a reprimand, but I refused to punish the man simply for being a man. Besides, it’s not like he was told to pay attention to their overall appearance. His orders were to fly them to Gaunner, which he did. He also flew them to near orbit and then, according to your report, flew you, William, Jeanine, and Drake back to the Gaunner Palace. Is that correct?”
I grimaced, “It is, Mother, but I’m afraid it was a short flight and I paid little attention to anyone except William. I can corroborate the brunette’s exotic beauty and the blonde’s tendency to fade into the background. I’m told she was recovering from a severe case of hyperspace sickness, so it’s hardly surprising that she wasn’t particularly outgoing. I am sorry that I, too, have failed you.”
“No apologies are necessary, dear. You went through a trying ordeal and had just been reunited with your heroic husband. No woman in the galaxy would have noticed more than you did.” Mother stifled a yawn, “This was a long shot, Olivia. I doubted you would have anything more to tell me than anyone else, but I had to ask. I don’t know who these two women are, but we desperately need to find out.”
“I’ll try to remember as much as I can, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope.”
“I understand, dear. Don’t let this trouble you too much. Now, why don’t you go lie down for a bit? Even though it is early, you look a tad tired to me.”
“I’ll do that. Do give the King my best wishes.”
“I will, dear. Do the same for me to my son. Farewell.”
Mother tapped a control and the screen went dark. I turned off my machine and wandered back to our Palace suite. I must have had a thoughtful expression on my face when I walked into the suite because it attracted William’s attention.
“What did my mother have to say that has you so distracted, Olivia?” he asked.
“Hm?” I responded. “Oh, that. She asked me about the two women who helped you and Drake with the rescue.”
“You mean Tilly and Jana?”
“You know who they are?” I asked, my tone incredulous.
“Well, I don’t really know Jana, but Tilly…”
William’s face reddened, and I suddenly had a good idea how he ‘knew’ Tilly. Not wanting him to stop talking about her, I assured him, “Anything that happened between you and Tilly was before we were together. I am fully aware that you have far more experience with women than I have with men. Rest assured, I won’t hold anything you did with Tilly against you.” I let my voice drop into a sultry tone, “But if you tell me everything you know about those two women, I’ll definitely hold something else against you.”
Just in case William’s mind had not started working properly, I undid the top two buttons of my blouse. My husband’s eyes lit up and a broad grin spread across his face. It turned out, he knew quite a lot about Tilly and enough about Jana to tell me she was the dangerous one. Then, true to my word, I rewarded my husband’s brains out.
Meanwhile, back on Gaunner, what have Jeanine and Drake been doing?