After her first relaxing night in days, Jeanine hates the thought of returning to her duties.
My good mood evaporated quickly as soon as I stepped into my office. The mood swing wasn’t caused by the work waiting for me, but by the work that wasn’t waiting for me—the work I couldn’t do because of my connection to the thrice-damned Star Stone. An hour later, I caught myself pretending sales tax receipts were secrets of vast importance to the safety of the Duchy.
I heard the door open and, assuming it was Mary with my lunch, said, “I’m not hungry right now, Mary. Just leave the tray on the cart and I’ll get it when I find my appetite.”
“It took a little work,” Drake replied, standing just inside the door, holding his hands behind his back, “but we were able to find your appetite last night.”
I looked up in surprise. “I’m sorry, I thought—”
“I was a teenage girl.” Drake grinned, “But, hey, if that’s what it takes to put you in the mood.”
I offered a slight smile in return. “That’s sick, Drake.”
“Probably. Kinky, at the very least. But it did draw out your smile, even if it was a particularly pathetic one.”
I plastered a big, insincere grin on my face. “Is this better?”
Drake recoiled in mock horror. “Gah! That’s horrible! Take it away!”
Once again, despite myself, I laughed. How could I not love a man who could do that for me? “What do you need, dear? As you can plainly see, I’m very busy working with vital ducal secrets.”
Peering at the display on my data pad, he said, “I wasn’t aware tax receipts were such a sensitive subject.”
“They’re not, but I’m pretending they are.”
Drake brought his hands from behind his back and put a box in front of me. “Maybe it’s time to stop pretending.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Open the box, Jeanine.”
Fingers trembling with excitement, I undid the fasteners and lifted the box’s lid. A standard data pad was nestled inside, with some kind of odd device next to it. “Now, I really don’t understand.”
“Let me show you.” Drake put the data pad on my desk, connected the device—which looked like nothing more than a small data screen—to it and grabbed a stylus from a container on my desk. “Watch.”
He turned on the pad, which also powered the device. Holding the stylus against the device, he drew the letter ‘I’ and tapped the edge of the device twice with his finger. In rapid succession, he wrote l-o-v-e-y-o-u, tapping once after each letter, and twice after the ‘e’. The data pad displayed the sentence he wrote—‘I love you’.
“That’s sweet, Drake, but I’ve got plenty of data pads I can write on.”
“They’re all connected to the net. This one isn’t—and it never can be. It’s a stand-alone unit. I had to have it built special by someone Jana recommended.”
“I’m still lost, Drake. What’s the point?”
Drake cleared the screen and handed me the stylus. “Write a message using the small input pad. Tap the edge after each letter and tap twice at the end of a word.”
Sighing with frustration at this silliness, I looked at the little pad and thought about what I should write. Before I could begin, Drake slid a sleep mask over my eyes.
“Hey, I can’t see a thing, Drake! What the hell?”
“Can you write letters from memory, without watching?” he asked.
“Yes.” I couldn’t keep the irritation out of my voice. “So what?”
“You’re not thinking it through, Jeanine. If you can’t see what you’re writing, neither can the Star Stone. But, since you’re the one writing the message, you don’t need to see it. You already know what it says. Since I’m not Recognized, I can read your message and figure out a way to respond without giving away your question.” He gently massaged my shoulders. “Try it. Please?”
Trying to keep my hopes low, I carefully wrote a message.
“Yes, babe, I can read it just fine.”
I tore off the sleep mask and looked at the pad before me. The message wasn’t perfect—I’d written ‘Can yuu reab this’ instead of my intended message, but I thought it was pretty good for a first try.
“You’ll get better with practice, Jeanine. Soon, I expect the biggest problem will be figuring out how to respond without giving away your question.”
“Isn’t there an ancient code that uses taps to spell out a message, Drake? If all else fails, maybe we could learn that and you could tap replies on my back.”
“We can keep that in the back of our minds while we work on other options,” he replied. “But, what do you think of this setup?”
“It’s slow and cumbersome and carries a real risk of miscommunication, but it’s a lot better than nothing!” I stood and kissed Drake thoroughly. “Thank you!”
“Better save that thanks for Jana. I knew just enough to ask if there was some way you could communicate without speaking or looking at your message. She came up with the rest.”
“But would she have thought of it without your prompting?” I kissed him again, silencing his reply. “That was a rhetorical question. The important thing is, I’m back in the game!”
Mentioning Jana, how goes her search for Fox? Find out in Chapter 15, coming Friday.