Olivia makes a subspace call to Jeanine.
With misgivings I took great pains to hide, I settled into the seat of the subspace communicator. A flunky in Royal livery nodded politely at me from the screen.
“I’ll inform Her Highness of your arrival, Lady Jeanine.”
The flunky departed, leaving me alone for a few seconds. I assumed Olivia wouldn’t call unless she had bad news to deliver — bad news for me. She would watch me closely as she delivered the news, searching for signs of concern. If she found it — or even if she didn’t — I felt certain she would offer her deepest condolences. She wouldn’t do this because she was sympathetic, but to show she understood exactly how much her news affected me.
How can I say this with such certainty? It’s simple. I’d have done the same thing were our positions reversed. Men can be cruel or vicious, but they rarely hide those emotions behind sympathetic expressions and consoling words. That is why women are far more dangerous than men.
I was as prepared as possible for Olivia’s message when she appeared on the screen before me. “Good day, Your Highness.”
“Let us dispense with titles, Jeanine. It will make our conversation easier.”
“Okay, Olivia, what do you want?”
“You do come straight to the point, don’t you? I always like that about you, Jeanine.”
“And you always dance around the subject, Olivia, forcing others to press politely for the information you’re withholding. I have no interest in such games, so please just come to the point.”
I’ll be damned if Olivia didn’t grin in response. “We are like-minded women, you and I. It’s a pity we aren’t close friends.”
“Yes, if only I could look past your many attempts to kill me, we could have been best girlfriends. If only you were not a vindictive bitch who blamed an innocent woman for your brother’s overconfidence and overreach, you’d probably have asked me to be in your wedding.” I paused for just a moment before continuing, “Oh, that’s right, I was in your wedding.”
Olivia’s grin vanished and her eyes narrowed. “Well, that’s more than enough pleasantries, I believe. I’ve called to tell you that your friends, Jana and Tilly Smythe-Warrington, are on the run. They are at the top of Xapreathea’s most wanted list. At my instruction, the RIA has turned its full resources toward finding and apprehending them. I have stressed the importance of bringing them in alive, but you know how field operations sometimes go. I cannot guarantee their safety.”
And there it was. In less than a minute, Olivia had given away virtually everything Drake and I had been hiding from the Star Stone. Now it knew that Jana was on Xapreathea. It would know she was there for it. It would know she was planning a slicing run against it.
Because of Olivia, Jana’s one advantage — surprise — was gone.
Because of Olivia, the Star Stone had time to make preparations for her.
Because of Olivia, one of my dearest friends faced dire threats to her very existence.
Olivia would not care about that. In truth, she would be thrilled if she knew just how much danger she put Jana in. As her next words showed, I had not hidden my reaction from Her Royal goddamned Highness.
Olivia maintained her part in this game. Her mouth formed a sympathetic smile while her eyes remained cold and calculating. “I know how much Jana means to you, Jeanine. Why don’t you help me help her? Tell her to surrender peacefully. She’ll face a few questions, but nothing more. Once she has answered those to my satisfaction, I will issue an edict of exile and let you take her to Neert.”
“Take what’s left of her, you mean.”
Olivia shook her head in mock sorrow. “That will be entirely up to Jana. If she cooperates — something you could encourage her to do — then she should be little the worse for wear. I would truly hate to see Jana injured in—”
“What’s Jana’s last name?” I interrupted.
My question startled Olivia out of her almost-rapturous contemplation of what might happen to Jana. “I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me. You keep speaking of Jana as if you know her. Or, at least, as if you know who she is. I merely asked you to prove that. But you can’t do it because you have no idea who Jana is and only a vague idea of her capabilities.”
Olivia’s eyes flashed, all calculation melted out of them by that sudden heat. “I may not know much about your little friend, but I know more than enough about Tilly Smythe-Warrington. Perhaps I cannot bring pressure upon someone near and dear to Jana, but Tilly is a totally different matter. If Tilly cares about her family, and if you and Jana care about Tilly, I strongly suggest you do as I say. I will go as far as to guarantee the bodily safety of both women. Anything else is up to them.”
“Well, with such a fine and generous offer, I’m sure they’ll jump at it. Or, you could call off your hounds because Jana’s mission is beneficial to everyone — especially pregnant princesses.”
Olivia’s eyes widened, “You dare threaten my unborn child? What happened to your noble talk from our shared captivity, when you spoke of not making war upon innocents? I see that kind of talk lasts only until it’s inconvenient to you. You’re not so different from me, after all, Jeanine.”
I leaned toward the screen, “Everything Jana is doing will be beneficial to your unborn child. Everything you are doing will be detrimental to your unborn child. How do you think the Star Stone knew I even existed? How do you think it knew to burn your brother? Are you truly so naïve as to believe the ‘gift from God’ story the Star Kingdom tells children?”
Despite the light years between us, Olivia pulled back from the screen as if alarmed by my intensity. “What are you raving about, Jeanine?”
I thought about disconnecting and letting Olivia wonder if the pressure of the last few months had driven me insane. But the Star Stone was already aware of how much I knew about it. It was aware of how much Drake and Jana knew, as well. And it was aware Jana was on Xapreathea and that the only thing that would bring her to that planet was it.
“Haven’t you wondered how William and Drake knew to come to Baron Chilton’s hunting lodge in search of us?” I asked.
“I… William said Jana told them where to look.”
I’d forgotten William had met Jana. Well, that explained how Olivia learned what little she knew about Jana, including her friendship with Tilly.
“Did you ever wonder how Jana discovered where Colin was holding us?”
Olivia dismissed this with an impatient wave. “She’s a slicer, I assume she got the information from Gaunner’s net.”
“How? Your old mentor knew where all the security cams were. He avoided them. That’s why none of our guard captains had any idea where to look. Yes, Jana picked up a quick comm broadcast, but that’s it. She got her information from the Star Stone. That Star Stone got its information because it has inserted… Something… Into our bodies. Something from the Recognition ceremony that lets it see what we see and hear what we hear. Furthermore, it can find us without any problem. The Star Stone told Jana where we were.”
Olivia blew out her breath in exasperation, “That’s ridiculous, Jeanine. It makes the ‘gift from God’ stories sound reasonable.”
“Really? How do you explain the fact that Jana knew exactly where to find us, but only after returning from her slicing run against the Star Stone? The very same slicing run your mother-in-law advised against.”
“I have no idea, Jeanine. I’m not a slicer. I don’t know what Jana might have found in the Star Stone or even if she entered the Star Stone. For all I know, she found everything she needed in Gaunner’s net and simply claimed she had sliced the Star Stone and, against all odds, returned safely. God knows, she wouldn’t be the first person who embellished already impressive accomplishments.”
“To what end? Jana had nothing to prove to us. Why would she do such a thing?”
“I really don’t know, Jeanine. Perhaps, I’ll ask her after she surrenders or is captured.”
I knew my last attempt was doomed to failure before I made it, but I had to try. “Whether you believe me or not, the Star Stone is part of you. It has something in your blood, and that means it has something in your baby. Who knows whether it can do anything to affect the development of that child? I don’t, but I’m not willing to risk the innocent life forming in your womb. Are you?”
“I’m too old for fairytales and so are you.” Olivia’s face smoothed as she prepared to end the call. “My guarantee of safety for Jana and Tilly is good for exactly one day. I strongly recommend you tell them to surrender because they will find themselves unable to leave this planet or evade the RIA. Good day, Jeanine.”
Olivia tapped something before her and the subspace screen went blank.
What will Jeanine do now? Find out in Chapter 27, coming Wednesday.