T
Tami Elder


A story of mercenary, Mark Kressley, his best friend, and his half-sister. Find out what life is like in the 22nd Century. Is it really so much different for man once the stars are reached?


Science fiction Futuriste Tout public.

#fantasy, #Science-fiction, #mercenaries,
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Chapter 1

Chapter 1:


Prospera

Auduna

24 June, 2145


Wiping the sweat from his eyes with the back of his hand, Mark Kressley blew out a breath and peeked around the corner of the building he'd chosen as cover. There was no sign of the gang that had been chasing him. Good, I can take a minute and catch my breath! Leaning heavily against the wall, he forced his breathing to even and his heart rate to slow. Reaching inside his jacket, he pulled out a data disk, and a thin credit chip. Tapping his comms twice, he spoke soft and quick, Nathan Mark, were good to go. Gather the troops. Jeana and Ill catch up with you at way point alpha.

Nathan Falken ran a hand through his sandy hair and nodded to the small group around the table they had appropriated in the grungy bar. All right folks, were green. Lets get on the road. Dropping a few credits on the table to cover the tab, the four people rose and exited the bar.

Glancing at her watch for the hundredth time, Jeana Scott glanced out at the empty street as fear uncurled in the pit of her stomach. Come on Mark," she whispered, "where are you? He was late. Frowning impatiently she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel of the groundcar and tried counting backwards from one hundred. She was checking her watch again when she heard a staccato tapping on the drivers window. Bringing up the automatic pistol that lay in her lap, with a squeak, she leveled it at the intruder. Recognizing her brother, she unlocked the door and slid hastily across the seat.

Yanking the door open the lanky mercenary quickly got behind the wheel. Starting the car, he lurched away from the curb and looked at her sideways. Getting a little nervous honey?

She snorted. You were late! What did you expect me to do, knit an afghan?

I suppose I wouldve done the same thing, little girl.

Shooting him a look of impatience, she spat, You know, I really hate it when you call me that, Mark. Im not little anymore.

Looking over at his kid sister, he sighed. She's right, but dammit, she's still my baby sister! No, but youre forever going to be my little sister, so get used to it.

Im only your half-sister Mark.

He chuckled glancing in the rearview mirror to make sure they werent being followed. Yeah, yeah. You gotta learn not to take everything so personally, Jeana.

What took you so long, she interrupted. The last thing she wanted to hear right now was another of his patented lectures on her faults.

Some of the people I bought the data disk from, decided that I shouldnt have it.

She shuddered. You have to be more careful. What would I do if you were caught?

Your theatrics wont work on me Jeana. He sent her a knowledgeable smile. Besides, I wont get caught. I wouldnt want to leave Nathan alone with you. Theres no telling what trouble you twod get the unit into.

Gasping in mock outrage, she turned on him. Thats not fair! Im not that bad!

He chuckled. Dont worry little girl. Im just trying to lighten your mood. And distract you from the problems of us being followed. Pulling into the parking lot of a seedy looking motel, he found an empty slot, parked the groundcar, and switched off the engine. Come on, lets get inside. I need to get out a reader and check this data to make sure everything I paid for is here. Rounding the hood he draped an arm over her shoulders, and said, You know, honey, you worry too much and you'll give yourself wrinkles." He sighed wistfully. "At times you remind me of mother with your childlike exuberance, and at others you remind me of father with all the stress you take on. You have spirit, sis, just temper it with a little common sense.

Bobbing her head in acceptance of the advice, she hid a smile. Ill try to be a little more boring, like you. I just wish that youd let me help you out more. I get so antsy not doing anything.

Hugging her close he stopped outside a door. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out an electronic room key. Before he unlocked the door, he turned to her. I'll make you a deal, little girl. If you can follow orders and get through this mission tonight without a scrape, I'll start giving you more to do, okay? Opening the door before she could answer, he ushered her inside, and closed the door behind them.

Rising up on tiptoe, she kissed him on the cheek and spoke so only he could hear. "I won't let you down, big brother. I promise."

Standing on the other side of the adjoining door with his laser pistol pointed at the ceiling, Nathan watched the vivacious blonde come into view. He slowly lowered his pistol, but still did not put it away. Are you alone, honey?

She shook her head and gave him a sultry pout. No, Mark is here too. Stepping to the side as her sibling filled the doorway.

Put it away Nate, he chuckled. I aint gonna do you no harm. Stepping all the way into the adjoining rooms that he and his sister shared with his second in command, he went to the desk and sat down. Pulling an e-reader from the drawer, he reached into his pocket for the data chip. I got the chip, is everyone ready?

The tall sandy-haired man holstered his gun and sat on the edge of the table. Watching Jeana sit on his bed, he got a devilish smile on his face before turning his attention back to his boss and best friend, Yeah. The building will be covered from all four sides. I still wish youd let me come in with you.

Youre face is too well known in Arlais. Dont worry Nate, well be alright.

Letting his eyes slide over to young woman on his bed, he sighed. What about you, little girl? Do you think things will be fine?

Rising from the bed she sauntered over to him. Why Nathan, she leaned on the table bracing between his thighs, I didnt realize you cared.

His blood heated and he stiffened. Watch how you use that honey voice of yours gorgeous, he growled low, or Im gonna start thinking youre serious.

Keeping her back to her brother, she smiled and traced her hands up his thighs. Leaning in, she whispered into his ear, Who says Im not, handsome?

Swallowing the lump that formed in his throat, he stared into her clear blue gaze. Yyou knknow, Mmark, I need to get moving. Ill meet you in the city. Sliding off the table, he brushed against her boldly and sent her a smoldering look. Tracing his finger over her cheek, he added, Be careful out there tonight, honey. This is the first time I've seen her be the aggressor. Could she really be serious after all this time? Does she want me as much as I want her?

Glancing up from the e-reader in his hand, the dark-haired mercenary caught the smoldering look that his second in command sent his sister. Dont worry, mate, Ill keep her safe.

Nathans eyes flew to his superior and long time friend. Y...yes sir! Turning, he opened the door and stepped into the late afternoon sunlight.

When the door closed, he turned the reader off. Rising, he said, Im gonna take a shower. At the adjoining door, he paused, You know, little girl, if you ever decide to stop acting, he will make a play for you.

Turning away from the closed door, she sighed. You see only what you want to see, Mark. He is too afraid of ruining your friendship to make a play for me. I wish he would, though. Lord how I want him.

That may be, but if he thought you were serious, he let his words trail off and shrugged. You better start getting ready. You can use his shower while I use ours.

Crossing into their room she opened the closet and took out the slim red dress and strappy heels she'd brought for this mission. Smiling dreamily, she murmured, I wish Nathan could see me in this.

He will honey. Remember, hes going to be watching us.

Pulled out of her daydreams, blushing profusely, she turned to the dresser to get her undergarments. When the shower started she hurried into Nathans room to take her own.

Twenty minutes later Mark, dressed in a sharply pressed, black suit, tapped on the door. "Jeana?"

Just a minute! Groaning she opened the door. Could you help me with this zipper?

Turn around, little girl. When she had her back to him, he pulled the zipper tab up. Are you almost ready?

Yes, I just need to finish my hair.

Ok. Ive got a couple of things to take care of before we go. He turned and left the room whistling.

Turning back to the counter she picked up Nathans brush. Styling her hair, she gazed dreamily in the mirror. In her mind's eye, she could see her lover behind her. Her skin tingled as she felt his arms around her, drawing a sigh from her lips.

Stepping into the bathroom, Nathan heard her breathy sigh and caught the faraway look in her eyes. Smiling slowly, he stopped close enough to touch her, and inhaled the scent of his shampoo on her hair. You sound like a contented angel, beautiful.

Whirling in surprise, she gripped the counter to keep from losing her balance, the heat of his body as it brushed along her skin, stealing her breath. Whwhat are you doing here?

Grinning devilishly he leaned forward and reached across her to pick up a device from the counter. I forgot my ear piece.

The brush of his chambray work shirt against her bare arm and shoulder sent her heart jack-rabbiting in her chest. Yyour eear ppiece?

Nodding he smiled and swallowed slowly as her pulse jumped at her throat. You're breathtaking, Jeana.

Her heart skipped a beat with the husky way he said her name. Nathan?

I better get going, he said softly raising her palm to his lips. You watch yourself out there, sweetheart.

The regret in his voice caused her to bite her lip and whisper, I will love. You take care of yourself, too.

Always. Love? Oh lord, please let me be reading her right. Turning, he encountered his CO's frowning face. I was just leaving.

What are you doing here Nate? I thought you left about a half hour ago?

Easing a finger under his collar as an embarrassed flush crept down his neck the sandy-haired second in command shrugged. I did, but I discovered that I forgot my ear piece, so I came back.

Throwing an arm around his friends shoulders he led him outside with a smile. Listen man, I saw the way you were looking at her. When are you just gonna break down and tell her how you feel?

I dont know what youre talking about man.

Sure you dont. Just remember this, my friend, if you ever hurt her, Ill teach you the meaning of target practice, begrijpen?

Nodding, he turned toward the open car door. I understand, mon ami. Merci. Climbing behind the wheel, his thoughts strayed to the honey haired beauty he'd just left as he pulled out of the parking lot. His body hardened in response. Turning onto the street just as a long black hover limo was pulling in, he sighed. I love her so much, but she needs time. She is so young yet so inexperienced so perfect.

Mark saw the limousine and stepped back into the room. Honey! The limos here.

Im ready.

Not quite. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a slim, elegantly wrapped box. Handing it to her he said, This is for you. Happy Birthday!

She shook her head as her eyes misted. You shouldnt have.

Open it. I want to see how it looks.

Silently tearing the wrapping from the box she opened it. Nestled inside on a bed of satin was an oval-shaped ruby surrounded by diamonds, on a simple gold chain. She looked up, Oh, Mark! Throwing her arms around him, she smiled, Thank you.

Pulling her back he took the box from her fingers. Let me see it on you. Pulling the necklace from the box he went around behind her and clasped her necklace, whispering in her ear, There is a micro-communicator hidden inside your necklace. He turned her to face him. You wanted more to do, well heres your chance. Prove that you can do this, and I will start giving you more assignments.

Yes sir.

Nathan will be able to hear everything that is said, so I want you to remember something for me. If I say, Im afraid that just wont work, you excuse yourself from the table. Go straight to the restroom, and tell him that he needs to come in and extract you.

Mark, she huffed.

The older man stood up straight and got the same stern look that his stepfather had worn occasionally. Listen to me, Jeana. I dont want you getting hurt. I dont want you in the middle of a firefight, if things dont go well. Promise me you will do this? I couldnt lose you, too.

All right. I promise.

A knock interrupted them. Proffering his arm, he crossed to the door and opened it. Come on, we have a date.

A large bald gentleman stood there. Mark Kressley?

I am.

“Your limo is waiting outside.

Taking Jeanas arm, he guided her towards the car. Before she got in, he whispered in her ear. Remember, no business talk.

She giggled. Oh, Mark!

Seating her in the car, he nodded to the driver, and got in. They chatted about this and that as the hover limo sped through the streets.

Twenty minutes later, the car pulled to a halt and the rear door was opened. Good evening sir madam.

Exiting the car he assisted his sister out. Taking her arm, he led his sister into the posh restaurant where they were supposed to meet his buyer. Walking up to the host, he said, Mr. Norden is expecting us.

The stodgy man glanced up from his podium. And you are?

Mark Kressley.

He looked down at his guest book, found the name, and picked up two menus. If you will please follow me? Leading them through the dimly lit restaurant to a private booth near the back wall, he said, Mr. Norden will join you shortly. Enjoy your meal.

Nodding to the man, he smiled. When he was gone, he whistled under his breath. This place is pretty nice.

I dont like the feel of this, Mark. Something isn't right.

Trust me little girl, this will be a pleasant evening. Squeezing her hand reassuringly, he added cryptically, Dont worry, youll be fine. Rising he held out his hand to the robust gentleman that had approached the table. Good evening Mr. Norden.

Gerald Norden shook the hand that was offered to him. Good evening Mr. Kressley. His eyes flicked over the young beauty sitting at the table. Who is your lovely companion?

This is Jeana. He turned to his sister. Jeana, this is Mr. Norden, a business associate of mine.

She offered her hand and a smile. A pleasure, Mr. Norden.

The two men sat and the trio opened their menus. After a few minutes a waiter approached the table. May I take your orders now?

When they had given their orders, the mercenary sat back to nonchalantly survey the crowd. Nice place you have here.

Gerald watched his two companions. So what brings you to my neck of the woods, Mark?

The dark-haired man continued to study the crowd as if he was interested in them. I thought you might be interested in some information I just happened to pick up.

The businessman's expression didnt change. What kind of information?

Eh! The hush, hush useful kind that's very difficult to obtain. Interested?

I am always interested in useful information. What kind of price are we talking?

Turning his attention to their host, he looked at his hands. Well now, theres the real issue. He scratched a finger behind his left ear. I am asking a pretty hefty price for this information. I gotta cover my costs afterall.

Hmm, name me a figure.

Prepared for this, the mercenary didn't bat an eye. Six and a half million.

Gerald fell silent as their food was placed in the table in front of them. When the waiter had gone, he picked up his wineglass. To a profitable evening.

Picking up their glasses the two mercenaries took a sip. As he replaced his glass, Mark sat back without touching his plate. So what do you say?

Id like to see this data for myself, before we settle on a price.

I have a copy of the data, but Im not sure if its secure enough here.

There is no one nearby and no cameras my friend. Let me see your data.

Pulling a small data reader from his jacket pocket he passed it across the table, and picked up his fork. Thats only a preview mind you.

Scanning the tidbits of information, the businessman realized that they were carefully chosen to be incoherent, and smiled. Passing the reader back, he sobered. From what Ive seen, Im not certain that its worth the price you're asking.

Id be willing to go for five seven.

Gerald stretched his arms. Four million.

Mark, who had been scanning the restaurant, spoke as he saw two men move closer, Im afraid that just wont work. My price stands.

Jeana sat and watched the room appearing to be bored by the conversation. Watching a couple of men sitting across the room, she saw one of them move in their direction. Mark, she said softly, Would you be a dear and let me out? When he immediately slid out, she spoke to them both. If you will excuse me gentlemen? I need to use the powder room.

Gerald smiled and half-stood. Of course my dear. Just take the hall to the left of the main entrance.

Thank you. Walking nonchalantly to the front entrance, her nerves jangling as she stepped into the powder room, she stepped into the third stall after ensuring she was alone. Opening her purse she took out a pocket mirror and practically sighed when Nathan's face filled the screen.

What is it, little girl?

Its a little hot in here. I feel awful. I need to go home.”

He nodded. Ok, honey. You're doing just fine. Go back to the table Ill be there in just a minute. Go with whatever I do, ok?

I will handsome. Thank you. Closing her pocket mirror, she flushed the toilet and stepped over to one of the sinks. Splashing some water on her face, she picked up one of the decorative towel and dried her hands. She smiled as another woman came through the door. Nodding, she stepped into the hallway.

When Mark saw her coming back to the table, he noted her pallor. Are you feeling well, Jeana?

Im fine. She leaned in close and stage whispered, "I got a call while I was powdering my nose. My fiancé."

Smiling he slid into the booth to allow her to sit on the outside. Why dont you sit where you can get a little more air, love. I'm sure he doesn't know where you are.

Seeing Nathan come through the door looking like a deranged man. She groaned and leaned over to her brother. He just walked in, she whispered loudly.

He looked towards the front door. They wont let him past the front desk, he said reassuringly as they did just that.

Their intel man made his way to the table and grabbed her arm firmly. Get up, Jeana, were going home. He looked at Mark, a silent message passing between them. I thought you were my friend, man. I cant believe youd do this to me! He surreptitiously nodded his head. Pulling her to her feet, he guided her out of the restaurant. When they were outside, he asked softly, Are you all right?

Trembling the minute they were out of sight of the door, she whispered. No, I have never been so nervous!

Putting his arm around her he guided her down the street. Dont worry Mark will be fine. Im just glad you are out.

She put her head on his shoulder and breathed in his cologne. Im sorry to be such a ninny, she said in a quivering voice.

Nathan stopped and put a finger under her chin. Its all right honey, youre safe, now. He saw dampness on her lashes. Dont worry, hell be fine.

Her breath caught in her throat as she clutched at his shirt for balance. NNathan?

Leaning down he touched his lips to hers in a tentative kiss. Lord does she feel so rightso perfect right here in my arms. I can't help how I feel anymore. I love her. Feeling her tremble, he deepened the kiss and swept her closer. When he felt her stiffen in fright, he released her lips. Holding her gently, he whispered, I'm sorryIHappy Birthday.

I want thisbutIno I can't! She pushed back. Nathan, let me go. When he did, she turned and ran blindly into the dark night, her heels clattering on the pavement.

Swearing, he turned to chase after her, his comm-unit beeping as he ran. What, he growled.

Nate, this is Brad. Mark needs help in there.

Stumbling to a halt, he ground his teeth. Damn! Take Lana and go inside. Follow his lead, to extract him. I cant help you right now; I've got to go find Jeana. If she gets hurt, Marks gonna kill me. Well meet you at the rendezvous. Clicking off his comm-unit, he hurried into the darkening streets. After several blocks, he stopped to listen. He heard a soft scraping noise from down the street, then a muffled thud, and some very unfeminine cursing. Kicking into a light jog, he covered the distance in moments.

Picking herself up off the ground, Jeana swore. Damn! Seeing the tear in her dress and her broken shoe, she almost cried. She was about to take a step, when she heard a soft scraping nearby.

Nathan slid along the wall, trying to be quiet. When his shoe scraped softly against the wall, he paused and swore silently. Jeana? Is that you little girl?

She froze when a voice called her name. Nathan, she inquired softly.

Nathan stepped into the alley. Jeana, why did you run?

Jeana wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. I dont know, she whispered. Because you felt so right holding me, and I'm too scared to admit it to you how desperately I want you.

Nathan saw her shiver. Unbuttoning his shirt, he slipped out of it. Stepping in close to her, he wrapped the shirt around her shoulders. Come on honey. We have to get to the rendezvous point.

Smelling his after-shave on the shirt, she sighed. How are we gonna get there, its twenty miles outside of the city?

Well, hopefully well catch the others before they leave. If not, Ive got an alternative. Pulling her close he started walking cat-quick.

She wrapped her arm around his waist for balance, and felt thin material he wore. Nathan? Arent you cold?

Not in the slightest, little girl. Are you?

Im warm enough. I just worry that you arent. With only a thin shirt She trailed off as she realized what she was saying.

Nathan let the silence hang for a moment. Im touched, little girl, concern for me?

Hearing sarcasm in his statement, she bristled and pulled away. Laugh if you want. I know Im not usually the nicest person, but I really do care.

Pulling up short, he tugged her into a shadow against his chest. Shh, he warned. When he felt her open her mouth to speak, he put his hand over it. Bending so he could whisper in her ear, he hissed, If you dont want them to find us, be silent! Breathing in the scent of her perfume, he sighed.

Feeling him relax she pried his hand away from her mouth. What are you talking about, theres no one there!

Hearing the two men drawing closer he wound his fingers into her hair, banded his other arm around her waist, and took her lips in a furious kiss.

Sensing his anger she began to struggle.

Easing his grip as desire burned through him, he held her firmly, but now his lips werent punishing, they were persuasive. Giving in to the passion he felt whenever she was near, he whispered against her lips. Come with me now, away from this place. I want to show youeverything God, I want to awaken your passion. Let me love you? When he felt her wrap her arms around his neck in surrender, he lifted her into his arms. "You're sure?"

She sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. "Absolutely, my love."

Glancing about, he began moving swiftly and cautiously to the south.

Traveling four blocks before he opened the door to a run down looking building, he moved to the stairs, taking them two at a time. On the third floor, he turned down a hallway. Setting Jeana on her feet in front of a door halfway down the hall, he pulled a key from his pocket and fitted it into the lock. The door opened soundlessly, and he guided her inside. After closing and locking the door, he turned on a light.

She was astounded. There were paintings, and antique furniture. Whos apartment is this, she asked a bit fearfully.

Mine. Leading her to a sofa he pressed her shoulders until she sat. Can I get you a drink?

Youre serious? This is your apartment, but how...

Ive lived here before a long time ago. Does it really matter? He moved to a built in bar. Would you like something? He opened a small refrigerator and took out a bottle of water.

He obviously doesn't want to talk about it. Don't press. N, n, no thank you, she stammered. Rising from the sofa, she hobbled over to look at an exquisite painting. Who did this?

Someone named Rembrant. Taking in her disheveled appearance, he allowed his gaze to run down the length of bare leg that her torn dress revealed, and discovered that she was bleeding. Does that hurt?

She looked at him. Its all right. Its only a scratch.

Putting down his water, he crossed to her. Taking her hand, he led her into the bedroom. Sit down, here. I will get a first aid kit and take a look at your 'scratch'. Dont move. He went into the bathroom.

She heard him rummaging around for a few moments, then watched him as he came back and knelt beside her. Lord is he handsome. I love him so much, but I can't tell him I wish She looked up to find him watching her curiously. Im fine, really, she insisted. I must have cut it when I fell.

Nathan sent her a stern glance. She seems a little dazed. I wonder if she hit her head when she fell? Hush now, and let me look at it. Pulling some cotton and alcohol from the kit he began cleaning the area around the wound. By the time he was done, he discovered that she only had a minor laceration on her calf. Cleaning it, he whispered when she flinched. Im sorry, honey, Im almost done. He bandaged it and rose. Going to a closet, he opened the door. Im afraid I dont have anything as elegant as your dress, but this is clean. He pulled out a silk robe and handed it to her.

She took the robe with a shaky hand. Where should I change?

Ill step into the living room and allow you some privacy." As he was closing the door, he smiled warmly. You are safe here, I promise.

Looking down at her torn dress, with a sigh, she slipped out of her stockings. Reaching around behind herself, she tried to pull down the zipper. After failing several times, she went to the door and opened it. Nathan, she said tentatively. Not seeing him, she stepped all the way into the room. Glancing around in fright, she started moving around the room frantically. Nathan, she called again, this time her voice was tinged with fear.

He stood in the doorway to his study and watched her for a moment, until he heard the first hints of panic in her voice. Its all right sweetheart. Im right here.

Hearing his voice she felt relief flood her. Rushing across the floor, she threw her arms around him and sobbed. I was so scared!

Wrapping his arms around her, he marveled at how perfectly she fit against him almost like a puzzle piece. I didnt go anywhere, Jeana. Was there something you wanted?

She blushed profusely and looked at her hands. Im sorry. I was going to ask you for help with my zipper, and when I didnt see you, I panicked.

His face eased into a relieved smile. Turn around and I will help you with your zipper. He pulled the tab down. You have nothing to fear. I will not leave you. Feeling her shudder he realized that his hand had somehow found its way to the bare flesh of her back and was idly caressing her skin. Im sorry! I will let you change.

I will only be a moment. Fleeing into the bedroom, she stripped out of the torn, soiled dress, and donned the robe. Stepping into the bathroom, she turned on the water and filled the sink. Quickly scrubbing her face, she ran a comb through her hair. Stepping back into the bedroom, she saw dozens of candles flickering and heard the lilting strains of some classical piece she couldnt identify. Looking around, she searched for Nathan.

Maneuvering back into the room when he heard the bathroom door open, he drew in a soft breath when he caught sight of her. I do not deserve the bounty of riches the Lord has laid at my feet, but God help me, I won't say no another moment. He had changed into a similar robe and held a lit cigarette. Ive always thought that candlelight was more romantic.

Her eyes roved over his silk clad body from head to toe as she watched him close and latch the balcony doors and step down into the room. Swallowing nervously, she took a deep breath. I never knew you were a romantic.

Chuckling he stubbed out his cigarette. Nobody does. Crossing the room he stopped before her. Reaching out a hand, he touched her cheek. I love you Jeana I'm in love with you. Ive held my tongue for so long, but now I don't have to hide it anymore I can tell you how I feel how I've felt for so long. I can finally show you what you make me feel just being with you every day. He looked down into her glistening eyes. Pleasetell me what youre thinking?

Taking a tentative step towards him, she put her hand against his shoulder and slid her fingers into his short hair, brushing her fingertips over the top of his ear. Oh, Nathan, she sighed. Do you have any idea how long I have waited to hear you say that? Too long.

Sliding his fingers along her cheek and into her tresses he cupped her head and began pulling her forward. This is your last chance to say no, he warned softly. Once I… touch you, I will never be able to let you go.

Sliding her fingers down the side of his neck into the v of his robe, she whispered against his skin. Im not going anywhere, my darling.

Nathan felt a tremor, shake his body. Pulling her lips up to his, he kissed her slowly, and passionately. When he felt her part his robe and place, her slim fingers over his heart, he groaned, and swept her into his arms. Laying her gently on the bed, he eased down beside her.

The hours ticked by, the candles burnt lower, and the sky began to lighten as the two lovers explored cupid's garden together. As the sun peaked over the horizon, Jeana's eyes drooped closed the languor and exhaustion of newly awakened passion wrapping her in a contented blanket of sleep. With a contented sigh, she snuggled into the pillows and whispered, I love you, Nathan.

He smiled as he heard her soft words. "I love you too, honey." Waiting until she was fully asleep, he slid out of the bed. Slipping into his robe, he made his way into the study as stealthily as possible. Closing the door, he sat down at the desk and picked up the phone. Punching in a number and then a scramble code, he waited.

Mark heard the phone ring and lunged for it. You better have a real damned good explanation for me, pal!

Hello to you to Mark. Listen, I was just calling to let you know that Jeana is safe. Shes sleeping right now, and, he yawned, I could do with some myself. He paused a moment. Last night was really… long for her. Shes safe here with me, so dont worry. Well catch up with you later this afternoon at waypoint Charlie, ok?

Trying to puzzle through everything his friend had said was impossible. Unable to focus, he contented himself with the knowledge that his sister was in good hands. All right, he sighed. Tell her I love her would you? Well pick you up at waypoint Charlie.

I will mon ami. Get some sleep now would you? How am I going to tell him that I slept with his sister?

Yeah, you too.

Nathan hung up and made his way back into the bedroom. Easing his way into the bed, he pulled Jeana into his arms and fell into a peaceful sleep.

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