Capri looked up just in time to watch the guard fall. It didn’t seem real. It felt like she was watching a performance. Then guests began screaming. Ekon looked shocked, spattered with blood. Gina fainted. Faye, in a peculiar reaction, screamed and fell to the floor beside the guard, trying to help him. Blood spurted from his wound. He wouldn’t survive.
Capri knew exactly who was responsible.
She stood and whirled around to find Brody. His gun was still pointed at the spot where the guard had been standing just a moment before, his face impassive. Others were standing, too, unsure of what to do. Some headed for the door; others ducked for cover. Still others sat, frozen, at their tables.
Brody held his hands up, letting the gun dangle unthreateningly from his index finger as the other guards aimed their weapons at him. Capri’s heart beat fast and hard. She couldn’t make sense of it. Why had he shot a guard? What was wrong with him? She couldn’t reconcile the cold-blooded killer with the man she knew—or thought she knew.
She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned in time to see a servant running from behind the bar towards the dais, a gun drawn, shooting as he went. He was running towards Faye, she realized. Through the clear polycarbonate of the high table, she had a clear view of the beauty on the ground, sobbing and covered in the young guard’s blood. The servant’s aim was careless, desperate. Two innocent party guests fell near the door.
Capri flinched as another gunshot sounded from the direction of Brody’s table, and that man fell, too. Two men in uniform burst through the door to the stairs and began firing. The guards had to focus on them.
Gunfire was everywhere. What had been such a shocking sound at first became so constant she barely noticed it. Fear remained wrapped around her heart, crushing it and keeping her from moving. A bullet whizzed past her ear, wrenching her from her daze.
Lady Agatha fell, blood spraying from the side of her head. Capri’s stomach lurched, but all she could do was stare. Briony grabbed her arm and yanked her to the floor.
Capri was shaking; her breath came in gasps. The tables were clear polycarbonate and most—including theirs—didn’t have tablecloths. Ekon didn’t like the way they looked. They could see everyone, and everyone could see them. They were easy targets if someone wanted to take them out.
“Breathe,” Briony told her, as tears streamed down her own face.
They were all terrified. Capri realized that the smaller woman was trying to drag Agatha under the table with them. She grabbed her around the waist and, together, they pulled her to fragile safety.
Somehow, Agatha was still alive. Maybe even conscious. But her eyes were wide and unfocused, and the sounds she made were incomprehensible.
With 1000-thread-count napkins they tried to stop the flow of blood. Capri’s pretty peach gown was soaked. Sobbing, she clenched her fingers around the napkins until her fingers were white, pressing down hard on her friend’s wound.
Neither of them knew much about caring for injuries. They were ladies of Mars. Their specialties lay in art, music, dance, literature, fashion, seduction. Most of them had never felt more pain than a twisted ankle, a bruised knee—or Ekon taking their virginity.
With pain, at least, Capri could empathize. She might not be able to save Agatha, but she could be with her, she could understand a fraction of what she was feeling.
It seemed like the gunfight went on forever, hours of screaming, shooting, and breaking glass all crammed into just a few minutes. Then reinforcements arrived. Whoever was to blame was outnumbered now, but there would be more fighting. She glanced up through her tears, trying to see if Brody was still standing and not sure if she wanted him to be. Was this his doing? He’d taken the first shot.
He was still shooting. His aim was perfection, his focus absolute.
She shivered. He was built for this.
“No. Oh, no.” Briony’s voice, thick with grief, forced her attention away from the gunman.
Agatha was gone. With effort, Capri released the blood-soaked napkin, fingers aching with the effort she’d put into keeping her friend’s blood inside of her body.
Gunshots continued ripping through the air. The thud of a body sounded a table away, startling them both. Briony squeezed Capri’s hand reassuringly and crawled over to the man who had been caught in the crossfire. Capri was left alone with her dead friend.
The guards struggled to restore order, to calm the ladies and courtiers who hadn’t made it out of the dining hall. Slowly, they were weeding out the enemies, making arrests. Some of the people in handcuffs were dressed as guards or servants.
Maybe Tyler had been an imposter.
Whatever had happened, it was almost over, and nothing would ever be the same. Mars had never experienced a security breach like this before. No tragedy of this magnitude had ever touched the kingdom. It could never happen again. The essence of the place was irrevocably changed.
Still, she’d survived. The pounding in her ears began to subside. She struggled to relax her muscles. Then someone grabbed her around the waist and pulled her out from under the table.
She opened her mouth to scream, but a large hand covered her nose and mouth. She couldn’t breathe. She struggled, trying to pry the meaty fingers from her face. She couldn’t ignore the parallel between this moment and the moment she’d been taken by Sullivan. Her body knew, instinctively, that this could only end badly. Panic tore through her.
“Stop fighting,” a familiar voice growled.
Brody. Confusion made her pause. What did he want? She supposed it was clear—the same thing every other man wanted—and she relaxed. He’d decided to take what he was owed. Maybe the battle had him riled up. Whatever the cause, he would be done with her soon enough.
He guided her through the crowd, blocking most of her body with his bulk, heading for the stairs before the guards had the exits fully secured. He kicked open the door and half-dragged her down the stairwell. They heard footsteps, and he pulled her off to the side, into the shadows, covering her mouth again so she couldn’t alert them. The memories were too vivid, the fear almost tangible.
She pulled his hand away only because he let her. She couldn’t match his strength. Capri was embarrassed to feel tears on her cheeks. Her heart was beating too fast.
“Stop,” she said. “Please. I hate it. I’ll come quietly.”
He narrowed his eyes as he examined her face for any signs of betrayal. He wouldn’t find any. She was too tired to fight, and technically he was well within his rights.
He took her down to the kitchens and into a side hall that opened into the warehouse. The guards that would have been stationed were upstairs. It was too easy for him to get her that far. Capri looked around, feeling uneasy. She’d never been here before. Where was he taking her?
Brody found a small truck used to transport goods around the dock and jerked his head, gesturing for her to get inside. She hesitated, and he put his hand on her head, pushing her impatiently into the passenger’s side of the vehicle but also protecting her from harm.
Again, she didn’t resist. She just looked out her window, waiting to see if his borrowed hat and convincing lies would be enough to get them through. She could cry, scream, try to jump out, but she didn’t. Soon enough, he’d be done with her, and she could return to her apartment to try and pick up the pieces.
They arrived at the ship. That’s where he wanted to do it. His bed. Her cheeks flushed. She was more comfortable in her own territory. The adrenaline was wearing off. She was exhausted and still covered in Agatha’s blood. He couldn’t expect much from her, but maybe he liked that. He got off on killing and just needed a means to an end.
The name Gypsy Lass was written in swirled letters on the side. He got out and came around to her side of the truck. He opened the door and leaned down, his mouth a hard line. His dark eyes were searching.
“Are you okay?”
It was a confusing question, and it made her angry. “Does it matter?” she snapped.
His nostrils flared, and he stepped back so she could get out. He didn’t speak another word, only released the elevator that took them up into a cluttered loading bay. He led her into the corridor. The ship was dark and silent, and she shivered as he stopped to unlock a door. It slid open.
He turned on the light, and she found herself in a room that could only be his. There was a bunk bed. The bottom one was made, if you could call an uncased pillow and a blanket made. He kicked some dirty clothes into a corner. Storage crates, totes, and a huge lockbox took up one wall. A desk was attached to the corner, but it was bare.
Brody pointed to a door in the back. “Bathroom’s there if you need it. Keep quiet. I’ll be back.”
He left and closed the door. She looked around the room for a moment, and then she sat abruptly on the floor. She leaned her back against the cool metal of the bed frame. All she could think was that she shouldn’t get blood on the mattress.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Silence. Finally. But she couldn’t find peace.
The sounds of clanking metal, heavy footsteps, and male voices reached her ears. Her eyes snapped open. She bit her lip and felt her cheeks blaze. She tried not to think the worst. Inviting partners wasn’t permitted, but neither was taking her off the premises. He wasn’t exactly playing by the rules.
Capri waited maybe half an hour. Then the door opened, and Brody slipped in. She looked up at him. He looked down at her. His fists were clenched, and he seemed unable to get the words he wanted to say out. They didn’t need words, though, did they?
She stood on shaking legs and unzipped her dress. She slipped the stained fabric off her shoulders. It was beginning to dry in a sticky way that made her feel sick.
“Put those away,” he said in a low voice.
Capri paused, trying to read him, but all of her artful instincts were fried. She was only left with uncertainty. She pulled the dress back up to cover her breasts. “What do you want from me?”
“Nothin’,” Brody said.
She knew that wasn’t entirely true. She could tell from the tension in his neck, the way his eyes were locked on the place where her bare breasts had been, that he wanted her. He just wasn’t acting on it. She didn’t understand.
“You aren’t…looking to get what you paid for?”
Brody’s eyes flitted over her body, then back to her face. “No,” he said.
Capri waited for him to elaborate.
“It just seemed like a good time to get you out.”
She swallowed. Her voice was a whisper. “What?”
The ship rumbled. It was taking off. Her eyes shot to his, and emotion exploded in her chest. Fear, panic, anger. “No. You can’t. Where will you take me?”
“Back to where you came from.”
Capri shook her head frantically. “I don’t even remember the people I knew on New Earth. You have to take me back to Mars.”
Brody was getting impatient, angry. “We’ll find you a place.”
“I have a place!”
“And you like it there? You like getting whored out every two weeks—or whenever Ekon gets the urge to offer you up?”
Capri felt as if she’d been slapped. She’d nearly forgotten the promise Ekon had made to Tyler.
“You think you’re so different?” she spat.
His jaw clenched and he stepped forward. “You think I’m not?”
She didn’t back down. She wouldn’t say he didn’t scare her; if she pushed him too far she was sure she’d regret it. But he was wrong, and he had to understand.
“You are just another person making another decision about my life without bothering to ask me what I want.”
His hands turned into fists at his sides. She tilted her chin a little higher and stood a little taller. If he was going to strike her, he’d have to do it looking her in the eye. But he didn’t move.
“I have to talk to the captain,” he said. Then he glanced down at her ruined clothing again. “I’ll find you somethin’ to wear.”
“I thought red was your favorite,” she said as he turned away, picking a fight now, for reasons she couldn’t explain.
Maybe she didn’t want him to go. She didn’t want to be alone. But he just looked over his shoulder briefly and said, “It don’t suit you.”
Then he left, and Capri was alone.