heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 26

Brody led Capri through the gate of the docks and into a bustling community. She tried to take in the view of tall buildings, wrought-iron balconies, upscale restaurants, and boutiques while still keeping sight of Brody. Conversations in Spanish, which she had no trouble understanding thanks to her Mars education, floated through the air. Mexican and U.N. flags moved gently in the breeze.

When the people of the U.N. countries were migrated, there had been talk of creating a true melting pot, of taking those migrating and placing them anywhere on New Earth. In the end, however, the importance of culture, of ethnicity, of keeping tradition alive, had won out.

Mexico Territory, like the other territories, paid homage to its Old Earth namesake. She never thought she’d get to see it in person.

She stopped in front of a shop window, and Brody turned slightly to look at her.

“Should I come back here for you?”

Capri glanced around. She wasn’t ready to be left on her own yet, but she was unwilling to let him see her lack of confidence. “No,” she said firmly. “I need to consider where I want to go.”

Brody took them through several winding side streets. The clothing began to take on the look of poor quality and knock-offs. The area they ended up in was shady at best. The crowds became sparse. Brody barely seemed to notice, but Capri was uneasy. Maybe, having grown up on Ptolemy, this area didn’t look so bad to him.

She should have stayed behind when she had the chance, but she tried not to let her nervousness show. A man stood outside of a hole-in-the-wall store, smoking a cigarette and staring unabashedly at every woman who strolled by. When his gaze landed on Capri, despite her unflattering clothes and windblown hair, his gaze turned hungry. She knew that look.

She broke eye contact and picked up speed just as Brody stopped outside of the shop’s dirty door. She ran into him. He looked at her like she was crazy, then realized what was happening and scowled at the smaller man. He dropped his gaze, but Capri still felt like a deer spotted in the crosshairs.

The small shop was illuminated by sunlight that managed to sneak in through the grime and one or two dim light bulbs. She imagined the dirt remained there on purpose, to help hide the wares the shopkeeper kept on display. Brody approached the counter and shook a scarred man’s hand. Military or ex-military, she guessed. He had a look about him that reminded her of Haddaway.

She hovered near enough to feel safe without drawing Brody’s attention. She perused the knives, guns, and other more creative weapons of destruction. She took a moment to admire an antique handgun. It wasn’t all hard edges, and it didn’t scream death machine. She’d almost call it pretty. Polished metal, smooth curves. Graceful.

Capri glanced up, noting the clientele and feeling very out of place. She thought she remembered the route they’d taken from the first shop she’d seen. She went to the door and glanced out. The man with the cigarette had moved on, likely to harass some other woman.

She thought about leaving. Brody was still haggling over the price of ammo, and Capri knew she only had another hour before they were expected back at the ship—but going without and escort on safe streets was one thing. Traveling by herself in this sort of area was another. She retreated back into the shop and waited until Brody’s pack was full.

He raised an eyebrow and smirked as they exited the shop. “You done ‘considerin’ where you want to go’ yet?”

Capri glared at him. He was enjoying her discomfort. “Yes. If you take me back to the crossroads I can get what I need.”

“Perfect. There’s a bar near there. Find me when you’re done.”

He stopped off at a building just before the intersection on the perimeter of where things became graffitied and seedy. He pointed down the road.

“You’ll find all your pretty things that way. Half an hour.”

Capri found a few basic necessities in one store: a toothbrush, socks, underwear, hair brush, and soap that didn’t smell like a man. She wandered down to another store for clothes.

A row of keypads lined the far wall of the boutique. She found a spare reader in a basket and inserted it into an available station. She pressed a few buttons, taking too long to read the instructions. She only had ten more minutes until she was supposed to meet Brody. A horizontal plane of light scanned her body, and a miniature version of herself appeared on the screen. In this way, she could try on anything in the shop.

She chose three outfits, nothing too extravagant because a. she didn’t want to feel too out of place on the ship and b. she only had seventy credited dollars left. She opted for a warm shift dress and leggings, a stylish jumpsuit, and, after some thought, a pair of jeans. She’d have liked a more feminine shirt to go with it, but she would make do with Leroy’s hand-me-downs and buy a pair of boots. They were cheaply-made. It was all she could afford with the money she had left, but at least they fit her properly.

She checked out quickly at the keypad and had to wait for the shop assistant to appear with her purchases. She checked the time on the reader. She was supposed to be at the bar right now.

After five minutes that seemed to last forever, a smiling woman with perfect teeth handed her the clothes. She hadn’t thought to bring a bag, but she’d bought one at the last store and managed to shove most of the clothes into it.

She thanked the woman quickly and hurried out the door. She found the bar and burst through the door. She didn’t think Brody would really leave without her, but the last thing she wanted was to give him more ammunition against her in their verbal spats.

Capri had been expecting a restaurant-type atmosphere, a host or hostess waiting to assist her by the door, casual seating and a long, clean bar top with a well-dressed barman, low lights and relaxing music. She’d never been in a bar herself, but she knew of the ones on Mars.

The only aspect that seemed similar to her idea of what a bar should be was the dim lighting. The rest of it was the smell of men and the sound of roaring laughter, of people trying to get a word in over the raucous music. The floor was sticky, but she forced herself to move through the crowd in search of Brody. She went as fast as she could without seeming out of place, holding her bag close.

A few men called to her; someone offered to buy her a drink. She tried not to make eye contact.

Brody was nowhere. She hovered near the restroom for a few moments, but when the door opened, it wasn’t him. It was the man she’d seen earlier, the one smoking outside of the gun shop. His eyes raked over her body, and his smile grew. Capri was afraid. She wanted to run, but she forced herself to hold his gaze.

He didn’t know she’d lost Brody. For all this man knew, the gunman was somewhere in the bar, waiting for her to return. She went into the ladies’ room, pretending that had been her intention all along. She waited for several minutes, heart pounding, hoping it was enough time for the man to move on but not enough time for him to realize she was alone.

She rested her back against the door and took a deep breath. She tried pressing the button on the linker, but she only heard static. She didn’t know if she was connected or who she was connected to. And she didn’t want anyone hearing her call for help unless she knew for sure it was coming.

A knock sounded then, and she had to move. She washed her hands, picked up her bag, and went back through the bar. She didn’t look directly at anyone, so she didn’t know for sure if the man had left. All she did know was that if she made eye contact with anyone, they’d see her fear, and that couldn’t happen.

A hand grabbed her ass. She jerked away and hurried out the door.

Fresh air. Finally. She sucked it in and realized she was shaking, but she didn’t want to linger. Her new plan was to head back to the safer streets and ask directions to the dock. Tears burned in her eyes as she walked. She was angry. She was scared, lost, and alone. She should never have gone off-ship. She should never have trusted Brody.

“Fuck him,” she muttered.

“Fuck who?” a heavyset, middle-aged man stepped out of the doorway, blocking her path. “Must be a lucky guy.”

The accent was thick, and Capri saved him the trouble by lifting her chin and speaking to him clearly in Spanish. “Excuse me, sir.”

He grinned and gave a slight shake of his head. Capri glanced to the side, hoping someone might help her. She hadn’t yet made it to the main strip, to the safe streets. There were fewer people here, and those that were didn’t seem inclined to help.

“Abuelita!” she called to an older woman.

The woman halted and stared at her, then looked at the man blocking her path. She looked sternly at him; he was the right age to be her son. He flashed a knife, and Capri didn’t blame the woman for snapping her face front and hurrying on her way. Capri leveled her eyes on the man and kept a running mantra in her mind, the same one she used when she had a particularly demanding Victor.

You are not powerless. You are not powerless. You can turn this around.

He flicked the knife to the side, indicating that she should go into a nearby alley. She froze. This was where she would use the panic button. She didn’t have a panic button, but she did have a word she wasn’t often able to use.

“No,” she said.

He took a step forward. Capri dropped her bag and ran, but there was a second man—the man from the shop and the bar. He stepped in front of her, grabbed her wrists and attempted to drag her out of sight. He still smelled of smoke, she noted vaguely.

Capri went limp, forcing him to drag her. He gave her a kick in the ribs, and she winced. The first man grabbed her legs, and together they took her where they wanted—into the alley, away from prying eyes.

She managed to break free and kick the man holding her legs. He let go, but the smoky man still held her. He focused only on Capri, pushing her back against the brick wall of the alley and grinning with nicotine-stained teeth.

He reached up and tucked a strand of hair tenderly behind her ear. The movement confused Capri. Then he plucked the linker from her ear and stomped on it with his heel. It provided enough of a window for her to knee him in the groin. She tried to run again, but the heavyset man had recovered.

He turned her around and held her face against the brick.

“Don’t make us ruin that pretty skin,” he growled in her ear, scraping her cheek against the cold, rough wall to illustrate his point.

She gasped, cheek stinging, tears streaming. He reached around to feel between her legs. She was powerless, after all. She almost relaxed. She almost went to that place in her mind where she’d gone when Sullivan had taken her. It would be easy.

You are not powerless. You can turn this around.

One last try. She screamed and managed to free an elbow. It connected with the man’s ribs, forcing him to release her. She managed to turn, but the smoky man was there again. He pushed her against the wall again, and tried to kiss her. She bit him. He slapped her. Then he pulled a knife and rested the tip against her ribs.

They were done playing.

As he reached up to cup her breast, she did go to that place. She made herself relax, knowing it would be easier if she did, swallowing back tears and saving them for later—if there was a later.

A gunshot rang out, and he slumped against her before sliding to the ground. She was covered in blood and brain, and she did a quick cursory check to make sure she was unscathed. His friend ran off, leaving her, the dead man, and Brody alone in the alley.

Capri’s heart beat hard in her chest. She felt sick. Mortified. Afraid. It was too much like Sullivan. She couldn’t catch her breath. Brody’s gaze was hard and unfeeling behind the still-raised gun.

Then he stumbled, and rage surged through her, offering a mask for every other horrible thing she felt in that moment. She could smell the alcohol on him from where she stood.

“Are you drunk?” she asked, disbelieving. “You could have killed me!”

“Don’t go questionin’ my aim, girl,” Brody warned, somehow stern even though he slurred the last word. “If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s shootin’.”

“Nobody’s good at anything when they’re drunk,” she replied hotly. “Everybody thinks they are, but they aren’t.

She began gathering her things. She just wanted to get back to the ship, to hide in Brody’s room and not come out again until they were back on Mars where she belonged. She searched for the bag and realized Brody had it clutched in his fist. She reached for it, cheeks burning, refusing to meet his gaze.

He lowered the gun and handed it over. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but before he could she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. The heavyset man stabbed him in the back before either of them could prevent it.

Brody turned calmly and shot him in the head. Once the threat was neutralized, he stood perfectly still. Capri stared. The knife was still in him. He had to feel it. A wave of dizziness washed over her, but she fought it. She couldn’t faint now. She needed to be useful.

She looked around. They were close to the entrance of the alley, far enough away from the main strip that no one had noticed them or the bloody bodies yet.

“What can I do?” she asked, voice barely a whisper. “Should I take it out? Should we find a doctor? Link the others?”

He glared at her, jaw set, but she imagined it was the pain making him angry—not her. She bit her lip.

“No,” he growled. “Leave it. We ain’t got time for doctors.” He turned, and his intention was clear. He started walking back towards the ship. “You attract nothin’ but trouble, girl.”

Capri was stung and more than a little indignant. “Maybe you should have been where you said you’d be,” she snapped.

He rounded on her, nostrils flared, jaw locked. Again, Capri wasn’t sure how much of his tension was from the pain and how much was directed at her. But her breath caught all the same.

“You were late. I went lookin’ for you. Why the hell didn’t you come through on the linker?”

Capri’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and her eyes burned. “I don’t know how to use it!”

He pulled back slightly and stared at her. Then a muscle in his jaw twitched, and she knew he was in pain.

“Let’s get back,” he ground out.

Capri followed him the way they’d come, carrying her bag and keeping close to him. His backpack rested just above the knife, providing some camouflage. By the time they reached the ship, his breathing was heavy. He tried the intercom, but there was no response. Jax must have left the ship.

“Should you link someone?” Capri asked again.

He glared at her and banged in the code for the ship’s elevator.

“They’ll all be on their way back already. Linkin’ them ain’t gonna get ‘em here any quicker. You’ll have to do it.”

“Do what?”

He didn’t answer. When they were both inside, he turned to Capri. He inspired a certain amount of fear and awe. He shouldn’t be able to walk that far with a knife in his back and only a sweaty brow to show for it. The extent of his lifestyle was beginning to sink in. What other awful things had he gone through to for this to be treated as nothing more than a scraped knee?

“Grab the kit off the top shelf,” he ordered.

Capri dropped her bags and obeyed, jumping to knock the first aid kit off the tall shelving unit. She caught it in her hands. He led her to his room and went to the bare desk in the corner. He held the chair tightly in one hand while he reached back to pull the knife from his flesh with the other.

Capri stared at the growing red stain on his t-shirt. Again, she felt dizzy. He pulled it up over his head and handed it to her.

“You gotta clot the blood,” he said. “I can’t reach it.”

Capri took the balled-up shirt from him and he straddled the chair to give her better access. She shook her head in protest, but he’d already turned. She couldn’t do this. Not again. But the blood ran down his back, and she knew she had to, just as she’d done for Lady Agatha—who was dead now.

She couldn’t think about that.

She dropped to her knees and pressed the fabric against his wound.

“Harder,” he said through gritted teeth. “You gotta go until the bleeding stops.”

She pushed with all of her strength, not eager to cause him more pain, but his only reaction was a tensing of muscles. Sitting there, with bloody hands and nothing but silence between them, everything that had happened in the alley began to sink in. Brody was right. She did attract trouble. Sometimes, she just wanted to tear her fingernails across her face and make it all go away.

She could feel herself begin to shake, and she took a deep breath to try and calm her nerves. She didn’t want Brody to see. He’d just been stabbed, and nothing had happened to her. Not really.

Still, he must have felt her tremble because he turned his head for a moment to look at her. She pretended not to notice, focusing instead on his broad back in an attempt to distract herself. The tanned skin was scattered with scars, providing evidence—just as she’d thought—that this wasn’t the first time he’d been stabbed. Shot. Cut. She reached up and traced a long, faded mark with the tip of her index finger.

A tremor ran through his body, and he turned quickly, grabbing her wrist and making her drop the blood-stained shirt.

She was sure she’d seen more than he wanted her to. Her face grew hot with a mixture of embarrassment and indignation. She’d crossed a line, but he couldn’t manhandle her. She tried to pull away, looking into his eyes, ready to plead with him. After the events of the day, she was too tired to fight anymore.

But the anger she’d expected wasn’t there. He held her gaze for a moment, hard and fierce, but not threatening. Then he slipped his other large, calloused hand behind her neck and pulled her close.

Capri released a ragged breath as his fingers toyed with her hair. Her heartbeat quickened. His lips closed over her mouth, the stubble on his chin rough against her skin. He was demanding, desperate, and, God, did she want him. But not now. Not like this. He was hurt, and she could still taste whiskey on his tongue. With effort, she broke the kiss.

“Brody.” She was still breathless. “You’re bleeding—and drunk.”

He stopped, looked at her, and let her go. Loss, the intensity of which surprised her, came like a punch in the gut. But he didn’t give her the chance to change her mind.

“You gotta stitch it up,” he grunted, turning around once more.

“Wait until someone else comes,” she protested. Staunching blood was one thing. Stitching human flesh…she couldn’t. There was no way.

He turned and gave her a look that left no room for argument. “There’s a needle in the kit.”

“I don’t know how,” she insisted through gritted teeth, fending off a rising panic.

“You just do it,” he growled.

“But what if I—”

He cut her off with impatient reassurance. “Little pinpricks ain’t nothin’.”

Capri could feel herself fading again, and she forced herself to breathe, to act, almost hating him again. He knew she didn’t know what she was doing, so if she messed up he only had himself to blame. She pressed the shirt against the wound again until the bleeding caused by his movements stopped. Then she fumbled to open the kit, struggled to keep her hands steady enough to thread the needle.

It was just a simple, old-fashioned sewing needle. She dipped the crude instrument in a bottle of disinfectant before facing Brody’s back again. She took a deep breath and pressed the point into his skin. She wasn’t sure if it was fear or passion affecting her nerves now. She stuck him clumsily more than once, but he didn’t complain.

When she was nearly finished, she heard movement behind her. Brody had left the door open, and Capri turned to find Colin watching them. He raised his eyebrows, looking surprised and maybe a little impressed to find her playing medic to his gunman.

She turned back to her work, knotting it off as she would a piece of embroidery.

“You good?” The captain directed the question to Brody.

“Yeah,” he grunted without turning around.

“Good. Dinner’s in twenty. Communal. We need to discuss that job in more detail.” There was a pause. “You come, too, Capri.”

Capri turned towards him again, but he offered no explanation. She was exhausted, but curiosity won out. She nodded, and the captain left them.

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