Brody had thrown on a shirt and left the room to dispose of his bloody clothes. Capri was left alone to clean up before dinner. She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror and washed Brody’s blood off her hands. A scrape on her cheek was the only visible evidence of what had happened in the alley. She redid her hair in a hasty bun, splashed her face, and didn’t look at her reflection again. She didn’t want the reminder.
She dried her hands and left the closet of a room, knowing she needed to compose herself before dinner. Her hands were still trembling. She looked up from her slender, shaking fingers to find Brody leaning casually against the closed door, waiting for her. The sight of him made her jump. She hadn’t expected him to come back.
Her stomach was in knots; she was unable to muster a brave front on such short notice. He didn’t say anything, just kept his gaze on hers. He was making her nervous, or maybe she was making herself nervous. There was a strange, tight feeling in her chest, and she shifted uncomfortably.
“You okay?” he asked.
Capri didn’t want to be late—again—and she moved cautiously towards the door. He moved aside so she could press the button that would open it. She hadn’t been sure he would. With his bulk he could keep her trapped there forever if he wanted. She stood there for a moment, with him so very near to her, the memory of their last kiss fresh in her mind.
She considered his question, then raised her eyes to his. “I’m fine,” she said. “You and I both know there’s not much that can be done to me that hasn’t been done already.”
She tried to sound flippant, but she wasn’t sure it worked.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened again.”
Brody’s sudden concern had Capri’s knees weakening in a way she didn’t like at all.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said quickly.
His look told her he didn’t believe her. Her cheeks flushed, but she walked away before she cried or threw herself at him, neither of which she would feel particularly proud of.
“You should know,” he said, low voice stopping her again, “gettin’ stabbed’ll sober you up real quick.”
Capri wasn’t sure if she wanted to turn around, but she couldn’t help herself. She needed to see his eyes, and they were fierce, honest, and just as conflicted as she felt.
She wasn’t supposed to want to hear that, to want him at all. At best, he was a man who thought he knew better than she did about charting the course of her life. At worst, he was a murderous criminal. But she did want him.
She turned back around without responding and forced her feet to move towards the mess area. Colin and Jax were already there, and Leroy entered as she sat down.
“Hey,” he greeted, taking a seat next to her.
“Hey,” she replied with a forced smile, reaching out to take a small share of the communal dinner.
It was poultry. Maybe the captain provided dinner every so often as a morale booster. She took a tiny bite. She imagined the technique worked quite well. After nothing but frozen or processed meat for two days, the roasted bird tasted like heaven.
Brody sat down as she was pouring gravy, and he took a hunk of the bird for himself. Capri wasn’t sure what to say or how to react to him. She met his eyes briefly. He said nothing, so neither did she.
“What happened?” Leroy asked, interrupting her inner turmoil to run his thumb over the scrape on her cheek.
Brody stabbed his food forcefully with his fork, making Capri start, but she and the captain were the only ones who noticed.
“Shopping’s dangerous.” She smiled weakly.
Leroy laughed. He seemed about to inquire further, but Colin spoke, and Capri was grateful to have something else to focus on.
“After dinner we’ll be setting the course for U.S. Territory,” he announced. “We have an opportunity to pick up a big order for Tycho. Fresh fruit. We’d have to take a truck to keep it all fresh.”
Leroy’s brow furrowed, and Brody stopped eating to look at the captain.
“How would we manage that?” Leroy asked. “Jax at the ship, two to load, one to drive…We’d still need a lookout.”
Capri was in the process of taking a long drink of water, pleased to be included, but knowing her place on the sidelines. Then everyone was looking at her—except for Brody, who was still staring at the captain. Capri swallowed her water with an audible gulp, choking a bit as it went down the wrong way.
“You don’t mean me.”
“We need an extra pair of hands,” Colin said.
“That’s really all I’d be. I can’t…do anything.”
“You have eyes,” Colin observed, straight-faced except for a glint of impatience in those brown eyes.
“And in your…profession—” Colin chose his words carefully, but Capri’s cheeks flushed hot all the same. When exactly did she start feeling ashamed of her role in the palace? “—you have to be observant.”
“You can communicate.”
“Yes.” Her voice had faded to a mutter.
“That’s all I need. You’d get a linker and a gun, just to be safe. Then you just let us know if you see or hear anything that might threaten the operation. That’s it.”
“Do it,” Leroy encouraged around a mouthful of food. “You’ll be fine. We haven’t had an injury in weeks.”
Well, if Capri hadn’t been unconvinced before, she surely was now. She opened her mouth to refuse, but the captain spoke one more time.
“You’d get a cut of the profits, too.”
She closed her mouth. Her own money. Earned, not for someone else, but for herself. She forgot her earlier affirmation that she belonged on Mars, far away from the dangers of this life. She forgot her strong suspicion that this merchandise would be obtained in an illegal manner.
She could have almost whatever she wanted on Mars. She’d ask, and the expenses would be approved. The only time she’d ever had money in her pocket to spend as she saw fit was earlier that very day. It still hadn’t been her money.
She wanted to know what it felt like to have that independence. She wanted it badly. This would be her one and only chance.
But then the attack in the alley came back to her vividly, and she knew that the only way she could ensure that something similar wouldn’t happen again was by staying on the ship.
“No.” Brody’s voice, tight with anger.
Her head shot up. He was talking to the captain—not to her. He was still trying to dictate her fate. Colin’s eyes narrowed; his mouth formed a thin line, but Capri spoke before he could.
“I’ll do it,” she said.
“Like you ain’t got yourself into enough trouble yet?” Brody snapped.
“Shots.” Colin’s voice was low but dangerous. It was clear he’d had enough of his gunman’s insubordination. “If you want to keep your place on this ship, you’ll stop talking and find her a piece.”
Brody glowered at the captain but shut his mouth. He ate another forkful and stood. He looked at Capri. She finished quickly, downed her water, and followed him.
Her heart pounded hard in her chest. Excitement. Fear.
What the hell was she doing? It would be okay. She wouldn’t be alone this time. She would know how to use the linker. Leroy could show her.
She expected Brody to take her to the loading bay, where she knew they kept a small arsenal, but he led her back to his room. He moved a couple of heavy crates, grunting with the effort, reminding her that he’d been injured just a few hours before—reminding her of exactly why she shouldn’t leave the comfort and security of the ship.
She felt like she might be sick. Brody glanced her way, muscles taut, eyes unforgiving. Then a smirk lifted the side of his mouth. Her fear must be obvious, but she kept her mouth set in a determined line.
She sat down on the bottom bunk and crossed her arms over her chest. Brody turned back to the crate and dug through a pile of—what, exactly? She couldn’t see, but she could guess.
He probably had a stash of guns and grenades and who knew what else in every room of the ship.
He hesitated, shoulders tense. She wondered if he was in pain again, and her arms dropped as concern seeped in. He lifted a small handgun. The barrel was short. It was old and scratched. It looked like it had been through hell. Capri’s initial reaction to the small weapon was disdain. Was he choosing it for her because he wanted to teach her a lesson?
But the way he looked at it made her think that maybe it was worn because it was a favorite. Because he knew it would keep her safe. His eyes met hers suddenly, and she saw a flash of pain there, but it wasn’t the kind that came from a physical wound. His hard gaze slipped back into place, and he tossed the gun to her.
She caught it clumsily.
“Safety’s on,” he told her before she could start raging.
She shut her mouth and glared at him. “I barely even know what that means.”
“Yeah, well, you maybe shoulda thought of that before you volunteered to try your hand at thievin’ and gunfighting.” He came over and took the gun from her inexperienced grasp. Then he lowered his voice, and the smirk returned. “Though it’ll be pretty entertaining watchin’ one of Ekon’s ladies play robber.”
“Fuck you,” she huffed under her breath, turning her head away from him.
She didn’t like the smug attitude or the reminder that she didn’t belong to herself.
He took one of her hands in his, and she tensed. His skin was hot—or was hers? She hoped he hadn’t caught the hitch in her breath, but he paused, which told her he had.
Weak in the knees.
It was a term she’d read in some of the books at the palace. A cliché. But she understood where it came from now. His touch made her weak there and everywhere else. She closed her eyes. She hated it. Didn’t she?
Then he wrapped her hand around the gun, and she turned to watch.
“Hold it like this. Safety’s here. Trigger’s here.”
“Pretty much.” He adjusted her fingers so that she was holding it as she’d seen him hold his. “Just stay where the captain puts you and tell us if we’re about to get caught.”
Capri didn’t reply. She couldn’t. Brody’s hand still lingered on hers, and it was all she could do to focus. She was impossibly aware of his touch. She raised her eyes to his and found that dark look, full of passion.
He grasped her hip suddenly and leaned down until he was at eye level. The tang of sweat and gun metal reached her nostrils, and she took a shaky breath. She tilted her chin up and parted her lips. The gun fell on the bed.
He glanced at the weapon, and then he released her as quickly as he’d grabbed her. His expression hardened. He picked up the gun and handed it to her. Capri’s cheeks burned. She’d made herself cheap. He was confusing her or toying with her, and it hurt.
“You understand how to work it?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied, struggling to keep the waver from her voice.
“Meet at the loading bay in two hours.”
She nodded, and he left the room. He closed the door behind him.
She left the gun on the bed and shed her clothing, leaving each piece wherever it landed before running a shower. The hot water mixed with her new, lavender-scented shampoo and helped to calm her. She stood under the spray and washed her hair, not bothering to take out the beads and braids. She’d only have to tie it back again.
She took a few moments to touch herself, to ease the tension. It helped a little. She could breathe normally again; she could think of more than Brody’s touch again. She could focus on the task before her.
After exiting the shower, she rummaged through her shopping bag and changed into jeans and one of Leroy’s shirts.
Today would not be a day for pretty things.