heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 38

Capri stood on shaking legs and went into the bathroom to shower. The scent of fresh lavender steamed around her. She wondered what it would smell like in a field, in the wild, and her eyes pricked with tears. The end of her freedom was so near. Soon, she’d only be able to see it in the palace garden again.

Her eyes landed on Brody’s bar of soap, which smelled so different: tangy, fresh, and masculine. Using it had made her feel close to him somehow, and the simple fact that she didn’t need it now seemed to widen the divide between them. She finished washing and rinsed, trying to keep her left arm out of the spray. Then she brushed her teeth and hair, wrapped her body in a thin towel, and exited the tiny closet of a room.

Part of her hoped Brody might be there, waiting for her. Why? What did she want from him? She knew it was supposed to be the end of their wanting for each other. But she would be happy to find him sitting in that chair again or leaning against the doorframe with that dark, angry look in his eyes.

At least he was something tangible, something genuine, a gateway to more than the life she’d led so far.

But the room was empty. The culmination of their strange desire had left her exhausted again, and she lay back down on the damp sheet in Brody’s bunk, still wrapped in the towel. Her heart was beating fast, but within a few minutes she fell hard into a dreamless sleep.

*

When Capri woke next, they were half a day from Mars. She dressed the part as best she could, brushing her hair until the curls shone, beading and braiding her hair, though it was easier with Briony’s help.

She tried to focus on her as she donned the shift dress and leggings, on being reunited with her friend. The last she’d seen, the small blond had been covered in the blood of others, putting on a brave face more successfully than most. She wanted to know how she was really coping.

Capri used a rough cloth to scrub at a few brown stains that lingered on the nude heels she’d been wearing the night of the shootout. Her arm still throbbed, but either it was beginning to mend or she was just getting used to the pain.

She felt restless after too much sleep and not enough food. Part of her wanted to stay in the room until they landed. She didn’t want to face the goodbyes, the finality of it all. But her own thoughts and hunger were likely to drive her crazy if she didn’t leave.            She slipped through the bedroom door and met Leroy coming out of the mess hall.

“Capri!” he greeted, his face breaking into that familiar grin. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” she said.

He looked her over, noticed her attire, and his grin faded a bit. “Ready to go back, then?”

She nodded, keeping her response simple even though her feelings on the matter were anything but.

“The captain wanted to talk to you,” he said, gesturing to the door of the mess area, which she couldn’t yet see into.

“There was a meeting?” she asked, surprised to find she felt left out.

She wasn’t part of the crew. She was leaving in twelve hours. She had no right to feel that way.

“Yeah, the captain didn’t want to wake you since you were recovering.”

Brody exited the room then, taking her by surprise. His gaze lingered on Capri’s face just long enough to make her cheeks burn with memory. She liked to think maybe he was remembering, too.

Then he passed and headed in the direction of his room. Leroy hadn’t missed the exchange, and he frowned.

“I’m starving,” Capri said before he could ask questions.

“I’ll make you a sandwich,” he said brightly, leading her into the room.

Colin was at the table with Jax. They sat very near to one another, forearms touching as they looked over the same reader. It was the closest to publicly displaying affection she’d seen from the pair. She imagined keeping to the captain’s room and dark corners simplified things, kept everything professional.

She waited patiently while they finished their quiet discussion.

“Capri,” Colin greeted, standing as he acknowledged her presence. “How are you?”

“I’ll be okay. Leroy said you wanted to see me.”

Colin plucked a small but weighty bag from the center of the table and held it out to her. She was confused for a moment, then she recognized the bag and took it from him. The small diamonds inside clacked together in a way that she found satisfying. It was her share of the profits from the Tycho exchange.

For the first time in her life, she was holding her own money. He couldn’t know how much it meant to her.

“Thank you,” she said.

He nodded, the hint of a smile on his lips. Maybe he did understand.

“There was something I was hoping to talk to you about, too,” Capri said.

She glanced at Leroy, who was building her a sizable sandwich near the fridge. She could see the small dent where Brody’s fist had landed. Her cheeks flushed again and she looked quickly back to Colin.

Jax left them to it, barely looking up from the reader as he went. The captain sat down at the head of the table, and Capri sat to his right. Leroy joined her on the other side, munching on grapes.

“What is it?” the captain asked.

“Are you really just handing Brody over to Ekon when we get back to Mars?”

The captain looked as if he couldn’t quite decide whether she deserved an answer, but she held his gaze, hoping. The sound of Leroy chewing slowed but didn’t stop.

“What do you think I should do?”

“Drop him off somewhere before we get back. Pick him up after.”

“He kidnapped you, Capri. Maybe you aren’t all that sad about it, but Ekon sure will be. If we don’t give him the man who did it, he’s likely to take the rest of us instead.”

“Maybe I could…lie about it,” Capri said, coming up with the plan on the fly. “Say it was my idea.”

Colin paused for a beat, keen brown eyes seeing straight through her. “Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for him.”

Her cheeks burned, but she held the captain’s gaze. “You and I both know he’d never let that happen.”

“We’ll get Brody back,” Colin said. “We just have to go about it the right way. See how long Ekon wants to hold him. If he wants him dead, then we might need to get on the inside. Could help to have someone there already.”

Capri took his meaning. “You know I’ll help if I can.”

“We’ll send word if we need you.”

She nodded. Vague as it was, she was glad to know there was a plan in place. The captain stood.

“Anything else you need to get off your chest?” he asked.

“No,” she said, and he left her and Leroy alone.

The mechanic pushed a plate in front of her, and despite her mixed feelings the hunger remained strong. She took a bite and finally gathered enough courage to look at him.

“So it’s him then?” he asked bluntly, his grapes and sandwich forgotten.

She swallowed her food and didn’t answer.

“He’s not a good guy, Capri,” he said earnestly. “I know you’ll think I’m saying that with an ulterior motive, but I’m not. He’s the biggest bastard I’ve ever known.”

“How many bastards have you known?” she quipped, popping a grape into her mouth.

He was silent, unamused. She pushed her plate away to give him her full, honest attention. “I think you underestimate him, and I think he underestimates you.”

Leroy didn’t respond.

“Sometimes I don’t understand how you all even ended up together.”

He paused, looked at her, and then seemed to come to the some decision. Maybe he just didn’t want the last meal they shared to be spent in awkward silence. In any case, he resumed eating, talking around his food, and Capri was grateful.

“The captain flew solo for a while. When he put out the word he was looking for a night pilot, Jax was trying to get over somebody. He went for it—spur of the moment, I think, but he got the job. Colin had told him he could use a mechanic, so he asked if I wanted to come along.”

He stopped and ate another mouthful. Capri thought he might stop there.

“Why did you?” she asked.

He looked up at her, and she could already see that he was relaxing. She was learning that he didn’t stay angry for very long, and she was grateful for that, too.

“I’m not sure. It seemed like an adventure, I guess. I thought maybe I’d join them for a while and then end up back in U.S. Territory near Mom and Dad. I got comfortable here. And I’ve never really been away from my brother.” He paused. “How’d you end up with Ekon?”

“He bought me when I was five.”

Leroy shook his head. “The U.N. has a rule of law. I just don’t see how that sort of thing fits.”

“Maybe they don’t know,” Capri said. “I remember the men who took me, and I remember them saying they planned to sell me. It never bothered me. I was always convinced Ekon had saved me from some worse fate.”

“And now?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know what to believe.”

Leroy frowned. He reached out and squeezed her hand under the table. She squeezed back.

There was only one crewmember left.

“I’m not sure Shots ever really joined, but the captain took him on after his wife and daughter died. He was married to Colin’s sister.”

He said it easily—it was old news to him—but the information sent a shockwave through Capri. She’d already guessed the gunman had lost someone close to him, maybe a lover. But she’d never entertained the idea that the cold, hardened gun-for-hire had ever been a family man.

Her heart shattered for him. Everything about him made sense now. But if he knew that she knew, it would push him farther away.

She’d have to settle for understanding him a little better. She didn’t want that to be her last memory of him.

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