heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 39

Capri had shed her leggings and boots, knowing the artificially-controlled climate of Mars would be mild. She wore the heels and the dress and tried to remember how to be a lady of Mars.

Leroy had informed her they’d lost touch with Alexander shortly after their initial communication about her whereabouts. They were left with only a vague idea of what to expect upon arrival. The advisor hadn’t answered communication attempts as they got closer to the kingdom, and it had the whole crew on edge.

They were all in the loading bay now, except for Jax. Colin had opted to appear unarmed, but Capri knew there were weapons within reach no matter where they stood. Leroy bounced from one foot to the other as he checked the crates of goods bound for the palace. Brody was just a few feet away from her, grim-faced, fists clenched. He was likely itching to hold a gun, a knife, anything.

She knew how he felt—in limbo, eager to act. The silence was eerie.

Once, shortly after she’d arrived on Mars, an anonymous person had threatened to blow up the palace. All of the girls were ushered into then-empty jail cells beneath the building, and they’d sat there, waiting to see if the next sound they heard would be someone telling them that they were safe or an explosion.

It was the same kind of tension that held them now.

Once the ship touched down and Colin received word that the stabilizers were in place, he lowered the ramp. Two guards, a medic, and—to Capri’s relief—Briony, boarded to collect her. They ushered her down the ramp, but she managed one look back. She took in the sight of the three of them one last time. Leroy lifted his hand in a brief wave. Colin was impassive, already focused on the next task at hand. Brody…she almost couldn’t look at Brody, but she did, and he held her gaze until the guards closed in behind her and hid them all from view.

Briony wrapped her in a tight hug, and she forced herself to focus on the joy of seeing her friend again. The medic gave her a quick once-over before they left the docks, speaking into a linker or recording device as he checked her for injuries. He paused at the gunshot wound and again at the cut on her cheek.

It was barely there now, but he noticed it all the same, just as he noticed the bite mark on her neck. Her cheeks flamed. She wished she could tell him to mind his own business, but she couldn’t. She was back in a place where she didn’t belong to herself. He added the mark to his list of imperfections.

Once the young man was satisfied she wasn’t in any immediate danger, he allowed her to walk the short distance to a waiting car. Briony held her arm, and she was grateful for the extra support. This should have felt like a homecoming; instead she was thrown and grief-stricken.

There were very few cars on Mars, and Capri knew the sleek, black sedan that pulled up belonged to Ekon. Briony sat next to her on the bench seat with the guard and medic across from them. She held Capri’s hand tightly, and Capri was surprised to find tears in her eyes.

“Capri, I’m so sorry.” Her voice wobbled, and the tears fell.

Capri didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”

“I left you. I’m surprised I’m still your attendant. He should have banished me, too.”

 Capri pulled back to look at her, flabbergasted. “You can’t possibly think that this was your fault. He can’t blame you.”

She shook her head. “I’m supposed to protect you. You are my priority, and if I’d done my job and stayed by your side, you wouldn’t have been taken.

Capri couldn’t believe that Briony had spent the last week in this sea of guilt.

“When I think about what you must have gone through, what they must have done to you…”

“They didn’t do anything to me,” she said sharply. “And you couldn’t have stopped him if you wanted to.”

Briony’s red-rimmed eyes flitted to the short sleeve of Capri’s dress and the bandage peeking out from beneath the thin fabric. “What did they want with you, if not that?”

“It wasn’t they. It was just one man. Acting alone. He was trying to help me.”

Capri’s voice caught as she spoke of Brody in the past tense, where he would remain. The pain of it was a slow burn, and she had to be careful not to show it. She cleared her throat.

Briony remained skeptical. “You’re defending them.”

“I’m not defending him. I’m just—” She was beginning to feel flustered, and she wasn’t sure to how much the guards were paying attention. “I’m home, I’m in one piece, and let’s just leave it at that.”

Briony sat back in her seat, lips clamped shut, looking down at her clasped hands. Capri felt guilty. The blond had been her only friend and confidant for so long. But how could she possibly make her understand? How could she tell her that she’d miss the man who had kidnapped her—and the crew he ran with?

She couldn’t, and she was aware of the distance it created between them.

“How are things here?” she asked, changing the subject. “Who else…besides Agatha…?”

Briony glanced at her again, then looked away, remembering the bloody scene. She’d been there in the aftermath of it all, and Capri hadn’t.

“Faye. A few guards. Three citizens and two other beauties you weren’t close to.”

“Did you know them?” Capri asked gently.

Briony nodded. “We were in the dorms together.”

“I’m sorry. Have I missed the funerals?”

“No. They were all sent to Venus to be cremated. When the ashes come back, there will be a memorial service.”

Capri nodded. She’d never been surrounded by so much death, had never attended a funeral before.

“Security has been tightened,” Briony continued. “Alexander was released from his duties and banished.”

Capri blinked in surprise. “Why?”

He planted those guns for hire without Ekon’s permission.” Her dainty shrug seemed dismissive, but Capri couldn’t tell for sure if she agreed with the king’s decision.

“They kept him from being killed.”

“He still undermined the king’s authority.”

“Who’s the new advisor, then?”

It was Briony’s turn to glance at the guard. She had to word things carefully. “There isn’t one. Haddaway is taking on some of Alexander’s duties in addition to his own. Our king feels as if he’s able to see to the majority of his own affairs.”

Capri didn’t trust herself to respond with matching delicacy. Ekon had lived a relatively easy, unchallenged life. There was no doubt he was shaken, and it didn’t sound like he was responding well to the sudden chaos.

The car stopped, and a guard opened their door. Briony slid out behind Capri.

“I’m sure there’s a lot you have to tell me, but for now I just want to get back to the apartment and sleep. Is that okay?”

Briony hesitated.

“What is it?”
“You can’t go back yet.”

“Why not?”

“You have to go to the infirmary to be evaluated, and Haddaway will need to speak with you.”

Capri struggled to keep her displeasure from showing.

The medic spoke. “It’s standard procedure.”

She glanced at him, and maybe her gaze was harder than she’d meant it to be. His cheeks flushed. “If Ekon wants me to be well-rested in time to receive the next Victor, I’ll need time to recover.”

 The thought of going back to that, after all the freedom she’d had and all she’d shared with Brody made her stomach turn. The palace felt strange now, prison-like. The shooting and its after-effects, the truth about Marianne, her unraveled confidence in Ekon…For one week, she’d been free to question everything, to make her own choices.

 Now, she belonged to him again.

“The bidding has been extended a week,” Briony said.

“How kind.” Capri was careful to sound only sarcastic enough that Briony would notice, and the corner of her attendant’s mouth lifted slightly.

“I’m afraid our entourage must be growing impatient. Better let our medic perform his duties.” Briony smiled sweetly at the young man, who blushed and led Capri in the direction of an elevator that would take her to the infirmary. She felt a sudden spike of fear and turned back to the blond.

“You aren’t coming?”

The last time she’d been admitted to the infirmary was after the rape, and the memory felt very fresh. Briony looked to the medic, who shook his head slightly. He might be convinced to bend the rules, but his superiors would probably block Briony’s entry.

She looked back to Capri with regret. Capri set her shoulders and tamped down her fear. It would only be a cursory examination this time, she reminded herself. She wasn’t a child. There had been no rape.

“I’ll be close by,” Briony promised.

Capri followed the medic, flanked by the guards. Her welcome hadn’t exactly been warm, but she trusted that everything would return to normal soon.

In the infirmary, she was made to sit on the edge of a reclining bed. They checked her vitals, poked and prodded, saying nothing and asking nothing. Capri was an object for their perusal; they would make their own assumptions and observations.

 They asked her to remove her clothing, and she stripped down to her underwear. They examined Brody’s handiwork with a critical gaze, muttering something about scarring. They put ointment on her abrasions and gave her a vaccine to fight whatever kinds of diseases she might have picked up while away. Capri kept her mouth closed, her back rigid, and waited for them to finish so she could speak with Haddaway.

She knew he’d have questions about the kidnapping and the time she’d spent on the ship, but she had her own reasons for wanting to talk to him: namely, Brody.

She’d remind him that Brody had been the one to save her from Sullivan, twice. He had been the one to save the king from that imposter, Tyler. She’d do everything she could to convince him that his former subordinate should be released.         

She wanted to talk to him about Marianne, too. He had to make the same connections. He had to agree that something needed to be done, that the woman was dangerous.

“Remove your undergarments, please,” the female medic requested.

Capri met the woman’s gaze sharply. She was around Briony’s age, but the thin, no-nonsense line of her lips made her look ten years older. “Why?”

The medic who had met the ship—John, she thought his name was—blushed. He remained professional enough, but she doubted he got to see a beauty so intimately every day. Capri’s skin crawled. The last person in the room was Dr. Churchill, the same man who had overseen her care after the rape. He watched her now, as if he resented her for wasting his time, and crossed his arms over his chest.

He explained the procedure to her with pained patience, as if she hadn’t been through it all once already. “We need to do an internal examination, to see what—if any—damage has been done since you were last within the palace walls. You’ll put your feet up in the surgical stirrups, or if you prefer you may lie in the left lateral position. We’ll simply check for evidence of…activity…and this will conclude the exam.”

Capri’s face flamed. “I wasn’t raped,” she said.

“We just need to be sure.”

Capri was angry, so angry she was shaking. The “activity” in which she’d participated had been entirely voluntary. For the first time, she’d enjoyed intimacy with a man of her own choosing—and even that didn’t belong to her. Ekon would take it, too.

“Capri.” Churchill’s voice was sharp, and he took a step forward.

Would he force her legs apart? Who would stop him? She had to find some way to take control of the situation. You are never powerless.

“I want to see Briony,” she demanded.

“After the examination.”

“No. Now. Or I will scream. I will scream and fight, and I will tell Ekon that you—all of you—” Her glare landed on John, the weakest link. “—made inappropriate advances. This will all go much more smoothly if you just give me my attendant.”

Churchill clenched his jaw. “John, please ask Lady Briony to sit in.”

John, white-faced, scurried out to find her. As she’d promised, she was nearby and came almost immediately.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked, ignoring the medical team.

“They want to perform an internal examination,” Capri said bitterly, trying not to cry.

“But you said…they didn’t do anything to you.”

Capri didn’t answer. She couldn’t. She removed her underwear, lay back on the table, and put her feet in the stirrups. She hated how exposed she felt, how it echoed the exact position in which she’d found herself four years before.

She reached out for Briony’s hand, and she was there, holding on tightly. Capri glanced at her and knew that she knew. She wasn’t stupid. Her protégé wouldn’t be this upset if she hadn’t slept with someone. But she said nothing in front of the medics, and they said nothing to the beauties.

They took their samples and recorded their findings.

Capri, left to her own thoughts, began to hate. She hated the control Ekon had over her, over all of them. She hated him for monopolizing her youth, for demanding so much in exchange for so little. She hated the system and the man behind it.

By the time they’d finished, she knew she couldn’t stay on Mars. She couldn’t face another Victor. It meant she had one week to free Brody, one week to see Marianne brought to justice.

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