heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 40

There were few people Colin trusted, and he kept those people close. One of them, unfortunately, was Brody.

Colin had gotten away from the underprivileged planet of Ptolemy, received a good education, and made his own way in the world—all on the U.N.’s dime. In that first year of required service, he’d piloted their ships and moonlighted doing illegal runs with a friend whenever he could.

The jobs were a means to an end: freedom.

The U.N. had thought their offer of citizenship was too good to refuse. Make the rebel idiots feel indebted. Give them guaranteed employment, good pay, benefits, and comfortable living quarters.

Very few people in the scholarship program left after that first year, but Colin had. He had no love for the government that had abandoned Ptolemy after the Migration. His loyalties, if distant, lay with his home planet—but he was happiest aboard his ship, drifting in the in-between, away from the conflict and violence of Ptolemy and life on New Earth.

On his ship, he could control his own destiny. He could aid the rebel planets by offering the basic necessities residents of New Earth took for granted—at a fair price.

Life so far had worked out in his favor, but Colin wasn’t naïve. Most people from Ptolemy wouldn’t reject the darker side of life; they wouldn’t have the same opportunities. So he hadn’t thought twice about his sister and Brody making vows. The man was strong and capable. She hadn’t found him in a drug house, he didn’t drink overly much at the time, and he could provide for her.

Most importantly, Brody had loved Jillian—and Maxine, when she came along. It was maybe the only thing they had in common. It was why he’d helped with transport.

Then the gunman’s moonlighting had caught up with him in the worst way, and now they were bonded by grief, as well. Brody was damaged, unpredictable, and a pain in the ass, but he was part of his crew. He was family. And as much as he’d brought this whole damn mess on himself, Colin wouldn’t let him die without a fight.

The captain’s greatest strength was strategy. It was why he allowed the guards to take his gunman now, choosing instead to keep his focus on trade relations. He wasn’t sure what kind of punishment the gunman would face, but he knew that staying on Ekon’s good side was the only way they’d be allowed back on Mars—either to pick him up after he’d served his well-deserved time or to bust him out if Ekon took it too far.

Haddaway and two of his guards stayed behind while two more walked Brody to the palace. A gun was easily accessible on Haddaway’s hip, but he didn’t reach for it. The guards flanking him kept their rifles pointed at the ground. Good signs so far. No outright hostility.

“Haddaway,” Colin greeted. “We’ll offer the goods we promised to Alexander for twenty-percent less than what we agreed. I know it won’t make up for Shots’ lack of judgment, but we’d like to keep the king’s business.”

Haddaway’s sharp eyes narrowed as he took the captain’s measure. “Alexander is no longer under the King’s employ. We’ll accept the goods, if you consent to being questioned about your involvement in the matter.”

Colin gave a short nod.

“You’re not going alone, are you?” Jax’s concerned voice sounded through the linker in his ear.

He didn’t respond, but he knew why the younger man was worried. They had no insight to Ekon’s state of mind, his level of outrage—if he felt any at all. It was difficult to predict reactions after such a traumatic event. He might not care so much that they had Capri with everything else on his mind. He might want all their heads on a platter.

The news of Alexander’s dismissal didn’t exactly bode well. Jax would just have to trust his judgment.

“Why don’t you come on board and we can talk in the lounge?” he suggested, trying to stay on his turf.

Haddaway looked around the docks, and his eyes settled on a gray block of concrete, which housed the on-duty dock guards. Haddaway would have similar concerns, and, for now, he also had the upper hand. If he wanted Colin to go off-ship, he would.

“How about over there? You can bring one of your men.”

But Colin knew that if he brought Jax or Leroy, they’d still be outnumbered, and it would only prove to Haddaway that he felt the need for protection, that he might have something to hide. He shook his head.

The graying man smiled slightly, as if he’d passed some kind of test. Haddaway gestured to the guards and turned from Colin, trusting that he would follow. Colin glanced back at Leroy, who raised one sharp eyebrow and said nothing. He rarely questioned orders. Jax questioned them often enough but never twice. It was a necessary rule, if they were to maintain a relationship and Colin’s authority in tandem.

He followed Haddaway to the small, dark building, which was used for breaks and shelter—though the strange, still artificial air of Mars would never require shelter. There was the tinted globe of glass above them to remind them that the world was manmade.

Colin could never live in a place like this. It was, essentially, a stalled ship.

A guard entered in front of Colin to clear the room and ensure he couldn’t trap Haddaway. He’d have done it the same way. There was a table against one wall, just big enough for two people. A mini-fridge and coffee maker sat on a nearby counter, and on the opposite wall was a screen waiting for the pass code that would allow an on-duty guard to view the docks from inside.

Haddaway’s guard stood by the door, alert and ready to spring into action if Colin stepped a toe out of line. Haddaway himself, however, seemed relaxed as he poured himself a cup of coffee from the carafe. All signs pointed to his precautions being just that—precautions. He sat down across from him. They might have been two friends catching up. Colin thought that was the mood he was trying to suggest, but the tension was there—around them, if not between them.

“The last time we spoke was to debrief about the shooting.”

“I remember,” Colin said.

“It was a bit underhanded, the role you and your men played.”

Colin took a sip of coffee, unfazed. “We were hired by Alexander to do a job. It was his call whether or not to involve you.”

“I suppose we were in the middle of debriefing when your crewman abducted the girl.”

“I suppose we were.”

“Were you trying to distract me?” he asked mildly.

Colin appreciated Haddaway’s directness, and a smile touched his lips. He didn’t like beating around the bush. “No.”

“Did you know what he planned to do?”

Colin took a long sip from the steaming mug. “I don’t think he had a plan.”

“When did you find out about her?”

“Just after we left Mars. He’d stowed her away in his room. I called Alexander when I found out. I told him you and your men were more than welcome to come and get her.”

“But you wouldn’t bring her back.”

“We had a schedule to keep.”

“It wasn’t strange that Brody left the party early, without a word to you?”

Colin held the handle of his mug thoughtfully, turning the ceramic object on the table, admiring the craftsmanship. He knew what Haddaway was implying: that his crew did as they liked, and, if they did, he must be an unfit captain.

Sometimes he wondered that himself. His ex brother-in-law, his lover, and his lover’s brother. Everyone had their role, the ship functioned, but it was a complicated balance.

How much did Haddaway need to know about them? How much did he already know? The most important part of a good strategy was time; he couldn’t answer with a knee-jerk reaction. He had to look at every possibility and choose the best one. It wasn’t always possible in the heat of battle, but even when he had to make a quick decision, he did so calmly, thoughtfully, and with confidence.

This was not the heat of battle, and he took his time.

“Shots knows his job, and he got it done,” he said finally. “I trust him. He doesn’t have to tell me his every move.”

“You trust him?” Haddaway seemed almost amused.

For a moment, Colin did feel angry—at Brody. His intelligence was being called into question just because the man was a hothead, but he bit it back and answered patiently. “I trust him to fulfill his duties. He doesn’t always make the best decisions on his own time.”

“Do you think any of the rest of your crew knew what he was up to?”

Colin had to smirk at that. Brody and Jax worked well together, only because neither had any interest in further friendship. That left Leroy.

“No.”

Haddaway sighed and sat back in his chair. “Okay,” he allowed. “How was she treated in your care? We know she wasn’t confined to the ship, despite the fact you were carrying the King’s very precious cargo.”

“She wasn’t in my care. As I said, a representative of Mars was more than welcome to come and get her. She never left the ship against her will.”

“Asked to do some exploring, did she?”

Haddaway’s tone was dry, and Colin narrowed his gaze. Now they were beating around the bush, and he was irritated. “I have a crew to look out for and a business to run. I made it clear to Brody that I don’t have time to baby-sit.”

“Did you interact with Capri at all?”

“It’s a small ship.”

“So yes.”

“Yes.”

Haddaway paused. The conversation remained civil, but the air had changed. It could no longer be mistaken for a friendly chat.

“You entrusted her to the man who kidnapped her.”

“Let’s not pretend you two aren’t familiar with each other,” Colin said sharply. “He used to be your subordinate. Do you really think he would hurt the girl?”

Haddaway paused again, briefly, and Colin caught a glimpse of something like regret in the other man’s eyes. “I don’t. But Ekon will take more convincing.”

“Will he kill him?” Colin asked.

Haddaway looked annoyed. He was supposed to be asking the questions.

“He might get out of it,” he said. “If she’s not too badly disfigured and if her story matches the one you both tell me.”

Colin nodded. “What about the merchandise?”

Haddaway took a sip of coffee and then spoke again. “We can do business. For now.”

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