heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 6

TW: graphic sex

Brody walked home from the docks. It was early morning. Ptolemy was the farthest habitable planet from the sun, and it was always cold, prone to spontaneous flurries and a persistent icy mist.

He wore an insulated coat, a black knit hat pulled down over his ears, and a thick glove on the hand holding his duffle bag. His heavy boots crunched on the thin layer of snow beneath his feet. His right hand stayed in his pocket, finger on the trigger of a loaded revolver.

He passed a few drunks blacked out on the stairs of crumbling buildings. Some of them would freeze to death. On the streets closest to the docks, hookers called out to him and flashed their goods, nipples at full attention in the blistering cold.

He barely noticed them.

Drifters were as much a part of his home sector as the pitted roads and piles of junk. The U.N. had placed the infrastructure for a settlement, just as they had on New Earth. The intention had been for Tycho and Ptolemy to remain under U.N. control, but when the citizens began protesting and asking to live on New Earth, where there was plenty of room and a more temperate climate, they were denied. They got angry. They rebelled. And the U.N. wrote them off and left them to fend for themselves.

Now, hundreds of years later, they could travel to New Earth and the kingdoms. They could trade. But they could never reap the benefits they had been entitled to all those years ago without working—and working hard—to move their way off the rebel planets.

Brody’s apartment was a few miles away, on the outer edge of all the noise and debauchery. When his wife took Maxine out, it was never at night. Jillian would walk the streets the same way he did, alert, listening for the sounds of alarms or gunfire. One hand would hold Maxine’s, and the other would be in her pocket, wrapped around her snub-nosed revolver. It was second nature for her, too.

They both wanted Maxine to remember something different, to run down the sidewalk with other kids, to see a garden that wasn’t just half-dead weeds. It was the life she’d get on Mars.

He turned a corner on the broken sidewalk. A man stepped out of the shadows, but Brody bared his teeth at him, and he retreated. He was a notorious panhandler and pickpocket, and they’d already had one run-in. Brody reckoned he didn’t want to risk making more than his nose crooked by crossing him again.

His building was ugly and covered in graffiti, but it was sturdy and the rent was fair. He’d gotten an apartment on the fourth floor—far enough from the ground they wouldn’t be targeted for a break-in, but low enough that they had a good chance of getting out if the old wiring caught fire and they had to evacuate.

There was an elevator that no one used. It was either broken or likely to break. The stairwell smelled like piss and garbage, but when he reached his painted door and keyed in the code to unlock it, he was met with warmth and the smell of bacon.

He’d barely closed the door when his auburn-haired daughter crashed into his knees. He reached down to steady the half-naked two-year-old and then scooped her up into his arms.

“Daddy!” she shrieked, wrapping her arms around his neck in a surprisingly strong hug. “I miss you, Daddy! I pee in the potty and get treat!”

“Well, ain’t you a big girl?” he rumbled, carrying her over a sea of blocks to find Jill.

She was leaning against the door frame of their tiny kitchen with a big smile on her face, waiting patiently for her turn to greet him. He tried putting Maxine down, but she hung on his neck, laughing, so he wrapped them both up.

“I’m glad you made it in time for breakfast,” Jill said, tucking her short hair behind her ears. She wore faded jeans and a sweater. He flicked a speck of peeled paint from her shoulder. “Guess we gotta put some fresh paint on that, too.”

She turned to flip the bacon, and Brody frowned. She hadn’t said it with any hint of annoyance. This was a great place, by Ptolemy standards. But by Mars’s standards, it was practically a hovel.

“Daddy, play blocks?” Maxine requested, finally sliding down to the floor and stacking a few blocks on top of one another. He plopped a couple more on, and she knocked them over with both chubby hands.

“Boom!” she shrieked with glee.

He raised an eyebrow at the mischievous brown eyes. They were dark and deep and exactly like his own. The girl was the perfect product of their love—her hair, his eyes. Sometimes Brody thought his heart might burst. Before Jillian, he hadn’t even been sure he had one.

“Breakfast’s ready, love,” Jill told Maxine.

“We’ll play later,” Brody promised.

“And Daddy read book?” she said hopefully.

Brody glanced at Jill. Reading wasn’t exactly his strong suit, but if that was what his daughter wanted, she’d get it. “Sure thing, Maxi.”

“Yay, Daddy!” she hugged him tightly around the knees before squeezing into her chair at the kitchen table.

Jillian caught Brody by his shirt and pulled him around the doorway, out of Maxine’s line of vision. She clasped her fingers behind his neck.

“Finally, a hug all to myself,” she murmured.

He grinned and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close and kissing her deeply, searching her warm, familiar mouth with his tongue. God, he missed her when he was gone. He groaned, desire and frustration, but she broke the kiss before their daughter decided to investigate.

“Later,” Jill promised, moving towards the kitchen.

He smacked her butt, and she laughed, plopping bacon, French toast, and sliced apples on a plate for herself. Maxine’s was already cut up and cooling, and Brody helped himself to what was left.

“What do you think about going to the park today?” Jillian asked around a mouthful of food.

“Yes!” Maxine squealed.

“I’m asking your father.”

Brody shrugged and glanced at his daughter’s eager face. Every time he saw her, it was like she was a whole new person. She learned so much in the days he was away. He had a hard time denying her when he was home. Jill knew that, and she already knew his answer.

“Sure.” He smiled.

The park was an empty lot. Years ago, a building had stood there. A few half-dead trees managed to hold their own in the empty space, and some of the locals who had a sliver of ambition had erected a makeshift see-saw and a tire swing. Jill brought chalk and let Maxi draw on the patches of concrete between the greenery.

She and Brody stood guard, Jillian with the revolver in her pocket and Brody with a shotgun across his chest. They clasped their free hands together and watched their daughter play.

On the way home, they stopped for cookies. Ms. Gracie sold baked goods out of her house, using the typical barter system. The only secure bank was the U.N. Bank, and even though they wouldn’t reap any benefits, the U.N. traced and taxed the rebels’ money as if they were citizens of New Earth.

Brody had to have an account so that his pay could be deposited bi-weekly, but most rebels wouldn’t participate.

They traded a box of shelf-stable milk for three chocolate chip cookies and ate them on the way home.

By the time they sat down to lunch, Maxine was falling asleep in her sandwich. Brody read to her, as promised, and tucked her into bed for a nap. He leaned down to kiss her forehead, and she giggled as his stubble tickled her nose. Then he went to the kitchen and washed dishes while Jill took a few minutes to drink a hot cup of coffee and read some articles she’d downloaded at a newspaper box.

Once the dishes were in the drying rack, Brody cracked Maxine’s door open to check that she was sleeping. Jillian tracked his movements over the top of her reader, a knowing smirk on her lips. When he grinned and disappeared into the bedroom, she followed.

Brody pulled his shirt up over his head and unbuckled his belt before falling onto the big, spring mattress. Jillian locked the door and stripped. She climbed on top of him, straddling his hips, and landed a teasing kiss on his lips. He grunted with impatience, lifting his chin for more, but she was already moving down the length of his thick body, kissing a birthmark here, an old scar there.

When she took him into her mouth, his head hit the pillow, and he gritted his teeth to keep from waking Maxine. Jillian laughed around him, and he smiled, in perfect bliss, as she coaxed him to full attention.

She pulled his pants off and came back, kissing him as if they had all the time in the world, as if they wouldn’t have to part ways the next night. He slipped a hand between her thighs, making her quake until her breath hitched, and he knew she was close.

She guided him into her familiar warmth, and he groaned, rolling them both over so he could push her leg up and go deeper. She turned her head and bit her thumb to keep from crying out.

The sight of his wife in ecstasy was enough to send him over the edge, but he held off until she gave a strangled cry and clenched around him, giving him permission to release his hold.

The effort of his restraint left him gasping for air. They rested for a moment, breathing, smiling, and touching as they came down from the high. Then he pulled out and laid next to her under the covers, holding her and stroking her arm, then her back, whatever perfect, freckled skin he could reach while her head rested on his shoulder.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said finally. “I thought you’d be on your cycle.”

“No,” she replied simply.

Too simply. He realized she was holding her breath. The comfortable silence between them had changed. His hand stilled.

“You’re pregnant.” His voice was flat. It wasn’t a question.

Jillian sat up and covered herself with the blanket.

“Brody,” she said, warning him to tread carefully.

They’d wanted another baby, at least one more—when they were on Mars. Not here. Not now. He forced himself to take a deep breath, to fight the rising panic.

He’d just have to find a couple of side jobs while he was home to put them back on track. That was all. They could be out of here and on Mars before the baby was born. He was sure of it.

“It’s fine,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”

She seemed unconvinced. “Don’t go out tonight,” she said. “Please.”

He glanced at her, irritated that she knew his mind so well. “I’ll just go for a drink. Once Maxi’s in bed.”

Her eyes flashed angrily, but she kept her voice even so as not to wake up the sleeping child next door. “Ignore me, Broderick, but don’t you fucking lie to me. We both know you’re not just going for a drink.”

He shot her a glare and sat up to pull on his pants. “How about you don’t call me Broderick like you’re my fucking mother?”

Jillian crossed her arms over her chest. “I shouldn’t have told you.”

He rounded on her. “That ain’t fair. You can’t keep somethin’ like that from me.”

“You keep plenty of secrets.”

“That’s different. I tell you what you need to know. You don’t need to hear all the shit about what I do.”

“What you do affects both of us. Just like this affects both of us. What if something happens to you? What if you wind up off-planet again and the Guard catches you this time? Just do a run or two with Colin. He might not pay as well, but he can use the extra help. And it’s safer.”

“His runs ain’t all legal, either,” Brody snapped.

His wife looked taken aback, and he grimaced, immediately regretting the words. She was proud of her little brother, of how he’d gotten away from Ptolemy and was making something of himself. She turned away from him.

“Jill.”

“I suspected as much,” she admitted. “It’s still gotta be less dangerous than killing people.”

He grunted and pulled on his boots. He didn’t want to worry her by disagreeing. Delivering stolen goods to powerful and desperate people could be dangerous enough in its own right. There was a lapse in the argument, and Brody turned back to her.

“I don’t want to fight,” he rumbled. “I’m only home for another day.”

Jill shrugged one shoulder and refused to meet his gaze. “You’ll do what you want, anyway.”

He reached across the bed and took her hand in his. She squeezed, a reassuring sign.

“I’ll do what I have to do. I ain’t gonna have you give birth on our living room floor again, with just your aunt and prayers for midwives.”

Jillian sighed and finally looked at him, eyes shining with tears. But there was also understanding in their blue depths.

“Okay,” she said, though the tight line of her lips told him she wasn’t happy about it.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you, too.”

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