Thursday, December 11, 2008

EXCERPT: The Promise of Kierna'Rhoan

Oops, getting this up a little late. Sorry! But for those of you interested, here's a little additional excerpt which is different from the one you'll read at Samhain. Enjoy!

The Promise of Kierna’Rhoan
Copyright © 2008 by Isabo Kelly

Kira stood at the edge of the elaborately carved red stone bridge, trying to slow her thumping heartbeat. The public transport line stopped just at the edge of the Grand Bridge. She was the only one who’d gotten off. No government-funded transport dared cross that bridge. Visitors were left to walk into the Docks at their own risk.

She’d crossed that bridge before, walked the gray flagstone streets of a city built above the Dreic Sea and supported by wooden pillars sunk into the sediment below. She’d even dealt with some of the less than lawful citizens of the Docks. But always during the day.

Night settled over the area, dark and forbidding. The moons had yet to rise, leaving only the stars and the glow from the city to light the bridge. She hesitated for a moment more. But she couldn’t back out now. Squaring her shoulders and straightening her cropped jacket, Kira stepped onto the bridge.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?”

The unexpected voice made her gut clench and her hands shake for just an instant. She fisted her left hand, letting her short nails bite into the flesh of her palm. When she turned to face the stranger cautioning her, she was in control again. Recognizing the face made her grin and relax her hand; then her smile dropped to a suspicious frown. “What are you doing here?”

David stepped from the shadows across the road and strode toward her. He wasn’t in uniform, but there was still a formality to the way he wore his loose black pants and tight turtleneck shirt. His black leather jacket was a nod to the current fashion fad, but it looked too new and clean.

“I should ask you the same question,” he said in that smoky voice she found so toe-curling. “This place isn’t safe at night.” His dark gaze lingered on her red mini-dress and calf-high boots.

“I’ve been here before.” She raised her chin, flashing him a small smirk. “And this isn’t exactly a place where the Guards are welcome.”

“I’m not on duty tonight. And we’re not forbidden entrance.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

“Maybe I’m looking for something…hard to obtain.”

Kira narrowed her eyes. The Docks were notorious for providing things “hard to obtain”. The city was run by a family of very powerful and very dangerous criminals. The government called them a mafia. They bought and sold illegals, smuggled goods and people, ran gaming and prostitution rings, auctioned slaves, both alien and human, pandered to the drugs and technology trades, and all in the open streets and canals of the Docks.

The Guard didn’t go into the city—officially.

Government propaganda had it that the encroachment of the law into the well-established city would only start a bloody, vicious war. As long as the criminal element remained localized in the Docks, they were no danger to the citizenry. Common gossip vouched that the mafia paid high-placed officials well to keep the law out of the city. Common gossip also held that the mafia possessed certain alliances and weapons that scared even the “all-powerful” planetary government.

“I wouldn’t have taken you for a Docks patron,” Kira said at last, still not convinced by David’s excuse.

“I wouldn’t have guessed it of you, either,” he countered. “I haven’t heard your explanation yet.”

She bristled at the underlying order. His tone came dangerously close to reminding her of her ex-husband. The man, she reminded herself, who gave this man his orders. “And I don’t suspect you’ll hear it anytime soon. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She turned and started across the bridge, her earlier fear replaced by indignation.

David fell in step beside her. The thick sea air moved across the bridge, through the buildings, carrying with it the scent of fish and an underlying hint of something Kira couldn’t name and wasn’t sure she wanted to. She paused at the edge of the bridge, letting her eyes adjust to the soft orange glow of the city streets. Then she headed down the first major walkway into the heart of the Docks, trying to ignore the man that had followed her over the bridge. To her irritation, he stayed beside her.

“I imagine you have other things to do here,” she snapped, stopping to stare up at him. She found it disconcerting that despite her high-heeled boots, he was still several inches taller than her. In heels, she was the same height as Ennoren, and she’d considered him a tall man. Even more disconcerting was the scent of David’s cologne, a combination of musk and spice blending with the leather smell of his jacket. It managed to tease her senses without overpowering them. She wanted to lean closer to that faint smell, to fill her lungs with it.

“I’ll walk you to where you’re going,” he said, ignoring her dismissal. They stood alone on the main street, washed in orange light. He glanced again at the miniskirt and her long length of exposed thigh. “I’m not comfortable letting you walk here alone.”

Kira stared at him, her emotions shifting rapidly from amazement to anger and finally settling on amusement. She smiled. When his eyes creased suspiciously, she laughed, a sound that boomed in the quiet streets. A man in a dark bodysuit and flight jacket who’d just stepped out of an alley glanced toward them, then gave them a wide berth.

Kira forgot to be afraid or angry. She patted David on the arm and grinned. “Very gallant of you. Not necessary. But a gallant offer nonetheless. Would that I could allow it.” He frowned and she hurried on. “The…hard to obtain item I’ve come to get is sold by a man that wouldn’t take kindly to me appearing with a…bodyguard.” She said the last with an upward lilt in her voice, half questioning, half teasing him with the title. “Besides, I’m sure you’re not here to follow a virtual stranger around. Go about your business, Officer. I’m well able to take care of myself.”

He didn’t quite smile, but his scar jumped under the twitching muscle of his jaw. “As the lady wishes.” He bowed from the waist, which only made her laugh more.

She walked away, enjoying the tingles he’d started in her body. When she felt his gaze still following her, she added a bit more swing to her hips. It had been a long time since a man made her feel this feminine and sexy.

She turned a corner, crossed a canal and headed down a second narrow street. Her momentary thrill at flirting with a handsome man vanished behind the need to stay alert and ready for anything. She watched the shadows as she walked through the alleys with as much attitude as she could muster. The surrounding buildings were all several stories tall, with a variety of cast-iron or stone balconies and window boxes decorating the stucco facades. In daylight, the colors varied from muted creams, corals and tans, to darker blues, purples, oranges and greens. The canals, kept cleaned by the natural currents of the Dreic, still held a faint fishy smell that permeated every alley and building in the city. The Docks had been fashioned after the Earth city of Venice in Italy. And if the pictures were anything to go on, Kira thought the Docks a pretty close replica.

She crossed a second bridge, the dark waters of the canal reflecting the orange glow of the streetlamps, and ducked down a final alley. The club’s entrance wasn’t easy to find. You had to know the exact door. The owners had designed it that way. She stepped up to the ordinary-looking green wood door and stared at the brass knocker. The cooling autumn breeze that managed to flow down some corridors and streets in the tightly packed city didn’t reach into this particular alley. A trickle of sweat inched down her spine. Raising a hand, she hoped the information they’d bought had been worth the price.

She knocked with bare knuckles against the thick wood, a pattern that was supposed to allow entrance without question. The door opened and she came face-to-face with a very large, very hairy Binnean doorman. The Binneans were one of the few sentient alien races humans had encountered since embarking on their exploration of the galaxy. The species was known for its strength and violent tendencies. Kira held her breath and waited for the giant bouncer to comment.

When the Binnean didn’t ask any questions but merely stepped aside for her to enter, she released her breath, feeling lightheaded with relief. She crossed to the long brass and glass bar which ran the length of the ground floor and took a moment to study the club, letting her eyes adjust to the smoky light.

Everything was black and gold. The marble floors, the arched ceilings, the second floor galleries, the glossy tabletops, the glow of imitation candles, even the majority of the patrons wore some variation of black and gold. No, she decided after a more thorough look. Most of the men wore some combination of black and gold. Most of the women wore bright, flamboyant colors. But there were too few women in the club to notice those flashes of color on first glance. Kira wondered at the small number of women but was glad their informant had told her to wear red.

A Binnean barman stepped over to her and asked if she wanted a drink. The creature was so wide, he would have made three human men. His thick head and body were covered with neatly combed black hair, and the only clothing he wore was a pair of loose-fitting gold woven trousers. Two large, emerald green eyes poked out of the brown, smooth skin of his face. His nose was thick and long over a straight, full-lipped mouth. Hearing a polite question from that mouth seemed at odds with the all the violent stories she’d heard of the Binneans. But then, in the Docks, business was business.

She ordered a beer and studied the booths at the rear of the club more closely. She’d been given a description, but already she’d seen a number of men who might fit. For a second, a tinge of panic churned in her stomach. What if she couldn’t recognize him? What if he didn’t show? What if she picked the wrong man?

She was considering taking a walk around the upper galleries when one of the men at the rear of the club caught her eye, a slight, roguish grin tipping the corners of his mouth. The shoulder-length sandy hair and light eyes, the overall build, even the pilot’s black jumpsuit all matched the description of her contact. She took one final glance around the ground floor, then picked up her bottle of icy beer and walked slowly toward the man, noting his casual, arrogant slouch in the booth and his undisguised observation of her legs.

“Raf?” she asked when she stood across the table from him.

His grin crooked to one side, and he nodded for her to take a seat. “So you need a pilot and a ship?”

His blunt question surprised her. She’d thought there’d be more subtlety. At the very least, she’d expected him to make a more lecherous comment to start the conversation.

The fact that he didn’t made her look at him more closely. One arm was slung across the top of the bench, the other hung loose on the seat beside him, conveniently within reach of a hip-holstered weapon. His cocky grin belied the vigilant darting of his blue eyes.

She slid into the booth. He may have looked at ease, but he was ready for anything. For some reason, that helped Kira relax. And after another careful moment’s consideration, she decided she liked Raf Tygran. She didn’t trust him. But she liked him.

“How much?” she asked, taking a sip of beer. She didn’t flinch when he named his price. She’d expected something higher. “When?”

“I can be ready to leave planet within the week. I’ve a few details to settle first.” His lip twitched. “But getting them onto the ship and off planet isn’t gonna be easy.”

Kira nodded.

When she didn’t answer his unspoken question, he spoke it. “You have a plan, I take it?”

“Of course.”

“What about the detector rings?”

“You worry about flying the ship.” She set her half-empty bottle on the table. “I’ll worry about the detectors.” And before he could ask, she said, “I’ll have a clearance code as well by the time we leave.”

He shrugged and reached for the nearly full glass of some orange-colored drink that sat on the table in front of him. “Your show, honey. I’m paid for my pilot skills, not my tactical skills.”

“I hope you have a few tactical skills as well. Getting where we’re going isn’t going to be easy. And if it’s suspected you’ve helped us, you won’t be able to show your face here again.”

He raised his eyebrows and grinned. “Do you think I’m able to do that comfortably now?” His gaze flicked around the room before settling on her again. “Why do you think I come here?”

Kira glanced at the room, then leveled a hard look at him. “Why do you come here? To this club, I mean?”

“Paid anonymity. You can buy just about anything in the Docks. Anonymity is more expensive than a lot of things, but not so expensive as others.”

“Why are there so few women here?” She picked up her bottle and cradled it in her hands without sipping.

“Too early. Crowds build with the night.”

“Doesn’t it lessen your anonymity to be seen with one of the few women in the club?”

He grinned, a mixture of smug self assurance and amusement. “I’m too handsome for anyone to question why I’d be with one of the few women here. Especially since you’re quite a stunner yourself. Seems like an obvious conclusion to me.”

For just an instant, she was awed by the sheer arrogance of that statement. Then she laughed and took a drink of her beer. He really should have annoyed her, but the blatant cockiness he wore like a shirt made it impossible to take his flirtations seriously.

Unlike David’s more subtle seductive manner, she thought before she could stop herself. Her stomach did a giddy dance at the memory of his scent and dark eyes. She swallowed hard and reminded herself that David worked for Ennoren. That fact wasn’t going to change, no matter how he made her feel. And within the week, Kira would be leaving Narava forever. Another fact that wasn’t going to change. She dropped her gaze and drank deeply from her warming bottle. A slight shiver shook her shoulders despite the relative warmth of the club.

For more, be sure to pick up your copy of THE PROMISE OF KIERNA'RHOAN

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