"You sure you're okay?" Janice watched Britt carefully for her answer. The assassin's blade, only the day before, hadn't cut the skin but there was a fading red mark where it'd pressed too close.
"Of course. I'm fine."
Sure she was. Janice wasn't the only one concerned. Across the rooftop deck, out of hearing of their softly spoken conversation, Britt's husband Barak, or mate as they said on this world, watched her as closely as Janice did. His brother stood tall and still and silent at his side. He turned to look at Janice every now and then, his gaze at once hot and chilly.
It was a name that haunted her waking hours and soothed her nights. She'd only been on Delroi a few days, yet already she felt altered. Every new place she went to changed her. Sometimes in little ways. Sometimes big. This change had the power to completely change her life. She wasn't sure she was ready for that yet.
It was the promise of a different existence that had brought her to Delroi, the chance to eventually set aside the nomadic assassin's life she'd led so long. She looked away from Britt, closed her eyes and took in a deep lungful of the cool desert air. What would it be like to breathe free on Earth? Really free? To not always be looking over her shoulder? Not always calculate every move? She turned and looked at Falkor.
To chose a lover for no other reason than she wanted him?
She would have none of those things if she didn't complete her mission here and return home for the final part, the personal part. She forced all those thoughts deep into her mind. She was sitting in the open air with three telepaths, the strongest one an old friend and her former boss. Another who turned her on like no man had ever done before. And none who needed to know what she was up to.
She stared at the desert visible beyond the city's crowded buildings. Most of the planet was dry and arid. She'd flown over the green zone on her way down to meet Britt, an area reputed to be home to some of the fiercest soldiers on Delroi. No doubt from generations of fighting to keep their farmlands. But as pretty as it had looked from the air, it couldn't compare to the stark beauty of the Southern desert. It was wild and brutal, beautiful and beguiling. Just like the people who populated it. Or one in particular. Falkor was dangerous. More to her state of mind than her life.
Why in hell had she agreed to stay? Just to torture herself? She sighed and knew it gave away too much when Britt turned a sharp, knowing gaze on her.
"Of course," she echoed Britt's earlier response with a half smile. "I don't belong in this kind of scene. This quiet family gathering thing y'all have going on."
It said something about her state of mind that her Southern drawl was coming out, didn't it? Britt shrugged.
"I fit. Why shouldn't you?"
Janice shook her head. "Mostly they used you as a spy, Britt. Me?" Even to her the laugh sounded bitter, not like her own. "My skills are known to be a bit more specific."
Britt leaned closed and lowered her voice. "I know that at one point at least, you were part of The Tel Group and I suspect you want out. They don't let anyone go easily. But this is a new world, a new life, Janice. You can be whatever you want here."
She was stunned at Britt's observation and not about to admit her connection to The Tel Group, a secret fanatical group of psychics on Earth. Britt had no idea how lucky she was to have escaped their notice as a child. By the time she was old enough to be required to register as a telepath, she was too established in Intelligence for them to bother with. Britt already knew all that and she was a good friend to offer Janice a way out. But Janice liked her too much to risk her safety by explaining why she couldn't break with Tel just yet.
She wanted to at least tell Britt there was no way she could stay on Delroi, but what would be the point? She'd agreed to this mission in a fit of weakness, ignoring for a moment her true purpose on Earth. She planned to enjoy a respite for a few days and then get back to reality.
"I don't know if a new life is possible," she said lightly, standing up. "I do know it's very late and I'm exhausted. I'll see you in the morning, okay?"
She didn't wait for more than a nod before leaving. Britt tried to hide it, but she was worried, and that worry beat at Janice's mind. If she could be saved, Britt wouldn't be the one who did it.
She followed the stairs from the roof, down two floors and into her rooms, pulling clothes off as soon as she shut the door behind her. Not sure if she was torturing herself or Falkor or trying to force him to make a move, she pulled the blankets off the bed and crawled under the thin sheet.
He didn't keep her waiting long, but he didn't come anywhere close to giving her the release she needed either. Entering silently, he sat in the chair across from the bed and removed his boots. Then with a deep sigh he leaned back, one hand rising to shield his face.
"It would be more comfortable in bed, ya know."
He didn't budge. "Go to sleep, der'lan. You are not ready for that step."
She huffed. "If you insist on sleeping in here every night, you might as well be comfortable. I'm not offering to fuck you. Feel better now?" she ended sarcastically.
He rose and circled the bed. Her heart raced when it dipped. "I will not feel better until that happy event actually occurs," he muttered. He climbed in behind her, fully clothed, and his arms circled her waist.
"This isn't really what I had in mind."
"I know what you had in mind. Fucking me. And then leaving me. It isn't going to happen. Go to sleep, sweetheart."
And damned if she didn't.