Born of Ice (Page 6)

Born of Ice (The League #3)(6)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

“And their culture allows this?”

He held his hands up in surrender. “I hear you. Believe me, I’m grateful to the gods that I’m not one of them. But in defense of their culture, Sway’s mother was never like that. Probably because her father was human. Jayne has always been respectful of her husband and sons, and dana’s the same way… most of the time. It’s why she allows Sway to travel with me even though she takes a lot of shit from her family and others for not riding herd on him. She’s a good woman, so I stay out of it.”

He entered the room and started checking over the system’s gauges. “That being said, because of their laws, I’m Sway’s legal chaperone—which is why he gives me such grief about my mom’s calls. He considers it justice over the way I taunt him.”

Alix wondered at his words. “So how did you end up as his chaperone?”

“Our parents are close friends and we grew up like brothers. When he married, dana wanted to keep him happy, so she asked me to take custody of him. It felt kind of weird to have custody of someone older than me, especially at first, but I didn’t want him forced to live with dana’s mother, who would have driven him mental with her bullshit rules for his behavior.” He glanced up from the panel. “What about you? You have any siblings?”

A cold, twisting lump coiled in her stomach, and she feared for a moment she might be sick.

Don’t think about it. Because when she did, she wanted to cry. Her sister was only fifteen, and she’d do anything to keep Tempest safe.

Not to mention her mother.

But she couldn’t tell Devyn about them. If she did, he’d want to know where they were and why she’d left them.

Alix dropped her gaze and looked over the control panel for the shield’s leak. “I told you I don’t have any family ties.”

“Sorry, I forgot.”

She hadn’t meant for her reply to be so curt. She tried to ignore her guilt—and his presence—as she concentrated on her task, but it wasn’t easy.

It didn’t take long to isolate the leak and correct it. “There.” She stepped back to show him. “It’s all fixed.”

Devyn checked the gauges.

She studied his frown of consternation and smiled. “How is it a pilot of your abilities doesn’t know anything about ship maintenance?”

He shrugged. “My dad tried his best to teach me engineering all through my childhood, but I’m missing that gene—too much like my mom. For some reason, I can’t wrap my mind around mechanics. All I know is how to check things, fly them and shoot them when they really piss me off. What about you? Can you pilot?”

“I can do a launch sequence, but that’s about all. I couldn’t get near the directional controls unless my father passed out.”

She bit her lip in shock at the slip she’d made, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. There was something about Devyn that stripped away all the careful barriers she’d built for herself. In spite of the fact that he was lethal, he was way too easy to talk to.

A flicker of anger touched Devyn’s eyes but quickly vanished, and it made her wonder why.

“Is that why you became an engineer?”

She brushed her hand across her cheek, skimming the tiny scar just below her right eye from when her father had slung her against a control panel a few years ago after she’d made a simple mistake. “No. My father didn’t like paying the extra money to hire an engineer, so one day he handed me a wrench and a manual and told me to fix the side stabilizer or get off the ship.”

Devyn stared at her in disbelief. The blasé tone of her voice told him more about her than the words themselves. Her father had been a real bastard. Even so, she hadn’t let him hold her back. A surge of admiration ran through him. “I bet you fixed it like new.”

She gave an undignified snort. “No. It went out before we could even complete the launch. Ended up busting one of the cargo bays and losing half our shipment. Not one of my finer moments or memories, to be sure.”

Devyn studied her halfhearted smile. “I’ll keep that in mind if one of ours ever goes out.”

She gave him a guarded look that made him regret his words. He’d meant them as humor, but obviously she didn’t appreciate it. So he filed that away as a topic to never mention again, even in jest.

As she stayed beside him, he stared at her eyes. They were such an unusual shade, probing, intelligent, and pain-filled. For some reason, he wanted to soothe away the agony that blazed in defiance of him and the whole universe.

In spite of her rough, prickly defenses, she was an attractive woman with a quiet assuredness he found refreshing.

The women he’d known had all played major head games, but she didn’t seem to. She was very straightforward and professional. He liked that.

Unlike Clotilde …

It was all he could do not to wince. Even dead, she wasn’t quite dead enough. Her viciousness lived on in his memory and made him want to dig her up just so he could kill her again.

And right now, he knew he should walk away from Alix. She was a member of his crew, and business and pleasure shouldn’t mix. But he couldn’t seem to stop himself from touching her soft cheek, or brushing her lips with his thumb.

This is sexual harassment. You’re going to get sued.

Yet right now…

He really didn’t care.

Alix opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. Her cheek burned under the weight of his fingers. She wanted his kiss, and a small voice inside told her it was more than mere want. She needed it.

Her experience with men had been severely tainted by her “duties” with her father’s crew. None of them had ever kissed her worth a damn. But she suspected Devyn Kell wouldn’t be clumsy with his attempt. Nor would he try to give her a tonsillectomy.

She would lay money that his kiss would be the stuff of legends. His hand paused on her cheek. He closed his eyes and dipped his head toward hers.

“Dev? Where are you?”

Silently, Alix cursed Sway’s Hyshian hide for the interruption. Just a few more seconds and he could’ve called without her wanting to strangle him.

Was one decent kiss in her life too much to ask?

Devyn blinked in confusion, as if he were waking from a dream, then dropped his hand from her face and took a step back.

Her skin still tingling, Alix wanted desperately to return to the mood, but it was too late.

Sway had destroyed it.

She sighed in disgust. Luck would never be her friend.

Devyn moved to the wall intercom. “What do you need?”

“I need you to get your ass up here and assure Claria that Alix is human and that you’re not going to leave me alone with her. She’s stroking over stupid jealousy. I swear I should have lied to her.”

Devyn rolled his eyes in obvious frustration.

Alix laughed.

“I’m on my way.”

She stepped away from him. “Ever wish subspace transmissions were impossible?”

“Only every time my mom or Claria calls.”

Her smile widened.

They remained silent the whole way back to the main deck. Devyn stepped out of the lift first. “The galley is all the way down the corridor on the left. Search through the cooling unit until you find something you like.”

Alix stared after him as he walked toward the bridge, amazed he’d remembered her thirst.

Her throat tightened as longing raced through her.

You’re not here to hook up with him.

No, she was here for something sinister, and the guilt of it was unbearabIe.

Maybe you could trust him…

Yeah, right. People were crap and they betrayed. She knew that better than anyone. If she told him what was going on, he’d kill her and let her mother and sister burn.

She’d lived her entire life under dire, soul-wrenching threats, and that had been from the man who fathered her. The man who was supposed to love her.

Just imagine what a stranger would do to her.

With a determined stride, she crossed her arms over her chest and headed to the galley.

What she wouldn’t give for the type of friendship Devyn and Sway shared. Someone she could talk things over with, release the darkest secret of her soul.

Don’t. As long as you keep your mouth shut, no one will ever know what you are. You’ll be free.

Free. It was the one thing she’d always wanted. And if it was the last thing she did, she would be emancipated.

Even if it meant Devyn’s life.

“What are you doing?”

Alix jumped at her desk as Vik’s booming voice startled her. It came through the speaker in the ceiling above her head. “Nothing.” Gah, she hoped he didn’t hear the panic and fear she felt in her voice.

“You’re not authorized to view the captain’s logs or any of the files you’re trying to access. They are strictly locked.”

She’d been afraid of him saying that, but at least he wasn’t trying to arrest her or notify Devyn. “I was just curious about the types of missions we carry out.”

There, she almost sounded normal.

“Then you can ask about what you want to know.”

But that wouldn’t get her the proof she needed to hand over to Merjack. Damn Vik for being so alert.

“So what kind of missions do we carry out?”

“Not me, bonebag. You’ll have to ask Devyn.”

Yes, but he might get suspicious and then where would she be? Launched into space, most likely. “Wouldn’t it be easier for you to tell me?”

“Not for me it wouldn’t, and I’m not here to make your life easier.”

Which made her wonder what he was here for. “So what is your programming?”

“To protect Devyn at all costs and against all enemies.”

That was a scary prospect. “Even at your own risk?”

“I’m here to die for him if need be. Not because it’s my programming, but because I love him. His survival is far more important to me than my own.”

That didn’t make any sense. He was an Al and should have no real feelings. Only simulated ones. Yet there was no mistaking the loyalty she’d heard in his voice.

But that was neither here nor there.

She had to find evidence to use against Captain Kell. “Is there anything you can show me?”

He popped up a live feed of her sitting at her desk in her quarters. “You’re not exactly helpful, Vik.”

“Not true. I’m extremely helpful. Just not to people I don’t know. Which, in case my subtlety is lost, would be you. No one accesses our records until they pass my security clearance and Devyn authorizes it.”

“And how does one do that?”

“Take a shot for Devyn and we’ll talk.”

In other words, the metallic bastard wasn’t about to trust her at all.

What am I going to do?

“You don’t like me very much, do you?” she asked him.

“I don’t know you. Therefore like and dislike are inapplicable terms. However, I love Devyn and Sway. So I think you will forgive me for being protective of my charges. They are all that matters to me.”

She smiled sadly. How she wished she had such loyalty in her life from a friend, even an artificial one. “I forgive you, Vik, and I respect you for it. You’re a good man.”

“Mecha, you mean.”

She looked up at the intercom he was speaking out of. “No, you’re more man than most of the ones I’ve known. Good night, Vik.”

He hesitated before he spoke. “Good night, Alix. Shall I adjust your environment before you retire?”

His offer touched her. No one had ever cared before if she was comfortable or not when she slept. “No, thank you. I’m good.”

Still, he dimmed the lights for her. “Don’t worry. I won’t be peeping into your room while you sleep or move about. I’m a paladin, not a perv. I only have the monitors on now because you were acting suspiciously.”

She let out a nervous laugh. “Thanks. I appreciate that.”

Pushing her chair back, she stood and then froze in place as the reality of her current surroundings hit her. She was on board a ship that was top-notch with a crew of men who treated her like a human being. Men who seemed to be looking after her.

Not in her wildest dreams had she ever thought to have even a single day of this.

And I have to betray them all.

It was so unfair. But then, that was life. Injustice had been rammed down her throat since the moment she’d learned to swallow.

Somehow she would have to learn to bypass Vik’s security system and get proof of Kell’s illegal activities.

Maybe when they landed on Nera, she’d be able to stay on board while he followed them to their meeting. Then she could scan the files without Vik being any the wiser.

She hoped.

The next day flew by as she acquainted herself with the ship and its subtle nuances and quirks. Machinery was like people, each a unique entity that had to be learned. But that being said, Vik had to be the most irritating thing ever created. No matter how she tried to find evidence on Kell, whether it was scanning their cargo or trying to get a shipping manifest, he was there to question her over it.