“Are we there yet?”
—Timothy on space travel.
May 25, 4831: The Lady Anna, Intergalactic Navy destroyer, under the command of Captain Brittani Kindros
So help him, if Percy Edmonstone said one more word about his brother and brother-in-law, Bannon was going to plant him a facer. Or perhaps he should take it up with his father for banishing him in the first place. Going to Englor for a few months was one thing, but ending up trapped on a destroyer with the ton’s darling was cruel and unusual punishment.
If he made it to Englor without being thrown in the stockade—or whatever the jail was called on an IN destroyer—for murder, it’d be a miracle.
Actually, destroyer jail might not be a bad idea. I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone. I could just draw.
Bannon groaned at the thought and steadied the tea tray he carried. Leave it to Timothy to find a bright side. His muse was annoyingly perky sometimes. Gritting his teeth, he stormed out of the mess deck and nearly slammed into a group of sailors going in. The top of his teapot rattled, the cups fell off the saucers, and the biscuits slid off the plate.
Someone grabbed his tray to steady it. “Sorry, Lord Bannon. I didn’t see you there.”
Blast, he’d been so distracted with his fury, he hadn’t been paying attention to where he was going. Bannon made himself relax his jaw muscles and looked up.
Lieutenant Taylor smiled at him, showing off a lovely set of dimples. The men walking with him paused too, but Taylor gave them a nod. “Go on without me.” He set the cups back on the saucers and reached for the biscuits but stopped short. “I’ll, uh, let you fix the rest. Would you like me to carry this for you?”
Bannon shook his head, his anger fading somewhat. Trouble was right. Taylor was handsome with his dark good looks. A little on the short side—not that Bannon had room to talk—but he filled out a uniform superbly, and to top it off, he was really nice. Regardless of what Louie thought, Bannon was certain Taylor preferred men to women. Maybe a shipboard affair would improve his mood? He’d never actually had an affair, but he was away from home, and chaperones, and…. But no, it would only make things worse. Galaxy only knew what would happen if his parents found out.
“Lord Bannon?” Taylor ducked down into his line of sight with that charming grin still in place. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Just preoccupied.”
Perhaps he’d agree to posing for me in the buff. That isn’t as bad as an affair, and it’s for the sake of art, Timothy whispered in his head.
Galaxy help him, he just couldn’t seem to help himself. He almost voiced the request. He couldn’t even imagine how far he’d be banished for that.
It would totally be worth it.
No, it would not! Great, he was arguing with himself again.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to carry this to your quarters?” Taylor asked.
Oh boy, would I.
“Er, no, but thank you for the offer.” He’d have to get rid of Louie, and that would raise questions. Just because he wasn’t on Regelence, it didn’t mean everyone didn’t expect him to act as a lord of the realm. Besides, it wasn’t like he could brag to Trouble about his conquest, and that would take some of the fun out of it.
“Well, then, I’ll let you carry on.” Taylor walked toward the mess deck, then stopped. “I don’t know if anyone has informed you, but we’re about an hour away from Skye.”
Thank galaxy. “Thanks, Lieutenant.” Bannon continued on his way to his cabin. In one more hour, he’d be rid of Prissy, and if he spent that time painting, he wouldn’t have to see the man again. At least not until he went back to Regelence. Whenever that would be. Not that it mattered. At this rate the IN would destroy them all, because Prissy would botch the negotiations on Skye. And Bannon wasn’t going to do anything about it. Nope. Not this time. On second thought, maybe he would do something about it. He would be sure to say “I told you so” to his father.
The door, or hatch, as it was called, on his cabin slid open, and once again he nearly wore the tea as Louie barreled out the door. This time one of the cups went sailing off the tray and hit the purple carpet. It rolled as everything else rattled, and Bannon shifted his weight, taking several steps back while bending forward to keep his tray upright. “Dust, Louie!”
“Blast, Bannon,” Louie shouted at the same time.
Shaking his head, he walked past her as she retrieved the cup. “Where were you going in such a hurry?”
“To come find you.”
“I told you I’d get the tea.” He set the tray on the small table next to the porthole and plopped down in one of the two chairs. This seat had been a source of comfort for the last fortnight. Who knew the utter blackness of space could be so soothing? It tickled Timothy, and Bannon had already done three good paintings sitting in front of this porthole. He’d also had dozens of splendid daydreams… mostly about Lieutenant Taylor.
“You know I am your servant, right?” Setting the cup down on the tray, Louie sat opposite him.
“You’re my valet and my dearest friend. Not my servant. Besides, you got the tea last time.”
“A valet is a servant.”
It was an old argument they’d yet to resolve. “Shut up, Louie.” Bannon proceeded to pour them tea, then added three lumps of sugar to his and four to hers.
She picked up the cup and took a sip, staring at him over the top of it with one of her perfectly shaped brown brows arched. “What took so long?”
“I was contemplating whether a trip to the jail was worth it.”
“It’s called a brig.”
Know-it-all. Bannon took a drink of his own tea and promptly added another lump of sugar. “I ran into Prissy.”
With a sigh, Louie shook her head. “He will be gone from our presence in exactly one hour.”
“He will probably start war between Regelence and Skye with his pompous, selfish…. Wait. How did you know we’re an hour away from Skye?” He frowned and took a sip of his tea. Awww… much better.
She preened, damn her, and something told him that he was not going to like her answer.
“Lieutenant Taylor stopped by to tell me. Annnd… you owe me a pound.”
“Oh, you didn’t….”
She preened more and touched her lips and sighed dramatically. Then she smiled, took another sip, and turned her head to the right. “Oh, look a planet. I bet that’s Skye.”
He wasn’t falling for that. Studying her lips, he narrowed his eyes, and…. Dust and stars! They did look swollen and redder than normal. “You kissed him?”
“I’d never kiss and tell.”
He grabbed a biscuit and threw it at her, then glanced out the porthole. A planet was out there, but it sure was cloudy. Ominous gray clouds circled it, with some shooting high up into the atmosphere around it, like smoke. It was difficult to make out the planet’s round shape, but it certainly was mystical looking. He’d found the subject of his next painting and… was that lightning? Capital! It looked strange from that point of view, but beautiful.
She took a bite of the biscuit and singsonged, “You owe me a pound.”
“Just because he kissed you, doesn’t mean he isn’t bisexual.”
She gave him the most incredulous look, as if to ask really?
Right. It was a rather stupid statement, but she’d won their last two wagers. Drat it all, so it was his turn to win. Bannon picked up his cup and glared at her over the rim. As he set his lips to the porcelain, a loud blast sounded and shook the whole ship. The contents of his cup sloshed out onto his chin, shirt, and lap.
“Bloody hell! What was that?” He jumped up and brushed the tea off himself. Damn, that was hot! As he grabbed for the tea towel, the ship shook again, followed by another long bang. The tea set rattled fiercely, and tea sloshed out of Louie’s cup. Bannon dabbed at his trousers. “Anna, what’s going on?”
The ship did not answer. Not good. Anna always answered. Bannon had carried on entire conversations with her since he’d been onboard. She was really nice.
“Bannon?” Louie’s voice quivered, and she reached for him.
“It’s all right. Probably just turbulence.” Even as the words left his mouth, he didn’t believe them. Did ships even get turbulence in space? He didn’t know, but he suspected this was much more than a pocket of air, since space was technically a vacuum. Oh bother, this didn’t bode well. His chest tightened up, and a quiver snaked through him. He pulled Louie up from her seat and against his chest, hugging her tight. They should probably sit back down so they didn’t fall if it happened again, but his seat was wet.
The hatch door whisked open, and Lieutenant Taylor rushed in without so much as a by-your-leave. His gaze darted around until it landed on them, and Bannon’s unease increased tenfold.
“Quick! Come on.” Taylor reached out to them.
Bannon didn’t think, he just dragged Louie forward and grabbed Taylor’s hand. “What’s going on?”
Taylor hurried toward the door, tugging them along.
Releasing Louie, Bannon grabbed her hand and towed her with them. Even in the urgency and uncertainty, it crossed his mind to point out to her that Taylor was holding his hand, therefore he might still be gay. Stars, there was something wrong with the way his brain worked.
“We were attacked by a mercenary ship. We’ve destroyed it, but there are more on the way. Captain Kindros wants me to get you two to the shuttle.”
They practically ran through the corridors. Shipmen passed them, going the other way. Shouts from somewhere else in the ship echoed off the bulkheads. It was like trying to catch a train in Pruluce Train Station at teatime.
“Wait, we aren’t going to Skye. We’re supposed to let the delegates off and continue on to Englor.”
“Really, Bannon?” Louie growled at him. “You want to do this now, while we’re in danger of being killed?”
“I do not want to be stuck with Prissy,” he growled back.
They rounded another corner and headed toward a big iris-type hatch at the end of the hallway.
“You won’t be there for long. Just enough for us to take care of things up here. The crew is going to stay there on the surface until the threat is gone. The two of you don’t even have to disembark from the shuttle.” Taylor slapped a hand against the bulkhead.
A green light lit under his hand, and the hatch opened. Inside the docking bay, the noise seemed to echo. All of Eversleigh Manor would fit in here, and just walking inside made Bannon feel insignificant.
Shouting and heavy footfalls reverberated all around them while people ran to and fro. Beeps and squawks of people talking over an intercom added to the confusion. Several small black rectangular shuttles sat lined up in front of them, and to their right was a huge bay door.
Taylor led them to the conveyance closest to them.
Prissy stood there, with one of the other delegates, wringing his hands together. He took one look at Bannon and Louie, and his face turned red, and then his mouth pinched together. “What took you so long? We’re being shot at, for galaxy’s sakes.”
Being shot at wasn’t nearly as bad as enduring this man’s presence. Bannon dug his heels in, making Taylor stop abruptly and Louie slingshot forward and back again. Bannon had talked to Anna about several of her battles. She’d been in at least twelve in the last year, and she was still around. He’d take his chances with her and Captain Kindros, thank you very much.
“Bannon!” Louie jerked his arm and pulled him toward the craft.
Taylor, damn his dastardly soul, decided to help her, and together they dragged him right up to the door and Prissy.
He struggled to no avail. Curse these boots. The leather soles were so slick, they might as well be on ice.
Prissy let out an exasperated sound and rolled his eyes. He turned toward the shuttle and said to no one in particular, “An imbecile just like his older brother.” He made it as far as the hatch before the rein on Bannon’s temper snapped.
Bannon freed himself of Louie’s and Taylor’s hold and charged Prissy. Louie groaned behind him and made a grab for his arm, but Bannon jerked it away. He really was tired of the coxcomb’s slights toward Blaise.
Hitting Prissy square in the back, Bannon knocked him into the shuttle.
The dandy wasn’t expecting it and slammed up against the far wall. Sputtering and panting, he turned toward Bannon, with his eyes as wide as saucers and blood welling up on his bottom lip.
The other delegates gasped and stared at him, but Bannon didn’t care. He strode right up to Prissy and raised his fist. “One more word about my brother or my brother-in-law, and I’m going to draw your cork.”
Two sets of hands pulled him back, but his glacial stare didn’t falter.
Prissy made a great show of dusting off his morning coat, but when he glanced up, the fear in his eyes was enough to make Bannon smile. At least they understood each other now.
Bannon shrugged off the two other delegates’ hold, and Louie towed him forward again.
Someone announced that they should all be seated, and then the shuttle started moving.
Blast. He hadn’t even realized the door had closed. Bannon let Louie lead him to a seat next to a porthole in the very back of the shuttle, away from where Regelence’s diplomats sat. They were all staring back at him of course, and Bannon had no doubt he’d be hearing from his father by the time he got to Englor, but so be it. He was already in trouble and an outcast, so what was one more incident? It wasn’t like he could get more banished. With a sigh, he stared out the window and watched the shuttle bay rush by, followed by the blackness of space.
Louie leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You should have just planted him a facer instead of threatening him.”
Bannon chuckled and relaxed into his seat. Taking her hand, he leaned sideways, jostling into her shoulder without looking away from the porthole. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. He could get a better view of those clouds, and Prissy and the other men were getting off the shuttle. Too bad he hadn’t had time to grab a sketchscreen. Oh well. If Lieutenant Taylor was to be believed, they wouldn’t be long, and Bannon had an excellent memory. He rarely drew while studying his subject.
He was settling in to watch the planet approach, when Captain Kindros’s voice came over the intercom into the shuttle.
“Shuttle One, we have triumphed over our attackers.”
Yup, not long at all. Bannon smiled and finally took a deep breath to settle himself.
“But the Lady Elizabeth and her crew are under attack, and we have been called to the Hansark system to provide assistance. Please make yourselves at home on Skye, and we will return to retrieve you as soon as possible.”
Bloody hell! Bannon resisted the urge to bang his head on the seat in front of him. The Hansark system was one of the systems involved in the Aquarius War. Dust and imploding planets! It could take weeks for the Lady Anna to return!