“I’m sure D’s fine. We’ll find him and the others soon, Ken.”
Nipping on Daisy’s ear Kenric tried his best not to think. His brain had been going around in circles trying to find a way to chase after his little brother. If he kept this up it was going to drive him crazy. He needed to do something else, anything else. Losing himself in the softness of Daisy’s skin and the scent of her hair was the distraction he needed right now.
“Don’t want to think about it.”
Scooting lower on the bed he kissed his way down her neck until he reached the collar of her blouse. Sliding his hands around her waist under her shirt he licked a hot line across Daisy’s collarbone. She writhed and moaned under his touch, skin growing warmer the longer he played. A gruff voice startled him. “I told you to take care of your brother, Ken.” His head jerked up at the deep voice besides him.
Kenric’s eyes widened as he recognized his father’s voice, “The fuck?”. Peyton Thorne was stretched out on the bed next to him, his black hair was matted to his head with blood just as it had been the last time Kenric had seen him alive on night of the accident. Kenric knew the stern look in those amber eyes. The one that always made him confess to whatever he’d done when he was a kid. It was even more intimidating with the cuts and bruises framing his face and the blood dripping into his eyes.
A softer voice said, “Leave the boy be, Peyton. I’m sure this is all part of Kenric’s plan to rescue Dimitri. He would never leave our little Dimka in danger.” His mother’s voice had him turning to the other side of the bed, a tear sliding down his cheek. With her dark red hair and gray eyes Tatyana Thorne had always been a beauty. Unfortunately none of it could distract him from the damage the glass from the breaking windshield had done to her. He had to hide his face against Daisy’s chest. He couldn’t look at his mother’s kind smile. What had he been thinking? His parent’s last words been ‘take care of Dimitri’.
“It’s okay, Pops. Mom’s gotta be right. Ken would never leave me hanging.” Kenric rolled over so he could see Dimitri perched on his dresser. D’s normally pale skin was ash gray and his grinning lips were blue. Blood had dried in a spray across his face and wounds decorated his chest and limbs. Daisy’s arms reached up to pull him closer to her as Dimitri’s clothes caught fire making shadows dance in his brother’s empty eyes.
Kenric bolted upright almost falling off the couch. It took a few minutes to get his pulse back to normal and remember where he was. The familiar layout of the apartment he shared with Dimitri helped with that despite the dreams residual chill. He winced at the ache in his neck and shoulders. He really needed to stop falling asleep in the living room. It had been a week since the Fairgold Deathtrap had carried D and the others off to who the fuck knew where and there was still no sign of them. The military ships in the area hadn’t seen the vessel or any sign of them. None of the corporate colonies had either. The only clue he had was what Daisy had told him at the pub the day of the accident.
“Lazen and the other researchers are going to be next to useless in this situation but an engineer friend of mine was on board too. Bridget is really resourceful and exactly who you want in an emergency situation. She doesn’t buckle under pressure and helped install both the Twitch Drive and the navigational system. She knows how to use them,” Daisy had said.
Ken glared until the waitress left after dropping off their drinks, “What would she suggest they do?”
“If it’s still working she’d probably recommend using the Twitch Drive to get home or some other safe place. It’ll be wherever is closest since they’re not going to have a lot of air. I remember her complaining about how Lazen kept putting off installing the last portion of the air filtration and circulation system.” Daisy let out a breath.
His fists clenched at his sides, “They’re going to run out of fucking air?!”
“I talked to one of the other engineers, he figured they have a couple of days worth. More than enough to make a jump. We calculated it and there are four maybe 5 points installed in the navigational system that they could jump to depending on when they got out of that first jump outside the hangar. We just need to wait and see which one they try for. Once we know where we can join a crew going there.” She had reached out and squeezed his shoulder.
“And if they don’t show up at any of those?” He tried to keep himself calm. Panic wouldn’t help right now. He had to think and plan.
Her lips had tightened, “Then either something really bad happened or they made a go for Berith 2. They’ve got Lazen on board after all, he’s not going to give up on the project easily. His career is at stake. If he sees a chance to still pull this off he will definitely go for it.”
Groaning he made it to the kitchen and opened up their medicine cabinet to grab the aspirin. When they first moved in they had kept the first aid supplies in the bathroom like normal people but it had quickly outgrown the space. Not surprising considering their occupation and the sorts of things he and D got up to. It had been Dimitri who suggested moving it to the kitchen since there was more storage and they could fix themselves up easier there than in their tiny bathroom. Banging his head on the cabinet door he made a mental note to get out more. Everything in the apartment reminded him of his brother.
Turning on the lights he wished he’d left them off. The pictures hung on the walls made shadows of the nightmare dance across his mind. Photos of them helping at their father’s bakery. Their mother dancing ballet on stage. D and himself at Evening Star, the children’s home they were sent to after their parents died. The two of them backpacking across Europe when D was fifteen. They’d met Katcha on that trip, another soul lost in space with D. A few framed attempts of D’s at photography. He didn’t know how his brother had managed it but Dimitri’s finger was somewhere in each and every picture.
He grabbed them all off the walls and tossed them into a mostly empty kitchen cabinet. He didn’t have time for this. Their parents voices from his dream were still echoing in his head. D needed him, he couldn’t let himself be distracted. There’d been no sightings of the ship at any of the jump points Daisy had named so they had to believe that D and the others had made for Berith 2. He refused to believe the worst had happened. His brother and the others were alive. They had to be.
Kenric felt better once he left the apartment. Pushing the nightmare to the back of his mind he got in his car and navigated through the New York traffic to pick up Daisy. Today they were going to meet up with her cousin Violet at Zenith Corp and hopefully get on their Berith 2 project. It was vital that they be part of the crew that landed there next in case D and the rest had made it there. Daisy thought it was his overprotective nature that had him pushing to get onto the crew but it was more his wanting to make sure no one tried to knock off the Fairgold employees to secure their own claim to the new planet. If they did he wanted to be there. He had no idea what kind of condition D and the rest would be in or how well they’d be able to fend off a hostile crew. He had too many years seeing firsthand how ruthless business types could get to have any faith in their basic kindness especially with this much at stake. He needed to be there when whoever landed made contact with the Fairgold crew.
Daisy was already waiting outside of her building when he pulled up to the curve. He tried his best not to think about how she’d looked and felt in his dream as she slid onto the passenger seat. He was doing a good job keeping his mind blank until she shifted and her skirt rode up. There was a teasing glimpse of the lace tops of her thigh high hose until she smoothed it down again. Were those garters? Mentally shaking himself he was grateful his sunglasses were too dark for her to tell where he was looking.
Gritting his teeth he pulled back into traffic. What the fuck was wrong with him? His baby brother was lost in space along with three of their friends and a handful of other poor saps whose only mistake had been showing up for work and what was he doing? Trying to figure out if Daisy was wearing garters. There was something seriously wrong with him. It was better to focus on the task at hand. “You’re sure you can get us in?”
Chancing a glance at her he saw Daisy looked mildly offended. Her tone was pretty sharp too, he’d definitely offended her. “Of course I can get us in. They were trying to get me to sign on before this but I went with Fairgold after they offered me my own lab. My cousin Violet’s also on Zenith Corp’s project.”
“Is that going to help us or do the opposite? How close are you two?” The look on Daisy’s face made him glad he asked despite her annoyance. If she had to think about it then this was probably going to be harder than she thought. He’d already been worried about how they were going to pass him off as her assistant but if her cousin was going to cause problems with getting Daisy on the project then his chances of getting on too were next to nil. Good thing he had a few tricks up his sleeve.
“Violet and I don’t always get along but she wouldn’t do anything to sabotage me. Especially when she finds out the reason we need to be a part of the project.”
He’d have to take her word on this, he was out of options. Over the past week he’d called every contact he’d ever made in the corporate world, outer colonies, and military. There wasn’t anyone even close to making it to Berith 2. Everyone agreed that the current front runner for landing on the new planet was now Zenith Corp even though they were still weeks away from take off. They had to get on this project.
Switching over to work mode as they pulled up to the security stop outside the Zenith Corp office building he chanced a look at Daisy. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing deeply. Her usual bright smile flashed into place when she opened her eyes and it took him a minute to remember what they were doing. And to breathe. Fuck. He needed to work on that. He kept his eyes forward as she spoke to the security guard and showed his ID when asked. Focus on what you’re doing, Ken. Park the damn car, get through the meeting, get on the project, then you can go home and take one of those sleeping pills so you can get some actual sleep. Every time he nodded off lately he was just as quickly woken up by a nightmare.
Once inside the building was another security check before they were left to cool their heels in a conference room. Daisy was still wearing her usual bright smile which he was beginning to suspect was her professional mask. What expression did she wear when she wasn’t at work? Dammit, he needed to keep his mind on task. Daisy could blow raspberries while tap dancing at home and it shouldn’t matter, he needed to stay focused. Except now the picture of Daisy blowing raspberries while tap dancing in lingerie was in his head making him wonder if D’s random thought processes had somehow transferred to him.
Out of habit he moved to the corner of the room away from the windows while keeping them and the door in sight. Daisy was sitting at the long conference table, nails tapping an impatient tempo in front of her. Luckily he was used to standing around and waiting so he simply settled into a loose stance and tried to keep his mind blank. Around a half hour later the door opened and in walked a near double of Daisy with short purple hair.
A cheery grin broke over the Daisy double’s face, “Daisy! Sorry to keep you waiting, cuz. How’s it hanging?”
“Things have been…interesting. How have you been, Violet?” Daisy got up and hugged her cousin.
Neither girl bothered to look in his direction so he spent the time examining them both. At first glance they could be twins but Violet was a little taller and a tad more slender with a beauty mark to the left of her nose. Daisy was slightly shorter with a fuller figure and a light sprinkling of freckles across her cheeks. Not to mention Violet’s purple hair was gelled into soft spikes. How the hell did she get away with that in a professional setting? Daisy’s voice dragged his attention away from her cousin’s hair.
“Kenric is Dimitri’s brother and will be coming along as my assistant.”
Violet’s baby blue eyes matched Daisy’s but somehow came off more predatory than warm. If she thought she could catch him off guard with a look like that she was in for a surprise. He didn’t squirm easy and was used to being assessed. It happened at the beginning of every job. He met her look with one of his own. She arched an eyebrow at him and he barely kept from sighing. They didn’t have time for this shit.
Violet shook her head, “Sorry, cuz. I don’t think we’ll be able to get you guys on. We’re almost ready for take off and-”
“Isn’t that Researcher Joma’s call?” The look Violet shot him in response to his question was pure venom but he couldn’t care less. He had done his homework and knew exactly who called the shots on the project. The posturing was also getting annoying and he had other shit to do today. If Violet wanted to play mind games with Daisy she could do it outside of work.
“You want to talk to Adam? Fine. I was trying to save my cousin from being embarrassed but if that’s how you guys want to do this follow me.”
Daisy gave him a curious look as they followed Violet out of the conference room. It was a short walk to the research section of the building but he definitely noticed when they left the abode of the office workers and entered the domain of their research department. The air carried a faint scent of disinfectant and the halls were suddenly filled with men and women in white lab coats. The researchers hustled between doors, noses buried in books and papers while others were deep in discussion with their colleagues. He had to dodge out of the way of a few of them who were too absorbed with what they were reading, hearing, or where they were going to notice there were people in front of them.
He wanted to sigh in relief when Violet paused in front of a door and put her palm to the door lock there. Their senses were immediately assaulted with the smell of burning electronics and loud rock music. The room was empty except for one man wearing a face guard who was completely focused on soldering components onto a circuit board. Kenric wasn’t surprised the man hadn’t noticed them coming in. While he was actually a fan of the band the music was playing loud enough to make the people in the rooms on either side of them go deaf let alone anyone actually in the room. Piles of computer parts covered the tables lining the walls but the large table in the center of the room was relatively bare except for the board the man was working on. Violet sauntered over to the radio sitting on the corner of the table and turned it off.
The man’s head popped up immediately at the sudden silence and he looked over at her in confusion,“Hey, Vie. Didn’t hear you come in. You need something?”
Violet didn’t say anything but turned her attention to Daisy and Kenric. The man turned his head and finally noticed them. Taking off his face guard he frowned at them, looking Kenric and Daisy over. Kenric looked him over. Adam Joma, the head of Zenith Corp’s Berith 2 project. From all accounts a brilliant engineer and accomplished project leader. He also knew Joma was sleeping with Violet which was why he had asked Daisy if she and Violet were close. It would have made things so much easier to have the man’s girlfriend on their side but no, looked like the cousins were the type who competed against each other. At least he’d come into this prepared. Daisy’s smile was back in place as she held out her hand for Joma to shake.
Daisy smiled brightly, “Hello Researcher Joma, I’m Violet’s cousin Daisy. It’s wonderful to finally meet you in person.”
He returned her smile, “Pleasure to meet you too and please, call me Adam. Sorry to hear about what happened to your project. Any word on getting everyone back home?”
Joma actually looked concerned and the fact he phrased it to include everyone on the ship and not just the Senator or Lazen bumped him up in Kenric’s eyes. People kept forgetting that there were a hell of a lot more than just those two on the ship. Daisy went into the whole spiel she had already recited to Violet earlier. While Violet puttered around with the parts on the other tables Kenric watched Joma. The man was a little shorter than him which still made him tall but he was much more slender. His brown hair looked like he hadn’t touched it with a comb in a week but his eyes were sharp. He paid attention to Daisy with an intensity that Kenric rarely saw but it gave him hope. If the man was as shrewd as he seemed to be then his plan would work. When Daisy got around to the part about him and Dimitri Joma’s eyes turned to him. This assessment was shorter than Violet’s had been but he knew this was the important one. He held out his hand to Joma, surprising Daisy.
“Kenric Thorne, Senior Agent with Fenton Security. Good to see you again Researcher Joma.”
Joma looked him over thinking, “Again? Sorry, I don’t remember you.”
“Didn’t think you did. I was the one in charge of security for the CH3 labor negotiations.” Kenric saw Joma’s eyes widen slightly.
He’d surprised the man. The CH3 assignment had been a messy one involving a clash between management and union workers on one of the CH3 Corporation’s outer colonies. To say the negotiations hadn’t gone well would be an understatement. He’d started out siding with the union workers but once they tried to bomb the building the corporation’s negotiators had been staying in he’d lost any respect for them. Whoever had rigged that bomb had overdone it with the explosives. If it had gone off as planned not only would the five negotiators have been dead but so would the eighty or so researchers also staying in the building. Luckily Fenton had paid for his Senior Agents to get military training on top of the usual certifications so they actually found and defused the explosives before they’d been detonated. It still gave Kenric chills thinking of how badly that could have gone.
“That was a nasty situation. You led that group? You’re good. What are you doing trying to get on this project as an assistant? I can sympathize with wanting to be there because of your brother but I need something more compelling than that to add you both to the project. Anyone who’s been touched Fairgold is under suspicion for the massive clusterfuck that ended up being. It’s why I told Violet we couldn’t take you on, Daisy. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think either of you had anything to do with what happened but I have to justify this to the board. Give me a good reason.”
Kenric had known this was coming. While he knew Daisy had her list of reasons why she would be a valuable addition Kenric understood that wasn’t what Joma was asking. His checking around had already shown him that anyone hinted at having been on Fairgold’s project was being black listed. It was too much money at stake to risk on even the remote chance that person had anything to do with how badly things had gone to hell. He had hoped that Violet being Daisy’s cousin would get them on without him having to play hardball but he rarely put all his eggs in one basket. Contingency plans were a forte of his after all. He cut Daisy off before she started reciting her list.
“I’m one of the best at what I do and that’s fact, not my ego talking. Feel free to check. Daisy’s also the best at what she does. You bring us on and you get two experts who have personal interests that are tied to the success of your project. You wanted Daisy before but got outbid.Not only will she be here for the job but she also needs to make sure her friend is safe and gets home. I’ve got military connections and experience running security on both a ship and another planet. Your current security team doesn’t have anyone near my level, we both know it. Right now you can get me at a research assistant’s pay which is a fraction of what I’m worth. My brother is all the family I have left. I’m not letting him go without doing everything humanly possibly and then some. All that focus will go into making sure no one so much as looks sideways at your project. The way I see it you can’t afford not to bring us on.”
They left the Zenith Corp’s office building an hour later with their new project details and orders to report in three days to the project site. Step one of their plan to get everyone back had a few hiccups but it was a success. Daisy was also annoyed with him which was making the drive back a tad uncomfortable but she’d get over it. He hoped. Either way he had to keep focused. D and the others needed them. He had no intention of letting them down.