The Queen’s Gambit: Chapter 4, Part 1

Part of the serial story The Queen’s Gambit

For one weightless, terrifying moment I thought I’d miscalculated the jump. Then we passed through the Invictia’s stealth field and the ship flickered into existence below us. In an impressively acrobatic move, Valentin jerked me close and used the momentum to spin himself beneath me.

I landed on him hard enough to hurt. I drew a gasping breath and pushed myself up, only to realize I was straddling him. I froze.

He grinned at me and gripped my hips. “I like this position better when you’re not trying to kill me,” he said. Not even blood and bruises could disguise the interest in his gaze. Then he ruined the effect by bursting into a fit of coughing. “Though it seems I still can’t breathe,” he wheezed.

Shouts from above cut off my intended response. “We’re going to move, don’t freak out,” I said. I used my mental connection to the ship to direct it away from the building and bring up the shields. The soldiers shouldn’t be able to see us, and even if they could, the shields should protect us, but there was no reason to risk it.

The ship slid sideways and Valentin made a low sound. I darted a glance at him but his expression offered no clues.

“We’re not dead,” he said when he could breathe again.

“Not quite,” I said. I tried to ignore how good his body felt under mine. He was big and solid and warm and I needed to move before my brain took a vacation. I started to climb off of him, but he gently held me in place.

“You knew the ship was here,” he said. “You should’ve told me. I thought you fell.”

I raised a brow at him. “Somehow I doubt you would’ve jumped into the open air on my word alone. Also, I’m not sure you want to get into a discussion of who should’ve told who what,” I said. “Because I seem to remember a certain someone taking out a dozen Quint mercs without lifting a finger.”

His mouth tightened but he didn’t reply. He started to slide his hands down my thighs, but he stopped and jerked his left hand away. A dark smear covered his palm in my night-vision sight.

“You’re bleeding,” he said.

As if the reminder was all my body needed, pain blasted through the adrenaline fog. I swayed, but covered it by rolling off of Valentin. I pushed my abused body into a standing position. My leg wavered but held. I had about five more minutes without medical aid before I’d be down for the count.

“Let’s get inside,” I said. “There’s an airlock in the middle.” I pulled the Emperor to his feet and directed Invictia to open the hatch. I also directed the ship to shut down all outbound communication and block outgoing signals. I didn’t need Valentin calling for help just yet.

The airlock was a tight fit for the two of us, and I ended up practically in Valentin’s lap. This was the secondary airlock, only used in case of emergency. Or when you’d just jumped off of a building onto the top of the ship.

My thigh blazed with white-hot pain at every movement, but eventually the airlock released us and we climbed down into the wide main hallway that ran from the bridge to the cargo area. Luckily, medical was nearby—and so was everything else.

Invictia was a tiny ship, one of the smallest capable of star jumps. The bridge took up the front quarter of the main level. The middle two quarters housed the living areas. The captain’s quarters, the tiny crew bunk, and the crew head were on the starboard side. Medical, the galley, and the small rec room I’d modified into three holding cells shared the port side.

The aft quarter of the ship included a compact cargo bay on the main level and the engines and primary maintenance area on the lower level. Other maintenance crawlspaces snaked throughout the ship.

I ushered Valentin into medical without giving him a chance to poke around. “Were you shot?” I asked. I bent over to pick the lock on the shackle still clamped to my left leg and black spots danced in my vision. I’d lost more blood than I thought.

“Just grazes,” he said. “You’re in far worse shape. What can I do to help?”

The shackle unlocked. I removed my boots then started peeling myself out of the stealth suit. The stretchy material fought me every step of the way. “Trauma shears are in the drawer over there,” I said, pointing to the far wall. “Cut me out of this so I can dress my wounds.”

“You’re not the first woman who has asked me to get her naked, but you do get points for most creative request,” Valentin said with a grin. He moved across the room with relative ease. Whatever he had done earlier had knocked him down but hadn’t done lasting harm.

Invictia was too small to have a proper medical diagnostic chamber and auto-doc. I’d have to make do with the handheld scanner and good old-fashioned triage until I got back to Arx, the Rogue Coalition’s headquarters on Trigon Three.

Valentin cut my stealth suit away until I was left in my utilitarian underwear and sports bra. Of all the days for sexy underwear, who knew it should’ve been today?

My right side was coated in blood from my shoulder to my calf. Mostly I’d been grazed but the bastard who’d hit my thigh had gotten off a solid shot.

“How are you still standing?” Valentin asked.

“Practice,” I said, only half joking.

The blaster bolt had passed through my outer thigh and must’ve just missed the bone. A couple centimeters to the left and we likely would not have escaped.

The medical scanner recommended a round in a med chamber, but since that wasn’t an option, I went with the secondary recommendation—cleaning and bandaging. The injury, for all it hurt like a bitch, wasn’t fatal, and the bolt had missed all of the major blood vessels.

I cleaned the wound, slathered it in renewal gel, then slapped on an elastomer bandage designed to mimic skin. Just to be safe, I also gave myself an injection of an immune booster and painkiller.

As the languid warmth of the painkiller spread outward from my thigh, I directed Invictia to take us off-planet. We needed to escape before the Quint Confederacy could send more mercenaries our way.

Part 2 will be posted later this week. :)

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27 Replies to “The Queen’s Gambit: Chapter 4, Part 1”

  1. …sooo you’ve got me addicted… I actually checked at like 8am this morning before scolding myself into patience. Can’t wait for the next part!

  2. I like that Valentin seems to have lost the stick up his butt; however, it seems an almost a drastic change from the interplay with Samara earlier. While in captivity, he was concerned, polite and even maybe chivilric in his earlier interactions. Now he’s openly flirting with Samara? I’d buy a few long glances from him or touches that last longer than they should (that our heroine notices.) But written as it is now I’m half expecting her to ask him if he took a hit to the head in their escape.

    I’m just having trouble buying that a king of an empire at war, who is (presumably) well versed in court and familial politics switches to being almost giddy and flirtatious once he’s out of his cell. He and Samara may be free of their cage but both Valentin and the reader know that Commander Adams kept him alive for a reason so the chase isn’t over.

      1. Yes, it is a novella, probably in the ten to twelve chapter range and ending with a happily for now.

        The current plan is for it to be a series that will be continued during the middle/end of next year, depending on my deadlines. :)

        1. Criticism aside, I am REALLY enjoying this story and I very much hope your deadlines permit you to continue the series past the first novella. It’s inventive, unique and I’m totally hooked. I really want to know more about Samara’s backstory.

          I hope you can swing a self-publish of the online series similar to what Ilona Andrews does with the Innkeeper series.

    1. I get what you’re saying. That does seem to be a problem with stand alone stories, especially short stories or novellas – there isn’t as much time for a build up of the relationship.

    2. I must admit, I was the same. I was really getting into it, and then his comment when he was helping her cut off her clothes made me think sleazy..That said, I loved the rest of this episode.

  3. Oooh smexy!!! Looking forward to the next post as always.

    Not sure I agree with bookspout about the unseemly speed of Valentin’s attraction. Jumping out into space and finding yourself alive would get the adrenalin going not to mention the pulses! While I can imagine my own response would be more lukewarm and ‘gerroff’ this is fiction with word count limits and a certain suspension of disbelief (i.e. jumping into a stealth clad ship ffs) so I say bring it on and look out Emperor!!

    Roll on the next post 😄 I’m getting happily addicted here!

  4. Really good give and take for the pair. Escape from being shot at and up often will bring out the reproductive instinct in anyone, much less a ruler, so I don’t find the sexual overtones at all unbelievable. And as a way to lower the guard of another person, it’s a classic technique to make them underestimate you. So, how much is attraction, and how much is technique, especially as he has to have had some sort of intelligence about her before he was kidnapped. And, parenthetically, just how much did his brother have to do with that happenstance?

    1. Oooh, I like this angle!

      I hadn’t considered the use of sexual tension/flirting as a way to lower Samara’s guard. Perhaps it was Valentin who noticed Samara’s lingering glances in the holding cell and seeks to use it to his own advantage. After all, she’s held most (all?) of the cards in their interactions thus far, so it makes sense that Valentin would push to level the playing field.

      1. Bookspout, this is an emperor. What is the first, overriding thing any imperial leader must do? They must secure the throne. Everything they do is concentrated on preserving the reign not only of themselves, but their family. Emperors, or queens, play at the very highest levels of survival every living minute. EVERYTHING is an imperial calculation. Bet you Valentin has augmented hearing/senses that can pick up on someone’s increased heartbeat and/or pheromones that allow him to pick up on little things like sexual attraction, lies, etc. And he has been trained from birth to use everything to get to this end goals. As has his brother…which is going to make this a really interesting reunion.

  5. I like everything except for the fact Samara is bleeding and about to pass out while Valentin is rubbing her thighs acting lewd. The 180 from respectful to lustful threw me off. Still, the get away scene is exciting and the looming threat of Quint Mercs possibly on the horizon has me on the edge of my seat!

    1. When you read it the second time I think you’re more forgiving to Valentin’s reaction. After thinking your fellow prisoner was going to kill you, evading soldiers with no idea where you’re going, being shot at, expending a tremendous amount of energy to incapacitate a dozen soldiers, and jumping to your death with a woman who carried you for most of the escape and you find yourself straddled by that same woman, just out of giddy hysteria of still being alive you’d drop politeness to say *sexy voice* “sup?”

  6. I believe the sexual bye-play is a combination of genuine pure physical attraction, adrenaline rush, physical proximity (she IS straddling him in a skin suit), and a ploy to keep her off balance as far as he is concerned. She did notice some things about him that he probably was trying to distract her from.

    Besides, it’s a romance and this is no chivalrous knight. Sure he was polite and gentlemanly to begin with, but she pretty much tossed that in his face. The thought about him being an Emperor and needing to behave like one… Well I am thinking he earned it and maybe wasn’t simply born into it. She is a Queen after all and there is nothing gently regal about her.

  7. Goodness – what a lot of analysis! I just enjoyed it… Popped in on the off chance and there was another chapter to brighten my evening. Thanks for the post.

  8. What I love about fiction learning who each character is, and how they got that way. I am frustrated by not knowing much about Val except that Samara is attracted, and that frustration is going to keep me reading. I want to know if the attraction goes both ways, or is just a ploy. Does Samara continue to be attracted as she learns his character? Do they end up ruling together, or being old lovers and rival rulers who must meet and deal to serve each domain? Thank you Jessie – this is a gift!

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