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. :)