The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 9

Part of the serial story The Queen’s Advantage


I’m not dead, just busy. :) I’ll be at the Tucson Festival of Books next weekend (my panels are on March 3), so come see me if you’re nearby!


Bar

I left Imogen in the suite and met Luka near Valentin’s room. Valentin had decided to stay in his own suite. Twenty credits said Luka had persuaded him that Imogen couldn’t be trusted to watch his back.

Luka looked over my outfit with a critical eye. I had on nondescript black utility pants, heavy boots, and a long-sleeved, stretchy black shirt. A sturdy gray jacket covered me past my hips, and a cap pulled low obscured my face. A thin scarf wrapped around my neck up to my chin, leaving just my jaw and mouth fully visible. All of the items were of good quality but well worn.

I had short knives in both boots and a plasma pistol in a shoulder holster. The belt around my waist held spare magazines as well as my long combat knife. I was armed enough to give someone pause before attacking me.

Luka was dressed similarly to me, minus the coat. He wore his plasma pistol openly in a belt holster. He looked huge and intimidating, which wasn’t a bad look when hitting up mercenary hangouts.

Continue reading “The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 9”

The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 8

Part of the serial story The Queen’s Advantage


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Firefighters battling a fire.

Invictia had been my home for more than a decade and now she was burning like a miniature sun, despite the best efforts of the fire crews. Honestly, even if they put the fire out, Valentin was right—the ship was a total loss.

The attackers had gone for the more lightly shielded engine propulsion nozzle. They had set the heavy, shaped explosive in such a way that it blew open the ship’s stardrive, which in turn took half the ship with it. Invictia would never fly again.

I watched the spectacle from the safety of my suite thanks to Valentin patching through the security feed, but the distance didn’t lessen the pain. I’d moved many of my most treasured mementos into Arx after the first couple years, when I’d really started putting down roots, but Invictia herself was my most treasured possession.

The loss hurt, a knife-sharp pain that burrowed into my chest and stole my breath.

An urgent neural link came from Imogen. When I answered, she demanded, Are you okay? Where are you?

I’m in my suite. Valentin is here as well.

Stay there. I’m on my way. Samara, I… I’m so sorry.

Continue reading “The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 8”

The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 7

Part of the serial story The Queen’s Advantage


Whiskey

The suite’s kitchenette came with a fully stocked bar. I was perusing the options when the doorbell rang. I firmly ordered the butterflies in my stomach to take a hike. Two deep breaths and I’d pulled myself back into a semblance of calm and controlled.

That control wavered precariously when I checked the door display. Valentin was in a tight T-shirt that hugged the muscles in his chest and loose pair of lounge pants. He was barefoot.

I closed my eyes against a wave of desire mingled with unexpected bashfulness. Just because I was confident and happy with my body didn’t mean I was blind. Even on my best day, I wasn’t in his league.

I swung open the door before self-doubt could plague me. He was here because he wanted to be, and that was enough.

A slow smile spread across his face. “Hi.”

Continue reading “The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 7”

The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 6

Part of the serial story The Queen’s Advantage


Banquet Table

Valentin tried to guide me toward his mother while I did my best to drag my feet without being obvious about it. I failed.

“What is wrong?” he asked.

“You didn’t tell me your mother was here,” I hissed under my breath.

He looked surprised. “Of course she’s here. Where else would she be?”

The simple logic of the statement only made it worse. Of course she was here. I knew Valentin’s mother still lived, and I knew she usually resided in Koan, but it had never occurred to me that she still attended official events. That was a research failure on my part.

Despite dragging my feet, Valentin had us positioned at the bottom of the stairs by the time the dowager empress had descended. I studied her from under my lashes.

Entertainment media through the years had led us to believe that empresses should be tall and stately, as sharp and beautiful as statues cut from icy crystal. Valentin’s mother was none of those things. She was petite, plump, and pretty. Laugh lines fanned out from the corners of her eyes and her dark hair was threaded with gray. When she smiled at Valentin, her whole face lit up. She wore her emotions on her sleeve, something that had come through even in her photos.

Continue reading “The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 6”

The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 5, Part 2

Part of the serial story The Queen’s Advantage


Ballroom staircase

Valentin returned with two crystal flutes of sparkling wine. He held one of them out to me with an unreadable expression. “Your drink, Queen Rani.”

I stepped away from Asmo and accepted the flute from Valentin with a genuine smile. I decided not to dwell on the happy little thrill I felt whenever he was near. He had been gone for less than half an hour, but it had felt like forever. “Thank you.”

Valentin turned to Asmo. “Thank you, Advisor Copley, for keeping the queen company.” The dismissal was impossible to miss.

Asmo ignored it.

“It was my pleasure, Your Majesty. Spending time with Samara is no hardship. She is enchanting.” He lifted my free hand and kissed the backs of my fingers. When he lingered, I pulled my hand away, forcing him to release me. His eyes lit.

I hadn’t been trying to entice, I had just wanted my damn hand back. “Thank you for the escort,” I said, keeping my tone polite.

“Have lunch with me tomorrow,” he pressed.

Continue reading “The Queen’s Advantage: Chapter 5, Part 2”