Heart of a Peacekeeper

scroll down for excerpt                 Book 12 in the Heart & Soul series

***

Something is coming…
Bad-tempered, bad-mouthed, tough-as-nails Head Peacekeeper,
Desdemona, keeps a tight grip on her settlement on the outskirts
of the Outlaw Sector. A rising body count, attacks, escalating outlaw
activity, and clashes with the dangerously handsome
Daamen trader, Simon, can only culminate in two things – one hotly
intimate, the other so very deadly…

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**

“He’s waking up.”
“About time.”
“Simon?”
A not-quite gentle tapping on the cheek brought Simon groggily awake. He squinted up at the single light in the ceiling high above him, blinked against the glare and slowly rolled up into a sitting position. His side stung.
“Here.” Big hands steadied him when he nearly fell off the side of the narrow bunk that hadn’t been made for giants.
Shaking his head to clear it of lingering shock-induced sleep, Simon looked around at the concerned—albeit grinning faces—of his friends. “What the hell happened?”
“You had a run in with The Demon,” Heddam announced from the cell next door.
“You came running to our rescue and got yourself zapped,” Mikal added from where he was leaning against the bars beside Heddam. Languidly he waved one hand in the air. “Took Shamon and Etol both to drag you in here.”
“You’re no bloody light-weight,” Shamon grunted.
Now he remembered. Glancing around the cells, Simon saw that he and his friends were crammed into three cells, while a group of sullen and very hung-over men snored, slumped and swore in the cells opposite.
He’d been zapped, just like Mikal and Heddam. “You two are all right?”
“Aye, fine.” Heddam grimaced. “Well, a little sore…” He touched his hand to his side, and Simon saw the red mark near his waist.
Standing up, he peeled back his vest and inspected his own sore spot. Sure enough, there was a round, red mark on his ribcage. Memory came flooding back… “Where is that hellcat?” He glared towards the corridor leading out into the main office.
The traders started laughing.
“And how long have we been here?” He added.
“The night and ’tis now nearly lunchtime,” Brekya informed him.
“The wench did mention keeping us locked up in here for the week,” Findel said, not looking at all worried.
“Nay, she wouldn’t,” Mikal said.
Simon strode to the bars. “That hellcat would, Mikal. She has a nasty streak a mile wide.” Grabbing the bars, he peered down the corridor. “Where is everyone?”
“Having lunch?” Findel suggested.
Sure enough, the smell of cooked food wafted down the corridor right at that moment. It was delicious enough to make his own mouth water, but Simon had other problems right now. He wanted to talk to someone. The Demon.
“Hello?” he called, then louder, “Hello!”
“No use,” one of the other prisoners sitting in the opposite cell said dolefully. “None of those peacekeepers will come in here until they’re good and ready.”
“True.” Another prisoner with a black eye and a tooth missing nodded his head in agreement. “The Demon has no time for brawlers, and she’s well-known for taking her time in coming to see us.”
“Especially when she’s had a late night,” the first prisoner added. “Knowing The Demon, she’s taking her time getting here.”
There was a collective round of nods from the prisoners, and they settled back to wait.
Exasperated, Simon turned and surveyed his friends, who were looking at him with mixed expressions of curiosity, amusement and acceptance.
“Now what?” Mikal asked.
“We wait.” A thought suddenly struck Simon. “Aamun and Torkra are back on the ship. They should have been here by now. Where the hell are they?”
Shamon ran one hand through his shaggy mop of hair. “We heard them arguing with the peacekeepers. They came all right, but weren’t allowed in. I heard the peacekeepers threatening to lock them up as well. They left soon after.”
At least Aamun was cool-headed enough to stay out of trouble. If they were in real trouble, Aamun and Torkra would have come charging in, but being locked up in the Enforcement Building for brawling, that was a different story. Not urgent, not threatening, not unusual… Nay, wait, it wasn’t common to gaol nearly a whole crew of traders. Most peacekeepers were happy to just see the backs of the giants.
The Demon, it seemed, wasn’t as easygoing… or even vaguely fearful of the traders.
Surprise me some more. A flicker of amusement went through Simon. The wench was not one to cower from duty. But she was still a bad-tempered shrew. Though mayhap she had a right to be.
“What started the fight?” Simon looked at Heddam.
His friend shrugged his massive shoulders. “A couple of those bastards over there got a bit rough with the tavern wenches.”
Simon flicked a glance of disgust at the men. A couple glared back, but most of them looked uneasy as the giant traders speared them with angry looks. No doubt they were now sober and wondering at their lucky escape.
Looking closer, Simon saw that most of the men were a lot worse off than his friends. In fact, his friends had hardly a mark on them, while the other men sported a series of injuries—black eyes, split lips, cut cheeks…
“Serves the bastards right.” Crossing back to the bunk, Simon sat down, preparing himself to await the pleasure of The Demon.
Midday passed into afternoon, and then into night. The traders were getting restless. Cramped in the small cells not built for men of their height and builds, they were feeling the enclosure keenly.
It made them even more restless that no one came to see them. An old man who didn’t reply to any of his questions had brought in jugs of water and wooden cups, which he’d passed through an opening in the cell bars, but that was all.
Simon could only thank heaven that each cell had a toilet separated by a wall, a common thing for most minor offence cells.
As the day grew later, his amusement turned to annoyance, then slowly to anger. Being slung in a gaol cell was one thing, but having no one come and tell him what was happening was quite another.
Finally he crossed to the bars, and yelled out, “Hello!”
He could hear voices in the office, the partially opened door at the end of the corridor allowing him to see a shadow pass the door as whoever it was moved around in the office.
There was no reply.
“Des!” he roared. His mouth fell open in astonishment when the door at the end of the corridor snapped shut. “Bloody hell!”
“She won’t come until she she’s good and ready,” the prisoner who had spoken earlier announced again.
“And when will that be?” Simon growled.
“When she’s ready.”
“What the hell kind of peacekeeper is she?” Frustrated, Simon’s fingers curled around the bars.
“The Demon does things her own way,” was the reply. “No sense getting uptight. It’ll do you no good.”
Swinging around, Simon cursed and stomped back to the bunk, where he dropped down, ignoring the alarming creak. Looking up, he saw his friends eyeing him with amusement and curiosity. “What?”
“Never seen you this antsy,” Heddam drawled.
“I’ve never been treated the way she’s treating us!”
“And normally ’twouldn’t bother you.” Heddam rubbed his strong jaw consideringly. “Now why would that be, hmm?”
Shamon opened his eyes and studied Simon. “’Twould seem that a certain wee lass gets under your skin, friend.”
Oh great. Now his crew were settling in to amuse themselves at his expense. “Unless you want to be on cleaning detail for a week, friend, I wouldn’t go down that road.”
“Seeing as we’re going to be here for a week, I think I’ll take that risk,” Shamon returned cheerfully. “We could start by the fact that you called her by name, Des. What a lovely ring to it.”
Simon rolled his eyes.
“So, Simon—”Shamon broke off as the door at the end of the corridor banged open, and the smell of food permeated the air again.
“Hurry up,” a feminine voice growled. “Feed those useless morons and move it.”
Instantly alert, Simon pushed upright and strode across the small space to the bars.
Des was striding down the corridor behind the old man, who was pushing a food trolley. The customary scowl was on her face, and she was covered in dust, a streak of blood marring her cheek.
Stopping near the cells, she glanced at the traders. “Enjoying the accommodation, boys?”
Simon’s eyes narrowed. “Very nice.”
“Glad you’re enjoying it.”
“When, exactly, are you going to let us out?”
“I figure a week should be good.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Push my buttons anymore, Daamen, and I’ll stretch it to two weeks.”
Simon wanted to do more than push her buttons. In fact, his hand itched to do a lot more… His jaw clenched. “What’s the fine?”
Ignoring him, she watched the old man hand the trays of food through the bars.
“Peacekeeper?” Simon persisted. “I asked what the fine was. I’ll have it paid.”
Des looked at him. “I’ll think about it.”
“For how long?”
Her scowl deepening, she strode to the bars, stopped directly opposite him and glared. “Until I damned well choose.”
“’Tis hardly fair—”
“No one ever said I had to be fair, trader. Right now, I don’t need brawling jerks around my settlement.”
“The brawl was due to my men standing up for some wenches.”
Her eyes flashed. “Look, trader, tavern wenches get roughed up. I don’t like it, you don’t like it, but it’s a fact. They know it; they risk it. Getting into a brawl and having some of my peacekeepers hurt is something I won’t tolerate.”
Taking a deep breath, Simon inadvertently inhaled her scent. Beneath the dirt and taint of blood, was a soft, flowery scent. It seeped into his senses, and unconsciously he leaned toward her, inhaling again.
They stared at each other… or rather, she glared, while he eyed her with renewed interest.
His interest turned to concern when he saw the weariness in her eyes, and the shadows beneath. Now he could see that the dried blood came from the scratch that marred the smooth skin of her cheek. His gaze flickered over her, searching for any other signs of injury, and now he saw that the sleeve of her shirt was torn, a bandage wrapped around her wrist where a tinge of red showed through. Des had been in a fight.
Concern coursed through him. “Are you all right, lass?”
“What the hell kind of question is that?” Moving back, Des jerked her head at the old man. “Are you finished?”
Totally unfazed by her harsh tone, the old man grinned, nodded, and passed the last tray of food to Mikal.
“Let’s go.” Swinging around on her heel, Des strode back up the corridor.
Simon’s gaze dropped down to the unconscious sway of her rounded hips beneath the dirt-streaked pants she wore, and his interest was piqued anew. The wench was tall, strong, and had a well-rounded build to suit him… nay, to suit her build. Height. Something.

**

copyright Angela Verdenius