To give you a taste for the stories here are the moments where our heroes and heroines meet for the first time.
Rita slowed, then stopped at his cell and stared through the flex window.
The shaggy brown-blond hair that drifted to his shoulders was in stark contrast to the male soldiers on the ship, with their closely cropped hair. But Tristan’s mane, shining beneath the overhead light, did little to soften the hard angles and planes of his face. Not that it mattered, his toughness didn’t detract from his magnificence. It just enhanced his maleness, his magnetism.
Tristan’s brushstrokes abruptly stilled. He turned, his deep emerald eyes locking with hers. Something flashed in his gaze. Awareness. Caution. Restraint.Rita had no doubt he accepted her presence as routine now. She only wished she could see something more … welcoming in his face.
Anger swelled even as all her common sense deflated. She wasn’t some lowly whore beneath his worth! She was Chief Warrant Officer, commissioned officer in the US army and officer in charge of work placement for the prisoners. She was a rung below her lover, who was in charge of the prison guards, and she was sick and tired of the men in her life treating her as something less.She turned her wrist to the cell’s identifier so it could read her implanted chip and allow her access. As an officer, she wasn’t exactly restricted from going into Tristan’s cell, but it was foolhardy to do so alone.
The door unlocked and she pressed it open then stepped into his cell. Her heart hammered and the lower regions of her belly tightened. She paused for a moment, to regain some semblance of composure. Not for the first time, she wondered if he appreciated the fact that no other prisoners shared his space. In comparison to the three standard bunk beds bolted to the walls in each of the other cells, his living area was expansive.She cleared her throat. “I see they’ve taken off your magna-cuffs.”
He’d turned back to his painting, as though whatever about her had captured his attention earlier was all but forgotten. “No. They’ve been relocated,” he corrected gruffly, lifting a leg to show the magna-cuffs snaring his ankles.It made sense. He’d be unable to fully bend and flex his wrists with them on, and the powers that be would want to ensure he could display his talent at all times.
She stopped, eyeing the canvas, which, viewed from this side, was mysteriously blank. She didn’t want to see his creation—it seemed too personal, too private. “I’m sorry they felt the need for you to wear them,” she said softly, stupidly wanting only to please this man. “I know you’re not a criminal.”His eyes snapped to hers, blazing and intense. “Yet I was tried and sentenced to serve the rest of my years on a flight I never wanted to be part of, traveling to a rock I care nothing about.”
She arched a brow. On the few occasions she’d tried to converse with him, he’d never given little more than monosyllabic answers. But somehow she preferred that to his ingratitude.“You’d rather live never knowing where you’ll find clean drinking water? When you’ll have your next bite to eat? Prefer wondering which bunch of looters-turned-murderers will next set their sights on your stash of supplies?”
His jaw clenched. “Enough. I get it, I really do. You want me to kiss the toes of all those in favor of throwing me into a big alloy space-can that might well become my coffin.”
The prisoner, 1789, looked as though he’d seen better days. His cheek was split open and blood was trickling down his olive skin and into the scruffy, not-quite-a-beard that was becoming popular among the prisoners, as it meant less shaving. Her gaze flicked to his hands. His knuckles were red and grazed.
Joy, another incident report. But she doubted the Warrant Officer had caused 1789 any damage. The officer was younger than she was and probably weighed less, even with his boots on.
“What happened, Sir?” What excuse would the WO have for 1789’s injury?The officer nudged 1789.
“I tripped and fell down a few stairs.” 1789 looked her in the eye as he spoke. His voice was perfectly modulated, but she knew it was a lie. If everything the prisoners said was true, they would have to be the clumsiest people on board. More likely he’d been fighting in the Rounds, but it was easier to agree to the lie. Safer, too. Tattling meant punishment.She nodded. “Fine, I’ll check him out. Is he free to wander?” Or was he going to be confined to his cell? If so, she would have to call someone to escort 1789. She never walked around the male prison without another guard. She was almost a prisoner herself—confined to the medical area. Lieutenant Zane could’ve put her in the female prison section of the ship but this was his way of controlling her, isolating her even further.
The WO gave a single nod and then left, as if glad to be gone. The door clicked closed, leaving Sienna and 1789 alone. Thanks, asshole. Prick should’ve followed protocol and waited until the prisoner was locked onto the chair.“Sit.” She made her voice as hard as she could.
1789 sat.“I’m going to release your cuffs and you’re going to place your arms on the chair. Clear?”
“Clear.” 1789 gave a single nod.This would either go smoothly or be a cluster fuck. She was going to report the WO … not that it would make any difference. Zane would ignore any complaint that she made. Sienna released the cuffs and held her breath, keeping her finger over the activate button on her wrist control.
As soon as he was free, 1789 placed his arms against the metal arms of the chair. She pressed the button before he had time to get comfortable.If he’d tried anything in those few seconds she would have hit emergency, locking down every prisoner in a ten-yard radius, which would have required some explaining. She’d never had to do it yet, but as one of the few women in the male area, she was aware of her precarious situation.
“So how did you really split your cheek open?”“I fell,” he replied in that same flat tone.
“Bullshit.” She hated being lied to, and if there was something untoward going on, she wanted to know. With Lieutenant Zane in charge of the guards, anything was possible.He blinked and looked at her carefully. “I fell, Corporal.”
“Onto a fist. You aren’t the first to come in from the Rounds and I doubt you’ll be the last. So would you like to try again?” She swung the imager between them to check his face for broken bones.“You know about the Rounds?”
“Everyone knows, even if they don’t watch and bet.”His head jerked in a nod, bones white on the dark screen.
“Hold still for a moment.”She scanned the screen, looking for telltale black shadows or spider webs of cracks. Nothing. But she saved the image anyway for his med file.
“He didn’t hit you hard enough to break anything.” But it was only a matter of time. Something was bound to go wrong in the Rounds.
He blanked the screen with a quick jab of his thumb. “Sorry. What?”
Lily Kwan plonked a bilious green plastic circle on the table in front of him. “A base for your basket.” Determinedly, she pushed the glasses back up her long nose. “I’ve pre-punched it,” she said, pointing to the holes around the perimeter.
Con stared. Though her hands were narrow and graceful, with long, slender fingers, they were filthy, as if she’d been finger-painting with camouflage colors. Two knuckles sported blisters.
How would the clever doctor react under pressure?Without haste, Con reached out, gripped her right wrist and turned her hand palm up. The skin was marred with nicks and cuts, some healed, some not. “What happened to your hands?”
“Nothing.” Under his thumb, her pulse fluttered. “Just doing my job,” she said, her lips tightly compressed.When she took a step back, he held on, gently, but firmly. “Explain.”
The downlights shone directly on her face. From behind the glasses, furious almond eyes met his. They were a stormy gray, not the brown he’d expected.Con’s lips curved, very slightly. Ah, now they were getting somewhere. The peasant had transgressed and the princess was pissed. It warmed his heart, truly it did.
“I work in a lab, all right? I do experiments.” She tugged, to no avail. Her cheeks had gone a dull red.Lounging back in his chair, Con released her, taking his own sweet time. “I see.”
Her spine snapped straight. “Which do you want? Bamboo or reed?”“Neither.” He gave her a calm smile. “I’ll just watch the others for now.”
The blood beat beneath the golden skin of her throat.“Fine.” Scooping up the green circle, she whirled around and headed for the sulky prisoners.
Con stared. Had he thought their yellow shirts were the only bright notes in the room? A glossy dark braid, almost as thick as his wrist, hung down Kwan’s back, bouncing with the energy of her stride. Threaded through it was a scarlet ribbon.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of ES Sire, it's crew, prisoners and civilians.