Authors: Julia Brandywine
AMETHYST MOON Copyright @ 2013 by JULIA BRANDYWINE. All rights reserved. No part of the book may be used or produced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Tabitha King, staff overseer for Columbus Minerals, piloted her hovercraft through the Burundian Jungle on her way to Mine Twelve.
She traveled to this back-road outpost to eliminate some dead weight—namely, Laurent Fox. Damn his sexy, doesn’t work well with others, badass hide. As the best bounty hunter in the firm, he should have known better than to break off contact to pursue his own, no doubt illegal, interests. Dirty or not, her boss Elliot Cartridge was so angry with him that he’d put him on the dreaded disavowed list.
Instead of patrolling the abandoned mine for poachers, as Columbus Minerals paid him handsomely to do, Fox was probably hunting down some fugitive on company time instead, or maybe running some contraband. At this point in their stormy relationship she wouldn’t put anything past him. Her face burned when she remembered their last sexual encounter, right before she’d become his boss.
He’d had her pressed against the cool tourmaline wall of her steam shower as he made even steamier love to her. She’d been crazy for him, and as he thrust deep into her making her quiver around him all she could do was look deep into his green eyes and fall in love with him. More fool her. He’d been pumping her for more than information and she’d told all while creaming all over him.
Yes, she’d been brought in as a shill, to get to the bottom of security leaks in the company. No, she wasn’t sure who the culprit was. But she knew in her heart it wasn’t him. And then to her utter humiliation she’d blurted out that she loved him. She felt him withdrawing closing off from her even as he made her cum like a slut. Then he’d simply walked away. That was six months ago and she hadn’t set eyes on him since choosing to manage him from afar. She let out a sigh. No wonder she was dreading this encounter but she refused to let it show.
Damn the man. He
have to play hooky when the oversight committee made their annual inspection tour. He’d probably done it to make her look bad she decided. Payback on his part, no doubt, for trying to manage him since her promotion. Despite the welcome upgrade to her career, personally supervising the errant Fox was the last thing she wanted to do. But now was the time to suck it up and do her job she told herself firming her resolve.
She stopped her craft a hundred yards outside the mine shaft deciding a stealthy approach would work.
No need to tip him off to her presence until she caught him poaching, hunting fugitives, or goofing off. A soft whirr from the back of the craft drew her attention. She turned to look glancing past the cockpit to her living quarters. Jerald 4, standing in the middle of the well-appointed living space, was preparing her mine clothes. At least she could count on him. The android’s eyes blinked green—her favorite color. He’d been made to her specifications. The fact that Fox’s eyes were the same shade was merely coincidental she told herself.
Jerald 4 and the land cruiser were only two of the fringe benefits her new position with the firm afforded her. Not having to scrimp and save to survive was also a big bonus, one she’d learned the hard way after being orphaned when her parents were killed in a mine accident. It was a lesson she’d never forget and she was damned if she’d let Fox take her new-found security away from her. The big drawback to the job at this moment was tracking down Fox, and, if necessary, pursuing him inside the abandoned mine. Mines scared her silly. Still, she saw no need to let her superiors in on her private fears. Her humanoid resources job, luckily, meant she rarely had to venture into the dark passageways.
Gears clicking, the android turned her way. “May I be of any further assistance, Lieutenant King?”
“No thanks, Jerald 4. I can take care of this.” She smiled at the helpful, silver servant knowing his empathy chip would appreciate her politeness.
Slipping into her jumpsuit, made of a lightweight, sturdy, buff gray material, she checked to make sure her pockets held the correct survival material. Overkill maybe, but she wanted to be prepared for all possibilities.
Pulling on her sturdy mine treads, she mentally coached herself for the task ahead. She could do this. Her uniform would scare off any poachers
who might be lurking around. Touching a member of the firm would bring dire consequences for any poachers or renegades in the territory foolish enough to touch her. No one dared bother
her, she told herself taking in a deep soothing breath to tamp down her panic. Smoothing her long red tresses back, she put on shades tinted the same sky blue as her eyes.
She glanced toward the back of the craft to the sleeping area. Red cat eyes glowed at her from the bed. “No, you can’t go with me this time, Spot.”
The big tan-and-black speckled cave cat turned his back on her, his usually languid body rigid in annoyance. “Killjoy,” he grumbled.
She knew he itched to explore the mines, but she didn’t want to track him if he wandered into one of the defunct mine’s
offshoot shafts. Lowering the hammer on Fox when she reached him would be tough enough. Unresolved feelings aside, this time she’d have to give him the boot. In a way, hers was a mission of mercy. She might be out to fire Laurent Fox, but she wasn’t ready to blacklist him in the community. Her superior had no such compunctions.
Picking up her communication device, she flipped it open to pick up Fox’s current presence on the mineral detector. The chip of Amethyst he wore in his badge would lead her to him. The Ancients on Earth had long ago mastered the strength of the precious Amethyst gem, making it a valuable communications tool.
Stepping out of the airlock, Tabitha turned back to Jerald 4. “Take Spot for a walk, please. And wait here for my return.”
Winding her way through
the thick, steamy undergrowth of jungle vines, she soon became surrounded by verdant green jungle. Birds cackled in the nearby trees and, somewhere in the distance, a creature let out a feral cry that made her shake. What kind of animals prowled this land? Maybe she should have brought the cat. The heat and perfumed smell of the jungle blooms enveloped her in a heady cloud. She pressed a button on her jumpsuit, putting it on cool. She’d forgotten how muggy the jungle climate could be.
A figure moved in the undergrowth, making her duck hurriedly behind a bush. She peered around a tangle of thick vines to see a man in a torn blue tunic and pants. A poacher! His feet were bare. If poachers felt free to roam the property, Fox definitely wasn’t doing his job.
Just then, the poacher spotted her and let out a cry of
alarm. He seemed even more shaken at the sight of her than she’d been at his, she decided, feeling her confidence return as he ran off into the tropical rain forest
Tabitha didn’t bother to chase the barefooted poacher. She was after bigger game—Laurent Fox. His beacon came through strong and easy to follow on her hand-held screen as she pushed her way through the jungle, finally breaking through the clearing that faced the mountain. The peak went right up into the clouds. Foothills offered a few primitive roads. At the end of them, a black hole marked the entrance to Mine Twelve. When she panned the area with her device, it lit bright green when she pointed it toward the yawning maw of the abandoned mine.
Damn, she’d have to go in. Mines gave her the creeps, since she’d gotten trapped in one on a mission with her parents when she
was five years old. Her parents, paleo-geologists, had been killed in the cave that had trapped her. Spot had found her, causing a life-long bond with only occasional ripples.
She picked her way over the rutted path that had once served as a mine road, heading toward the big black hole. Darting into the shaft quickly before she could chicken out, she was grateful for the luminescent glow of the antechamber walls. Refracted sunlight in the entryway made the gloom tolerable, giving her the moment she needed to tamp down her incipient panic attack. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on pulling in deep cleansing breaths. She could do this, she told herself. She was a lieutenant with the firm, after all. She had to do this.
Serenity restored, she opened her eyes and took a good look around. Sturdy mine walls stood firm in the sun, glimmering with ribbons of common blue quartz. Pretty, she thought with a smile. Nothing looked in danger of caving in, considering that it was a gem mine, not a shale one like the one that had left her an orphan.
Toward the back of the large antechamber were three bore trails. She walked forward, stopping at the head of three passages, wondering which way to go. Holding the recorder before her, she waved the device first to the right, then the middle, and then finally to the narrow shaft on the left. The screen flashed green.
Fox would have to be in the most claustrophobic-looking one.
Stepping off, one foot in front of the other, she carefully made her way down the trail. After venturing a ways down the narrow corridor, away from the light, she turned on the aura enhancement light on her shades. It cast eerie shadows on the wall. Her heart raced. A cool sweat broke out on her body that had nothing to do with the cave’s dampness.
Damn it all, why did this have to be a cave assignment? And something smelled funny, aside from the usual cave’s mustiness. Was it merino, a popular illegal drug with the dregs of society? Laurent wasn’t reckless enough to smoke that, was he? She remembered him as a staunch anti-drug man—at least that part of him fit with the company line.
Sniffing the air again, she
wasn’t merino. The scent stronger, more acrid than the weed. A glance at the recorder told her she was closing in on Fox. She listened hard, detecting a faint
sound—a kind of a hiss. What was it?
She picked up her pace and spied Fox off to the side of a cavern, hunkered down behind
a rocky outcropping. Was he actually poaching gems? she wondered, but realized it couldn’t be. The mine was inactive, played out.
Then another explanation for his hiding occurred to her. Maybe he was hiding from her. How immature! She tromped over to him, ready to ask what kind of game he was playing. “All right, Fox, the jig is up!” she shouted.
He startled, his gaze snapping up to her. “Get down,” he ordered in a harsh whisper, reaching up to jerk her down on top of him. Their bodies made jarring contact as he collapsed beneath her weight with a groan.
Sprawled on top of his big muscular body, she burned from the intimacy, her face heating up. Shocked, she started into his intense green eyes. His square jaw was covered with dark stubble matching his raven black hair. As ruggedly handsome as ever, he took her breath away. He’d had his Amethyst chip, she noted with annoyance, anchored in a titanium earring in his left ear—in direct violation of the Company’s dress code. He knew it, too. In short, he looked like a pirate about to ravish her. Everything about the man screamed of his disreputable nature…and its oh-so-appealing side effects. Her continued weakness for him infuriated her. “Of all the—” A white ray snapped by her head with a hiss. Tabitha tore her shocked gaze away from
Laurent to see the energy burst blast against the rock wall and shatter part of it. For a moment, the facts just didn’t register in her mind. She couldn’t accept any possibility that violence was being directed at her. “Is someone shooting at us?” She recognized the smell now. Xenon ash, a product used mostly for mining and demolition. She could hardly believe it was being used as a weapon. Their attackers had to be out of their heads.
“It isn’t the welcome wagon, Boss,” Laurent grumbled.
Tabitha looked back down at him, past the out-of-uniform rebel to the battered man underneath. His tan tunic had been cut across his chest, stained with something red—blood, she realized in horror. “You’ve been hit.”
She caught a flicker of movement from the corner of her eye. Two raggedly dressed poachers crept forward. One she recognized from outside. “You there. Stop at once,” she ordered, attempting to sit up. Laurent thwarted her efforts by looping a restraining arm around her waist.
The poacher raised his hand and shot again. The burst just missed her.
“Damn it, King, duck.” Fox flipped her over onto her back, covering her with his own body.
“Stop that,” she said, pushing him off. “I’m giving the orders around here.”
“So give ’em.”
Tabitha reached in her front pocket for her Amethyst gem. The beautiful, pure yellow-green chip was the size of a hen’s egg. Holding it in her palm, she felt it heat up. She concentrated on it, sending waves of peril the poacher’s way. If she couldn’t beat him physically, she’d beat him mentally. Fox’s hand covered hers, cocooning the Amethyst between them. His unexpected touch shocked her for an instant, and her powers slipped. The poachers rushed closer.
“Don’t give up now, Boss,” Fox murmured, looking deep into her eyes.
Tabitha concentrated again, feeling Fox’s powerful mind meld with hers. She felt his rage intensify his strength. His power was even greater than she’d imagined, and far more complex. Fighting the urge to peek at him, she re-doubled her efforts. The first poacher groaned nearby. He tried to fire another energy blast but missed, his aim thwarted by the waves of peril buffeting him. A second poacher went down behind the first.
“Come on,” Laurent urged, tugging on her hand and leading her toward a back passage. “This is our best chance.”
“But I should call back up.” Scrambling after him, she reached into one of her pockets for her communication device.
“No time. Now move.” He broke
into a run, ducking through a narrow opening and dragging her along. He stopped to shove her in front of him. They brushed together like sardines in the confining space. “Get moving,” he growled.
Tabitha breathed a sigh of relief. She turned just in time to see him pull two silver balls from his pocket. “What are you doing?”
“A little insurance.” He rolled them down the passageway in the direction they’d come.
“Explosives?” She couldn’t believe he was resorting to them. “It’s so primitive.”
“Sometimes primitive works.” He pulled her forward around a curve as the mine’s shaft exploded behind them. Dust swirled around them as the rock walls collapsed, sealing them off from the poachers. She heard a cry of pain behind them.
“Did you have to resort to violence?”
“Yup,” he muttered, urging her along.
She hurried to keep up, and then noticed he was limping. “How bad are you hurt?”
“I’ll live.” He tugged her to a large chamber that glowed with tourmaline, and there he collapsed on an outcropping of rock.
Men! She’d long ago realized their fragile psyches didn’t always allow them to work well under women. Ignoring his glower, she reached for his blood-stained tunic to check the severity of his injuries. Opening the torn material, she tugged it out of his black breeches, baring his upper torso. The wound had torn a jagged path across his chest. The sight of it was almost enough to make her swoon. Blackened with xenon ash, the gash oozed bright red blood. She fought her horror as she fumbled in another pocket for her powder. When she sprinkled some of the crystalline dust on his wound, Laurent sucked in a pained breath. “Sorry,” she murmured, her tone unexpectedly tender even in her own ears. “This might sting a bit.”
“Thanks for the warning,” he said with a tight smile.
The dark ash began to dissipate, and the bleeding halted. He turned rigid, shrinking back during her second application. She knew it hurt like Hades, but she had to do it. “Hold still so I can finish the healing process.
Here, chew on this.” She handed him a dried herb from her pouch. Cocoa leaves had both restorative and pain reducing powers he could use during the healing.
He looked at the silver leaf in his hand. “What is it?"
“Something to revive your strength.”
She watched him chew, relived he wasn’t balking, and reached for her healing crystals. Pure Amethyst and Tourmaline used in conjunction could do magical things. She rubbed them together to cause friction, and then held them a few inches from
his wound. He broke out in a cold sweat, telling her wordlessly that it was working. When she moved them away, the wound had been cauterized. He was healing already.
He sighed, closing his eyes. “Thanks.”
“Tell me what happened,” she asked, passing a troubled gaze over his slumped form. “Who were those men chasing you?”
“I already figured that out. What happened?”
He opened his eyes to pin her with a firm gaze. “I might ask you the same thing. How was it you showed up just when I needed you?”
“You’re lucky, I guess.”
He frowned. “Not lately.”
“So, what exactly have you been doing the last three days?”
“Ah, that’s why you’re here. To check up on me.”
Tabitha stared at him grimly. He almost sounded happy, and why not? She’d saved him, whether he wanted to admit it or not. “Tell me what’s going on, Fox.”
“Things aren’t always what they seem. I was making my walk through when I stumbled across them. The poachers didn’t want to give up their prize.”
“A tread box full of low grade scraps. I’ve been holding them off for two
days now.” He gazed up at her and smiled. “Thanks for
“You’re welcome,” Tabitha muttered. She’d save the fact that he
was fired until they were safely on the rescue vessel. “I’ll call for backup, and we’ll be out of here in no time.”
He raised a dark brow. “About that—”
Tuning him out, she tried her communicator. The screen remained blank. How odd. She shook it instinctively.
“Ms. King,” he said a bit louder.
She tried her backup settings. The black screen didn’t so much as flicker in response to her efforts.
“Tabby Cat!” he shouted, waving a hand in front of her face.
She blinked at
him, annoyed. He couldn’t address her in such a familiar manner anymore. Protocol had to be upheld, after all, regardless of their past relationship. And anyway, their breakup had thoroughly ended his right to call her pet names as far as she was concerned.
“I’ve been trying to tell you. Something’s blocking the signal. That’s why I couldn’t get through for backup myself these past few days.”
Hearing the certainty in his voice, she knew he wasn’t joking.
“So we’re trapped here?” The very thought made her stomach quiver. “You sealed us in here, you idiot. With no way to contact the outside world.” Looking around their rocky crypt in horror, she tried to absorb the finality as tremors overtook her.