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Authors: Moira J. Moore

Heroes Adrift

BOOK: Heroes Adrift
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Praise for
Resenting the Hero

“This incredible romantic fantasy will appeal equally to fans of both genres. The sexual tension between the two protagonists is so strong that readers will feel sparks fly off the pages.”

—
The Best Reviews

“An enchanting fantasy that introduces two interesting and complex protagonists and a fascinating world…The tale has everything—magic, mayhem, a hint of romance, and a thread of wry humor.”

—
Romance Reviews Today

“[A] fast-paced plot…The various threads come together in a satisfying way.”

—
SFRevu

“A wry twist on classic fantasy…
Resenting the Hero
is a funny book with occasional dramatic spans…a good choice for a rainy afternoon.”

—
Infinity Plus

“An entertaining read…sure to be a hit with romance as well as fantasy readers.”

—
Fresh Fiction

Ace titles by Moira J. Moore

RESENTING THE HERO

THE HERO STRIKES BACK

HEROES ADRIFT

Heroes Adrift
Moira J. Moore

ACE BOOKS, NEW YORK

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

HEROES ADRIFT

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2008 by Moira J. Moore.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-1012-0875-5

ACE
Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To Marilyn's Bookclub
and The Bookstore Commandos

 

For the readers who sent letters of support,

For the friends and family who were disappointed on my behalf,

For Denise Sherry, who deserves a medal,

For my editor, Anne Sowards, who went to bat for me,

And for my agent, Jack Byrne, for sticking by me

Chapter One

Sometimes, when I was feeling particularly stupid, I thought if I hadn't been born Shield Dunleavy Mallorough, I would have liked to earn coin by bench dancing. It was a ridiculous idea, because, aye, I was a Shield, which meant working as a Shield was the only thing I could do. And if I hadn't been born a Shield, I would have been steered into the family business, trained to do whatever merchant-and traderlike things my sister and brothers did. Which meant I wouldn't have gotten the daily practice in bench dancing that I received at the Shield Academy, so I wouldn't have been nearly as good at it as I was.

Plus, I was just too short to be among the best. Damn it.

But at least I could join the odd competition, just for the fun of it, without worrying that someone might try stoning me. Just for the fun of it.

It had taken a while, but I was once more welcome at the bench dancing competitions. I could add my name to the list without half the competitors withdrawing. I could dance, leaping from bench to bench and over the moving bars, without worrying about the stalkers—the four people moving the bars—deliberately crushing my ankles. I could win a round without being booed.

The residents of High Scape had taken a long time to forgive the Pairs for our failure in regulating the weather that had virtually destroyed everyone's livelihoods over the past summer. And from some of the comments I had heard, some of them still thought we could have done something, but hadn't. Which didn't make sense. If we'd been able to control the blizzards in summer, the drastic changes from torrential rain to torturous droughts, why wouldn't we? What would we have gained from our refusal?

Sources and Shields could calm the earthquakes, the tornadoes, the volcanoes, all of the other natural disasters that frequently threatened our cities. Sources channeled the forces that created these events, Shields made sure those forces didn't curl back and destroy the Sources as they worked. We couldn't do anything about the weather, like rain or snow. Well, nothing reliable. We'd suffered from the same food shortages, the same uncomfortable temperatures, the same danger of getting lost in sudden blizzards. If we could have fixed it all, we would have.

Whether the regulars, those who were not Sources and Shields, believed us or not, they seemed to have forgiven us. We no longer had to worry about being assaulted in the streets, or given clothing deliberately designed to be ill fitting. I still didn't want to eat in taverns, unsure of what unregulated ingredients might have been added to the meal, but I'd finally felt brave enough to join the dancing lists. I'd missed dancing.

Bench dancing wasn't actually dancing, and at times I wondered how it had come to be so named. It was a feat of athletics, two people facing each other on either end of two long wooden benches, laid side by side in sand, each bench about a foot high and a hand-span wide. Two people knelt at each end and handled four bars, slightly longer than the benches, raising them and clashing them together in time to the drums. The dancers were to leap over the bars as they moved without ever standing on both benches at the same time and without falling to the sand.

Shields learned how to dance the benches in childhood. It was an excellent way to force us to pay attention to our immediate environment, something our nature caused us to neglect. And I'd fallen in love with it upon first introduction. It was such a glorious exercise of every muscle and sense. I just wished I were better at it.

That day, I made it to the quarter finals before being beaten, and I felt nice and loose and sweaty. I happily shook hands with my beaming opponent and sat down on one of the dressing benches to catch my breath.

“Much as I esteem you,” a pleasant baritone spoke into my ear, “I am happy enough I didn't wager on you this day. I don't have the coins to spare.”

I looked up at the young man with the charming smile and an unintimidatingly pleasing countenance. A land-poor, coin-poor younger son of a less-than-wealthy lord, Doran Laidley was, dare I say it, my suitor, and I couldn't be more pleased with him. He made me laugh, he had no dark corners, and he had so far demonstrated no controlling nor obsessive behaviors.

“Off the bench, lordling,” I told Doran. “It's only for contestants.”

“Then why are you sitting on it? You've lost.”

I stuck my tongue out at him and stood up, bending over at the waist to stretch out my legs. “I thought you weren't going to be here today.” I'd been counting on it. There was no way to look good while you were bench dancing. The sport required loose-fitting clothing. My hair had bounced out of its ties and grown to resemble a bird's nest, never a good look on a redhead. And I didn't shine, I didn't glow, I sweat. I looked a proper treat, I did.

Not that I ever looked particularly good or sharp without hours of planning and execution. Still, there were certain depths to which I could sink for which I would prefer there were no witnesses.

“Sweet Ride came through for me on the second. I decided to count my blessings—and my coins—and move on before I lost my luck.”

With my heel digging into the ground, I pressed the ball of my foot against the leg of the bench and stretched my calf. “From what I understand, it's unusual for a gambler to know when to quit.”

“What can I say? I am unique among men.”

“Uh-huh.” I smiled. Sometimes Doran demonstrated these trumped up flashes of arrogance that I found just too cute. There were a lot of things about him that were just too cute. “What is that?” I gestured at a piece of jewelry he was wearing on the left side of his chest. Doran wasn't the type to wear jewelry—he didn't even wear rings—and this was an unusual piece. A sort of brooch, I supposed, made of gold, with the body of it suspended from the pin by a short slender chain.

“It's a harmony bob,” he said. “For luck.”

I stared at him, shocked. “For luck? What do you mean?”

“The act of wearing it is supposed to bring me luck,” he said slowly.

I'd known what he meant. That hadn't been my point. “You don't actually believe in luck, do you?” How horribly disappointing.

“No,” he said, then added, “not really. But I like the idea of them, and the look of them.”

“And what do you wish luck for?”

“Oh.” He smiled. “Just life in general.”

Some would say he'd already been granted luck in life in general. “I must head home and clean up.”

“Before you rush off, I want to ask you something.”

Uh-oh. Build up to a question was never a good sign.

Doran opened his purse and pulled out a small cream-colored envelope. “My mother is holding a dinner party next week.” He held out the envelope. “I know it's very short notice, but she would like you to attend. So would I.”

If I were as good a Shield as I liked to think I was, I wouldn't have said “Your mother?” with quite that tone.

“I think it's time you met her, don't you?”

Time? Why? “I'm not good with mothers.”

His eyebrows flew up at that. “You don't kill them, do you?”

“Not yet.” Though Karish's mother had brought me pretty close. So, at times, had mine.

“Mine's a decent sort, or I wouldn't inflict her on you. And I've talked about you so much that she's ordered me to bring you in the flesh, so she might meet the paragon.”

Paragon? “What in Zaire's name did you tell her?”

“That you were beautiful beyond compare, with an intelligence to rival the Empress, and divine humor to keep you from being annoying.”

I stared at him. “So no pressure, then.”

He laughed, and I was pleased that I could make him laugh. “Don't worry. I let her know you were human. She likes human people.”

What was that supposed to mean? “Was it your intention to flog me into a panic?”

“That's something I'd like to see,” he said. “You in a panic. May I walk you home?”

“No you may not,” I told him tartly. “And shame on you. Of course I don't feel comfortable being in your company when I'm this much of a mess.”

He rolled his eyes. “I've grown up with sisters, you know. I grew up with Lydia. I happen to know women are actual people who get dirty sometimes.”

“And with all that female influence one would think you've learned we don't like to be seen when we're dirty.” Of course, I'd been seen by everyone at the match, and I would be seen by everyone I passed on the street as I walked home, but this was different. I flicked a hand at Doran. “Be a good lad and run away.”

He bowed with sardonic humor. “As my lady wishes.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Do let me know when you consider yourself presentable.”

“You'll be the first.”

I smiled to myself as I walked away from him, congratulating myself on my good sense. He was a thoroughly decent man. He was handsome but not alarmingly so, polite but not rigidly so, witty and calm. And calm was important. I liked calm. Calm was easy and soothing. I was happier when those around me were calm.

Most unique of all, he liked Karish, my Source. And Karish seemed to have no real objection to him. Or so I assumed. Karish called Doran by his personal name and pronounced it properly, which was always a good sign. He never said anything snide about him, and hadn't yet asked if “this one” was showing any homicidal tendencies. There was a certain reserve in his manner when he spoke of Doran, and a kind of blankness would come over his face, which was not his wont with people he admired, but there were no signs of hostility. So I supposed that meant Karish approved of him, even if he didn't actually like him.

There should have been no problem.

But there was something missing. I didn't know what. I just knew that when I thought of possibly remaining with him for the rest of my life, there was something in me that cringed away from the idea. I wasn't sure why. Not that we had to spend the rest of our lives together. Neither of us had ever said anything to imply that was the plan.

Except now Doran was expecting me to meet his mother. That meant something, didn't it?

I raised the envelope to my nose. It smelled nice. Of quality paper, the perfume of the writer, and subtle scents of a home.

I looked at the address on the envelope. Doran's mother lived in the Upper Western Quadrant of High Scape. The city was divided into six sections by the trade routes, and each section was like its own miniature city, with its own hospitals, markets, and Runner headquarters. The city, as a whole, housed approximately twenty thousand people, but the population was not equally distributed among the quadrants. The North Quadrant, where the wealthiest lived, had the fewest residents, most of which lived in large houses with even larger lawns. The South Quadrant, the home of the poorest residents, had the most.

I lived in the Upper Eastern Quadrant, where the mid level merchants and minor politicians lived. It was nice enough to have cobblestone streets that ran relatively straight, but not nice enough to avoid hideously skinny buildings that were up to ten stories high. Carriages rattled about, carrying those with business in other quadrants. I walked everywhere, as I rarely left the Upper Eastern Quadrant except to go to the Observation Post, located just outside the city limits, where a Pair, comprised of a bonded Source and Shield, stood watch against destructive events.

I reached the Triple S boarding house. The only person there was Ben Veritas, the middle-aged regular paid by the Triple S to keep our residence in order and cook and clean for us. He took one look at me, clucked in disapproval, and sent me upstairs to get out of my clothes while he drew a bath for me in the antechamber of my suite. I felt pampered beyond measure when I entered my private bathing room and found the iron tub filled with steaming oiled water, fluffy towels warming by the fire, a jug of white wine on a table within easy reach. “Ah, Ben, you spoil me.”

“It is only what is due to someone as fortunate as you. You should appreciate it.”

It was, I thought, an odd thing to say, especially as I had already expressed my appreciation. Or so I'd thought. Perhaps I hadn't been clear. “Thank you for all of your effort.”

“My pleasure, Shield Mallorough,” he said, bobbing his head before backing out of the room.

What an odd little man.

I sank into the tub with a sigh of delight. Simple pleasures really were the best. What could be better after a match well danced than soaking in a large tub of warm, scented water, feeling dirt scrubbed away and muscles easing while sipping sweet white wine?

The last couple of months had been wonderful. While the sharp decline in natural disasters had made watches at the Observation Post, more sarcastically called the paranoia stall, a little less interesting, it also made me feel things were finally back to normal. No madmen using their Source abilities to try to shake High Scape to the ground. No Reanists sacrificing aristocrats and infecting the general population with their craziness. Just routine. Go to the Stall and sit seven hours either channeling events or beating Karish at cards. Sometimes both. Then, going out with friends, usually just for drinks, but that was fun enough. Bench dancing, when I could.

BOOK: Heroes Adrift
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