Friday, September 29, 2006

No Princess Need Apply - 2nd Excerpt

I promised you more of my sf romance, and here it is. But first, and advertisement. My time travel novel, A KIND OF MAGIC (formerly titled One of These Nights) is available for download in ebook format from www.cerridwenpress.com. And I have a short story "New Yorke Snow" in the DAW fantasy anthology FANTASY GONE BAD.

Now, on with the story

She’d been kept waiting for a long time. Then again, maybe she wasn’t waiting for anyone. Even though she’d been shown into a luxurious office paneled in dark wood and hung with tasteful landscape paintings, she hadn’t been told that anyone was going to join her there. Summer knew she was in Washington only because it was rather difficult not to recognize the famous landmarks of the nation’s capital as the car drove past them. She’d never actually been to Washington. Under other circumstances she would have enjoyed the sights from the back seat of the car that met them at the small private airport outside the city. The flight from New York had been in a small jet, with no conversation. In fact, no one had spoken to her in hours. The security people simply took her from one place to another with total indifference, finally leaving her alone in this large office deep in the depths of a gigantic white marble office building. She supposed they were just doing their job, delivering a package they’d been sent to fetch, but she resented it greatly.

She sat for a while, almost lost in the depths of a leather upholstered chair and her own worry. Then she got up and ran her gaze across a case full of law and history books. Under more normal circumstances she might have been tempted to take out a book and do some reading. Instead she turned from the case and walked to the wide window. She considered the scenic view of the Capital Mall and decided that she wasn’t in the domain of any ordinary functionary. She wanted to know who the place belonged to. She wanted to know why she’d been brought here. Her nerves and patience were growing more frayed by the moment. She was considering attempting to ransack the large desk in the center of the room when the door opened.

The middle-aged man who entered was tall, slender, with iron-gray hair and erect posture. He didn’t bother to introduce himself. The look he gave her was just short of disdainful, but his tone was polite enough when he gestured toward the chair she’d vacated. “Please be seated, Ms. Simms.”

Summer was not in the mood for being seated. She wanted to plant herself belligerently in front the desk and demand some answers. Instead she perched on the edge of the chair and looked at the man seated on the other side of the desk. Her mother had taught her to be plainspoken, but polite. She followed that teaching now as she requested politely, “Please explain what’s going on.”

The man folded his hands on his desk. “You’re being given an opportunity to serve your country, Ms. Simms. My job is to brief you on what’s expected of you.”

“An opportunity to serve my country?” Images of military missions and exotic espionage capers came immediately to her mind. Which was ridiculous, of course. Wasn’t it? “How?”

“You have of course heard of Rawn Ruan.”

“Who?”

He gave her an exasperated look. “Rawn Ruan, His Supremacy, Emperor of the Kariin Empire.”

Summer almost laughed with relief. “Of course I’ve heard of him. I just didn’t know that was his name.” She’d heard the fancy title Supremacy often enough, but she’d found herself thinking of him as The Landlord ever since the Kariin spaceships had arrived and announced that they were graciously welcoming Earth into the Empire. “It’s not easy to think of emperors having something so ordinary as names, especially an emperor from a different world that no one’s hardly even seen. What do his friends call him, Ru?”

The man did not look amused. He did not sound as if he was joking, either, when he replied, “I’m sure you’ll have the opportunity to find out, Ms. Simms.”

Summer’s confusion deepened. “What do you mean?”

“His Supremacy wants you.”

Summer couldn’t quite fathom this statement. “He wants to meet me? Why would an emperor want to meet a model?” She paused for a moment while her question reverberated around in her own mind. A rather unbelievably obvious answer presented itself. Over the years lots of men -- none of them alien emperors, but many of them powerful and rich -- had wanted to meet her. “Oh.”

“I see you understand.”

She shook her head. “That’s not possible. He can’t want a date with me.”

“Not a date, Ms. Simms.”

Maybe her mother’s concern that the Kariins were cannibals wasn’t as unfounded as Summer had thought. She didn’t voice this worry, as it would no doubt sound foolish, groundless and unsophisticated. She just hoped it was all of those things. She said, “I don’t understand.”

The man cleared his throat. He dropped eye contact. “He wants you, Ms. Simms. To know you.”

“I’m sure I’d like to get to know him to – “ She shot to her feet as a rush of outraged heat went through her. “We’re talking know in the biblical sense, aren’t we?”

“Yes, Ms. Simms.”

“No way!”

The man never even blinked, or blushed, or showed any decent emotion. “I assure you that you’ll be amply compensated for your - time.”

It was the short pause between words that totally infuriated her. She would have slapped him is she’d been within striking distance. “What sort of woman do you think I am?”

She didn’t wait for an answer, but stalked angrily to the door. She was surprised to discover that it wasn’t locked. Surprised and delighted. She slammed the door as hard as possible behind her as the man called her name. There was no one in the hallway, either. She walked to an elevator, heard the office door open and footsteps coming up behind her, but the elevator arrived before the odious man reached her. She stepped into the car, and once again the door closed on him just as he said, “Ms. Simms!”

She was still seething with humiliated fury when the car reached the first floor. It didn’t help her strained nerves any when she stepped out of the elevator, and ran right into the handsomest man she’d ever seen. Considering that she was used to working with male models and meeting movie stars, that was saying quite a bit. He was broad shouldered - rather like a wall in a finely tailored gray suit, and taller than she was, which made him well over six foot. He had the blackest hair and most startlingly blue eyes she’d ever seen.

The last thing she wanted right now was any man’s hands on her, but she found herself oddly soothed by his touch when he reached out to steady her. His eyes, his incredible eyes, caught and held her gaze. They expressed gentle concern, and a hint of steely amusement.

It was the steely part she found confusing. That, and the almost giddy fluttering in her stomach, and head and heart that arose from just being near him. She almost forgot to breathe, then when she did take a breath, she discovered that he smelled good; a combination of masculine cologne and just plain masculine -- him.

“Fancy meeting like this,” he said. His voice was rich, lightly amused, and held a hint of accent that might have been Bostonian, but was definitely educated and urbane.

“Excuse me, I really have to go,” she said, as she came to her senses.

She recalled where she was and what had been asked of her. She’d had the presence of mind to pick up her purse before walking out of the office. The purse held her passport and a wallet full of credit cards. She had to escape this building before whoever it was who wanted her to sleep with the Emperor called in his multi-agency goons and threw her into bed with a stranger.

“So soon?” the blue-eyed man asked as she tried to step around him. His charming smile almost made her hesitate.

She couldn’t stop herself from smiling at him in response. “I have a plane to catch.”

His hand closed around her arm. “I’m sorry, I really am, but I’m afraid the Secretary of State insists on talking to you first.”

Summer didn’t know if she was more dumbfounded by what the man said, or devastated to find out that he was just another traitorous security agent. Their meeting was no accident; he’d been waiting for her. There was no escape, not without getting around the big man who held her in such a gently firm grip. That wasn’t likely. She looked him over from apologetically sardonic expression, to those wide shoulders and square-built frame, to trim waist and powerful thighs, and faced the fact that there was no getting past him at all.

Under other circumstances she wouldn’t have wanted to.

With the worst disaster in her life looming before her she hardly had time to think about this man, or any man. She certainly didn’t want to think about some alien spaceman expressing an interest in her. Or commanding her to be his mistress. Or whatever he was doing.

“What does he want with me?”

“To talk to you, I believe.”

The security agent’s voice was calm, reassuring. Summer was neither calmed nor reassured. “The Emperor just wants to talk to me?”

“The Secretary of State wants to talk to you. He’s an elderly gentleman with a great deal on his mind.” Though he did it with a great deal of subtle restraint, he turned them toward the elevator as he spoke. “I’m sure spending some time with you will do him a world of good.”

“But I don’t want to see him.”

“It won’t take long.” The elevator doors were already open. He guided her inside the brass and wood paneled car. “I’ll come with you,” he added, as though he was simply being polite, rather than forcing her to do this against her will.

“What if I just said that I am free citizen of the United States who has done nothing wrong and that you, or any other government agent, can’t make me do anything I don’t want to do?”

“You can say it, Summer,” he answered patiently, “but we both know it wouldn’t be true.”

She sighed. She’d been afraid he’d say something like that. “What if I just asked you for help?”

“You can ask me for help any time you really need it,” he answered. The look he turned on her was the most openly honest one she’d ever seen. “It would break my heart not to be able to give it.”

She had no idea what to reply to this. In fact he struck her speechless. She was still a little dazed, and had an odd, walking on air, feeling when the elevator stopped and he led her down yet another hallway. They stopped outside a wide door. He knocked. As someone on the other side opened it, her escort took a step back.

“I’ll just wait here for you, why don’t I?” he said, and gave her an encouraging smile. Actually, it was the merest upturning of his lips, the smile and the encouragement were all in his brilliant blue eyes.

The most reaction Summer could manage was a nod before the Secretary of State said, “Please come in.”

It struck her that the people who were attempting to give her to a -- being -- she’d never met and didn’t want to have anything to do with were all being inordinately polite. Not necessarily nice, she amended as she recalled the first man whose office she’d been escorted to, but definitely polite. She had every intention of saying no to this ridiculous proposition no matter how they presented it to her. So she straightened her shoulders, lifted her head, and walked past the Secretary of State. She drew an unreasonable amount of comfort from knowing that the blue-eyed man was waiting outside for her.

The import of who she was about to talk to only really struck her as the door closed behind her and the stern looking elderly man offered her his hand to shake.

His skin felt warm and papery, but his clasp was firm. “You’re the Secretary of State,” she told him, embarrassed by her own inanity, but unable to shake the sudden sense of awe that came with the realization. “Why would you want to talk to me? I’m a fashion model.”

He indicated a pair of maroon leather chairs. As Summer took a seat opposite him, he said. “Right now, Ms. Simms, you are the most important person in this country.”

She was amazed by what he’d said. “Why?”

“The Kariin are a very private people, secretive. His Supremacy is -- inscrutable, to say the least.”

His description called up an image from old movies she’d watched on late night television, but she didn’t want to tell one of the most important men in the country that he’d just portrayed the most important man in maybe the galaxy as Ming the Merciless.

She decided to be blunt instead. “And you want me to sleep with this inscrutable being.”

The old man blushed. He looked as though he never expected to deal in anything but euphemism and the language of diplomacy. Or for one insignificant woman to be defiant. “There’s a name I could call you, sir,” Summer went on as her indignation boiled over, “but my mama raised me to be plainspoken rather than rude. So I won’t call you a pimp. Does procurer sound more polite?”

He looked at her blankly for a moment, then said, “You appear to be offended by the idea.”

That he sounded even mildly surprised infuriated her. She held her anger in check, however. She nodded rather than make an angry retort.

“You must understand that what we’re asking of you is important,” he went on sincerely. “The Kariins are invaders, although apparently benign ones. I’ve seen their ships, their troops, their weaponry. Why do you think every government in the world has meekly acceded to their arrival on our planet? We have no other choice. For the most part we all still go about our daily lives untouched by the presence of the invaders in our midst. The Kariins have asked for nothing since their arrival. Until now.”

He got up and went to the desk. When he came back he handed her an open catalog.

While she stared at the pages, he said, “His Supremacy saw this, and decided he wanted you.”

Summer recognized the full page photo, though she hadn’t seen it as a finished product before. It was from a lingerie shoot she’d done. The photo on this particular page featured her in a pair of black silk pajamas. She recalled the photographer coaxing her to be as sultry and sexy and inviting as possible. Apparently it had worked.

She looked at it in puzzlement, then at the old man once more seated across from her. “But this ad is for the pajamas. It’s not selling the person wearing them.”

He nodded. “You and I automatically recognize that fact, but His Supremacy is from a very different culture than ours.”

He’s from a different solar system, Summer thought. “Didn’t anyone explain the mistake to him?”

The Secretary of State rubbed his hands together. “He wasn’t actually interested in hearing any explanations.”

Summer almost laughed. “Well then, I’ll explain it to him.” If she could actually round up enough courage to speak to the man -- or whatever he was -- that claimed to rule a large chunk of the Milky Way Galaxy. She sighed in relief. “This is all a mistake.”

“No,” the man replied. “It’s an opportunity.” He held up a hand before she could either question or protest. “Please listen carefully to what I have to say.” He paused just long enough for Summer to reluctantly nod. “We know only what the Kariins choose to tell us about themselves. They are obviously technologically more advanced than we are. They appear to be human, but many of our scientists are skeptical of this claim. We are fumbling around blindly trying to understand these people. We need to know more about them so we can formulate policy for dealing with them. They have shown no overt hostility so far, but we need to be prepared if they do. We need to know how to respond if they should make any unreasonable demands. Do you understand?”

Summer thought that ordering a girl out of a catalog was a fairly unreasonable demand. “I think I understand that you want me to spy on the Emperor.”

He didn’t try to deny or sugar-coat it. He nodded. “His Supremacy wishes to spend time with you. We are not forcing your company on him. This is his idea, but there is no reason for us not to exploit the chance to learn as much as we can about him, his people, and the workings of the Empire through you.” He looked at Summer intently, imploringly. “For the sake of your country, and your planet, you have to agree to accede to His Supremacy’s wishes.”

She wished he hadn’t put it that way. When it was just a question of a misinformed, or simply arrogant, male saying that he wanted her, it was easy to say no. When faced with serving her country, her people, saying no became selfish. There really was no choice, though it tore her up inside and she was more to halfway to panic at the idea of what was expected of her.

Summer sighed when she wanted to scream. She thought of Mama, the extended family back in Michigan, the brother who would be entering Annapolis in the fall and the brothers still at home. She was about as stereotypically American as apple pie and 4th of July fireworks when it came down to it. Her country had been invaded even if nobody had gotten hurt. There was such a thing as patriotic duty. Thinking of it as duty kept the panic at bay.

“All right,” she told the Secretary of State as she got to her feet. “I’ll do it.”

The Secretary of State went to the door. When he opened it her charming escort strode into the room. “She’ll do it,” the Secretary said to the security man.

The man who’d been waiting in the hall smiled at her, but she was so ashamed that he knew what she’d agreed to that she couldn’t look at him for a moment. Then she decided that she had nothing to be ashamed of, and looked him boldly in the eye.

He came up and took her hand, spreading heat and comfort into her just by his nearness. Until he touched her, she hadn’t realized she was cold.

“My name’s Rawn Ruan,” he told her. “My friends call me Ru.”


To be continued....

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:26 AM EDT

    Thank you! That last line made me smile. And, needless to say, I would love to know the outcome of their "date".

    Vicky Woodard

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a wonderful beginning!!! I'd love to see the whole thing in print. Or, as another reader said, serialized here. Please continue it ~

    Lynne

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  3. david gray12:00 PM EDT

    Oh, oh, oh! I'm just furious on Summer's behalf. I know she's not going to do it -- she's far too affected by the guy, damn him -- but what I wouldn't give for her to just slap the guy as hard as she can and say, "My friends call me Summer,(pause) Mr. Ruan." You know, just for his cultural edification and stuff.

    Btw, please continue. I'm hooked (as if you couldn't tell)

    David

    ReplyDelete