Friday, November 10, 2006

No Princess Need Apply - Excerpt 6

alien romances

“Good morning, Summer.”

The voice that spoke the instant Summer woke was deep, sultry, cheerful and female.

“My head,” Summer responded miserably. “What’s wrong with my head?” It hurt.

“Never had a hangover before?”

“No.”

“Feels like it’s about to come off, doesn’t it?”

“You don’t have to sound so happy about it.”

“I’m not happy, I’m just programmed to sound that way.”

“Oh.”

Programmed?

Summer sat straight up in bed. For one agonizing instant she was afraid she’d left her head on the pillow, but no, it was still on her shoulders, throbbing horribly. With her eyes still squeezed tightly shut, Summer began to rub her aching temples.

“Here. Drink this.”

Something that smelled good was wafted under her nose. Summer reluctantly opened her eyes -- and next to the bed she saw a floating metal beach ball with several appendages and lots of lights glowing in various colors. It reminded her of the torture droid that had followed Darth Vader into Princess Leia’s cell in the first Star Wars movie. Summer considered screaming, but knew her head couldn’t take a noise like that. She took the delicate blue china cup one of the metal arms held out instead, and took a gulp of the best coffee she’d ever tasted. The metal beach ball continued to float by the bedside, lights slowly flashing in what Summer began to interpret as a concerned manner.

“Feeling better?” the machine’s female voice asked.

Summer noticed that the headache was gone. “What’s in the coffee?”

Pink and green lights flashed on the machine’s surface. “A little of this, a little of that, most of it is Jamaican Blue Mountain Arabica Roast. May I take that?”

The cup was delicately plucked from her hand before Summer could respond. “What are you? A robot? Droid?”

“I like to be called Jessica,” the machine answered. “And I’m here because Ru thought you might like a more science fiction, otherworldly, alien feel to the setting.” The robotic beach ball spun around a few times, with the cup dangling from the end of a retracted arm. “What do you think? Otherworldly enough for you?”

Summer almost giggled, but she was still a bit leery. “You’re not a torture droid, are you?”

“I’m more of an administrative type.”

“I see.” She didn’t, but Summer wasn’t quite ready for a long conversation with what appeared to be a sentient computer -- one equipped with some sort of anti-gravity support. Summer wondered if the government knew about the Kariins having devices like this, but didn’t suppose it was politic to ask Jessica if other humans were aware of her - its -- existence.

Instead, she got out of bed and said, “What time is it?”

“Nearly noon, I’m afraid.”

Summer shook her head in disgust. “Half the day wasted. Listen, Jessica, I usually workout and go for a run when I get up. I don’t suppose there’s anywhere -- “

“There’s a fully equipped fitness center on the ground floor,” Jessica interrupted. “Would you like me to show you how to get there? I assumed you might want to use the facilities, so I left some exercise clothes and a swimsuit in the dressing room for you.” While Summer gaped at the floating beach ball, the floating beach ball went on, “I’ll wait for you to use the bathroom and throw on some clothes, then you can follow me.”

Summer wasn’t about to point out to Jessica that her -- it -- her -- efficiency was frightening. She just did as the robot -- droid -- administrative type -- suggested.

The fitness center proved to indeed be fully equipped, including an indoor pool, and every exercise machine Summer had ever seen, and some she hadn’t. The outside wall was also a long curving expanse of glass that looked out on a beautiful walled garden. She had to admit that the flowers and trees outside called to her more than her daily fitness routine, but discipline won out and she forced herself to get on with keeping in shape.

When she was done with her workout, she went into the dressing room to change into the swimsuit Jessica left for her. When she returned to the pool, intending to swim laps, somebody was already doing so. It only took a moment to recognize that it was His Supremacy, Rawn Ruan himself was the swimmer.

Summer stood hesitantly on the cool blue tiles at the rim of the pool, and wondered what to do. Even though she hadn’t been body conscious in years – after all she made a living traipsing around in various stages of dress – she was suddenly quite glad that the red suit she wore was a one piece, and modestly cut.

Rawn, she couldn’t help but notice when he climbed out of the pool to stand beside her, wore only a tiny little black Speedo that emphasized what little male anatomy it covered. She was embarrassed to find herself staring at him, but what she saw was certainly worth staring at. She figured that was not an alien ray gun he had in his pocket.

He didn’t have a male model’s buff and pumped torso; he was tall, but squarely built rather than long and lean. What he was was one fine looking adult male with a thickly furred chest and a graceful way of moving. His abs were not rippling and rock hard, though his stomach was certainly flat and his waist nice and trim. The breadth of his shoulders had nothing to do with flattering tailoring and probably a lot to do with those laps he’d been so vigorously swimming. The man wasn’t even breathing hard.

She liked looking at him, but told herself to stop being rude, and forward, and all those other nice, polite things she remembered her mother telling her about before she got into a business where paying attention to how people looked was very much part of the game.

One other not so polite thought did go through her head as she made herself look the Kariin Emperor in the face. And that thought was, if I have to sleep with him it’s not exactly going to be a hardship.

It was the fact that she had to do it that sent a galling rush of heat through her, and forced her fists to clench in helpless anger. “Good morning, Your Supremacy,” she said as he came up to her, a welcoming smile lighting his handsome face. “Bye,” she added, and dove into the pool. She heard the splash as he followed her into the water.

They ended up swimming laps side by side for a very long time. Summer was a strong swimmer, and in great shape, but she soon found that she lacked his power and endurance. It took quite a while, and her lungs and every muscle burned with exhaustion, but she finally figured out that he wasn’t going to just give up and go away. She finally gave up and clung to the side of the pool, too tired to pull herself out of the water. It was Rawn who came up behind her, grasped her by the waist and helped her onto the tiles. She ended up lying on her back, staring at passing clouds through the skylight in the roof. He sat beside her, his feet dangling in the water.

He took her hand and began to stroke her palm with his thumb. The sensation that radiated from the center of her hand was warm and tingling, and pleasant. “That was fun. Do you know that you have a very long lifeline? What else do you want to do today? Assuming that you survive trying to avoid my company, that is.”

She turned her head to look at him. It took her a while to get enough spare oxygen in her lungs to answer. When she did, she said, “Know it all.”
He shrugged. “Observation is one of those things you get trained in at Emperor school. Actually, I got very bad grades on that course.” He smiled, and she noticed how it made the lines around his eyes crinkle. And how deep his dimples were. It was very hard not to notice his dimples.

“If one has to be conquered by aliens from outer space,” she said. “It’s better to be conquered by ones with dimples rather than tentacles.”

“I know some very nice people with tentacles,” he said. “If they tried conquering your planet your people would turn them into sushi. Actually, they make much better accountants than soldiers. Or sushi. Speaking of which, have you had breakfast yet?”

Summer sat up, and very nearly gagged. “I do not eat raw fish for breakfast. Besides, it’s well past noon; closer to dinnertime. No, I haven’t eaten.” She got to her feet, and found that she was shivering from exhaustion, and too much time in cold water. “I want a hot shower and all the carbs I can stuff down.”

“Sounds like a good idea.” He jumped up.

She refused to let a little thing like having nearly exercised herself into a stupor get in the way of matching his energy level. She was not going to declare defeat and admit that all she really wanted was a nap. She had to hold up humanity’s side in whatever game they were playing. Of course, it was possible that the man wasn’t playing some sort of game with her, maybe there was no competition, maybe he wasn’t using her. Her impulse was to completely trust him. She knew where complete trust got one in this world: crushed.

So she fought down her impulse, smiled brightly, and said. “Let’s get dressed and have dinner.”

He nodded. “Meet you in the front hall in half an hour.”

The problem was, she liked being with Rawn. She liked being with him more than with anyone she had ever known. She knew it was foolish, but she couldn’t help but hurry through the hot shower and admit that the eagerness she felt had more to do with knowing she was going to see Rawn when she was done than with being revitalizing by the hot water.

Jessica floated into the big, luxurious bathroom as Summer stepped out of the shower. The robotic maid handed Summer a towel. Summer chatted with the curious metal beach ball while she did her hair, put on a little makeup and got dressed, then she hurried downstairs, chiding herself all the while that her sense of anticipation was wrong and stupid and would get her into trouble. Rawn was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, smiling up at her as she came down, and Summer’s heart skipped a few beats at the sight of him.

This is not safe, she warned herself. This is not wise.

When she reached him, he took her hand and kissed her fingertips. “What shall we do today?”

A sudden idea struck her, and she asked, “There a kitchen in this place?”

“Of course.”

“How about a grocery store in the neighborhood?”

He shrugged. “I’m sure there must be a place to purchase food somewhere nearby. I don’t pay much attention to where my meals come from.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Why do you ask?”

She laughed. “You said you stopped on Earth to pick up pizza. Well, you haven’t tasted pizza until you’ve had mine. I specialize in a goat cheese, spinach and mushroom pizza that’ll knock your socks off. And,” she added as they walked toward the door, “it’s completely vegetarian. You do eat cheese, right? You’re not one of those ova-lactate kind of really really strict vegetarians are you?”

“I like cheese.”

“Good. You’re going to love my pizza.” Though why it mattered that the Emperor of the Known Universe liked her cooking, she didn’t know. It just did.

He stopped and turned to her as they reached the door. He put his hands on her waist and looked deep into her eyes. She thought he was going to kiss her, and both wanted and dreaded the touch of his lips on hers. She went all hot and cold – but mostly hot -- at his touch, and her breath caught almost painfully in her throat as longing warred with trepidation.

“Summer,” he said instead of kissing her. “You amaze me.”

When he released his hold on her, she was left wondering if the brief look of regret that crossed his features as he opened the door was because he hadn’t kissed her, or if there was some other reason behind the look. She told herself that she didn’t regret the lack of intimate contact, not one bit, and followed him out to the waiting limo.

Cardon, Dalmer and Ricci caught up with them in the baking products aisle of the Georgetown grocery store. It was the sort of grocery store that had a fancy deli, bakery and espresso bar. It was the sort of place one went for the ambiance as well as milk and eggs. She and Rawn had paused for a latte and scones before actually buying groceries after she told him that shopping for food on an empty stomach was a very bad idea.

“Leads to impulse buying,” she said. She couldn’t help but add a little snidely, “You know all about impulse buying, don’t you, Your Supremacy?”

She was grateful when he let the remark go, because she really did hate being rude despite her reputation as being sharp-tongued and bad-tempered. She didn’t quite know how she’d gotten the reputation, since she prided herself on being a professional who did job and then went home. Her friends were not part of the fashion world, and not likely to tell tales to the tabloids. But she’d learned people tried to invade your private life when your face became famous, and that total strangers were not above lying just to sound knowledgeable about celebrities. She hated the fact that celebrity status came with success in her job kept the lowest profile possible. Fortunately modeling was a career with a short shelf life and she looked forward to the day in the foreseeable future when she could retire into obscurity and get on with leading a real life. In the meantime her celebrity status had won her the dubious honor of shopping for the invading aliens emperor’s groceries.

She had always thought her life was surreal, but she’d never dreamed it would take this strange a turn.

They finished the coffee and scones then she instructed him the joys of wheeling a shopping cart up and down the stacked food aisles. The genuine interest and pleasure he showed in the food gathering process touched her more than she wanted to admit. She told herself that she was gaining information on the enemy for her country, not having a wonderful time with a very nice man. She tried reminding herself that this was surreal not domestic. She told herself that he might well be an insect in a human suit, and the humans rather than pizza might be what he really wanted for dinner. She just had trouble believing it. Maybe believing it wasn’t hard, caring about all the strangeness was what was hard when smiled at her, teased her, made funny comments and asked questions that made her feel that her answers really mattered to him.

She was actually glad when the security guys showed up. They were a visual reminder that she was being forced into the service of her country, that she was being forced into concubinage.

She also let them carry the grocery bags when they got through the checkout lane.

It was actually getting through the checkout lane that became the hardest part. Not because Rawn wasn’t carrying any cash, or a checkbook, or credit cards, or anything that could get him by in the world but a charming smile and a confident attitude. She had her purse, so paying for the groceries was no problem. The problem was the tabloid newspapers stacked next to the cash register. She didn’t want to look at them, but there was no way she could avoid the glaring headlines and full color photos.

Photos of her and the Kariin Emperor. Headlines proclaiming her sleazy affair with an alien. One claimed that she was pregnant with a monster’s baby. One claimed that she was a kidnapped sex slave. Another screamed in bold red print that she was a gold digging traitor to her planet.

The implications of the words didn’t register at first. For the first few seconds Summer was too busy wondering how the stories and photos in the magazines had gotten out so quickly. “The ink can’t even be dry on that trash,” was all she said when Rawn picked one up out of the stuffed magazine rack. “You’ll get your hands dirty.”

“I already have,” he answered. Then gathered up one each of the tabloids. “My Earth human advisors insist I read the New York Times,” he said when she gave him a disgusted look. “And that I watch CNN. I hardly ever get the chance to read the popular press.”

“Don’t bother. It might be popular, but it’s still trash,” she said as she pulled out her wallet. Her fingers shook a little from shock, and she felt stiff all over, as if her body was tensed for a beating. Lies, she reminded herself. You never let the lies bother you. She’d ignored them before, she’d make herself ignore them now. “Don’t bother,” she repeated.

But he did bother. In fact, he adamantly insisted on having all the papers. She sighed, and paid for them, feeling more like a mommy with a child that demanded having all the wrong kinds of breakfast cereal for a few moments than the not pregnant gold digging sex slave of an alien invader. The clerk gave them a curious look before they left, with Cardon, Ricci and Dalmer in tow. Rawn must have been wearing his anti-media device, or using some sort of alien shield because no one bothered them, or even looked twice at them, the whole time they were shopping.

It wasn’t until they were in the limo and heading back to Rawn’s home on Earth that she let reaction slip through her defenses. The headlines screamed in her head, and brought tears to her eyes. She clenched her fists to keep from pounding out humiliated anger on the leather upholstery. It’s not important, Summer told herself when she couldn’t keep from thinking about the cruel things that had been written about her. Treat it like a joke. That wasn’t her they were talking about. Not Susan, but Summer. Summer had been lied about before. What was going on wasn’t anybody’s business.

Only some of the things the tabloids said were true, and what Rawn Ruan did was everyone on Earth’s business, in a way. He did hold all the cards, all the power in the world. People had a right to be concerned about his behavior. Then again, was his private life any of their business? She knew hers wasn’t. Or was it? What if her behavior put other people in jeopardy? If she displeased him would he retaliate on the rest of humanity in some way? No. She didn’t think he’d let his private life interfere with Imperial policy, but she didn’t know. What if all the negative publicity annoyed him? What would he do? Order the authors of all those nasty stories taken out and shot – and would that be such a bad thing?

Don’t be petty, she ordered herself. Freedom of the press is important, even if that freedom ends up making you feel sleazy and dirty and picked on. There is nothing you, personally, can do about what strangers think and say. Don’t worry about it, she firmly ordered herself, though she had to fight hard to keep from shaking; to keep the tears of embarrassment and anger at bay. She wanted to rip the papers Rawn had put on the seat between them to tiny little shreds. She wanted to run home to Michigan – or at the very least her Manhattan loft – and hide in her room. She wanted to explain to somebody, her mother if not the world, that she was at the Kariin Emperor’s side for the most selfless of patriotic reasons.

She couldn’t do any of those things. She had to ignore her personal feelings. Never mind that she hadn’t asked for this assignment. She was here, there was no way out. For better or worse, she was with Rawn until he got tired of her company and there was nothing she could do about it. As for selfless and patriotic, well, that was no one’s business but her own.

Just try to remember your pizza recipe, she thought as the limo pulled up to the mansion door. Don’t worry about how Mama must be reacting to those headlines.

And don’t even think about what happens after dinner, she added firmly as her stomach began to flutter with nervous anticipation. Cause there isn’t any way out of it. You’re the Emperor’s mistress. So just get used to it, whether you like it or not.

Trouble was, she was afraid she might like it a lot.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:24 PM EST

    Thank you so much for another chapter. I have really enjoyed reading the 'serial'.

    Vicky Woodard

    ReplyDelete