These Broken Stars Page 4

C’mon, man, get it together. I clear my throat. “The viewing decks are the best I’ve seen. I’m used to planets with very little ambient light, but the view out here is something else.”

She meets my eyes for half a breath—then her lips quirk to the tiniest of smiles. “I don’t think I’ve taken advantage of them enough, this trip. Perhaps we—” But then she cuts herself short, glancing toward the door.

I’d forgotten we were in a crowded room. But the moment she looks away, all the music and conversation comes surging back. There’s a girl with reddish-blond hair—a relative, I’m sure, though her nose is straight and perfect—descending upon my companion, a small entourage in tow.

“Lil, there you are,” she says, scolding, and holding out her hand in a clear invitation. No surprise, I’m not included. The entourage swirls into place behind her.

“Anna,” says my companion, who now has a name. Lil. “May I present Major Merendsen?”

“Charmed.” Anna’s voice is dismissive, and I reach for my book and my drink. I know my cue.

“Please, I think I’m in your chair,” I say. “It was a pleasure.”

“Yes.” Lil ignores Anna’s hand, her fingers curling around the stem of her champagne glass as she looks across at me. I like to think that she regrets the interruption a little.

Then I rise, and with a small bow of the sort we reserve for civilians, I make my escape. The girl in the blue dress watches me go.

“You next encountered her…?”

“The day of the accident.”

“What were your intentions at that stage?”

“I had none.”

“Why not?”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Major, we aren’t here to entertain you.”

“I found out who she was. That it was over before I even said hello.”



“DO YOU KNOW WHO THAT WAS?” Anna tilts her head toward the major as he slips out of the salon.

“Mmm.” I try to sound noncommittal. Of course I know—the guy’s picture was plastered across every holoscreen for weeks. Major Tarver Merendsen, war hero. His pictures don’t do him justice. He looks younger in person, for one. But mostly, in his pictures, he’s always stern, frowning.

Anna’s escort of the evening, a tuxedo-clad younger man, asks us what we’d like to drink. I never bother to remember the names of Anna’s dates. Half the time she doesn’t even introduce them before handing them her fan and clutch and skittering off to dance with someone else. As he heads to the bar with Elana, Swann follows them, after a long, level look at me.

I know I’ll catch hell later for slipping my bodyguard and getting here early, but it was worth it. You have to know to look for it, nearly invisible in the lines of Swann’s skirt, but there’s a knife at one thigh and a tiny pistol set to stun in her clutch. There are jokes about how the LaRoux princess never goes anywhere without her entourage of giggling companions—that half of them could kill a man at a hundred yards is not exactly public knowledge. The President’s family doesn’t have protection like mine.

I ought to tell them about the man who accosted me, but if I do, Swann will usher me out of the salon, and I’ll spend the rest of the evening locked in my room while she verifies the man in the cheap hat didn’t intend to harm me. I could tell he wasn’t dangerous, though. It’s hardly the first time somebody’s wanted me to intervene with my father. All his colonies want more than he can give, and it’s no secret that the most powerful man in the galaxy dotes on his daughter’s every whim.

But there’d be no point to Swann hiding me away. I recognized the particular slump of the man’s shoulders as the major guided him out. He won’t try again.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, Lil.” I look up, startled. She’s still talking about Major Merendsen.

“Just a bit of fun.” I toss back the last mouthful of champagne in a way that makes Anna crack a smile in spite of herself.

She erases her smile with an effort, summoning a scowl far more suited to Swann’s face than hers. “Uncle Roderick would be cross,” she scolds, sliding into the booth next to me and forcing me to move over. “Who cares how many medals the major managed to wrangle in the field? He’s still just a teacher’s son.”

For a girl who spends more nights in someone else’s room than her own, Anna is a prude when it comes to me. I can’t help but wonder what my father has promised her in exchange for keeping an eye on me on this trip—or what he’s threatened her with should she fail.

I know she’s only trying to protect me. Better her than one of my bodyguards, with no reason to cushion the truth when reporting to my father. Anna is one of the only people who knows what Monsieur LaRoux is capable of, when it comes to me. She’s seen what happens to men who look at me the wrong way. There are rumors, of course. Most guys are smart enough to steer clear, but only Anna knows. For all her lectures, I’m glad she’s here with me.

Still, something in me won’t let it go. “One conversation,” I murmur. “That’s all, Anna. Do we have to go through this every time?”

Anna leans in so she can slip her arm through mine and put her head on my shoulder. When we were young, this was my gesture—but we’ve grown, and I’m taller than her now. “I’m only trying to help,” she says. “You know what Uncle Roderick is like. You’re all he has. Is it such a terrible thing that your father’s devoted to you?”

I sigh, leaning my head to the side to rest it on hers. “If I can’t play a little when I’m away from him, then what’s the use in traveling on my own?”

“Major Merendsen was rather delicious,” Anna admits in a low voice. “Did you see how well he filled out that uniform? He’s not for you, but maybe I should look up his cabin number.”

My stomach gives an odd little lurch. Jealousy? Surely not. The movement of the ship, then. And yet, faster-than-light travel is so smooth it’s like standing still.

Anna lifts her head, looks at my face, and laughs, the sound a delightful, well-practiced tinkle of silver. “Oh, don’t scowl, Lil. I was only joking. Just don’t see him again, or you know I’ll have to tell your father. I don’t want to, but I can’t not do it.”

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