Hansell’s Hope


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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

 

Chapter 31

Rose still couldn’t consult with James about her suspicions. She missed his creative input. After dinner she stayed by his bed until she realized how weak and tired he was. Then she went up for bed.

Roger stopped her in the hall right before her room. “We need to talk.”

Rose allowed him to step into her bedroom, but she didn’t sit down on the bed, instead leaning against the dresser. “What is it, Roger?”

“The shuttle is going to pick us up in six days, isn’t it? If we’re not back on schedule, won’t there be problems?”

“Michael has agreed to escort us back to the shuttle on time.”

“But what about Jim and Charles and that maniac Thom Granger?”

“Charles has asked to spend his final years with his grandson. Tori will remain also. We are not sure if Jim and Thom will be ready for travel or not. But you do not have to be concerned about that. We will return as scheduled, and then they will come when they are well enough. Is that all?” Rose made a motion to the door, hoping he’d leave.

But Roger didn’t. “You can’t be serious? You’d leave your husband in this barbaric back woods clinic? Why don’t you have the shuttle come here? There’s plenty of room for it to land.”

Rose sighed. “The satellites are programmed to zap anything that strays from the one preset flight corridor. It can not be changed easily.”

“But for your husband….”

“It can not be changed! It is a built in safety feature against sabotage. The only way off is through the immigration office in Capitol. And Jim is too weak to travel that far.”

“I can’t believe you’d leave him. I bet you hope he dies here. You know, I don’t trust Michael Jamel at all, and that Dr. Collin is too perfect. He’s hiding something. He’ll kill James before we get back if he stumbles on to his secret.”

Rose was tired of Roger butting in where he had no business being. She was amazed at how tolerant Michael was of Roger’s not so friendly insinuations and accusations, and she was afraid Roger’s digging would hinder her own. “I have ordered you to stop harassing Michael and Dr. Collin, but you insist on antagonizing both of them.”

“Jim would never back away from evidence like this.”

“It is not Jim’s job to decide Michael Jamel’s future as my employee, and neither is it yours. But you have already earned yourself a reprimand on your permanent record. If you don’t cease your….”

“You begged me to come down here. I saved your husband’s life! And you’re going to put a mark on my record? Just wait until I get back to the station.” He stalked from her room and slammed the door.

Damn. Rose sat on her bed and rubbed her fingers against her temples. Then she made a quick decision and ran downstairs. Dr. Collin was with the patients. She wished it was Michael, but she had no choice. She took Jim’s hand. “James, sweetheart,” she whispered.

He smiled as he opened his eyes. “Hey, my flower.”

“I’ve got to get Roger back to the station. He’s harassing Michael and your good doctor too much and upsetting all my plans. I suppose I should cut Kelsi’s visit short also and free up these good people.”

Collin approached them and stood on the other side of James’ bed. “Your husband is too ill to move, Rose. Even a wingdeer flight would be unnecessary risk at this point.”

“We thought we might need to leave him next week anyway. I would just like to go back a week early. And then I’ll return after I take care of some business.”

“Rose, dear….”

“I’ll be fine, James. I’m leaving the killer here for now. Doctor, can you spare Michael to take us back?”

“Yes. Michael can go. The shuttle will return tomorrow?”

Rose sighed. “Yes. I’ll signal it when we get to the immigration station.”

Collin chuckled. “Yes, Michael can go,” he repeated. “Doesn’t he always do as you wish, Director?”

Rose jerked her gaze from Jim to Collin’s face. “Who told you?”

“You did. You must have some authority to be able to signal the shuttles down, but not quite enough caution. Fortunately I am not one of those coveting the technology to call a shuttle from the sky.”

Jim struggled to sit and then winced in pain as he rested on his elbow. “Rose, please. Wait until I can go with you. What if Thom had an accomplice? What if there is an assassin?”

“You are in no condition to stop him. I am going back tomorrow. I hope to return in a week.”

“But Michael can’t protect you! He can’t even keep himself from getting beaten.”

“Do you wish me to escort your wife to the shuttle?” Collin asked quietly. “I would send Quinn, but he is currently on a medical restriction.”

“Not just to the shuttle. She needs someone… Tori. Get Tori to stay with you.”

“Shall I send for Tori?”

Rose nodded. “If she’ll come, I suppose that is best. There hasn’t been any trouble recently, but it will set Jim’s mind at ease.”

“I can’t lose her, Doc,” Jim said in a hoarse whisper. “She’s always doing foolishly reckless things.”

Collin gently settled Jim back on the bed. “You get your rest, my friend, and Tori will look after your wife.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Collin left the infirmary and asked Jake to request Michael and Tori meet him in the office. Then he pulled a second armchair in from the waiting room and waited at his desk for them. “Kayden is coming with Michael,” Jake told him. Collin grabbed another chair and sat into his own as Michael and Kayden arrived. Tori arrived a few seconds later.

“Shut the door.” He waited for Tori to sit. The three chairs made the office cramped, and they were all close together. He kept his voice low so that it would not carry. “Director Zemmer wishes to return to the guard station tomorrow. She has requested that Michael escort her, and that you, Tori, act as her body guard until her husband has recovered enough to travel.”

Michael rolled his eyes.

Kayden leaned forward. “You mean Rose Bell is Director Zemmer?” She glanced at Tori. “You knew this?”

“She asked that we not say anything.” Tori stood, but the tightness of the furniture prevented pacing. “I’m not leaving you, Sir. Or Charles.” She studied the floor. “Or Quinn.”

“Your loyalty is appreciated, Tori,” Collin said softly. “I understand this is a temporary assignment. Apparently Rose is upset with Roger’s actions and wishes to get him away from us. Frankly, I’d appreciate that also. He’s making it difficult to work. I will be with Charles while you are gone. You do not need to worry.”

“Last time I went with Rose, Charles was almost killed. Jim promised to keep an eye on him also,” she accused. “You can’t keep constant watch on Charles.”

“Now, Tori. I thought we agreed that you couldn’t either, but that he was safe in our infirmary. Since you’ve known that Director Zemmer has been traveling incognito, can you tell us her reasons? Is there some reason that you do not feel she deserves to be protected during her journey? Do you not trust her?”

“I trust her, or I would have said something to you immediately. She only wished to assess the situation on the planet without the baggage that would come with an official visit. And she wanted to determine the viability of tourism, the safety of the tourists and what restrictions she’d need to make.”

“And you didn’t think it necessary to warn Michael?”

“Why? He’s an honorable man whether his boss is watching him or not. I didn’t think I needed to break her trust when he was not in any way to be harmed, and neither are you.”

“Does she know about those 4000 cores you brought?”

“No. I’m not sure how she’d feel about that.” She gave a slight smile then. “You can use them, can’t you? If every village had a dragon like Jake….”

“Yes!” Kayden said, jumping up. “Oh, yes. It’ll be so great.”

“Kayden, dear,” Michael said, although Collin could see he was still upset about not knowing. “Roscha Zemmer could order this place searched. She could put restrictions on us. She could hire someone else to anonymously watch us, and she could also order us zapped from space.”

Kayden sat on his lap. “Oh, quit being such a wet blanket. You said before you wouldn’t care if you lost the government job.”

Michael rolled his eyes again and then focused on Collin. “You see what I’m talking about, don’t you?”

“Yes, Michael,” Collin said softly. “We must be careful. Tori, if you are truly committed to our work, then I would greatly appreciate if you’d go with Roscha during this week. As a body guard, I’m sure you would get a very close look at what this woman intends. That way we will know how much we should hide later.”

Tori bit her lip. “Yes, Sir,” she said, so low Collin almost didn’t hear her.

“And Tori? You will not reveal any of our secrets no matter how much you come to trust her, will you? That is my decision alone.”

“Yes, Sir,” she said just as meekly. “I’ll go pack.” She slipped from the room.

Collin wished he could reassure her that Charles would indeed be fine in his care, but only time would tell her that.

Michael rubbed his hands over his face. “I suppose I should go and have a talk with her.”

“Perhaps.”

“Collin,” came Jake’s voice in his ear, and Collin suspected his ear only. “Tori is crying. Should I attempt to comfort her?”

“I better.” He stood and gripped Michael’s shoulder. “Let me know how things go.”

Collin was almost to Tori’s room when he remembered Quinn. “Where is Quinn?” he whispered.

“In the infirmary.”

“Thanks.” He jogged back downstairs and into the infirmary. Quinn sat reading the Austin Medical Review in the chair between Charles and James, both of the latter were awake.

“You will be relieved to know, Jim, that Tori has agreed to accompany your wife back to the station.”

Quinn lowered the journal. “She’s leaving?”

Charles seemed puzzled also. “I thought….”

“It is just for a week, you two. She’ll be back and so will Rose. After all, we have her body guard and husband right here.”

“Tori’s leaving?” Quinn asked again.

Collin leaned over and gripped his shoulders. “It’s not any different than when we go up to the cabin, or Michael goes to work in Alexandria for a few days. She will be back.” He waited until Quinn seemed to accept that fact and relax before he continued. “But Quinn, for some reason she’s hurting. Maybe she’s afraid we won’t be able to care for Charles while she’s gone. Maybe you could reassure her.”

Quinn jumped up and shot out of the room, ignoring his rib which must be protesting at the quick movements.

“Thanks, Doc,” Jim whispered.

Roger stalked into the room and stopped before Jim, glaring down at him. “You’re not going to let her leave you here, are you?”

Collin walked over to stand across from Roger. “Jim is still too ill to move that far.”

Roger ignored him. “You demand that she stay here another week. You can’t let her leave you.”

Jim stared weakly up at Roger. “Rose is right,” he whispered.

“Jim, I believe you’ve done too much today. Roger, I must ask you to leave. My patients need their rest.”

Roger glared at Collin. “You’re hiding something here, and I’m going to find it.”

“Look in some other room, then,” Collin said, rounding the bed and propelling Roger from the room by his shoulder. “You will not disturb my patients.” Then he softly closed the door with Roger cursing on the other side. After dimming the lights he made his way to his chair.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Quinn stood outside Tori’s door. He could only hear her weeping because Jake had allowed him to through her transceiver. It ripped at his heart. He tapped on the door and then opened it.

Tori stood looking over her clothing on the bed, but when she heard him, she glanced up and then whirled to face the corner of the room. She wiped her hands over her face.

“Tori?” he asked softly. Quinn walked to her and slipped his arms around her waist to hold her.

She remained stiff, not turning to face him. “What do you want?”

“You.”

“Because I’m leaving. Then you’ll marry someone else while I’m gone.”

Gently Quinn turned her to face him. “Collin said you would only be gone a week. He said you were coming back.”

“He’s sending me away.” Her sobs increased, and she clung to him.

“He is not sending you away,” Jake said.

Tori lifted her head from his shoulder. “Jake?”

“Collin is not sending you away. Tori, why do you not trust Director Roscha that it will be only a week? Is there something we should know?”

She closed her eyes. “I… I guess I am overreacting again. I’m sorry I disturbed you, Quinn.”

Quinn drew her closer and kissed her forehead and then her cheeks and finally her mouth. “I want you to disturb me,” he whispered.

She pulled away and finished settling her clothing into her bag. She pointed to the trunk. “Make sure Collin gets that.”

“What’s in it?”

“Charles’ research.”

“Quinn, Tori,” said Jake. “I am consulting Collin now, but perhaps I should take Charles’ research to the lab. Roger is searching the house, and if there is trouble later, I do not want it lost.” A slight pause. “Collin agrees. Bring it out to the barn.”

Quinn opened the trunk. “Let me see if I can find a bag for these books. It’ll be easier for Jake to carry.”

“No. We need the whole thing.” Tori whispered now, as she pulled away the lining of the trunk. “Inactive cores.”

Quinn reached out to touch the plastic rectangles fit tight together. “Like Cee?”

“4000s, but they can be modified – with safety features also.”

“Roger is outside the door. He is trying to listen,” Cee whispered to them. “You cannot go through the house.”

Quinn closed the trunk, and Tori sealed the lock. Then Quinn lifted the trunk to the middle of Tori’s bed and drew the blanket around it, tying it tight. Then he opened the window. It would barely fit.

As they pushed it through, Tori asked, “You’ll catch it, won’t you, Jake?”

Jake winged by the window. He grasped the blanket and pulled the trunk to him. And then they watched as he flew toward the mountains, the trunk cradling beneath him.

When Jake had disappeared, Quinn drew Tori to him again. “You’ll marry me, won’t you?”

“Yes,” she whispered. And she let him hold her all through the night.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next morning Quinn motioned Michael back into the barn as they stood before it with the three wingdeer. Kayden and Kelsi would ride Sam, while Rose and Tori rode Bambi who would follow Sam anywhere. Kayden had sold Bambi’s brother Berry, and one of Angie’s calves from that same year. Michael would ride Angie’s other two year old offspring, Betsy, with Roger behind him, as his Athena was too young for riders yet.

Michael followed Quinn back into the barn. “Something wrong?”

Quinn withdrew his money pouch from his pants pocket. It bulged with more coins than either of them usually carried in their pocket. “Here. I need an engagement ring. I’d get it if Collin would let me fly, but I want something as good as you got Kayden, but different. Think you’ll have time on your way back?”

Michael grinned. “I might.”

“I just need it before Tori gets back in a week.”

“You can’t just leave your husband here!” Roger yelled. “I refuse to let you do that.”

Michael and Quinn walked from the barn to where the wingdeer waited. “I’ll probably have time today,” he assured Quinn before focusing on Rose.

The normally easy-going woman looked angry. “Get on the wingdeer.”

Kelsi was already mounted behind Kayden on Sam. Tori was about to swing up onto Bambi’s back, when Quinn stopped her to kiss her goodbye.

“If you do this, I’ll make sure you never work again,” Roger threatened. “I refuse to leave without Jim. I know he’s your boss.”

Michael sauntered over to Rose. “I wonder if perhaps he had the help of, oh, a friendly dragon, for part of the journey, if he’d settle down and ride the rest of the way.”

Jake chuckled in Michael’s ear. “Yes, Michael. I suppose I could help out. I certainly don’t want him staying here.”

Roger glared at Michael. “Your talking dragon isn’t about to….”

Jake swooped from behind the barn, coming almost straight down at them. Bambi, Betsy, and Sam trotted out of the way, as Jake grabbed Roger’s arms with his forepaws. “I will leave him at the rest area where we met,” he called to Rose.

Rose stared after him, her mouth open, until he was a speck in the sky. Then she grinned at Michael. “Nice trick. And amazingly, I am not worried at all that a thirty foot talking dragon will hurt him.” She swung herself up on Bambi’s back as Kayden had taught her, and Tori rushed to mount behind her.

Michael got up on Betsy, and then they rose into the air. Michael’s conversation with Rose had been very short, last night. He’d wanted to ask her many things about her plans for the planet, how she felt about his work, and about possibility of trade yet this fall, as he knew some of the villagers had extra crops and stock they were waiting to sell. But Rose had been fully fixed on her return trip. She told Michael what time she wished to be in Capitol and then dismissed him. She was no longer working to make his job easier by going along with his plans, she was completely in charge. He’d had several doubts about whether this woman was really Director Zemmer before he’d gone in to talk to her, but none afterward. She was as at home being in charge, as she’d been when she’d assisted him.

It was colder today, and Michael could see Kelsi clinging to Kayden in an effort to keep warm in spite of her sheepskin jacket. He really should have made sure they had hats, scarves, and gloves for flight, but he’d expected to take them back in that lumbering wagon with those four horses making extra work for Niles. He’d seen Marta out in the barns a few times while the little one stayed with Niles or Gwen, but with Kayden helping with the tourists, the bulk of the work fell to Niles.

Halfway there they saw Jake flying back. Roscha glanced at Michael, but they kept going. When they landed at the clearing, Michael felt his stomach churn, and wondered if Rose felt the same thing about being at the site where her husband was almost killed. It didn’t look much different except that the leaves of the deciduous trees had turned yellow and orange and were starting to litter the ground.

Roger stalked toward them. “I could have been killed! My arms are jarred from their sockets. Look at this coat.” He fingered a rip on his sleeve. “I’m telling you, Roscha, you’re going to lose your plush little job.”

“Plush little job? Is that what they call directing a penal world these days. Mount the wingdeer or we’ll leave you here in the middle of nowhere. I guarantee that the next dragon you meet won’t be satisfied with ripping your jacket.”

Roger glared as he grabbed Michael’s hand and hauled himself up behind him. “I’m never coming back here again.”

Michael chuckled as he urged Betsy back into the air. “That’s good, because we don’t want you back. Diplomacy is an art you don’t have. Probably how you got yourself assigned to that out of the way guard station.”

He knew Roger wanted to retaliate but couldn’t while they were fifty feet up in the air. Instead he clutched Michael’s waist and remained silent.

They rode straight through to the intake office where Roscha contacted the shuttle. She emerged from the building. “We have about an hour. Perhaps we should get lunch somewhere.”

“Good idea,” Michael agreed, and led them down the busy street to a serviceable restaurant he’d eaten at before. Roger followed them, but said nothing. Inside the dimly lit pub, Michael motioned to a corner table, and he sat with his back to the wall beside Kayden and adjacent to Rose.

After they had ordered their meal, Michael withdrew a paper from his pack and slid it over to Director Roscha. “We talked about trade. This is some of the excess from this year’s harvest and what they will get on the local market, if you’re interested in starting on a small basis.”

She took the paper and scanned over it, a smile spreading over her face. “Oh, I see they have those wondrous juicy pearpricots.” She leaned over to Kelsi, passing the list. “We can find room to store this stuff properly, can’t we? I’ll get Dryderi to start setting up trade to Frontier Base 28 and those mining bases. Except for what we eat ourselves.”

Kelsi smiled and then stopped, meeting the director’s gaze. “Would I report then to you on this project or Gail? Gail will expect me full time in hydroponics when I return.”

“I will speak to Gail that you are to have time for this special project.” Then Rose gave her a sharp look. “That is if you are staying.”

“Staying? Of course, I am.”

“Roger isn’t. I’m expecting he will leave the station within the next week.”

“What!” Roger stood and glared down at her. “You can’t do that.”

“I can do that. This is a restricted government base, and I have the authority to chose who I work with. You may have been able to belittle Director Raleigh when he asked you to do something, but I will not tolerate it.” She did not raise her voice, and she did not get out of her chair. Instead she turned to Kelsi. “Will you remain?”

Kelsi didn’t glance at Roger. “Yes, Ma’am. I’m staying here.”

“I won’t be surprised to hear that these murderous thieves have rioted and taken over the station.” He stalked out of the restaurant.

Several people stared from the closer tables. Rose ignored them and focused on Michael. “Tell the citizens that we will accept their overflow at the going rate. They will need to ship their produce and processed meat to the intake station, but let me have this week to make arrangements for it.”

“Director?” Kelsi asked timidly.

“You may still call me Rose, Kelsi. I do not mind friendliness; it is blatant hostility that I can not tolerate.”

“Rose, do you think that we can request the grains made into flour before we get it? We currently aren’t set up to process it large scale.”

“Michael?”

“Sure. I’ll let them know.”

“You should know, Michael, that I am considering changes to your position, also.”

Michael took a deep breath and nodded. He tried not to assume anything, like she had decided she wouldn’t need him. “What did you have in mind?”

“Tell me, is your problem with Governor Hollis mainly over your choice of dragon-slaying locations?” She had a slight smile.

Michael relaxed. “Yeah. Mostly. He wants it for political advantage. I have no control over it, even if I wanted to accommodate him. I encountered two reptile dragons during my first few weeks on the planet. The first ate my poor government issue horse,” and after living with a horse breeder for over a year he knew Twilight had probably been the sorriest horse in the governor’s stables. “The next time my back was shredded. I am not looking forward to repeating the experience, so I defer to Quinn and Jake and have benefitted from their good will. I’ve always found it better to take a dragon head or two with me when I go for my salary.”

Rose shook her head. “I will work at changing that then. There is no reason for you to go through Hollis for your salary from me. You do not work for him, and you do not need to be subjected to his whims. I will make that clear when I return.”

Michael glanced at Kayden, and she squeezed his hand under the table. “Perhaps you could clarify what you see my duties as so that I may better fulfill them.”

Rose thanked the waiter for their food before replying. “I think you said it quite well in the infirmary the other day. You are a liaison, and you will be a tour guide. You will take care of any special project I need done here. You will also keep me informed on the mood of the planet, how the citizens are responding to the changes, and what you see that can improve the mood of the citizens to hopefully prevent problems.”

Michael relaxed and couldn’t help his smile. “I had hoped we were seeing things the same way.”

“This will be a long process, Michael,” Rose cautioned softly. “I’m not sure the planet will be completely open for twenty, maybe fifty more years, but our job is to start the process of reconciliation.”

“I understand. I’ll do everything I can.” They had been keeping their voices low, and now as the waitress approached again, they fell silent. Yes, here he was making a difference.

They finished eating and left the restaurant, making their way back to the immigration office. The shuttle roared overhead, startling a few horses whose owners were not expecting it.

A man ran toward them, but Tori intercepted him. In an instant he was held with his arm twisted behind his back, and his hunting knife, which had been at his waist, was on the ground. Michael had not been able to see Tori as a body guard – until now. She held the man to face Rose. “What is your business?” she asked.

Rose reached down and picked up the hunting knife. “What did you intend with this?”

“N – Nothing, Ma’am. Nothing.” He winced, and Michael guessed that Tori was applying some pressure to the man’s arm. “I was told… told… My letter,” he cried, as the breeze blew a folded paper from the ground near them.

Michael grabbed it and opened it up. It was scribbled, as if quickly written. The address at the top was Luna – earth’s moon colony. “Dear Ma,” he read. “I just want to let you know we’re doing good here. Jil and I have two more sons, Abe and Allen, and Wendi has two kids, Lorna and Hope. You’re a great-grandma now. Joey’s wife is pregnant, too. Love, Ban.”

Rose glanced at Michael and then back at the man in Tori’s grip. “Are you Ban?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Rose motioned Tori to bring the man into the intake office to avoid the curious stares of others. Inside, Rose shut the outside door of the office, making the waiting room even darker than it normally was. Roger stood in the far corner, and he rolled his eyes as they entered. “That’s a great way to start a riot. Harass the citizens.”

Rose ignored Roger and motioned the man into a chair. Tori forcibly pushed him down. “Okay, so you want this letter taken to your mother,” she guessed.

“If… if… I know there’s no letters, but my ma must be getting old now and it’d….”

“How did you know I had the ability to take a letter off planet?” she asked, but Michael knew she knew the answer.

Ban nodded his head toward Roger. “He sez you was Director Zemmer, and He sez I should try to get my sorry arse off this planet. But I don’t want off, Director. Honest, I don’t. We got a good life here now. I just want my ma to know we ain’t dragon-ate. She worried, you know.”

Rose indicated that Tori could release Ban. “How long have you been here, Ban?”

“Sixteen years. It was hard at first, but it’s good now, Ma’am.”

Rose took the letter from Ban and noted the addressee and date. “Give Michael your address, Ban. I’ll take this up, and if your mother is still alive, I’ll send it on. If not, I’ll send a message back to Michael. But….” And she waited a second, staring into his eyes to make sure he heard her. “Can you promise me that you will try to keep this incident to yourself? We are not set up to handle a large volume of people searching for relatives. Maybe someday, but not for quite a few years. Do you understand? I am working on improving your medical facilities and finding a way to eliminate the reptile dragons, and we can not be distracted from these first goals. Can I trust you to not speak of this letter again, or should I not take it at all?”

“I won’t say a word about it.”

“You may tell people that Director Zemmer was here, and she is working on a plan to destroy the reptile dragons.”

His eyes grew wider, and his head bobbed with nods as he rubbed the circulation back into the arm Tori had held. “Destroy the dragons. You really are?”

“I’m working with Hans Trapper. Now you can go. Michael will return your knife later.”

The man scooted toward the door, hesitating until Michael took his address. Then he ran outside.

Michael took the knife from Rose and slipped it into his pack. “So, you have a plan for wide scale dragon removal?”

She smiled. “You can’t stop people from talking, but you can sometimes direct the conversation. No. I don’t have a formal plan yet, but Hollis wants one, and I think I have found the only dragon slayers on the planet. Perhaps more can be trained. I just have to decide how and what restrictions there will be.”

Michael grinned. “Yeah. I got lucky and was rescued by Jake when I was attacked by that dragon. I know that only Tole Tanneries sells dragon-hide products, and we’re the only ones supplying him with raw product.”

“We?” Rose teased. “Tell me, is the good doctor a dragon hunter also? Perhaps Hans himself as that small rumor in the village speculated?”

“Now Hans likes to keep a low profile. Someone has to be available to stitch people up, don’t they?”

The pilot came into the room then, and Roger tried to slip back to the shuttle. Instantly he was grabbed by the shuttle’s two security guards. “Just one moment there.”

“Let go of me, you idiots. I belong up there.”

The guards ignored his protesting, holding tight to his arms. “Is he a passenger?” one asked the clerk.

But the clerk simply deferred to Rose. “If he is a problem for you, Director….”

Roger cursed.

Rose gave a slight smile. “He’d cause too much trouble down here. Yes, Ernie, Karn, take Roger back up, but he’s lost employee status, so I’ll need his identification changed when we get up there. In fact, he doesn’t even have full guest status. He has proven to be a liability in a delicate military situation.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Ernie looked about the room. “And Jim?”

“Jim is staying for a few more weeks.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“He’s lying half dead in some village. You guys need to go get him. She’s going to leave him here to die.”

Rose’s face hardened. “Get that man out of my sight. He’ll sit in the prison class section.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” And they dragged Roger away.

Rose closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them she looked at Michael and attempted a smile. “You may assure Quinn that I will come back to exchange my husband for his fiancée.” She touched Tori’s arm. “Thanks for coming,” she said, her voice cracking, although it was barely above a whisper. “Let’s go.”

As soon as they were gone, Michael went outside to where Kayden stood with the wingdeer. She hugged him. “Sounds like Rose likes you,” she said with a grin. “And you were worried. I know you were.”

Michael tickled her. “I was not going to assume a thing, presumptuous one. Now we need to go buy Quinn a ring.”

“Quinn?”

But Michael teased her and wouldn’t tell her what Quinn had asked until they were at the jewelry store.

Next Chapter

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© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.