Thursday, March 30, 2017

December 8 (later), part 1

Who’s a lucky gal? Me. Me, me, me. And why am I lucky? Because Clan Seot couldn’t wait to see me after they were done with work this evening. When they commed to ask if they could come over, I barely let Seot get the words out before I answered, “Yes!”

A million times yes.

They were at my door in a twinkling. Talk about instant happiness. I was enthusiastically hugged and kissed. It could be I just as enthusiastically hugged and kissed back. Anrel received her due adoration every bit as joyfully. Cifa was beside himself with delight to hold her again. I’m positive he’s Anrel’s biggest fan in the entire universe.

We had dinner in the complex’s courtyard once all the smoochy-huggy stuff calmed down. I hate to sound needy, but it was terrific to be in the company of doting men again. If that makes me pathetic, so be it.

Sitting outdoors under a sunset-streaked sky with food and the bottle of bohut the men had so thoughtfully brought along was a treat. The nearby firepit blazed cheerfully even though it was warm outdoors. We sat far enough away that it didn’t add too much heat to enjoy.

“Now I must figure out how to ask how your stay with Clan Aslada was, without seeming too nosy,” Seot mused after we’d gotten comfortable. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “And to carefully extract information that will help us outdo them.”

I laughed. “Usually it’s Larten who tries to be devious. I’m shocked, Seot. You’re always so gentlemanly about my other options.”

His handsome face grew more devastating with a cheerful smile. “Ah, good. The ploy to be charming is working. Oops, did I say that out loud?”

I shook my head at him. “I see that dark heart of evil you’ve been keeping hidden. Oh, I’ve been so na├»ve!”

He hugged me close, laughing at our silly play. “But seriously, how did they treat you? Because if it wasn’t with perfect consideration, I will pull Dramok Aslada’s nose off his handsome face.”

“Stop it. Considering we spent so much time dealing with Mom, they showed themselves in a positive light.”

Cifa sighed, our conversation dimming his happiness. “I hate that it wasn’t in our power to do more for Matara Eve. I am glad you had men who were able to get her on the road to recovery and take care of you in a time of such great need.”

I winked at him. “Okay, guys. You can stop being good sports about my other suitors if you don’t feel like it. I know you put Anrel and me first, no matter how much you might dislike the situation.”

“Okay. I despise Clan Aslada and hope they disappear from existence,” Larten said.

I gave him a playful shove, laughing at how he spoke his mind. His tone had been mild, but I knew he didn’t tease. He meant every word he said.

Not that I agreed at all with him. Clan Aslada had been amazing during my stay with them, holding me together as Mom fought her way back into living. They’d been my rocks as she and I battled each other, trying to figure out our new relationship.

I refused to downplay their contribution. “Your rivals were patient with Mom, and that’s saying a lot considering the abuse she threw at them. They were wonderful to Anrel, which is always high on my list of priorities. They treated me like a princess and handled my storms with great grace. That’s what you’re up against,” I advised the men.

“Thank you for stating the situation so clearly,” Seot said, applauding me. “I appreciate being advised on our competition.”

“Just so long as you realize I have to return the favor,” I said. “I will visit with them again, under less stressful circumstances. They are worried that I was so consumed with getting Mom squared away that they didn’t get a fair chance to court me.”

Larten waved his hand in a show of non-concern. “They will weep and give up in despair when they hear how well we fit with you and Anrel. They will know they are not worthy to be your clan.”

I had to snuggle against him as I laughed harder than before. Larten’s exaggerated confidence never fails to amuse me. He snickered and hugged me close, giving me a loud kiss for good measure.

We had many excuses to laugh as we connected once more. A few serious topics popped up from time to time. Most notably – Dramok Nang.

Larten’s droll attitude turned dark when my former lover’s name came up. “I’ve been communicating with my sources and Nobek Oses to pin down Nang’s whereabouts. It’s been months now, and he’s not shown up anywhere we thought he might.”

“That’s bad, isn’t it?” I asked.

The Nobek shrugged. “It could be he’s gotten himself into the kind of trouble that will keep him from returning to Kalquor.”

“You mean he might be dead.”

“I don’t want to say anything to upset you. He’s a danger to you, but I know you don’t want him hurt.” Larten kept his expression impassive as he said that. I knew he’d just as soon have Nang dead and no longer an issue, but he wasn’t about to say anything so callous. Especially since it was possible that Nang was Anrel’s biological father.

“Any other reasons no one has seen him?” I asked.

“He’s been delayed somewhere and remained hidden. Or he’s using a route that keeps him away from our people, which would keep him away from the Empire for an even longer time.” Larten shrugged. “It’s impossible to know, but I’m not going to stop asking questions. He will not sneak back onto this planet without our knowledge if I have anything to say about it.”

“With all that in mind, were you able to keep up with your training?” Seot asked me.

I grinned. “You bet. I have to say, Nobek Toleca was a terror. Larten, why do I get the idea he’d tear out someone’s throat just for the fun of it?”

“Because he would. But only if they were worth the effort of killing.”

I snorted at Larten’s sorry attempt to soothe my worries about the knife-fighting trainer he’d sent my way. I said, “He’d consider murdering opponents a way to express how much they’d impressed him. He’d see it as a compliment.”

“I think you’re right,” Larten chuckled.

We moved on to happier subjects, including our upcoming cruise the next week. I snickered as I said, “They should give my room here at the complex to someone else. I’m barely around to use it!”

Yep. I’m going to be packing again soon.

Monday, March 27, 2017

December 8 (early)

While I can help myself with stim tabs and coffee to adjust to the time change between the capital city and Aslada’s home, I do not want to screw with Anrel’s schedule via chemical means. It’s going to take some time to put her to rights naturally, so I anticipate suffering for at least a couple of weeks. Case in point: she woke up in the deepest dark of the early morning. I think I slept two hours. Groan.

I hauled my pathetic carcass up and dosed myself with a stim tab and coffee after changing and feeding my early bird. She was so sweet and chirpy that I couldn’t be grumpy. With the world outside still fast asleep, I played with her to make her giggle. Peekaboo was a big hit. I laughed as hard as she did when she went wide-eyed to see me suddenly re-appear from behind my hands. The look on her face was hilarious.

I set about opening the presents Clan Aslada had sent along with us, starting with the goodies for Anrel. Toys, toys, toys. She was delighted with them, more for their bright colors and musical noises than anything else, I think. And chewability. Let’s not forget that. That child loves to exercise those two lower teeth she’s sprouted.

One gift item made me particularly happy. It was a kind of handheld-like device, but made super durable for children. It would read from a huge trove of stories, both in Kalquorian and four Earther languages. It also played songs, presented counting games, and displayed floating vids from a vast library of other educational files. I was impressed with the teaching device.

Other boxes held more clothes for her, no doubt lovingly chosen by Imdiko Snoy. I made a note to com him later so he could say hello to Anrel. I had no doubt he was at a loss as what to do with himself this first day of her absence.

With Anrel happily occupied with her toys, I opened the gifts with my name on them. The larger items, I had the sneaking suspicion would be gowns. Yep. A dozen Kalquorian-style gowns, the fabrics rich and flawless and impeccably embroidered. Goodness, when would those men learn such things were impractical for someone like me? Once in a while it’s fun to dress up…but I just can’t seem to pull off wearing gowns on a daily basis with the same ease that Kalquorian women do. Ah, but they were stunning dresses. I can’t say I didn’t imagine myself in each and every one of them, preening before adoring men.

Ha! I am such a ridiculous thing sometimes.

Smiling as I thought of how Aslada, Meyso, and Jaon’s eyes would light up to see me gliding about in the sumptuous frocks, I opened a smaller box. I damned near yelled in my shock at what I found. I only just stopped myself from crying out for fear it would upset Anrel.

A necklace of red, blue, and green gemstones glittered at me, set in gold filigree. It was stunning. Utterly spectacular. Magnificent.

I thought, no way those were real rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. They couldn’t be. Because if they were, I was looking at what would have amounted to a fortune back on Earth.

I admit I haven’t been lucky enough to have seen a lot of pricey jewels. So maybe it’s just really exquisite costume jewelry. But as rich and extravagant as Clan Aslada is, I worried it might be the real thing.

I worried more as I saw five other similar-sized packages waiting to be opened. My heart pounding, I opened them, one after the other.

Earrings. Bracelets. Another necklace, this one a two-inch wide choker covered in what looked like diamonds. I shook my head, still trying to convince myself they had to be fakes. Splendid, exquisite fakes. They had to be. Right?

“Please, please don’t be real,” I whispered to the dazzling array. I thought my head might explode.

Why was I so overwhelmed? It wasn’t like I’d asked Clan Aslada to buy me a wearable treasure trove. This gesture was entirely their making. Maybe I’m a bit of a gold digger in that I’m looking for a clan suitable to raise my daughter, but that’s the long and short of what I’m after. Good, solid men to share our lives with is what I’m digging for. Love has to be the main ingredient, not money.

Sure, jewelry is nice. I freely admit to sighing over a particularly pretty bauble or two in my time. But this—if this was the real thing, it was over and beyond what I could imagine someone giving to me.

I rubbed my eyes. “Your bumpkin background is showing again, Shalia,” I told myself. Okay, maybe this was the genuine article. Maybe I was looking at an outrageous amount of money—to me. Clan Aslada had shown that for some people, money was not that big a deal. They had plenty of it, so they lived extremely well. Hadn’t I seen what I was sure to be priceless art in their mansion? The finest furnishings? A huge staff to wait on every whim of three men? I’d spent weeks surrounded by opulence that made me uneasy, but Aslada, Meyso, and Jaon hardly seemed to notice at all. They’d been born to privilege and had lived in its easy luxury their whole lives.

What seemed excessive gifts to me might be nothing more than trifles to such men. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I was flipping out over nothing.

I really need to get a grip on myself and stop making mountains out of molehills.