Stealing Coal Page 18

Chilly dark-blue eyes shifted to Jill. “Why do you believe you’re wanted by Earth Government?”

She hesitated. “About ten months ago I did a trade with a small government outpost. They realized I didn’t have a crew and decided they could force me to return the payment they’d made, figuring they could pocket it themselves, and wanted to sell me into one of the nearby whorehouse ships to gain some extra profit. I wasn’t stupid enough not to go in armed and managed to get to my shuttle but they followed me straight into an asteroid field. I couldn’t outrun them, they were gaining on me, and I’d grown desperate enough to fly into it, thinking they wouldn’t follow. They did. Their newer shuttle didn’t have as much shielding as these older models, which have it to make up for the sluggish navigational controls. They blew up after a few direct hits from the asteroids while I just suffered a lot of dents to the hull. I’m sure they reported it before they came after me.”

Onyx shook his head. “It sounds as if they were attempting to steal money from the government and ruin a trade contact. They wouldn’t have reported any illegal actions they took to their superiors. It would be foolish. We know enough about Earth Government to be certain they would have taken swift action to make an example out of their men for disobeying their code of conduct.”

“They search all incoming and outgoing vessels that want to land on Earth,” she warned them. “Even if I’m not wanted, there’s no way to get you to the surface undetected. They’d board the Jenny and find you when they scan it for illegal contraband. It’s protocol to do that to anything incoming.”

“I’m not risking her life.” Coal shook his head and directed a furious glare at Flint. “Your argument isn’t valid, considering humans are not known for being logical. She could very well be wanted by Earth Government and therefore, that is putting her at risk of arrest or death.”

Flint took a deep breath and said, “I see. She means something to you.”

Coal jerked his head. “She does.”

Jill’s heart soared when he said the words but his next ones left her feeling cold.

“I gave her my word that I’d release her shuttle as soon as I found you. I swore on my honor no harm would come to her. She had no reason to take me from the humans who abused me, yet she did. We owe her a debt we will not repay by putting her in danger.”

“No one is mentioning that she’s seen us and knows of our existence,” one of the cyborgs standing in the back by the docking doors said softly. “You shouldn’t have promised to release her, Coal. She knows too much to safely allow her to go free.”

Fear inched up Jill’s spine and she subconsciously moved closer to Coal, her hand touching his back. He didn’t glance at her but his hand reached back, wrapping around her hip, and tugged her behind his body until only her head peeked out from behind him.

“I will fight anyone who attempts to harm her,” Coal snarled. “She goes free. She isn’t an enemy of our people.”

“Easy,” Flint’s tone softened. “Stand down, Coal. We won’t harm the female in any way.” He shot a glare at the cyborg who’d suggested they not release Jill. “Earth Government got living proof that some of us survived when they took possession of Councilman Zorus. It’s irrelevant if she were to make a statement to them now that she’d been in contact with a group of us. When we attempt to retrieve him from them they are sure to understand he’s not the only surviving cyborg.”

“She could warn them we are coming.”

Jill opened her mouth to deny it but Coal spoke first.

“She would not do that.”

Sky sighed. “It would be a hell of a way for her to get them to drop an arrest warrant on her if she bargained that information with them.”

Coal growled, his body trembling. “She is not our enemy. She risked her life and her shuttle to rescue me.”

The gray-haired cyborg threw up his hands. “Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just stating the obvious, man. I had to say it since Flint ordered me to be all logical. I didn’t say I believe it but it is an option we have to consider.”

Flint sighed loudly. “Agreed.” He turned toward Coal. “I have a solution. One of our men will remain with the female to monitor her transmissions until after we’ve rescued councilman Zorus. She will be safe, unharmed, and it should only take us a matter of days to execute a plan to retrieve him. We will allow her to go free when we pick up the male assigned to stay with her.”

Coal’s mouth opened but Flint cut him off.

“We’ll pay her generously for her time to compensate her for the days she is detained here. This is a safe location for her shuttle, she is far from Earth, and we scanned the area. No other ships are within range. That’s a fair resolution, Coal. You can’t disagree with the logic of it.”

Coal’s body relaxed and his grip on her hip eased. “I want your word of honor that no harm will come to her, Flint.”

“You have my word, Coal. I’m fond of human females, if you will remember.” He smiled. “I joined a family unit with one. I’ll have her treated the way I would my Mira.”

Coal stared deeply into Flint’s eyes and nodded. “I believe you.” He turned his head to look down at Jill. She appeared paler than normal. “Is this agreeable to you?”

She hesitated and her hand on the small of his back eased but she didn’t pull it away. “I trust you. It sounds reasonable since I get why they’d be worried. They don’t know me.”

He nodded before meeting Flint’s waiting gaze. “I’ll remain with her.” He resisted smiling. While he experienced elation at being back with his cyborg brothers he didn’t want to say goodbye to Jill. The thought of never seeing her again made him ache in his chest and suffer depressed feelings.

Flint jerked his head, moving toward a corner. Coal hesitated before following him, not wanting to break the physical contact with Jill but realized Flint wished to speak to him privately. He faced Flint when both men stood far from the others.

Flint’s voice lowered. “I’d feel better if Onyx stayed. I’m aware you’re sensitive about the damage you suffered but there’s no way for you to constantly monitor this shuttle. I know you don’t have the ability to control your emotions or thought processes but please attempt to right now. He will follow my orders, he won’t harm her in the least, and he can make certain she is unable to send a warning to Earth. With his implants, he will uplink to the onboard computer to block all transmissions. I’m sorry.”

“Jill wouldn’t do that.” Coal’s temper flared. “I trust her with my life.”

“I don’t know her and it’s not just your life at risk.”

He hated logic at that moment but he couldn’t deny Flint had valid points. “I’ll stay as well then. Onyx can monitor all communications and I’ll finish some repairs on the shuttle I wished to do for Jill as repayment for saving me.”

Flint shook his head, his gaze softening. “You’re very protective of her, Coal. I’d go so far as to state you’re unstable. It’s not a surprise after everything that has been done to you and all you’ve had to endure. I need to know if you’ve asked her to join a family unit with you. I saw the way she touched you and the way you touched her. Say so now if that happened.”

He fought the temptation to lie. “I haven’t.”

Flint nodded. “I’m ordering you to return to the Star then. Onyx will be assigned to stay here. I’ll make it very clear that he isn’t to harm her in any way.”

Coal’s breath seemed to freeze in his chest at the idea of leaving Jill. He turned his head, meeting her curious gaze across the cargo hold, but he didn’t see any fear, though he had left her standing near three cyborgs. His attention shifted to Onyx. The man openly stared at Jill with interest but he saw no animosity toward the human. As a matter of fact, Onyx’s gaze drifted up and down Jill’s form, taking in every inch of her body while Coal watched. Anger and a sudden urge to go punch the other male gripped him hard. Onyx’s gaze had definitely stalled upon Jill’s br**sts to linger there longer than necessary to assess her.

“Coal?” Flint gripped his arm.

“What?” Coal tore his glare from Onyx. His voice came out harsher than he meant it to and he realized his hands were fisted.

“Return to the Star. I swear the female will be fine.”

“I have to return control of her droids to her. I had her give me total control of them.”

“Onyx will hack them and do that when we pick him up on the return trip to Garden. You turning over control to her would be a useless waste of your time since he’ll have to do that anyway. Say goodbye now and leave. We need to rescue the councilman as quickly as possible. We can’t remain here any longer.”

Anguish gripped Coal. He nodded, knowing he had no other recourse.

Chapter Nine

Jill knew when Coal walked toward her with his grim expression that he’d say goodbye to her. She could see it in the way his shoulders sagged and she swore she even saw sadness dulling his beautiful dark gaze. She fought to hold back tears while stiffening her spine. Life sucks.

He stopped in front of her. “I’ve been ordered to return to one of the other ships. Onyx will remain with you. Flint is, at this moment, ordering him to treat you very well. He won’t harm you, Jill. You will be safe. If I didn’t know that with certainty I wouldn’t have agreed to allow him to remain.”

She couldn’t find her voice around the emotion that choked her. Regret, heartbreak, and the desire to beg him not to go all mixed together until she didn’t know which one she felt the strongest.

“Thank you for deciding to risk your life to save mine. You’re unique and wonderful for a human.”

Damn, I’m going to cry, she thought, still fighting the urge hard. “Thanks,” she whispered. “You’re pretty unique and wonderful too.” She forced a smile she didn’t feel. “For a cyborg.”

He didn’t laugh. “I wish I could have fixed you.” His voice lowered. “The lessons weren’t completed but I hope you remember them.”

“I always will,” she swore sincerely. There would never be a day that passed when she’s ever forget touching Coal, his kisses, or the way he’d made her feel when he showed her how wonderful it could be between two people. “I won’t ever forget you.”

His hand rose but then halted mere inches from her face. “I will never forget you either. I wish we had more time.”

“You could stay on the shuttle too.” Hope flared inside her. “Two cyborgs watching me are better than one, right?”

His hand dropped to his side. “I asked but Flint has ordered me to return to his ship. I have to follow orders. We need to make our way to Earth to rescue the councilman. The longer they have him at their mercy, the higher the risk that they’ll make him talk. He knows too much about my people. Time is of the essence.”

“Couldn’t you just watch me?” She wasn’t willing to give up so easily on any possibility of keeping Coal on the Jenny. “I would feel so much safer with you than with a stranger.”

“I’m damaged and unable to monitor the shuttle as Onyx is capable of doing. I requested that job but Flint made valid, logical points that I couldn’t argue with.”

“Coal?” Flint had moved to the docking door. “Let’s go.”

Coal visually tensed. “I must go.” His hand reached for her again, his fingertips brushing her cheek lightly. “Goodbye, Jill. I will think of you very often.”

She grabbed his hand when he tried to pull it away, keeping hold of him. Her mind struggled to come up with a way to prolong her time with Coal and she spun, facing the cyborg in charge. “Hang on. May I call you Flint?”

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