Stealing Coal Page 22

“There are no other life forms?” That surprised Jill. If it had an Earthlike environment then life forms should exist.

“There are plenty of them but we built a wall to surround our city.”

“Is what lives there dangerous?” She hoped not.

“Not within our walls. We didn’t want to compromise the natural inhabitants or for them to pose a risk to us. It works well.” Flint smiled. “I see no reason why the council would oppose it if you chose to live on the outer edge of the city. Perhaps they could put you in charge of some of our agriculture projects.”

“I’d enjoy that.” Hope shone in Coal’s eyes.

“Me too,” Jill grinned, memories of her childhood on the farm surfacing. She’d been in space far too long and the idea of fresh air, open land, and vegetation sounded heavenly to her.

“You two have some time to work out all the details.” Flint grinned. “For the next day, relax. We’re going to fly the Jenny out of the cargo bay in the morning to use it for the last part of the trip. The Star and the Rally will remain here.”

“The Rally?” Jill hadn’t heard that name before.

“It’s the smaller ship traveling with the Star,” Flint explained. We wanted extra weaponry in case we needed it. I’m leaving my friend Ice in charge of both while we’re away.”

“We could use some help to make repairs faster,” Coal spoke.

“That’s fine.” He turned to Sky. “I’m returning to spend time with Mira. She’s worried about this mission and I won’t allow her to go. Do what you can here.”

“Who is Mira?” Jill waited until Flint left her shuttle before asking.

Coal grinned down at her. “He’s in a family unit with a human woman.”

Jill smiled. “That’s cool.”

Chapter Eleven

Jill couldn’t decide who looked more nervous as they assembled in the cargo hold of the Jenny to make the transfer to get the cyborg councilman back. They’d reached their meeting point with the smuggler crew. The Cutter, a shuttle larger than the Jenny, had just docked with them. The doors opened to allow the captain of the other shuttle to enter.

Flint met the man calmly. Jill could see how stunned the human guy seemed to be, surrounded by so many cyborgs, though there were only a handful of them. The captain appeared to be in his mid-to-late forties and as she watched, his expression changed. Rage contorted his features.

“Who owns this shuttle?”

The question startled Jill, along with everyone in the cargo hold. She stepped forward. “I do. I’m the one who asked David to hire you.”

The captain of the other shuttle pointed his weapon straight at Jill. Fear gripped her but then movement from her left drew her attention from the dangerous adversary. Coal moved between them, putting his body in the path of the gun to shield her.

“Lower your gun,” Flint ordered.

“My problem isn’t with your men,” the captain kept his voice calm. “Make that one move out of my way. I’m guessing you hired this shuttle to bring you here the way you hired me to bring your cyborg to you. That bitch is in possession of my property.”

“Coal, stand down,” Flint ordered. “It’s a human issue.”

Coal didn’t budge. “No.”

“That’s an order he gave you, Coal.” Onyx’s voice grew cold. “We need the human male to get councilman Zorus back. He has him on his ship. She’s irrelevant in comparison to our mission, according to the council. Stand aside.”

Coal took a step back, his body bumping into Jill’s, and his arm slipped behind his waist to curve around hers. He jerked her tighter against his body, holding her in place. “I’ll protect her with my life.”

Jill gripped his shirt, clinging to him, terrified he’d get shot pulling this stunt. She had no idea why the shuttle captain seemed intent on shooting her or what he thought she had that he owned.

“Coal?” She said his name softly. “It’s okay. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“You’re going to die, you thieving bitch,” the captain called out. “Although I plan to hurt you first to make you tell me who you obtained my shuttle from.”

A frown marred her features and she bent sideways a little to peer at the enraged man. “Your shuttle? The Jenny is mine.”

“Bullshit. It belonged to my partner and everything he owned became mine when he died.”

He aimed at her face but Coal jerked her farther behind him to put her out of the line of fire. A deep growl came from the protective cyborg while his entire body turned rigid.

“Lower your weapon, Captain Varel,” Flint ordered. “If you shoot him, I will have to kill you. What is the problem exactly?”

The captain hesitated. “This shuttle belongs to me and I want it back.”

Confused, Jill tried to think of why the guy believed he had a right to the Jenny. She didn’t stick her head out this time but instead kept still in Coal’s embrace.

“Look, I don’t know why you think it belongs to you but I inherited the Jenny from my father. I had nothing to do with it if he stole it from you. I honestly believed it belonged to him.” She paused. “Let’s talk about this, all right? Calmly.”

“That sounds rational,” Flint stated.

“Fine.” The captain didn’t sound happy but he agreed. “I’m holstering my weapon.”

Coal relaxed and released her waist. Jill hesitated before inching over a little to peer at the captain while he put away his gun. Their gazes met and she didn’t miss the pure fury radiating from his bright-green eyes, directed straight at her.

“This is my shuttle.” A muscle along his jaw jumped. “Where did you get it from? I want names and locations. I want to track down whoever killed my partner.”

“I’m not sure where my father got this but he had it docked to his ship. His men rebelled and I managed to escape on the Jenny before the Viking ended up being destroyed. I totally believed it belonged to him. That’s all I know.”

The captain’s mouth dropped open and shock widened his eyes. “Jillian?”

It was Jill’s turn to gape at him in surprise, her own mouth parting. “How do you know my name?”

The guy paled considerably. “My God. I didn’t see it at first but you resemble your mother.”

He took an uncertain step forward and then halted when Coal reached for his own weapon. The captain spread his hands open, away from his sides, clearly not going for his gun, but his attention remained fixed on Jill.

“I thought you died with Jim. I arrived a day too late and only found a debris field where his ship had been. He’d called me to meet up with him. We were silent partners and best friends since he first set out in space. I handled the Earth side of things while he traveled the outer regions of space. He became ill and told me he had only weeks to live, and wanted me to take care of you for him. It terrified him, thinking you’d be left alone.”

Jill stood mute, trying to take in his words. This man knew her father? Her brain finally managed to form words. “Take care of me?”

He nodded. “With him gone, he wanted someone to watch out for you, to protect you.” He took an uncertain step forward. “He planned to introduce us and he knew I’d treat you the way you deserved. He set up a marriage pact between you and me.”

Coal snarled and jerked his weapon from the holster, aiming it directly at the other man’s chest. “She’s not yours.”

“Marriage pact?” Jill gasped, stunned, but managed to reach over to grip Coal’s arm. She didn’t go for the one holding the gun but needed to hold onto him to keep her knees from collapsing.

The captain looked uneasy while he stared at the barrel of Coal’s weapon but then his gaze flicked to Jill’s. “Yes. He regretted giving you to Darren and had no idea that ass**le would abuse you. He wanted you with a man he trusted without question, someone who’d never hurt you in any way. That’s why he chose me.”

Jill had no words. None.

“It’s going to be fine,” the captain swore softly. He gave her a soft smile. “I’m going to take care of you and keep you safe. I’m so damn glad I found you, Jillian. I’ve been told so much about you from your dad that I feel as though I already know you. Your aunt knew about the pact. Mary didn’t tell you?”

“She died on the Viking right after Dad’s crew turned on us.” Jill still couldn’t believe what the man said. It had to be some kind of sick, cosmic joke, but then anger at her father set in. “He had no right to tell you I’d marry you.”

“I promise I’ll make you happy, sweetheart.” The captain gave her a soft smile.

“She’s not your sweetheart.” Coal’s voice deepened into a rough, harsh tone. “I’ll kill you if you come any closer to her.”

The captain’s shocked gaze glanced between Jill and Coal, paling again. “Shit.” He took a step back as his attention jerked back to Jill. “Call him off. You have nothing to fear from me.” He cleared his throat. “Are you sleeping with that?”

“Him,” Sky ground out. “We’re not things. We’re people.”

The captain turned his head to shoot a frown at Sky. “Sorry.” He faced Jill again. “It’s fine with me if you allowed him to touch you. I’m not angry. You did whatever you had to do to survive. Nobody needs to tell me what a miracle it is that you’re still alive.”

Flint moved forward suddenly. “Can we have councilman Zorus now? You can resolve your issue with the female after he’s been returned to us. We are ready to pay you.”

Captain Varel hesitated. “On one condition.”

Flint growled under his breath. “We already made a deal. We hired you for a price we intend to pay when you return him to us.”

“I’ll allow your man to come aboard after you transfer the payment if I can talk to Jillian alone.”

“No,” Coal snarled. The hand gripping the weapon tensed.

“Holster your weapon,” Flint ordered. “Now, Coal. That’s a direct order.”

Jill rubbed Coal’s arm. “It’s okay.” She frowned at the captain. “Why do you want to talk to me?”

“No,” Coal snarled again but he put away the gun. “You aren’t speaking with him without me present.”

“And that’s why I want to talk to her alone.” Captain Varel turned his attention to Flint. “Her father and I were best friends for over thirty years. If she wants to stay with you then I’ll accept that happily. I just need an assurance that’s what she wants.” The captain jerked his head in Coal’s direction. “With him acting that way, you should understand my need to ask her questions without the fear of him intimidating her. I won’t believe what she says with him ready to shoot me if he hears something he doesn’t like.”

Jill opened her mouth to tell him that was plain stupid and how Coal wouldn’t do that but Flint spoke first.

“Do you believe he knew your father, Jill?”

Her gaze locked on the captain. He appeared about the right age as her father had been, perhaps a few years younger, but he knew she looked similar to her mother. She’d heard that from her aunt her entire life. The sisters had different coloring so the guy couldn’t have just seen her aunt and assumed they resembled each other. Her aunt had been blonde with dark-green eyes while Jill’s mother had strawberry-blonde, almost-red hair and bright-blue eyes. He also obviously knew about Darren’s abuse and her aunt’s name.

“He called you his pumpkin,” the man said softly. “When you were born, your hair looked more orange than anything else.”

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