But no one she knew in Clementia had ever actually used it in self-defense. She was shocked by how her body had reacted to the first genuine threat it had ever known. One moment Scates had lunged for her, and the next he was lying half conscious on the floor. The instant in between had been a shifting pattern that hadn’t required any thought or preparation on Cidra’s part. She had known the basics since she was a child. But she had never known herself capable of using them so effectively in this way.
The hem of Cidra’s black-and-silver sleeping surplice was still swirling around her ankles and Scates had just hit the floor when the hotel room’s communication panel announced another visitor. Cidra tore her stunned gaze from the man at her feet and stared at the softly lit door panel. Just then Scates stirred, groaning, and Cidra stepped quickly out of the way of his hand. The door panel hummed softly, demanding her attention. Because she could think of nothing else to do, Cidra went to the panel and switched on the screen. The fine tremors in her body seemed to grow worse when she saw who stood outside her door.
“Severance,” she whispered.
On the small screen his hard, unforgiving features were etched in impatient, irritated lines, as if he didn’t approve of either his surroundings or his business in the hotel. Indeed, he did look out of place in the elegant hall, his lean, dark figure a harsh contrast to the silvered carpet and the soft, waving patterns of soothing hues that decorated the walls. Behind him the subtly concealed security monitors turned politely toward his profile and then moved on, not yet alarmed.
“Cidra? Let me inside. I want to talk to you. If you don’t open the door, the hall monitors are going to start recording my actions, and then we’ll have to explain everything to the front desk.” When she didn’t respond immediately, he went on more harshly. “Come on, lady, I haven’t got all night. I’m in one renegade hell of a hurry. I’ve got to get my ship off the ground within the hour.”
“Severance, you’d better go away.” Cidra’s voice sounded strange to her own ears. “Something’s happened. I don’t think you’ll want to get involved.”
His eyes narrowed. “Cidra, let me in. Now.” The soft crack of command in his words jolted her. She was unfamiliar with such an approach to the giving of instructions. Cidra found herself releasing the computerized locks on her door without even thinking. A moment later he was striding into the room, shutting the door behind him. His gaze slid quickly over her form, assessing the apparent lack of physical damage. Then he stared at Scates, who was still out of commission. Swearing softly, Severance knelt beside the other man, feeling for a throat pulse.
“I knew it,” Severance said. The words were full of morose resignation. “I knew he’d come here, and I knew you’d probably let him into your room without a second thought. Naive little fool. What did you do to him?”
Cidra locked her hands in front of her. “When he came to the door, he said he would be willing to take me with him on his mail run. I let him in and we started to discuss the matter. Then he made it clear that he was only offering one of those convenience contracts you mentioned. When I declined and asked him to leave, he… he touched me. Tried to grab me. His eyes were strange, Severance. Almost wild. And his hand was damp. I think he wanted to have sex with me.”
Severance shot her a sidelong glance. “Yeah, I’d say that was one way of putting it. He probably thought you’d be easy game. I guess you surprised him, though.”
“There was no time to think.” Cidra stopped as she heard the apology in her words. Then she went on with grave honesty.
“But even if there had been time to analyze the matter, I believe I would have done the same thing.”
“What, exactly, did you do?”
“It’s called Moonlight and Mirrors. It’s a kind of dance. An exercise, really. But it’s based on a very old self-defense technique. My instructors always said I had a unique style of interpretation,” she added lamely. “I can see what they meant.” .
Cidra watched with a frown as Severance pulled a small object from his loop and held it to Scates’s temple. He pressed the small touch pad on the end of the device, and the other man’s body jerked once. Then Scates went ominously still.
Deeply disturbed by her victim’s new appearance, Cidra touched Severance on the shoulder. “What have you done?”
“Bought us a little time.” He got to his feet, and then saw the horrified expression on her face. “Don’t worry. He’s not dead. I just finished what you started. He’ll be out until morning, and by then we’ll be long gone.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ve changed my mind. I’m taking you with me.” He began moving around the room, opening the door of the closet. “I know I’m going to regret it, but I can’t seem to think of a way around having to take you along. Maybe I can dump you off in Clementia before I head out to Renaissance.”
“I am not going back to Clementia, Otan Severance. I can’t go back. Not yet.”
He swung around, her travel pack in his hands. “We’ll discuss it on the way to Lovelorn.” He thrust the pack toward her. “Here, get your things together and let’s get out of here. As long as Scates stays unconscious in your room, the privacy locks will protect us. Once he gets on his feet and wanders out into the hall, the security monitors will pick him up, and then the questions will start. I vote we leave him alone here to answer them. He’s not likely to file any complaints against you. How could he explain that he got knocked unconscious by a lady from Clementia? His pride will be our best protection. Unfortunately it won’t protect us from his friends, who will be looking for blood. So get packed, now.”
Somehow it seemed easier to obey when he used that cold, hard tone. She was still trembling from the violence she had caused and had no desire to question Severance’s decisiveness. Numbly she began to remove her formal robes from the closet and fold them in the proper manner.
“We haven’t got time for you to practice the fine art of elegant garment folding. Here, I’ll take care of the clothes. You get everything else together.” Severance grabbed the liquid-soft garments from her hand and began stuffing them into the travel pack.
“My books,” she said, trying not to watch as he treated her lovely gowns as if they were dirty ship suits. “I’ll get my books.”