Ambushed with her Alien Mate

Camilia

“Bandage, please.”

Without even looking to the side, I opened my hand and felt the rough fabric of a bandage against my fingers. I eyed the green D’Tali in front of me, his reptilian eyes betraying his distrust of my methods, and smiled.

“Trust me,” I said, “you’re in good hands.”

Slowly, I covered the gash in his forearm with a paste I had created, then bandaged the cut as best I could. Silently, he watched me work, but his distrust slowly gave way to wonder. I shuddered as I thought about the kind of care these guys were receiving before we arrived.

“Alright, you’re good to go.” I patted the D’Tali soldier on the shoulder and sent him on his way. He thanked me with the typical soldier’s grunt, rose to his feet, and marched out of the infirmary.

“That’s the last one, right?”

I spun around to face Sofia, who stood beside a table littered with everything from improvised gauzes to the medical concoctions I had created from native herbs. The sleeves of her long gown had been rolled up and, even though she looked like she was ready to get down to business, there was still a regal air about her.

That didn’t surprise me.

She was a queen, after all.

Not that she allowed her status to stop her from coming down here to help.

It had taken me a while to get used to it, but I was slowly starting to accept this new way of life. Every time I thought of it, I couldn’t help but wonder about how much my life had changed. A few months ago, I was just another nurse out in the sticks, trying to make a living on the West Coast, and now here I was…God knew how many light-years away from home.

Not that there’d been much for me back on Earth. No family, and friends had been lost in the constant exhaustion of keeping up with my shifts.

All things considered, though, this wasn’t a bad place to be.

If anything, it beat the alternative.

I still remembered how terrifying it had been to regain consciousness after being snatched off the streets. I woke up in a dark cargo hold, surrounded by women and monstrous aliens hell-bent on turning us all into slaves, but luck had been on our side. Their ship was attacked and we crash landed here, on this planet stuck in the Middle Ages.

Thankfully, the D’Tali were good enough hosts.

After initially struggling to talk with each other—which we resolved after using the technology in our original captors’ ship—things were now going as smoothly as possible. So much so that Sofia had even managed to claim King Dojak’s heart. Again, that didn’t surprise me. She was a true leader, and I figured that Dojak simply couldn’t resist that.

After peeking out the door, Sofia gave me a nod.

“That was the last one,” she confirmed, then closed the door behind her. She blew a stray lock of brown hair away from her face and sank onto a wooden stool. “There’s more of them coming every day. I don’t know how you’re going to keep up, Camilia.”

I stretched my back lazily, my muscles relishing the movement. After almost six hours of looking after wounded soldiers, my whole body felt like a tightly wound coil. Sofia was right—if D’Tali kept showing up here, I would need to figure something out. After all, there was only so much I could do.

“You’ll have to start teaching more of them,” Isabella said, raising her head from her improvised workstation. The former engineering student had pushed an old wooden desk into a corner of the infirmary, and the tabletop was littered with small hand-held devices. They looked like something between a tablet and a pager, with small dials on the side of the plastic case. “That’s how I’d do it.”

“Not a bad idea,” Sofia agreed. “Especially since skirmishes on the border have become a daily occurrence.” She pursed her lips and looked down at her feet. I could almost see the gears turning inside her head. “You know, I thought we were getting somewhere with the peace talks, but—”

“Those Aetamian assholes are not easy to negotiate with,” I cut in, then looked up at her and smiled. “You and Dojak are going to figure something out, though. I’m sure of that.” Not wanting to press Sofia for details about the never-ending negotiations with the belligerent kingdom on our doorstep, I turned to Isabella. “How’s that going? Have you managed to make any progress? Vokar has been helping you out, hasn’t he?”

“He has,” she replied in a hurry, but made it a point to talk about something other than the D’Tali assassin. Even though I had never expected for someone as quiet and shy as Isabella to get friendly with an actual elite assassin, the two seemed to get along pretty well. At least when it came to their shared interest in technology.

“We haven’t made much progress though,” she continued, her attention now back on the small hand-held devices. “I’ve already figured out how to turn these things on, but I can’t establish a stable frequency between them. I can only establish a link to the crash site, where the ship is, but that’s just useless.”

After getting the translator device out of the shipwreck, a few D’Tali soldiers under Vokar’s supervision had gone back with Isabella to see if there was anything else in there that we could use. Those communication devices had been part of the looting, but it seemed like there was a long way to go before we understood all that alien tech.

It was ironic.

Our ragtag group of women had been kidnapped by aliens far more technologically advanced than humans, but then we crashed on this planet stuck in the Middle Ages. As it was, we had gone from baffled humans to experts in technological progress.

Even I, with nothing but my nursing skills, had become one of the most sought after healers in the city.

Sure, I had learned a lot from them, especially when it came to the specifics of D’Tali anatomy and the traditional herbal pastes they used as medicine. They had no concept of sterilization techniques, though, and that’s where I came in. After instituting a ‘clean-hands’ policy throughout the castle, disease rates had started plummeting right away.

The differences between humans and D’Tali were significant but, according to my observations, the nutritional needs were pretty similar. That allowed me to detect vitamin insufficiencies in the soldiers and improve their recovery times and survival rates significantly. I wasn’t a qualified doctor, but it seemed that what little knowledge I had was helping the D’Tali become healthier.

That was a good thing—the D’Tali had been extremely kind to us, and every woman in our group wanted to repay them. The way I saw it, I was just doing my part.

Suddenly, our attention was drawn toward the door.

Someone knocked three times, the rhythm steady and militaristic, then the door swung back to reveal a tall, blue-skinned D’Tali. I tensed as Dojak’s right-hand, General Troko, strolled into the room. His expression was serious, the deep scar that slashed across his right cheek doing little to make him seem friendly and approachable.

“General,” Sofia chirped happily, clearly not intimidated by one of the most revered soldiers in the kingdom. “Did you come to check on your soldiers?”

“My Queen,” Troko said, his tone solemn as he lowered his head. He cleared his throat, looked around the room until his eyes met mine, and we promptly looked away from each other. I still didn’t know how to act whenever he was in the room. He was nothing but kind and polite, sure, but he was also intimidating as hell. Scary, even. “That’s the reason for my visit, yes, but I see that they’ve all received the care they needed. I can’t thank you enough.”

There was a moment of awkward silence, then Sofia elbowed me in the ribs. I straightened my back so fast that I almost fell from my seat, and looked straight at the general.

“Yes, you’re welcome…I did my best,” I stammered, feeling my cheeks burning as I withstood the general’s intense gaze. Jesus, why did I have to sound like such a babbling idiot whenever this guy was in the room? “None of them had any major wounds, and they’ll be back on active duty after a day or two.”

That seemed to please Troko.

He bowed his head to me, not a hint of a smile on his face, but I still noticed the easing of his features. That was something. After all, the general wasn’t what you’d call laid-back, his stone-faced expression a clear cut indicator of how serious he was about everything.

“Thank you for your assistance, Lady Camilia,” he said. Before I could reply, he clicked his heels together, turned, and marched out of the room. Only when he’d disappeared out of sight did I realize I had been holding my breath.

Lady Camilia?” Sofia snorted, an amused smile taking over her face. “Seems to me the general is extra polite whenever he has to address Lady Camilia. Any idea why that is?”

“He’s polite to everyone,” I protested, blushing so much that my face must’ve looked like a ripe tomato. “Now, please, can you help me clean this up?” I waved one hand at the mess littering my workstation, bloody bandages everywhere. In truth, I just wanted to change the conversation. “I need to get ready for tomorrow and—”

“We are at your service,” Isabella piped up, smiling as she looked over from the communicator devices. Even though she was the quiet one of the group, she got more talkative whenever it was just me and Sofia around. Maybe that was why she had set up shop here instead of taking a room for herself. Now it seemed like she had joined the let’s-tease-Camilia bandwagon.

“Seriously?” I asked, folding my arms over my chest. “You, too?”

She bowed her head, smirking.

“Evidently, Lady Camilia.”

Troko

“Damnit.”

I leaned against the stone wall in the hallway, maybe twenty paces down from the door. It had taken me the better part of the afternoon to come up with a reason to visit the infirmary, and when I arrived, those two other women were there.

It would have been bad enough had it only been Isabella, the shy one, but our queen was there. Sofia had a set of eyes that seemed to be able to divine any secrets of our kind. And I wasn’t even sure what secrets I might have worth delving into. In truth, anything I felt was a secret to myself, as well.

Scrubbing my hands across my face, I erased as much of the memory as I could. Speaking to women had never been my strength. I’d never had much occasion to seek their company. The best of me had always been in the field, offering my service against the Aetamians. Anything else seemed like a waste of my time.

Ever since I’d come of age, unless I was able to flank something, or wear it on my sword, I had precious little interest in it. Even at my earliest onset of manhood, the Ancestors had marked me as a man of combat. Softer things were not of my element.

“Shit.”

Looking up into the torch on the wall, I sighed as I considered the flame. Our king, Dojak, who was as much of a poet as he was a warrior, might have said that it was an emblem for Sofia’s hair. Or, even further, that it mirrored the tempest of her nature. To me, it was just a tool to raze the homes of our enemies.

There was very little poetry in me for a woman like Camilia. Not that she had much time for flowery language. She was tough, competent, and pragmatic. Perhaps that was why I had found myself going out of my way to cross paths with her. And now, this awkward, stammering encounter.

I tried to banish my humiliation by grinding the points of my knuckles into my eyes. I had been bested in combat, and even that couldn’t touch the churning sickness I felt at seeing her. It wasn’t even that I wanted anything more than to talk to her.

To get to know her.

The D’Tali people had precious few women, and their almost mystical status made it difficult to approach them, even for common discourse. How was one to learn how to speak to a woman? And yet, the courtship of Dojak and Sofia had been like something out of legend. How could one come by it so easily?

“What’s eating you up, Troko?” I started, and turned to see Vokar slinking out of the darkness a few doorways down.

“By the…how long have you been hiding over there?”

“Long enough to hear you swear,” he grinned. “Twice.”

“I’m going to have to put bells on your shoes so I can hear you coming.”

Vokar just chuckled at me. “Lot of good that would do. I’d just go barefoot. So.” He leaned on the shadowed wall opposite me and folded his arms across his chest. “What could be driving our stoic general to swearing?”

“Nothing.” I made to leave, but he put a playful foot on my stomach and pushed me back to the wall.

“Oh, really?” He wore that crooked grin that always came when he had a mouthful of intelligence that he was meting out in parcels. The more you wanted, the longer he made you wait.

“Really. I was…” If only I could come up with some failing skirmish to cling to, but I hadn’t ridden into the field in weeks. Not since the great wedding. While my soldiers kept on fighting raiders and Aetamian border patrols, I was stuck behind a desk, doing my best to coordinate between all the deployed units and squads.

“You were just with the women.” Without meaning to, I looked away, betraying any mysteries I may have been holding back. “Why don’t you just ask Camilia to take a walk with you?”

“A walk?” His arrow hit right in my gut, and I sprang off the wall to stalk down the hallway. Vokar ambled beside me at an easy pace.

“What else is there? You’re not one for swimming. And, as tough as she is, I doubt she’s one to hop onto a numa to join a raid.”

“Nothing was ever accomplished on a walk.”

“We’re walking now.” Damnit. He was right. I pulled up short and itched all over. It was bad enough to be punishing myself for my insufficiencies, but now I had someone goading me into conversation about them.

“I’m not one for pleasant conversation.”

“Neither is she,” Vokar smirked. Right again. “Perhaps the next time she goes out into the fields to gather herbs, you could accompany her, carry the basket.”

“Carry her basket?” The image of me trailing behind a woman with a basketful of flowers made me squirm even worse.

“Why not?” He reached out to squeeze my bicep. “No doubt you can carry far more than her slender arms could manage.”

“Don’t you talk about her slender arms,” I snarled with a sudden flare of temper. Jealousy was a feeling I was unused to, and the flash of it startled me as much as it did my friend. He put his hands up in mock surrender and stepped back.

“Take it easy,” he said. “I will do what I can to keep the fair Camilia out of my mouth.” The innuendo rankled me again, and I stepped further down the hall.

“Good.”

“If only I could say the same for the rest of the men.”

I froze in place. Bad enough that our finest spy was able to pry into my secrets, but was I really that open?

“Is it spoken of?” I half turned to face him.

“Maybe.” He broke into a broad smile, and I scrubbed my callused hands over my face again, harder this time. Maybe if I opened up one of my scars, the blood on my face would bring me back to myself. My real self. “I don’t know what the others are saying, but if I know what’s going on…then I can only assume that others have started talking about it.”

He was trying to rile me up, and it was working.

“Rumors,” I snorted.

“You’re doing an awful lot of pawing at yourself if these are mere rumors. You’ve never let idle talk fuck you up before. If it’s all bullshit, then why are you so angry?”

Was I? Looking down, I realized that my hands were balled into tight fists. After so many years priding myself on being inscrutable, now every facet of me was revealing information.

“What I need is a fight. It’s what we all need. Too much time sitting still is making me soft. We’ve grown weak with celebration and laziness, while the Aetamians are in continual practice.”

“True. I’ve seen them.”

“As have I,” I said, pinching the bridge of my nose as I remembered the countless reports stacked on my desk. “It looks like they’re preparing for something. I just wonder what that is.”

Vokar shrugged and strode up the hallway to me. “The same thing they are always preparing for.”

I snuffed heavily through my nostrils at the truth of it. In my bed at night, when I should be devising strategies, an entirely different kind of thought had crowded our enemies out. Too much of that was keeping me away from my true cause. My purpose was to lead men and kill our enemies, not drink, sleep, and seek private talk with ladies.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter. You’ll have plenty of time to spend with your favorite healer soon enough.”

“What does that mean?” There was a dangerous edge under his playful tone, and I bristled that my friend was always speaking two things at once. Everything he said sounded like a riddle—even when he was asking for a drink. You couldn’t pour an honest beer without feeling as though you were being taken for a ride.

“I don’t mean anything,” he shrugged again.

“If you keep doing that, you’ll wear your shoulders out.”

“The only way I’ll wear my shoulders out is under a woman’s thighs,” he said. The image inflamed me and made me run cold at the same time. “The real question is, why are you wasting your time talking to me? You have bigger things in hand.”

“Do I?” As always, he had the advantage of me.

“I should think so. Dojak wants to see you in his chambers immediately.”

“He does?”

“Of course.” He pulled a smug, frowning smile. “That’s why I was sent to find you.”

Clapping a hand on his shoulder in thanks—and maybe a touch of aggravation—I set off down the corridor toward the king’s quarters. Vokar began to whistle and head off down the hall in the opposite direction.

“Perhaps I’ll stop by the infirmary and see if I can get something to help me sleep,” he murmured as he went. “The nights are so long lately…”

What was it about having friends that made you want to throttle them? There were very few men that I held close, and nearly every one of them had the power to prod me into fury with the slightest provocation.

I gave two brisk raps on the wooden door, and was invited in. By contrast to the passageways in the stronghold, Dojak’s chambers were bathed in a warm amber glow. He was leaning over his table, in deep conversation over some documents. Nelkar, one of his sagest counselors, was with him.

“Ah, Troko. What took you so long?”

“You sent Vokar.”

“Ah,” he smiled. “I did. Never the shortest path. You know Mox Nelkar.”

“I do.” I gave the aged D’Tali a small bow, and he waved me off with his usual mix of good humor and grumbling.

“What can I do for you, Dojak?”

“I have a mission for you.” Without another word, he plucked one of the papers from the table. With a half-smile, he strode over and placed it in my waiting hands. It only took a brief glance to get the idea. “I think you might enjoy it.”

“By the Ancestors,” I whispered. “You can’t be serious?”

Camilia

I was exhausted.

Now that the day was over, I was looking forward to heading back to the tower our group now called home and taking a long hot bath. The water was so scalding in the tower’s bathing area that I came out looking as pink as a newborn every day. I smiled as I imagined the thick, heavy robe I would put on after that. It trapped the heat, easing all my sore muscles and my tired soul.

The D’Tali warriors were patched up to the best of my ability. They didn’t complain much, as it wasn’t in their nature.

All in all, this had been a good day’s work, and they seemed to appreciate my efforts. Maybe, in the future, I could start getting some assistance. Sofia had far more important things to do than be a nurse’s assistant and, besides, it was high time some of these D’Tali learned the basics of good, responsible medicine.

“Let’s hope tomorrow you don’t have as many patients,” Sofia said, hands on her hips as she took in our surroundings. The infirmary was clean and tidy again, all evidence of a hard day’s work now disposed of.

“Maybe,” I replied. “As long as they stop doing stupid things like getting taken by surprise.”

“I agree,” she said, leading the way out of the infirmary. In the hallway outside, most of the soldiers we had treated still seemed to be milling around. Sofia turned to them and raised her voice, her tone playful but kind. “If any of you feel further pain, or it seems like your injuries are worsening, don’t be so, you know, D’Tali. Just come and ask Camilia for aid. Is that understood?”

There were nods and salutes of agreement, and some of the hardened warriors even smiled. Still, I doubted they would do as they were told. They were proud, every single one of them.

“A full afternoon,” Sofia said.

I shook my head wearily. “No doubt. I just want to get back to the tower and get into the pool. I really need to take a warm—”

At that moment, I was cut off by a D’Tali soldier walking in with a formal, stomping march. “I seek the healer Camilia!” he said, far too loudly, his voice echoing throughout the hallway.

I looked over at Sofia, arching one eyebrow, but she merely shrugged.

“That’s me,” I said. “What can I do for you?”

“My Lady healer, King Dojak has requested your presence in the royal chambers!” he barked, his posture so rigid he almost seemed like a statue.

“Soldier, feel free to modulate your volume, if you please,” Sofia said, a hint of a smile on her lips. The D’Tali snapped his head in a small bow.

“Yes, my Queen!” he barked again, his tone even louder than before. “Of course, my Queen!” He probably had no idea what the word ‘modulate’ meant.

“Does the king need me now?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “He seeks an audience immediately.”

I sighed. Exhausted as I was, the last thing I wanted was to be pulled into something political. Still, it couldn’t be helped. If the king requested your presence, it was your duty to do as you were told. And that applied whether you were a D’Tali or a human.

“Very well. Tell him I will be there shortly.”

“I will.” He nodded and, before marching off, bowed deeply at Sofia. “My Queen!” Once he was gone, I turned to Sofia. If anyone knew what this was about, it had to be her.

“Okay,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“Don’t ask me,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders. “I’ve been with you all day. But if Dojak has summoned you like this, then I can only assume it’s important.” She waved one hand toward the hallway leading into the royal chambers. “Your king awaits you.”

I rolled my eyes at her.

“You can be a bit too much sometimes.”

Sofia nodded her head slowly up and down.

“Uh-huh,” she said with a grin. “I know.”

I shook my head, gave Sofia and Isabella a parting nod, and headed to the royal chambers. My boot heels clicked loudly on the polished stone hallway of the palace. As I always did, I marveled at the architecture and skill required to create such a thing. Despite their primitive grasp on technology, architecture was something the D’Tali seemed to have mastered. It really was remarkable.

Once I came to the royal chambers, a guard ushered me in. Candelabras stood throughout the space, little spheres of light that kept the shadows at bay. As I approached the throne, I was surprised to see Troko standing there, right next to Dojak.

I could see a hint of surprise in Troko’s eyes, but he hid it well. I, on the other hand, was doing a terrible job at hiding my discomfort.

“Camilia!” Dojak boomed, his charisma filling the space. I could see why he was such a well-loved king…and why Sofia had mated with him. “Thank you again for taking such excellent care of my soldiers. You are an incredible asset for the D’Tali.”

I bowed slightly.

“My King,” I said.

“I believe you know Troko, do you not?”

He knew that I did, but I let it go. For the moment.

“Yes, I do.”

“Excellent,” he continued, leaning slightly forward as a smile crept to his lips. “Because the two of you are to be envoys for a diplomatic mission. You’re going to Aetam.”

I blinked, not understanding.

“Your Majesty?”

“You would agree, would you not,” he said, “that this bloody and pointless conflict with the Aetamians needs to stop?”

“Without question. I’d rather not spend my time sewing D’Tali soldiers back together.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” he nodded. “That is why I am happy to report that we have an opportunity to negotiate a truce with Aetam.”

I was shocked. I knew that Dojak had been trying to broker a peace for weeks now, but it had always seemed like a pipedream.

“That’s amazing,” I muttered. “Congratulations!”

“Congratulations to us all, Camilia,” he continued, his tone warm and polite. “But this peace is tentative, we should bear that in mind.”

“Of course,” I said. “Such things are delicate.”

“That they are.” Shifting on his throne, he gave Troko a look I couldn’t quite understand. “How familiar are you with the Aetamian king?” he asked me.

I shook my head.

“Only vaguely,” I said. “I know he’s on the older side.”

Dojak laughed and Troko smirked.

“‘The older side’ is one way to put it. King Moffat makes fossils look young and vital. But, having said that, he’s still a shrewd and skilled negotiator,” Dojak said.

“I see,” I said, having no idea where this was going.

“He’s also the father of a daughter and, from what I understand, for him, the sun rises and sets on her.” He paused slightly, and then his expression became graver and more stately. “As it turns out, King Moffat’s daughter has taken ill in some way. And it’s fairly serious.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

“As are we. So, in the spirit of peace, I offered him our assistance.” He paused, his gaze bearing down on me. “If you accept it, I am sending you to Moffat’s palace to see what can be done for his daughter.”

I was stunned. I’d never done anything remotely like that before. Besides, I was just a nurse, not a surgeon with a mobile hospital. There was only so much I could do.

And from what I’d understood, although the D’Tali and the Aetamians were closely related, there were differences. What if that wasn’t just in their appearance, but something deeper in their anatomy?

“That, huh…well, I’ve never done anything like that before. Do they not have their own healers among the Aetamians?”

“None so skilled as you, Camilia. I understand your knowledge of our anatomy is limited, but the Aetamian healers haven’t been able to produce any results. Your unique perspective might be what she needs. As it is, I doubt the Aetamians are aware of the sterilization techniques you use, as well as what you call basic care methods.” He smiled warmly, paused, and then continued. “We’ve brokered a temporary truce, and the convoy you’ll be a part has been granted safe passage. Should you manage to help Moffat’s daughter regain her health, then peace between our two kingdoms becomes a very real possibility.”

My head was spinning.

Travel in Aetamian territory? I just wasn’t sure I was up to it. The last time I had met those guys, they were ambushing us in the desert, too damn eager to put their arrows through us. Even though I wanted peace, it was hard to be excited about having to pay them a visit.

“I’m honored by your confidence, but are you sure I’m the one for this?”

“I am,” Dojak nodded. “I understand your concerns, believe me, but Troko here will be accompanying you. He will make sure that you are safe. We don’t want to send in a whole squad of warriors, of course, as that would be too aggressive a gesture. Still, a small number of experienced warriors will be part of this diplomatic convoy.”

I looked at Troko, but the hardened general remained impassive. Still, I thought I detected the vaguest, tiniest hint of a smile on his lips. Being alone with him wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen, I thought.

Suddenly, Dojak stepped down off the dais of his throne and approached me. Standing in front of me, he reached out a hand and put it on my shoulder. “Camilia, you hold the future of our people in your hands,” he said. “And I’ve never known a steadier pair. I have every faith in your ability.”

I bowed deeply.

“You humble me,” I whispered. “Thank you.”

He waved it off.

“If all goes well, we will all be thanking you.” He turned to Troko and gave him a smirk. “And Troko. Just try to keep your focus on the mission.” He offered me one last smile, his fingers gently squeezing my shoulder, then marched out of the room, his long cloak whipping behind him.

Troko sighed and shook his head.

“What did he mean by that?” I said, following Dojak with my gaze. Troko stepped down to meet me on the floor. He cleared his throat and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“I’m not entirely sure,” he said, but I didn’t know if I believed him. As he grew closer to me, there was an undeniable charge in the air. I could feel it right away.

“So,” I continued, working hard to be oh-so-casual, “we will be working together.”

“Yes,” Troko said simply.

“And traveling together.”

“Yes.”

“And you’ll be…protecting me.”

“Well,” he said, clearing his throat once again, “that’s part of my role, yes. I’ve also been assigned to the convoy so that I may be part of any peace conversations that may arise. But don’t worry. My priority is to make sure you’re safe.”

I didn’t know what it was, but there was something about his tone that sent a shiver up my spine. And it was a pleasant shiver. I stepped back and took him in, the full view. Despite the scars, despite his ever-serious appearance…he actually looked good.

“Let me ask you something,” I said.

“Please do.”

“Do you get the sense that the king and queen are maybe having a little fun at our expense?”

He gave me an amused look, some emotion finally showing on his face.

“I’m not sure they’re ‘having fun’ as you put it. But I am certain they’re doing a little matchmaking, at the very least.”

“Yes,” I said. “I think that’s pretty accurate.”

We stood there, looking at each other.

A little awkward, a little intrigued, a little unsure.

“Well,” I finally said. “If anything, this is going to be an adventure.”

“An adventure,” he repeated then, miraculously, a smile dawned on his lips. “Yes, I believe so. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’ll be a safe adventure. This I promise you—no matter what happens, I’ll make sure that nothing happens to you.”

Intimidating as he was, it was hard not to believe him.

With him around, I’d be safe.

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