First chapter of my WIP, Huntress, a spin-off to my series The Starhawk Chronicles
|Quite possibly, this is one of the ugliest men I have ever met, Kayla Karson thought to herself.|
Her opinion was not based on his looks. That was the furthest thing from her mind. Jeremond Pike was widely considered one of the most attractive, eligible bachelors in the galaxy. With his holo-star looks, athletic build, and sizable bank account, there were few—if any—women, human or otherwise, who would not want to be seen on the arm of this young man. If it were purely physical, there wouldn’t be a problem Kayla thought.
It was, instead, the look in Jeremond Pike’s eyes when they were introduced that made up her mind for her. Taking her hand―a little too firmly for Kayla’s tastes―Pike looked her over as though he was at market choosing prime breeding stock. The leering smile that he favored her with told Kayla that was exactly what he was thinking. She felt like she needed a shower after shaking his hand. “Mister Karson, your daughter is truly a spectacular beauty. As fine a vision of femininity as there ever was.”
Oh gag, she thought, struggling to maintain the smile she had plastered on her face for her father’s sake. Please, Dad, tell me you’re not buying into this steaming pile of...
Standing at her side, her father beamed at Jeremond and his father, Canton. Yep, he’s buying it. Despite the wrenching in her guts, she continued smiling in an appropriately vacuous manner.
“Quite the little scholar, as well,” Dale Karson said, talking up his daughter as if trying to sell the Pikes on the latest business pitch. “Graduated salutatorian from the university last year.”
Little scholar? What am I? Twelve? Dad, please just shut up now before I scream.
Canton Pike nodded his approval as her father continued to talk her up. Kayla decided that the elder Pike was a man she could come to like. He had an easy-going demeanor that his son lacked, and his smile was warm and genuine. Jeremond however, smiled only as a courtesy, and that smile was one of a snake eyeing up its next meal. He was still eyeing her up and down, his eyes continually coming to rest at the neckline of her ball gown, and she knew he was not admiring the diamond-crusted locket she wore.
“Kayla, why don’t you and Jeremond take a spin on the dance floor and become better acquainted? Canton and I have some matters to discuss privately.” Her father’s suggestion was voiced in such a way as to disguise the actual order behind it, and Kayla’s stomach wrenched again. She wanted to protest but knew her father needed the time to procure Canton Pike’s assistance in his business dealings.
“Excellent idea, Sir,” Jeremond beamed, and the false cheerfulness caused Kayla’s stomach to flip once more. Before she could do any more than shoot a brief, pleading look at her father, the arrogant piece of meat led her into the midst of the multi-hued, twirling bodies.
His cologne was overpowering and she felt herself growing lightheaded. He must use this swill to get women to do his bidding.
His dance style was as arrogant as the rest of him. It was obvious he thought he should be in control of a woman at all times. Kayla prided herself on her dance skills—she had taken dance lessons since she could walk—but the way Pike twirled her around the floor made her feel like a stumbling fool.
Jeremond held her too tight, and too close, for her own comfort. His hand slid down her back as they danced. Too far down. Why did I choose tonight of all nights to wear a backless dress? “Careful there, Jer,” she admonished, trying to sound cheerful. “You’re venturing into restricted territory.”
He chuckled. “Restricted perhaps, but surely not unexplored, eh?”
She affected an airy chuckle of her own. One more crack like that and I remove his testicles right here in front of everyone.
Chatty as he had been around her father, he now made little attempt at conversation and Kayla decided that he preferred—and was used to—having his women quiet, preferring to puff himself up and show off whatever little strumpet happened to be hanging from his arm at the time.
Important to my father or not, I’m going to put this priss on his backside, she thought as the hand began to roam lower and lower down her back once again. Her body tensing, she made ready to break away from him when an even more handsome young man appeared at Jeremond’s shoulder.
“I hope you don’t mind, Jerry, old cod, if I take this young beauty off your hands for the rest of this dance?”
Pike looked over his shoulder, regarding the intruder, a dozen emotions crossing his face in seconds. At last he smiled, insincerely, nodding at the newcomer and placing Kayla’s hand in his. “Of course,” he replied, a barely disguised growl in his voice. “It would be selfish of me not to share.”
Her new partner was quick to sweep Kayla away into the crowd, and she let out a relieved sigh as she gazed up into his blue-green eyes. “Matthew, you dear, sweet boy. Thank you for rescuing me.”
Matthew Karson favored her with a wide, toothy smile, causing his eyes to sparkle. “It was the least I could do for my favorite little sister.”
“I’m your only sister, little or otherwise,” she replied with a laugh.
“And that is why you’re my favorite.”
The eldest of the five Karson children, Matthew was Kayla’s favorite as well. Her hero and best friend, he was her greatest champion, often standing in defense of Kayla’s actions, no matter how shocking or displeasing to the rest of the family.
“I’m surprised you were able to make it all the way back here for this little shindig.” Kayla favored her brother with a wicked, knowing smile. “And where’s your hot-blooded little Harkonian princess?”
Eyes rolling, Matthew returned the smile. “Elyssia sends her regards. She had to stay behind to assist her father with some matters of state.”
“Just how lucky can my big brother be than to win the affections of a beautiful woman who also happens to be the daughter of the Harkonian Emperor?” Kayla sighed.
Matthew nodded. “I am lucky to have Elyssia, and her family has been very good to me, but I could do without all the political wrangling. I’d give anything to have just a few days or weeks where we can get away, together, and just enjoy each other’s company in some quiet, remote place.”
“You’ll just have to save that for your honeymoon,” Kayla said, another wicked grin escaping her lips.
The look of surprise in his eyes, and the sudden loss of coordination in his dancing told Kayla that she had struck a nerve. “Slow down, little sister,” Matthew said, quick to recover and resuming their dance before the next spinning couple smashed into them. “I love ‘Lyss like you wouldn’t believe, but we’re far from thinking or talking marriage at this point.”
“Maybe you are, but I guarantee you that Elyssia’s been thinking about it.” A twinge of delight raced through her at seeing her brother go a shade paler. She twisted the figurative knife a bit more, saying, “And I’m sure she’s talking about it too. Maybe not with you…”
Matthew’s response was to twirl her a little rougher than was necessary. He squeezed her hand just enough to make it ache. His smile became as wicked as hers. “You should talk. Being courted by one of the galaxy’s most eligible bachelors. Jeremond Pike is…”
“An absolute ass!” She finished, drawing quiet laughter from her brother. “The only reason I even look in his direction is because Dad wants that merger with his father’s company.”
She felt herself growing heated and knew it was not the exertion of dancing. Matthew always knew exactly which buttons to push. She forced her breathing to slow, looking him squarely in the eyes. “You’re an ass, too.”
Matthew threw his head back now as laughter exploded from him, loud enough to draw stares from the other dancers. He pulled her into an embrace, which she was all-too-willing to return. Matthew always made her feel safe, even when he was driving her crazy. “I love you, Bro.”
“Same here, Kid,” he replied. “Let’s just try to enjoy ourselves. May I ask the honor of reserving the remaining spots on your dance card for the evening?”
“You’re even more of an ass when you try to be so formal,” Kayla giggled. “And the answer is, of course, yes.”
“Good. Let’s swing past Jeremond with the biggest smiles we can muster. Oh, and laugh, really loud.”
“Ass,” she giggled again, resting her head on her brother’s chest, feeling that warm, safe feeling sweep over her.