Soldier of Fortune: Chapter 43

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Twenty-four hours after Gideon’s arrival in Nike, while Nahmin watched the twins being taken into custody, and Clive Wendell was storming into Killian Del’s office, Celia Rand was shedding her robe and stepping over the deep red puddle of satin into a well-earned bath. 

Sighing luxuriously, she sank down into the warm, silky water, easing her battered flesh. At the same time, the lightly scented steam cleansed her senses of the blood and death which had lingered since the early hours. 

It had, she reflected, been a very trying twenty-eight hours, what with the dinner party the night before, and the trials of arranging Gideon Quinn’s abduction, and her husband’s murder. 

There had also been the strain of playing the traumatized wife for the police and the staff, all in order to maintain the character she’d adopted over twelve years ago, when she’d first put herself in the way of Jessup Rand’s eyes.

In truth, she hadn’t been aiming specifically for Jessup. Any one of the military leaders attending that long-ago party would have suited. 

General Anya Sprezza had held a particular appeal, being both attractive and in command of three front-line regiments, but Jessup had proven the most suggestive, and so it was Jessup who’d won Celia’s attentions. 

That night had been the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship, one in which she used her skills to further his career—paving the way to greater responsibilities within the Corps—while he provided access to all manner of military secrets to pass on to Celia’s superiors in Midas. 

Not that Jessup knew of her true affiliations, any more than he’d known that every time he touched her she was, as the old saying went, closing her eyes and thinking of Midas. 

“Or Anya, or the twins—or Gideon,” she admitted aloud as she wet the sea sponge and soothed it over the bruise on her thigh, one of the many reminders of Gideon’s brief but vigorous escape attempt. 

In a way, he’d done her a favor, as the bruises provided a level of verisimilitude to her story of a furious Gideon Quinn seeking revenge against her husband for his capture and conviction, over six years ago. 

He had also, in that moment of fury, reminded Celia what true desire felt like, and what it felt like was wild, uncontrollable, and utterly uncalculated.

In short, nothing like the charade she’d been living for the past twelve years. 

It had been an exhilarating, and all too brief, experience. 

“Too bad we hadn’t more time,” she murmured as her thoughts turned Quinnward. Mentally, she traced the lean, scarred length of the only man she’d known to be resistant to her talents. 

“I’d have enjoyed the challenge of him,” she said to herself, leaning back in the tub and appreciating the chance to speak her thoughts aloud; to be—for just a few moments—entirely herself. 

It was, she was quite certain, the first time she’d been alone in the house on Chaucer Street since she and Jessup had taken up residence. 

Both Jessup’s position in the Corps, and the requirements of Avonian society, had demanded a certain level of support, from military adjutants and house staff to the gardeners, caterers, and varied specialists who serviced the endless rounds of visits, dinners, parties, and meetings. 

It had been so at every one of Jessup’s postings, and she’d no reason to complain, as both the military and social circles provided access to the intelligence her superiors in Midas required. 

A pity that, in the end, none of it had been enough to grant Midas and the Coalition a final victory. 

The best they were able to manage against the United Colonies was an end to the hostilities in exchange for certain concessions. 

It was a point of pride for Celia that even those concessions would not have been achieved without the intelligence she provided, proving the value of her continuing to remain embedded in the Colonies. 

Admittedly, her role would require some adaptation now that Jessup, her key source of intelligence, had been eliminated. And here he’d only just taken command of the Tactical Division, which would have proven a veritable crystal field of information. 

Sadly, Gideon Quinn’s release had left her no choice but to clean up her husband’s mess. 

At the thought, she had to laugh, for Jessup’s death had been far from clean. 

Nahmin had seen to that. 

At least the inherent viscera of murder had given her the opportunity to give the staff the rest of the day off, and while there had been a token protest from the cook, the maids—both of whom had been required to clean Celia’s bedchamber after Jessup was removed—were more than happy to excuse themselves. 

From the looks on their faces, Celia imagined she’d be advertising for new maids by the week’s end. 

Still, it was a small price to pay for freedom from her husband’s past mistakes. 

After all, if he’d simply killed Gideon Quinn during their encounter at Nasa, there would have been no need to have Nahmin kill Jessup last night.

But that was Jessup all over, Celia thought with an amused fondness for the husband she’d had murdered, always adhering to the protocols. Even while he was framing another man for treason. 

She recalled the day Jessup had returned from Nasa to tell her what had happened, and how she’d momentarily lost control, furious that Quinn still lived. 

It had been a mistake, but thankfully Jessup assumed her anger was based in fear of Gideon Quinn, rather than disappointment in himself, and so her cover remained intact. 

“What you didn’t know, Jessup, dear,” she murmured as she reached for the soap, “never hurt you.” 

“Actually, it kinda did,” Gideon said from the door—before ducking the soap she automatically hurled his way.

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