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Marlicia Fernandez

Book 1: Prologue

"I told you never to come here."

"It couldn't be helped."  Bitter laughter followed the words.  "Are you ashamed of our partnership?"

Aysha perched on the windowsill, behind the heavy drapes, listening.  Two voices, both male: Jax, low and threatening, and someone else.

  She peaked through the crack between the panels.  Jaxim sat in his overstuffed leather chair, his ever-present cigar dangling from his fingers.  Smoke encircled his head, but even through the haze, Aysha could see his face was whiter than the cloud surrounding it.  Most people reddened in anger, Jaxim paled. 

"You'll be paid upon delivery and not before." 

Aysha switched her attention to the man sitting on the functional wooden chair reserved for those Jax wished to intimidate.  The visitor didn't look intimidated.  He looked dangerous…and familiar.  She'd seen that mop of unruly black hair with its distinctive white markings before.  In a street fight.  The bandage showing beneath the cuff of his right sleeve confirmed her suspicions, as did the new scar across his left cheek.  Aysha tensed and waited.

"I got expenses."

Jax took a deep drag on his cigar and blew a series of smoke rings. "I fail to see how your problem concerns me.  You made a deal."  He leaned forward, punctuating each word with a jab of his finger. "And we expect you to honor it, or we'll find someone who can." 

Dangerous flowed to his feet, eyes narrowing; hand falling to a weapon Aysha knew security relieved him of when he arrived.  He let his arm drop to his side. "The target has been tipped off.  It may not be possible to…"

"Spare me your excuses.  You will make a lot of money if you succeed.  If you don't…"  Jax pushed out of his chair, dwarfing the other man.  "'We have a nice cell waiting for you."  He rang a large bell sitting on the desk.  The door at the far side of the room opened and two guards stepped inside.  Jax gestured toward his visitor. "See my guest out, and make sure he stays out."

Aysha waited until the guards escorted Dangerous out and Jax resumed his seat.  The curtains rustled as she pushed them aside. "You handled that well."

Jaxim's chair squeaked and tilted backward as he fumbled for his cigar.  It landed on the wooden desk in a tiny pile of ashes.  He retrieved it with a sigh.  "I wish you wouldn't do that, Aysha. You cost me more good cigars."

She laughed.  "Sorry, I couldn't help myself."  She lowered herself from the sill and stepped into the room. "And that man… "  Aysha shrugged. "Let's just say I wanted to see what he was up to before I revealed myself."

"Still watching my back, are you?"  He placed the damaged cigar in an ashtray. "It's not necessary, you know."

"I owe you."  Aysha took a seat on the edge of his desk and pulled a necklace from her neck.  "I've got it."

Jaxim took the chain and removed the charms.  "Was there any trouble?"

"None.  I made it look like a common break in.  Your informant will try to find the thief himself, but he won't succeed."  She searched her pockets until she came up with what looked like a lipstick tube.  "Why do you pay these people if you don't intend to let them keep their earnings? 

"You know how we work. We pay those we know we can trust and those we plan to use again."  Jax arranged the little ornaments. "This one spoke to the wrong people one too many times."  He pulled his hand back. "Restore them please."

Aysha opened the tube and pressed a button.  Yellow light covered the objects for ten seconds before disappearing.  She closed the tube and returned it to its hiding place.  "Then why don't you arrest him?" 

"Now that we know what he is, he may yet be useful to us. We'll have him watched." Jaxim lifted one of ten six-inch solid gold statuettes. "In the meantime, I'll have these melted down and returned to the treasury vault."  He swept the remnants of the metal fasteners that had connected the objects to Aysha's chain into one hand and tossed them into the garbage. "Now, how long were you hiding at the window?  How much did you hear?"

"Enough to know your friend is trouble." Aysha took her denuded necklace from the desk and slipped it over her head.  "I think you better watch yourself with him.  Check any information he brings twice and then check it again."

Jax nodded.  "I intend to.  Did you get a good look at him?"

Aysha eased herself off the desk. "Good enough to recognize him if I saw him again."

"Good, he may be one of your assignments in the near future."   Jaxim pulled a piece of parchment from his top drawer and shoved it across the desk.  "This is your current job.  It could be tricky."

"How so?"

"You know the mark."

 "I've known marks before." Aysha reached for the parchment. "I can handle it."

Jax placed one large hand over Aysha's, pinning it in place.  "It's Draken.  He was set up and he's out for blood."

"Is that all?" Aysha forced a smile and pulled her hand and the sheet from his grasp.  "You had me worried for a minute."  He squeezed her fingers hard enough to make her wince. 

"Don't presume too much on your friendship.  If Draken thinks you were involved..."  Jax released her.  "I don't want to have to explain to your brother and sister what happened to you if you're caught."

"Nothing will happen."  Aysha broke the seal, knowing the message would disappear five minutes after it was opened.  "And I wasn't involved.  Now let's see what I'm supposed to recover this time."  She scanned the page.  Her mind recoiled and her hands shook.  "This isn't ordinary payment."  The parchment fluttered to the floor before disappearing in a puff of gray smoke. "Tell me you didn't pay him off with this kind of information."  

"I didn't, but somebody did."  Jax reached for his cigar and relit it.  Someone set Draken up, told him we were to blame, hired him and paid him with information that would ensure we'd send our best for retrieval.  You still think you can handle it?  Maybe we should get your brother to…"

Aysha slapped her hands on the desktop.  "No. I don't want my brother involved.  I can handle it."

Jaxim grabbed her shoulders.  "Look at me.  Don't you think it's time you told your brother what you really do?"

"You know I can't, Jax.  I wish I could." Aysha freed herself and started toward the window.  "The less he knows; the less anyone knows, the better."

© Marlicia Fernandez  2-07-06

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