Destruction of the last defender belonged by tradition to Sar Mode. None too soon—the appointed principal's next turning was only days away. She ordered 1682's battle escorts to the rear. The eons-old tradition demanded that the command ship make the final kill independent of the armada.
The Paresee warship turned two-hundred-seventy degrees to 1682's right flank, feigning its intention to run. At the last moment it swung back, its cannons positioned for a broadside strike. Perfectly synced with the Parsee, the Diak ship countered its move. Devices planted by the advance force had infiltrated the planet's military. The Parsee captain's every thought was transmitted to the Diak in real time.
Sar Mode admired the captain's dogged determination to cripple the Diak command ship or even, with luck, destroy it. When the ship achieved its optimal attitude the ill-fated captain ordered his cannons to fire, realizing his strategy had failed milliseconds after the command was given. The enemy ship faced him head-on, its lasers fully charged.
Sar Mode waited until the Paresee missiles were equidistance between the two ships. Her lasers ignited the incoming projectiles in succession, right to left, throwing up a curtain of blinding white light. When the curtain fell, the Paresee ship sat, a dark center surrounded by hundreds of escape capsules. The circular wave widened as the capsules accelerated into the void. Some headed into 1682's shields. All but one disintegrated on contact in a glittering display. The pod carrying the Paresee captain, its momentum stopped by the Diak beam, was held in place until the others blinked from existence.
Sar Mode watched as the remaining capsules continued on their doomed journey. It was doubtful any could survive, but she hoped one or two might. They reminded her of the farfeni flower when the core burst and its seeds scattered to the four winds—one of the few original memories left to her. We will not die today.
She lowered the shields and drew the captain's pod aboard. He was young and virile. Blood still coursed through his veins. Sar Mode was impatient to add his memories to her database. She would replay them slowly, savoring each one as long as possible, and tuck a few away for the dark moments.
When the Paresee ship was destroyed and Sar Mode safely transferred to her new host, she dispatched the landers to the planet below to eliminate any remaining ground resistance. The planet must be cleared in preparation for the colony ships' arrival. While they waited, the colonists would bicker among themselves over the best sites, those with the highest populations. But the colonists would be second to choose. Fighter pilots who'd survived the brief war were rewarded with first choice of the conquered. In order to preserve their purpose, only Diak who had fully turned could become pilots, and once rewarded, they were rotated out of the ranks.
The next target had been selected some time ago. Unlike the Paresee system, where only one of its planets supported life, the next objective consisted of multiple solar systems and five inhabited planets. Preliminary invasion measures had commenced earlier than usual—well in advance of the Diak arrival. Devices were seeding the populations even now.
The armada reassembled at the newly constructed command station to rest, repair damaged ships, strengthen its numbers, and wait for their seeds to take root.
Chapter 1: Dark Landing
2519, Zeta Quadrant, Known Universe
Security Chief Drew Cutter leaned his six-foot-three frame over the mezzanine rail and watched the security team herd the cutpurse through the bazaar below. They angled him toward an out-of-the-way spot where they could take him with little fuss. Their target zigzagged around the stalls and merchandise displays, nudging shoppers aside in a half-hearted attempt to dodge his pursuers. He'd been made and had no place to run. Petty thieves and con artists were rare on Dark Landing. Those who found their way to the station also found their stays cut shorter than anticipated.
The three-man security team was in position to take their man unnoticed by surrounding shoppers when the new-hire, evidently deciding it was his chance to shine, lunged at the culprit. He misjudged the distance and came up a full two feet short. Unable to check his momentum, he stumbled into the man, shoving him against a display rack filled with decorative glow-globes. They went down together—a tangled mess of shelving and thrashing limbs. Globes scattered across the deck as customers ran to retrieve them for the irate merchant. Eyes on the bouncing balls, several side spats developed as people bumped heads and stepped on each other's feet.
Jones, the team lead, stood back, silently taking in the ruckus while his second endeavored to separate the newbie from the display rack. Jones threw his head back and looked up at Drew. Next in line for shift commander, Jonesy always seemed to know when the boss was watching. Arms out, palms up, with a "do-you-believe-this-shit" expression, he shrugged at Drew before calmly moving into the fray to sort it out.
Confident Jones could handle the mess, Drew turned from the scene below. He surveyed the offerings of the mezzanine food court. It'd been one of those days. Irked whenever the station wasn't lumbering along with monotonous efficiency, he imagined its routine as a length of silk fabric. His job was to iron out the little wrinkles. He'd beat them out if necessary, but that was never his first choice.
He pushed the incident to the back of his mind. If he was smart, he'd grab a quick bite and head back to the office to catch up on his logs. It was Thursday, 1930 station time. Three cargo freighters arrived earlier in the day, joining five others already docked. When their cargos were loaded or unloaded, the crews would clean up for station leave. Eight ships in dock at once meant a hectic weekend.
Still deciding between sauerkraut and bean curd, or reconstituted chicken and rice, Drew's com implant purred the name Matilda Freelander, his nightshift commander, in his ear.
"You coming back to the office tonight?"
"I'm thinking about it. Is there a problem?"
"No, no problem. There's a lady here."
He waited a beat before prompting. "And ...?"
"She asked to speak with you personally. I told her you'd already left."
"This lady got a name?"
Now it was Mattie's turn to take a beat. "Letty Taleen."
Drew frowned. "Has she said what she wants?" It wasn't like Mattie to dance around a point, but he could tell by her measured tone something was up. Taleen ... Taleen ... it couldn't be that Taleen.
"I leave it to you, Mattie. Do you think I should come back?" He made no effort to hide his irritation.
Mattie responded with her usual indifference. "It might prove interesting."
"Okay, but I'm gonna grab something to eat first. End all." A barely audible tone sounded in his ear, signifying the end of the communication.
There was no line at Long Chow's. He ordered a chicken and rice bowl to go. He'd take the long way back to the office. Whoever she was, it wouldn't hurt to keep her waiting some. She probably had a beef about damaged luggage or rude station personnel. Still, Mattie was holding something back.
He tried to remember the first name of the Taleen Industries woman from the documentaries he'd seen. He thought it was Karen or maybe Katherine. Taleen was an uncommon surname, but anyone of that consequence wouldn't have business on Dark Landing, not in person anyway.
Other than a few scattered mining operations and sparsely populated scientific bases, Dark Landing was the last station in the relay, as far as you could dock from any developed planet in the Known Universe, Earth or alien. Its proximity to multiple, stabilized wormholes made it the perfect hub for hopping between galaxies, but it lacked the luxury accommodations and amenities needed to attract passenger ships, especially those carrying multi-world CEOs. The station catered to inter-planetary trade and was a staging point for space science organizations.
Drew reflected on what he knew of Taleen Industries, a multi-world conglomerate licensed to do business on each of the five MCTT-member planets, and the largest, most diversified outfit in the Known Universe. The founders, an entrepreneurial couple, died in the TuD'wei spaceport disaster, leaving an infant girl as sole heiress.
Karen, or Katherine, an adult now, maintained a low profile. Depending on which version you believed, she was a protected recluse with more looks than brains who didn't involve herself in running the store, or a freak-of-nature brainiac who ran all aspects of the operation from self-imposed exile.
Before entering the conveyer, he reconsidered and instead turned and sought an empty rail bench. To his mind, no good had ever come from surprises. As he sat down, he tapped the small, slightly raised patch of skin behind his left earlobe. Dock Command, he mouthed voicelessly, unwrapping his dinner.
The reply was immediate. "Benson here. Hello, Chief."
"Hey, Benny. Can you do me a quick favor?" Drew asked and shoveled a bite of chicken and rice into his mouth.
"I'll try. What's up?"
He spoke around his mouthful. "I need the registries for the ships docked today and the names of the companies they're hauling for."
Benson "Benny" Capone, Senior Dock Foreman, answered without hesitation. "Berth four is co-op-owned, hauling alien and human medical supplies. Berth five, also co-op-owned, is dropping an order here and picking up most of the med cargo from berth four. Both are scheduled to depart in three days. Four is returning back up the line to the Deep Light station, and five is headed to its home port on Fehdeen."
Drew sensed he was speaking from memory and not from a record screen. With little effort, Benny could recall the details of every ship that embarked and debarked from the station on his watch.
The dock foreman continued. "Berth eight is Earth-registry, non-gov. Cane Cargo is listed as principally insured. She unloaded a few cartons of trade goods to barter with the local merchants and debarked four, one-way passengers. She's scheduled to depart in three days too. No departure destination filed yet."
"I've reviewed the registries for everything docked before today. I don't remember seeing a Taleen Industries' connection. Do you know of any?" Drew asked.
"Nope, none that's obvious. What with holding companies, co-op interests, and the like, it's hard to say for sure. If you can give me an hour or two, I'll dig deeper."
"No, that's okay, Benny. You gonna be at poker Saturday?"
Drew cut the connection. Co-ops owned most of the trade stations scattered at that end of space, and most of the cargo ships. Their shares changed daily, and ownership often proved difficult to determine. Taleen Industries could have interests in any of the ships currently docked. Only Muck knows.
Drew tapped his com implant and mouthed a new request, Customs. A low beeping indicated he'd entered the queue, and the speed of the beep told him he was next. Thirty seconds passed.
"Customs Duty-officer Marcowitz, sir. Sorry to keep you waiting."
"Marcowitz, would you check arrivals for the last few weeks for a 'Taleen'?"
"Searching t-a-l-e-e-n, sir. No results for the past thirty days."
"Thank you. End all."
With no more information than when he started, he ate the last bite of rice, dumped his bowl and fork into a waste chute, and headed to the conveyer that would drop him at Security HQ.
Before he could enter the conveyer, he had to step aside to let three Praetorian monks exit single file, heads down. Dark brown hoods concealed their faces, and their long robes brushed the deck. Arms crossed in front, their hands were buried deep in bell-bottomed sleeves.
Why Praetorians would come to Dark Landing and stay as long as these three had, over six weeks now, nagged at Drew. He'd assumed they were only passing through, but they hadn't left. He'd kept a close watch on them. As long as they didn't create the customary disturbances with public demonstrations and doom-provoking prophecy, he'd let them be. It was a free space after all. That they seemed to rush around the station at all hours perplexed him. Where the hell are they rushing to and from anyway?
~ ~ ∞ ~ ~
The man leaned casually against the bulkhead outside Security Headquarters, watching for her to come out. She'd been in there for a while. The passageway remained busy but no one seemed to pay him any attention.
They'd lost track of Speller on Mars after a botched attempt to take him out. She was their best chance of finding him now. Their information said the two were close, really close. They spent as much of their personal time together as they did during work hours. Some guys had all the luck. The contact on Earth had followed her for several weeks until she'd boarded the Temperance. Her trip to Dark Landing was no coincidence.
The conveyer doors opened and the chief of security exited and headed into HQ. The man tapped his com and mouthed a command. "Cutter just returned to HQ. What should I do?" He kept his voice low. "Yeah, okay," he said, and entered the waiting conveyer.
~ ~ ∞ ~ ~
Drew was still shaking his head in puzzlement over the Praetorians when he arrived at HQ. Everything appeared quiet. The duty roster indicated Jones's team had deposited their cutpurse and returned to patrol. The prisoner was being questioned in interview room two.
A kid of maybe eighteen or nineteen was curled up, napping on the two-seater bench in what was generously referred to as the reception area. Drew pegged him as a down-and-out who'd worked his way to Dark Landing but who lacked the resources to move on.
He wore the favored travel kit consisting of a multi-purpose wool poncho with long leather fringe. The fringe was often used to tie the garment across an opening for privacy. A slouch hat pulled down to his chin, and dungarees with the pant legs tucked into worn, high-topped leather boots completed the outfit.
A small shoulder pack served as his pillow with the strap end clutched in the boy's hand and the upper portion wrapped securely around his wrist. He may be young, but he's an experienced traveler, Drew thought.
Mattie and her assistant Kyle stood together at the back of the room outside Drew's darkened office, and studied a panel on the wall. No Letty Taleen in sight. She'd evidently decided not to wait for him, or perhaps she was in the head. Laughter spilled from the open hatch of the staff rec room. Maybe she's shooting pool with the night crew, he thought and chuckled.
Drew heard the boom of a distant explosion a second before the klaxon blared and the emergency lights flashed. He whirled and headed back toward the conveyer. As he passed the bench, he noticed the kid had scuttled under it, still clutching his shoulder pack. Quick thinker.
A trample of boots fell in behind him. The main computer transmitted monotone status reports over his com patch:
Disturbance contained at sublevel two, customs' box two, airlock engaged, one fatality, no injured, emergency personnel dispatched.
The message updated with each repeat:
Disturbance contained at sublevel two, customs box two, station-side airlock retracted, one fatality, no injured, fire, environmental, and security personnel on scene. Additional security personnel en route.
Each of the two station sublevels held five docking bays and two separate entrances into the station. While atmospheric shields maintained environmental services for the docks, the box-shaped entrances were twenty-by-twenty foot emergency airlocks. All station personnel, visiting crew, and passengers entered through the airlocks when passing from dockside to station-side, no matter how many times a day or an hour they made the trip.
Environmental detection equipment scanned everyone and everything in the box during the short crossing. Only when the sensors and the technicians monitoring the displays agreed that nothing in the box posed a threat to the station would the airlock open station-side.
Disturbance contained at sublevel two, customs' box two—
"Pause," Drew said, stopping the transmission. It took him more than twenty minutes to make the trip from Security HQ to sublevel two. Mattie followed with a team of ten men. Security personnel closer to the scene had cordoned off the area. His additional men spread out, confirming no threat remained.
Drew took several minutes to study the scene for himself before taking reports. That there'd been an explosion was obvious, though any residual smoke had been sucked out with the oxygen to suffocate the fire. Simultaneously, ceiling jets would inject the appropriate chemical compound to neutralize any residual contaminates.
There was minimal charring, but the box walls were liberally splattered with blood and grisly bits of debris. Drew assumed the grisly bits had belonged to the small mound of remains lying under a damp tarp in the middle of the airlock deck.
He dipped his head toward the fire captain, who'd been glancing in his direction every few seconds, waiting for his signal. Captain Davies spoke to his next-in-command before heading over, shedding the top half of his environmental suit as he approached. Along with security personnel, fire and environmental staff manned a shared substation on each dock level.
"We have everything under control, Chief. The fatality was a crew member from berth eight, the Temperance," Davies reported.
"Do we know what caused the explosion?"
"Yes, but you won't believe it. The scan indicated old fashioned, Earth-grown nitro suspended in the inner pouch of a water skin. We don't know what caused it to ignite yet."
Drew tried to remember what little he knew about the antique ordinance. "That's bizarre. Nitro was notoriously unstable, and it would take an awful lot to cause any damage. It could never breach the hull of the station."
Davies nodded. "Yeah, if that's what was intended. Plenty of other choices would be safer and easier to come by. Makes no sense."
"Find out if there are other uses for nitro, especially anything that might not be obvious to humans," Drew said, then added, "And try the med-lab database. There might be something there."
"Already on it, sir. It's too early to know for sure, but I don't see anything to indicate a calculated attack against the station."
Drew relaxed a bit. "I hope you're right. We'll talk again after I see the initial reports."
He motioned Mattie over. "I don't suppose you have much on this guy yet?"
She shook her head. "Only his name, Jonas Trammel. We're gathering ship's officers and crew now to start interviews. I'll file it as we learn more."
"If you have everything in check here, I'm going back to the office." He took another quick look around, satisfied the responders had it under control.
On the way back, he issued a general statement to reassure the station populace they were safe and had nothing to worry about.
Back at HQ, Kyle glanced up briefly from his monitor as Drew passed. He would know as much as Drew by now, maybe more if anything came through in the last few minutes.
Eager for the serenity of his office, Drew called for low lights as he stepped through the hatch and for backup as he drew his blaster and pointed it at a movement in the corner. Startled and already on edge, only his academy training stopped him from pulling the trigger. In two seconds Kyle fell in at his side, weapon drawn.
"I'll be a jackal's ass!" Kyle lowered his weapon. "I thought she'd left. I'm really sorry, Chief. In all the excitement …. Let's go, Miss Taleen. Get up!"
Still brandishing his blaster, Drew stared at the kid he'd noticed earlier. He'd evidently decided to move from the metal lobby bench to the more comfortable lounger in Drew's office. Wait, did Kyle call him 'she?' 'Miss Taleen?'
She lay perfectly still, ignoring Kyle's command. Her gaze never wavered from Drew's blaster. Evidently unprepared to take a chance, she gave him the time he needed to absorb the situation. When his thumb reset the safety catch and his arm relaxed, she sat up, pulled the slouch hat from her head and shook out her hair. How had he ever mistaken her for a man?
He continued staring as he holstered his sidearm, then dismissed Kyle with a flick of his index finger. She stood at five-foot-seven or eight; he figured the boots added an inch or two.
He could tell she was slender, though the loose-fitting poncho revealed no discernible figure. No woman with a face like hers could have anything but a figure to match.
Her hair, thick and jet black, with maroon and navy highlights, barely brushed her shoulders. Her complexion was translucent, cheeks slightly flushed.
Drew took a deep, ragged breath.
Chapter 2: Decked
"Pretty sloppy operation, Cutter," were the first words out of generously full lips.
Transfixed, mouth already opened, only air whooshed out in place of a coherent response from Drew.
Black, intelligent eyes stared back at him, as black as her hair, and framed by ebony brows.
"You are Security Chief Andrew Vincent Cutter, aren't you?" she asked, frowning.
He nodded; his breath and equilibrium returned. He hadn't spoken yet, assessing the situation. Right hand still resting on the hilt of his blaster, he relaxed the arm further, then let it drop to his side.
She took a few moments to study him. "Do you need medical attention?" she asked finally, with what seemed like genuine concern. When he didn't respond immediately, she edged sideways, closer to the hatch.
Without warning, she erupted. "Incredible! You're the one who's supposed to protect me from the bogeymen? I just remembered I have someplace else to be." She snatched her pack from the lounger and headed toward the hatch.
Composure fully restored, Drew grabbed her arm as she moved past him. "One second, lady!"
That was a mistake.
A second later, he was lying flat on his back with Miss Taleen straddled across him. Her hands and knees pinned his arms to the deck. By this point, if she were serious, she should have used a head butt to break his nose. Instead, she stared down at him, panting lightly. While it would've been difficult to convince anyone of it at the moment, she'd employed a move at which Drew was adept. Equally adept at the counter move, he was enjoying the view until he heard chortling outside the hatch.
Despite the pleasure he got from the woman's weight against his thighs, he needed to take control of the situation. He pressed the backs of his arms against the deck for leverage and raised his head and shoulders upward as far as he could, feigning an attempt to kiss her. The tactic always worked against men. As calculated, she wrinkled her perfectly shaped nose and leaned back and away from him, reducing the pressure on his arms just enough and drawing her ankles closer to his hands.
When Drew grabbed her ankles, she instinctively lifted her hands to reach behind and free herself, shifting her center of gravity. He shoved up and backward. Emitting a loud shriek, she flew over his head, landing half-in and half-out of the hatch with a satisfying thud. The staffs' chortles turned to roars of laughter.
Drew flipped up and onto his feet in one smooth movement. He lifted her from the deck by an underarm and dragged her through the hatch, issuing the verbal command to close it behind them, and shut out the retreating laughter of his men. He heaved her back onto the lounger, picked up her pack, and chucked it at her. With a steadying breath, he sat down at his desk.
"For the moment, I'll ignore that you just attacked me, but you can bet we'll get back to that. Let's start over. Hello, Miss Taleen, I'm Security Chief Andrew Cutter. Everyone calls me Drew or Chief. I understand you wanted to speak with me. How may I help you?" He leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the desk. Fingers laced behind his head, elbows akimbo, he gazed at her nonchalantly, or so he hoped.
She glared back at him, rubbing a shoulder, appearing more angry than injured. "You weren't attacked; I checked you." When he didn't rise to the bait, she went on. "You grabbed me and I defended myself. It was a knee-jerk reaction. Anyway, I traveled here at the request of my father. He sent me to you specifically for your help. Ha!" She rolled her eyes at the absurdity. "To protect me and—"
He interrupted her; something didn't jibe. "Your father? Before we go any further, can we establish your identity? Who are you and who's your father?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"Believe me, I am." She smirked, and lifted her chin with a proud air. "I'm Katherine Leticia Taleen—Letty, head of Taleen Industries. My father is George Speller. Technically, he is ... was ... is my guardian."
Drew lowered his feet and leaned forward, elbows on the desk in front of him. Lustful thoughts aside, he watched her intently while mentally arranging his next questions. "You're not making any sense. Why would George Speller, the most celebrated CEO in the K.U., send you way out here for protection? And to me of all people? Taleen Industries has a security force larger, better trained, and better equipped than most planets. Why aren't they protecting you? And protecting you from what?"
"I don't know. I'm sure Dad had his reasons."
"I'd like to speak with Mr. Speller myself."
For the first time, she appeared uncertain. "Y-you can't. He's gone, disappeared, almost two months now. He left me a message. I was supposed to run and make my way here to you. He didn't say what I was running from."
Her shoulders slumped, and she looked down at her hands. Drew thought she might be tearing up. She wasn't. After a few seconds contemplating her nails, she straightened, eyes dry. "Actually, I thought you'd answer those questions. You really weren't expecting me? You don't know my dad?"
He shook his head. "No, and I find it hard to believe George Speller is missing, especially for two months. If that's true, the whole universe would be talking about it."
She seemed as perplexed as Drew. He suspected her story was leading to some kind of elaborate con, but he couldn't figure the end game. He'd let it play out. In the meantime, she was sure something to look at. They sat unmoving for several seconds.
"'Bogeymen,' really?" he asked, breaking the tension. She laughed a little. Enough for Drew to know he wanted to hear her laugh more. Not tonight.
"Look, it seems you and I have a lot of ground to cover. But, it's getting late, and I've got reports to read and another mystery to solve. We can start again in the morning. Do you have quarters? When did you arrive—on what ship?"
"I arrived today on the Temperance."
"You know about the explosion then?"
"On the Temperance?!"
"Not exactly. A member of the crew was transporting an explosive chemical. It ignited in the station airlock." Drew watched her expression for any indication of pre-knowledge. Her features registered only puzzled concern.
"Do you have quarters on board or do you need a room?" he asked.
"I'll stay here."
"Here on the station?"
"No, here in your office. This couch is a lot more comfortable than my bunk on the Temperance."
"Well, you can't stay in my office. That's dumb. If you're the head of Taleen Industries, and I gotta tell you I'm not taking your word for that, couldn't you afford a stateroom on the Temperance instead of a bunk?"
"Of course, but when I travel I keep a low profile."
"Perhaps, if you're trying to keep a low profile, you shouldn't be using your real name—if Katherine Leticia Taleen is your name. You may think the poncho and hat make an impenetrable disguise, but what's the point if you're traveling under your own name?"
"I'm not—" With another sigh, "I thought we were going to do this in the morning?"
"You're right. I'll arrange a room at Landers Keep."
"I'm staying right here. You have a comfy couch, a private head with a chem-shower. There's probably something to eat in the op's galley."
"I don't think so."
"I don't care what you think! I'm tired and I'm staying here tonight."
"Look, crazy lady—"
"Who do you think you're working for anyway?" she spat out, triumphant, chin high.
Drew fell speechless once more. Fuck! That's an unexpected twist. He admired her style. "What are you trying to say?" he asked, recovering faster this time.
"I'm saying, you work for me, and I can prove it."
She joined him behind the desk. The entire desktop, dark now, was a document screen with a palm reader visible under the surface to his right. To activate the screen, several smaller monitors installed in the credenza behind him, and the large monitor on the wall above the credenza, he had only to lay his hand on the reader.
Letty brushed his shoulder as she reached across the desk in front of him, his view blocked momentarily by her poncho. She smelled of leather, stale wool, and orange blossoms, the latter fragrance dredged up from somewhere in his youth on Earth. She placed her right hand on the reader. His desk lit up, displaying the unfinished logs he'd left out earlier. Simultaneously, a mechanical hum sounded from three screens rising to a comfortable viewing angle out of the flat surface of the credenza behind him, and he knew the wall monitor now glowed softly with several columns of menu options.
She removed her hand, leaned back against the edge of the desk, and looked down at him smugly. "As I said, I'm spending the night right here. Now, if you don't mind, I'm tired. I'll see you in the morning, say 0700?"
Drew pressed an index finger to a small icon beneath the palm reader, returning all screens to their idle state. He tapped his com patch. "Kyle, send two men in here. No, make it four." He was shaken, and it probably showed, but he stared evenly back at the woman.
"You may be my boss, or my boss' boss' boss—whatever. That's one more thing to sort out tomorrow, but there's no way in hell I'm leaving you in my office with access to station systems."
The hatch opened and his men crowded in with curious looks.
"Take her to holding and have her searched. Disable her com implant and lock her up. I want someone watching her every second of every minute until I order otherwise."
He expected a scene, but she went quietly without a backward glance, chin lifted. Drew thought the chin thing must be part of her normal carriage.