These Broken Stars Page 5

Elana, Swann, and the faceless tuxedo return with a hover tray in tow, laden with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The girls have given Anna enough time to chastise me, and they’re all smiles as they slide into the booth to join us. Anna sends the tuxedo back to the bar because her drink has a stick of pineapple in it rather than cherries, and she and the other girls titter to one another as they watch him walk away. It’s clear why Anna’s chosen this one—he’d give the major a good run for his money in the filling-a-suit department.

Anna begins describing the tuxedo’s enthusiastic attempts to court her, much to the amusement of Elana and Swann. Sometimes this kind of conversation is all I want—light, easy, and not remotely dangerous. It takes the spotlight off of me and puts Anna at center stage, so that all I have to do is smile and laugh. Usually she’d have me in stitches by now. But tonight it feels hollow, and it’s hard for me to let myself go.

I glance at the door now and then, but though it swings open and closed dozens of times, it’s never to admit Tarver Merendsen. I’m sure he knows the rules as well as I do, and there’s not a person aboard who doesn’t know who I am. That he spoke to me at all is a wonder. Though my father made a show of letting me travel by myself for my birthday in New Paris, the truth is that he’s always there, in some way or another.

There is one tiny comfort, though. At least he left of his own accord, and I didn’t have to end him in front of all my friends. After all, on a ship carrying over fifty thousand passengers, the odds of ever encountering again the major’s crooked smile and distracting voice are next to nothing.

The next two nights Anna and I skip the salon, and go straight to the promenade deck after dinner. We walk arm in arm, and talk out Anna’s gossip. I know she’ll still spend the entire night in our adjoining suites draped over the foot of my bed, chatting. Though she never seems to show the effects of not sleeping, I inevitably wake up with purple smudges under my eyes, standing out like bruises on my fair skin. Outside of these voyages, Anna and I never get to spend so much time together. Here, we can be like sisters.

And so we walk. Swann is with us as well, of course—I can barely get out of bed without her at my elbow—but if she listens to us, she doesn’t comment.

Though Anna’s said nothing else about the major, he hasn’t been far from my thoughts. Most of the lower classes, when they speak to me, try to pretend they’re on my level. They fawn over me, dancing attendance, so phony it makes my teeth ache. But the major was candid, genuine, and when he smiled, it didn’t seem forced. He acted like he truly enjoyed my company.

We turn into the broad sweep of synthetic lawn that curves around the stern of the ship as the lights, timed to the ship’s clocks, dim past sunset into dusk. The observation windows tint from their daytime image of sunny sky and clouds through gold, orange, pink, and finally to a starry sky more brilliant than any you could find on a planet. Back home on Corinth there are no stars, only the gentle pink glow of the city lights reflected in the atmosphere, and the holographic displays of fireworks against the clouds.

I’m watching the window and listening to Anna with only half an ear when her arm in mine tightens convulsively. I nearly stumble as she stops abruptly, but thankfully I catch myself before I can face-plant on the synthetic lawn. Tripping over my own feet would land me in the headlines for a week.

Anna’s eyes aren’t on me but rather fixed on something—or someone—some distance away. I look over, and my heart drops into my violet satin shoes.

Major Merendsen.

Has he seen us? He’s speaking to another officer, head bowed to listen to him—maybe he’s distracted enough that he won’t notice me. I turn my face away, willing him not to spot me. I curse my unusual hair, too bright to be fashionable or subtle. And why do I insist on jewel tones? If I was dressed like the other girls, maybe I would blend in.

What awful backwater posting would my father have him reassigned him to, if Anna reported back that I’d been associating with the infamous Major Merendsen, teacher’s son, scholarship student, classless war hero? If only the major realized he’d be lucky to make it out with a reassignment.

“Good heavens, he’s actually coming over,” Anna murmurs in my ear through a fixed smile. “What on earth ails him? I mean, does he suffer from some mental—”

“Good evening, Major,” I interrupt, cutting off Anna’s stream of insults before he’s close enough to hear them. I hope.

The major’s fellow officer waits respectfully some distance back, and my heart sinks even lower. Anna knows the rules, so she and Swann make their excuses and walk some distance ahead, ostensibly to look out the window. Anna glances back at me once she’s passed the major, both brows lifted in concern.

Don’t, her expression warns me. Let him go. I can see a momentary flash of sympathy in her gaze, but that doesn’t change the message.

They stay within earshot, providing only the illusion of privacy. Swann leans back against the railing, watching us closely. Still, she looks more amused than concerned. She may be lethal when I’m in danger, but she’s still right at home with the others, thriving on gossip and giggling and the intricate dance of society. Anna’s used to this rotating roster of bodyguards, and she adopts them into our circle as readily as any of our other companions. My father chose well.

“Good evening,” says Major Merendsen. Behind him Anna whispers something to Swann, who giggles loudly. The major barely flinches, merely smiles a little. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have interrupted your evening with your friends. But I never got the chance to ask the other night if you’d be interested in seeing the observation decks some evening. You mentioned you hadn’t been there much.”

Anna is staring at me, her green eyes fixed on mine. There’s no sympathy there now, only warning. That not even my best friend will keep my secrets is a truth I’d rather not face right now. Especially since the most painful part is that I can’t even blame her. There’s no one my father can’t rule. Not Anna—not me.

And certainly not Tarver Merendsen. How arrogant can this guy be? Maybe he thinks the rewards are worth it. Men will do just about anything for a rich girl’s attention. If he won’t back off on his own, well—I’ve done this before. Nothing short of absolute annihilation will do. I have to choose my moment with care to maximize the damage.

Prev Next