Snared: Chapter Three

Chapter Three: Loree

Shocked, I stared up at the man towering over me. His wild, dark hair jutted every which way as if it hadn’t been brushed in who knows how long. The arm that reached for me, then froze, was corded with muscles.

But the pain in his eyes was almost more than I could take.

I stepped back again, away from the intensity wrapped around him.

“Loree, you’re real?” he whispered.

I nodded slowly, my throat dry as I glanced to where Nadira rose from putting away a batch of supplies. Her expression was tense but showed no fear.

If he wasn’t a threat, what was he?

He didn’t look at her, didn’t move, waiting for an answer to something. Right.

“Last I checked, I was real enough.”

Nadira broke in, wrapped her arm around my waist. “Come on, let’s get you back to your room.”  She shot a look over her shoulder. “Xander, we’ll talk later. I promise.”

As we turned the corner towards the room I’d claimed for my own in Doc’s labyrinth of a lab I caught a glance of the dark giant.

He stood as if rooted to the ground, his eyes fixed on me as if I were his only hope in the world until we passed out of view.

Once I was back in my room I perched on the edge of the bed, hands shaking uncontrollably.

“Are you having a reaction?” Nadira quickly began to check my vitals but I pushed her away.

“Not to the meds,” I whispered. “I’m fine.” But his eyes haunted me. “Who was that?”

With a sigh, she sank down next to me on the bed. “We’ve been so busy checking your health, making sure Doc’s treatment the Karda’s Syndrome was going to stick, I never thought to ask you how much you remembered about our time on the Star.”

I shook my head, thoughts reeling. Annoyed with the loose hair tickling the sides of my face, pulled the scrap of wire from my wrist and tied it back into a messy bun.

“I remember being scared, terrified really,” I admitted. “And hurting. There were men there, I know.” I poked her side. “I remember Ronan, but not as well as you do.”

Nadira nodded. “He found us first, who saved us.” A radiant smile lit up her face, just thinking of him. “Later there were others. His brothers. Do you remember them?”

“Hakon and Aedan, and Lorcan. Sure, I’ve met them.”

Nadira bit her lip. “They’ve been around here on Orem, but you met them before you…”

“Before I went to the pod.” I squeezed her fingers with mine. “You made the right choice. It saved me.”

“I didn’t know for certain that it would. I thought I’d killed you.” She clenched my hand. “And Xander, well, he thought I had killed you, too.”

“None of his business,” I scoffed. “You’re my doctor. You did what was best.”

Nadira leaned back and threw an arm over her eyes. “He thought it was his business. You thought it was his business when you asked him to put you in the tank, when he promised to be there when you woke.”

“What?” Shock turned my core to ice. “No way. I’d remember that.”

She shook her head. “I thought you would have, but at the end, I was trying anything, everything to keep your pain levels down. Nothing should have caused memory loss, but those drugs were old. And I still don’t understand everything about the suspension pod we put you in. There must have been an interaction.”

“And that guy out there,” I shivered, remembering the intensity of the dark giant. “That guy is part of my lost memories.”

“Honey, he’d like to be part of a lot more than that.” Nadira giggled and I joined her.

“Yeah, I got that. What can we do about it?

“Hopefully Doc got ahold of him and got him out of the lab, for now. We’ll have to explain it to him later.”

Later. I could work with that. I stood up and stretched, still astounded at the difference Doc’s genetic editing had made.

For years I’d been crippled by Karda’s, driven to fund my treatments by any means necessary. Even when I’d been able to find the treatment, the pain and stiffness never really left, just became more bearable.

And now I felt like a whole new woman. Not an invalid, not an illness.

Just me.

I imagined it would be like debugging code. I did the same thing, but I worked in lines scrolling by on screens, hunting for the tweaks in logic that could stop a program or make it slide through security block.

Just as an example, of course.

Doc was able to read my genetic sequence, the very building blocks that made me Loree. Edit and tweak until the disease was gone.

She had done that part while I was still sleeping.

The rest of the time I’d been awake, Nadira had been double-checking, reassuring herself that Doc’s edits and splices weren’t going to cause any new problems.

I could understand her worries. It seemed too good to be true myself.

Maybe the distraction had been good for my friend. There were times in the last few days I caught her staring off blankly, playing with the ends of her hair

I remembered Ronan, a little bit. But he’d been gone on some mission for three weeks now.

Even though I caught her giggling through long-range transmissions almost every day, I could tell Nadira missed him terribly.

“Come on.” I smacked the bottom of her foot and startled, she shrieked. “Let’s get out of here.”

“And go do what?”

“This was our home before,” my throat closed for just a moment, remembering the terror of being abducted. I forced through. “Before they took us. And we’re back, right? We need a girls night out.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Nadira rolled her eyes.

“Why? Never stopped us before, and I’m healthy now.”

“Yeah, and I’m seeing someone. Remember?

“That doesn’t mean we can’t go out, grab some dinner and see if my record on Zoombies still stands.”

She scrambled to her feet, arms akimbo, hands at her hips. “Your record? I crushed you on that game and you know it.”

Got her. “I guess we’ll have to go down to Veno’s and see, won’t we?”

Void, it was so good to get out of Doc’s lab.

I was grateful, but I kinda wanted to get back to my own ground. I might not need quite as many credits now that I didn’t have to pay for medicine all the time, but the rent was going to have to come from somewhere. While we were out, I could connect with some of my old contacts, see if anybody had a job, let them know I was back.

As we moved it down the glides to the little knot of bars, clubs, and restaurants that had been by Nadira’s old clinic some of the stress left her face.

“See?” I elbowed her lightly. “It’s kind of fun going out, doing normal things. There’s only so much learning you can stuff into your brain all at once.”

She shoved her hair back from her face. “I know, I just can’t believe I get the chance to work with Dr. Lyall. This is an amazing opportunity!”

“Especially since she’s your mother-in-law now, right?”

Her face froze. “I try hard not to think about that. Really, really hard.”

“And are other things really hard, too?” I teased.

A faint smile curved her lips and her eyes unfocused for a minute before she snapped out of it. “I’m not talking to you about this.”

“Maybe not today, but I can wear you down.”

“If Xander gets a hold of you, you might be finding out how hard things can get for yourself.”

We slipped into Veno’s and pulled up the Zoombie scoreboard.

“Hell, neither of us are still on this thing.”

Nadira slid a credit ship across the top to start a new round. “Won’t take me long to take the record back.”

“Unless I take it first,” I snapped back, hands running over the controls.

I positioned my holographic fighters before me on the randomly generated battleground. I couldn’t see Nadira’s choices yet, just as she couldn’t see mine.

The game would begin in twenty seconds, ready or not, and reveal both armies. I’d reposition as needed, or be lucky and just hold my formations until I caught a break.

She’d taken the high ground, and for a few moments, all I could do was focus on keeping her from reaching my line.

“Hey, gorgeous,” a nasal male voice came from behind me. “Haven’t seen you in here for a while.”

“Not now, busy,” I muttered.

“Why don’t you quit playing your games and come play with me?”

Lovely. I ignored his presence, focusing on boxing in Nadira’s remaining fighters. Her positioning skills were amazing, but usually, I could outfox her at the end.

“Hey!” I was jerked around to face a smirking blond asshole. “You look to find be wasting your time on that thing. Let me buy you a drink.”

“I don’t want a drink. I want to salvage my game” I hissed and turned back to the table but his hand squeezed on my shoulder.

“I said,” his voice got steely and then suddenly he was gone.

“Oh, Void,” Nadira breathed.

I looked up. She wasn’t watching the game anymore either, letting both of our holographic troops stumble around, directionless without our input.

I turned to see the dark giant holding the asshole off the floor.

By the neck.

Kept him quiet, but his kicking and flailing was starting to attract attention, even in this place.

“He grabbed you.” Xander’s deep voice was flat, closed to any argument.

“That’s true, but he’s not touching me now, right?” I noticed the idiot’s face was turning purple.

“Xander?” At his name on my lips, his head snapped, his eyes searching mine with laserlike focus.

“Put him down, please?” I risked a small smile. “This is Nadira ‘s night off, we don’t want to make any extra work for her, right?”

Slowly he lowered the man to the ground but didn’t release his grip.

Ronan might be all right, Hakon and the others had never given me any problems. But this guy looked unhinged.

Dangerous.

“Let him go, Xander,” Nadira said, but he didn’t acknowledge her, as if he didn’t even realize she was there.

I brushed my fingertips against his burning skin, and at my touch, he took a shuddering breath.

“Let him go,” I whispered.

And he did.

The instant the body collapsed on the floor, Nadira stepped around me to run a quick exam. From the way the tension released from her shoulders I could tell the jerk wasn’t dead, at least. Anything else, she could fix.

Xander only stared at me, trapping me in his golden gaze.

I stumbled back, the game table pressing into the back of my thighs, legs suddenly weak again.

He swooped towards me, ready to pick me up, carry me away, something. I didn’t know, and couldn’t have him touch me.

Not now.

Not yet.

“Stop.” I held my hand out, my arm as shaky as I felt, and he froze. “I remember your eyes.”

“Is that all?” he growled.

I wrapped my arms around me. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing else.” I glanced at the jackass as Nadira revived him. “But thank you for getting rid of that guy.”

Xander nodded jerkily.

A sneaking suspicion crossed my mind.

“Are you following me?”

At least he had the grace to blush. “I wasn’t sure if you were real.”

Sweet, but not entirely reassuring.

Nadira and I were definitely having a talk sooner rather than later.

***

Snared is a work in progress. I’d love to know what you think!

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