Vincenz Fardelle, exiled son of the Supreme Leader of the Imperialist Universe, has spent much of the last ten years working to stop the threat his father poses. But he’s not alone in his quest. Julian Marsters has lost his best friend and countless others in the war and has made vengeance his only goal. In each other, Julian and Vincenz find not only like minds, but kindred spirits.
However unexpected their relationship, everything changes for Vincenz and Julian when Hannah Black comes into their lives. Having been captured and held in near total isolation by imperialist troops, their immediate response is to protect her.
Emotionally shattered but resilient, Hannah rebuilds herself. Because of the warm safety she finds in the arms of Julian and Vincenz she becomes someone harder, stronger and bent on preventing the Imperialists from harming anyone else.
For the two men, wrestling with their passionate feelings for Hannah is only the beginning. War is about to send all three into harm’s way and an equally dangerous secret could tear them apart.
Phantom Corps: CAPTIVATED by LAUREN DANE
Copyright 2012, Lauren Dane
All Rights Reserved, The Berkley Publishing Group
Julian brought several boxes inside from where they’d been waiting. He put them near where she’d been sitting on the big rug.
She looked at them, and then up at him. “Would you stay?”
Vincenz had been gone the last day, out scouting. Julian had taken care of all the paper and documentation they’d need for their trip, but Vincenz had some important contacts left in the Imperium and they only spoke to him.
But out of the blue when she’d woken up that morning she’d informed him she was ready to go through the boxes of her parents’ things Vincenz had managed to pull together.
He sat with her, leaning against the nearby couch. “Of course.”
Gingerly, she opened the top and peeked inside and her breath caught as she drew out the first item. A misshapen green lump.
“I’m good with numbers, bad with clay.” She met his gaze with a watery smile. “I made this in school and presented it to him quite proudly. He wasn’t a man prone to a lot of emotional displays. He took it solemnly and looked it over. He thanked me with a kiss on my forehead. But it wasn’t until years later that I caught sight of it on his desk. He’d had it there all along.”
He watched her handle the death of her parents anew with each item she pulled from the two boxes. The odd photograph, a cufflink, her father’s name badge. She took her time, examining each thing. Sometimes she’d offer him a story about it, others she firmed her mouth and moved to the next thing.
And then with a gasp, she pulled one last thing out.
“What is that?”
She put the two ends into her ears and placed the silver disc over his heart, smiling. Removing the buds from her ears, she placed them in his and put the disc over her own heart and he heard it.
“This is a stethoscope. An early diagnostic tool doctors used to listen to heart and lung sounds before the development of digicomps. He had this as long as I could remember. His father gave it to him, he said.” She held it to her chest.
“Does it make you happy to have it?”
She closed the second box and then made her way into his lap, still holding the stethoscope. “Yes. It makes me . . . comforted to have this part of him. This part that connects us.”
He held her tight, her head tucked in beneath his chin. “Good.” He put this moment with her in that memory bank, the special one, where his most important life moments went. She and Vincenz shared so much of his heart and mind.
“He’d be wildly amused that I know how to use a blaster. My mother would have appreciated the economy of it. A useful skill, she’d have said. But he had a sense of humor, dry. His world was very academic; something like a weapon would have brought him no end of fascination.”
He liked that.
“For what?” He kissed her temple, his lips against her pulse beat.
“For being here while I went through the boxes. For listening to me. For respecting my need to do this.” She took a deep breath and swiveled around, placing the stethoscope down and wrapping her legs around his waist. “People want to fix me. It’s touching. But it’s exhausting to deal with it. You don’t do that. It means a lot to me that you don’t constantly try to fix me. That you let me be.”
He hugged her then, not knowing if he could manage to keep it together when she looked at him so honestly and openly.
“No one has ever given themselves to me without expecting something in return. Not the way you have. You’re a gift, Hannah. One I am thankful for each and every day.”
She sighed happily, melting into his embrace, and they remained there together for some time, just being.
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