Space politics sends The Protector on a mission, the failure of which could result in mass destruction. When her mission is sabotaged, the man bred from birth to be a Protector must leave his lover in order to carry out his duty. However, before he leaves, he promises to meet the white-haired H’asean at Asphodel’s Pit, one of the most dangerous dives in all the known universes, sending him off with Protector’s Brachi friend.
Meanwhile, at Asphodel’s Pit, inhabitants of other planets are going about their business. Sloff runs the dive, along with his old friend Rinig sa Bre, who provides security. Both men are unaware all hell in on the verge of breaking loose, as a Protector is about to arrive, looking for his young sir.
“Why did the mercenaries take her instead of the H’asean woman?” the captain asked, fortunately missing the fury of Protector’s expression. “Why not take both of them?”
“They couldn’t get to the H’asean woman. She was locked into the most impenetrable cabin on your ship.”
The captain blinked, confused. “Look, I love her, but impenetrable and Loolah don’t go hand in hand.”
“I believe The Protector had access to your ship for a number of days before you lifted off? She would have seen to it that the cabin walls were fortified and the lock on the door programmed to open only to her palm print.”
“In that case, why didn’t the mercenaries think to use her palm to open the door?” It was obvious to Protector that too much had happened in too short a period of time for the captain to be affronted at the thought of others tampering with his ship without his permission.
“They couldn’t. They didn’t have her palm.” She’d cut off her hand and disposed of it. “We’re done here, Hssa.”
“But ... but ...” The captain looked lost.
Someone else could console him. Protector had more important things with which to deal. He left the infirmary, the Brachian at his heels.
“I’ll pilot you --”
“No. They’ll be expecting an Ymperii ship.”
“But ... I am going with you.”
“No. I have another task for you, my friend.”
Protector and Brachian approached the small group -- the captain of the ship that would take him on the search to find the one he was bound to protect above all others, the one he had come to care for above all others, and the H’asean woman who was at the bottom of this disaster.
She was as good as her brother at shielding her thoughts, Protector noted wryly, unprepared as she lunged at him, her fingers curled into claws that looked capable of doing serious damage.
“You ruined everything,” she snarled. “You Protectors!” She spat the designation as if it were a curse.
The captain caught her with casual ease before she could score Protector’s face, and with strength that was equally casual tossed her aside. She landed heavily on the deck, the breath knocked from her.
Protector ignored her. Instead, he studied the fair features of her brother, knowing there was a very good chance he might never see them again. What would Trey do in that case, he wondered?
“I must leave, Treyson Jax.”
“Yes.” He glanced at his sister, then licked his lips. “Yes. I will get my things --”
“You will not be coming with me.”
Hssa watched the scenario that unfolded before him with flat, emotionless eyes, although inwardly he was concerned.
“I will meet you at Asphodel’s Pit,” Protector told the young sir, his fingers tight upon wrists that would bear the marks of his insistence come the morning. He sent Hssa an emphatic mental message. See he gets there!
Hssa gave the equivalent of a mental shrug in return. He would not commit himself to this madness. Protectors never stayed with their playthings very long. Like a ship’s felix, they quickly grew bored and moved on. Protector had already kept this young sir for longer than any of the others Hssa could recall.
Treyson Jax clutched at the black shirt that covered Protector’s torso like a second skin.
“You cannot --”
Protector kissed the words from the young sir’s mouth, swallowing the undertones of desperation that Hssa had no problem detecting.
“Please ...” The young sir leaned his forehead against the shoulder of the man who held him. “Take me --” His voice cracked, and he had to swallow and try again. “Take me with you.”
“I cannot. The danger is too great.” Protector stroked the long, pale fall of hair.
Was that part of the attraction? Hssa knew that although it was not obvious here, in the flat, artificial light of this spaceport, under their native sun, that hair reflected back a myriad of colors.
“Of course.” Treyson Jax dropped his hands and stepped back, defeat and resignation clear in his eyes before he turned away.
“Go, if you are going.”
“Protector.” The captain gripped his arm. “We must leave now.”
“Hssa ...” Protector turned to him.
With a last glance at the unyielding back of his lover, Protector left, quickly following the captain.