The cold metal stung Jared’s wrist as it locked into place. He spun away from the cop who’d slapped the handcuff on him, but another blocked his path. He came to a halt, grimacing at his own stupidity.
They’d come at him from both ends of the gantry, trapping him bang in the middle. The upper levels of the hangar, all ramps and walkways designed to allow access to even the largest ships, were a maze, and he’d missed whatever shortcut the cops had used to catch him. Amateur hour.
The gantry was only one story up from the hangar floor—a manageable drop, in Jared’s estimation—but afforded Jared a good view across it. There was a good-sized crowd beneath them, listening to some kind of speech. The press were down there too, cameras trained on the sleek spaceship the speaker kept gesturing to.
The cop who’d cuffed him hissed Jared’s rights to him, voice so low Jared had to fill most of the speech in from memory. The cop hadn’t put the other cuff on—a serious break in procedure—and so hadn’t been able to remove the trigger wire that would activate the magnetic field. The cop to his right didn’t seem to have noticed, and the rest of the force was hanging back at the end of the gantry. Interesting; they really, really didn’t want to disturb the event below.
Okay, so knowing the arrest procedure gave him an advantage over your average criminal, but it looked downright unprofessional to be quite so knowledgeable. Not that he wasn’t good at what he did—no one would hire him otherwise—he just had a bad habit of narrow escapes, getting progressively narrower.
Jared tilted his wrist obligingly to let the first cop examine the display on the cuff. This new model was narrower than the old ones Jared was used to and the readout smaller, so the cop had to bend slightly to get a good look. Pulse: normal. Perspiration: normal. Jared: cool as the proverbial.
Jared: double-jointed. He kept his hand still and swung his elbow round, catching the cop on the nose. The cop staggered back a pace, both hands coming up to catch the already flowing blood. The other pulled her phaser, but Jared leaped. The cops wouldn’t fire into a crowd.
Jared landed on a journalist, who collapsed with a squawk. The loose cuff swung on the trigger wire and hit the gesticulating arm of the guy giving the speech. It locked around his wrist like it was designed to, and his expression would have amused Jared for weeks if the implications weren’t hitting him already. The crowd around them scattered as the rest of the force appeared. If Jared didn’t move fast, they’d open fire.
“Hostage!” Jared shouted. He pulled the guy in front of him. “Hostage! Don’t shoot!”
“Shut up,” Jared told him. “This won’t take long.”
He backed them up toward the ship, with its hatch already open for the press to ooh and aah at the interior. He didn’t have anything to threaten his hostage with, but the guy was just tall enough and broad enough for Jared to remain almost completely behind him.
His arm stung. Must be a sharpshooter among the cops. Pity he’d stuck to low power.
“Have a bit more confidence in yourself!” Jared grinned at the back of the other guy’s head and hit the Close button for the hatch.
Jared turned the guy around. Looked vaguely familiar; must have done this press-junket stuff before. Tall, blond, well built, well kept. Big enough to give Jared some trouble if he put his mind to it, though it was always hard to tell when it came to people who lived in low G.
Jared reached for the release on the cuffs.
“I’m definitely getting too familiar with these things,” he said under his breath.
“What? Kidnapping?” His captive’s blond eyebrow disappeared beneath equally pale hair. Jared glanced up at him and down at the cuff.
“Where’s the wire?” he asked.
The blond man gave him a superior look. “It must have come free while I was trying to escape the clutches of a crazed kidnapper.”
A loud bang reverberated through the ship. Jared glanced at the hatch and down the corridor they were in. Blond guy folded his arms and glared.
“You fucking—the wire is the trigger. You’ve turned the damn things on. They won’t come off again without the magnetic key!”
“You’ve obviously never been arrested. The bridge this way?” Jared gestured with his cuffed hand. The magnetic leash between the cuffs defaulted to a one-meter range, so as Jared moved his arm, the other man’s moved with it. Jared met his surprise with a humorless grin. “I was going to let you go, you know.”
He didn’t wait for an answer, jogging down the short corridor. More bangs could be heard now, the ship shuddering slightly with each one.
The bridge was easy to find, the controls pretty intuitive. “What, is this Daddy’s Little Princess’s first fly-me spaceship?” Jared asked.
“That’s the target market, yes. I was launching it on behalf of Howard Lines.”
“Nice.” The panels were polished wood, the controls shiny brass. The whole thing was already lit up and ready to go. “Were you waiting for me or something?”
“There was going to be a demonstration once the ribbon cutting was over.”
The stranger folded his arms, the activated magnetic leash between the cuffs tight enough to pull Jared’s hand off the throttle. No problem; Jared was ambidextrous. He hadn’t fallen into his line of work entirely by accident. Jared smirked at the display and kicked the whole thing into gear. The ship began to hum. No roar for the boy racers; just something demure and quiet that wouldn’t wake Daddy up when his little girl got home late at night.
Jared could see the press scattering on the exterior displays. The ship lifted smoothly away from the chocks and purred toward the hangar door. Fuck social butterflies—this thing was made for guys like Jared. Guys who needed quick, quiet getaways. He voiced the thought.
“Yeah, if guys like you want easily tracked limited editions. Only a thousand are being made, and only one is out of the factory right now.”
“I’ll give it back.”
The airlock opened in front of them, and a freighter maneuvered its way through. Jared was meant to be on that thing, anonymous among a hundred other dirty, tired men. Not here, blasting his way through the airlock and out into the asteroid field, some quasi-famous hostage at his side and the latest technology at his fingertips.
Next time, he promised himself, he’d stick to the plan. As long as the plan was this much fun.
Richard ran his fingers over the cuff. It was perfectly smooth, rounded so it didn’t chafe, slightly warm to the touch. Apparently his heart rate was raised. No surprise there.
The guy in the driver’s seat was short and dark, his black hair haphazardly chopped, showing off his earrings but hiding his eyes. His coat was floor length and in various states of disrepair; underneath it Richard could see an Owru Freight uniform jacket.
Richard ran a hand through his hair and watched his captor’s hand jerk. He’d seen the cuffs on holo, now that he’d thought about it. He’d never seen them in person, though. The security force didn’t bring them to ceremonial occasions.
“We’re cruising now,” his kidnapper said. “Just three times light speed. If this is new, I don’t want to overcook it.”
“You couldn’t if you tried,” Richard sniffed. “Do you know how much research went into this thing?”
“It’s new. It’ll be buggy.”
Richard snorted. The guy clearly had no idea how much testing something like this underwent. He obviously liked the finish, though, judging by the way he kept running his fingers across the grain of the wood.
“So, what were you doing with this baby, then?”
Richard folded his arms again. The kidnapper’s hand skittered across the paneling.
“Ribbon cutting,” Richard said in a voice that could have sliced through diamond.
“I’ve seen you on the holo, haven’t I?” The kidnapper smiled at him. “Look, I’m not from this system.”
“Really?” Richard laid as much sarcasm over the top of the word as humanly possible. “I’d heard Owru was outsourcing.”
The guy glanced at his own clothes. “Sweatshop bastards,” he said without much malice. “You with the other guys, then?”
“Do I look like I’m in freight?”
He hadn’t meant to say that. He hadn’t meant to keep talking, but that lopsided grin was hard to ignore. He tried to remember what he’d been taught as a child for situations like this. Try to find a way to make the kidnapper view you as a person rather than a bank account. Stay calm. Find a way to tell people where you were. Be patient.
Intense skepticism hadn’t been recommended, but Richard found it hard to suppress. He was fairly sure nice smiles, friendly conversation, and a kind of oblivious spontaneity weren’t tactics normally found in ruthless, money-driven kidnappers. If he’d found the guy wandering around Asteroid B, he’d have been half-tempted to take him to bed.
“Well, this doesn’t look like a freighter,” the kidnapper admitted. “You’re pissed that I don’t know, aren’t you?”
“No.” And he’d done it again.
“I’d tell you who I am, but given the situation, it’s not really wise.” The guy shrugged. “Want to give me the tour instead?”
The door to the rest of the ship had the Kuiper logo, but either the kidnapper didn’t notice or didn’t realize the significance. Richard considered digging in his heels—he probably weighed more than his kidnapper, which meant he had control of where they went as long as they were tethered—but after all the excitement, he needed to relieve himself, and he’d have liked to achieve it without letting any more of his dignity slip through his fingers. Hopefully the force holding them together would let him close the door.
The ship was compact but cute: one main living area with all mod cons. Well, it would have when they were fully installed; for now the holo was a static display, and stickers on the wall showed where the game systems could be slotted in. The galley was small and fairly basic, designed more for snacking than full meals, and the bathroom was just big enough for one person. His kidnapper increased the invisible tether. To Richard’s relief it did work through walls.
When he emerged, his kidnapper was looking at the galley.
“I thought it was a legal requirement to carry a minimum of a week’s provisions at all times on any light-speed-capable ship.”
He didn’t sound happy. Richard’s stomach growled in sympathy.
“The ship’s not legal yet.”
“I thought you were going on a tour of the belt.”
“It’s the Field, you tourist
. And we were, but only for ten minutes or so. We weren’t even going as far as the Owru Freight headquarters.” He glanced at his captor. “How long is the journey you programmed?”
“Twelve hours. Not too bad.” He reached into a pocket. “I’ve got some jerky.”
“The water tank is full. Where are we going?”
His captor opened his mouth and closed it again. There was no lopsided smile this time. Instead the corners of his mouth turned down, and a crease appeared between his brows.
“Why should I tell you? You won’t tell me anything about yourself. If you’re going to accuse me of being a kidnapper, then I guess I oughta behave like one.”
“So, what? You’re going to tie me to the bed and keep the jerky to yourself?” It was sharper than he’d meant it to be, but at least his fear wasn’t audible.
His captor waved, and Richard waved back against his will. The other man had adjusted the cuffs to a tighter setting again, so the maximum space they could put between them without being forced to mimic each other was about two meters. Richard swung his arm back, and his captor’s swung forward. If he could change the settings, then surely he could just turn the damn thing off.
His captor took a step back. Richard let his arm swing forward but kept his feet still. He needed a weapon of some kind, something to threaten the other man with. The room had been tastefully decorated but with nothing that could easily detach from the large pieces of furniture, which were on tracks in the floor. That was a new innovation, a way of getting around the Immovable Object requirements. It was going to be part of the marketing strategy: the only personal transport you could actually personalize.
What did he have in his pockets? A couple of credit cards that wouldn’t ruin the line of his suit and a handkerchief that matched his tie.
He spun around, arm out. His captor staggered in a circle, his coat flapping open. Yes, he had a blade on him.
Richard leaped backward, hoping to throw the other man off balance. He was midair when he realized his captor was making a move too, like it was his turn in some kind of game they were playing.
There was a buzz and a smell of ozone. Richard jerked in midair. One leg caught on a low chair. His kidnapper’s body slammed against his chest and knocked the wind out of him. Richard hit the floor knees first, the world washed white around the edges, and every breath made his vision crackle.
He propped himself up on his elbows and focused on filling his lungs. He was on top of his captor, straddling him, the cuffs stuck together. He looked down; the badly cut black hair haloed his captor’s head, and for the first time Richard could see his eyes. Huge brown eyes, longer lashes than Richard had ever seen, laughter lines decorating the corners.
They were getting bigger—no, closer. The other man was…
Their lips met.
It was a sweet kiss, short and dry, and Richard could feel the smile behind it. Even though his heart was already pounding with adrenaline, he still felt it give a little flutter.
That was…not good. He had to keep it together. He needed a plan.
His captor’s head dropped back to the floor. He was smiling again at least.
“Jared,” he said.
“Richard Kuiper the Seventh.”
Jared snorted. “Really?”
“Really. Richard will do, I suppose. Under the circumstances.”
He initiated the kiss this time, lowering his lips to meet Jared’s. Jared was warm, his lips large, and he closed his eyes as Richard kissed him. Gently at first, testing, and then hard enough to feel the other man’s teeth through his lips. He encouraged them open and slid his tongue inside. Jared moaned. Richard entwined their attached hands, rubbing the back of Jared’s hand with his thumb, sweat building between their palms and making the cuffs slide against their wrists. Richard wanted to moan as well—it all felt so good—but he held it inside.
With his other hand he reached into Jared’s coat, pushing the heavy material aside. He plucked at the jacket until he could get his hand between it and Jared’s skin. Jared squirmed beneath his touch. Richard explored the wiry muscle of Jared’s side, tickled his way across Jared’s pelvis, and found the knife tucked into his belt.
Jared opened his eyes as Richard broke the kiss, digging cold metal into his throat.
“I want the cuff off.”