Five years ago
“Trejani, tell me again why we did not purchase that transport? I do not mind walking, but this strangely named TX17 road does not seem to have an end.” Lifting his palm to shade his eyes, Severus was surprised to see Drusus’s cheeks flush red.
“The owner would not take the jewels in trade. I had hoped that upon our arrival in Marfa we could find an establishment willing to trade our jewels for their Earth money, but alas, this is not the case. We need to find a larger metropolis as they suggested.”
Severus followed Drusus as he veered from the road to sit on a fallen tree stump. He grimaced at the small amount of shade provided by the spindly tree behind him. Sporting vicious needles, the tree at least offered some comfort from the blazing ball of fire threatening to scorch the skin from their bones. He watched as Drusus patted the ground next to the tree, silently thanking it for having provided some shelter, even if miniscule. They had both realized very quickly that Earth did not behave as their home world did. However, it didn’t hurt to show a little respect for its offerings.
“I am sorry, Severus.”
Severus sat next to Drusus and stretched out his aching legs. “No, Trejani. It is my job to protect you, yet here we sit. I should have listened to your father. He was correct, as usual. We are too eager in our youth. Had we waited for Cato at his suggestion, perhaps we would be in a comfortable bed with a warm and willing Earth woman being poked, instead of my back by these gods’ damn thorns.”
Drusus’s chest-rumbling laughter filled the wide expanse of nothingness surrounding them. His heart lightened at hearing the prince find his mirth once again.
“Ah, Severus, at times I wonder how I can stand the sight of your face for one more moment and then you find the simplest way to endear yourself to me once again.”
Faking offense, Severus put his palm against his heart and gasped loudly. “Trejani, you wound me. Everyone loves my face.”
Severus’s rumbling laughter joined with Drusus’s but quickly ceased as a transport pulled up on the road beside them. Leaping to his feet, Severus placed himself in front of Drusus, now standing. Even though he knew Drusus was every bit as lethal, he placed his palm against the wicked blade resting in the leather sheath at his back and shot his prince a warning look to stay where he stood. Gods damn it! Yet again, he had let his Trejani down. Too focused on relieving Drusus’s misery to be aware of threat, they had no time to mist.
His fear was for naught. A friendly, smiling face came forward as the window of the vehicle lowered. Albeit it was a male leaning from the open space, his countenance did not forebode of mayhem. He was a handsome male with short-cropped brown hair and lightly tanned skin. A small jewel twinkled in both ears, yet it did not detract from his masculinity.
“Hey there. What the hell are you two doin’ walkin’ out here? You wanna die or somethin’? Shit! You don’t even have water on you. For fuck’s sake, get in the damn truck. I’ll take you up the road a bit. Can’t leave you out here now, can I?”
Severus knew him immediately as a local. The dragging of syllables and dropping the g every chance had clued him to the fact. At Drusus’s nod, they approached the brown “truck” as the local had named it. “We would be most appreciative. Thank you.”
As the local resituated back to his side of the vehicle, Drusus shoved his big body into the truck with Severus right behind him. As they settled into the seat, both their heads tilted back against the leather and each loosed a heavy sigh as copious amounts of cool air bathed their tingling skin. The local laughed and put the transport into motion.
“About another two miles and you would’ve hit Ft. Davis. We’ll be there in a blink, but that walk would’ve felt like hours in this damn heat. You two are about some crazy motherfuckers. I didn’t see a car broken down, so what got you two walkin’ anyway?”
Drusus lifted his head, seeming to revive thanks to the coolness of the vehicle. “We are tourists and have found ourselves lost.” The local nodded as if this was a common occurrence.
“Very easy to do that out here. Glad I was drivin’ this way. Just came from a roadshow in Presidio. Left my buddies back there, too drunk to give a shit. They’ll find their way home. Always do.”
Severus just stared at the local, not comprehending a word he was saying. It mattered not. At least the truck was cool and his legs were getting a rest. The local looked like a warrior with his broad chest and muscular arms obvious in the tight, sleeveless white shirt. He wore sturdy, faded-blue pants revealing strong leg muscles. Yes, he had to be a warrior. He was just glad the male was a friendly one.
Thankfully, the trip to this Fort Davis place was made with haste and he found himself in a small, white building with a large sign attached to the front. The lettering spelled CEFCO. Whatever it was, he was happy to be inside, since it, too, released refreshing, cool air.
The local went to the back of the structure and retrieved a few containers from a clear food containment port. The bottles appeared to have water within. Severus’s tongue stood up and noticed since it had remained plastered as a dry lump to the roof of his mouth over the last few hours. The local motioned for them to approach a divider separating them from another man wearing a colorful uniform. He handed the man some paper in exchange for the bottles. This had to be the Earth money Drusus had been trying to acquire.
“Here, drink up.”
After draining the first bottle, Severus was able to work his tongue loose enough to speak. “Thank you, friend. This was most gracious of you.”
The local tilted his head to the side, assessing them. “You guys are definitely not from Texas. My name’s Daniel. What’s yours?”
Severus caught himself before he blurted out his name. Drusus had spoken of this on Insedivertus before leaving. They would take American names to assist in blending in with the indigenous, but they had not decided on anything particular before ending up on that long walk to nowhere. Drusus recovered quickly and spoke.
“My name is Daniel as well. Daniel Tarquinius.”
“Well, how about that,” the local said. “What are the odds?” Looking over to Severus, his eyebrows lifted in question.
Inferni! What name should I spout forth? Glancing around, his furtive gaze landed on the man behind the counter. Upon his chest, a flat disc spelled the word “Steven.” He prayed to Dii it was not the name of the man’s clothing. “Steven…my name is Steven. Yes, it is Steven Faal. Nice to meet you, Daniel.”
Daniel smiled. “That makes sense. My cousin married a guy from Greece named Stephanos. He calls himself Steven, too. Said since he’s in America, might as well do it up right. You’re both from Greece, right?”
Severus stood rigid while the name Stephanos flipped around his brain like a loose rock. Gods damn it! Why of all names had he selected the one belonging to the bastard that set his teeth on edge and continued to show disrespect to the royal family? His ancestors, to this day, continued to argue they had been the first Insedi breed. Each elder son was bestowed the name of Stephanos as another way to taunt their unfounded claim to the royal family.
Drusus, whose lips were lifting into a devious smile, quirked a brow at Severus. He appeared to think it funny, yet Severus felt as if he had fully slapped his prince.
“Yes, indeed we are, Daniel. And as with your cousin’s mate, Steven likes the shortened version of his name very much.” Turning to Daniel, yet keeping Severus in his peripheral, Drusus gave a full unrepentant grin. “Perhaps Steven is descended from kings. Did you know, Daniel, that Stephanos means ‘crown’ in our language?”
Daniel chuckled. “Nope. But, I do know that ours means something about the big guy upstairs being our judge or somethin’ along that line. I’m hopin’ I’ll get judged with some bonus points since I plucked you both out of the desert. Where you guys headin’ anyway? We’re still in the middle of bum-fuck Egypt and the next half of this godforsaken road looks just like the last half you just left. It’s a ways before you hit the main highway.”
Severus could see that Drusus was enjoying his discomfort entirely too much. “Steven and I were just traveling around with no particular destination in mind.”
Daniel clapped them both on the back. “Well, you’re in luck then. I’m heading back to Austin. I gotta work tonight. Wanna ride?”
* * * *
Severus catapulted from that long-ago memory to find himself back in Drusus’s elevator. He had been efficiently, and without preamble, thrown from his Trejani’s home because he and Cassie could not go five minutes without some form of verbal sparring. Well, as truth, that big bastard wanted at his female and he could never lay blame there, at all. He glared hard at the little, blonde-haired hellcat staring up at him. Her tawny-brown eyes narrowed in challenge, one brow cocked to silently clue him she was waiting for a response. Oh, he’d give her one all right.
Severus captured her delicate wrists, pulling them above her head. With one hand, he kept a firm grip as the other pressed over her pretty lips, stifling her protest. It was a work of nothing for his big body to crouch lower and nail her against the wall, keeping her in place. He was shocked at how well her soft curves molded to his hard edges. He leaned forward, nose to nose, and stared into those golden eyes as he inhaled her unique scent. Moving his head slightly to the side, he breathed husky words into her delicate ear.
“Call me Steven one more time, Cassie, and see what happens. You will only have yourself to blame.” He closed his eyes as her intoxicating scent became stronger, drawing him closer to her skin. His body practically tingled as he brushed his lips lightly across her soft neck. That little bit of headiness evaporated quickly as he felt a sharp sting to his pinky. She bit me!
Jerking the injured hand away, he quickly clamped his fingers to both sides of her jaw, glaring hard into her eyes to keep from laughing and giving up control to her. His brows rose as a wicked grin slashed across her face just as the subtle hiss of a drawn-out S leeched from between those pouty lips. Damn! She was going to say it, the little snake! She was a spitfire, never backing down. And didn’t that just crank his juice up a few more notches. Leaning closer, he felt her breath whispering along his lips. “Say it, Cassie. Go ahead. Say it.”
The soft pinging sound above their head and the light swooshing sound of the opening elevator doors announced their arrival to the lobby floor. Severus reluctantly released his grip and stepped back from her, immediately returning to his “Severus Faal, the friend” persona.
“Come on, wildcat. I promised I would look at your dishwasher. I never back down from a challenge.” He gestured toward the open doors.
Cassie threw him a smirk. “Fine. If you can fix that piece of junk, then I’ll never utter that name again. Deal?”
Relieved she hadn’t lit into him for that aggressive move against the wall, he rewarded her with a brilliant smile before following her out of the elevator. “Deal.”