Diana Santee # 8: Aysanne

Chapter One

To say I was surprised when Val kept me from boarding the liner to start my new assignment is to understate the matter seriously. Val had been called home to the Absari Confederacy in order to report on what he'd seen of our Federation, and I'd been certain it would be quite some time before we saw each other again.

But Val had actually blackmailed the Federation Council into letting me go back with him, and I'd been told to pay up on the standard year's worth of work I owed to the Confederacy. I'd traded one year of my own efforts for one year of Val's working in the Federation, and although a standard year wasn't nearly up I wasn't in the mood to argue. Until I decided how I honestly felt about Val, I didn't want to be separated from him. I'd never met another man like him, and the thought of losing him went beyond pain…

So it was with a relatively light step that I followed Val back to the residential section of Camora Orbital Station. Our ultimate destination was the suite taken by the man, Laeros, who had been sent to bring Val back, and when we entered the suite Laeros looked up from the book he sat reading.

"Ah, good, you caught her, Valdon," Laeros said with a smile when we walked in. "You have no idea how relieved I am. I was sure that if you missed her you would chase her liner with our ship, and try as I might I couldn't think of a single reason for that action that our government would accept."

"You worry too much, Laeros," Val answered with a true laugh of amusement. "Just because our government and the Federation Council are in the middle of negotiations to formulate a treaty between our two people is no reason for me not to run down a Federation liner."

"I wish you were really joking," Laeros said with less amusement, eyeing Val in an odd way where he stood beside me. "You've definitely changed quite a bit. A few short months ago you never would have spoken this way, and I'd like to know what's come over you."

Feeling no urge toward self-incrimination I kept my mouth shut, but Val laughed again and smacked my behind.

"She's come over me, Laeros, and I'm drunk with happiness," Val announced happily. "She belongs to me now, and we're taking her home."

"Don't do that," I grumbled, smacking his arm in response. "And when you sober up, try to remember that the Council did not make you a gift of me. I'm a temporary loan for a specific amount of working time, just the way you were."

"That doesn't sound promising, Valdon," Laeros said, suddenly and obviously teasing. "Are you sure that catching her was the wise thing to do?"

"I'm very sure," Val said softly, putting his arms around me after glancing down at me. I couldn't keep from putting my own arms around him, which made him tighten his own hold just a little. "This woman won't escape me no matter how hard she tries."

"Don't forget how good I am at escaping things," I murmured, making no effort to get myself loose. "If I were you, I wouldn't say anything that someone like me might take as a challenge."

"Diana, my love, let me ask you a question," Val murmured back, too low for Laeros to hear. "Would you like me to show Laeros my favorite way of teaching you to be good?"

Val used one hand to pat my bottom to show what he meant, and that was more than enough of a hint. He hadn't spanked me in months, and I really didn't want the practice started up again.

"All right, you've made your point," I grumbled in answer with a small headshake. "But you'd better know that you're making being with you a lot less fun than it ought to be."

"This time it's going to be fun for me," Val countered with a lot of satisfaction. "You're not a Special Agent working for your Federation any longer. The Absari Confederacy - personalized by me - is in charge of you now and will be giving you your orders. If you don't obey those orders, the Confederacy - personalized by me - will see to it that you won't want to sit down. Does that give you the whole picture?"

"In living color," I agreed with a glum sigh. "And Ringer thought he was helping me by going along with this."

"Ringer was helping you," Val countered as I stepped back away from him. "I know Ringer was right when he said you'd never survive the next assignment, and you should know the same thing. You worked for Ringer long enough to recognize how reliable his judgment is."

"I've also worked long enough as an agent to know something about survival," I retorted, faintly annoyed. "Killing me isn't as easy as you make it sound, something that Radman the slaver found out even if you haven't done the same."

"The only reason you survived Radman's try was pure luck," Val countered, beginning to look annoyed. "If Dameron and I hadn't pulled you out of that ship you would have died on it. Don't go thinking you're indestructible, brat, or I'll lock you in a room and throw away the key."

"Go ahead and try," I invited as I folded my arms, having no trouble speaking evenly. "You tend to forget that I can open any lock that needs a key and some that don't. I haven't been an agent since I was eighteen for nothing."

"Since you were eighteen?" Laeros blurted, suddenly interrupting the conversation that had stopped being soft and private. "You don't look like you're eighteen yet. You don't have Absari blood, do you?"

"Not quite," I told him dryly, then an unexpected thought made me brighten. "But going back to your Confederacy means I can finally get rid of this face, not to mention the fifteen standard years of age I register as. In only a few months I'll be brunette and thirty again! Yahoo!"

My shout of delight was loud enough to put a pained look on Val's face as he poked a finger in his ear.

"That red hair suits your personality better," he commented as Laeros laughed. "Being deafened by a brunette won't seem quite as right."

"You'll get used to it," I assured him with a pat to his cheek. "After all, didn't I get used to finding that every other stranger I ran into was you? You should have seen him as a beggar, Laeros. It was the most revolting sight I've come across in a long time."

"Valdon was a beggar?" Laeros asked with a widening grin of extreme enjoyment. "I would have liked to have seen that. Did he wear clothing befitting his lowly station, and shoes with holes in them?"

"Laeros," Val growled warningly as his face darkened. Laeros backed his grin down a little at the implied threat, but I pretended that nothing had been said.

"No, no, Laeros, there wasn't any ragged clothing or shoes," I put in innocently. "When Val pretended to be a beggar, he wasn't wearing anything."

Laeros looked stunned for a moment before starting to laugh like a maniac, and Val actually turned red to his hairline.

"Diana, that isn't true and you know it," Val protested in a tone just short of a snap. "I wore a breechcloth as that beggar."

"Oh, that's right," I agreed slowly, as though just recalling the incident, tapping my lips with one finger. "You didn't go completely natural until right after that. I remember now."

"Until … after … that!" Laeros gasped out, and then peals of laughter took his voice. He had collapsed back into his chair, and now rolled all over it in hysterics. His handsome young face was red, and tears leaked out of his previously soft black eyes. It struck me that not only was his eye color the same as Val's, but he also had black hair like Val. He wasn't as big as Val and Val was slightly more handsome, but there was a definite resemblance between them. I made a mental note to ask later if they were related in some way.

Right now Val wasn't too pleased with Laeros's reaction. My partner scowled, walked to Laeros's chair, then bent over him to speak in the language he and Laeros had used the day before. Faint annoyance touched me again because I didn't speak that language. The three of us had been speaking the trade language I'd been given at Dameron's base, and I didn't even know if Laeros could speak Federation Basic. Val seemed to be lecturing him, but as soon as Laeros got control of himself he said something in response to Val that set him off again. Val watched disgustedly as Laeros brayed out laughter once more, and then my partner straightened away from the chair.

"There's just no talking to him right now," Val told me sourly with a headshake. "He has a sense of humor like yours, and I'll have to remember to thank you later for giving him that piece of information."

"I didn't know it was a secret," I answered with a carefully calculated shrug. "But if you feel that way about it, I won't even mention the outfit you did wear on Esmonia."

"Outfit?" Laeros echoed at once, interrupting his laughter to put the question. "What sort of an outfit?"

"None of your business!" Val roared at the man before I could even open my mouth, then his tone turned a bit more reasonable. "And I was up most of the night trying to reach the Council, so I'm going in to get some sleep now. I'll talk to you later, Laeros."

Val turned and headed for one of the suite's bedrooms, but as he passed me he grabbed my wrist and began to pull me along.

"Hey!" I protested as I was dragged in his wake. "I wasn't up most of the night, so what are you doing?"

"I'm making sure that you and Laeros don't get the chance to share any more confidences," Val answered, pulling me forward to push me into the bedroom first. "A short nap won't kill you, and I'll sleep a lot more easily with you right next to me."

He closed the door behind us, towed me over to the bed and sat me down on it, then circled the bed to lie down on it himself. I stretched out on my side to watch him more easily, propped up on one elbow as I studied him.

"Are you really all that tired?" I asked casually after a minute or so, watching as he settled down. I saw a smile curve his lips, and he turned his head toward me.

"And if I said I was that tired?" he asked, those black eyes filled with faint amusement.

"Then I'd have to cry myself to sleep," I answered mournfully, adding a matching expression. "But I'd cry quietly, of course, so as not to keep you awake."

"Such consideration!" he marveled with a grin as he turned toward me. "How can I possibly let it go unrewarded?"

He moved closer to put his arms around me, and we worked at rewarding each other for quite some time. Val's hands began to touch me everywhere, but after a moment or two my clothes got in the way. Since I'd begun my own touching with him I had the same problem, so we took a moment out to get rid of both our clothes before we went back to where we'd been.

Where we'd been was delighting in touching one another, just as if we'd been apart for weeks or months instead of only hours. Nothing in my life felt as right as having Val's hands caressing me, his lips adding to the touches in a way that made my blood race around with that special kind of madness.

We usually took a bit of time teasing and arousing each other before we got down to cases, but this time Val was as hungry for me as I tend to be for him. I've often found it unfair that touching him - and sometimes no more than simply seeing him - meant I wanted him, the reaction leaving me no choice but to respond mindlessly. Val's response this time was just as mindless, as though he couldn't have refused to touch me even if his life had depended on it.

Almost before I knew it his body was poised above mine, and then he thrust inside me with the same sort of need I felt. I accepted his presence in as wildly eager a way as a person hanging off the edge of a cliff would accept an offered hand of assistance. We moved hard together, the madness making us try to merge our flesh completely, the need driving us on and on.

One of the times my body exploded, Val's did the same only moments later. With another partner I would have assumed that our time together was over, but I'd learned to know Val better than that. After a very short rest he began again, knowing I would be just as eager as I'd been to begin with. Our second merging was only a bit less frenzied than the first, but all good things do have to come to an end. After Val attained release for the second time, he paused to kiss me before withdrawing, and then lay down beside me to take me in his arms. I hadn't had much quality sleep myself the night before, so I dozed off almost as quickly as he did.

When I woke up again, Val was still sleeping. He had one arm around me, and I smiled and stroked the arm gently. It was such a strong arm, and I felt so good having it around me… I enjoyed the feeling for a short while, then slid out of bed to shower and get dressed again. When I walked out into the sitting room and closed the door quietly behind me, Laeros put down his book again and smiled.

"If Valdon is still asleep, you can tell me about that outfit now," Laeros invited with amusement.

"I'll have to think about it first," I countered with my own amusement as I walked to a chair near his and sat in it. "Before I talk I'll have to find a safe place to hide afterward, and with Val that's not an easy job."

"I know what you mean," Laeros agreed with a laugh. "When we were boys I was always finding it necessary to hide, and it enraged Valdon even more when he couldn't find me."

"Val doesn't have that problem with me," I told Laeros as I got comfortable in the chair. "The first time we worked together at Dameron's base Val was attuned to me, and I've been bumping my nose on him ever since."

"I didn't know they could do that sort of thing," Laeros said, sounding and looking surprised. "I just may check into outpost work myself when we get home. I used to wonder what Valdon saw in it."

"If you're not into outpost work yet, what do you usually do with your time?" I asked, faintly curious.

"Oh, this and that," Laeros answered with a casual wave of his hand. "Mostly I help my father with his work. Tell me, what has being an agent for your Federation been like? It seems an unusual job for a woman… Don't women settle down and have families here?"

"Some do and some don't," I said, digging out a cigarette from my jumpsuit and lighting it. "I just happen to be one of the don't's. Being an agent has a lot going for it; you don't often find yourself bored, and you get to do a lot of traveling."

"It must be very exciting," Laeros enthused, leaning forward in his chair. "Was Valdon ever in much danger when you were working together?"

"Now and then," I allowed, not making a big deal out of it. "If the job was safe, there would be no need to get special people to handle it."

"That's true," Laeros agreed, looking thoughtful as he settled back again. "But I'm sure you're looking forward to the day you marry and no longer have to worry about danger."

"Not at all," I answered, laughing with true amusement at his outdated point of view. "I happen to like the job I do, and have no intention of ever marrying. You might say my family doesn't believe in marriage."

Laeros stared at me blankly for a moment, and then came back to himself with a headshake of confusion.

"Excuse me, but that was something of a shock," he apologized, now looking disturbed. "I had assumed that you and Valdon… I mean, the way he feels about you, and the fact that he refused to leave without you… Don't you know he wants to marry you?"

"No, he doesn't, not really," I disagreed with a smile and a headshake of my own. "When he thinks the situation through he'll realize that I'd make a lousy wife, and that he doesn't have to marry me to have me with him. And things work out much simpler that way. When he finds a woman who can really make him happy, he won't be tied to a convenience."

"But - but - I don't understand," Laeros protested, now obviously even more confused. "I'm sure that Valdon told me you also love him."

"I do, but that doesn't mean I'd marry him," I said, still feeling a bit odd admitting what Val meant to me. "You can have love without ruining things with marriage, you know."

"I suppose you can, but I'm afraid I'm not used to the idea," Laeros allowed, still looking shaken. "And I don't think Valdon will approve of that idea."

"Val rarely approves of my ideas, but this is one he has no choice over," I said with something of a smile. "He'd need my agreement to marry me, and he won't be getting it."

Laeros opened his mouth, obviously to add something in the way of protest, but Val's muffled shout came from the bedroom I'd left him sleeping in.

"Diana!" he called, sounding somewhat upset. "Where the hell did you disappear to now?"

"I'm right out here," I called back at once, knowing how he felt about my "disappearing." "I'm busy revealing all your secrets to Laeros."

"I believe it," he answered, relief lightening his tone. "Come on back in here."

"My master's voice," I said to Laeros with a smile after putting out my cigarette and standing. "Or at least he thinks so. We'll talk again later, my friend."

Laeros nodded distractedly, leaving me free to go back into the bedroom. I found Val sitting up in bed, his arms folded and his eyes filled with the look he so often gave me.

"Order number one from the Absari Confederacy," Val announced once I had the door closed and was on my way toward the bed. "When you go into a room with Valdon, you don't leave it again without his permission. He's tired of having heart failure every time you turn up missing."

"Poor Valdon," I said with very sincere sympathy. "Has he thought of seeing a heart specialist? The condition might be curable."

"Happily it isn't, so you'll just have to nurse him along," Val countered with a hidden smile. "Right now he needs a good strong dose of you, and you'd better bring it fast before his health fails."

"Hang on, help is on the way," I assured him earnestly as I hurried the rest of the way to the bed and threw myself into his arms. Now, Val is a lot bigger than most men and looks hardy enough, but I'm bigger than most women and definitely no lightweight. When I hit Val he "oofed" and grabbed me convulsively, paling at the same time. I positioned myself mostly on his chest and then stroked his face tenderly.

"There, there, baby," I cooed in my ickiest voice. "Does that feel better now?" He opened his mouth to answer, but no sounds came out. He moved very feebly, then suddenly his eyes closed and he slumped.

"Val, are you all right?" I asked, no longer interested in joking around, but he didn't answer. He just lay there without moving, which gave me sudden cold chills. I moved off him fast and put my hands on his face, ready to check the pulse under his jaw, but I never reached his pulse. He suddenly lunged up fast and grabbed me, pulling me across him and onto the bed. I squawked in outrage, but he just laughed.

"Now, this is what I call feeling better," he said, pinning me down with his body and one arm before suiting action to words. "It might even teach you to behave yourself next time."

"You bastard," I snarled, trying to struggle out of his grip. "You almost scared the life out of me with that act. As soon as I get loose I'm going to break something over your head, damned if I don't!"

"Now, now, let's not lose our temper," he scolded with a grin. "I won't let go of you until you calm down… Mmm, you really do feel good."

He put some careful effort into getting me out of my clothes before pulling me close, but this time I wasn't having any. Val had to learn that he couldn't do anything he pleased to me and still expect a warm reception. I must say he tried very hard, but since he wasn't prepared to break anything on me he didn't get very far. He worked at getting around my refusal for a time, and then he changed tactics.

"Please, Diana, cooperate," he murmured in my ear while stroking my body slowly. "You know you don't really want to stop me."

"Oh, but I do," I answered sweetly, keeping all my muscles locked tight. "Exertion is bad for someone with a weak constitution, and I'd never forgive myself if you passed out again."

"That was just a stupid joke," he protested, now stroking my hair. "I promise I'll never do it again, so please be reasonable."

"I'll have to think about it," I said, intending to drag out his waiting time as long as possible. I did hold out for quite a few more minutes, but during the time Val used something other than words to help me make my decision. His lips and hands moved all over my body, more knowledgeable than any man has the right to be, my refusal dissolving completely behind the attention. I pulled his head up by the hair to kiss him, and we went on from there.

Afterward we showered and dressed, and then rejoined Laeros in the sitting room. We all decided that we were hungry, so Val ordered in a meal. When it arrived we sat down and dug in, but Laeros was strangely quiet while we ate. Val didn't seem to notice, though, and when he finished his meal he pushed his plate away and leaned back.

"That was just what I needed," Val commented with satisfaction. "Now I'll have the strength to show Laeros around the Station before we leave. He might not have the chance to get back this way again."

"That's a good idea," I agreed after emptying my cup of coffee. "Laeros deserves a little fun after sitting around so patiently. Give me a minute, and I'll be ready to go."

I started to get up from the table, but Val put a hand on my arm to stop me.

"Diana, I said I'll be showing Laeros around," Val pointed out, the look in his eyes unwavering. "You'll stay here like a good girl and go to bed early, and that way you just might stay out of trouble."

"You've got to be kidding," I said with a confused headshake. "I'm not some child who can be sent to bed while the grownups go out on the town. I'm going with you."

"You're going to bed," Val repeated, his tone as firm as the look in his eyes. "I didn't half kill myself getting you taken off that assignment just to see you get pulled into something dangerous here on the Station. You'll stay in this suite and go to bed, and then there won't be a problem. Are you ready to leave, Laeros?"

"Yes, I am," Laeros answered quietly as he stood. Val also stood, and the two of them headed out of the suite without another word. I couldn't believe that Val was really serious, but the sound of the door lock clicking helped to convince me.

"Son of a flea-bitten chameleon," I muttered as I got to my feet. Val seemed to be taking that "orders from the Absari Confederacy" thing a lot more seriously than I'd expected, coupling it with his old-lady nervousness about me and trouble. It looked like it was time to remind him just how well I did with taking orders, so our future relationship would be clearly spelled out. Before I left with him on that ship…