Cold Hearts, Warm Love
Bethany Harper's ship dropped smoothly out of star drive into orbit around her home world. The sight of the swirling blue clouds drifting over the sage and sepia land masses always made her heart beat faster. But this time, her pulse raced with fear.
She ran the synchronization program, receiving the spaceport signal and flipping the clocks from ship's time to real time. She'd spent nine months in space, while seven and a half years had passed for the planet-bound. People like Rogerian Kincaid.
Had he forgotten her? Their three month affair, so fresh in her mind, was ancient history for him. He needed a planet-side wife, to hostess corporate parties and finesse delicate trade negotiations. The president and chief stock holder of Kincaid Industries might dally with a spacer, might give her precious gifts and pledge his love, but in the end, he had to choose someone who met the needs of his corporation. Just as she'd had to choose the freedom of space over life in a corporate cage.
With sick fascination, she turned on the sub-space receiver, hoping for news of her beloved. She didn't have long to wait. Kincaid Industries announced a revolutionary new gel pack power unit, sending their stock prices through the stratosphere. But the announcer failed to mention Rogerian. Five other news stories described the corporation and its products in minute detail, but remained frustratingly silent about its president.
Bethany called the space port for clearance to dock. She needed to take a shuttle down to the surface and find out what was going on. As soon as the port cleared her cargo manifest, she filed her intent to leave the ship for automated unloading. She'd already packed her duffel with her dress-suit and spare work-suit, as well as Rogerian's parting gift.
She'd been offered a year's pay for the bauble from Kincaid's research labs, a synthetic rose floating in its own null-grav sphere. She'd refused. Because it had no weight, it was the only memento of her affair she could bring on board. There wasn't enough credit in the universe to buy it from her.
Exiting the access corridor into the main space station, her throat burned with unvoiced grief when she spotted two men in Kincaid Industries' black and gold uniforms. Rogerian had always cut such a dashing figure in his uniform, the colors setting off his golden skin and hereditary black hair and eyes.
Bethany turned away, unable to look at the men, and headed blindly in the opposite direction. Her attention focused on memories, she didn't sense the guards until they flanked her.
"Bethany Harper, we're under orders to search your possessions for an item belonging to Kincaid Industries."
"No!" She clutched her duffel to her chest and stepped back, into the arms of the other guard. He grabbed her, and the first man ripped the bag from her grasp. She fought like a fevered shar-cat, all the while struggling to reach her precious memento. "It doesn't belong to Kincaid. It was a gift."
The guard pulled the softly glowing sphere from the netting that held it in place, releasing it to float before her. With a sudden kick of adrenaline, she slipped the other guard's hold, snatched the rose out of the air, and stuffed it down the front of her work-suit. She glared at the men, silently daring them to try and take the sphere away from her.
The second guard cleared his throat. "You will come with us. If you don't come willingly, we'll stun you and carry you."
She followed them through the winding corridors of the station, onto a private shuttle craft, and down to the surface, where they ushered her into a waiting hovercab. They didn't speak, but they also didn't try to take her gift away. So she waited. Finally, the hovercab drew up before a windowless gray building she'd never seen before. It was too clean to be a jail.
The guards showed her into a small room, handed her a key, and left. Curious, she looked around the room until she found the matching lock, in the center of a four-foot square opening, waist high up one wall. It opened with the hiss of hermetic seals and a rush of frozen air. The door swung away, and a sheet-draped shelf slid out of the wall. Her hand trembling, Bethany pulled back the covering.
Rogerian! She fell across his unmoving chest, a wild keening rising from the depths of her soul. She'd resigned herself to living apart from him, but she'd never imagined a life without him somewhere. Why hadn't she stayed when he asked her? Her freedom seemed so unimportant compared to Rogerian's life.
The body beneath her spasmed, and he gasped for air. The blue color faded from his skin as she watched. Then he opened those beautiful, golden, living eyes.
"I thought you were dead!"
"I've been in Cryofreeze for the last seven years."
She clung to his shivering body, desperately assuring herself that he was really alive. "Why?"
"The board convinced me a spacer couldn't stay faithful enough to be a corporate negotiator. They also demanded I return the research property. But when you wouldn't sell the sphere, I knew they were wrong. I was the one without the faith."
She poured her love into a kiss. "I'll stay planet-bound."
"They've run the corporation for seven years. They don't need me." He kissed her just as passionately. "This time, I'll make my own decision. I'd rather have freedom, with you."
Jennifer Dunne is the president of the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA. Her first book, Raven's Heart, was a November 1998 release from New Concepts Publishing, and won second place in the prestigious Sapphire Award for the year's best science fiction romances. It also placed sixteenth in the Preditors and Editors readers poll for best electronic novel of 1998, received 4 1/2 stars from Affaire de Coeur, a Very Highly Recommended and a nomination for year's best SF from Under the Covers Book Reviews, and a gold star recommendation from Romance Communications. Jennifer is currently at work on the third book in a fantasy series being shopped around by her agent.