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Using Fejo: Chapter 2

Three Weeks Later

“Are you sure about this?” Daisy raised a dark manicured brow at the pile of clothing currently toppling off Vanessa’s bed.

Huffing out a breath and rolling her eyes heavenward, Vanessa spun around. “Would you stop asking me that? I’ve told you a million times I am. This is the only way.”

Alice, who reclined on the couch next to Daisy and wore a similarly skeptical expression, spoke in her sweet, calm voice. “But we know nothing about this guy.”

“I know.” Vanessa groaned while wrenching on a pink flowy blouse—only the millionth shirt she’d tried on in the past ten minutes. “But he’s the only way for me to get off this planet and to the Lentri Port, where Luka’s guy is waiting.”

Over the past three weeks, Vanessa had worked tirelessly to come up with an escape plan, bothering every trustworthy person she could find. Luckily, Luka’s brothers, Theo and Maxu, both knew plenty of seedy individuals willing to break a few laws. Theo had arranged transport to Earth for Vanessa in exchange for a hefty fee, but there was still one enormous problem…the guy wouldn’t come to Clecania.

The Alliance was on high alert, monitoring Clecania closely for any unusual travel off-world. They wanted to prevent Clecanians from taking it upon themselves to hop over to Earth and nab a human mate of their own. Earth was still considered a Class Four planet, and any contact made with her home world was highly illegal. If you weren’t on a ship that already made trips in and out of Clecania regularly, you were put through the ringer and, more often than not, your travel request was denied.

The frustration Vanessa had felt at not being allowed to return to Earth had doubled and burned in her gut like battery acid upon learning about these new restrictions. She finally had transport to Earth. A guy who was apparently trustworthy by Theo’s standards was waiting to bring her home, and she couldn’t get off the damn planet.

Theo, Luka, and their friend, Rhaego, had been monitoring scheduled travel in and out of the port, hoping to spot an opening with a captain willing to break the rules, but so far, they’d been unlucky. Until yesterday, that is.

A merchant ship was scheduled to leave in four days and, based on their submitted itinerary, was making a stop at Lentri Port. It was perfect. She could hop on the ship and in less than a week be on her way home. After ratcheting up her hopes, though, Luka had delivered the bad news. The ship’s captain had registered for the marriage ceremony, and it was taking place tomorrow.

Vanessa studied her reflection, her mouth pulling down in a grimace. Pink was not her color. It clashed horribly with her pallid skin and enhanced the dark circles under her eyes. Grinding her teeth, she tore it off and rummaged through her pile of clothing. She wanted to pick something that looked nice for tomorrow, but all of her clothes felt suddenly unflattering.

“Luka said there are rumors that this captain trades illegally. What if those rumors are true?” Alice pushed, gently but with a firm edge to her voice. “What if he’s a bad guy? What if he’s an Insurgent?”

“Can’t you just wait longer? We can figure something else out, I’m sure,” Daisy added, leaning forward and speaking in the tone Vanessa assumed she’d normally reserved for her elementary school students. “What if he locks you up and doesn’t even let you step foot on the port? What are you going to do if he expects sex from you? I mean, really, Vanessa? You’re gonna lie to this guy. What do you think will happen if he finds out? Marriage is, like, sacred here.” She shook her head. “No. You’re not going. This is a bad idea.”

Luka, who’d taken a call outside, walked through the door. His gaze immediately landed on Alice, and the tightness around his light blue eyes relaxed.

“Please tell Vanessa this is a bad idea,” Alice urged Luka as he sat beside her, his large frame hanging off the edge of the couch.

Without missing a beat, he glanced at Vanessa and recited, “This is a bad idea.”

Vanessa’s lids slid closed, and she took a calming breath. “I know it’s a bad idea, okay? I get it. But ignoring this opportunity is not an option. We’ve been waiting for weeks to find a way off the planet. This guy’s a merchant. He goes out all the time. They already cleared his trip! Who knows how much longer Theo’s friend will wait for me anyway?”

“I still don’t understand why you can’t just ask him.” Daisy crossed her arms over her chest.

Vanessa lifted a brow at her. “Because they won’t let me on his ship as a companion. Right?” She gestured toward Luka, pleading for help with her eyes.

He took a deep breath and glanced at Alice and Daisy. “I don’t see another way. She can’t make it through the checkpoints and sneak onto the ship. Not with all the enhanced security. And she can’t accompany him as a companion, even if he agreed to it. Her one year restriction isn’t up yet. But as a wife, it’d be allowed.”

One year restriction. Vanessa rolled her eyes. The Clecanians had a rule about taking in people from Class Four planets. You had to stay for one year in order to learn how the greater universe worked and become acclimated, then you were free to leave the planet if you wanted. Too bad Vanessa didn’t have a year.

“Why can’t she just ask him to have a fake marriage, then?” Alice pushed. “She could make a deal of some kind.”

Luka smiled gently at her and ran his palm over her hand. “We checked him out. He registers for the ceremony as often as he can. And if she went to him, he might make a deal, but I’m almost certain he’d want her to commit to a real marriage.”

Vanessa gestured toward Luka emphatically, as if he’d just proved her point. “Exactly! And I don’t have time for that. Three months is too long. Hell, three weeks is too long. Lentri Port is their first stop. What do you think he’ll do if I make that deal and then try to ditch him a few days later? No, it’s better if he doesn’t know.”

“Then ask him to take you instead!” Daisy said, throwing her hands up. “Go find your sister, drag her onto the ship, and finish out your time with him.”

Shoulders dropping with her deep sigh, Vanessa stared between Daisy and Alice. Her hard gaze softened as she reminded herself that her friends were being annoying about this because they cared. She changed her tone to one of reassurance. “I won’t do that to Julie. We were taken without any say, and I refuse to do the same thing to her. I can’t promise anyone three months because if she decides to stay on Earth, I’m staying.”

The shadow of a wince passed over both of their faces at the reminder that Vanessa might leave and never return. Daisy’s lips thinned, and Alice gripped Luka’s hand more tightly.

Vanessa walked over and knelt in front of them. “Look, I’m doing this whether you guys like it or not. So, instead of trying to talk me out of it, help me figure out how I can do it in the safest way possible.”

Both Daisy and Alice appeared conflicted, but Luka cleared his throat. “I’ve called someone who may know a bit more about him. He’s on his way.”

Vanessa let out a pent-up breath of relief and flailed her hand at Luka while eyeing the other two women. “See? That’s thinking. That’s how you help. Thank you, Luka. I appreciate it.”

“Fine.” Daisy crossed her arms over her chest again and glanced up to the ceiling as though trying to brainstorm despite her better judgment. “First, you need to make sure you know which guy he is at the ceremony. We know his name is Fejo. Have you seen a picture of him or anything?”

Vanessa re-folded a folded dress and muttered, “No. Not yet.” It wasn’t like she hadn’t tried that. But she’d barely managed to figure out her food synthesizer. Trying to search a database for a person’s image when you didn’t even know how to spell your own name in an alien language was impossible.

A flicker of blue light across the ceiling told them they had visitors.

“I’ll get it,” Alice announced, rising and crossing to the door.

Although he allowed it, Luka fidgeted in his seat and lines appeared on his forehead. He wore that expression often whenever Alice did something the men in this culture believed they should be doing. When she cooked food for the group. When she cleaned afterward. When she rose to answer the door.

What would it be like to be waited on like that? Vanessa resigned herself to never knowing. Though a part of her craved the type of relationship Alice and Luka had, she couldn’t stay. She had to go back to Earth one way or another.

It was true she’d be attempting to marry this man, Fejo, but she was doing it purely to hitch a ride. If what Luka had said was true and Fejo really registered for the ceremony as often as he could, it meant he wanted a wife…badly. A sour taste lingered on her tongue. She’d have to make sure this guy didn’t treat her too well. The guilt bubbling in her gut at tricking a man into marriage was already constant.

Vanessa steeled herself and attempted to regain the cold bitchiness she was so often known for. It would help keep her eye on the prize. She just hoped Fejo, whoever he was, wasn’t too sweet.

Voices at the door caught her attention, and she peered over to find Rhaego—the seven-foot-tall, red, horned demon—crouching as he squeezed through the front door. Though initially terrifying, Rhaego was the most gentle, proper guy she’d met here. Well, that was the only side of him she’d seen anyway. The stories Luka had told about Rhaego on assignment, however…those painted him in a much darker light.

Rhaego moved out of the doorway, sweeping his light gray gaze around the room and bowing to each of the women in turn. Vanessa couldn’t help but grin. He was such a contradiction. Not her type, though. Too sweet to handle her. A frown pulled her smile down. For years now, she’d wondered if any person existed who could handle her. In her heart, she knew the answer was no. Not because no decent men existed but because she was the problem.

To her surprise, another man filed into the house after Rhaego. Luka’s brother, Izzo. Her focus immediately shifted to Daisy, and her heart pinched as the woman’s smile dimmed.

Daisy and Izzo had hit it off right away, but the idiot had spoiled it. Instead of just enjoying the clear connection he and Daisy had, he’d angsted over the fact that he had no mating marks yet. His doubt had seeped into Daisy until she’d wondered whether he’d ever really liked her.

Mating marks, lost to the people of this planet for hundreds of years, were now coming back. So far only between Clecanians and humans, but Vanessa hoped eventually all Clecanians could find that happiness again. But the excitement at knowing marks were possible had some Clecanians acting like fools. If Izzo couldn’t see how wonderful Daisy was, with or without marks, then fuck him. And if he transferred that doubt onto Daisy and made her question her own worth? Double fuck him.

Vanessa bit her tongue in an attempt not to snap at Izzo to leave. Instead, she directed a lethal, scrutinizing glare at him. When he finally tore his gaze away from Daisy and caught her stare, she knew her nonverbal attack had landed.

“I was taking lunch with Izzo when Luka called,” Rhaego said in a rumbling voice that seemed to boom despite his calm tone. During the few times she’d met Rhaego, she wondered if he worked hard to keep the level of his voice low and unthreatening. His tone always felt restrained.

Vanessa’s gaze caught on Izzo, who was peering at Daisy again. “Yeah? And you decided to tag along for fun?” She snapped her mouth shut as soon as the sharp words fell out but kept her chin high, owning her question.

The pale skin of his cheeks pinkened, and he muttered, “You wanted to know about Fejo, right? I’ve heard a few things about him over the years.”

Vanessa gave an unimpressed grumble.

“What do you guys know about him? Do you have a picture? Should she be worried about her safety?” Daisy shot off the questions but refused to meet Izzo’s intense stare.

“I know he’s had dealings with many unsavory characters,” Izzo answered with a bit too much eagerness.

“That in itself means nothing,” Rhaego argued, straightening his shoulders. “I myself have had to deal with many persons I do not care for, and I still consider myself honorable.”

“The problem with Fejo is no one’s quite sure where his loyalties lie,” Luka spoke, his smooth voice drawing everyone’s gaze. “He’s from Huvuita originally, and the rumor is he worked for a prolific smuggler there for many years. Then, out of the blue, he petitioned for citizenship in Tremanta.”

“I’ve heard of him doing terrible things while making runs. Landing on primitive planets outside of Alliance protection and stealing their livelihoods. Killing,” Izzo added.

Rhaego shook his head and flashed a grin that transformed his respectable demeanor into something dark and scintillating. “Rumors only; otherwise, your beloved Queen would’ve jailed him. If she can’t prove what he’s done, there must be doubt.”

“This is the problem.” Luka stared hard at Vanessa. “We don’t know who he is. No one does, apart from maybe his crew. You’ll be going in blind.”

She thought for a moment, running through the pros and cons. On the one hand, a potential pirate with a ship and a relaxed view of authority sounded more than perfect. On the other hand, she doubted a man like that would take kindly to being tricked. Dread made her insides hollow. She’d have to be careful, play the part for as long as it took to get to the port.

“Thank you all for the info,” Vanessa said absently, still thinking through all the awful possibilities of what she was getting herself into.

Alice peered up at Rhaego. “What does he look like? Do you have a picture?”

Rhaego nodded. He retrieved his communicator, typed in a few commands, and handed it to her. Daisy stood and crossed to the group, curious enough to stand close to Izzo for a better view. Izzo’s attention was laser focused on Daisy. He ran his gaze over her heart-shaped face and amber eyes. Daisy ignored him, but the stiffness in her body told Vanessa she was all too aware of his presence.

But she couldn’t worry about their complicated relationship right now. She had problems of her own. Slowly, she walked toward the group, a knot in her throat tightening. She couldn’t decide what she wanted Fejo to look like. Young or old. Handsome or ugly—though no one on this planet was completely unattractive. Would it feel easier to use a man who looked cruel? Another slice of guilt cut at her insides. Using anyone was wrong. This was wrong. But…

She didn’t have a choice here. She’d tried to ask. Tried to bargain. Nothing had worked. Now it was time to scheme her way off this planet.

Alice held the communicator flat against her palm. A holographic image blinked on, then rotated in the space just above the screen. Vanessa held her breath and peered at the slowly revolving head of the man she was about to lie to and use. Surprise forced goose bumps to pop all over her skin. She swallowed.



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