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By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 2 of 25

"Good . . . good," Jason said before continuing somewhat tentatively.  "I know you and Jenna are swamped with the year-end reports, but I would like for both of you to make some time to meet them while they're here.  Maybe for lunch . . . or even just tea.  You see, Kayla and I . . . I mean the two of us . . . we've decided to file a formal bonding contract."

Travis stared at Jason for a long moment, hardly able to believe what he was hearing, then said in a low, harsh voice, "Over my dead body."

Surprisingly Jason did not erupt with his typical heated reaction, but spoke calmly, "I'm sorry that you feel that way, Fleet Captain, but both of us are of legal age and you no longer have any say in the matter."

Travis slumped in his seat behind the desk, burying his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking.  For one horrible moment Jason thought that he was crying, but instead when Travis took his hands down, there was, to his eternal shock, a lopsided grin on his father's face and only the slightest hint of moisture in his eye.

"Well, at least you get your taste in women from the Travis side of the family, boy.  Congratulations on picking a sweet girl with a good head for business.  Just don't expect to borrow money from us to finance some big hoop-la.  We're barely keeping our heads above water as it is."

"I understand, sir.  Frankly, all that Kayla and I intended to do was fill out the contract and have it witnessed and filed at Central Records, then maybe have lunch with her grandmother, you, Jenna, and some of your crew?"

Travis tried to swallow past the cold knot in his chest, hoping that this little get-together would occur before Naomi Reeves had her vision restored.  Even twenty some-odd years later, scarred as he was by Blake's rebels, he did not want to face the sharp-eyed scrutiny of the woman who had known him as the potential bondmate of her and Jacob Reeves' daughter, Marissa.  He had buried that part of himself years ago in the same cold, barren earth that held Rissa's fenris-ravaged body.

Brooding as he was, Travis did not notice the somewhat troubled expression on Jason's face.

"I did some back checking of the files while I was at the Record Center, to confirm a few details.  Hell, I'll admit I wanted to find out the date on yours and Jenna's contract.  Just for curiosity's sake, you know . . . but it wasn't registered."

Travis sat there simmering for a moment, after Jason dropped his little bombshell.  "Of course, it was registered, you young idiot.  Jenna and I signed the bonding contract on Kellogg IV, while I was still recovering from my injuries after the attack on Star One.  It was recorded in the log of the Reina until we could file it with the registrar here on Sanctuary.  That would have been no more than six months . . ."

The absolute certainty of his words trailed off as he remembered his warning to Jenna after they first grounded on Sanctuary.  "We'll keep the contract a secret, stored in the Reina's log, not formally registered.  That will give you maneuvering room, Stannis, in dealing with your uncle and the rest of clan."  Even though Jenna had refused to take his advice about keeping their bonding a secret, between his testing and the Byzantian treaty conference, they'd never gotten around to transmitting a formal copy of the actual contract from the Reina's log.

And now that "bold and bonny ship", La Reina del Sol, was just a bunch of random molecules, floating in the deep space of the Hephaestus Belt.

"Oh shit."  Travis clapped his hand to his forehead as he muttered into the stunned silence.


Fleet Captain Jenna Stannis slouched in the overstuffed chair in her grandmother's anteroom, one expensively and outrageously shod foot kicking impatiently at the heavy oak desk where Katya Doyle sat seemingly immersed in the information on her data screen.  Both of them were waiting the Matriarch's formal summons for her granddaughter to enter her inner office.

Staring down at the bright red, artificial nails applied by the manicurist during the major cosmetic upgrade that Katya had recommended before she made her appearance in front of the de facto head of the Stannis Clan, Jenna frowned in disgust.  She had enough worries, trying to keep their fleet operating at a profit despite Travis's difficult recovery after his escape from death during the Chiron rescue operation.  She certainly didn't have time to waste getting a cosmetic and fashion refit at the old woman's imperious dictates.

But apparently no one appeared before the Matriarch these days without being manicured, styled, primped, polished and outfitted within an inch of their lives. A totally outrageous expenditure of time and credits as far as Jenna was concerned.  She'd arrived at the office in her second best suit, with her hair freshly washed and even made the effort of applying more make-up than usual . . . only to meet with Katya's disapproving expression as soon as she walked into the outer office.

The makeover had been relatively quick, though Jenna glared in disgust at the outrageously stylish designer gown she was currently wearing, wondering if she'd be allowed to keep it when she left.  Or would it be passed on to some underprivileged cousin, or stuffed in a storage closet and never worn again?  With an impatient sigh, she resumed her restless fidgeting.

"Would you please stop that?" Katya asked in a somewhat harassed tone.

"Huh?" Jenna looked up, her mind back at the office, wondering how Travis was managing with the budget projections for next year and whether or not he'd managed to play on Brita's sympathies yet with his look of heroic suffering.

"Would you please stop kicking the desk.  You're leaving marks on it."

Uncrossing her legs, Jenna began drumming her hard acrylic nails on the top of the desk as Katya gave a loud martyred sigh.

"This is no easier for me than it is for you, Fleet Captain.  The Matriarch has grown increasingly demanding in the last few months, expecting that family members will live up to her expectations of their appearance and behavior.  I'm afraid what little tolerance that she once had for non-conformity has been exhausted."

Jenna listened with a growing sense of dismay filling her heart.  She'd had a difficult enough time fulfilling the old woman's expectations over eight years ago when she and Travis had announced their bonding in order to claim her father's fleet of ships.  Travis only had to survive the physical and mental trials that her uncle had put him through, while Jenna had faced the censure and denunciation of her grandmother and most of the other women in the clan over her appalling choice of a bondmate.

Travis's strength, endurance and survival skills had won him the approval of his crew and most of the Enclave captains and her own stubbornness had convinced most of her family members to accept her choice, though there was still disapproval at her continued refusal to become one of the clan's perennial brood mares.  The abrupt appearance of their genetic son, Jason, who was an artificially matured product of the Auron placental chambers, had only complicated the situation.

Though they had proved their canniness and courage time and time again. Even to the point of being responsible for the downfall of Supreme Commander Servalan and saving the Enclave Fleet from the depredations of her raiders, it never seemed to be enough.  They had won conditional acceptance, conditional approval . . . and now her grandmother had decided to dictate not just her life and genetic contribution, but how she dressed as well?

Jenna stood up abruptly, turned around and headed for the door.

"Seran Jenna," Katya said in alarm.  "Where are you going?  Your grandmother could send for you at any time . . ."

"Or she could keep me out here cooling my heels until the sun goes nova, Katya.  I've wasted enough of my time . . . and left my bondmate alone doing a job that requires my help to do it right.  If the old . . . if my grandmother wants to see me, she can call my office."

Pulling off the acutely uncomfortable designer shoes and tossing one savagely in each corner, Jenna stomped out of the anteroom, looking for the dressing room where she'd left her clothes earlier.  Katya dashed out from behind her desk, grabbing at Jenna's arm in frantic haste.

"She'll see you now, Seran Jenna.  You've been summoned into her presence."

"Well, tell 'Her Majesty' that I just realized that I've a much more important engagement on my calendar.  Coffee with my bondmate.  If she needs to see me that urgently, let her come to me.  Goodbye, Katya, I'm through dancing attendance on her whims.  I'd like to say it's been fun . . . but I'm not that good a liar."

Having located the room where her clothes and boots were waiting, Jenna was too impatient to struggle with the delicate hooks and ties that had fastened her into the gown.  Instead she ripped off its delicately draped and stitched bodice then stepped out of the skirt, tossing the ruined dress into the corner and hastily pulling on her pants and blouse as she stomped into her boots.

She hoped that the Matriarch wouldn't call out the guards to interfere with her departure.  She'd left her stun blaster at the office and though she was still carrying two knives, she wasn't sure she was mad enough to slit the throat of some poor hired muscle who was just trying to do his job.

Shrugging into her jacket, she sensed Katya's probing mental presence just outside the door.  Jenna was well acquainted with Katya's father's psychic abilities, having seen Travis knocked out and later mind-sifted by Brendan Doyle at her uncle's order.  While Jenna was not sure if Katya had those same aggressive skills, she did not intend to be marched back to her grandmother's office under the telepath's psychic control.

She threw open the door, knowing she couldn't take the other woman by surprise, but determined to put up a bold front.  "I'm not going back, Katya.  I'm tired of being treated like the cuckoo's egg in this family.  I'm sorry I don't meet my grandmother's expectations of style, elegance, and proper submission.  I know she thinks that if my father and mother had not been murdered by the Federation and I had not gone on the run as a smuggler out on the Rim that I would have grown up to be a proper, respectful wife and mother.  I disagree.  I've always had a wild streak and nothing anyone could have said or done, would have changed that part of me.  This is what I am . . . who I am and I'm sorry that I don't meet with her approval, but I'm not going to change at this late date.  Not even your telepathic skills can turn me into what I'm not . . . so don't even try."

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