Title: Loving the Prince
Author: Nicole Murphy
Genre: Sci Fi Romance
Release Date: 1st August 2014
From Escape’s fresh, exhilarating science fiction romance catalogue comes a story of corporate espionage, betrayal, sex, and bodyguards. Just another day in the colonies.
Cassandra Wiltmore is the heir to the throne of Rica, but it’s unlikely she’ll be stepping up any time soon. So she spends her days managing and building the Rican Balcite Mining Company. The company has made her family wealthy beyond imagination, but that kind of power needs careful control, and Cassandra is just the Wiltmore to control it.
When a new bid for the mining license is announced, Cassandra is determined to squash it. Then the thefts and threats begin, and every step she takes seems to be wrong. Taking on a new protector seems like an indulgence Cass can’t afford, but she equally cannot afford to be caught off-guard. If only the best man for the job wasn’t also the best-looking man she’s ever seen.
Kernan Radaton has ambition, and as protector to Cassandra Wiltmore, he’s well placed to reach all his long-held goals. If only his new all-business boss didn’t make him think of only pleasure. With the company, the heir and the family under attack, the last thing anyone needs is a distraction. But once everything is safe again, Kernan is developing new ambitions — ones that involve a lot of very personal time spent getting to know his boss on a very personal level.
About the Author:
Nicole Murphy is the author of the Dream of Asarlai trilogy, and a couple of dozen speculative fiction shorts. As Elizabeth Dunk she’s published contemporary romance with Escape Publishing and in June will be releasing a collection of paranormal erotic novellas, also with Escape.
Chapter Six - EXCERPT
‘Permission granted.’ Cassandra started to smile at Eorin but the expression froze on her face as Kernan followed him in.
‘Cassandra, I believe you know Kernan Radaton.’
‘I certainly do. Welcome to the RBMC. I’m looking forward to working with you.’ She held out her hand.
Kernan reached across the desk to shake it. ‘Thank you, Miss Wiltmore.’
Again, a jolt of electricity shot up her arm. Cassandra made herself remove her hand from his grip calmly. She couldn’t keep jumping every time he touched her. Particularly when he had, hopefully, taken back up with Hera.
‘Please, take a seat.’
Cassandra sat down and watched them pull chairs up to the desk. ‘Will you need any special time to work with Kernan?’
Eorin shook his head. ‘The next couple of days are pretty much here in the office, so I’ll use the time you’re working. I was looking at your schedule and it doesn’t appear you’ll have a lot of time this week to work on the mental connection.’
I’m not sure I want to connect mentally. Cassandra considered her schedule for the rest of the week. ‘Not during the normal working day. Captain Radaton, would you object to staying late a couple of days this week to work on the connection?’
‘Not at all, Miss Wiltmore. Just tell me when you want me and I’ll be here.’
‘We’ll pencil it in for tomorrow afternoon and Friday evening. One thing you’ll learn here, Captain, is that we rarely make definite appointments with each other. There’s simply too many occasions where we have to run off to do something else.’
‘I don’t have a problem with that.’
‘Then it seems that everything is under control and I’ll leave you in Eorin’s capable hands.’
Both men stood and saluted, Kernan’s much more polished than Eorin’s. Then they turned and walked from the room.
A buzzer alerted her to a message coming through, and she touched the screen. Bilmin’s face appeared. ‘Bilmin, what’s up?’
‘Miss Wiltmore, we have a Code Delta.’
Cassandra froze. Code Delta meant some enriched balcite had gone missing. ‘On my way.’
Eorin and Kernan sat at a desk in the corridor, bent over a reader. They both looked up as she exited. ‘Code Delta,’ she said, sweeping past them. She heard them get up to follow her, not a word spoken between them.
Minutes later, the three of them stepped into the warehouse. The second the door closed behind them, Cassandra turned to Eorin. ‘Explain Code Delta to Captain Radaton. I’ll check in with Bilmin.’
She strode across the warehouse floor to the red section. Bilmin stood by the small pile of red cartons. ‘What’s missing, Bilmin?’
‘An entire container, Miss Wiltmore. Six pieces of enriched balcite.’
Cassandra swore. Six pieces was enough to flatten an entire city. ‘Who did this morning’s count?’
Bilmin looked at the reader in his hand. ‘Manfred.’
‘Get him back here and I want to watch both you and Manfred count the E’s.’ She spun around to see Eorin and Kernan waiting behind her. ‘Eorin, check the personnel manifesto for the past week. Kernan, I want a list of everyone who’s come into the complex in the past twenty four hours and the time they came in.’
Both men saluted then rushed away. She watched Bilmin and Manfred count. Their results matched the morning count, but not the count from the night before. A box of enriched balcite was definitely missing.
Cassandra wanted to stamp her feet and scream, but retained her control. ‘Bilmin, I want every member of staff of the warehouse assembled down here.’
As Bilmin began gathering the employees Cassandra turned slowly on her heel, looking around the warehouse, searching for inspiration. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her
father and Staphon enter and approach her.
‘How much?’ Her father was all business.
‘An entire case.’
Andar paled and Staphon swore. ‘How could someone walk out with an entire case of E?’
‘Perhaps they didn’t walk out with it. Perhaps it is still here.’ Cassandra looked at the huge piles of balcite. It would be easy for someone to conceal it in one of the piles, to be picked up and delivered at a later date. ‘Bilmin, take three men and search the warehouse. I want every single inch of it covered.’
‘Yes, Miss Wiltmore.’
Cassandra turned back to the General. ‘Staphon, we need to question all the staff.’
‘He’s gathering information for me, as is Kernan. Once they come back, I’ll send them to assist you.’
Staphon nodded them moved over to the group of employees.
Cassandra and her father watched the search and she tapped her foot. If they didn’t find the missing case, she wasn’t sure what she would do.
Andar put a hand on her shoulder. ‘We’ll find it, Cassie.’
‘Cassandra.’ She spun around to see Eorin walking towards her, holding out a chip. She pushed it into the reader and rows of figures flashed up.
‘No one appears to have come in at a different time,’ she said. ‘All appears normal.’
‘Then it has to be an inside job. There’s no evidence of an illegal log-in,’ Eorin said.
‘So help me, if one of the staff did this…’
‘Miss Wiltmore.’ Kernan arrived, also holding a chip. Cassandra put it into her reader and the figures began to flow. It stopped and flashed a line at her. She looked at the name, then pulled up the information Eorin had brought to her.
‘Daniel Wiltonian came into the complex at six this morning, but didn’t come into the warehouse until nine,’ she said.
‘What was he doing, wandering around outside for three hours?’ Eorin said.
‘Eorin, go and tell General Blerdon that he needs to question Daniel Wiltonian.’ Eorin saluted and hurried away. Cassandra tapped her chin. ‘He came into the complex at six, but he didn’t come into the warehouse until nine.’
‘He didn’t come in the warehouse front door until nine,’ Kernan said.
Cassandra looked at him, immediately understanding what he was alluding to. ‘This is the most secure building in the complex.’
‘Secure doesn’t necessarily mean impossible to get into.’
‘Then how?’ She turned around, looking for a sign that the balcite lining of the building had been tampered with. Her eyes continued to move up the wall until she saw the first of the roof beams. She tipped her head back. Above her, on a track, were the huge hooks that lifted and moved the loads of balcite, masitum and ortran. Those hooks never lifted enriched balcite as they were not delicate enough. She looked along them, and something caught her eye. ‘Captain, up the far corner, left-hand side. What is that?’
Kernan focussed and she knew he was using his inter-ocular transplant. Another thing she’d missed out on by not becoming a real security officer. ‘I see a red box, with two large rods of balcite tied to it.’
‘Code on the box?’ Cassandra lifted her reader. He read it out and she typed it in. ‘Our missing box of E.’
‘How in the blazes did it get up there?’ Andar said.
‘More to the point, how do we get it down?’ She looked around and the hooks caught her eye. It brought to mind the childhood game she and Diana had once played. Controllers in a booth near the roof operated the hooks. Workers on the floor used telepathy to guide
the controllers to pick up the balcite safely. She and Diana had used telepathy to have the controllers pick them up and move them to the other end of the warehouse, racing each other. When her parents had found out about it, they had been banned from coming to the warehouse. Cassandra sent a thought to Bilmin. ‘Bilmin, wanna play bombies?’
‘Now, Miss Wiltmore?’ came his thought reply.
‘Now. We’ve found the E and I need to fetch it.’ Cassandra looked at her father. ‘I’m going to get it down.’
Andar’s eyes narrowed. ‘And how do you plan to do that?’
Cassandra grinned. ‘Bombies.’ She handed him the reader, then moved over to stand underneath one of the hooks.
‘No, Cassandra.’ Andar followed her. ‘I forbid it.’
‘It has to be fetched down by hand, and neither of you will fit on the hook.’ She smiled brightly at Andar then at Kernan, who was glaring at her just as viciously.
‘We’ll send security up to get it,’ Andar said through gritted teeth.
‘It’s my E and I’m going to get it.’ As she looked up, the hook began to lower. ‘A little to the right, Bilmin.’
‘Cassandra,’ Andar growled.
Cassandra glanced at him. ‘My E, my responsibility. If anyone should risk their life to get it, it should be me.’ The hook was almost within reach.
‘We pay security to risk their lives for this sort of thing.’
Cassandra shook her head. ‘Not with my E we don’t.’ She reached up and pulled the hook down. ‘Close it, Bilmin.’ The two sides of the hook moved together, forming a circle. Cassandra put her leg over, sat on the metal, then pulled her legs up to put her feet on the
inside of the hook, her back resting against the other side. ‘There, you see? Perfectly safe.’
‘Bilmin, up.’ The hook began to rise.
‘Bilmin, stop.’ Her father’s voice entered her head as his hand reached out to grab the hook. The hook stopped moving. ‘If you insist on doing this, you can at least do it safely. Captain, use your belt to tie her onto it.’
‘With pleasure, sir.’ In an instant, Kernan had taken off his belt and was leaning over Cassandra to wrap it around her waist and the hook. Cassandra tried desperately not to notice the heat of his body or the smell of his cologne and breathed a small sigh of relief
when he straightened. She tried to lift her belly and found she was securely fastened to the hook.
‘There, safe as the spacelift. Up, Bilmin.’
As the hook rose, Cassandra lifted a hand to wave to her father. ‘Keep both your hands on the hook,’ he bellowed at her. She plastered her hand to the metal.
It wasn’t long before Cassandra remembered the main reason why she hadn’t really objected to her parents’ banning her from the game. The hook was incredibly high up in the air. By the time it reached the top of its ascent, she was ten metres from the ground. Falling from here would be bad. She shook her head. She had been such an idiot when she was young.
‘Where to, Miss Wiltmore?’ Bilmin asked.
‘Take me to the far left corner of the warehouse, Track S6.’
There was a pause, then Bilmin said, ‘Shit. How did they get the E up there?’
‘That is what I hope General Blerdon is finding out. Now, let’s go.’ She clung to the hook as it moved but luckily the track was well made and the journey was smooth. A metre from the E, she told Bilmin to stop.
Looking closer, she swore. Daniel Wiltonian was the luckiest man in Rica. The E wasn’t actually resting on a beam. It had been placed on two rods of balcite and THEY were resting on the beam. Luckily right now they were balanced, but any move could see them topple, taking the e with them.
‘Bilmin, we need another hook up here, on Track K7.’
‘Right away, Miss Wiltmore. You stay put.’
Cassandra gave a nervous giggle. ‘I can assure you, I’m not going anywhere.’
It was some time before a faint whirr told her the other hook was coming. She looked over her shoulder and saw the hook rocketing along the track next to her. ‘Slow it down, Bilmin.’ The hook slowed dramatically. Cassandra watched it until it was beginning to move over the top of the balcite. ‘Speed one.’ The hook slowed until it only moved a centimetre at a time. When Cassandra was sure it was directly over the middle of the beams, she said,
‘Stop.’ The hook stopped. ‘Lower, speed one.’ Centimetre by centimetre, the hook lowered. When the top of the hook was only a few centimetres from the balcite rods, she told Bilmin to stop, then close the hook. The two sides moved slowly down and joined together, the two beams of balcite now lying in the middle of the circle. ‘Fill.’ From the top of the hook flowed a white substance. It went around the inside of the hook then moved into the centre, hardening as it went. Soon, the entire inside of the hook was full of the hard substance. The two balcite beams were secure.
Cassandra nodded. ‘Now, move me forward, speed one.’ Her hook inched forward until she heard a tap as it hit the balcite beam. ‘Stop.’ Then she reached for the case of E, but it was beyond her. Swearing, she undid the belt. Slowly, keeping her back straight so her balance remained, she bent forward then put the belt around her legs and the hook, pulling it as tight as she could. Then she leant back against the hook, breathing hard. She lifted one hand to grasp the hook above her head, then began to lean out toward the E.
‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’
Cassandra screeched and pressed her back against the hook, her hands grabbing the metal as Kernan’s voice thundered through her mind. So much for needing to work on the mental connection. ‘I can’t quite reach the E, so I’m going to pull it closer. My legs are tied to the hook. I won’t fall.’
‘No, just break both your legs and probably your back.’
‘I need to pull it a bit closer, then I can undo it and come down. I swear, I’ll keep a good hold on the hook, so long as strange voices don’t yell into my head and nearly scare the life out of me.’
A pause, then his voice sounded much calmer. ‘I apologise. Just bloody well be careful.’
She nodded, then took her position and leant forward again. She reached the rope that was holding the case onto the balcite and pulled it towards her. Slowly, the case moved forward. When it was right next to the hook, she said, ‘Bilmin, move the hook on track k7 back one metre.’
Bilmin did as she asked, and the balcite beams moved, scraping under the case. The end of the beam was now at her feet. ‘Move me forward, speed one.’ She waited until the ends of the balcite were at her chest, then stopped him. Putting one hand on one of the beams, she leant forward and used the rope to pull the case to the end of the beam. Then she grabbed the rope with both hands, ignoring how her hook wavered, and pulled the case onto her lap. ‘Move me back, speed one.’ She moved a metre away from the balcite then asked Bilmin to stop. Slowly, she turned the case around and pulled it up her body until it lay up her chest. Then she hugged it to her body. ‘Take me down, speed one.’
It took an eternity but finally she was smiling directly into the face of five anxious men, Eorin, Bilmin and Staphon having joined Andar and Kernan. The only person Cassandra would hand the case to was Andar and as soon as she was untied and off the hook, she took it back from him. She sat on the floor, cross-legged, the case resting in her lap. She put her hand on the top and a small keypad appeared. Quickly, she typed in a code and the lid snapped open. She pushed it open, held her breath then lifted the black lid within.
There, lying nestled in six black pouches were six blue rocks, each about the size of her fist. She put the black lid down again, then let out her breath. She looked up and grinned at her father. ‘All present and accounted for.’
‘Thank Peace.’ Andar shook his head. ‘You ever do that again, young lady, and I will…’
Cassandra closed the lid, keyed in the lock then closed the keypad. She handed the box to Bilmin, then stood and put her arms around her father. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared in my life.’
Andar’s arms tightened around her. ‘You did well, Cassie. Scared a few more years from my life, but you did very well.’
Cassandra pulled back a little, but remained by her father’s side, his arm around her. ‘Any idea how this happened?’
‘Would you believe a practical joke?’ Blerdon growled. Apparently, Wiltonian and the bloke who was to count this morning have been playing jokes on each other, each getting bigger than the one before.’
Cassandra’s jaw dropped open. ‘He moved an entire crate of E and almost blew up the city, probably all of Rica, for a joke? He better not come near me for a while.’
‘How did he get into the building?’ Kernan asked.
‘He loosened a screw on the end of an air duct, inside and out,’ Eorin said. ‘Crawled through it while he knew it was being maintained so the laser system would not be working.’
‘Oh, Peace. It was that easy?’ Cassandra said. Eorin nodded. She turned to Kernan. ‘I want you to stay here and go over every centimetre of this place. I want a report on my desk, detailing weaknesses and outlining possible alternatives by the end of the week.’
Kernan nodded. ‘Consider it done.’
‘Eorin, I want a complete security screen of everyone working here. It was a joke this time, but next time it might not be. Make sure everyone realises the screens are going to become weekly and if they don’t like it, they can go work somewhere else. Bilmin, I want those two jokesters at my office in one hour. Make it clear to everyone working here that I don’t care what pranks they pull out of hours, no one in this facility is ever to play a joke on
someone else here at work, understand?’
‘Yes, Miss Wiltmore.’
‘I also want a complete scan of the balcite shielding. Ensure that there aren’t any weaknesses to be found.’ Bilmin nodded as he wrote all this down into his reader. ‘Once you have those two beams down, I want a full count of the entire warehouse. I know you only did it yesterday, but I want to make sure nothing else has gone missing. No orders are to go out of the warehouse until Captain Radaton has concluded his security scan. Anyone
complains, send them straight to me. No more maintenance is to be done on the building either.’
Bilmin nodded. ‘Yes, Miss Wiltmore.’
‘General, I’d like the patrols to be doubled for the next two weeks. I’d also like to know why the outside surveillance did not pick up the loosening of the exterior vent.’
‘I’m already onto it, Cassandra,’ Staphon said.
Cassandra shook her head. ‘A loose screw. By the time I’m finished with Daniel Wiltonian, he’s going to wish he’d never heard of a screwdriver.’ She turned and stormed from the warehouse.
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ENDS 5th AUGUST 2014