The rumble of a rusty cargo hauler broke through his dreams and stirred him to consciousness. Something felt wrong — precarious — and Dayne’s eyes snapped open when he realized he was about to slip off the edge of the mattress. Jen was sprawled diagonally across the bed, her mouth hanging open with her snoring. The room smelled of morning breath and the stale musk of last night’s lovemaking. Steadying himself on the edge of the bed, he reached out to her and paused to smile at the ring that now graced his finger.
He knew others considered them an odd match. Jen was not what many would consider pretty or sexy. She was more curvy than not, and her natural scowl gave the impression that she was always in a bad mood. He, on the other hand, was a fit, handsome guardian with connections and money. The truth, though, was that the woman was sharp as a tack, knew how to use her ‘scary face’ to get what she wanted, possessed a wicked sense of humor, and had a heart bigger than all of Thelios. He was smitten with her from the moment they met, and in his eyes, he was the lucky one who married out of his league.
He caressed her shoulder, the gentle touch causing her to roll over onto her side. Dayne shifted over behind her, glad to be away from the edge of the bed, and slipped his arm around her waist. Still asleep, she let out a happy little murmur and nestled back against him. He smoothed aside her frizzy brown hair that tickled his nose, kissed her neck, and closed his eyes to get some more sleep.
His peace didn’t last long, though, and he opened his eyes once more. Something was about to happen. He didn’t know what, but it was the same anticipation he felt whenever a mission was about to go wrong. He was supposed to have a few days off from the guardian station for his wedding, but his position and reputation meant he was always on-call. Unable to shake the feeling, he climbed out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and slipped out of the bedroom so he could take whatever call came without waking Jen.
The bedroom door had barely closed when the main entrance chime rang. Now fully awake and alert, Dayne opened the door and blinked at the man standing there. It had been seven years since he’d last seen Peter Jorrall: when Dayne formally stepped down from his position as Peter’s bodyguard and turned the duty over to his brother, Hart. Now the Alfath lord stood on his doorstep, his face drawn and pale, his eyes rimmed red with grief… and he was alone.
Dayne remained quiet, but bowed his head slightly and stepped back to allow Peter to enter. He showed the Alfath lord to a seat in the living room and fetched him a glass of water. He noticed a slight tremble as Peter accepted the offered drink. “When?” Dayne finally asked.
“Night before last.”
Dayne nodded slightly. “Do my parents know?”
Peter nodded. “They had answered the summons, so were there as well. They are both unharmed.”
Peter sighed. “That’s why I’m here. You know Hart is the only thing she loved more than herself. She’s still in shock, but we should expect a strong reaction, and soon.”
Dayne frowned. “We shouldn’t discuss this here.”
“And yet it is a discussion we must have.”
Dayne’s response was cut-off by the opening of the bedroom door. Jen stepped out clad in a loosely-tied robe, yawning and running a hand through her mussed hair. “Dayne?” She stopped short when she saw Peter, and pulled the robe tighter around herself. “Oh, look! We have company!” She cast a confused look to Dayne. “Should… do you want me to make some coffee?”
“Sorry, sweetheart,” Dayne stepped over to give her a quick hug and peck on the cheek. “Didn’t mean to wake you. Just an old family friend in town on business. We were just going to head out for a bit to catch up. I shouldn’t be too long. Why don’t you get some more sleep?”
Concern wrinkled Jen’s brow as she studied Dayne. “Well… ok. Just let me know if you’re going to be late?” She leaned around Dayne to address Peter. “Nice almost meeting you, family friend.” She cast another worried glance to Dayne before disappearing back into the bedroom.
Dayne watched the bedroom door close then turned back to Peter, his expression stoney.
“I wasn’t aware. Is it serious?” Peter asked quietly.
Dayne held up his hand, displaying his wedding ring.
Regret washed over Peter’s features and he closed his eyes a moment. “When?”
Dayne smirked. “Yesterday.”
“Does she know about us?”
Dayne shook his head. “But now she knows something is wrong. We never have guests. I never talk of family. I never go out without inviting her along — especially on our honeymoon.”
Peter looked down and muttered an expletive under his breath. “I’m sorry, Dayne. I am so sorry. But I need you to come back. I need you to take up your old duties.”
“That’s not an option.” Dayne shook his head. “I can’t help you, Peter.”
“I’m not just here for myself.” Peter looked up to him. “At some point Thyla will decide that Hart would still be alive if you hadn’t left to join the guardians. She will lash out.” He gestured towards the bedroom door. “And she will ensure you feel her pain.”
Dayne clenched his jaw and his fists. His chest heaved as he fought to bring his anger under control. Finally he took a deep breath and let it out in a low, angry growl. “I hate that you’re right.” His shoulders slumped. “I’ll come back, but I need something from you in return.”
Peter arched a brow. “What do you want?”
“Not want — need.” Dayne corrected. “Jen comes with us.”
“That will put her in more danger than leaving her here.” Peter frowned in confusion.
“It means I can protect her while you and every contact and resource you have build her a new life.” Dayne’s voice took on a hard edge. “New identity, new background, everything. And when it’s all ready, you do your mind magic to wipe her memory and forget I ever existed.” Tears stung his eyes. “Promise me, Peter. Create a new life for her where she will be happy and safe without me.”
Peter rose from his seat and met Dayne’s eyes. “I give you my word.”
Dayne bowed his head slightly. “Then I give you mine. My life in service to you, Lord Jorrall.”