“This is precisely why I was worried about becoming involved with you.” Simon Illyan said, shifting his wrists so that Alys could use the microblade tool he kept concealed in his cuff on the rope that bound his hands.
It certainly wasn’t because he had not wanted a relationship with the beautiful young Vor widow, but because his role as Chief of Imperial Security was not always a very safe one. They had made it a whole two months without some sort of problem, which was about seven weeks longer than Simon had expected.
Of course, he had expected to encounter a different sort of problem, such as being caught in a compromising position. He had not expected to be abducted before he even had a chance to get into the compromising position.
“This is hardly the time to discuss it.” Her precise, cultured tones were a little sharper than usual. Alys Vorpatril said as she focused on cutting the bindings and not him.
He couldn’t argue with her there, right now. Now they had to focus on getting out of their current predicament and back to the Imperial Residence before the people who had abducted them could wreak any havoc…and before anyone noticed that both the ImpSec chief and the young Emperor’s chief hostess were missing in action.
They had managed to keep their relationship from being noticed – a notable feat in the gossipy capital city – but something like this would definitely blow their cover.
It wasn’t the time. It was not the place, either, not with the two of them trussed up and thrown on the floor. The fact that their hands were tied behind their backs did not increase the comfort factor of the floor at all. Simon didn’t think they had actually been thrown into the room, but they had not been set down gently on a feather bed – not to mention the part where they’d been drugged and kidnapped.
They had arrived at the Imperial Residence separately, of course – Simon refused to ride in the same vehicle as Alys, given the historical popularity of groundcar “accidents” as assassination attempt, but they had planned to meet somewhere that was not the ballroom.
He had just wanted to steal a few moments of privacy with Alys, after a week that had barely left him time to sleep. He’d let his guard down for an instant too long. She had entered the room just a moment before he could warn her. Simon found himself hoping that his assailants thought Alys’ arrival had been an accident, a coincidence – and not a planned rendezvous.
The fact that it was not the time or place didn’t change how very aware Simon was of the woman behind him. The delicate perfume she wore, the rustle of her gown as she shifted, the softness of her skin when her fingers brushed against his wrists.
Alys made a soft sound of triumph as the bindings weakened enough for Simon to free his hands.
Once he sat up, it was a simple enough matter to untie his feet, then free Alys. She sat up, rubbing her wrists. Simon’s gaze hardened as he saw the angry red marks on her wrists that would become bruises before too long.
She saw what he was looking at, stopped rubbing her wrists and gave him a smile. “It’s too bad gloves are out of fashion right now,” Alys said lightly.
He took one of her hands between his, pressed his lips gently against her wrist. “I’m sorry you got dragged into this,” he said quietly. They sat there for a moment, hands clasped.
“We don’t know for sure that they were after you,” she replied.
“I’d argue it’s more likely,” he muttered, before he stood and helped Alys to her feet. She stumbled slightly, drew in a deep breath. “Are you all right?”
“I think I turned my ankle a little.” She shook out her skirt, frowning at the dirt streaks and torn hem. One of her tiny lace sleeves was torn as well, and the mass of dark curls and white roses that made up her coiffure was coming down. Simon had to force himself to look away from the single dark curl that trailed distractingly along her collarbone.
Simon imagined his own dress greens looked a little worse for wear. They would both have to do something about their attire before anyone saw them, assuming they could make good their escape. In order to do that, he needed to focus on the situation instead of Alys.
“Perhaps,” she conceded. “The more important issue is figuring out where we are.”
The room could have belonged in any sort of building – shabby, not an obvious new fabrication or a historic residence. The room – possibly a large closet – had no windows. The only thing in the room beside them was a narrow cot with a thin blanket. Simon studied the door and the lock – a fairly standard sort of lock, hardly the sort of thing he would use to secure prisoners. Of course, he would also have used something a little more advanced than rope to secure their hands and feet. There was something about all of this that seemed strange, and Simon frowned. Alys rested her hand on his shoulder, leaning on him just a little. In spite of the current situation, he liked the feeling. Their respective positions made casual touch a rarity, something that only happened when they had total privacy.
“The situation just doesn’t add up,” he said quietly. “They’re relatively organized and prepared, probably had a groundcar, but then they tie us up with plain rope and put us in a room with a lock Ivan and Miles could bypass.” Of course, those two particular ten-year-olds were a little more advanced than their peers, but the lock was a very simple one. If Simon wasn’t worried about the noise factor, he could have opened it with one good kick. “Their opinion of ImpSec seems a little low.”
Granted, he would definitely be having a long and uncomfortable talk with the head of physical security for the Residence in the morning about his own lowered opinion – leaving Alys’ role out of it, of course. He prowled the rest of the room, looking for some sign that the door was not as simple as it seemed. There had to be some sort of trap.
“Have you considered that maybe they weren’t trying to get you?” Alys asked tartly. He turned to see her sitting on the cot, dark hair falling around her, roses in her lap as she pinned her hair back in place. She was breathtaking, and he was reminded of the first time he’d seen her with her hair down, sitting on his bed. Focus, he told himself, and he’d be able to see her like that again soon. Tonight, perhaps.
He stood near the door, listening for any noises in the hallway while he reviewed his memories of the abduction on his memory chip. It was possible, he thought. The room, the relatively soft rope, the lack of security did make a little more sense if the target was a Vorish lady, someone they might expect to be easily frightened. “You think you might have been the target?”
“Anything is possible in Vorbarr Sultana,” she said softly. “You and I are both known as Vorkosigan loyalists. Putting one of us in an unflattering light could be seen as a positive for some factions, and I’m less threatening than you are.”
“That depends on the circumstances,” he said with a faint smile. He could think of several instances I which Vor ladies could be very threatening. “If so, they got more than they bargained for with me,” Simon said. “You think they would rethink their plan if it involved abducting the chief of ImpSec.”
Alys smiled at him. “They may not realize they abducted the chief of ImpSec,” she replied. “How many people actually know what Captain Illyan looks like…or expect to find him in a darkened library?”
She knew what he looked like, knew that she would never mistake him for anyone else. He might not be the most striking man, but then not many people had a chance to see the real Illyan. Alys did, and was sure that she would know him anywhere. She knew how a smile or laughter could transform his non-descript features. More, she was learning how he looked in more intimate moments, how those watchful eyes could turn dark with desire.
Simon opened his mouth, then closed it, and went back to prowling. “Maybe I need to work on my image.”
“Most people probably envision you as being six feet tall with fangs,” Alys said dryly. “Or like that Captain Kuryakin you keep around the Residence, the tall one.”
“The one who looks like he stepped off an ImpSec recruiting poster, yes,” Simon said shortly.
“After all, how many captains in dress greens are in the Residence at any given time,” Alys continued. “If they had left you, you would have raised the alarm.”
“True.” He stopped in front of the door, listened again. “Could I trouble you for a hairpin?”
Alys handed him one, then pinned her last rose in place. “How traditional of you.”
“Sometimes traditional is good.” Simon eased the door open. This was the dangerous part – finding a quick way out and not getting caught. A little luck would not hurt, he though, peering out into the hallway. The lack of any guards in the hallway made Simon think Alys might just be right about which one of them had been the target. Apparently he had been the accident, he thought grimly, a decision they were going to regret making.
It took two false starts before they found a door to the exterior. Simon did a quick visual check, but there didn’t seem to be any monitoring devices connected to the door. This lock was better – an electronic one that used codes that he happened to have filed away on the memory chip. He punched one in, and held his breath as the door lock cycled. Not a moment too soon, he thought, hearing a commotion that sounded like their unknown hosts had discovered the empty room.
When the door opened, he grabbed Alys’ hand, and escaped into the night.
After making a few twists and turns that seemed random to Alys, they came out into an area she recognized quite well. It was the old caravanserai, being modernized with a healthy dose of Imperial money. It wasn’t exactly a dangerous place, but she would be happy to get away from it. She would never forget the terror of being on these streets one night, when she had lost Padma. The memorial that marked the spot where he’d been killed, where she had almost been killed, was not far away. If Cordelia hadn’t been risking her life and others to save their son, Alys and her son would have died that night. She shivered, wishing she had a cloak, or that she was back in the Residence.
They had ducked into a corner, so Simon could get his bearings and decide on the next course of action. She stepped closer to him, grateful when he slid his arm around her. He had the abstracted look on his face that told her he was accessing the chip.
“The good news is, we’re pretty close to an ImpSec safe house,” he told her. “One with a vehicle.”
She nodded, looking down at her evening gown. “We’re awfully conspicuous.” This wasn’t the part of town that normally saw people in fancy dress, except after major events had let out.
“We’ll stick to the shadows,” he promised.
Simon propped up his usual section of wall in the ballroom, and waited for Alys to reappear. After they’d left the safe house and returned to the Residence, he’d escorted her to her offices. He wasn’t surprised that she kept a selection of appropriate outfits there, given her position. Regretfully, he’d left her there with a brush of their hands. After managing to make it back without incident – crazy as it seemed, the entire ordeal had only taken a little under three hours - he wasn’t going to mess it up by giving into his desire to drag her into a kiss.
It seemed like entirely too long before she was in the ballroom again. He had filled some of the time by ordering a few judicious ImpSec sweeps, including the building Alys lived in. Her son was safely at Vorkosigan House, but Simon wanted to make sure no one else got any funny ideas about kidnapping Lady Alys Vorpatril. That, and he'd started some inquiries into people's movements and the ownership of the building they'd escaped from, analyzing the possibility that there might be other targets. It was something to keep an eye on. Alys didn't think anyone targeting her would try a similar scheme any time soon, but he reserved the right to worry about it. After all, he was the ImpSec Chief.
The gown was very similar – someone who didn’t have an eidetic memory chip might not have even noticed the differences – and her hair was back in an elegant coiffure, without any escaping curls. The only major difference was the faint flush on her cheeks, and her new accessory – wide dark blue silk ribbons at her wrist, with a white rose pinned to it. It was simple and elegant and he bet it would be all the rage at the next ball. It also covered up the marks on her wrists that might cause comment.
Alys glanced in his direction, gave him a slight smile and nod, and moved to continue her duties. They were somewhat late, but not so much that it would be remarked on. They were in time for the dancing to open, and by the middle of the evening no one would really remark on them sharing a dance, as long as no one found out what else they shared.
He could worry about the questions later.
For now, he could keep his eyes on the woman he loved.