Jessa set the biggest suitcase she owned down in front of the high counter at the Atlanta HKR building with a thump. The human contractor working the reception station looked up at her, startled.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked.
”Hi, yes, I think so,” replied Jessa, shoving her dark Mediterranean curls back off her face. “I’m being called as a bride. I need to do the draft paperwork and then get a shuttle to the Mother Ship.”
“Umm, OK. Is your warrior…?”
“On the Mother Ship, yes. His name is Thail if you want to look him up in your system, and he’s one of the Dark Kindred.”
The receptionist chewed her lip. “Just a moment, Ms…?”
“Stefano. Jessa Stefano.”
“Right. Ms. Stefano, I need to get a supervisor for this, if you’ll hold on for a minute.”
The receptionist did not wait for an answer from Jessa before she scurried off through a door behind the counter. A minute later an icy blond Blood Kindred warrior emerged, frowning.
“Jessa Stefano?” he asked. “I’m Commander Ruje, the Kindred attaché for this HKR office.”
“Great,” she acknowledged. “Before we get started, is there any kind of paperwork I was supposed to bring with me? I went ahead and brought my passport, but I couldn’t find a document list on your website.”
“No,” Ruje drawled. Skepticism covered his face. “The only thing brides are required to have is the male calling them. You told Ms. Walters that your warrior is still on the Mother Ship? Has he not come to claim you?”
“Well, no,” Jessa fought the urge to squirm, sensing that the conversation was starting to go sideways on her. “But we’ve been dream sharing for eight months now. Everything I’ve read says that this always ends in a claiming. At first, I was really scared about it, but by now I’m mainly tired of not knowing.”
Jessa took a deep breath and twisted her hands in the hem of her shirt. “So, I’m here. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Either I’m Thail’s bride, or he needs to stop dream sharing with me.” Pleadingly, Jessa looked up at Ruje.
The Kindred looked back, nonplussed. “Eight months? By the Earth calendar? And in all that time your warrior has not attempted to claim you?”
“No,” admitted Jessa, wishing that a hole would open in the floor and swallow her up. “I know it’s weird. I don’t know if something’s gone wrong, or if Thail just doesn’t want me, or what. But I see him every night in my dreams.”
Jessa started ticking off fingers as she recited what she had learned. “Thail used to be one of the Dark Kindred. He does something about air quality on the Mother Ship. He’s a big guy like all of y’all, and he’s got tannish-bronze skin, with long, dark brown hair that he usually wears tied behind him and green eyes. He has a little scar on the bridge of his nose. If he’s not real, then I’m completely crazy.”
Ruje relaxed minutely when Jessa raised the possibility of delusions on her own. “Ms. Stefano, if I check and there is no such warrior on the Mother Ship, will you agree to seek psychiatric care?”
“Yes,” Jessa agreed without hesitation. “But I don’t think it’s going to work out that way.”
Ruje nodded, and turned to the nearest computer terminal. He tapped away for a few moments, and then rocked back on his feet ever so slightly.
“Ms. Stefano, I apologize. There is an unmated warrior matching that description on the Mother Ship. Are you…claiming him?”
“I can do that? And it’ll get me on the Mother Ship and let me find out why we’re dream sharing?”
“Yes. It, um… yes.”
Jessa took a deep breath and lifted her chin defiantly. “Then yes, I suppose I am. I claim Thail. Now what?”