Here is chapter 4 with Frei battling some stubborn slaves. I hope you enjoy!
My thoughts: As always, any story with Aeron and Renee needs a splash of Frei. I had to rewrite Frei’s storyline many times before I found the right way. I realised, after the umpteenth time of rewriting her scenes, that I wasn’t listening to her. She not only wanted to hold up her side of the plot but she had never been given the room on the page to understand her freedom or her feelings. She’d come a long way from the cold boss yelling at Renee in The Empath and she wanted that explored. When I listened, her storyline rolled out naturally… even this many books in, all the characters took the plot but wrote their own stories. So, Frei has been through a lot since seeing Theo in Noble Heart and she’s not quite sure how she feels…
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Copyright © 2018 Jody Klaire.
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Frei had always tried to overcome her past. Slavery wasn’t an easy scar to leave behind even if she tried to convince herself that she had. Yes, she would always be a locksmith but she ate at the table like a non-slave; she had property, family, and even closer friends. She was a general in CIG, she’d had the luxury of falling in love, three times: first with Fahrer, a fellow slave, who had been heartbroken to learn she’d had a daughter yet he’d died to save Jessie.
Frei sped up as she drove through tall marble gates and glared at the guardhouse. She took the liberty to think about Fahrer sometimes. She visited the memorial that she’d placed inside her family’s estate for him next to the one she’d placed for Suz, her sister. She sat there and talked to them, like a non-slave would do. Renee had helped her learn how to talk that way. They’d never so much as kissed but she’d loved him. She’d loved him through the toughest years and he’d loved her yet he couldn’t let go being a slave. He’d been angry with her for helping others to be free.
She sped up as the car kicked up gravel either side. The long driveway was the same as it was in her family’s estate… and every other slave owner’s estate.
Her second love was Doctor Susan Gossett. That twist had been unexpected. Susan was part-slave, part-experiment, part-genius. She didn’t know much about the slavery network. Her “adopted” father, Doctor Gossett, had experimented on patients in Serenity Hills. Falling in love with a free-person had been something she’d needed to battle. Growing up as a slave, she was ingrained with the message that she was lesser than free-people. The ones she’d known had been slave owners or staff working for them. It was only knowing Renee, Susan, the CIG team, and then Aeron that showed her they thought of her as equal. Not just that but Susan, Renee, and Aeron loved her back.
Frei roared by the guards lining the crest of the driveway and eased to a stop outside the massive grand mansion.
Then, there was Theo. His aunt, Sabine Hartmann, was a renowned slave owner. She was so powerful that she preyed on other slave owners and tore their wealth, power and then freedom from them. Yes, if Susan, as a free-person, was someone she shouldn’t dare love, then Theo with his position in Hartmann’s estate as her security chief, with his connections to generations of slave owners, was someone she shouldn’t dare speak to let alone kiss.
However, the very thought of slavery disgusted Theo; the very mention of imprisonment or brutality made him glower with the injustice of it. He carried every mannerism of a slave owner yet bore no love for them. He was upright, honest, handsome and loyal. He showed only concern for her worries and fascination with her reports… but then, he didn’t know about Susan.
Frei got out of the car and stared up at the slavery-stamped residence. Only, Hartmann’s home could dwarf most castles.
“Locks,” a female servant said with a trained smile as she held open the door. “Frau Hartmann is not currently in.”
“She invited me,” Frei mumbled, gaze locked on the marble steps up to the main entrance. Non-slaves used the main steps. “I have luggage but I’ll carry it up.”
“But Frau Hartmann is not in.” The servant frowned at her. She looked older and still had identity bars in her ears. Hartmann wasn’t meant to have slaves anymore.
“Are you still chipped?” Frei tried to keep her tone civil.
“No,” she grunted back. “Frau Hartmann lets me wear them when Theo isn’t around.”
“Does she?” Frei tensed. There was a surprise, a slave owner being less than honest. “What else does she allow?”
The servant hitched her shoulders then glowered. “It is not my place to answer questions and it’s not your place to ask.” She went to Frei’s trunk and opened it. “I am happy not to remember what name someone has given me. What do I want with a name?”
Frei put her hands on her hips as the woman scanned over her suitcase. Her device beeped, a lot. “I carry weapons. If Hartmann doesn’t like it, I’m happy to leave.”
Another servant, a male one, hurried over. “We can’t let this in the house.”
“Then I leave.” She took the case from the woman and went to put it in the trunk.
“Wait,” the man said, exchanging a panicked look with the woman. “Frau Hartmann told you to attend, you’re not allowed to just go when you feel like.”
“This is Theo’s influence,” the woman said with a gravelly voice. “He gives us names and tries to educate us… it’s confusing things.”
The man nodded and snatched Frei’s suitcases back. “Yes, why do I want to know how to divide? I can count room numbers and put luggage in. I am useful.”
Frei yanked her case back. “And Hartmann thinks that’s good for you?”
The man sighed. “Frau Hartmann puts up with Theo’s ideas because he has a good nature.” He rolled his eyes. “You need a firm hand with slaves. The younger ones take advantage as it is.”
“Slaves?” Frei put her case in the car.
“Fine, servants.” The woman went to the trunk and lifted the cases back out like Frei was being a petulant child. “I was made to sign some form I can’t read. Theo told me it means I’m not owned.” She thunked the cases to the ground. “He has no idea how undignified that position is.”
The man nodded and tried to wrench open the cases. “The younger ones vacation… you understand that?” He grunted as he tried, and failed, to open the locks. “They write letters to each other… they have relationships.” He curled his lips, disgust in his eyes. “They aren’t neutered… they had babies… three extra babies.” He slammed his fist to the case as if that would help break it open. “Two even got married… married…” He shook his head. “Ridiculous, that’s what it is.”
The woman took something from her pockets and scanned over the locks on the cases. “Next they’ll want to have mistresses and own property.”
Both laughed like that was farcical.
“Yes, next they’ll want to think for themselves too.” Frei pulled her suitcases from them. “I’m a locksmith, do you really think you’re going to break them open?”
Both looked at her then shrugged.
She motioned to the house. “So…?”
“Frau Hartmann isn’t in. No new slaves are allowed in while she is out.” The man folded his arms and the woman nodded.
“I don’t care.” She glanced up at the steps and wheeled her suitcases behind her, remote-locking the car over her shoulder. “Try touching it and it’ll electrocute you.”
“But that’s Frau Hartmann’s space,” the woman said, hurrying to catch up with her.
“Good.” Frei strode in through the slave entrance and headed up the stairs. Hartmann would be on the middle floor which would have a huge balcony to overlook the even larger grounds.
The servants caught up to her and ushered her to Hartmann’s room.
“I’m not staying in her room,” she muttered.
“You don’t wish to stay in Frau Hartmann’s room?” The man looked to her like she had lost all sense.
“I am not her mistress. It is inappropriate.” She glared at the man but there wasn’t much use trying to reason with him. As a slave, if she was there because Hartmann wanted her company then she was to place herself in their rooms and be grateful that Hartmann decided she was interesting. She could imagine Theo’s face if she agreed. She could imagine Renee’s face if she told her.
“Locks, you speak out of turn. You are here to see Frau Hartmann. You must stay in her room.” The woman wagged her finger at Frei.
“I am otherwise involved with Theo,” she shot back, squashing down the guilt. Susan was bereft that she had left to come here, that’s when they were speaking. Susan’s memory was choppy at best. When she remembered Frei had kissed Theo and told him she loved him, Susan threw things. When she couldn’t remember who Theo was but just knew she was insecure about Frei’s feelings for him, she cried.
Neither was pleasant.
“Involved?” The man furrowed his brow. “Then you stay in his room and explain yourself when he shows up.”
“I’ll have my own room.” Frei narrowed her eyes at the man who stepped back.
“Fine.” The woman tugged her by the elbow and stopped further along the corridor. “Frau Hartmann won’t like it.”
“Then she can talk to me and I’ll tell her where to stick it.” Frei heard herself growl sure that she sounded far more like Renee than she meant to. Made her smile. Made her smile more than was reasonable.
Both stared at her.
“Well?” Frei motioned to the room. Renee had asked her why she didn’t sleep in Susan’s room either. Frei had tried to explain that societal rules were different where she’d come from. Slaves weren’t allowed relationships at all and slaves never slept anywhere near free-people unless they were being used as entertainment. That enforcement was so strong that even though her mother was now free and married to her father, they slept in different wings.
“There you go,” the woman opened the room and pursed her lips. A slave’s room, but a high ranking slave, with one bed, one desk, a lamp, a chair and bookshelf.
“I’m not a slave,” Frei growled, her temper bubbling up. She stomped to the room next to Theo’s and picked the lock then headed in and dumped her cases on the bed in a way she swore Renee would cheer her for. “I don’t answer to Hartmann or Theo or you.” She slammed the door in their faces and fought the urge not to clean the sideboard or sit on the floor.
An odd image of Aeron and Renee walking over to hug her rattled through her mind and steadied her enough that she sat on the coffee table——couldn’t bring herself to use the chair——and she rubbed her clammy hands over her knees.
Maybe she’d had more than three loves? Wasn’t what she felt for Aeron and Renee love? She adored them both far more than any friendship and they weren’t blood. They felt as close to her as blood but in a different way. It confused her.
She pulled out her phone and checked Renee’s status—She was in Oppidum, in Nan’s Cabin—Yes, Frei loved them as much as if she were in love. She could sleep beside them sometimes, hug them, talk to them, express herself, be free, be comforted by them… wasn’t that the same thing?
Renee would know. She’d understand how to explain differences.
Frei hit call not knowing why but she could do that with Renee, she could just call for no reason.
“You get there okay?” Renee asked muttering like she was trying to fiddle with something. Most likely something mechanical with Renee. Give her a wrench and she was happy.
“Yes.” Frei walked to the window and looked out. Same view as every other slave owner had just on a larger scale.
“Take it someone annoyed you,” Renee said with a gentle tone. “Remember that Hartmann isn’t going to talk easily but you’re no subordinate.” Said as if she knew exactly what Frei needed. “She’s lucky you accepted her invitation.”
“I only did it to find Aeron,” Frei mumbled then glanced in the direction of Theo’s room. “We need their help.”
“And you haven’t seen Theo since he left your place.” She grunted and something clunked. “It’s normal to feel awkward. It was pretty intense when you met him but take the space to explore if you still like him.”
Frei shook her head at the room. “This is not a social occasion.” Feelings were something to explore when she’d found and rescued Aeron so Renee could throttle her.
“No, but you kissed him and told the guy you were in love with him and you don’t do that lightly.” Renee clunked something else. “You thought he was adorable, remember?”
“You’re quite a lady,” Theo said as he walked into the hallway, smart in his tailored suit. His face more healthy now Aeron had healed him… and yes, more handsome. “I can’t say that I’ve ever met anyone like you, your family, or your… friends.”
Frei laughed. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
He smiled his broad joy-filled smile. “I’m not sure how she helped me but…” He sighed and scrunched his lips to the side. “She doesn’t appear to be as violent as she depicts.”
Frei raised her eyebrow. “You don’t say.”
He tutted and wagged his finger at her, his clear eyes twinkling. “You are a puzzle, Miss Locks.” He looked down the long corridor and out of the pool room windows as the chopper started up. “But one I would very much like to solve.”
“That could take a while,” she whispered, wanting to check him over, to make sure he was healed, to hold him.
“I very much feel that you are worth every effort.” He stooped, took her hand, and kissed it.
She held his hand, pulled him to her, and sank into his lips. “Love always is.”
His smile filled his eyes. “Yes, I believe it is.”
Frei let his hand go and he strode off. She knew it was as hard for him to get on the chopper as it was for her to watch him go.
“We’ve barely spoken since.” Frei fished out her earpiece from her pocket and switched the call to it. “And I am more concerned with Aeron. Have you felt anything that could help?”
Renee sighed. “Yes and no. Nan told me to piece together Dad’s breadcrumbs but I can’t figure out why listening to his status reports can help.” She clunked something again. “I don’t get why Owens was up there, I don’t know who the woman was that tried to help Matt… I don’t get it.”
“Has Fleming given you anything?” Which was a silly question. Fleming would contact Frei first but she might have called Lilia, Aeron’s mom. Lilia had been head of CIG once but she was FBI not military like Frei, Aeron, and Renee. Fleming, who was an internal affairs investigator in the FBI herself, might well go to a fellow colleague.
“Me? No.” Renee grunted it. “I called her yesterday hoping that if I begged, she’d come up with something on the marshals or the judge Aeron was taken to.”
“And?” Frei took the lock from her jacket pocket and held it next to the cases which sprang open.
“She told me she wasn’t my secretary,” Renee mumbled like Fleming had said it with a lot more less polite words in between. “She said they found the judge in a river and the marshals who took Aeron from the airport in St. Louis were fake.”
Frei rubbed at her forehead. The marshals who had found Aeron on Black Ridge Mountain were official ones and checked out. They’d taken Aeron to a local hospital to get her help then she’d been flown to St. Louis in Missouri under the guise that she’d skipped her probation leaving the state and would have to face reprimand by a judge. Then she’d landed, been checked through the airport, and signed over to fake marshals who were supposed to take her to a judge that had been found in a river. That was months ago. The judge had been their sole lead.
“You sent the descriptions to Jessie?” Frei fought the urge to head to the drinks’ cabinet. “Has she found anything?”
“I did and whoever they were they had the same motif that Susan saw on the guys who were at her clinic.” Renee groaned and clunked something. “Only Susan can’t actually remember having a clinic at the moment.”
Frei did walk to the drinks’ cabinet. “She’s upset I’m not there.” She squashed down the guilt of mentioning Susan in Theo’s home. “My mother has enforced physical training to get Jessie off the computer as it is.”
Her seventeen year old daughter might have been the owner of an entire estate, highly intelligent, and brilliantly talented locksmith with technology but she had enough scars. And, like Frei at her age, wanted to fix everything herself.
“Staring at the screen isn’t good for her,” Renee thunked something then muttered under her breath about something not making sense. “I feel so freaking useless, Urs.”
“Me too,” Frei whispered and closed her eyes. “Aeron’s alive. I know she is. We’ll find her.”
“Just keep telling me that when I wobble.” Renee’s voice thinned like she was stifling tears. “I’m good with action. Sitting on my ass, not so much.”
A knock sounded at the door and Frei tensed. “I have to go play nice.”
“Remember you like the Bavarian… even if he’s sane and not in a doctor’s coat.” Renee shot it like a dart of support and cut the line.
Frei gripped the phone and held it close to her mouth as if hugging it somehow would send that through to Renee and Aeron. Then, she pocketed the phone, headed to the door and opened it.
Theo beamed back at her with his clear eyes, low brow and the sweetest, most unguarded smile. The zing of attraction hit her full force in the heart and she swallowed. Bavarian, right, yes. She did like him.
“Miss Locks,” he said in his smooth accent then took her hand and kissed it. “I am told you are far happier in this room.”
Frei nodded. “It’s not appropriate for me to sleep in your aunt’s room.”
He raised both eyebrows.
“Exactly.” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “It is not appropriate for me to sleep in your room either.”
“I would expect nothing less of a lady.” Theo nodded then smiled and touched his cheek. “Aunt Sabine and I have been working on your behalf. We have found information I think you might find useful.”
She hugged him.
He hugged her back with a wistful sigh. “Your friend did so much for me, it is only right that we help in return.”
“I know but I missed you.” She squeezed, trying to ignore the grumble in her head that she missed Susan too.
Theo ran his hand over the small over her back and kissed the side of her head. “I am very glad to hear this.” He took her hand as she locked her door then led her down the corridor. “I would love to hear all about how Jessie is doing at dinner.”
Frei smiled. Theo had younger sisters whom he loved to tell her about. He loved family. “Well… she spends far too much time in front of a computer eating chips…”
Non-slave… she could do this. She could.