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Authors: King of Clubs

Tags: #Romance, #erotic romance, #sci fi romance, #space opera, #romantica, #sci fi erotica

Bianca D'Arc

 

King of Clubs

 

by

 

Bianca D’Arc

 

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names,
characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s
imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be
construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead,
actual events, locale or organizations is entirely
coincidental.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
other people. If you would like to share this book with another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If
you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not
purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com
and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work
of this author.

 

Copyright © 2012
Bianca D’Arc

Smashwords Edition July 2012

Cover Art by
Valerie Tibbs

 

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book
may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written
permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in
critical articles and reviews.

 

 

 

Dedication

 

I’d like to acknowledge the help and support
of long-time reader and friend, Peggy McChesney, my Canadian
connection. She’s been a godsend many times over, always willing to
help when I need her most. Thank you from the bottom of my
heart.

I would also like to thank Valerie Tibbs of
Tibbs Design for another awesome cover. Love it, Valerie!

And as always, I dedicate my work to my
family. In this particular case, to my Dad – my very own “rocket
scientist.” Dad encouraged my love of science and science fiction
from my earliest days. Having a Dad who worked on the space program
during its heyday is something I’ve come to appreciate more and
more as I get older. Thank goodness I still have a chance to bounce
my science fiction ideas off him from time to time, even if he
doesn’t read romance. Someday I hope to write a book he can
actually read! LOL!

 

 

Chapter One

 

Chip arrived at
The Rabbit Hole
on
Madhatter Station
expecting to find the bar closed, with
only the cleaning bots active. What he found was something quite
different. The server bots were busy pouring and delivering drinks
to the off duty crew of mechs and techs who sat at tables in the
dim interior of the bar. They had mostly just come off shift from
the mech core of the station, which was on the same level as the
tavern.

The long bar itself was occupied by a small
but solid group of retired soldiers, set apart from the rest of
humanity by their sheer size, physical fitness level and military
bearing. They didn’t fit in well with the rest of the populace, so
if they made it to retirement age, they usually clustered together
in small groups. It was easier that way. They felt more comfortable
around their own kind. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that
civilians felt more
un
comfortable around soldiers, than the
other way around.

The club called
The Rabbit Hole
was a
gently whirling maelstrom of activity. Comforting rather than
frenetic. It had a soothing rhythm of conversation, soft music, dim
lighting and the appetizing aroma of the snacks and quick meals
being served at various tables.

At the center of all the activity was a
woman. Not a girl. No, this female had some years on her, but not
enough to make her old,
per se
. No, she looked competent.
Experienced. And absolutely appealing in every way.

If he had to guess, Chip would say she was a
little younger than he was. Perfectly aged for his tastes. And the
more he watched her, the more attractive she became.

She handled the crowd well, seeming to enjoy
being the center of activity in a room filled mostly by men. Nobody
disrespected her and she ruled the bar with a gentle hand. She
seemed equally comfortable with the soldiers as with the civs,
which was something unique in Chip’s experience. A clearly civilian
woman like this was usually wary of big brutes like him and the
other retirees sitting amicably at the bar.

Deciding to approach cautiously and do some
reconnaissance before he announced his presence and position, Chip
sidled up to the bar. The others recognized what he was, if not
exactly
who
he was.

The woman herself came over to take his
order. He noted with interest that she let the server and cleaning
bots do most of the work out among the tables, but she kept the bar
work for herself.

“What’ll it be?” She placed a coaster in
front of him.

“I see you have Pearson’s Star Ale on tap.
I’ll take one of those.” He slid his credit chit across the surface
of the gleaming bar toward her.

She touched it and only then did her gaze
rise to meet his. Her eyes widened and her mouth opened, just
slightly, betraying her surprise. Though why she should be
surprised to see a soldier like him bellying up to the bar, he had
no idea.

“Um…” She hesitated a fraction before she
visibly regained her composure. “Coming right up.”

He watched as she poured the ale. She was
good at what she did, but her movements didn’t have the easy
familiarity of a life-long bar maid. No, this lady was new to the
profession. Competent but not quite polished yet.

He noticed that she set the bot to serve the
bar before coming back to serve his ale. She placed the old
fashioned pint glass in front of him and smiled nervously.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

“What?” Her startling words surprised an
unguarded response out of him, much to his chagrin.

“You.” She seemed at a loss for words, but
found some that didn’t mean much to him. “You’re the King of
Clubs.”

“The what?” He counseled himself to calm. He
needed to assess what she was telling him. Was this some sort of
code?

She reached for a heavily embroidered pouch
at her waist and pulled out a well-worn deck of cards from within.
She shuffled through the cards for a moment, looking for something.
When she found the card she wanted, she placed it on the bar,
facing him.

“That’s you. The King of Staves in the Tarot
deck. He’s the King of Clubs in the playing deck. This is how I
knew you were coming.”

Chip studied the card on the bar, not wanting
to touch it for some reason. Sure enough, the man depicted wearing
a crown on the ancient card looked a lot like him. Same hair. Same
eyes. Same set of the jaw. The dude on the card could have been
him—if he’d ever worn a crown.

Chip had worn a lot of different disguises in
his line of work, but he’d never posed as royalty. And he wasn’t
about to start now. Still, the woman’s words puzzled him.

“You saw the card and that told you I would
be arriving here, in your bar?”

“It’s not my bar, but yes, that’s the gist of
it. I’m a reader. I mean…” she blushed prettily. “I mean, I can see
the future in the lay of the cards. It’s something that runs in my
family. It’s how I knew I had to come here, to this bar on this
station, to meet you.”

“You’re kidding, right?” A smile wanted to
break out over his lips, but this woman seemed to be serious.

Thankfully she laughed first. “Figures you’d
be a skeptic. The cards warned that we would have a rocky
start.”

“You’re serious.” His smile died.

He’d seen a lot of weird shit in his line of
work. He’d even seen true clairvoyance once. Only once. It had
freaked him out then, and if this woman were for real, Chip was
afraid he was about to be freaked out again.

“Sorry. Yes, I am serious. Let’s take this
slower.” She put the cards away and wiped her hands on her apron.
Taking a deep breath, she held out her right hand across the bar.
“Hi, I’m Lila Senna. I’ve been running the bar until the new
manager arrives.”

Chip got off his bar stool and stood, as
manners required, to shake her hand.

“I’m Charles Quartain, the new manager. Folks
call me Chip.”

“I knew it!” Her eyes lit with something that
looked like victory as she smiled.

He couldn’t help but grin back. She really
was adorable, even if she was a bit on the nutty side. He reclaimed
his seat, taking a sip of his ale as he thought fast.

“Senna, you said?” Her last name sounded
familiar. He went back over the most recent intel reports he’d had
before coming here. “Is Adele Senna a relation? Your sister,
maybe?”

She laughed and the sound enchanted him.

“You’re kind, but Adele is my daughter.
Della, the former card dealer in this establishment, is my
sister.”

“Della.” Della Senna. Oh yeah, he knew that
name. She was the one, honest to goodness clairvoyant he’d ever
encountered.

“You know her?” Lila’s pretty eyes narrowed
in suspicion.

“Our paths crossed once. Let’s just say, it
was memorable.”

“Dammit. Did you sleep with her?” Lila seemed
immediately contrite, as if she couldn’t quite believe she’d spoken
her thoughts out loud. Chip had to laugh. “Forget I said that,
please.” She busied her hands, wiping down the bar with a small
towel.

“No need. I never had the pleasure,” he
admitted. “But I was the recipient of a… uh… I guess you’d call it
a reading.”

“Della read your cards?” Her embarrassment
was replaced by curiosity as the towel in her hand stilled on the
bar top.

“She didn’t use cards, but she did give me a
warning about my future. Something that ended up being all too
accurate, as it turned out.” He wouldn’t go into more detail than
that. The mission he’d been on was still classified. He couldn’t
discuss it with anyone. He decided to change the subject. “So your
sister Della works here?”

Lila nodded. “Yes, though as you probably
know, she and Alex Hambly, the owner, are traveling at
present.”

The look in her eyes told him she knew more
than she was saying about her sister’s travels. He wouldn’t ask her
here, out in the open. And there was the little matter of
confirming her identity before he proceeded any further, of course.
If she checked out, then he’d dig a little deeper to find out what
she knew.

And if she didn’t check out, he’d still dig
deeper, but in a slightly more… adversarial sort of way.

“I thought the bar would be closed until I
got here.” He steered the conversation down a different path once
again.

“Alex left one of the old timers in charge.
He was running the place when I got here but he wasn’t happy about
it. He’d agreed to oversee things for a few days, but when it
turned into weeks, he wanted out. He basically dumped the key codes
on me the moment he heard I was Della’s sister and took off. I
figured I could keep things going until you got here.”

“And the cards told you I was coming. Did
they tell you when?” He only half believed her claim. Normally, he
wouldn’t give a claim of clairvoyance any credit at all, but if she
really was Della’s sister, she might not be lying after all. He had
to proceed with caution.

“Well, the cards said either two days, two
weeks or two months. And here you are… two weeks later. Tell me,
why do they call you Chip?” She turned the tables on him,
challenging him with a teasing smile. He’d be damned if she wasn’t
flirting with him—or at least giving every appearance of flirting.
Suspicious by nature and by training, he wondered why.

“Well, it’s a traditional nickname for
Charles, but I earned it by becoming poker champion of my unit back
in the day. They called me Poker Chip for a while because of the
huge pot of chips I won, but eventually it got shortened to just
Chip.”

“You’re a gambler?” Her tone was lighter now,
not as seductive, and he wondered at the change. Did she not like
gambling? That seemed odd for a woman who ran a bar.

He leaned in and decided to play his part. He
gave her a toothy grin. “I’m a winner. There’s a difference.”

She laughed, as he’d intended.

Touché
, Mr. Quartain. Indeed there is.”

“It’s just Chip, please,” he replied in a
friendly tone, once again on an even keel with her. “So you’ve been
running this place by yourself for two weeks?” He looked around at
the comfortable establishment, missing little.

“Two weeks to the day,” she confirmed. The
server bot trundled around behind her, dispensing drinks for the
other patrons at the bar. He’d deliberately sat at one end where
his nearest neighbor was out of earshot.

“What can you tell me about the place?” He
figured he might as well play the part of new manager.

“It gets busy at shift changes, as you can
see, though this is the mildest one of the cycle. Midday is the
busiest. We’re on night shift now, so these folks are facing a
morning rotation. Some are having breakfast before going on shift
and a few are left over from the previous staggered changeover,
having what would be dinner for them before they go to their
compartments for a rest period.” Though
The Rabbit Hole
was
first and foremost a bar, it also served simple food items and Chip
could see that most of the civs had a plate or bowl in front of
them.

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