Fiddlestix has met the leader of the Shine Clan, General Deacon Scott, newly promoted after the death of his father. Though they don’t really trust one another, they have an uneasy truce. Fiddlestix says she’s been sent by General T. H. McLain. The name resonates with Deacon – and not in a good way.
“He used to be one of us,” Deacon sighed. “There was some trouble about twenty years ago between him and our father. He got tossed out on his ass.”
Fiddlestix took in this information without blinking. Her mind clicked into high gear. All sorts of new, unpleasant possible scenarios popped into her head. As she sorted through them, she listened to what Deacon Scott had to say.
“This makes your story somewhat less plausible, Miss Braun.”
Fiddlestix pursed her lips, relaxing her pose. “I’d say it has pretty much the opposite effect, Mr. Scott.” If he was going to leave off her hard earned rank, she’d do the same. “Sounds to me like we just validated everything. McLain’s a snake. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d done this on purpose.”
“With what motivation, Miss Braun?” Deacon rose, leaning across the table.
“Well, Mr. Scott,” she stood up, looking small and vulnerable in comparison. “I can think of half a dozen different reasons. You look like a relatively intelligent man. I bet if a little, bitty girl like me can think of that many, a big, strapping man like you could come up with a least—four.” She hid a smirk, but it was in her voice, the tilt of her head, the angle of her shoulders. She was laughing at him.
Deacon wanted to throw something. He fought the urge to roar, punch the wall or toss his chair across the table at her. He heard Jasper snicker, trying hard to make it sound like a sneeze. At least three of his men were also finding humor in this confrontation. If it hadn’t pissed him off so damn much, he’d have been laughing too.
Fiddlestix’ men looked terrified. They saw an enormous, angry man looming across a narrow, flimsy table in a room deep underground with no sure way out. What was Sarge doing? Why was she baiting him like that? Shouldn’t she be negotiating? Playing nice? Maybe doing whatever a woman did to a man to make him more compliant? So far, she’d done everything except shoot him. If it was possible to verbally castrate a man, she was working on it. Kaz, who was a short, wiry built man, swallowed with difficulty, his hands shaking. Harmony, who wasn’t used to feeling small, was. They didn’t dare speak. Neither man wanted to draw attention to himself.
“Suppose you share one of your theories with us.” An older man with graying hair leaned over, striking a pose much like Jasper’s.
Fiddlestix’ eyes flickered over to him. She liked what she saw. He was slightly shorter than Jasper, lean built, but strong. His green eyes glimmered with humor, his lips twitched with suppressed humor.
“Yes, sir,” she sat smoothly, crossing her legs elegantly. Despite her combat gear, she comported herself like a lady.
“No need to sir me, Master Sergeant. We’re the same rank. Master Sergeant Frank Lord.” He nodded at Jasper and Deacon. “Their uncle. I was by their father’s side when some of those wild men cut him down.”
She saw now that he carried himself carefully, as if nursing a wound. There was a tightness around his lips that spoke of great pain. He’d been wounded, rather severely, but he’d never in a million years show weakness in front of her.
“Yes, Master Sergeant Lord. I’d be happy to. Provided General Scott doesn’t object.”
Frank Lord glanced at his nephew. “He don’t mind. He’s just a dumb hillbilly who can’t control his temper.” He nodded sharply at Deacon to sit. Fiddlestix suppressed a smile as Deacon sat without argument.
“If General McLain is who we think,” she continued. “Then none of this should surprise us. In fact, it fills in a lot of gaps in his narrative. I think it’s a good possibility that he sent them here to attack you. If they can get a toehold, they can wipe the whole lot of you out. There’s very little defense against these guys.”
“Why would he want to do that, Master Sergeant?” Lord asked quietly.
“Like I said, he’s a snake and a dumb son-of-a-bitch. He carries a grudge and he’s now in a position to do something about it. Even if they don’t take you all out, you’re weakened and vulnerable. Then he sends me in with my people, without asking, and that would, in my opinion, constitute a warlike act. I don’t take kindly to well armed interlopers on my turf. I don’t suppose you do either.”
Jasper’s eyes twinkled, but he didn’t speak. Frank Lord smiled gently, his eyes softening. “No, I don’t suppose we do.”
© 2017 Dellani Oakes