Touch of Lightning Sneak Peek

Book 1 in the Lightning Touch Series

Chapter 1

The screen on the Navigational Computer flashed red in the top right corner and my heart stuttered. It would’ve taken a fraction of a second to bring up the following warning message, but to me, it felt like minutes.

No…

This was the part of my job I hated.

There was ground movement predicted in the area. Strong ground movement. They estimated a 4.5 on the meter, complete with aftershocks.

“Javolo?” My heart was pounding in my throat and I could hardly push the word out.
“Yeah?” His voice sounded extra scratchy over the Com system today.

I could feel a cold sweat forming on my forehead. “You need to hang on to something. You’re about to get a four point five.”

“Okay, Cal. Will do.”

Another thing I couldn’t stand was the wait. I couldn’t breathe properly. I tried to sit still in my seat and calm down. It didn’t work. It never worked. If they knew how badly the quakes affected me, I’d lose my job instantly.

Breathe… Just breathe. In. Out. In. Out.

My hands were shaking so badly that I shoved them under my thighs to stop them.

“Are you somewhere relatively safe?” I could hear the tremor in my voice and hoped the distortion through the Com would hide it.

“Yep.”

I resisted the urge to ask Javolo if he felt anything yet. I couldn’t ask any questions that could give away how I was really feeling. I had to appear calm. They recorded all conversations.

In. Out. Relax…

I wasn’t scared for me. I was safe and sound in my little cubicle up on the space station while Javolo was underground down on the planet, Kronos, mining the universe’s most sort-after mineral, Amakio, and putting his life on the line. I was scared for him, and all of the other Diggers down there.

Most of the quakes on the planet were minor, and there had only been one partial collapse of one of the tunnels since I’d started working for Katoa Intergalactic Mining and Exploration five months before, but that knowledge didn’t help to ease my panic every time it happened.

“Okay, here it comes…”

My heart stopped, I was sure of it. Then galloped ahead full speed as I waited.

Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Relax… Let go of the desk… Relax… Start with your fingers and toes…

I kept trying to relax, one part of me at a time. Maybe it helped. I couldn’t tell.

Why did I even apply for this job in the first place? Yeah, I know. I gotta start somewhere and work my way up… But I don’t think I can handle this. Panicking every time I see those words on the screen… I couldn’t cope if something happened to Javolo… He’s my friend… My best friend.

Sure, there were the girls I knew from work — the other Nav Operators and admin staff — but it was different with them. They were friends, but not real friends. I couldn’t really talk to them. Not about the important stuff.

Then there was Malvolio. We’d been seeing each other for about four weeks, but that was a totally different kind of relationship.

“Cal?”

Javolo’s voice brought my thoughts back to the present. “Uh, yeah?”

Only Javolo would think to shorten my surname from Callista to Cal, as if it was my first name.
He reported exactly what the Nav Computer had told me as it happened. Three smaller tremors… Then…

“Whoah!”

I put my hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t cry out. Then I started my relaxation techniques again. I had to pull myself together, and quickly. I had to wipe the image of being surrounded by dirt and tree roots from my mind.

“Okay. It’s gone.”

I remembered to remove my hand. I took a deep breath and opened my mouth to talk, but Javolo beat me to it.

“That was a big one. Nearly knocked me on my butt.”

A picture of him falling onto his butt in his cumbersome Mech-suit popped into my mind. Now that would be funny to see. And it would be even funnier once he tried to get back up. I’d seen footage of just how difficult that task was in a training video.

Mech-suits were big mechanical suits that the Diggers could climb into that supplied oxygen and boosted their strength so they could dig up the Amakio and bring it back to the waiting shuttles. They had arms and legs powered by hydraulics that were extensions of the Diggers limbs, allowing them to dig and lift heavy weights while mining.

“I told you to hang on to something.”

There really wasn’t anything he could hold on to down there, but I had to say something to try to lighten the situation.

I forced myself to breathe slower and waited for my heartbeat to return to normal. My hands still shook so I clasped them together in my lap. I hated feeling like this. It was overwhelming, but I was thankful he was okay.

“Yeah, that you did…” he said.

I braced myself and waited for more aftershocks. They were only minor. I had to keep telling myself everything was okay and to relax.

I pulled my thoughts from the images in my mind that I wish I could forget and I tried to keep my voice even. “Okay, report.”

“No damage. No more ground movement. The suit’s reporting that all systems are functioning normally. Anyway, guess what?”

I smiled. Javolo didn’t miss a beat. It was straight back to our conversation. “What?”

I busied myself with the Nav Computer terminal, collating all the information that Javolo’s Mech-suit had reported before the quake so it could correlate with the sixteen orbiting navigational satellites and make the necessary corrections to his position on the screen. Now I had his exact location.

“Last night I saw the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen!” he exclaimed through the static over the Com.

Where did that come from? I wondered.

The last thing we were talking about that wasn’t work-related was a HoloMovie I’d seen recently about a droid that thought it was human. But I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to tease him.

“Ah-huh. Like the redhead you saw last month?” I laughed. “Or the brunette in the grav shaft last week?”

“No,” he said quickly, “this is different. Cut me some slack, huh?”

“Nah. Can’t do that.” I giggled. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t care that I was sitting in my dull little cubicle all by myself with a wide grin plastered on my face.

This was the part of the job I loved the most. I could dig at him like that and he knew I was kidding. He may have been my work partner, but it wasn’t all business. We could joke around and be ourselves, even though it was frowned upon by ‘The Company’ as we called it.

“She looked amazing,” he continued.

I rolled my eyes and stopped myself from laughing out loud. “Suuure she did.”
I couldn’t agree with him. What would be the fun in that?

“I’m serious.”

The Nav Computer was taking its sweet time. We couldn’t do anything until I had all of the information. There could be warnings in the last few segments of data.

My mind wandered while we waited. Rogan, the partner I’d had before Javolo, was all business and no interesting conversation. Once he’d been replaced by Javolo, my job had become a lot more interesting. A lot more fun.

I looked back at the data on the screen. Still not finished. Talk about slow. It was frustrating. Everything was so out-dated and archaic here. They needed to update the whole system and I knew exactly which one would be able to handle the workload. Computers were something I knew well. Something I’d excelled in throughout my schooling.

I’d majored in Polymer Science and Engineering and wanted to work for Katoa’s research department on things like improving the materials for the Mech-suits and oxygen masks, but I’d quickly realised once I’d started working here that they weren’t interested in keeping their technology up-to-date. It seemed they didn’t like to spend money, even if it would improve efficiency and safety. I only had to look at the ridiculously archaic equipment we were forced to work with to see that. Typical. Were all large companies like this?

I seriously hoped not.

This low-end job was supposed to be my start so I could move up to Research and Development, but I’d decided on a different strategy. I’d already started to research other companies. There was no way I was going to stay here once my two-year contract was up. It had turned out to be a dead-end job, even if it was with one of the biggest companies in the Known Universe.

“Where to now, Boss?”

I tried to suppress a giggle, and failed. “Ah, I like that.”

“Like what?”

I sat up straighter. “You admitting I’m the boss.”

“Well, you order me around all day and I have to obey your every command. It’s almost like we’re married.”

I stopped what I was doing. Why did my stomach do a little fluttery dance when he said that?
I tried to concentrate on what I was supposed to do next. “Umm, still waiting on the computer to give me everything.”

Then the last of the information finally hit the screen. I read through all the relevant stuff. No warnings. No problems.

Good.

“No probs with the report. Time to get back to work.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

I checked the blurb on the side of the screen telling me where the next vein started. “Head down the tunnel to your right.”

“On it.”

I remembered what we were talking about. “Come on then, tell me about her.”

“She has long dark hair and bright blue eyes that seem to flash at you when she smiles,” he began.

Oh, wow… What a description! I thought, a smile tugging at my lips. Javolo was such a romantic.

“Turn left at that intersection and go down about twenty metres,” I said. I could hear the suit’s hydraulics as he walked the distance. That was unusual. The connection was clearer than normal for a few seconds.

“And she has the most perfect bod…”

Typical male, I laughed to myself. So much for being a romantic. “Yeah, I believe you…” I told him. “Stop there.”

“It’s true,” he protested. “Okay, it’s true this time… Well, ya know, last time the girl wasn’t perfect like I’d said, but still really pretty. And a really nice person… and married.”

And not even human. Not that he would’ve had a problem with that — but it was funny that Javolo had thought she was. I guess her tail would’ve been hidden under her dress. I giggled. “Now go forward. Bit more… Bit more. Stop. Turn to your right. You should be facing a wall with a visible vein through it.”

“Yep.”

“Okay, start. Middle of the road.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

He immediately started up his rock-breaker, which was attached to the left arm of his Mech-suit. The other arm sported a four pronged mechanical hand for picking up samples, with a shovel-like scoop on the back of its “wrist” for scooping the debris away. The mechanical hand and other parts of the suit contained sensors that detected traces of Amakio and transmitted the locations to the Nav Computer. This information was triangulated with data from the other Diggers and the sixteen satellites to pinpoint the mineral deposits under the ground.

While Javolo worked, it was too noisy for us to talk, so I twirled a piece of my long hair around my finger as I watched the screen to check for any new data or warnings, and was left to my thoughts. More and more often lately, my thoughts came back to the end of our partnership — our Rotation — together and I couldn’t help feeling anxious about it.

The contract with Katoa was for two years. They divided the time up into four Rotations of six months each. We worked with one partner for six months, then, so we didn’t get too attached, we were assigned a different one for each Rotation. This was my first Rotation, and after a short stint with Rogan, I’d been paired with Javolo. Javolo and I only had about a month left before we were assigned new partners. Maybe we were too close according to the company’s guidelines, but we were just friends. Really good friends. I felt a sense of loss at the thought of never being able to talk to him every day, and I hadn’t even experienced the loss yet. It was weird. And really awful.

Why do I feel like this? I thought as my fingernails tapped the grey desk. I had no answer. Why do we have to part ways? And why is this cubicle so drab and grey? It’s enough to make anyone depressed.

I thought about who I might end up working with. What if it was someone I didn’t like, or someone like Rogan that didn’t share my sense of humour? The chances of being partnered with someone with the same sense of humour and/or the same interests were pretty slim. That wasn’t a very encouraging thought.

Who would I be working with after next month? If we didn’t get along, I’d be stuck with him — or her — for six months. That would make my job difficult. It would make my life miserable. Of course, it was my job and I’d suck it up and do it, but I wished I could keep things the way they were.

I pushed all that aside for now.

I thought about what I might do on my next rostered day off. Maybe go swimming. It was always refreshing and it helped me to clear my mind so I could think and reflect. Something about water had always made me feel calm and relaxed. Or I could take a long walk in the park near my apartment. That was always good for my soul. I loved to lie on the grass and watch the birds flitting amongst the trees.

Those pleasant images were replaced by images of Malvolio’s angry face the night before at dinner when the waitress brought him a “slightly cold” meal. I couldn’t believe how angry he’d been over something so trivial…

I couldn’t think about Malvolio now. I had to concentrate on work. I tucked those thoughts away for later and thought about the park again.

After a few more minutes of noisy rock-breaking, Javolo began scooping out the rubble from the hole he’d created. “I can see the rest of the vein. It goes off to the right. Just need to collect this lot first.”

“Okay.”

I felt myself relax a little. I needed to concentrate on the job at hand.

I encouraged him to tell me what he could remember of the ‘perfect’ woman and it turned out that he’d only seen her for a brief moment as the door to the grav shaft slid shut near the entrance to the Golden Palace restaurant.

I gasped when I heard the name. The restaurant stood on the border between the Diggers’ Section and the rest of Perseus Station and was divided into two separate establishments. One for the Diggers and one for the rest of the space station. I’d been there the night before with Malvolio in the main section where he’d had his little tantrum. Javolo had obviously been in the Diggers’ Section.

A strange feeling crept over my skin as I thought about the fact that we’d been within fifty metres of each other and neither of us knew it. The sad part was that even if we’d come face-to-face, we wouldn’t have recognised each other. Diggers and Navs lived in separate sections of the space station and were never allowed to meet. That way they couldn’t get personally involved and it couldn’t affect their job performance. I had no idea what Javolo looked like.
I tried to shrug off the feeling.

I was amazed that Javolo could give me so many details about the girl after such a quick glance, and I suspected his mind had filled in some of the blanks. If he saw her again, it would be a different story. Maybe her eyes weren’t even blue, but I loved his poetic description of them.

It took Javolo the rest of the morning to extract the Amakio from that location, having to make more than one trip with his floating tub in tow. I was always amused when imagining the floating rectangular tub harnessed to the Mech-suit, hovering along behind him at mid-thigh level wherever he went. I’d seen them on the training videos. It was a strange sight.

My mind wandered again. It was almost time for lunch and I had to force myself to stop thinking about food and focus.

“Hey, Cal, how’s What’s-his-name goin’?” Javolo asked.

A weird sensation flowed through me at the question, like all the air had left my lungs, but I responded automatically. “It’s not What’s-his-name — it’s Malvolio.”

I heard him snicker. “What kind of name is Malvolio anyway?” he jeered. “Do you call him Mal for short, or just Vol?”

Of course, Javolo couldn’t pass up an opportunity to tease me about him.

“No,” I answered flatly. “Neither. He wouldn’t appreciate his name shortened like that.” I tried to imagine Malvolio’s reaction if I called him either of those names. A cringe. Or maybe an eye roll. But I didn’t want to be thinking about him right now.

“Oh, too good for the good ol’ nickname, ‘ey?”

“Lay off him,” I warned. “He’s a nice guy.”

I grimaced inwardly and frowned. He was far from nice last night. That poor waitress.

How did things change so much? He was such a gentleman when we’d met. He’d somehow managed to make me break my promise to myself that I wouldn’t get involved with anyone while I was working here.

I wasn’t sure what to do or what I’d say when I saw him. I would have to deal with that later. Right now, we had work to do.

The Nav Computer spewed out our next location. “Okay, we have our next place…”

Chapter 2

I’d just sat down at an empty table with my lunch when I heard a familiar voice.
“Lennina, darling. How are you?”

My stomach dropped and I looked up to see Malvolio smiling at me. I forced a smile onto my face. “Oh, hi.”

That’s not the reaction I should have felt. I should be happy to see him. What was wrong with me?

He sat across from me and grabbed one of my hands in both of his. I felt something small and rectangular against my palm and turned my hand over to find a small gift box.

“Oh! Um, thank you!”

I didn’t know what to say. He never listened when I told him not to buy me gifts all the time. It was nice to receive them, but I didn’t feel comfortable when he spent so much money on me.
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?”

I sucked in a breath. Why was I just staring at it? I pulled the tiny ribbon and opened the box to find a sparkling pair of diamond earrings sitting neatly inside. “Oh, wow… They’re beautiful…”

I was lost for words. They were beautiful. And expensive. Something I could never afford. I had to keep reminding myself that he had a high-credit position as the MIC of a company called Galaxy Mech, the company that made the Mech-suits for Katoa, and he probably didn’t consider them to be expensive.

I didn’t think I’d ever get used to receiving such expensive things.

I looked up at him again. He was smiling and his grey eyes were so intense. He was good looking in a sophisticated sort of way and I knew all the women drooled over him. It felt good knowing he was mine and that they were jealous.

“Nothing but the best for my girl,” he said. When I didn’t respond, he said, “Aren’t you going to put them on?”

“Um. I thought it would be better if I waited till I got home.”

He frowned. “Why? Don’t you like them?”

“Yes, of course I do. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“I’m at work.”

“And?”

“I don’t want anything to happen to them. They’re too expensive. I don’t want to lose them.”

“You’ll be sitting in an office in front of a computer. How could anything happen to them?”
I squirmed in my seat. How could I explain? I wasn’t even sure I understood what I was thinking. “Uh, I just don’t think I should—”

“You don’t want them, is that it?”

“No! I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to. Actions speak louder than words.” He rubbed his jaw for a few seconds. “Who is he?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You seem distant lately. And then last night you acted like you were so disgusted with me.”

Yeah, because I was. “Was that outburst really necessary?”

“That was not an outburst,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I was trying to tell you the rules and regulations of the company you work for as you seemed to have forgotten.”

I’d been referring to the outburst with the waitress. How could I have forgotten the outburst over the way I talk to Javolo too much?

The heat was creeping into my face. Sometimes, he could be so… so arrogant. I managed to keep my voice level. “I know the rules. You don’t need to point them out. You were—”

“Don’t make this about me.”

What? But it is about you. You didn’t just lecture me in front of everyone, you insulted that poor waitress too. I was—”

“She deserved a dressing down. My meal was slightly cold.”

I rolled my eyes at him and he scowled. “That’s no reason to—”

“A Nav Operator is not permitted to become emotionally involved with her Digger as it can put lives at risk in an emergency situation. The Digger’s job is dangerous and—”

“I know. You don’t have to keep telling me.”

“Don’t interrupt me. It’s rude.”

“But you keep doing it to—”

“I am trying to get a point across to you and you’re not listening.”

“What?” I sat there staring at him with my mouth hanging open. My stomach churned as it tied itself in knots.

He leaned closer. “You never were a good listener.”

And you don’t listen at all…

I sighed again. “I know the rules. I’ve worked here long enough. I’m not ‘involved’ with my Digger. I’m not breaking any rules. You were being stupid and ridiculous.” His eyes darkened. “You weren’t listening to me and you were putting Javolo down by calling him a Neanderthal and—”

“Oh, it’s always about him!” he scoffed. “You never shut up about him. Why do you even talk to him?”

I couldn’t believe he’d said that. “It’s part of my job, for a start!” I snapped. “If I don’t talk to him, he could die down there on the planet!”

My chest felt tight and I seemed to only be able to take small breaths. I could feel the beginnings of a headache too.

“That is not what I meant,” he snapped back. “I mean, why do you talk to him any more than you have to — like, about social things?”

I felt the heat flood through my body as I watched the anger building in his eyes. “Well, for one, it would get pretty boring if we didn’t talk. Two, it’s common courtesy. And three, he’s my friend!

I was getting worked up and I knew it, but I couldn’t help it. I was fed up. Javolo didn’t deserve his crap.

“Oh, I see.” His narrowed eyes were cold steel. “It is all crystal clear now. You talk about him all the time.” He counted it off on his fingers. “You talk to him too much while you should be working. You’ve been warned about talking to him too much and it hasn’t stopped you. You and this… Javolo are getting it on together, eh? Eh? It all makes sense now…”

I felt my eyes go wide. “What?

Where was this coming from? How could he even think that? It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. Javolo may have been my friend, but we could never meet, so it was impossible for us to be ‘getting it on together.’

Was Malvolio serious? Surely he wasn’t serious.

He snorted. “You heard me.” There was no humour in his dark eyes.

I gasped. My heart pounded against my ribcage. “How could we be— How could I— I’ve never met him. I can never meet him. You know that.”

“No. I don’t know that.” The wild look in his eyes was unnerving.

My eyes widened again. “What, you mean it’s possible for a Digger to get into the Navs’ Section?”

“It has happened in the past.”

“Oh…” I was speechless for a few moments. “But even if Javolo could do that, he doesn’t know what I look like. I don’t even know if he knows my full name.”

“What do you mean? Is he really that much of a simpleton? You’ve been working with him for months.”

I gritted my teeth. “No. He’s not stupid. We only call each other by our surnames at work. It’s the same with all the Navs and Diggers. Javolo is his last name.”

I wasn’t about to tell Malvolio I’d actually forgotten Javolo’s first name.

He looked down his nose at me. “How primitive. You lot can’t even be civilised.”

Primitive? Seriously? I let out a growl of frustration.

“Really, Lennina. That’s not very ladylike.”

“I don’t care.”

“You should care. Why do you think I’ve been trying so hard to help you? You need to set aside your upbringing and learn to act like a lady.”

I ignored that. I didn’t want to get into a bigger argument right now.

He sniffed. “So. How long has this been going on?”

I balled my hands into fists. “We are not ‘getting it on’ together!” I said, using air quotes as I spoke. “We’re just—”

“You know it’s against Katoa’s policies.” His eyes were cutting into me, like he was trying to see right into my soul.

I know! I sighed. “We’re just fr—”

“You could lose your job over this!” He moved closer to me again.

My breaths came out in short gasps and it was hard stay in my seat. “Just stop being such a—”

“It is my duty to report you to the HR Unit at Katoa.”

Shut up and let me talk! “I said we’re just friends!

I remembered that we were in the cafeteria and looked around. Most people had finished their lunch and had gone back to work. The few that were left looked decidedly uncomfortable and were suddenly fascinated with their food.

Malvolio leaned back in his seat and sighed like I hadn’t said anything at all. I didn’t want to be near him right now. In fact, I wanted him to leave. I sat still and stared down at my uneaten food. My stomach felt like I’d swallowed a brick. I couldn’t eat anything.

It felt like being in an out-of-control hovercar and I found it harder to breathe. I was full of nervous energy and fidgeted with the gift box.

I should tell him it’s over right now, I thought to myself.

I stopped fidgeting. Was that what I wanted? To stop seeing him? Was I overreacting?

I needed to think. I didn’t want a relationship when I’d first arrived here. Wasn’t planning on finding love. I was here to work. But somehow, Malvolio managed to get into my heart. He’d made me so happy. I’d tried to forget all my misgivings about love and enjoy feeling wanted.
Was this ridiculous accusation enough for me end our relationship?

I didn’t want to give up so easily. So quickly. I couldn’t make a hasty decision. I really needed to wait till things had calmed down. Think things through on my own. Maybe tonight when I got home I’d be able to think straight.

“Yes, well, you would say that,” he continued. “It’s a weak defence at best. You’ll have to think of something better than that…”

I frowned at him. I really couldn’t believe he was serious about this. He seemed to really believe what he was saying.

“What I don’t understand is, why are you seeing him when you’re my girl?” he asked in a strained voice.

Oh, my stars! “I’m not see—”

“What do you see in him?” he asked me. “He’s just a Digger. He doesn’t have any of the wealth and standing that I have.”

Get over yourself! I thought.

Then his face changed as he turned to face me again. It kind of twitched and contorted into a weird kind of frown. A cold feeling inched its way down my spine.

He grabbed my arm. Hard. His voice was low and deadly. “Are you fucking him?”

Chapter 3

My breath caught. “What? No!” My mind reeled. I couldn’t believe what he’d just said. And I’d never heard him swear before.

“You’re lying. Don’t lie to me, Lennina. Tell me the truth, are you fucking your Digger? Is that why you won’t fuck me?”

Was he serious?

I felt the blood drain from my face. I hadn’t taken things that far with Malvolio yet, so because I’d said no, he thought I was sleeping with someone else?

“No! I’m not sleeping with anyone and I’ve already told you the reason I didn’t—”

“Lies!” He had a wild look in his eyes. “Fucking bitch! How could you drag my reputation through the mud like this?”

Is that all you’re worried about? Your reputation?

I sure as hell didn’t care about his wealth or his reputation. And then there was the fact that I wasn’t doing anything to ruin it anyway.

He tapped his fingers impatiently on the table. “Never mind… I will tell them you were too young. To immature…”

What?

“Yes. That’s a plausible scenario… I can do that… No one needs to be concerned…” He kept up the tapping.

I shook my head. Now he was talking to himself. I gave up trying to reason with him and sat there looking at the patterns in the tiles on the floor of the cafeteria while he kept ranting.

I realised I was clenching my fists so hard that I was digging my fingernails into my palms, so I made a conscious effort to stop.

Why is he doing this? Why am I putting up with this? I asked myself.

I looked around us. Everyone had left the room. At least there was no one here to hear his accusations.

“Just go, Malvolio. I need to go back to work and I don’t want to speak to you right now.”

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do!” he shouted. The veins in his neck stood out and his face was red. “You have no right! I don’t have to put up with this rubbish! We are through, Missy! Do you hear me!”

I blinked.

Through? I thought. As in, over? I stared at him. Then I thought, Missy? Seriously? Who even talks like that? How old are you, really?

Through.

It was so unexpected. I didn’t know how to react. I think I stopped breathing. I made myself take a deep breath.

Four weeks wasn’t much time to get to know someone, but with the number of times I’d seen him and the number of Vid calls and text messages we’d shared, it seemed like six months had gone by. I thought I knew him fairly well. I was wrong.

He glared at me, waiting for a reaction. He was being so dramatic about it and probably expected me to cry and beg his forgiveness or something. I did nothing. In fact, I felt nothing. It surprised me, but I didn’t feel like crying. Didn’t even feel sad. There was an empty void where my heart should’ve been. Was that normal? Surely I should feel something. Was there something wrong with me?

Why did I feel numb? I hadn’t been prepared for him to break up with me, so shouldn’t I be upset? Shouldn’t I feel something? The last time someone dumped me, I’d been devastated. I’d thought Jace and I had a long future together and he’d thrown it all away. He’d thrown me away.

I shouldn’t have let Malvolio in. I should have known it would end badly.

Malvolio’s brows were drawn together. He seemed to be more confused than I was. Could it be that he didn’t know what to do? This wouldn’t be the reaction he was expecting and definitely not the one he would’ve been used to. He probably had visions of comforting me as I cried helplessly and begged him to take me back. And of him telling me he forgives me and then him giving me ‘another chance.’ Or something like that.

I folded my arms across my chest and leaned back in my seat. I was not going to play the role he wanted me to.

I should never have fallen for him. I should have stuck to my plan and stayed single. Relationships always led to heartbreak.

He stared for a while longer, sort of stuttered, then regained his composure. “Well, I can see that this news has devastated you so much that you’re speechless…”

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Maybe I was a bit harsh…” he continued, not reading my body language at all. “After all, you weren’t brought up in the right sort of environment and I need to take that into consideration… Yes… I must be more careful… more understanding…”

My eyes widened. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was he serious? Was that what he really thought of me?

I sucked in a breath. I didn’t want him to change his mind and give me another chance. “No. It’s okay. I understand. Let’s just part on good terms…”

That felt false. We weren’t parting on good terms, but I thought saying it would keep things calm and maybe I could get him to leave. I really wanted him to go, but if he thought it was his idea, he would be more likely to do it.

The way he could go from calm to furious in an instant was scary. I didn’t want to do anything to make it worse.

If we broke it off, he could find someone else quite easily, I was sure. Someone who was more like him. Someone who would fit in with his friends.

And I could go back to being on my own. I could do that. It was the best way to keep focused on my career goals.

He stood and paced up and down and my eyes followed him, waiting to see what he’d do next.
Then he turned to me, his expression unreadable. “Maybe you could convince me to have you back again if you swear to me you will end it with your Digger this afternoon.”

I felt myself tense up. “What?”

I wanted to scream. I wanted to punch something. You really are serious, aren’t you?

He stepped forward, hands outstretched. “Just promise me you will tell him it’s over, and I won’t inform Katoa of this… this… scandalous behaviour… This… breach of company policy.”

Crud. He was totally serious about this. He’s lost it…

I wasn’t even going to justify that with an answer. My stomach twisted. I was still finding it hard to breathe. He couldn’t really believe I was cheating, could he?

I thought about what he was actually saying. He was threatening me. Blackmailing me, really. If I stopped having an affair with Javolo, he wouldn’t turn me in — wouldn’t tell The Company I was in a relationship with my Digger. If I stayed with Malvolio, I wouldn’t be fired… It was straight-out blackmail. Made worse by the fact that I wasn’t guilty of having an affair with Javolo in the first place.

I could see the disgust on Malvolio’s face, but I was way past trying to tell him he had it all wrong. He wouldn’t even let me finish a sentence, anyway.

He looked directly into my eyes and leaned forward. “So, do I have your word?”

I looked at him in disbelief, trying to calm my erratic heartbeat and my breathing.

No, you don’t.

After staring at me a few seconds longer, he clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Right. Okay. It’s settled then. You may break What’s-his-name’s heart, but your heart belongs to me. It will always belong to me.”

Will always belong to him? I shivered inside at the thought.

Without warning, Malvolio pulled me from my seat, took me in his arms, and kissed me on the lips, which didn’t stir any of the emotions it should have, then left the cafeteria with a dramatic turn and swish of his hand over the sensor to open the door.

What just happened?

The door swished shut behind him and I stood there for a few seconds with my mouth hanging open. I breathed a sigh of relief when it finally hit me that he was gone, then my heart clenched in my chest. What if he comes back?

My breath caught. I needed to get out of here. As I walked toward the door, I glanced at the time on the digital display on the wall.

Dammit!

I was ten minutes late. I hurried back to my cubicle and apologised to Javolo as I ran the necessary checks for him to start work. How much trouble would I be in for being this late?
There was nothing I could do about it now. I’d have to deal with it later.

I tried to understand what had happened. Why didn’t Malvolio listen? Why did he dump me just like that? Why did he think he should be giving me another chance? I didn’t even want him to! Why was he so convinced that I was cheating on him?

I ran my hands over my face.

Focus.

I had to get my mind in the right place so I could do my job.

Why didn’t he just leave after breaking it off? That would have been easier. I would have preferred that it stay that way. So why didn’t I say more? I should have told him I didn’t want a second chance. So why didn’t I tell him?

And why did I feel nothing?

Get back to work!

“Cal?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Am I set to go?”

I checked my screen again. “Um, yes. Head back to where you were before lunch.”

“Yes, Boss.”

I couldn’t help giggling at that.

Then my thoughts returned to Malvolio and I wanted to cry.

How could he treat me like that? Why wouldn’t he let me explain, or even talk? Had I even finished a sentence at the end? He hadn’t listened to a word I’d said — or tried to say. He didn’t even need any input from me at all.

“So, I turn right here, right?”

Shit. I looked at the screen for confirmation. “Yes.”

I pushed Malvolio out of my mind and managed to get Javolo to the sight safely. I had to concentrate on the job. I still had a few hours ahead of me.

But I couldn’t help the words that kept circling through my mind when I thought of him breaking up with me.

Everyone leaves.

*******

If you enjoyed this extract, hold on to your horses. Touch of Lightning will be out on 28th September 2019 in ebook and paperback!