Joe Faxon Joe Faxon
Sexual situations. Language.
Big thanks to Channach for plot-editing this chapter and to Raven Clark for style-editing this chapter with me. Also huge thanks to Shoe Queen, who worked as a third beta for this chapter!
Sam released a sigh and stirred her drink with the straw. What a mistake. She shouldn’t have agreed to come. Everyone was too cheerful. Vala talked about the newest clothes she’d bought at one of the Powhatan boutiques, Janet swooned over a man she worked with. So normal. So much like it used to be. And yet…
The first half hour smiling and nodding still came easy, but with every passing minute every smile and seemingly interested nod grew more exhausting. She could have stayed in her office and finished working through more of the medical data, then gone home to bed.
Maybe she should do that. She sneaked a glance at her watch. Eight thirty. One hour and a half should be enough to satisfy Daniel’s wish to get her to socialize.
She reached for the poncho hanging over the back of her chair when a warm hand landed on her arm. Confused, she lifted her head and met the dark eyes of a stranger.
“Hi.” He gave her a warm smile. Returning it wasn’t as exhausting.
“Sam Carter, right?” He slid into the chair next to her.
Sam froze and lifted her brows. “Yes. And you are?”
“I’m sorry, how impolite of me. I’m Joe Faxon. I work with Dr. Jackson and Elizabeth.” He held her gaze, his eyes dancing with a warm twinkle.
Sam swallowed and nodded. Right. Daniel had mentioned him at some point. If she remembered correctly, he was a member of the POA. She looked into his brown eyes. Almost the same color as Jack’s had been. A pang stung her chest and she lowered her head. Home. She needed to go home.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Faxon, but was there anything in particular you wanted?”
“Except meeting you?” When Sam snapped her head up to stare at him, he flinched. “I’m sorry. That was probably the lamest line you’ve ever heard.”
His face reflected such an honest shame, she couldn’t stifle a laugh. As he flashed her another smile, she found herself returning it. He seemed to be a decent guy. Definitely well-mannered.
“May I buy you a drink?”
“Actually, I…” Sam shifted in her seat. “I was just about to leave.”
“That’s too bad. I’d love to get to know the woman who came up with the brilliant plan to shut down the Stargate on the Aschen homeworld. And had the courage to carry out the plan herself.”
Sam’s cheeks warmed, and she fiddled with her hands. “It wasn’t my idea, you know.” Jack had come up with the basic concept. She swallowed against a lump in her throat. “I should go.”
“Okay.” When she got up from her chair, he smiled and did the same. Perfect manners. “Maybe another time?”
She stared at him.
He chuckled. “A drink?”
“Oh.” Doubtful. “Yes. Sure. Maybe.”
She nodded politely and, clutching the poncho to her chest, hurried over to Vala and Daniel at the bar.
“Guys, I’m going home. It was nice hanging out.”
Daniel raised his brows. She knew he saw right through her lie. At least he had the sense to keep his mouth shut. She’d stood by her promise and showed up.
Vala pushed her lower lip forward. “Aww, already? The night has barely started.”
“I’m tired and I have to be up early tomorrow.”
Daniel took a sip of his drink. “What did Faxon want from you?”
“Oh, nothing.” Sam pulled the poncho over her head and smoothed her hair down.
He pushed his glasses up on his nose, confusion flashing in his eyes.
She shrugged. “I think he wanted to ask me out. Or something like that.”
“Oh.” He glanced at Faxon, who had joined another table with POA members again. “Did he bother you?”
“No. He was actually very nice. I’m just not in the mood to have drinks with someone.”
Vala pulled her into a hug. “Will I see you for poker night this weekend?”
“Maybe. If nothing comes up.” The standard answer she’d given every time the past two months. Somehow she couldn’t bring herself to attend social events. They took too much effort, too much smiling, too much banter.
Vala held her gaze for a long time, then nodded. “All right. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I will. Good night.”
She crossed the restaurant and left the place through the glass door at the entrance. As she stepped outside, crisp night air hit her face.
For once, she was glad they weren’t at camp anymore. It would’ve been impossible to retreat like this. Working in Powhatan and living in one of the old Aschen apartments gave her a lot more space and privacy.
Her throat tightened as she looked at the stars. The same as always. Still, they seemed so different. As though their glow had faded.
One advantage of skipping regular lunch was that she had the cafeteria all to herself. Something faintly resembling contentment flooded her as she skimmed over the file lying next to her plate on the table.
Statistics. Memos. Correspondence. All she ever seemed to do nowadays was evaluate low-sensitive Aschen files.
At the familiar voice Sam looked up, brows scrunched. Joe Faxon grinned at her. “Is this seat taken?” He pointed at the chair opposite hers at her table.
“Um, no.” Damn. It was obvious it wasn’t taken. The cafeteria was almost empty and there were tons of other free tables. Did he have to sit at hers?
“This place is almost deserted this time of day.”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “They’re preparing dinner. Give it another hour and it’ll be crowded.”
“Seems you’re familiar with their schedule.”
“I like it better when it’s not overcrowded.” Maybe he’d get the hint?
“Good to know.” He gave her a boyish smile.
She swallowed. She’d have to be careful. It was hard to be annoyed around him.
“So, what brings you here at this unusual hour?” she asked, more to divert the subject than out of earnest interest.
“Committee hearings.” He sighed. “Boring stuff. Old men being one step away from getting into a fistfight.”
Much to her surprise, a soft chuckle escaped her.
His eyes sparkled. “I can smuggle you in one of these days if you want to experience firsthand how boring it really is.”
She played with her fork while she held his gaze. “It’d be a nice distraction from evaluating these files.”
He went through the mashed potatoes and peas on his plate, and then broke the little biscuit that came as a side in half. “I don’t understand why they waste your capabilities on the Aschen files.”
Sam shrugged. “It’s important work.” Yeah, right.
She knew the answer to his question. She was a woman. And men like Kinsey didn’t want women to hold high-ranking positions. Especially not gifted ones. If it were up to them, women wouldn’t work at all. Unfortunately, they were the ones making the rules at the moment.
“It’s the job of a secretary,” Faxon blurted out. “No offense, but I think you would be more useful in one of the science facilities.”
Sam poked one pea on her plate onto her fork. “Tell that to the heads of the committee. Daniel… Dr. Jackson and Dr. McKay have already tried to convince them to let me work on a science team. At least they’re letting me do something at all.”
They fell silent for a moment. Suddenly the file she studied had lost her interest.
Faxon cleared his throat. “I have to admit, I’m really nervous.”
Sam raised her head. “Why?”
“Because I want to ask you out to dinner and I’ve no idea whether you’ll say yes, or throw your drink in my face.” His charming grin made her heart race faster.
“You’ll take your chances.”
His smile widened. “Would you go out to dinner with me?”
Sam studied him. Daniel was right, he did seem like a nice guy. Her mood lifted when she was around him. What was it about him that made her so at ease? “I’d like that.”
Her stomach gave a faint lurch when his eyes gleamed. “Wonderful. Tomorrow evening?”
Had she just agreed to go on a date? A knot replaced the tingling in her stomach. No date. She didn’t want a new relationship. No romance.
And yet… She sneaked a glance at Faxon. With his dark hair and the dimples in his cheek when he smiled, he was a good-looking man. Maybe a few years older than she was. Polite. Apparently with a good sense of humor.
They could be friends. Nothing more. Just friends.
The following evening she went out with Joe. Despite her previous intentions to cut the dinner as short as possible, she found herself engaged in a deep conversation with him.
He had a basic understanding of theoretical physics and was eager to learn more. For the first time in months, something inside her stirred back to life. Smiling took less effort.
When the evening ended, and Joe asked her if she wanted to have dinner again, she agreed. Not to be polite, but because she had enjoyed their debates and the insights into the POA proceedings. Their discussions challenged her intellect and provided her with much needed distraction.
They went out for dinner again two days later. And then twice during the week after that. What had started out as politeness soon became a habit Sam looked forward to twice a week.
Just for a while, he made her forget about the emptiness inside, and the guilt that nagged at her like a constant whisper.
One night as he took her home after dinner, he walked closer to her than usual, his hand on her waist. His touch sent an unexpected tingle through her. Clearly, he wanted more than a friendship.
She sneaked a glance at him. He was a nice and good-looking guy. Yet, guilt and betrayal stabbed at her insides. How could she even consider this after what had happened?
They reached her apartment building. She was about to turn and leave as she always did when he drew her closer and leaned in.
His warm lips brushed along hers, teasing ever so cautiously, as though she were deer he didn’t want to scare away. Warmth flooded her, and she took a step closer, increasing the contact. For just a moment, longing consumed her. A warm embrace. So familiar. She parted her lips, and his tongue darted inside, deepening the kiss. Maybe, for just a moment…
Subtle differences threw her off. The kiss was too gentle, even now that she’d signaled willingness. Different scent. Different taste. The way his hands roamed along her waist to her back and held her against him was too cautious.
Pain ate at her and abruptly she took a step back, eyes still closed, hands on his chest. His warmth still lingered. “Joe, I… I’m sorry. I can’t…”
“It’s okay.” He nuzzled the hair at her temple. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I shouldn’t have been so straightforward.”
How could she make him understand the complexity of her emotions when she herself didn’t? How did one tell another person that suddenly nothing could bring her joy anymore? That the void inside her had become so strong, she almost didn’t even care anymore?
“It’s not you, it’s me. I really like you. I’m just not ready.”
“We could take it slow. Or I can be content being in the friend zone.” There was that boyish smile again. He was a good man. And under different circumstances…
“Taking it slow sounds good.”
“Going slow requires us to go on a few more dates.” His eyes sparkled.
Dates. Somehow their evening dinners had turned into dates without her even noticing.
She cupped his face with her hands, then leaned in to place a soft kiss on his cheek. “I’d love to go out with you again. Good night.”
This wasn’t taking it slow.
Sam closed her eyes as Joe’s hot lips trailed along her neck and shoulder. Her fingers threaded through his full hair that shimmered almost black in the dim moonlight leaking into the room between the curtains.
The entire evening had been anything but taking it slow. It had been two weeks since he’d first kissed her and she had backed out, but still…
Maybe it was the wine or the atmosphere. Or maybe she just couldn’t stand the thought of another night alone in her bed, with demons of the past haunting her until her pillow was soaked, and she fell asleep exhausted.
She couldn’t stand being alone. Just for a little while she needed to forget. Catch a glimpse of what her life had once been. Of what it might be again someday. She needed to know there was still hope.
After they’d entered his apartment, he’d undressed her as though she were made of glass, his touch so sweet and careful. When she’d taken some initiative undressing him, the shock on his face had almost made her laugh.
She’d been surprised to learn Joe was gifted, though she shouldn’t have been. Most POA members were gifted. Most people working in Powhatan these days were.
Joe had told her about his experience in the breeding facilities. His sexual experiences were limited to two wives who’d been enduring at best, openly resisting at worst.
His lips dropped to her neck, traced a searing line down to her shoulder. A warm body, so intimately against hers. Sam closed her eyes as her fingers outlined his spine, his shoulder blades, his ribcage.
As he entered her in a movement too gentle to match the passion that coursed through her blood, she looked at him. The moonlight illuminated his features. Tender, loving dark eyes burned with appreciation.
She drew him closer, her thighs grazing his hips. Pleasure tingled through her veins as he dropped his head to spill kisses down her neck and throat. His hips picked up a slow, steady rhythm.
Her gaze locked on the weird patterns on the ceiling. The light of the streetlamps created a bizarre shadow play. Beautiful woodwork. It was a beautiful apartment. In a good neighborhood. Such a long time since she’d had sex in a bed.
The last time had been… Guilt washed over her. Bad train of thought. Why was she thinking at all? She shouldn’t be thinking now.
She closed her eyes. Shutting her brain off in bed had never been a problem.
Sweet friction. Soft, searing kisses on her skin, a warm body against her, chasing away the ghosts of a past she couldn’t bring back.
She opened her eyes again. Joe was different from her type. Did she have a type? Larek didn’t really count, and after that she’d only been with… No. She bit her lower lip. Pleasure. No thinking.
Arousal tingled through her when Joe hit just the right spot inside. Gasping, she pulled one of her legs up further, caressing his side with her inner thigh.
Oh god, yes. She bit her lower lip. This had the potential to be good.
He slowed down again. Disappointment flooded her as the lust faded. Concern masked his features. Apparently he’d misunderstood her reaction for discomfort.
Well, at least he was caring. Her fingers traced the muscles on his back, and the subtle differences entered her consciousness. He wasn’t that well-trained, and his body wasn’t as strong.
Images of how Jack had taken her filled her mind. He’d always known how and where to touch. He’d taken charge without cornering her. Overthinking had never been a problem with him. God if only… Need washed over her. If only…
The fantasy brought back her need, and she arched. She shouldn’t do this. She shouldn’t fantasize about another man. What kind of horrible woman was she? She stared up at the ceiling again. She needed to focus on the now. On Joe.
After a short eternity, the soft tingle of pleasure awakened in her belly. Almost relieved, she released a sigh. She was getting there. Finally. Great. Now… if she focused, it’d take only a few more…
The feeling ebbed away. Apparently, trying to force it wasn’t a good idea. Damn, why wasn’t this working?
Frustration made her groan. For a second, he increased his pace. So unexpected that she cried out in an onslaught of sheer lust. God, yes. Please.
She opened her eyes and cupped his cheeks with her hands, searching for words to communicate what she needed. Her cheeks warmed. Words failed her.
Instead she grazed her inner thighs along his hips in teasing caresses and locked her legs around him, making him move deeper and faster.
When she finally came, it wasn’t breathtaking or mind shattering. A mild tingling sensation rippled through her, made her take a sharp breath, and then was over before it had even begun.
Well, that was that then.
He moved above her for another one or two minutes. After he’d finished, he rolled over to her side. Cold air hit her skin, and she missed his weight.
Emptiness swallowed her insides with a vengeance. Not even sex was as it used to be. A lump built in her throat. She closed her eyes. What on Earth was wrong with her?
Joe shifted. His warm palm caressed her stomach, and she turned her head. He leaned on his elbow. As he caressed her cheek, he smiled. “Did you… I mean, was it good for you?”
She forced a smile and nodded. “Yes.”
It had been good for the short while it lasted. Well, she couldn’t ask for more, could she? As he leaned in to draw her into a deep kiss, she opened her mouth. He drew the kiss out, gentle, careful. Almost chaste.
“I’ve never met a woman like you, Sam.”
His eyes shimmered with such honest appreciation, she had to lean up and place a kiss on his soft lips.
“I really like you.” His breath washed warm over her mouth and chin.
“I like you, too.” If only she could say it with the same enthusiasm.
He was a nice man, caring, gentle, and very smart. He deserved a woman who fully and unconditionally loved him. But… could she be that woman? They had a lot in common. He respected her.
She could do worse.
The clock on the nightstand ticked away the seconds as his breathing slowed. Sam remained unmoving and stared at the wall.
There were worse things than being lonely. Being lonely she could stand. Being lonely was hard at times. But being lonely while being with someone was almost unbearable.
Her throat tightened, and she swallowed hard. Her eyes stung. Why was this happening? It had been a wonderful evening. Spending the night with Joe was supposed to make her forget. So why couldn’t she enjoy herself? Why couldn’t she just let go?
After another minute, she slid out of his embrace. Out. She had to get out before she broke.
Careful not to wake him, she slipped out from under the sheets. Sneaking around the room on bare feet, she picked up her discarded underwear and the black dress she’d been wearing that night. Hurriedly, she got dressed, and then brushed her fingers through her hair. Thoughtful, she looked out the window.
Powhatan lay calm and quiet. Flickering solar lamps illuminated parts of the street. They blurred in front of her eyes. She inhaled on a hitched breath. Just a little longer. She couldn’t break here, now.
Startled, she spun. Joe leaned on his elbows and studied her through dark eyes.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t wanna wake you.”
“That’s obvious.” Definitely hurt.
She closed her eyes. Hurting him was the last thing on her mind.
“I have to start work early in the morning.” What a lame excuse.
“You could stay over.”
“I don’t have my stuff here.” Even lamer. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the door. “I think it’s easier if I—”
“We could get up early and drop by your place.”
She met his gaze, then softly shook her head. “I’m sorry. I just…I really have to go.” She turned and rushed out the room, then the apartment, before he could try to talk her into staying. It was too much, too soon.
She clutched her arms as she hurried down the stairs. She wouldn’t break. Not now. Not ever. She’d managed to hold out for weeks. She was fine.
When she opened the main glass door downstairs to step outside into the crisp night air, she bit back a sob.
Just breathe. Hands fisting, she hurried down the street. Her eyes stung. She broke into a run and held her breath.
It was no use. After two blocks, she steadied herself against the wall of a house to keep from tumbling. Trembling, she slid down the glass wall, her breath hitching uncontrollably as she stared up into the dark, starless sky and finally surrendered to her tears.
Four months since she’d lost him. There was nothing she had done about it. Jack. The one man she’d wanted to be with had died. All her work, all her studies, all her training had been useless in the one moment when it really mattered.
“I think it would be a good idea if we got married.”
Sam choked on the piece of potato and hurried to cover her mouth with a napkin. The man at the table next to them turned his head with raised eyebrows. Her cheeks warmed. This place was way too fancy for her. How was it possible a place like this still existed in the current situation on Earth?
Earth was falling apart. Sometimes it seemed like Powhatan had turned into an island where the gifted created their own little world without caring what was going on in the rest of the world.
She blinked at Joe opposite her. Had he really just said what she thought? She lowered her voice. “Excuse me?”
“Considering they’ll reinstate the gifted laws next week, don’t you think it’d be a good idea?”
Moments like these reminded her, just how different the worlds they came from were. He’d lived in the gifted system. He’d gone through two marriages with women he didn’t even know before the weddings. She’d spent the past year and a half fighting against this system.
“Joe, I like you, I really do. But this comes a bit unexpected and… Don’t you think it’s a little fast?”
“A little fast? Sam, we’ve been on nine dates. We have similar interests. We get along well.” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “And we’ve established that our marital duties won’t be a burden.”
Sam flinched. How could he make it sound so clinical? “It’s not enough for me.”
“What else do you expect?” He leaned back and studied her with a serious expression. “It’s already more than what most couples could hope for.”
“Most gifted couples.” She put the napkin down.
“We are gifted.”
Right. After all this time with the resistance, she still sometimes forgot about the restrictions society put on her.
“Joe. Please don’t misunderstand this. I like you. But I need more than that. I can’t have a marriage without love.”
He shook his head, confusion crossing his features. “Love isn’t a concern in marriage arrangements.”
“It’s a concern for me.”
“Samantha, we don’t have the freedom to love.”
Sam closed her eyes. She hated it when he called her that. Samantha.
“I need more than a few weeks of dating.” She placed her fork at the side of her plate. She wasn’t hungry anymore.
“A marriage wouldn’t have to change anything.” Joe placed his warm hand on hers.
She raised her eyebrows at him. “It’s a marriage. Of course it changes things. We’d live together, share our lives. We’d be together for the rest of our lives.”
“Yes. But we’d both be safe from forceful re-marriage.” His hand squeezed hers. “I like you. I don’t want you to have to go through that process. You wouldn’t have to if you chose me.”
Her stomach clenched. Kinsey had secured the majority on the POA. Reinstating the gifted laws also meant they’d re-open the breeding facilities.
Joe sighed and shook his head, sympathy flashing in his eyes. “You wouldn’t have to give up your work right away if that’s what worries you.”
She withdrew her hand from his. “Right away?” Jaw clenching, she studied him. “But at some point I would have to, is that what you’re saying?”
“Sam, we’re gifted. We would have to have children. I think it would only be logical to include that in our plans.”
He was planning their lives as if it was the schedule for the next day’s POA meeting. “What if I don’t want that?”
“What do you mean?” He stared at her as though her refusal was so bizarre he couldn’t even begin to grasp it.
“What if I don’t want children, or to give up my work? Or both?” She ignored the guy at the table next to them, who had turned his head once more.
Joe gave him an apologetic smile and leaned forward to take Sam’s hand again. “I don’t think there’s much of a choice to make. It’s natural you’ll have children. We both have a responsibility, and under the laws we don’t have much choice. Besides, it would be self-centered if we didn’t have children given the situation.”
She gaped at him. Self-centered? Yes, humanity needed to procreate to increase numbers, but wasn’t it much more promising to seek a cure against the infertility to ensure the survival of the human race in the long run? Wasn’t that what they had fought for?
“Sam. There aren’t many gifted people on Earth. So what do you think will happen if we allowed gifted people to refuse having children?”
Sam narrowed her eyes. “So everything will return to the status quo? You’ll force women away from their homes to pair them up with strangers? And if they resist, they’ll be tied up and drugged until the guy is done with her?”
“I wish you wouldn’t put it like that.”
“How would you like me to put it?” She jerked her hand out of his once again and folded her arms. Her pulse raced. “I can’t believe you support this.”
“Sam.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I never said I supported it. But at this point there’s nothing I can do about it.”
She scoffed and took her glass of wine to gulp some of the bitter red liquid down. This could not be happening.
“I’m proposing marriage so neither of us will have to go through that. You think I enjoyed my first two marriages?”
“Especially because you experienced the misery of the gifted system, I thought…” She shook her head. If only she could brush his argument off the table. But once the old laws turned valid again, she’d have to report to one of the breeding facilities—unless she was already married, or had promised marriage to a gifted man. “We’d have to undergo genetic tests first.”
“Don’t worry. I already took care of that. We’re a perfect match.”
“You what?” Ice poured into her veins and her insides knotted. “You…you created a genetic profile of me? Behind my back?”
“I wanted to see if we were compatible before jumping into this relationship.”
“Jumping into…” If the situation hadn’t been so bizarre, she’d have broken into laughter. “Did you only ask me out because some computer said we’re compatible?”
“I wish you would look at this more reasonably. You’re a scientist after all. Or at least something like that.”
She threw the napkin down next to her plate. “Something like that?” Why did she even put up with this?
Joe lifted his hands. “Okay, that came out wrong. I meant you don’t have a degree, but you know a thing or two about genetics, and the consequences of too much common ancestry.”
“How nice of you to acknowledge skills that go beyond my breeding qualities.” She glared at him.
“Come on, Sam.” He sighed.
“You didn’t answer my question. Did you just ask me out because of some test result?”
He hesitated for a moment. “Initially, yes. I asked you out because I learned you’re gifted. And the analysis showed we were compatible mates.”
Oh God. She closed her eyes. He’d only thought of her as a potential wife all this time? Analyzed how compatible they’d be? “I don’t believe this. I don’t believe you. No, actually I don’t believe that I was so stupid to think you cared about me.”
“I do. We’re good together. We have great conversations and fun together.”
She released a shaky breath. This couldn’t be happening. All the fights in the past one a half years. All she’d been through. All the resistance had done. It was all in vain.
“Think about it.” His voice gentled. “If we didn’t pair up, you might get stuck with someone like Kinsey—or worse. At least now we still have a choice.”
As much as she hated to admit it, she couldn’t ignore that argument. “We fought so hard to overturn the old ways. For years.” She closed her eyes. “Some of us sacrificed a lot for that.”
“I’m aware of all that the resistance did. But the laws we’re following now are no longer Aschen laws. They’re human laws passed by a human government.”
“A provisional government that wasn’t even elected. The majority of the people don’t support Kinsey and his faction.”
“I don’t think that matters. The majority of the people aren’t gifted.”
“So, what, they get to have no say in the government?”
“A lot of POA members think that being born gifted is a privilege that should come with a certain exclusive status.” Joe leaned back in his chair.
Sam stared at him. “So it’s not really about the survival of the human race then, is it? It’s about power. And about creating an elite upper class that somehow feels more privileged than the rest just because of some genetic game of dice.”
Dinner was over. She shoved up from her chair.
“Sam, wait. What are you doing?” He leaned forward, his face softening. “I didn’t say I shared their opinion.”
“You keep saying that, but it doesn’t sound like you’re trying very hard to oppose them either. If you’ll excuse me now.” She turned and marched out of the room.
How could she have been so wrong about him?
A select group of men seizing power. Old laws being reinstated. This was definitely not what the resistance had fought for all this time.
The next day, Sam had immersed herself in studying district management reports when the glass doors to her office swooshed open. She looked up, expecting to see either Daniel or her dad, who’d said he’d be back this week from a prisoner transport to the Aschen homeworld.
Joe strolled in, a cautious smile on his face. Her stomach tightened. No wonder after their disastrous dinner last night.
“Hi.” She straightened in her seat.
He held her gaze for a long time. “I wanted to apologize for last night. I didn’t mean for our dinner to end that way.”
“Neither did I. Sometimes it feels like all our sacrifices were for nothing.”
He sat down on the second chair next to her desk. “Kinsey is unfortunately the most powerful man on Earth at the moment. Please don’t think I agree with his decisions. But he has too much influence. Many on the POA consider the resistance traitors.”
Her jaw clenched. All these years the resistance had fought for the gifted people. To end their misery. And to think that they of all people now labeled them traitors… “Do you share their opinion?”
“No.” He leaned forward and took her hand. “Of course not. But what I think doesn’t matter. Politics isn’t about my opinion. Or yours. It’s about who’s making the laws.”
“What did we even fight for if nothing changes anyway?”
“We can’t change everything in a day. Give it time. We have to make concessions if we want to convince Kinsey and his group to reopen the Stargate.”
When Joe drew her hand to his mouth and dropped a tender kiss on her palm, she closed her eyes. Forgiving him shouldn’t be so easy. If only there weren’t so much merit behind his arguments.
“Sam, I care about you. I never wanted to be with you just because you’re gifted. Yes, I checked your genetic profile before we met.” Sighing, he shook his head. “I was in love with a young woman in the town I lived in. We wanted to marry as soon as we both turned twenty-five. It turned out I was gifted. She wasn’t. I was transported to the breeding facility and assigned an apartment in Powhatan. I never saw her again.”
Sam leaned forward and took his hands. “Why?”
“They didn’t allow people to keep ties to former lovers. The day they came to get me, I knew I’d never see her again. It broke my heart.” Pain flashed in his eyes. “The POA has discussed reestablishing the old laws for a while, so I knew it was only a matter of time. I didn’t want to risk falling for a non-gifted woman, only to have the laws tear us apart. I wanted to make sure we could have a future.”
Sam’s throat tightened. She swallowed hard. “I didn’t know that.” Could she blame him for not wanting to get hurt? He was just trying to survive in a system that imposed severe restrictions on his life. So was she. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. Understand where I’m coming from. I ran away from home to escape a forced marriage.”
“I know.” Joe kissed her hand again, this time higher, closer to her pulse point. “If there were a way to circumvent the law, I wouldn’t propose it. We can talk about things and we get along. I don’t think it’ll get any better than you. Don’t you think we could make it work? Somehow? We’d have two years until you have to get pregnant. We could take our time.”
Two years… Her stomach clenched. She looked down to where their hands were still linked. What were her options? Did she want to run away again?
Last time, the possibility that she’d find the resistance and fight the Aschen had driven her. But now? The Aschen were gone. There was no resistance. Humans imposed the laws on her. Who was the enemy now? Who was she supposed to turn to? Even if she left Earth through the Stargate, where should she go? Running away meant she’d have to run for the rest of her life and leave all her friends behind. Vala. Janet. Daniel. Her dad.
Maybe a marriage with Joe didn’t feel like the happily ever after she’d hoped for. But considering the alternative…
If she was paired up with a man, she’d have to accept whomever they chose for her. And if she refused to comply, she’d be taken to one of the breeding facilities, where they’d make sure she couldn’t fight him. She’d only be permitted to leave it once he got her pregnant.
Ice poured into her veins. Compared to that, a marriage with Joe seemed merciful. He wouldn’t hurt her. Or force her to have sex with him. And maybe, over time, she’d even learn to love him.
“I’ll think about it.” She looked down to where their hands were joined.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a rolled up piece of paper tied together with a little red ribbon. “Here. Take your time. Since I already asked, we should do it right.”
Hands shaking, she took the paper. A contract of engagement. The room spun, and the knot in her stomach tightened.
He drew her hand to his lips once more. “A marriage will protect us both. I don’t want to see you get hurt, Sam. And I promise, I’ll do everything to make you happy.”
Her heart warmed. She knew he’d stand by that promise. Was it such a bad idea to make sure she was safe?
“I’ll protect you if you let me,” he said.
Protection. Once, she’d been able to protect herself. Her eyes stung, and she lowered her gaze to the paper in her hand. Nothing seemed to be worth protecting anymore. She’d run away, and now she was at the same point where she’d begun a year and a half ago.
His thumb drew circles on her pulse point, and she reveled in the touch. “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow?”
She nodded and forced a smile, but the words wouldn’t come.
“I’ll pick you up at seven then?”
He got up, leaned in and placed a tender kiss on her lips that made her stomach do a lurch, but it couldn’t dispel the lump in her throat.
When he left, she sat frozen in her chair. Somehow everything had turned out differently from what she’d thought. She’d always assumed once the Aschen were gone, all her problems would be solved. And now?
She was out of options. Either she ran away and spent her entire life in fear that somebody would discover her real identity, or she faced the reality that she was gifted. As it was, she still had a choice about whom to marry, a last shred of control over her future. Did she really want to turn that down?
Sam let the pen sink and stared at her signature on the engagement contract. The black ink slowly dried.
Why did she feel as though she was signing her own execution? It wasn’t the end of the world. She’d be safe from the breeding facilities. Safe from being raped. Safe from forceful pregnancy—at least for now.
Jack was dead, and she was out of options.
So I’ll end up in a loveless marriage after all.