"Whew! I can't believe that fish! That was the ugliest sucker I have ever seen!" Lona exclaimed. "Do people actually eat those things?"
"Yes, they make rather nice steaks. You could've fed the whole Residence with that one. I bet they stuff it and sell it as a collectable item," Palla ventured.
"Probably. Seems notable people cause the same excitement regardless of where you are." The human looked around at the buildings as they entered town. "Okay, we smell of fish so hanging around town is out. Let's head back and shower. Maybe we can sneak into town later."
"I doubt it. I bet you a month's pay that your name is already on every radio and broadcast channel. You left the safety of the Palace and now everyone is going to be looking around for you, hoping to see you."
Lona sighed wearily and snapped on the radio. Just as the Security Chief predicted, news of her record catch was already being reported. Her fish had been tossed on ice and the auction for it would be held later that day. Agreeing that going into town now would be a bad idea, she sat back silently and watched the passing scenery.
When they reached the security gates of the Residence they saw several news vans waiting. Palla drove carefully through the gate while people tried to get the consort's attention. The palace guards rushed to the vehicle and surrounded the petite alien. The reporters tried to get closer in spite of the ring of security. Palla took her arm and tried to steer her towards the entrance, but Lona's attention wasn't on her escape.
She noticed one lone man stood in the crowd of female reporters. She pointed with her chin. Palla glanced at the small man who was being pushed aside by the more aggressive women.
"Rare to see a male reporter. The women make their lives miserable."
Lona started heading up the walkway when one brute of a woman shoved the man and told him to go back to the kitchens where he belonged. The human fumed. It wasn't much different from the early Equal Rights movement on her world, only in reverse. Always a sucker for the underdog, she walked over to the fallen man and helped him to his feet.
"Wanna hang around with me and the Misses for a few days?" she asked the stunned reporter.
"I hope you're a decent writer or I'll be rather embarrassed," the human said with a wry grin.
"I, um think I am. I'm the only male reporter in the city," he bragged nervously.
"You didn't get the job through nepotism did you?"
"No…Mistress Lona, I know I'm just a man, but I work hard at my job. I really know-"
Lona cut him off. "Master…?"
"Master Branen, I for one know that talent and skill isn't limited to gender. You're preaching to the converted."
Lona gave him a lopsided grin. "An old saying from my world. It means trying to convince someone who already agrees with you."
The reporter searched his pockets and pulled out a pad and stylus, quickly writing. He looked up after he finished writing and looked up into her amused eyes. "Were you serious about letting me stay in the residence for a while? Or is it a nasty jest?" he asked suspiciously.
"Quite serious, but understand this. You will not disrupt this household. Our private quarters are off limits. My mate could go into labor any day now and I will not have her upset. If you promise that your interview isn't going to be a trashy piece of sensationalism, I'll allow you to stay. What do you say Master Branen?"
"Are there any subjects that are off limits as well?"
"Oh, anything that involved Residence security and the like. But a piece of advice Branen, place yourself in the subject's shoes. If you would cringe at being asked the same thing, don't ask."
"Sounds fair enough to me Mistress Lona."
"Just Lona will do. I hate formalities."
The reporter chose to just follow along quietly for a day. He informed them he'd ask questions if confused, but to just ignore that he was there.
The couple agreed and told the staff to feel free to speak with the young man if asked anything. Branen did his best to blend into the background. He didn't want them feeling uncomfortable. After a few hours, they barely realized he was there. He watched with amazement at the way the couple reacted to one another. Accustomed to stern females, he was delighted to see that they were genuinely open to one another.
They shared affection easily, often sharing kisses or touches. Lona often catered to her mate, quietly helping her sit or stand. One of the slaves served afternoon tea and he asked quietly if they were always that way. The man grinned and nodded. As other servants wandered in and out of the room, he noted that Lona, in spite of her reputation as a flirt, never once looked over one of the comely female slaves. Her eyes were only for the Queen. Surprised, the man sipped his tea and continued his mental notes.
After the tea cart was removed, Lona told the reporter that it was time for their afternoon nap. She helped her mate to her feet and escorted the queen from the room. Branen thought it a good time to interview some of the servants.
Glancing at the crudely drawn map of the building, he headed for the servant area. Starting with the kitchen staff, the young man found several people willing to speak with him. Not a single one of them had anything bad to say about the royal couple. Wary by nature, he wondered if the servants were too terrified to speak openly, and said so to the people he was speaking to. Several of them chuckled.
"So much for an open mind Master Branen," the cook said with a smile, taking away some of the bite from her insult. "You just don't understand that those two are different. They aren't like most of the ruling class. It isn't a political match, they are in love! We could see it from the very first day. Isn't that right Depran?" she directed to the Queen's secretary, who was snitching a treat from a canister.
The man nodded as he chewed. He swallowed and dusted the crumbs from his fingers. "Her Majesty allowed the alien woman to touch her from the very beginning. That was proof enough to me, plus Lona was as gentle as a tam around the queen. She was nervous around others but not her." Many nodded, watching the young man who listened in disbelief.
The alien touched her before they were mated? It boggled the mind. No one dared to even stand close to her in fear that they'd accidentally brush against her. It was one of the few death sentences on their world. Anyone who dared to desecrate the Queen was publicly tortured to death.
The reporter shuddered, remembering when his grandfather told him about the time it happened to the previous monarch. The offender had been tied between posts as the Queen's personal guards used sharp clawed hooks to pull pieces of flesh from her body. Bringing himself from the mental image, he looked at everyone's eyes to make sure he wasn't being made a fool. Seeing their serious faces, he shivered.
"The Queen felt safe with her too?" More nodding. "And what of the brutal way she attacked Advisor Daz?" he asked the Secretary.
"Young man, exactly where do you get your information? From the bathroom stalls in the worst part of Lema? Mistress Lona went against the Advisor's sword bare-handed and won fairly. There was nothing brutal about the contest. Lona only struck her once."
"But…" his voice trailed off. That wasn't what he had been told.
"It's public record. The local broadcast station has it on film. See for yourself," he challenged and walked from the room. Something stank with the reporter and he intended to speak with the Royal couple once they woke. In the meantime, he would ask Palla to investigate him.
The bedchamber door opened, revealing the consort as she chuckled over something her mate said. Palla stood and waited for the woman to turn around and notice her. Lona shut the door behind her and turned, spotting the Security Chief. It only took a glance to see the gravity of her mood.
"That young reporter you brought into the house. Depran had a gut feeling about him and asked me to do a little digging." Palla pulled several sheets of paper from her pocket, handing them to the consort.
Reading them, her features turned grim.
"He doesn't work for the newspaper he claimed."
"No. They never heard of him. I had your secretary do his best to quote every word said in the kitchen. If you ask me, he's somehow connected to Daz. Perhaps a nephew or cousin. I have someone investigating that possibility now. In the meantime, I suggest we lock him up. He might have been sent to spy on you. Perhaps even set up as an assassin."
Lona reread the papers in order to have time to think. She handed them back and sat down.
"No. I say let's have him watched discreetly. If we lock him up we may never learn the full extent of Daz's plot. Branen himself is probably ignorant to most of it as well. I can't see Daz entrusting much information to a 'mere' male."
"That's true. He was probably told to perform certain actions and not told why. But we still may not be able to keep a close eye on him because of the size of the Residence. Anyone following him would be noticed."
"Hmm, do your people have listening devices? Small enough to be hidden?"
"Yes, we have one about this big," spanning her fingers a few inches apart. "and about as thick as a piece of yarn."
"Then be sneaky. Have someone ask to borrow his stylus for some reason, perhaps to take a message on the phone, and slip it inside of it. Perhaps we'll learn something. And I suggest having no one person tail him. Just keep an eye on him and allow him free rein."
"Lona, I suggest having a security sweep of your quarters before each time you enter them. He may plant something like a bomb."
Annoyed at the over-cautious nature of Palla, she thought it over. If it were just herself at risk, she'd protest. But she had Tashalia and their child to think of. She okayed the idea. Now she had to inform her mate of the current events. Glancing at the closed door, Palla knew where her thoughts lay.
The set up was complete. Palla pointed to one of the guards, who paged the Queen's secretary over the intercom system. Depran was walking with the reporter answering questions. At the page, he went to the nearest phone and answered it. Grunting and muttering 'just a moment as I write this down' he searched the drawer, pulling out a piece of paper and pretending to hunt for something to write with.
"Lend me your stylus Branen." The young man handed it over without thinking. Depran bent over the desk so his back was to the reporter. He quickly twisted it open, slipped in the device, and closed it. He flipped over the paper, already prepared with notes. He said goodbye to the person on the phone and hung up. He returned the stylus to the unsuspecting young man and took the paper.
"My pleasure," the reporter replied.
Tashalia groaned with pleasure as she slipped into the warm bathwater. She leaned back and was cushioned by her mate's sturdy form.
"This feels so good," the Queen murmured, "My back has been hurting all day."
"Hmm, perhaps you're about to go into labor then. You've been pretty restless."
Her heart jumped at the thought. This was her first pregnancy and although she wanted this to happen, she was still frightened. Lona sensed her fears and wrapped her arms more protectively around her.
"It'll be fine, just you see. You have what my grandmother called 'birthin' hips'. Nice and roomy and made for having babies. That little ankle-biter of ours will probably pop out in no time flat and demand a teat."
Tashalia busted out with a laugh. "Like mother like daughter?" she grinned, feeling better.
"Well, I do seem to have a thing for these beauties," she teased as she cupped her mate's breasts. Tashalia closed her eyes and mewed, enjoying the attention. Lona bent her head and nuzzled lightly at her cheek. Feeling much more relaxed, the queen just leaned there and enjoyed the soft touches. A slight twinge in her lower body made her grimace but it quickly went away. Another twinge hit about ten minutes later and she wondered if she was indeed going into labor. Deciding not to worry about it so early in the beginning stages, she ignored them and touched the controls that adjusted the bath's temperatures.
"No," she answered quietly. "I just wanted to sit here longer. It feels nice." She felt a stronger ache and grimaced.
"Feeling pain?" Lona asked, doing her best not to show any strong worry.
"Yes. I think labor has started. But there isn't any real strong pain, just slight cramping," she said in a remarkably calm tone.
Lona wanted to panic, she felt it rising inside of her. God, no wonder expectant fathers turned into babbling idiots if this is what they experienced! Lona closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. For her mate's sake she couldn't fall apart. Tashalia needed her to remain the voice of reason and comfort. She focused instead on touch, finding her own comfort in sliding her wet palms over her mate's bulging midsection.
"Mmm, that feels nice. I think our daughter approves," the queen smiled.
"Oh wonderful, she'll demand a massage after each meal too," the human joked.
"Nope, the massages are for me. Let her find her own playmate, you're mine."
Lona chuckled and resumed her nuzzling along her mate's jaw.
To be continued
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