Celeste, Shady, and Vince were once again at the gaming table. Jeth spied Sierra through the doorway into the galley, helping Flynn with the cooking. He sat down, wondering where Milton was. Probably in sick bay. Jeth had barely seen him lately.
“Just a few more minutes,” Sierra announced from the doorway, shouting to be heard over the music.
Cora stopped midtwirl and raced over to her. She grabbed Sierra by the hand and hauled her to the makeshift dance floor. “Dance, dance, dance,” Cora shouted.
An exasperated look crossed Sierra’s face, but she gave into the girl, raising her hands above her head and twirling around in a circle. Her long hair, which she had let down from her customary ponytail, swung out around her like a golden cape.
Jeth’s heart seemed to somersault inside his ribcage, and he sucked in a breath. He should never have let that kiss happen. The memory of it only intensified his guilt over what he planned to do. Not to mention the torment of unfulfilled desire.
“Ahem,” a voice said from above him.
Jeth looked up, his face going red as he saw Vince staring down at him with his arms folded across his chest in a manner that emphasized his large muscles.
“See something you like?” Vince said.
Jeth didn’t answer. If he said no, Vince would know he was lying. If he said, yes . . . well . . . Jeth wasn’t interested in finding out what big brother might make of such a declaration.
Vince sat down beside Jeth, close enough he had to resist the impulse to scoot over.
“I’d be careful if I were you,” said Vince.
Jeth rolled his eyes. “Are you about to give me the if-you-hurt-her-I’ll-break-your-face speech?”
“Nope. She’s perfectly capable of breaking your face on her own.”
Jeth snorted, although a part of him didn’t entirely doubt this statement. He’d certainly seen for himself how silently the girl could move. She should’ve been a career assassin instead of scientist. She could kill him in his sleep if she wanted to.
“My sister has a hard time trusting people,” Vince said. “Especially with everything that’s happened recently.” His voice grew quiet. “I was shocked when she admitted how much she’d let you in on how we grew up. I think that might be the first time she’s ever told anyone.”
Jeth swallowed, uncomfortable with this news. He didn’t want to read too much into it. Something like hope fluttered in his chest, a pair of delicate wings. Across from them, Sierra stopped dancing. She looked over at them, a mixture of curiosity and concern on her face.
Forcing as much aloofness into his voice as he could, Jeth said, “Are you saying that she trusts me?”
Vince turned his head, pinning Jeth with his gaze. “No. I’m saying she’s thinking about trusting you, and I suggest you don’t screw it up. If you give her a reason not to, you’ll regret it forever. I promise.”
The fluttering feeling evaporated in Jeth’s chest, replaced by a tremor of guilt. Did Vince know he planned on copying the Aether Project? Was this some kind of veiled warning? Jeth wasn’t exactly afraid of Vince, but he had a good healthy respect for his size, not to mention his background as an elite combat soldier. Jeth stared back at Vince, trying to look calm and innocent.
No, he decided, a moment later. Vince didn’t know. How could he? No one knew about his intentions except for Lizzie. And besides, it was such a little thing, really. By the time Sierra’s buyer found out there was more than one copy of the project around, she would be long gone. No harm done.
Fortunately, Jeth was rescued from having to dwell on the subject any longer when Flynn shouted from the galley, “Soup’s on.”
“We’re having soup?” asked Cora as everyone filed in and sat down.
Jeth laughed, giving her blonde head a pat. “It’s just an expression. Although from the looks of this table, everything’s on the menu.”
Milton arrived a few minutes late, muttering a thin, awkward apology that no one paid attention to. Jeth felt a moment’s pity for his uncle. He supposed it wasn’t easy being the only old guy surrounded by a bunch of teenagers.
In minutes, the group had descended into their typical rowdiness, Sierra, Vince, and Cora blending among them as if they’d been there forever. Most of the jokes and stories they shared were old, but the presence of new ears made them fresh again.
“Oh, do you remember when Shady shot himself with a stunner?” Lizzie said as dinner was winding down.
“Did not,” said Shady, mouth agape.
Lizzie poked him in the chest. “Yes, you did. It was my second job. How did that happen again?”
“I remember,” said Flynn. “Shady was showing off for that woman with the big boobs, one of Chopper’s mistresses.” Flynn stood, pushing back his chair. Then he raised his hand like he had a gun. “He was going like this, and then he tried to twirl the stunner on his finger, but he did it wrong and BAM!” Flynn stumbled backward, crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue. Then he fell down, landing with a loud thump.
Cora burst into shrieks of laughter. Most of the jokes had gone over her head, but not this one. Physical comedy she understood completely.
“Do it again!” Cora said, “Please, please, please.”
Flynn stood up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He moved to reenact the story, but froze at the sound of a loud crack.
Liquid splashed Jeth’s arms, and he leaped back from the table. “What the hell?” He glanced around. Everybody else had stood up, too. The next second he realized why—all the drinking glasses on the table had vanished. Nothing else. No holes, just one second, glasses full of water or juice or wine, and the next, nothing but free-flowing liquid.