Students and mentors were clogging the corridors, discussing the revised schedules they’d just received. Dan had less than a half hour to gather everything he would need for his first Defense of the Realm class and to be in the auditorium for the ridiculous back to school ceremony. He’d hated the damn things when he was a student. This was a college. The students needed to get to work, not be patted on the back for knowing their predilect and being able to state their purpose when prompted.
Distracted momentarily from his sense of ire, he hung back when he saw the latest issue of the Angels’ Season Program hoisted in the air by a young man to display a picture of Fionna that spanned two pages.
As one of the Angel team-owners, Dan knew that the team had decided to include a relatively long article along with numerous photos of Fionna celebrating her eight seasons on the Angels and to gloss over the actual reasons for her retirement from professional Summation – she wanted a family and hadn’t fully recovered from the loss of their first child or the gunshot wound that caused the miscarriage.
He and Fionna had posed for several shots, bringing attention to their newest endeavor. They had agreed to be the spokes-family for the Auxiliary International Adoption Agency, and the interview had given them an opportunity to bring attention to children around the world in poorer Realms that were in desperate need of being adopted, just like their little Aida.
But the picture the young man was currently displaying was one of Fionna from three seasons before. She was posed with a come-get-me grin and wearing a pair of knit short-shorts with Angel written across her luscious ass and an Angels zip up jacket with nothing underneath it. The zipper was pulled down to expose her enviable cleavage. Rampant desire and possessiveness fought for dominance in his gut. He narrowed his eyes.
“So, Vindico’s gonna be our new mentor, which obviously means that Fi-onn-na will be dropping by the academy on a regular basis, which means that I will be hanging out around Vindico’s office often,” the guy holding the photo drawled pompously to his admiring friends.
“Justin, you’re such an idiot. Look.” One of his friends grabbed the magazine that also included photos and stats of all the current Angels team and this season’s schedule. He flipped the page and revealed the next full length shot of Fionna.
Trying to remain behind them without being seen, Dan ground his teeth. His shield pulsed through his veins, tinging the air around him dark green. As every person in the corridor was also Gifted, his energy shift wasn’t noticed. “She’s about to pop. He ruined her.”
The photo he used as his illustration had been taken a week before when they’d returned home from Kauai. Fionna was posed in a side silhouette of her entire body. She had a delicate, white linen shirt buttoned just to the top of her baby bump. It hung open, revealing her very pregnant belly.
Dan was posed on his knees in front of her with both of his hands partially obscured under the shirt. He was tenderly kissing her bump. It was his favorite photograph. He’d purchased several copies from the photographer. It was intimate and tender, and not only showed their precious little Halia, but showed just how much Dan adored his wife and babies.
“Nah, that’s just a temporary problem,” Justin assured his friend. “She’s an athlete. She challenged for years. She’ll get rid of the kid, get her smoking hot body back quick, and then I’ll just see if she’d like to become my own personal mentor.” He waggled his eyebrows before continuing, “Bet me a Benjamin by the end of the year I’ll be getting myself a piece of that fan-freaking-tastic ass.”
Vomit swirled in Dan’s gut. He felt his biceps tense of their own accord. Fury stormed through his veins. With two long strides, he was behind the idiots in question and jerked the magazine up over their heads.
“What the hell do you think you’re...?” Justin spun to take in Dan’s menacing glare.
“Man, you are so dead,” the friend hissed.
Using the expanse of his overly-muscled chest, Dan backed Justin and two of his cohorts up to the painted concrete brick wall. “What was that, Justin?”
The idiots before him stared up at him in wide-eyed terror.
“Uh…” he stammered, clearly trying to figure out how much Dan had overheard. “Uh… we were just saying... what a great player...” he stopped to consider before going on, “Mrs. Vindico was when she challenged...for the Angels...I mean.”
“Funny, that is not at all what I heard you say.” Dan stopped short of calling the kid a motherfucker by reminding himself that he could not curse in front of students; yet another thing he hated about this job.
He jerked Justin’s schedule from his stack of binders. “Let’s see here.” He gave the schedule a cursory glance. “Wow, you’re in two of my classes.” Justin’s eyes closed in abject defeat. “We’re gonna have a lot of fun this year.” Glancing at Justin’s last name on the schedule, a broad grin spread across Dan’s face. “Coker, huh? Yeah, I know your dad. Drew’s a good friend of my family. You know, since he’s an aide to my father… the Governor. Before I go and phone your father and tell him what I just heard you say, listen up.” Dan leaned in as Justin tried to melt into the concrete wall. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to go home in a few hours, and tell my incredibly beautiful wife, and the mother of my children, all about your little bet. You know, the one I ruined,” he spat at the friend.
“You’re going to go home and write me a thousand-word essay on women’s rights within the Realm, and how women should be treated with honor, respect, and dignity. And most importantly how they are not pieces of property to be bet over. Tomorrow, when Fi comes by to have lunch with me, you’re going to be invited to join us. While we enjoy our lunch, you’re going to entertain us by reading your essay. You want my wife to be your mentor? Perfect. We’ll let her grade it. I think I’ll let it represent at least forty percent of your semester grades for both of my classes. I’ll tell you though, Justin, Fi is not a big fan of pompous egotistical children.” Dan dealt the crushing blow to any twenty- year-old male. “I’d study up. She’s tough.” With that, he shoved the magazine and the schedule into Justin’s chest with a great deal of force, reveling in the rush of air he pushed from the idiot’s lungs. “See you in class.”
Dan slammed his office door, making it echo up and down the corridor. “Un-fucking-believable.” He slung his briefcase into the cushioned chair in the corner and sank down into his chair behind the desk.
An involuntary smile began to form on his lips. Fionna had designed his office for him, and it reminded him of home. The large canvas painting of flowers in every imaginable color that Aida had created at an event at the Louvre hung on the wall, along with several of her framed crayon drawings.
There were pictures across his large desk of he and Fionna lying in the sands of Kauai after their wedding, one of he and Aida in a bumper car in Paris, and another of her beaming ear-to-ear seated on his shoulders.
The one of Dan knelt down in front of Fionna kissing her belly was on prominent display. Another of Aida in her hula skirt performing at the recital she’d been in at the end of the summer with her hula class.
He picked up the very smallest of all the photographs. A black and white clip of Halia’s latest ultrasound. He could see the precious outline of her tiny face and her sweet, rounded belly. He’d been given so much after all he’d taken away. If this job was his penitence, bring it on. God knew he’d been through worse.
With a sigh, he downed the last of the coffee and summoned to turn on his laptop. As he reviewed the class list and his lesson plans, a knock sounded on the office door. “In,” he ordered, just as he’d always done at Iodex.
Fergus Martin, a Scholara Predilect mentor, rushed inside. Dan clenched his jaw to keep from rolling his eyes. He couldn’t stand Fergus. He was a driveling suck-up who was certain he knew everything there was to know about everything under the sun.
Right under the nose of his mother, one of the school governors, and the rest of the staff, he’d gone as far as to date a student. She’d graduated in June, and apparently, Fergus was hoping to propose. He’d bored every mentor at Venton with this information repeatedly over every meeting they’d been forced to sit through for the last week. It was beyond Dan how no one had called him on the fact that he was proposing to a former student two months after graduation, but he suspected that School Governess Martin had a great deal to do with that fact.
“Just wanted to make certain you knew where your first class was and see if you needed any advice,” Martin urged in his annoying drawl.
Narrowing his eyes, Dan glared, “As I am the head of Ioses order and therefore the lead mentor for all defense classes, I assigned all of the classrooms to my department. I’m well aware of which rooms I’m teaching in.”
“Right,” Martin looked concerned as he glanced around. “Well now, I have been doing this longer than you have, so if you need anything at all just let me know. I can show you around, sit with you at lunch, that kind of thing.”
“I’m good.” Dan wondered if his day had any chance of improving or if he should just resign now. “I’ll probably eat in here. I’m not big on cafeterias.”
“You don’t want to do that,” Fergus panicked.
“Because, you gotta understand your reputation.”
This had Dan chuckling. “My reputation?”
“Yeah, you have this really shielded sort of thing going on. I know you’re an Ioses and everything, but you keep everyone at arm’s length more than most Shields. It’s like you don’t want to be bothered.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about. People think you’re a hard-ass.”
“That assumption is correct and has never bothered me… ever.”
“Several people’s feelings were hurt when you and Fionna didn’t come to the Venton kickball game.”
Dan rubbed his temples. Since Fergus was the mentor that had come up with the kickball game, Dan didn’t have to guess whose feelings had been hurt. “Fi had an appointment with the Medio, and we had to take Aida to the open house at her school. And I don’t play kickball, as I am no longer in second grade. I’m here to train officers. You can leave me off the invite lists for all staff Tupperware parties and Amway pep-rallies.”
“You used to be chief of Iodex. You understand that you need to attend things that promote team-building.”
Dan slammed his laptop shut and hoisted it into his briefcase. “Actually, Mentor Martin, I found that when you and ten of your closest friends are being shot at, and you’re trying to get everyone out alive, it tends to really cement the team. No kickballs required.”
Opening the door to his office, Dan waited on Fergus to get the message.
“I don’t really think anything involving guns would be an appropriate team-building exercise for Venton, but I’ll take it under consideration as I am in charge of team-building for this year.”
Not certain if he wanted to laugh or cry, Dan made no effort to hide his eye roll. “I need to get to the auditorium.
“Oh, right,” Fergus checked his watch and rushed from the room. “See you at lunch.” Dan slammed the door just for effect for the second time in a ten minute period. Never a good sign. Re-reading an email from Landon Portwood, the new and improved Chief of Elite Iodex, he memorized the names of the students Portwood was interested in recruiting for the National teams.
Gathering his things for his classes and his laptop, Dan made his way out of his office. “Shit.” The corridors were empty. He was late. He hated to be late to anything, even if he saw no point in going in the first place.
His long legs ate up the distance between the Ioses building and the Admin complex. Another memory assaulted his consciousness as he passed the statue of Former Crown Governor Joseph Lawson, the only Ioses predilect to ever serve as Crown, in the Ioses courtyard.
Dan had recruited Rainer, Joseph’s one and only son, to serve on the Elite force just two years before. God, how had so much changed in so little time?
“Those are serious accusations, Ms. Martin.”
As Dan slipped inside the Admin building, he stopped short. The hair on the back of his neck stood. Methodically scanning the empty entrance before him, he noted nothing out of place and couldn’t locate the person who’d spoken.
Edging along the rounded wall, he could hear the low drone of students in the large meeting hall nearby.
“This is a very serious indiscretion, Chancellor. One the press has apparently gotten wind of. This the last thing Venton needs now. Just what do you plan to do about this?” Governess Martin demanded.
As soon as he heard the title chancellor, Dan eased down a nearby corridor and listened intently. The potential of investigation fed his blood. His heart steadied. His eyes narrowed. His training had been honed for far too many years for him to forget the drive to uncover the truth, no matter what the case may be. Intention squared his shoulders. He had no idea what the hell was going on at his alma mater, but he was going to find out.
“Indiscretion, Governess?” Chancellor Wilshire scoffed, a little arrogantly in Dan’s opinion.
“There was no indiscretion. Therefore, nothing needs to be done. If you’ll excuse me….”
“Dammit, there are photographs, Dean! You have to deal with this.”