Disclaimer: I do not own any of the CoR copyrights or plotlines. I just like to play with them.

To the Middle of the Universe and Back AgainChapter One: The Way of Things

It's amazing how small the universe really is. No, really. People used to say that about their own planets. Then, they realized just how true it was. Next they moved on to say that it was amazing how small their galaxy is. Again, they realized the magnitude of the truth in this statement. Now, it was the universe. That all-encompassing term to include everything known to man, Martian, Venutian, Helionite, Black-Hole-ian, and even Crematorian. Yep. Especially Crematorians, haha!

Leilani (pronounced Lay-lon-ee) sat on the veranda of her own home pondering that little concept. How could something so vast really be so small? Dozens of cruisers, battleships, freighters, tankers, yachts, and speeders flitted to and fro in the sky above this busy metropolis, each occupant aware only of their own little bubble, yet infinitely connected in some way to all of the others around them.

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. The metalworker, the architect, the politician, and King. The adulterous husband and his shameless new mistress. The black market merchant, his traders, and all those consumers. It really amazed her to think that one being could touch so many throughout this thing called a universe without realizing the effects of their own actions. Like, how a single batch of barely bad eggs could cause the downfall of an entire kingdom. Impossible?

The butcher could have sold a dozen fresh eggs that sat out ten seconds too long to the baker, who in turn used those "bad eggs" in his bread which the candlestick maker bought for lunch. See how this goes? The candlestick maker is laid out for a day, puking his miserable guts out, and unable to craft those special-order spiral candles that the metalworker requested for his elaborate sconces. The architect gets pissed because the sconces he wants from the metalworker are absent of candles, and it looks horrible on the walls of the house he's trying to sell to this rich politician, whose brother is the King. The politician gets pissed because now he can't host that big birthday bash for his royal brother in his new house—who incidentally is trying to woo his new mistress without his wife's knowledge. The wife finds out, kills the King, and a new leader must be ordained. The King's top merchant is now exiled because without the previous King's diplomatic immunity, he's now a felon. His traders are jailed right along with him, leaving a bunch of cut-throat, needy consumers pissed off. A riot ensues that destroys the whole kingdom. All over a measly batch of rotten eggs.

Small place, easily tipped over the edge from democratic, sane life into brilliant chaos. Gotta love the universe.

These were the things Leilani thought about.

In these times, one never knew what their own actions influenced until the universe came crashing down around their ears, and they're left wondering how in the hell a batch of rotten eggs led to a kingdom's demise. Pretty deep stuff.

Leilani found herself rudely snatched out of her own thoughts by the boisterous shouts of the neighbor boy.

"Hey, daydreamer, when are we going on that date?"

"Piss off," Leilani replied, nonplussed. She stood, lifting her lithe frame off her veranda steps and disappeared behind the slam of the screen door.

It wasn't that she wasn't attracted to men. She just abhorred how they treated her. Cat calls. Pick-up lines. Shy requests. Outright demands. Men just never did the right thing to stoke her fire, so to speak. Most of the time, she let them down nicely. Unless they were outright jerks. Then she reveled in humiliating them. Her tongue and wit were as sharp as any keenly edged blade.

Sometimes, they called her the ice queen. Still others speculated that she wasn't into men at all, that her screen door slammed the other way, so to speak. That wasn't the case, either. She had absolutely no desire to be with another woman. She couldn't stand women, either. Simpering, back-stabbing, catty, petty, nonsensical, prattling, miserable beings, the whole lot of them. She had no use for small talk and idle chatter. She had no use for lusting after the resident beefcakes with no brains. She hated dressing up, just so that some drunken fool slobbered all over her with the hopes of pricking her with his single claim to glory. No thanks.

She padded barefoot into her living room and said "Television, on." In this day in age, almost everything was voice activated. In some arenas of scientific research, they'd been able to make such functions thought activated. What a beautiful thing it would be if people could just stop talking, except to say something a little bit intelligent.

As the modest-sized flat-panel TV blinked to life, she caught her reflection in the full-length mirror hanging on her open first-level bathroom door. Leilani was by no means a vain person—though several people had been keen on telling her that with just a teensy bit of effort on her part, she could put many of the planet's best looking females of all species to shame.

She wore a simple, white, crewneck tee with cut-off jean shorts that weren't too showy—they stopped at mid-thigh, and she was barefoot, as was her preference. She was by no means a dark-skinned woman. Quite the contrary. She possessed ivory-hued skin that bore the texture of fine porcelain. Credit that to her aversion to overexposure to sunlight. Her eyes were an odd shade of green—not quite seafoamy, not quite olive, and were rimmed in stark contrast by hunter green borders. Her hair, the color of dark caramel, bore lighter blonde streaks, and was messily tied back at the nape of her neck. It wasn't straight, but it wasn't curly. Somewhere in the middle, though it was easy enough for her to work both ends of the spectrum, should she try. She wasn't exactly skinny, though she was nowhere near overweight. As her good friend Alana said, she had curves in all the right places, though she often dressed to hide it.

Alana was one of the few people with whom Leilani kept regular company. She was a firecracker of a girl, with dark, dazzling red hair and the same sort of alabaster skin Leilani possessed. Her vivid blue eyes sparkled and crackled with mischief, the kind which often left the both of them in some hard spot or another. No matter—they were the type of dynamic duo that always managed to get out of the trouble they were so fond of causing.

They'd gone to college together—Leilani the intellect, artist, and free-spirit, working as a freelance journalist, novelist, sculptor, and painter; Alana the gear head obsessed with working on and improving engines and anything that went fast, with a quirky compulsive penchant for high fashion. It was often said in the rumor mill about the city that the two of them were secretly engaged. At this, they both laughed heartily. While Leilani was the ice queen, Alana was the Marilyn Monroe of this millennium. She'd dated politicians, rock musicians, artists, actors, and any type of public figure she could get her hands on. Her only stipulation: They had to be ravishingly handsome and drive high performance cruisers.

Leilani's focus shifted back to the TV, where the news blared unabashedly about the universe's top scandals. Sure enough, the philandering King of Helion Medialis, the planet on which Leilani called home, had bedded and impregnated the buxom daughter of one of his adviseurs. That went over especially well on such a religious, monogamist culture as that of the Helion colonies. May the Father save the Queen. Leilani had to laugh. She wasn't at all religious. In all actuality, she was agnostic.

She sat unceremoniously in her chair with an unladylike "harrumph!" and had just reached for the untouched, sweating glass of ice water, when the phone rang.

"Oh, what now?" she groused aloud, reaching over for the small, silver device next to the coveted glass of ice water.

"Hello?" she asked.

"Hey! So, I've got a line on this shindig downtown tonight!"

Ah, the spitfire herself.

"I don't want to go anywhere tonight."

"Oh, you wanker!"

At this, Leilani had to laugh. Alana was always digging up words from the past and using them in modern conversation. It'd been several centuries since "wanker" had been in use—circa 2100 A.D. Earth, pre-World War III, when Earth was still habitable. Alana had a strange infatuation with Earth. She was saving up her Helion galleons in the salvaged fuel tank off her first cruiser, after she totaled it in a really bad accident. Once it was full, she was sure she'd have enough for a two-way trip for the both of them.

"I'm not a wanker, you moron. I just don't feel like going out. Blech. You go. Have fun with that new rockstar boyfriend of yours."

"He's not a rockstar—he's a cellist."

"Yeah, whatever. Same difference."

"You of all people know the difference, especially between noisemaking guitars and classically trained cellists! Besides, it's not like a rave party. It's high class, and sophisticated. There's going to be all sorts of diplomats, artists, models, actors, and the like there."

"How did you get in?"

"Easy, I fixed his cruiser for free."

"Not for free."

"Haha, ok, so we had a little fun on the hood."

"Have you no shame?!" Leilani exclaimed, finally reaching for the glass of ice water and taking a long draught.

"Oh come on! It was in the garage," Alana laughingly replied.

"Was the door closed?"

"No, but it was night time!"

"Oh, disgrace to the Father."

"Oh, shut up. You don't believe that crap anyways. So are you coming or not?"

"I don't have anything to wear."

"I've got stuff."

"You're not letting me off, are you?"

"Nope. It's the event of the decade! The new ruler of Helion Prime is going to be there—it's his first appearance. He's quite the deal, from what I've heard. He's absolutely feral! And, he's the last of the Furyans."

"Blech, but he's a necro! Don't you remember, you know, five years ago, when the Necromongers were going to crush our little planet and force us into their twisted religion?" Leilani countered, disbelieving the turn this conversation had taken.

"He's not one of them, idiot. He brought their whole regime down. They've lost."

"Alright, well, just do me a favor? When you try to bed him, will you at least keep your little cellist friend ignorant of the fact?"

"Haha, no way. I want 'em both at the same time!"

"I'm hanging up now."

"See you at seven."

"Right. I like the black dress."

"I've got five."

"I like 'em all."

"Fine. Bye."

"Bye."

Leilani sat back and took another swig of the ice water. Just dandy, she thought to herself. Once again, she'd be going solo to another party to watch while her provocative, salacious, and shameless friend had her way with whatever man she stumbled across.

She looked over at the slim laptop sitting on her coffee table. Her novel was due in a month. It was already finished, though she hadn't done any fine-tuning. That was all because of one thing. She hated her editor. The woman always ripped her work to pieces, only to put it back together again, at which point, it completely lost its voice. Her voice. Oh well. She'd sold a couple million copies of her first two books. It wasn't a total loss. She just couldn't wait until the publisher trusted her enough to edit her own stuff or at least choose her own editor. She was pretty sure she'd sell more books that way.

Leilani wrote action-laced romance novels. They weren't the typical "woman porn", cheesy paperbacks 150 pages long of back-to-back outrageously hot sex romps like those of which over saturated the market for the past eight hundred years. Her books were actually read by as many men as women. They actually had complicated, intriguing plotlines. Her latest work was about this twenty-year-old karate prodigy from the outer reaches of the Milky Way galaxy who, after winning the Universe Young Karate championships, is kidnapped and put into employ as an assassin for a gunrunning tycoon based on Helion Omega. She falls in love with one of the clients, who turns out to be an undercover intergalactic FBI agent from Earth, trying to bust her boss's crime ring. Cheesy sort of dime store mystery plotline, but she made it into a great story.

She began re-reading the story for the hundredth time, making minor adjustments here and there, exchanging better-sounding synonyms and extending a couple of scenes within the first chapter. She was just moving on to the second chapter when she glanced at the clock.

It was 6:58 p.m. and she hadn't showered yet.

"Dammit!" she cursed, saving the file on her computer and clicking it shut. She dashed to her upstairs bedroom, stripped and jogged into the shower. In the middle of washing her hair, she realized that she'd forgotten to grab her towel. Oh well, it wasn't the first time she'd streaked, soaking wet, in her own house. Besides, what did it matter if the walls saw her naked? She just hated getting the carpet wet, because she knew she'd put socks on and have to change them three or four times before she realized it was a futile effort. She hated having wet socks on.

She was just finishing shaving her legs when she heard the screen door downstairs slam shut, and Alana's foghorn sounded at the bottom of the stairs:

"Hey, wanker! I know you're not just stepping into the damn shower!"

Leilani pulled the shower door open and shouted back, "I'm not, I'm just getting out, thank you! Did you remember the dress?"

Footsteps outside the bathroom door. Then, a blond head poked in. "Yup!"

"Oh my God, your hair!" Leilani shrieked, throwing open the door the rest of the way.

"Oh my God, you're naked!" Alana laughed.

Leilani shut the door, a flush like the red tide instantly lighting her cheeks. "Get out! I'm almost done!"

"Well hurry up. I'm doing your hair and make up, too!"

"Can you bring me a towel, please?"

"What the hell would you do without me?" Alana cursed, coming back into the bathroom a moment later with the huge bath sheet. She draped it over the closed toilet seat and disappeared again.

Leilani clumsily dried her body and hair, then quickly smoothed jasmine-scented moisturizing oil over her still-damp skin. She tied the towel around her torso and trotted out of the bathroom. Alana sat on her bed with five black dresses of varying styles and lengths laid out beside her. She was beaming like a parent at Christmas waiting for the kids to open their gifts.

Alana's new hairstyle was surprisingly fitting of the spitfire. She'd chopped it off in a spiky, pixie-cut and dyed it a platinum light blonde. Leilani looked at her as if she'd never seen her before in her life.

"Do say you like it. It's a bit drastic. Mom had a fit," Alana replied with an uncharacteristic wave of self-doubt creeping into her voice. Normally she was the type to tell you your opinion, rather than ask it.

"I love it! I really do! It's cute! They did your eyebrows, too?"

"Yes. Ethan, that's the cellist, has this hairdresser friend who begged me to let her do my hair for this evening. I'm so glad you like it!" Alana replied, standing and hugging her still-somewhat-wet friend.

"It's gorgeous! Very fresh! I like it," Leilani said, letting go of her friend and surveying the dresses.

There was only one with what could have been called a long skirt. It would have barely skimmed her knees. But the neckline cut in a low V almost to her belly button and tied at the back of her neck. There was a shimmering ring that tied the garment together between her breasts.

Leilani looked in the full-length mirror on the back of her door, turning to catch herself at all angles. She felt naked in this dress, and she'd have to wear one of those damn stick-on bras. Next!

Alana watched, dismayed, as Leilani moved from the longest dress, which had been her favorite choice, to one of the shorter ones. The next one she tried on had a flouncy mini-skirt set with a tight-fitting bodice that laced up in the back and pleated, flouncy sleeves that flowed to her elbows. The neckline was a less severe V, though it showed ample cleavage.

Leilani did a quick mirror check, and really liked it. Alana wasn't as keen, and begged that she try on the others before making her choice. Sighing, Leilani obliged.

The next dress was a mini-dress. It was simple and sheer, with cap sleeves and a low, square neckline. It was definitely not the dress to wear to an extravagant evening out. Especially when what Alana was wearing put it to shame.

Alana had on a beautiful bright silver number. The bodice of the dress was spaghetti-strapped, formfitting, and clung to her hard body like a second skin. The neckline "veed" modestly, baring an ample amount of cleavage, but not so much that it left nothing to the imagination. The skirt flowed easily from her waist in multiple strips of shimmering fabric, the hemline running diagonally from the top of her left knee clear up nearly to the top of her right thigh. She wore strappy, high-heeled, silver sandals to complete the outfit.

"Do you have a black version of that?" Leilani asked as she donned the next dress.

"Sadly enough, I don't. Try the next one. It's one of my favorites."

The next dress was also a mini dress, though at the hem of the skirt, the fabric was pleated and flowy. The bodice was a little tighter than the skirt, which flowed out a little bit. The neckline was an over-the-shoulder deal, leaving an open back and uncovered left shoulder. Though the piece looked great on Alana, it wasn't at all comfortable on Leilani.

The last dress was sheer perfection the instant Leilani put it on. There was no bodice—the skirt started directly beneath her bosom and flowed to just above her knees. It was spaghetti-strapped and slightly-veed on top, clinging just right to her breasts. It was a flouncy, flowy number, and Leilani felt comfortable in it.

"This one," she said, looking and finding Alana nodding in approval.

"Let me tighten it up a little in back," Alana said, adjusting a small, nearly invisible clip at the bottom of the mostly-open back of the dress. The flowy skirt tightened a little around Leilani's midsection, giving her a more streamlined appearance.

"Now for the shoes," Leilani chortled, pattering barefoot over to her closet. Alana followed, and together they pored over the selection.

Leilani was, admittedly, a shoe-girl. If she saw a pair she liked, she'd buy 'em. It didn't matter if they didn't match anything she owned—she'd just have to buy an outfit that matched the shoes.

"With a dress like that and as hot as it's going to be, we need sandals," Alana said, pulling out a few pairs of sandals from the closet floor.

There was a bright blue set of thong-type sandals with enormous flowers at the vee where the straps met between the toes. These were immediately thrown to the wayside. Then, there was a set of silver high-heeled sandals that had straps up to mid calf. These were tossed in a "maybe" pile. The next ones were black heels, twins to the silver ones. Again, put in the maybe pile. Then there was a set of black flats that looked like a feminine version of ancient Roman or Athenian earthling sandals. The lacing was lined with silver thread.

Leilani tried on all three, and they settled for the Athenians, as she didn't particularly feel like walking on stilts tonight. Alana agreed that they completed the look best, and begged to do Leilani's hair.

Sighing, Leilani followed her boisterous friend into the bathroom, where Alana immediately started rolling Coke-can-sized rollers into Leilani's caramel-hued hair. While they waited for the self-heating rollers to warm up and shape her hair, Alana began doing Leilani's make up.

She let Leilani apply her own foundation, then quickly set to work with the rest of the production. She brushed a light pink shimmery blush over Leilani's high cheek bones, recreating a breezy, happy flush. Then, she set to work with glimmering dark silver shadow on the creases of Leilani's eyelids. Next, she brushed a creamy, bright silver shadow directly over the lids. Once finished with that, she dipped a finger in the pink blush and used that on Leilani's brow bones, finishing the eye shadow. Leilani applied black eyeliner, smudging it softly, and black mascara. Alana handed her some clear gloss, perfecting the look.

Once finished with make up, Alana took the rollers out, and finger-combed Leilani's hair, leaving it in sexy, wispy waves. She then pulled a silver, rose-topped comb out of Leilani's hair supplies and pinned up the right side of Leilani's hair. The effect was stunning.

"Wow," Leilani said as she gazed in the full-length mirror.

"You haven't looked this good since prom six years ago."

"I've never looked this good," Leilani corrected, turning so that she could see herself from all angles.

"Ok. It's nine. We have to meet Ethan at the Hazelle Le Fleur Hotel at ten, so we'd better get going."

"Your cruiser or mine?"

"Need you ask?"

They trotted outside to Alana's waiting cruiser. It was a brand new X-Class Speedster from the now-Jupiter-based Jaguar Company. It was an ancient brand, and still spoke of luxury and performance, just as it had back on Earth centuries ago. It was silver, and looked as if it were made of liquid instead of solid metal. Leilani was sure that Alana could rattle off speed, horsepower, and mileage statistics on this beast in her sleep. She however, just knew that it went really fast in a really short distance.

On the drive to the hotel, they were stuck behind an enormous limousine and its entourage of heavily armored escort vehicles. Alana giddily speculated that it was the new ruler of Helion Prime. Leilani listened absent-mindedly as Alana went on the capricious rant regarding the new Helion Prime ruler's supposed good looks.

They reached the Hazelle Le Fleur and found Ethan waiting. He was quite striking, with a chiseled square jaw line, prominent yet handsome nose, and flashing, deep-set blue eyes the color of Helion Medialis's vibrant sky. Next to Alana, they formed an intimidating beautiful couple. Ethan paid the valet and escorted the two women inside, one on each arm.

"We'll certainly make a grand entrance," Ethan said as he produced his invitations. "I have on my arms two of Helion Medialis's most gorgeous women."

Once inside, Leilani allowed herself introductions to Ethan's symphonic elite social circle. The instant it was socially appropriate, she scooted over to the bar and ordered a classic Grey Goose on the rocks. She downed it with alarming speed and called for another before deciding to head over to the lounge, where she sat on a plush, comfortable-looking sofa.

When she attended such grandiose gatherings, Leilani liked to people-watch rather than mingle. Directly across from where she sat, the political cabinet of the Helion solar system stood engaged in a heated debate about piracy at the edge of the galaxy, illegal trade of their own endangered animal species to other worlds, and elections coming up next year. Their wives and escorts boredly sipped their wine while silently sizing each other up. She could just imagine the prattle going on in those tiny little brains. That one would be thinking of how last season the next one's dress was. Still the other one would be thinking of how obvious this one's boob job was. And then, the next one would be scoffing inside about how her sugar daddy just promised her ten thousand Helion galleons to spend so that she could outclass them all. Oh, how Leilani detested elitist socialites.

A few young painters stood off to their left, perusing sketches from one of their up-and-coming colleagues. They discussed technique, mediums, and colors, all while incorporating their "dates" politely into the conversation. She liked those kinds of artists. They weren't snobbish and close-lipped about their craft, and they certainly didn't like to gloat about their own phenomenal achievements with their work. Instead, they liked to share and gain insight into each other's work. This particular scene made Leilani smile.

She was just about to stand and go up to the bar to replenish her drink when from behind her, someone handed her a strong-smelling Grey Goose Martini. She looked up to see from whom she was accepting and met the goggled gaze of a ferally handsome, completely bald man in an obscenely expensive tuxedo. His movements and posture spoke of lethal, predatory grace quite accustomed to killing.

"Lady like you is dangerous to leave alone," he said on a baritone voice that sent chills flooding through her veins. Damn, he'd said less than ten words and she was already broken.

"I was merely people-watching," she managed to squeak.

"You came to this party to people watch? Then behold, the dregs of modern society. Here is where the worst crooks, scoundrels, and cons convene. Sadly enough, none of them have ever or will ever know the inside of the slam."

He took the liberty of sitting beside her. He wasn't a tall man, though he was beyond well-muscled. His tuxedo jacket was undone, and the white shirt beneath clung to his prominent pectorals in a damnedly intriguing fashion. He was intimidating, possessed an air of power and lethality that piqued animalistic urges within her she wasn't at all comfortable acknowledging. The alcohol didn't help either, and here he was, giving her more.

Leilani cleared her throat. "And you have?"

He regarded her with a curiously arrogant, yet seductive smirk. "I have. Many times."

She sipped at her drink, thankful that she could still feel the burn. She wasn't drunk enough yet to get into trouble. She still had her faculties well about her.

"Mmm. That's interesting. We haven't formally introduced ourselves. I'm Leilani Tejiri, freelance writer and painter, also known as a starving artist. And you are?" she gracefully said, extending her hand in pleasant greeting.

He took it in a firm grasp and brought it up to those perfectly kissable lips. "Richard B. Riddick, current reluctant ruler of Helion Prime, destructor of the Necromonger faith."

Leilani coughed as her breath caught in her throat with an unexpected gasp. He allowed her the hand back.

"You're—"

"I can't say that I'm glad you know who I am. I was hoping that I could mingle with people who didn't," he interrupted, sipping off his dark, cloudy drink. She guessed by the smell that it was an especially potent brew of Guinness. She caught a faint flash of silver from beneath his goggles and realized it was the color of his eyes. How peculiar...

"You'd have to go farther out in the galaxy to achieve that particular goal. But at least I can say that I had no idea what you looked like, and an only vague knowledge of what you'd done."

"Well said," he replied, toasting her with a tinkling "clink" as his glass met the rim of hers.

As they sipped, Leilani's eyes scoured the masses of suits and glamorous dresses for her silver-clad friend. She found her snogging Ethan in a distant, dark corner of the lobby. How convenient and typical. Now she'd have to fend him off on her own.

"You're nervous," he chuckled, leaning back in his seat and taking a sip off his beer. "I don't bite, and I've no intention of harming you. Who are you looking for?" he said when he'd swallowed his sip of Guinness.

"My friend. She's over there swallowing her date's face. And I'm not nervous, just a little bit tipsy."

"Maybe you should lay off the sauce, then."

She smiled at him, looked at her almost full glass, and with a devilish little glint in her eyes, brought it to her lips. She downed the whole thing in two seconds flat. His response was an incredibly sexy, absolutely evil grin.

"You can hold your booze, I see."

"Yeah, I don't take too kindly to orders."

"Wanna make a competition out of it?"

"Competitions have prizes to be won. What's your offer?" God, the alcohol was hitting her harder than she'd planned. She was outright asking for trouble now.

"Hmmm, I don't think you should have asked that," he said on a low growl, finishing his Guinness in much the same fashion as she had downed her martini.

"You're right. Any chance I can rescind that question?"

"I'm inclined to hold you to it, I think," he replied, quirking an eyebrow.

"Oh dear," she sighed, grabbing up one of the ice cubes and popping it in her mouth. She crunched on it for a few seconds before he responded.

"Shall we make this an official bet?"

"I thought gambling was illegal."

"Only if you're not a political leader of some sort."

At this, Leilani snorted. "Ain't that the fuckin' truth."

Riddick laughed at this. "So, what do I win when I drink you under the table?"

"Hmmm… See, the thing is, there's no safe answer to that question at this point."

"And why's that?"

"Oh you know why."

"Just humor me."

"No. Bad things happen when alcohol factors in."

At this, he suddenly shifted. It was almost as if he moved with preternatural speed. Or maybe it was the effects of the alcohol. Either way, he was suddenly very, very close to her, and it wasn't at all good. Or maybe it was a very good thing. He had this spicy, absolutely masculine, irresistibly enthralling scent that made her head reel. Or maybe that was the alcohol. Oh, how she very much hated being drunk.

"I tell you what," he started, his breath hitting her ear and neck in warm, chill-inducing puffs.
"Yes?" she managed, her voice entirely too low and sexier than she'd intended. Dammit, he'd know she was aroused.

"We can—go upstairs to my suite and get some fresh air on the balcony, or we can stay here, stifled and confined by these bureaucratic stiffs and their two-faced politics."

He trailed a finger down her arm and grasped her hand with his.

"Well, when you say it like that," she gulped, "I'm inclined to do the first part."

"Follow me."

He hauled her off the sofa with uncanny, disorienting ease. When she stood, her eyes were slightly below level with his. She could feel everywhere her body touched his as if they weren't clothed. This could be very bad. Then again, this could be very good. As he led her towards the elevator, Leilani cast one wayward glance back at the lobby. She locked eyes with a staggeringly startled Alana before giving her a devilish grin and disappearing behind the swoosh of the elevator doors.