Mirax Terrick Horn found her father in Trader's Alley watching Mazzic and Karrde preen in front of Shada. Karrde in his subtle way and Mazzic in his over the top way. Shada appeared not to notice either of them in the least as she surveyed the wares of a weapon stall.

"I swear they're one step away from whipping their cocks out for comparison," Booster commented to his daughter as they surveyed the scene before them.

Mirax choked on a startled laugh. "Oh, come on, Booster. You know Karrde would never be so vulgar. Although, I do have a nice set of antique Mandelorian dueling blasters he may be interested in."

"I should lay some odds down. This is more entertaining than two Gundarks in a sand pit."

"Poor Shada. I think I'll rescue her before she smacks them both." Mirax left her father and walked toward the trio. "Good morning," she said as they all turned their attention to her arrival. "I wonder if I can steal Shada away from you gentlemen for a bit. I just acquired some Hapan hair ornaments and I'd like her opinion on them. Several look like they could be quite deadly."

Shada said glancing at Karrde, "Ah, well, we were just on our way to a meeting. Maybe-"

"Go along with Mirax," he told her. "I can handle the meeting."

"Are you sure?"

"I have done this before," he said dryly.

Shada shot him an irritated glare. "Well, then, I'll see you later. Good bye, Mazzic," she said and then quickly followed Mirax down the corridor. "Thank you," she said to Mirax when they were out of earshot. "I owe you one."

Mirax laughed, "No problem."

Karrde and Mazzic watched as Shada escaped with Mirax. Karrde wished she had been thoughtful enough to rescue him as well. He really did not want to have the conversation he knew was coming.

"I want Shada back."

Karrde focused his attention back on Mazzic. "Yes, she told me."

"Will you let her go?"

"I have no say in the matter," he said evenly. "She may stay or go as she pleases."

"Don't give me that. You've got her in your thrall."

"My thrall? What am I? A Sith Lord?" Karrde asked with some amusement.

"You know what I mean, Karrde," Mazzic said beginning to show his irritation. "She was with me for twelve years. I find it hard to believe that she wouldn't want to come back now that things have settled down for her."

"Perhaps you should have recognized her myriad of remarkable abilities during that time instead of merely utilizing her as a decorative bodyguard."

"I told her I would give her a ship if she wanted it."

"As I said, she's the mistress of her own fate. I won't stand in her way, but I won't push her away either."

"You've had your eye on her all these years, haven't you?" Mazzic accused him. "Just waiting to steal her away."

Karrde laughed. That was certainly true. Shada had intrigued him on multiple levels ever since that ambush on Trogan. "Of course I have, Mazzic. I would be a fool not to want a woman of such extraordinary talent in my organization."

"Well, don't expect her to fall into your bed. She's cold as Hoth in that regard."

"That comment is beneath you, Mazzic," Karrde said, his voice turning frosty. But if he was honest with himself, the possessive part of him that had surfaced last night felt triumphant upon learning that Mazzic had never had a physical relationship with her. Karrde kept his expression carefully neutral.

"Yeah, well, probably. I'm just warning you." Mazzic eyed him a long moment. "You're a cold bastard, Karrde. I suppose you're well suited to each other." Mazzic held out his hand. "Take care of her."

Relieved that this confrontation seemed to be over with, Karrde took his outstretched hand and shook it. "Of course."

"And I'll be after your hide if you let anything happen to her."

"As well you should," Karrde agreed easily. He was relieved that Mazzic seemed to take it so well. He really didn't want any conflict between their organizations. Mazzic had always been useful to have on his side. He was also glad that that Shada would have Mazzic to fall back on if anything happed to him and his organization.

Much later, Karrde found Shada still hiding away in Mirax's office.

"Karrde, come in and sample this Sapir tea with us," Mirax greeted him as he entered the space crowded with all manner of exotic goods.

"Thank you, Mirax." He sat beside Shada on the sofa and took the delicate ceramic cup Mirax offered him. He took a sip and said, "It's very nice."

"I think so too. It's a variety they don't export very much."

"I can see why."

"Here, have a cookie," she held out a plate to him.

"Thanks. I'm glad I arrived just in time for refreshments." He glanced at Shada. "I didn't exactly have time for breakfast."

She rolled her eyes. "That wasn't my fault."

"Perhaps not." A smiled toyed at the corners of his mouth.

"Did everything go well?" she asked attempting to deflect further flirtatious comments from him. He knew she wasn't really comfortable exposing that aspect of their relationship to outsiders yet, even to a friend like Mirax.

"Of course." He took another cookie off the plate. "We need to meet up with another of Booster's contacts tonight."


Mirax poured them more tea and he leaned closer to her desk examining the hair ornaments laid out on a cloth there. "These are lovely. Where'd you come by them?" he asked her.

"Karrde, you should know better than to ask a question like that," Mirax told him with a sly smile.

"So I do, but it never hurts to try." He turned to Shada. "Did you see anything you like?"

"Oh, well, I don't really need anything like these. They're more for show than actually useful as weapons."

"That wasn't the question," he said gently.

Her eyes darted back over the collection and stopped over a pair of silver ones decorated with dangling beads of rare lavender coral carved in the shape of a Hapan aquatic lily. Karrde picked them up. "Yes, those would look exquisite on you."

There was something about Shada's elaborate hairstyles that he found incredibly erotic. The delicate curve of her neck exposed by her pinned up hair drove him to distraction at times. He loved pulling the pins out at the end of the night and watching her long hair cascade about her. The contrast of seeing someone so put together come undone never failed to excite him. He shifted a little uncomfortably just thinking about it. "So, Mirax, what else do you have to tempt us with before we get down to bargaining?"

Mirax grinned. "Many things."

Karrde's hand was warm on her back through the thin silk of her tunic as he guided her through the crowd of the tapcafe to the bar. When they reached the bar, he stood close behind her buffering her from the press of the crowd. It was not the best position for them to be in for her to guard him, but she found it easier to work around his chivalrous tendencies than to argue with him about them.

He reached around her and picked up his drink from off the bar. She tried to ignore the way the movement pressed him even closer to her. He took a sip and set the drink back down on the bar in front of her. She felt him reach up and touch one of the dangling beads of her newly acquired hair ornaments. "I can't wait to take these out of your hair tonight." His breath was hot on her ear and she had to stop herself from shivering with arousal.

She turned her head slightly and asked, "Who said I was going to let you?" Out of the corner of her eye she saw him grin at the defiance in her voice.

"A challenge then. I like that."

She kept her eyes focused on the other patrons milling about them. "Don't you think we should focus on the task at hand?"

"Seducing you?" he asked and she could feel the whisper of his lips on the back of her neck.

"No, finding our contact."

"I'm a remarkable multi-tasker, my dear. I can do both."

"Perhaps, I don't want to have only half of your attention," she countered.

"Oh, I assure you-" He broke off and suddenly he was all business again, "There he is."

Shada took a deep breath to calm herself and tracked their contact's movements through the crowd.

Karrde didn't get a chance to devote his whole attention to her. As soon they had finished with their contact, Aves had called asking him to return to the ship. Then Shada went and briefed Booster on what they had learned.

She was waiting for the turbo lift that would take her back to the hanger bay where the Wild Karrde was berthed. When the lift doors finally opened she was more than a little surprised to see Mazzic slouching against the back of the lift car. "Mazzic, are you stalking me?" she asked with a surprised laugh.

"Shada? No, not intentionally. But I'm glad I saw you before I left." He straightened up and smiled at her. She stepped in to the car and entered in her destination. He took in her appearance from high heeled boots to her lavender shimmer silk tunic to the softly clinking beads of her hair ornaments. "Going out?"

"Turning in actually."

"Ah. Look, Shada, I know you're not going to change your mind about staying with Karrde."

"I'm sorry, Mazzic."

"It's okay. I understand. I really do. I just wanted to tell you that if you ever want to come back you'll always have a place no matter what. And if Karrde ever does anything to hurt you, you let me know and I'll take care of him. I mean it." It was rather absurd that Mazzic thought he could do anything in that regard that Shada couldn't do herself, but she appreciated the sentiment none the less. "And if you are ever in any kind of trouble, I promise I will help you any way I can. Just call and I'll be there."

"Thank you, Mazzic," she said sincerely. "That means more than I can say."

The lift door opened at his stop and before he exited Mazzic said, "Don't forget. Anytime for anything."

"I won't." She smiled at him. She was happy that there were no hard feelings between them. Mazzic had been a large part of her life. She had never wanted to hurt him, though she suspected that his ego was a bit bruised.

The doors closed and she was alone again. It felt like the last string from her past had been cut and she felt strangely melancholy. The darkness that had settled on her when the Mistryl cast her out came creeping back.

She took the long way back to the docking bay and just wandered around for a while thinking about the things in her life that had brought her to this unexpected place. This was certainly not how she imagined her life would turn out when she had been a young girl and dedicated her life to the Mistryl Shadow Guard.

Shada knocked on Karrde's door. He answered already dressed for bed in an open robe and sleep pants. He gave her a delighted smile when he saw her. "I was just about to have glass of that brandy we got from Mirax. Will you join me?"

She slipped in through the door and paused close to him reaching out to straighten the slightly askew collar of his robe. She glanced up at him feeling suddenly shy. "Could I stay with you tonight?" It was the first time she'd ever asked him.

"You never have to ask," he said caressing her cheek with the back of his hand.

"Neither do you." She slid her arms around him and he gathered her close to him. She rested her head on his shoulder and relaxed into his embrace. He held her close for a long time one hand massaging the tense muscles in her neck and shoulders.

"Are you alright?" he murmured into her hair.

"Just feeling a little adrift, I suppose."

"Mazzic's gone?"

"Yes." She sighed deeply. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so- so-" she couldn't seem to think of the right word.

"Twelve years is a long time to work with someone. You have a right to feel sad."

"I know, but I thought I was over all that. It's not like I want to go back. I enjoy what I'm doing now more than I ever did being Mazzic's bodyguard." She looked up at him, reaching up to stroke his bearded cheek. "Not to mention this thing between us. And you were there when no one else wanted me."

"I will always want you," he told her.

"Don't make promises you can't keep," she cautioned, unwilling to believe he truly meant that.

"You should know by now, that I never do that. This is not just a dalliance for me, Shada." He turned his head slightly and kissed the palm of her hand.

She knew that he had just promised her more than most other men promised in their marriage vows. She knew that kind of commitment should terrify her, but it didn't. It made her feel unspeakably calm and secure. She smiled up at him. "Talon, take my hair down."

He smiled as he reached up to pull her hair pins out.

Shada lay half sprawled on him feeling nearly boneless. Karrde had an arm around her and his hand was tracing idle patterns on her bare back. An unexpected laugh rumbled in his chest.

"What?" she asked sleepily.

"Oh, was just thinking about Mazzic. He warned me today not to expect you to fall into bed with me."

"And did you tell I him already did?"

"I won't say I wasn't tempted, but no."

She propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at him, no longer feeling sleepy. "So when I started working for you, did you expect me to fall into bed with you?"

"No, it was a delightful surprise." He reached up and pushed her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear.

"Is that the truth?"

"Well, I can't deny I have always found you appealing, my darling. Ever since seeing you in action on Trogan. But I had a personal rule never to mix business with pleasure, especially with someone in my employ. I tried very hard to resist you, but I couldn't seem to help myself." He laughed again, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "I had actually been surprised I didn't come away from that first kiss with some very important pieces of my anatomy missing as I had heard happened with you before."

Shada laughed and flushed slightly when she realized what event he was referring to. "You heard about that?"

"Oh, yes. I remember Mara being particularly entertained by that story."

"One has to set the tone for such things early in an assignment. So you were duly warned of the possible outcome and just decided to tempt fate."

"I'm very observant, Shada. I couldn't help, but notice that the attraction was quite mutual. If not, I'd have just kept things to myself. I'm happy I didn't have to."

"Me too." She leaned down and gave him a soft lingering kiss.

The End