Shada rested her chin on the palm of her hand as she watched Karrde move smoothly through the crowd of the tapcafe to the bar. Smooth. That was a good word to describe him. There seemed to be no rough edges about the man at all. Even his roguish fa├žade was carefully polished. She couldn't help but wonder exactly what was simmering underneath that still surface. That was part of what intrigued her about him.

During the time she spent with him looking for Car'das she'd come to think of him as a friend. Now he was her employer and she was trying to pull herself into a more professional relationship with him. It wasn't as easy as she supposed it would be. She cursed herself for being attracted to him. It wasn't like her at all. As a Mistryl she'd had no interest in romantic enanglements. And she still didn't, but there was something about Karrde that drew her to him.

He was certainly a handsome man. That she couldn't deny. He was also very intelligent and extraordinarily competent at everything he set his mind to. Not to mention, he treated her with the utmost respect. It was something that had left her strangely off balance. She thought that he might even be attracted to her as well, but he was inscrutable. She was never sure what was going on behind those pale blue eyes.

She was sure having an affair with her employer was the last thing she wanted to do.

"You look lonely."

She focused on the young man that had spoken. He was seated at a nearby table with several other men. They were clearly off duty Imperial officers. All of them were very young, probably fresh out of the Academy.

"I'm not lonely," she told them. "I'm just waiting for my friend to return with our drinks."

"You should join us," the young officer told her with a smile she assumed was supposed to charm her.

"Especially, if your friend is as beautiful as you," one of his friends interjected, openly leering at her.

She glanced up at Karrde who was returning with their drinks. She reached up and took her glass from him. "Well, he is rather handsome, but we're not into little boys. Isn't that so, dear?" She smiled sweetly up at him.

Karrde gave the young men his best disdainful glower. Then he turned to her with a dazzling smile. "How could I be, my darling? When you're all that I desire." He reached for her hand and brought it to his lips for a lingering kiss that left her flushed. "Excuse us, gentlemen, but we'd prefer to celebrate alone."

The men quickly turned their backs on them with a round of muttered apologies. Shada shared an amused look with Karrde and lifted her glass in a toast.

Shada had probably drunk more than she should have. Not enough to be inattentive of her surroundings, but enough to say some things she normally wouldn't if she were completely sober. She suspected that was Karrde's plan. He'd been very contentious about keeping her glass filled all evening. And he kept her laughing as well. It was the first time in ages that she felt some of the darkness lift from her thoughts. "I never expected you to be funny," she told Karrde.

"What do you mean?" he asked, intrigued.

"From what I heard about you from Mazzic, I expected you to be intelligent, cold, calculating, ruthless, and vain, but I-"

"Wait," Karrde interrupted holding up a hand. "Mazzic said I was vain?"

"I know," Shada laughed. "It's like a Hutt calling another Hutt fat, right?"

"So I satisfied your expectations of being intelligent, cold, calculating, ruthless, and, dare I say, vain-"

"You're not as vain as Mazzic. Trust me," she assured him.

"I can't tell you how much better that makes me feel," he said sarcastically. "So what you're saying is that you didn't expect me to have a sense of humor?"

"No, I did. If for nothing than the ridiculous things you name your ships," she said and he gave her a feigned offended look. "I just expected you to be more serious and not exhibit it at the most inappropriate times."

"Oh, but those are the times when you need a sense of humor the most."

"That's true I suppose," she said, considering.

"But you didn't expect that of me?" he continued probing.

"No. But I like that about you." She smiled. "Except you always make me want to laugh at the wrong time."

"You shouldn't have told me that," he said, grinning as if he was already plotting how to make her laugh at inappropriate times.

"No, I sometimes forget that information is power to you," she said turning suddenly serious, a bitter smile twisting her lips.

His grin fell from his face and his expression turned as serious as hers. He reached out and covered her hand with his. "I would never use anything I know about you against you, Shada. You have my word on that. I promise you, I will always guard your secrets as closely as I guard my own"

She studied him long and hard. She was still having a difficult time believing she could trust a smuggler and seller of information when she couldn't even trust her own Mistryl sisters to behave honorably. He had already proved to her that his word was worth more than most beings. She nodded in acceptance.

"So do you really think I'm vain?" he asked breaking the tension.

She laughed. "Yes, especially if you keep asking."

They stepped out of the tapcafe. It had gotten cooler since they had gone in and Shada shivered slightly. Karrde took his suit coat off and draped it over her shoulders.

She smiled at him over her shoulder. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he told her. He looked up at the bright moon and stars shining in the night sky. "It's a nice night. Shall we walk? It's not that far."

Despite the late hour he wasn't quite ready for this night to end. Shada had seemed to unwind a bit and relax during the course of the evening, although some of the brittleness was still there under the surface. He liked the relaxed Shada and enjoyed hearing her laugh. He hoped that she would soon be able to cast off the bitterness of her betrayal and learn to trust again.

"Sure." She slid her arm through his and they set off.

A short while later she leaned in close to him and whispered in his ear, "We're being followed."

"I know. Spy or thief do you think?"

"Thief most likely. I hope a spy wouldn't be this inept."

Shada abruptly pushed him into the doorway of a darkened shop and pressed close to him as if they were having a romantic interlude. He reached into the pocket of his jacket hanging from her shoulders and pulled out his holdout blaster.

A few moments later a voice said, "Hand over the jewelry, lady. Quick and you won't be hurt."

Shada was a blur of motion. Karrde heard the sickening crack of a breaking bone. He stepped out of the doorway and the thief was lying on the ground groaning and cradling a broken arm. Shada was standing there virtually unmussed, merely adjusting the jacket still around her shoulders.

"You broke my arm," the thief moaned indignantly.

Karrde bent down and picked up the vibroblade that the thief had dropped. "I believe it's customary on some worlds for a thief to lose a hand. What do you think, my dear?"

"I'd rather not get blood on my new gown," Shada said with a haughty air. "It would just ruin it."

"Yes, it would be a shame. You do look so beautiful in it." He turned back to the man on the ground. "Well, I suppose you're lucky. You might see this as an opportunity to find a new line of work." He pocketed his blaster again and held out his arm to Shada. "Shall we continue on?"

The End