Strength and Passion 12

One of the things that working as a dancer has taught me was to remain regal, no matter what. So bearing that in mind, I pretended that answering the door looking like a half drowned rat wrapped in a big fluffy green and white striped towel was the most natural thing in the world.

I shut the door and told Thrawn to have a seat, if he could find one buried under all debris of tissue paper, designer bags and general mayhem that had followed the unpacking of the day’s work. He surveyed my living room and then surveyed me. I stood there holding my towel dress, my hair dripping all over me and the floor staring back.

“Don’t ask.” I said.

“Don’t tell.” he smiled.

“I’ll be right back.” and I vanished into the bedroom threw on some clothes and wrapped a smaller version of the same towel about my hair. When I got back out he had cleared away most of the junk from the small couch and was sitting on it, studying a brochure Bam had given me about hair care.

“Would you like something to drink? Tea, some very bad coffee or maybe that gut rot my father brews?” I yelled from the kitchen.

“Tea would be fine.” He said back.

I had discovered that there was an in-house delivery service for those of us idiots who had not found off palace housing. It was very convenient, although expensive. It was the best way so far of grocery shopping. At least now I had the bare essentials in the apartment.

I made a large pot of my favourite tea put all the things I needed on a tray and carried the lot out in one go, using my foot to remove the paper junk on the table and replaced it with the tray.

I gave Thrawn a sweet smile when he looked up at me. “I haven’t had time to tidy, sorry. I wasn’t expecting company.”

I poured tea and handed him a cup. The apartment had come fully furnished including exquisite china. The tea cups were delicate and expensive. It was a little unnerving to use them. The ornate cup seemed ridiculously tiny in his hand.

“You might want to add a small amount of honey.” I said. “Some people find it bitter.”

He sniffed at the tea and took a sip. “What is this?”

“Tatooine desert-mint tea.” I said. “It is one of the few things that actually grows there. The sand people first discovered it, I think. They sometimes barter it for water, if they are feeling in a social mood. It doesn’t happen often though. Mostly, there are a few farmers who try to cultivate it, not easy I am told. ”

Once we had gotten the tea niceties out of the way we sat in silence. The scent of mint, Thrawn's cologne and what ever that bubble stuff was that I had bathed in hanging in the air. It was a little intoxicating.

“Okay.” Thrawn said finally, “I have to ask. Did you buy the whole planet or what happened here?”

I glanced around at the mess and it was messy, but expensive messy. “Well, it appears, as Lord Vader’s PA I have to attend palace functions, particular function of note is this Grand Ball. Someone, it seems decided that Nubian not Tatooian fashions are in vogue this year. The palace fashion consultant, Siavaan, was hired to turn this desert rat into a retro Nubian clone.” I grinned. “Not going to work though.”

“Oh?” Thrawn raised an eyebrow.

“It seems that fashion here is an extreme sport.” I pulled the towel off my head and used to rub the last of the serious water out of my hair. Now I had semi wet hair trailing down my back, but the towel was just plain silly looking.

“Yes, I had noticed that. There are some advantages to wearing a uniform.” He said, ignoring the whole towel thing politely.

“You are lucky that way. I can’t believe what some people are going to show up in this year. There was this one really tacky bikini style thing, all gold and purple with little bits of cloth to disguise the fact it’s just underwear, looked like something you’d see at Jabba’s palace. I cannot imagine who would ever be caught dead in something like that. The theme is retro Nubian, but it looked more like a nightmare version of the w0rst styles imaginable.”

“Retro Nubian?”

“I didn’t ask.” I said. “Shiv was hard enough to shut up as it was. I am sure I will find out when I attend.”

Thrawn suppressed the laughter he so wanted to let go of and drank his tea.

“What are you doing here?” I asked suddenly. “It’s a bit late for a social call.”

He put his cup down. “Ah, yes, it almost slipped my mind. The sight of your new fashion, the elegant Towel Dress, almost made me forget. You left this behind.” He said pulling my book out of his attaché case. “I found it fallen down beside the seat in the sky speeder.”

I took it from his hand. I would have been annoyed to lose it, but had forgotten all about it. I had taken it with me when we had left the balcony to go to lunch.

“Thank you.” I said. “And just so you are aware, I will not be wearing said Towel Dress to the ball, by the way.”

This time he didn’t hide his grin. “Well, it would certainly be an eye opener, maybe start a new trend?”

“Or the biggest fashion faux pas in the history of the Empire.”

“So what will you be wearing?” he asked. He was being a little coy.

I looked at him for a moment and then said “That would spoil the surprise. You will just have to show up to find out.” Now, who was being coy?

There was a look on his face that said he was enjoying this little game. “Well, Miss Gabriel, it is a requirement of all Imperial Officers to show up when they are not deployed on some important mission. So, as long as nothing big shows up, I will be there.”

“I shall look forward to that, captain, more tea?”

He shook his head. “No, thank you. Actually, as much as I would very much like to stay and explore the delicate topic of female fashion trends at the palace or lack there of further, I really have to go, duty calls.” He got up to leave and I followed.

“Thank you for bringing my book back. It is one of my favourites.” I said as we stood by the front door.

“Really?” he said. “I always found it a little heavy on the romance, not enough build up. The hero is a little too over the top and the leading lady too easy.”

I looked at him with some surprise. “You have read it?”

“I enjoy reading although I don’t get much time for it. This is a classic, albeit it a bit heavy on the clichés, the story is, however, strangely compelling. Still there are better books out there, I would be happy to make a few reccomenadtions.”

I smiled because he had described it so perfectly. "I would like that. I love to read and now, I actually have some time for it."

“Thank you for the tea, it was surprisingly refreshing.” He said his hand on the door knob. I leant against the wall beside him.

“You are welcome.” I said. “So, I guess I will see you at the Grand ball then?”

He suddenly leaned a little closer towards me and said softly. “I hope this dress of yours is worth the wait, Miss Gabriel. You have quite aroused my curiosity.”

There was a surge of electricity in the air and by standing where I had. I had backed myself into a corner with no place to go. I shrugged as calmly as I could and said, “Well, you know what they say about curiosity"

He smiled at me slowly. "No, do tell."

"It killed the cat.” I told him.

His eyes searched my face as he cocked his head to one side then smiled. I wasn’t sure I liked this smile. this was a hungry, feral smile of a creature about to devour its favourite meal. He reached up and caressed the side of my face. His fingers, while warm, made me shiver. He moved so that he was as close as he could be with out touching me and whispered in my ear.

“Yes, Miss Gabriel it did, but do you know what?” he asked.

I looked up into his face and shook my head.

“Satisfaction brought it back.” He murmured gently. His breath warm against my skin.

My heart decided it needed to do some triple time and I had forgotten to breathe. I just stared up into his eyes and hoped he would go away. He smiled and slid his hand around the back of my neck, with a motion as subtle as it was arousing, he drew me to him. I had both hands flat against his chest. Resist at all costs, I thought, this was a man I would drown in if I let it happen. He was more dangerous than anything or anyone I had ever met. Trouble was, I liked it, I liked it a lot. The wildness of
the danger, the electricity and the passion. I liked this game more than I ever wanted to admit even though I lied to myself all the time about that.

“You should go.” I whispered. “Duty calls, remember?”

He did not take his eyes off my face and nodded. I could feel his heart beat beneath my right palm. I wondered if he knew how nervous he made me, was making me now. The warmth of his hand on the back of my neck, beneath my wet hair, was electrifying. His fingers brushed the sensitive skin there and I fought to not give in to the flood of warm desire it created. We stood like that for what seemed an eternity, and was but no more than a split second and then he stepped away from me. I put my hands behind my back. I didn’t want him to see how much they trembled.

He nodded. “Yes, you are right, I should go.” His voice seemed a little husky to me. He gave me a look I could not decipher and then he left. Just like that the door was open and he was gone.

I slammed it shut and locked it. I leant against the wall and remembered to breathe. What the hell was this? What in the name of Sarlacc did I think I was doing? Being in his company was like playing with fire, sooner or later one of us was bound to get badly burned, probably me.

It took me forever to fall asleep.

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