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"Krell, we are concerned your feelings for this human are clouding your judgment."
The Elders used the High Speech, reserved only for their use and then only when they wished to make a point of their position. Krell dealt with the Elders frequently, but only rarely when they were so clearly unhappy. He bowed slightly to the screen set in the temple wall where the images of the Elder Council swam from face to ancient face.
"I understand your worry, Elder, but your concerns are baseless. Everything proceeds according to your plan."
"We doubt that. This female is not Hendri, and she is independent in her thoughts. She wants to meet the Rangor. Her underling has already examined two Hendri females and knows of the differences."
"It is true that their science is better than expected. I offer my life to you for my failure to correctly assess their abilities."
"You are forgiven that oversight." The image changed to another of the Elders, but the same monotone voice continued. "Speak of what the humans know."
"They know few facts, only interesting questions without answers. They know Hendri females lack the box, and they know the Rangor can make plans and carry them out." Krell wiped perspiration from his brow. Here in the temple, the heat was oppressive, even for a Hendri. "Much of the information they have is jumbled and distorted to conceal the truth."
"As it should be." A ripple of laughter coursed through the Elders, all in the same voice coming from the speakers above the screen. "What is your advice to the Council?"
Krell nerved himself. "The same as it has been since you first saw the humans. We should either tell them the truth or tell them toleave us alone."
"Neither will happen, Krell. These humans provide us the chance to leave this world for someplace better, but they must be made to cooperate." The voice of the Elders paused, and an old, craggy face stared out from the screen at him. "Can you follow your duty?"
"I can, Elder."
"If they learn the truth, we will set their ship to burn."
"I understand." Krell knew he couldn't protect Star from the Council.
Something in the way Spence looked at her grabbed Star's full and undivided attention. He'd been nervous since he sat down next to her on the sofa, fidgeting with his hands, drawing little circles on his knee with his fingertips. No, he'd been spooked before that, ever since he'd met her back in the sitting room.
Even though she'd felt a little embarrassed by the attention, some part of her enjoyed the way his eyes drifted over her body when he saw her standing there after changing into her robe. She almost laughed out loud when his mouth opened and closed rapidly like a fish on the riverbank.
But now, he stared into her eyes, his face only half a meter from hers, and his expression was one she'd never seen before. Oddly slack, the skin of his face hung loose, like all the muscles simply stopped working and left him unable to move. His mouth was open slightly, and she heard the rush of air from his quick, shallow breaths as it whistled softly between his lips. Spence's eyes flickered rapidly, his gaze moving across her face as he looked from one of her eyes to the other, and then back again.
His hand still rested on his knee, but as soon as she placed her hand on top of his, his restless movements stopped. Now, Star felt a warmth flowing up her arm from the contact with him, one that rivaled the heat from the Hendri. As the warmth enclosed her, she suddenly felt safe and protected, though her mind could find no reason for her emotions to be triggered so. Somehow, Star knew Spence's protective streak went much deeper than just his job or even his duty.
Suddenly, Spence's face went hard, and a forced grimace came to his visage. He stood up so quickly that she nearly fell from the couch, and he moved to step away from her.
Star grabbed at his wrist and stood up next to him. "What are you doing?"
His gaze continued to flit over her face as before, but she saw a trident of lines form between his brows, and perspiration ran slowly down his temples despite the coolness of the room. His body tensed again, and his jaw seemed tight when he spoke. "I need to go for a walk."
Spence froze for a moment, his expression blank. "I need to check something at the landing craft."
As suddenly as he had moved from the sofa, he seemed to sag in on himself. "It doesn't matter. I'll be back soon." He tried to turn to the door, but Star held his wrist.
"Just a damned minute. We need to talk, and this is important. You're not just going to walk out on me with no explanation to avoid the conversation and then pull us out of here." She caught her breath, realizing what was making her so angry. "I will not give you the comfort of yanking this mission and feeling good about it because you don't know my position."
She didn't know if it was what she said or the shrill anger creeping into her voice that made him turn back to face her, but a smile touched his lips. The smile had a sadness to it, though, almost like Spence reached some decision and resigned himself to follow that direction. In some ways, the resignation didn't surprise her because she'd come to expect that of military people; right or wrong, they would follow the path their sometimes distorted sense of duty and honor painted before them, and everything else be damned.
"Oh, I know very well what your position is, Star. You'd stay here until they come to kill us all in our sleep." He shrugged a little. "You probably don't know it, but I'm very much inclined to do that, too, just to give you the chance you so badly want to prove yourself." The smile never left his face, but some of the sadness faded, if not the resolve behind it. "You don't need to prove yourself to me, though."
His comments left her off balance, and she didn't know what to do with the anger she still harbored. "I don't understand."
"No, I guess you don't. I don't need to go for a walk to avoid what you have to say. I don't need to do anything at the ship, either."
"Then why do you need to go for a walk?"
"The short answer is that I need to get away from you for a while."
What the hell was he talking about? Star's anger hadn't subsided, and it only served to confuse her more in the face of his saying he didn't want to leave. "OK, you've really thrown me a curve here. What's this all about?"
"Yeah, it's a little confusing, even for me." He paused, but his eyes stayed locked to her face. "One of the few things I care about right now is keeping you safe."
He reached up and touched her cheek with his fingertips, brushing softly down the line of her jaw to trace the corner of her mouth.
The gentle touch sent an electric shock through her, the trembles rattling through her body as warmth from his fingers raced through her. In the thrill of the contact, her anger faded a little, and the confusion cleared, and Star saw an answer to the protectiveness Spence displayed.
With her new perspective, she looked at his face again and saw the stony resolution was different from the stubborn dedication to duty she initially thought. Instead, the expression was full of concern and caring, the need to take care of her and protect her from harm. The tension in his body also took on a new dimension, one that she read as him hesitating for fear of somehow harming her. With her mind not fully clear from the jumble of emotions, Star wondered if he waited for some sign of acceptance from her. The only sign she could think of to send was to kiss him. She leaned her head slightly to the side, and parted her lips just a little. Star leaned towards him ever so slowly.
Her acquiescence must have been all he waited for, because Spence put his arms around her waist and pulled her to him, his lips pressing tightly to hers. His embrace intensified her feelings of safety, and she slipped her arms around his neck where they fit perfectly.
His tongue pressed with eager urgency at her lips, and then slipped inside. The tastes of his saliva filled her mouth, a fiery blend of flavors developed in the alchemy of his body raced directly to the pleasure centers of her brain and caused her to shiver with the impact of the new sensations. Their tongues played at a duel, taking turns plunging between each other's lips.
As Spence's hands moved over her back, the slick material of the robe wafered between her skin and his palms created a curious sensation of rough silkiness like she'd never felt before. Softened by the cloth, she still felt the callused hands of a man who worked hard for his sense of duty and honor, who never shirked his calling, and who fought for what he wanted and believed. She longed to feel his hands on her bare skin, to feel his firm touch without the isolation of the robe.
Her head lolled back, and he kissed down her neck, his teeth nibbling at her skin, and each tender nip made her body jerk with delight. His hands slid down her back as Spence kissed her until his palms cupped her ass, pulling her hips against his. A hardness in his groin pressed firmly against her marking his erect cock, and wetness spread through her pussy as he rubbed his body against hers.
He kissed up her neck, and when his lips reached her ear, he darted his tongue deeply into the canal, swirling madly and causing her to shiver as a sigh escaped between her pursed lips.
He whispered softly, his hot breath in her ear sending more quakes through her. "If you want me to stop, you should say so now."
"If you stop now, I'll shoot you with your own gun."
"It's a weapon, not a gun."
"Whatever." She licked at the skin of his neck, and the flavor of his sweat danced over her tongue, a mixture of salty sweetness with the cologne he wore.
His hands moved up her back as his tongue again undulated in her ear, and he tugged gently at her robe, causing it to slip from her shoulders. Dropping her arms briefly from his neck, the robe fell from her torso to hang around her waist by the belt like a skirt.
Spence lifted her in his arms like she massed nothing at all, and he carried her to the couch, his lips locked tightly to hers, then eased her to recline. The cool air of the room made her nipples erect, jutting up to point at the ceiling of the suite. Or maybe, she thought, it was more the fact of being so close to Spence and the tender ways he touched her.
His eyes drifted from hers for the first time since they embraced, and he stared at her breasts. His breath halted for a moment, a gasp of someone seeing something remarkable catching in his throat.
"My God, you're so beautiful."
Heat flooded her cheeks to match that spreading like a wildfire through her pelvis, and Star didn't know what to say, so she said nothing at all. He knelt beside the sofa and leaned over her. His tongue traced circles small and large around her hardened nipples, teasing her as it flicked over the protruding nubs and sending wave after wave of chills through her.
When his lips closed around her nipple, she twitched with excitement, and she sucked in a deep breath of pleasure. His hand rubbed over her stomach, the touch so soft that it almost tickled her, until Spence eased his way down to her leg. Stroking her thigh, he pushed the robe aside and his fingers darted over her pussy, the soaked material of her panties passing the gentle caresses of his hands to her swollen clit.
He eased the wet cloth aside, and his fingers moved to circle her pussy, massaging her lips and teasing across the tip of her clit. Spence pushed firmly, and two fingers dipped deep into her pussy with a wet sound as they slipped in and out of her. He pressed his thumb against her clit, and her back arched high in the air, giving him full access.
As her orgasm raced at her at light speed, he suddenly pulled his fingers from her with a juicy smack, and her nipple came from his mouth with a loud pop. She clutched at his head, trying to pull him back to her breast, but he held her fast, turning her to sit on the sofa. He lifted her legs, placing them over his shoulders, and pressed his mouth to her pussy.
Licking through and around the material of her saturated panties, Star felt his tongue swirl wildly around her clit before his lips locked to the hard bud, sucking it into his mouth where his teeth nibbled at the head with teasing tenderness. She wrapped her legs around his head, pulling his mouth tighter against her pussy, urging him to fuck her ever deeper with his tongue.