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Shanelle Ly-San-Ter hit the cushioned exercise mat flat on her back, temporarily losing her breath. Score one for Corth. She'd told him not to go easy on her, and the android had taken her at her word.
"Why do you let it do that to you?" she heard from behind her.
Shanelle got her breath back and it came out in a near growl. She really resented that remark from Jadd -Ce Moerr, one of her fellow graduates from World Discovery, where she had just spent the past nine months. When she had impulsively invited some of her new friends to come home with her for the three-month vacation they had earned before starting their life-careers, she hadn't counted on any of the male cadets taking her up on the offer.
Like most of the graduates from her class, with the exception of herself, Jadd was only eighteen years old. He was also short by her standards, no taller than a Darash male of the servant class on her home planet of Sha-Ka'an. But his relatively diminutive stature, coupled with his age, made him look like the boy he was. When her brother, Dalden, had turned eighteen, no one had doubted that he was a man fully grown. But she supposed Jadd's sandybrown hair, gray eyes, and usually eager expression, along with his occasional tactless remarks like the one he'd just made, kept her from seeing him as anything but a boy.
She sat up now, tossing her long golden braid over her shoulder as she swung around and pinned the Kystrani male with narrowed amber eyes.
"Corth, isn't an it, Mr. Ce Moerrhe's just like family to me. it
It wasn't hard to tell he'd gotten her angry. Those large, almond-shaped eyes could be disconcerting when they narrowed likethat. And Shanelle LySan-Ter was not a small woman. She was, in fact, almost as tall as he was, and Jadd was above average Kystrani height at five feet ten. Of course, she was only half Kystrani herself on her mother's side. The other half was pure Sha-Ka'ani, and everyone knew that the Sha-Ka'ani were of the warrior caste.
But the last thing Jadd had wanted to do was to get her annoyed with him, for the simple reason that he'd been trying to get her to file double occupancy with him ever since they had graduated. He would have tried it before they had graduated, but students were disallowed sex-sharing before then. And it had driven him crazy, being in the same class with Shanelle but not able to touch her. it was still driving him crazy, because she had flatly refused to share sex with him, let alone file for something more permanent. But he couldn't give up. She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.
He tried placating her now, not really sure what she was angry about, since the concept of "family' was alien to him. Just having a mother and father as she did was alien to him, though he had learned about such things in the portion of his studies that dealt with what might be found on other planets. On Kystran, children were born in artificial wombs and raised in Centers. On Sha-Ka'an, they were barbarically born by females.
"Come on, Shanelle, your android is just a machine. Even I learned families are made up of live persons," Jadd said.
"That's true, which is why I said 'just like.' But just like is pretty damn close as far as I'm concerned. And Corth not only looks lifelike, but my mother's Mock II computer has had years to tamper with his programming, so he's now almost as free-thinking as she is. Besides that, he has been my companion-protector since the day I was born, so he might not take offense at being called an it,, but you better believe I do."
Protector was a rather archaic word, but companion wasn't, and you only had to look at the handsome exterior of the android to know what he had been created for-a woman's entertainment. Real men had a hard time competing with something that perfect in looks and ability, and most men resented the entertainment models. This one was black-haired and green-eyed, and an unheard-of six
feet four inches in height. The tallest any Kystrani male ever got was six feet max, and those men were all slotted for careers in Security. Jadd could have just made the height requirement for Security himself, but he didn't have what it took to bash people to bits, as those in Security were sometimes required
to do. He had the feeling, though, that Shanelle had what it took. Her mother certainly did. Her mother, Tedra De Arr, had been a Sec 1, one of the top Sec I s on the whole planet of Kystran. She had also become a national heroine some twenty years ago when she had brought an army of barbarian warriors to liberate Kystran from the mad dictator who had taken control of the planet. One of those barbarians was Shanelle's father.
Jadd felt he understood now why Shanelle had been turning him down repeatedly. She had a machine whose main function was to give pleasure to its owner. How was he supposed to compete with perfection?
He looked at the android with impotent fury, though his words were addressed to Shanelle. "You should have said he was your companion. Caris said Your mother owned him, so I assumed you wouldn't be sharing sex with him, but-".
Shanelle's soft laughter cut him off. It was melodious and infectious, the kind of laugh that forced a smile even from strangers who merely heard it in passing. It had the ability to take the edge off his own jealous anger, particularly since it was genuine humor he was hearing, not anything ridiculing or sarcastic.
"I'm sorry, jadd," she said after a moment, "but if you knew my father, you wouldn't have jumped to such a conclusion. Tell him, Corth."
Without expression, the android replied. "'Me
Challen Ly-San-Ter would not allow me near his daughter until the Martha agreed to reprogram my abilities. I am no longer capable of sex-sharing."
"Oh, that's real tough, Corth" Jadd grinned with immense relief. , Jadd," Shanelle