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Captain Drew Roberts rummaged through the crate of spare parts, her mood going from sour to downright bitchy. The warm exhaust-heavy air, the norm for any port and a must for a space station, wafted in through the aft engine room doors. Air quality on Celestial VIII was better than most. She hefted the wrench, a nice old-fashioned, earther tool that should get the job done. Switching on the power, Drew hit the start-up sequence from the maintenance panel, listening for the catch and stutter that was keeping her grounded and eating at her profits.
Watching the entwined barrels of the massive engine hum, she held her breath as the hiccup began in the first, sending a shudder through the ship. She hit the kill switch before the jerking stutter pulled the engine from its moorings. Or before anything else made strange noises.
She crouched in front of the first engine barrel and stared into the open panel at the jungle of wiring and computer boards and sensor knobs. “Okay, Mara,” Drew whispered to her dead business partner and mechanic. She’d been speaking Galaxy I Common for so long, she rarely even thought in her own language anymore. “What would you do?” She closed her eyes, hoping to channel just a little bit of her friend’s genius. When nothing occurred immediately, she reached one hand in, hoping for a little luck in the place of her lacking skill. The first hiccup was on this side. Surely, she could see a burned out thingamajig or something. Aha! A blackened knob was tucked up next to the optic wiring going to the next barrel. Drew was pretty sure she’d seen one of those in the crate. “I got you now, you little bastard.” She reached down for the wrench.
“You do not want to use that on a crystal hybrid engine.” The smooth voice jerked Drew around, swinging the huge-ass wrench in front of her as she rolled to the balls of her feet. Quickly, she assessed the intruder—smarter than his pretty looks if he could identify a hybrid engine. Human descent, male, pale skin, medium build, loose travelling clothes. With his colouring, chestnut and gold topknot, tilted eyes and full upper lip, she connected the dots and lowered the wrench a fraction. Long dormant hormones blinked to wakefulness. Yeah, he was hot, but she wasn’t buying anything a trader offered.
“Sorry, I’m not taking on passengers.” She used the end of the wrench to point at the engine. It pained her, but she admitted her failure anyway. “Engine trouble.” Mara would have had the stupid thing running in seconds. He nodded, approaching carefully, bringing with him the scent of wild primitive forests, a real scent, not a fabricated cologne. “I heard.” Mischief glittered in the shadows of his grey eyes. The tip of one long canine peeked when he smiled. To some that would be a turnoff. Mara always teased Drew about her fascination with dangerous men. In the end, Mara beat her hands down in worst boyfriend material. The moral? Never date cold-blooded men. “Most of the port heard.” He pointed at the open panel. “May I?”
“You’ve got the look, kith-ra, just not the attitude.” Those grey eyes lost some of the polite genteelness she hadn’t noticed until it was gone. She almost felt bad about her rudeness before remembering who was responsible for the turn her life had taken.
Still, his manner reminded her very much of the one and only time she’d seen the legendary warriors. Sleek, efficient fighters defending the evacuation of their people with the ferocity of leopards when pirates invaded the Silas Two station. That glimpse she’d got had stuck with her all these years. The pirates had been clumsy thugs. A bunch of clumsy thugs that had won the station by sheer numbers, but Drew watched the kith-ra battle from her ship’s security surveillance. The pirates didn’t have a chance. Kith-ra danced and wove in perfect choreography, keeping the path clear for the last of their clan to board their ship.
“Kith-dana,” he corrected the inflection hard on the last two syllables. “I am no warrior.”
“Ashwin!” The bellow from the doors had Drew bringing up her wrench again. Once again, human and male, this man was lethally muscled. Darker streaks of chestnut twined in his hair. Neither was unusual for this part of the universe. Drew had seen different species of humans with every hair and eye colour imaginable, fantastic only to her because it was a naturally occurring phenomenon. Feathered aviary people and draconi were less common.
And again, that troubling flash of libido reared up, reminding Drew of her neglected sex life. He glided in, taking in her first visitor without any kind of warmth in his lighter grey eyes. Her personal danger sensor went wild, reminding her of that first glimpse she’d had of his kind. Her second thought was of the promise to love and cherish that Mara’s hot and dangerous boyfriend had given before he killed her.