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Allie leaned casually on the bar sipping her vodka on the rocks. Most of the people in the Cafï¿½ were civilians and the few military there were Marines. She saw a man stand up from a table and walk her way. He wore the casual uniform of a Marine officer and was good looking. A big, well-built man, his head well above the others, he had the typical short hair of a Marine. In the darkness, Allie couldn't tell his eye or hair color clearly until he stood in front of her.
"Hi, I'm Damon."
She took the offered hand. She managed not to jump at the electrical tingle that raced up her arm and through her body. "I'm Allie." His eyes were a pale blue and the short hair was blond.
His warm hand gently squeezed hers. "Allie, good to meet you." He laughed easily. "This is about the oldest line in the book, but it's all I can come up with. May I buy you a drink?"
"On one condition. You tell me why that's the best line you can come up with."
He flagged the bartender for more drinks. "That's a deal, but the answer will sound like another line. Since you walked in the room, I haven't been able to think straight."
"You're right, it does sound like another line, but I'll take the drink anyway."
"Thanks, Allie." The drinks came, and Damon swiped his credit card. "Would you like to find a table and sit down?"
"Sure." She led the way to a table on the far side of the dance floor. Damon held her chair as she sat down. She didn't think he'd seen the guards as they kept a discreet distance but always in sight.
"So, Allie, tell me your life story."
She laughed. "We really don't have time for that, I'm afraid." She watched him and thought helooked like the guy who should be on the Marine recruiting posters all over the Empire. His face was all angles and sharp, with a look of firm authority and devotion to duty and honor about him. When he walked, he held his back straight, his shoulders square, and his steps measured and even. Allie laughed to herself. Despite the tired, old pickup lines, she found herself incredibly attracted to him.
"I don't know. I've got plenty of time."
"So, why don't you tell me your life story?"
"I can do that. I'm Damon Hyde. I guess you can see I'm a Second Lieutenant. I'm thirty-one. I've been on Boone for four years now. I was born on New Moscow and stationed there since I enlisted at seventeen. My mom is Betty, and my dad is Ralph, and I'm the middle of three kids. I've never been married, and I have no children. I like watching and playing baseball, working out, and my favorite color is green. My favorite food is Italian, and I like beer." He pulled a pen and piece of paper from his shirt pocket and wrote quickly. "Here's my service number, my intercom number, birthday, and shoe size if you need any of them."
Allie laughed. "Well, you have a short life story." She looked at the slip of paper he'd given her. "I'll hang on to this."
"Other than a few details that would bore us both to tears, that's it." He smiled at her. "See, it doesn't take long."
"I guess not."
"Don't take this wrong, but your eyes are fascinating."
She'd been watching him. Like her mother, Allie had large breasts, but she hadn't seen Damon look at them more than briefly. He spent most of the time focusing on her eyes. She found it remarkably sensitive and attractive. "Is there a wrong way to take that?"
"I don't know." His face went to a funny, soft expression. "I've never seen eyes that color before."
"Thank you." He had no idea who she was. She considered telling him, but she didn't want to scare him off.
"Don't thank me for being pretty, Allie. God made you pretty, not me."
She smiled at him. "You're smooth, I'll give you that."
He looked down for a moment. When he looked back into her eyes, Allie saw a slight blush touching his face. "I'm really not trying to be smooth. I'm just trying to talk and not babble like an idiot."
"That wasn't very fair of me. I'm sorry."
"That's all right. I guess you get a lot of lines from smooth talkers."
"I've had my share."
A song Allie didn't know came on, and she wondered what it was. Her question must have shown because Damon smiled. "This song is called Diary. A band called Bread is the artist."
"How do you know that?"
He shrugged. "I just like the music that they play here. I sometimes wonder what Mr. Dayton had on his mind when he set the Cafï¿½ up this way."
"You should ask him."
"Yeah, like that's going to happen!"
"You never know, Damon."
He smiled for a moment. "Would you like to dance?"
"Yes, I would." He held her chair and then her hand as they went to the dance floor.
After a moment's hesitation, he slipped his arms around her waist. She put her arms around his neck, and they moved to the slow music. "You're a much better dancer than I am."
Allie's breath was short, but she hoped she managed to hide the fact. "Maybe, but the last I heard, they didn't teach dancing in Marine training." The electric tingles faded to be replaced by major shocks as their bodies touched.
"No, they don't. What do you do to pay the rent, Allie? You don't act like you're military."
"No, I'm not. Technically, I'm a historian, but I do a little teaching at the high school, college, and even a little to the recruits and midshipmen." It was true, but she decided to leave out the princess part. She was afraid to look, but she knew the tingles had her nipples hard, and she hoped they weren't poking his hard chest.
The song ended, and they made their way back to the table. "A historian. That sounds interesting, but I'm just a grunt."
She laughed. "The history of the Marines goes back a long time and is pretty interesting. They were established in 1775 AD, almost five thousand years ago, and are the oldest continuously operating branch of the military."
"There must be a lot of things other than military history to talk about with the prettiest woman I've ever seen."
"Maybe. You owe me your life history, Allie."
She thought for a moment. "Tell you what, let's go for a walk, and I'll tell you all about it."
"That's a deal."
Another great thing Stu had built into Boone was the Observation Deck. More than ninety square kilometers, the OD looked like Old Earth from before the global war that nearly exterminated humanity. A dome covered the OD and could change from clear, to look out into space, to a number of effects to simulate the sky of Earth. It was after 2300 when Allie and Damon reached the OD. Studded with stars in the patterns seen from Earth, a bright full moon hanging among them, the dome was set to night-sky mode.
As they walked in the moonlight, passing from the glow of one streetlamp to another, she wondered about the guards. She hadn't seen them, but she knew they were there. Allie and Damon walked close together but not touching. She wanted to touch him but she was afraid to, fearing the tingles of his touch would push her over the edge.
"Let's sit down here. I'll tell you my life history instead of the Marine's history." They sat on the park bench quietly for a while, just watching the darkness, a gentle breeze blowing the crisp smell of trees and grass on the air.
"Well, where to begin. I'm Allison Jenkins." Most people had no idea of the Emperor's last name. "I'm twenty-seven and, like you, I've never been married. I have no kids, although I have several nieces and nephews that are almost like my kids." As one of 141 children of the Emperor, Allie didn't tell Damon she had over five hundred nieces and nephews. "You already know I'm a historian, and my favorite color is purple."
He smiled at her. "Don't I get your intercom number?"
"I can accept that. Any brothers or sisters?"
"Obviously. I have nieces and nephews." She managed to dodge that question.
"Oh, yeah. I told you I'm not thinking clearly."
Allie could see his eyes study her face in the half-light of the streetlamps. "What's wrong?"
He smiled a bit sheepishly. "I've been on missions into hostile fire. I've gone down as the first wave of assaults when we lost seventy percent of our teams. I've been in firefights and been shot three times, once seriously enough that I almost died. I've been way too close to explosions. I was even in a landing craft that was shot down once." He looked into her eyes, and his smile slipped from his face. "Why do you scare me, Allie?"
"I don't know. I don't mean to scare you." Ever since she was a little girl, she could remember her father telling her mothers that they scared him. She knew he wasn't scared of anything other than they.
"I know you don't mean to. It's nothing you're doing." He sighed, his broad shoulders slumping a little. "I'm not sure myself. Maybe it's because I want to impress you and I feel like I can't do that while I'm acting like a babbling idiot."
Allie watched him for a moment. His eyes were soft. She could see an almost boyish innocence there, and the fear he spoke of was clear on his face. The breeze wafted his scent to her nose, the crisp, clean scent of a man who worked hard for what he believed and wasn't afraid to sweat to do his job. She couldn't help herself. She leaned slowly towards him.
Hesitantly, they moved together, and their lips touched. His strong arms slid around her, pulling her close to him. His tongue moved slowly into her mouth, like he tested the waters. Her tongue, of its own volition, pressed against his in a tango of warm, moist passion. Their faces pressed tightly together, their lips slipping against each other.
The skin of his face was smooth, like he shaved only a short time ago. She didn't feel surprised that a Marine would shave more than once a day. His hands left warm tracks on her back as they moved over her body, and she trembled at the heat.
As her lips moved over his mouth, she tasted the unique flavor that his cologne, perspiration, and saliva made. His sweat brought a sharp salty tang to her mouth. Damon's cologne held distinct hints of pheromones, but not overpowering. The flavor and scent that filled her senses only added to the natural attraction she felt. His saliva and breath came sweet to her nose and tongue. She longed for more and pulled him tighter to her.
In the quiet of the Observation Deck night, the gentle smacking of his lips against her face played a chorus with the sounds of the crickets in the grass around them. She thought she heard a few low moans coming from him, but they might have been her own.
Somewhere in the distance, a moonflower released its sweet aroma to the wind, and it floated to her nose, adding to the remarkable blend that already drove her senses to near overload. The grass, recently mown, offered a fresh, clean backdrop to the other smells running through her system.
Damon moved his head slowly, his lips rolling over hers. As his tongue moved slowly and deliberately in her mouth, he flicked it against her teeth. When the tip fluttered over her gums, she trembled.
Her mind fogged from the passions his kiss awakened in her, and she found herself melting in his arms. Something about the way he touched her senses made her want him.
She ran her hands over his head and neck. Her pulse pounded in her head, her face flushing hotly, like lava flowing across her skin. Unlike her younger sister, Allie wasn't a virgin. She had her fair share of experience with men.
Through the fog of the passionate kiss, she realized that his hands behaved themselves, never moving toward her breasts. She found it pleasing, though she knew she wanted Damon to touch her.
Many minutes later, their lips slowly parted. Allie's eyes opened slowly, and she smiled at him. "I think I should give you my intercom number now."
"I'd really like that."
Allie considered, but only a moment. "Damon, there's something I need to tell you, though."
"I, um, haven't been fully open with you. I haven't lied to you, but there are a few things I didn't tell you." She searched for words but couldn't find any, so she decided the direct approach would be best. "I am a historian, and I do teach history sometimes, but mostly I don't do much of anything, as you put it, to pay the rent."
Damon frowned. "I don't understand."
"Promise me you won't run."
"I really am Allie Jenkins. Princess Allison Jenkins."
His eyes blinked rapidly, and his mouth worked like a trout left flopping on the riverbank. "Your father is..."
"Yeah, he's the Emperor."
He stood up suddenly and danced back and forth a little. She stood and grabbed his hands. "Damon, it's OK."
"No, it's not OK! You're a princess!"
"Yeah, but I'm also a woman. I'm really just Allie."
"I've been making out with the Princess?"
She laughed a little despite herself. "Well, it wasn't exactly making out, but it was a good start."
"This isn't funny!"
"Actually, it is. At least a little." Allie put her arms around his neck, her face very close to his as she looked up into his eyes. Her heart began to pound faster in her chest again, and her breathing raced to a pant. "Do I need to call my bodyguards out of the woods to make you kiss me again?"
"Sergeant Payne will shit."
"No, she won't."
"Your father will have her toss me out of an airlock, then."
"No, he won't."
"Something bad is going to happen."
"Shut up and kiss me."
A small smile played across his face as he put his arms around her waist. The thrill of his touch hadn't faded, and she smiled in anticipation as their lips pressed together again.
It was 0145 when Allie and Damon reached the door to her suite, deep in officer's country with Marines in body armor at every intersection. She saw him glance down the corridor. "Yeah, that's my folks' suite down there." Six guards, all with heavy weapons, stood watch, and the shimmer of a force field was visible.
"I'm twenty meters from the Emperor's suite with his daughter."
"Yeah, that pretty well sums it up." The door swished open to Allie's command. "I really don't normally do this, but would you like to come inside?"
His eyes flicked from her face to look into the room behind her. "If you were anyone else, I'd love to come inside. Actually, I'd love to come inside anyway." His mouth worked soundlessly again for a moment, then he looked back to her eyes. "I'm not making any sense at all, am I?"
"No, not much." She reached to his face and ran her fingers softly around the firm line of his jaw. Allie knew she wanted him. "Was that a yes or a no?"
"Both." He swallowed several times. "I want to come in, but I'm afraid to."
"You don't need to be afraid of my family."
"I'm not afraid of your dad. I'm afraid of you."
"Me? Why?" His mouth moved again. Allie laughed a little. Watching his lips move, she wanted to kiss him again, to feel his lips on hers. "Tell you what. Let's go inside and sit down. Just talking, OK?" She smiled gently. "I promise not to bite." She let her best seductive smile ripple across her face. "Unless you want me to."
Damon nodded. "OK, just to talk." He followed her in.
"Have a seat." She indicated the sofa. "Would you like a drink?"
"Just water, I think." He sat down at attention.
She brought his water. "Just relax." He leaned back a little. "Now, what's this about being afraid of me?"
He made a couple of false starts. "Allie, I'm not sure how I feel about you."
"What does that mean?"
As Allie watched, she saw the Marine in Damon come out. His shoulders squared, and he seemed to become, somehow, tougher than he was already. His eyes became resolute and, maybe, just a little cold and hard. She imagined him preparing to rush, single-handed, against overwhelming odds, knowing he would die, but duty and honor required the sacrifice, and he was ready to do what was needed. As if his body wasn't attractive enough, she saw things in Damon that emotionally attracted her. He had many of the character traits she knew her father possessed. The combination pushed her desires higher.
"Allie, I know we've only known each other a few hours, but it's easy to see you're special. I've never known anyone like you."
She had to fight not to laugh at him. "I know that whatever it is that you're trying to say is hard for you. You look like you're ready to charge up San Juan Hill. The fact is that I really have no idea what you're talking about."
"Where's San Juan Hill? Oh, never mind." He took a deep breath. "I really like you, and I really want to get to know you a lot better." He seemed to sag a little.
"Is that all? I like you, too. If I didn't, you wouldn't be here now. In fact, you'd have been shot down at the bar." She took his hand in hers, feeling the tingles returning. Allie wanted him, but the shyness and fear he showed her made her want to hold him, to protect him, more than her passions wanted to make love to him. "Don't be afraid of me, Damon. I'd like to get to know you better, too." She smiled at him. "If I didn't like you, I sure as hell wouldn't have kissed you the way I did."
He seemed to relax, at least a little. "Well, could I take you to dinner tomorrow?" He glanced at the clock. "I mean tonight."
"I'd like that, yes."
He sighed. "Good, I'll pick you up at 1800, then." He moved to stand, but Allie grabbed his arm.
"Where are you going?"
"I should leave."
"Oh, no! You just relaxed a little bit." She laughed a little. "We're just talking, remember?"
"Yeah, just talking."
Allie and Damon sat together on the sofa, just talking, until 0600.
Harry started staring at the Arupian code when he walked in his cubicle this morning. Now at 1220, he still stared at it, no better off than he was more than four hours ago. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. The encrypted data had a pattern, but he could only see tiny parts of it, enough to tease him and play games with his mind.
Harry knew he had to solve this puzzle. Devon Henson was a nice guy, but he'd be getting pressure from Commander Dalton. Dalton wasn't bad, as line officers went, but he'd be getting flack from as high up the ladder as Admiral Q. Even the Admiral was OK, but Harry would bet credits to donuts that the Emperor himself yanked on the Admiral's chain. Harry had only been in Fleet for twelve years, but he'd learned fast that shit flows downhill. He also learned that a Lieutenant Junior Garrison was at the bottom of the hill.
He stood and stretched, reaching over his head for the ceiling. What made the pressure worse was that everyone seemed to think Harry was some kind of genius. He could solve puzzles and see patterns better than most people, but he didn't consider himself a genius. The impression the officers had that Harry might be a genius let him be just a little different. His hair was one example. Straight, shiny, and pitch black, his hair almost touched his shoulders and was far longer than regulation, longer than any other Fleet member on Boone. His black, closely trimmed beard was another. The regulation book strictly forbade long hair and beards. Harry got by with both because the brass thought he was smart. They also thought him just a little strange. They tended to leave him alone.
Devon poked his head into Harry's cubicle. "Haven't you gone for lunch yet?"
"No, I was just thinking about that." He studied his CO for a moment. "I need to get out of here and think for a while."
"Bad timing. We need that code."
"I know, and I'll get it for you, but I need to be away from this office for a while."
Henson sighed. "Harry ... Oh, damn it! Listen, it's going to be both of our butts, but do what you need to do. Any idea of a timeline?"
"Not really, but I know you need to tell Dalton something." He paused for a moment and deliberately kept a blank look on his face. "I'll have it cracked by 0900."
"Are you sure?"
"No, but that will give us time to walk out an airlock before they come after us with torches and pitchforks."
Devon blinked at him. "Shit. Get out of here."
Allie wrapped up her lecture on ancient American history to the students at the Imperial University campus on Boone. It had been a rough four hours, trying to keep students interested in things that happened nearly five thousand years ago on a planet most of them had never seen. Most didn't care about Richard Nixon and wouldn't remember a word she'd said by the time they finished lunch. She really couldn't blame them. Just what was the impact of Richard Nixon going to be for them?
She decided to go to the bistro on the OD for lunch. As she walked the tree-lined paths, she kept thinking about Damon. She'd been ready to bed him last night, but the boyish way he'd acted, the shyness he'd shown, had made it clear to Allie that the man was actually afraid of her. She'd been around a lot of men who were afraid of her father, but that wasn't the case with Damon. He was afraid of her.
She'd asked her moms about it over breakfast. Marilyn had giggled a little. "He's afraid you'll hurt him. He's giving you the power to crush him, emotionally, and he's afraid, down inside, that you'll do that. His heart knows you won't, but his head is in the way."
The bistro was busy today, and tables were scarce. She found a table and ordered. As she waited for her lunch, a young fleet officer approached her. "Excuse me, miss, but things seem to be a little crowded today. I was wondering if you'd mind a little company for lunch."
She looked at him for a moment. He was nothing if not forward. She liked that. "Sure, have a seat."
"Thanks." He extended his hand to her. "I'm Harry Douglas."
"Good to meet you, Harry. I'm Allie." His grip was firm in her hand.
He sat down and smiled slyly. "Should I call you Allie or Princess Allison?"
Allie watched him for a moment. He wore the uniform of a Fleet Lieutenant JG, but his black hair was way too long, and he had a beard. His brown eyes sparkled at her as if he had some secret he wasn't telling. A chill ran through her as she looked into his lively, sparkling eyes. "I guess I can't convince you I'm not the Princess."
"Not a chance." He gave his order to the server. "I am curious why the Princess is slumming it here with the commoners."
She had to laugh at his easy banter. "We do that, you know." Allie decided that if he could be brazen, so could she. "I'm curious how a fleet officer can have hair that long and a beard."
"Fair question. My CO thinks I'm crazy and a genius."
"Are you either or both?"
He waved his hand. "I suspect I'm smarter than some, and I know I'm crazier than some."
"So they just leave you alone then?"
"That's right." He smiled at her, his eyes flicking to her breasts and back to her eyes quickly. "I like them being just a little afraid of me."
Like the rest of the royal family, Allie had a neural implant that allowed her to communicate with the ship's computers directly, as well as with anyone else with an implant. She called up the personnel file on Harry and reviewed it in her head. "Well, long-haired Harry, what is it you do for my father?"
"That's an interesting way to describe my position. I solve puzzles, and I see you're trying to solve one right now." He grinned a little. "Your implant link will tell you that I work in Intelligence as a cryptography specialist. Your facial expression gave you away."
"Well, I guess a girl can't have any secrets around you." There was something about his easy conversation and his confidence that Allie found attractive. When he smiled, his whole face smiled, not just his lips. His eyes twinkled, and she still had the feeling that Harry had some secret he wasn't sharing. The air of mystery was intoxicating.
"Oh, a few." Their lunches came. He glanced at her salad. "Rabbit food."
He had some huge slab of fried meat with fried potatoes. "Maybe, but it won't kill me nearly as fast as that will." She pointed her fork at his plate.
"Oh, that doesn't matter, Allie. We'll probably all die in the war long before diet can kill us."
"You're just a bundle of joy, aren't you?" Her scan of his file said that he was a genius, but a little strange sometimes. Having grown up around Tanya and her sister, Claire, Allie understood that the two often went hand-in-hand.
"Maybe." He wolfed down his meal. "I'm nothing if not entertaining."
She laughed and almost choked on her salad. "I'll certainly grant you that." He was more than entertaining. He was fascinating. She pointed at his plate again. "What is that?"
"This, my Princess, is a hamburger steak, so rare that the chef only showed it a picture of a match." He cut off a small piece and held it out to her on his fork. "Here, try it."
Allie stared for a moment. She rarely ate red meat, but his open and forward manner made her take the morsel he offered. "Hey, that's pretty good."
"You bet it is." He finished the rest in two more bites. "You never told me what you're doing here, so I guess you're not going to. Want to go for a walk after lunch?"
She felt like she'd missed something. "What?"
"I'm going for a walk down around the lake. I thought you might like to come along." He frowned. "I guess I should have asked if you're engaged or something."
"Um, well, no. I'm not engaged or anything like that."
He glanced toward the door of the restaurant. "Your two sidekicks would be welcome. I'm just looking for someone to have a little intelligent conversation with."
"Harry, are you always this direct?"
"Direct? I don't know. I spend all day looking for hidden meanings, and I see no point in hiding the meaning of what I say."
Allie smiled slowly. "All right. You've got a date."
"Oh, no! I'm not looking for a date! Just a little company for a walk around the lake."
"OK, then. Just a walk and intelligent conversation."