Winged Victory

Overview

Med-tech Abbie Brown journeys to Valtar, an ancient, male dominated world, hoping to discover why the Valtarie face extinction. Despite their looks, the silver-winged Valtarie are not angels, but the race can't really be vampires, can they?

Traveen, second son of Valtar's ruler, pilots the crystal ship escorting Abbie. Valtarie Law forbids males to touch a female, and to do so means death. When a storm forces them to crash land on a deserted ...

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Overview

Med-tech Abbie Brown journeys to Valtar, an ancient, male dominated world, hoping to discover why the Valtarie face extinction. Despite their looks, the silver-winged Valtarie are not angels, but the race can't really be vampires, can they?

Traveen, second son of Valtar's ruler, pilots the crystal ship escorting Abbie. Valtarie Law forbids males to touch a female, and to do so means death. When a storm forces them to crash land on a deserted ice planet, Traveen has no choice but to touch Abbie to keep her alive.

Abbie survives, and she rescues Traveen from execution. But after they escape, Abbie finds herself falling in love with Traveen. But is it really love, or is it his hypnotic eyes and harmonic voice that are inherent for captivating females . . .

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781893896307
  • Publisher: BelleBooks
  • Publication date: 6/28/2004
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Soledad Scott, retired warship captain, gazed with feigned disinterest at the fast approaching Straits of Tralarie. Far out near the vast unexplored regions of space, the Straits' asteroids glittered in the cold vacuum like they were diamonds in the rough, but there was nothing new for her to see. She had seen their beauty before, many times in the twenty years of her career in the Spacing Guild. But this time the sight should have been special, and if not for the stomach butterflies that she was trying so hard to ignore, perhaps it would have been.

Scattered among the silent moons, under their protective atmospheric domes, forty-eight fully functional, top of the line pleasure houses awaited her and the other military customers coming there for R&R.

In the packed transport, during the ship's final approach, Sol bumped into the Marine next to her. Her breast grazed his arm, but his gaze remained firmly fixed on the port's view. She thought for a moment that he hadn't noticed the touch, but his cheeks flamed and his neck turned red. Sol wondered if this was his first R&R. Poor baby, his extreme hair cut and innocent blush meant he was obviously new to the service. The transport's deck bucked, and despite Sol's rigid balance, their bodies brushed again. This time the Marine mumbled, "Sorry, Captain."

With a start, Sol realized that she'd worn her uniform. Her red leathers identified her as a warship captain, a rank she no longer held, but a rank that set her apart from the other off-duty personnel. She waved a negligent hand at the recruit, and he returned to his window gazing, twin spots of color still staining his smooth cheekbones. Sol went back to her contemplation ofher stupidity. This little adventure was surely a mistake from the beginning. Whatever had possessed her to do this? Hell, she wasn't even authorized to wear her leathers anywhere anymore. Frack 'em. She snorted the curse to herself, but the Marine recruit edged further away from her as if he'd heard. She softly sighed. Out here in the Straits, rank didn't matter. Especially hers.

But no one knew from looking that she no longer held her rank. The thought burned inside. Earlier, she had choked down the s-rations that passed for military nutritious food. Now that food lay like a lead ball in her stomach. Sol gave a mental headshake at such weakness and flicked on the brochure with her marked itinerary. All the colorful ads were attractive, but she was already booked for one place--the Pleasure Dome. The pretentious name sucked, and the others were no better. Dante's Circus, Faro's Hump, the Bump and Grind, the Y-Knot, and the Steel Away--those names surely reflected their type of business or pleasure. Sol had even used a few of them for relaxation in the past and knew that their patrons could either find what they desired or at least find where to obtain it. Females could even fulfill their dream of conceiving a child without the encumbrances of an extraneous mate. She shuddered over that last statement and read the through the advertisement faster.

Males could procure surrogate mothers to bear their offspring. Foreign species could copulate together in any fashion, all without the limits of the law. Anything of any sexual nature could be had here--for the right price. Hiding within her palm-vid, the ads promised Sol dens of sexual freedoms that offered something for everyone of every species. She had sampled a few of those freedoms in the past, but this time she had something more important in mind. This meeting would be life changing and scared her as no previous enemy ever had. She felt her cheeks heat up as hotly as the young recruit's had. She raised her gaze and connected with the brown-eyed Marine sitting across from her. This one, obviously more experienced than the recruit, gave her a thorough, frank appraisal despite her uniform's rank. Sol didn't hide her smile, although she gave him a negative headshake. He grinned good-naturedly, shrugged and turned his attractive attention elsewhere. Too bad. He was so clearly her type, nonthreatening and easy to please. Sol sighed deeply. Now was not the time for sideline romances. The ship was docking, engines dying. Focus.

She became part of the crowd jamming the exits. Among the tired military crews, most of the varied species of broad-shouldered Marines and trim fighter pilots seemed to know where they were going for R&R, and after long and dangerous tours of space duty, all were eager to get there. Sol lagged behind and watched the others, who were obviously more excited to reach their destinations. In the main space port, most travelers avoided physical as well as eye contact with anyone else. If one looked too closely into those tired orbs' reflections, they might catch a glimpse of a weary soul who had seen too much, done too much, and was tired of living. If a little R&R in a protected dome's pleasure palace could restore their joy of life even for a little while, most were eager to seek it in any form. Sol wouldn't judge them. She had led too many Marines into battle to deny them a few days of sexual relaxation.

With her jaw hardened against old memories, Sol finally joined the diverse crowd winding its way like a sensuous snake through Nucleus, the Straits' main space port, toward the shuttles disembarking for said pleasure palaces. She gave a few alien travelers a wider berth due to their overpowering stench or because of their odd appearances. And, thankfully, most of those made their way to shuttles destined for the outer fringe of the Straits where the darker entertainments of the alien variety were located. But the human customers surrounding Sol, those desiring relaxation and/or sexual gratification and opting for the old conventional way of receiving it, boarded the air shuttles for the male and female professional services of the Pleasure Dome. She knew from her booking that the Dome was a human frequented hot spot of the tamer sexual persuasion located on the fifth settlement of the Strait.

The Pleasure Dome guaranteed that the customer comes first--ha!--and that he/she is in the right spot at the right time for their desired pleasure.

Credits back if not satisfied.

* * * *

Soledad wasn't sure about being in the right spot or at the right time. She should have taken the robotic room guide, but she had been confident that she could find her designated room in the Dome's corridors that spread out like a wagon wheel from the centralized check-in desk. Gods above, she had captained galactic star ships for the past twenty years. She could certainly find one little room in a whorehouse.

But now Sol wasn't so confident. She stared at the gaudy, purple-sequined door numbers of room 660 and thought that she had surely lost what little of her mind that remained. At least she thought this was room 660. Or was it 990? She squinted at the sparkling numbers that swirled in her vision, then closed one eye, looked away, then back, making sure that her wormhole dyslexia--that damned affliction left over from staring too long into the swirling abyss--wasn't playing tricks on her. After spacing for the past twenty years, she no longer trusted her reading sight in any kind of distorted light, but this wasn't a new occurrence. Her dyslexia had played tricks on her vision before. But now, in her civilian life, it seemed to be more prevalent than ever. Maybe her human irritation was showing through or perhaps she was just getting old. And, perhaps, she was too old for what she had planned to happen here. Sol snorted at the thought. By the stars, had she become such a civi that she was now second-guessing her decisions, doubting herself? What next?

But really, after serving the past twenty years in space, whatever made her think that she should have a child at the age of thirty-eight? Wasn't she too old for that, too? She was certainly too old to captain a war ship any longer. At least, that's what the damned Spacing Guild thought. That fat-assed assistant director had certainly thought she was too old when he turned her out with no more thought than putting a dog out to piss. Memories of her curt dismissal still haunted Sol with sick recrimination.

"Captain Scott, the Guild is very pleased with your performance as Captain of the Icarus. Your long record is one of the finest in our history. We hope you will be pleased with your retirement bonus." Dushaw, the longtime assistant director of the Guild, offered Sol a fleshy hand filled with thick fingers that looked like stuffed pink sausages. He arched pointed brows at her blatant refusal of his handshake. Finally, after long moments of pregnant silence, the fake political smile on his lips died. He withdrew his hand, and with watery gray eyes gone as cold and as impersonal as any fish's, he gave a throaty-voiced, "Well," before sitting back down and flipping desk papers to begin the day's next all important business. His gray-haired, spiky buzz-cut remained tilted down, and he never looked up at Sol again. The self-absorbed pencil pusher had dismissed her without another look.

Soledad, teeth grinding and choking on her rage, was summarily escorted out between two solidly muscled, fierce Marine guards dressed in their thick-shouldered, black leather regimentals. But she didn't blame the grim-faced soldiers, they were doing their duty. And, even though Sol knew this day was coming, she had expected to have more time to prepare. The Guild gave her no warning, but then, the Guild never warned about anything. It would drop her into the middle of a deadly war with little more than a two sentence description of who was friendly and who was the enemy. Many a time, on their orders, Sol had led her Marines on dangerous missions that had cost the life of more than one good friend, only to have those enemies become allies through the bribery of the Diplomatic Corps, another self-serving branch of the Guild. Yeah, maybe it was time to retire, before she blasted some important but ignorant government asshole and was retired into space without a suit.

Back on the Icarus, Sol had hastily thrown her ragged, ancient books and few personal effects into an old campaign-scuffed duffle bag. Technically, she didn't have to leave until the new captain arrived, but she didn't want to see who would be fulfilling her duties, taking over her ship, and issuing orders to her crew. After leaving her quarters and hastening through the corridors, she heartily lied to her people about the many benefits of retirement, when all she felt like doing was going back to the Spacing Guild's office and punching the insufferable director's soft gut. With her throat muscles as tight as the asteroid-filled Andromeda's Pass, she'd gazed up though misty vision and gave one last salute to the colors. Icarus, her beautiful ship, would never be hers again, and she probably would never again see her crew who had become as close as family. Once more she was beginning her life over. Sol felt as if she had lost her identity; no longer was she the confident captain she had been for twenty years.

On the dock, her puzzled but obedient officers on ship's duty that day had raised their arms, snapped their elbows and stiffened their fingers to their foreheads in one last salute. Sol had returned it and left without a backward glance, her spine erect and her long strides steady. A galactic warship's captain shared tears with no one. And, damn it, she'd remain a captain in her heart until she died.

Unconsciously, she had tried hurrying her death wish. After a month-long drinking binge, Te'angel, Sol's big sister, rescued her from an ale and piss joint, slapped her awake and threw her into a sonic shower. Te' then tactfully suggested that perhaps Sol should start a new career, a higher one that gave better rewards, before she killed herself--or Te' did that job for her. It didn't take Te' long to convince Sol into taking on a new and completely diverse career ... as a mother.

"Well, I personally think you'd make a hella'va mother, Sol. You come from great genes, even as flawed as we are with our diluted Chakkra blood," Te' had smiled her gentle sisterly smile. "And you're certainly strong and self-reliant, with a good pension--and I know firsthand how much you love children."

Te's voice had softened further, and the thin skin around her eyes had crinkled, reflecting the deep love they shared. She'd patted Sol's shoulder. "You've a big heart, honey, so don't waste all that love. Besides, you're not getting any younger, you know, and you need to have your first soon. If you want children, you should get your body in tune with your heart like I did."

Sol had felt the corners of her mouth rise in a wry twist. Te'angel's honest words had been filled with caring, but the age thing had still stung, although Sol laughed it off. Te' was four years older, and she hadn't stopped birthing yet, so Te' certainly believed her own words. And Sol would never do or say anything to hurt her big sister who was actually six inches shorter than Sol and the nearest thing to a mother that Sol had. And Te' was a great mother. Just ask the Space Academy's breeding program or any of her ten kids.

The thought of those ten kids and their hellacious racket at Te's home gave Sol a shudder before she also remembered the heart-tugging and throat-choking sight of those babies crowded around Te' while she read to them, or the antics of the diverse gang making dinner, baking cookies, or wrapping presents over the holidays. Te's home on Delta Three was always filled with the love and warmth of family. The laughter, the tears, and the honest affection surrounded all who entered. Te' always knew just what to say or to do to smooth over any hurt. But even the stoic Sol cried when Tommy, the oldest of Te's brood, left home for the Space Academy. The agency was only too happy to accept the fifteen-year-old into their flight program, and his brave achievements during the subsequent years had strengthened their greedy acceptance of his other siblings. The next three to leave were even harder for Sol and Te' to let go, but yeah, Sol was sure that she wanted--needed--someone in her life. Someone who made her life count for something. Someone she would love and protect. Someone who would love her in return.

Still, Sol hesitated at the Pleasure Dome's room assigned to her. Here, in this room, her sperm donor awaited. Why hadn't she chosen to do the impersonal breeding the way that Te' did and not even bother with a male? Penises--who needed them anyway? Sol snorted. She was only seeking good, healthy sperm, but she also happened to like the physical exchange in obtaining it, as long as she was in control of the situation. She always chose to experience everything in her own way, on her own terms. Now she wasn't so sure her idea was a sound one.

The door's glitzy numbers continued to blur, spinning and fading in and out of either 660 or 990. Which one was the friggin' right number? Sol sighed. Gods, she must be crazy. And did she really want to live through all the fevers, the whining, and the demands of a child, just to give them up when they were grown? And possibly give them up to the damned Spacing Guild? She only thought on that for a moment.

Oh, hell, yes! She had seen firsthand the love exchanged between Te' and her children in those few times she'd visited them. She felt the need for this. The connected feeling of life and love was stronger now than at any other time in her life. And she told herself that she was only a little frightened of the whole sperm gathering situation. Sex she could handle, sex with a purpose was scary.

Sol gave a slight headshake to wake herself from her musings. Her weakened spirit must be that age-old maternal instinct kicking in after all these years of war. Yeah, Soledad wanted this baby. And if her child desired a career in Space, she would do everything in her power to grant his or her wish. Besides, she had already taken the massive doses of fertility drugs and had undergone weeks of painful treatments, altering her physical system and correcting the sterility demands of spacing. Why not just do this and get it over with? A swift surge of heat swept through her nether regions leaving a tingling behind. The sexual enhancement she had swallowed earlier with a shot of Valtarie wine labeled tazvidal was warming her body in all the right places. A shudder raced through her. Her heart rate notched up. Like an irritating itch that needed scratching, her body urged her to hurry. Yep, she was definitely ready in all the right places.

Now, to get her mind in agreement with her body, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Soledad Scott, recently retired captain of the galactic warship, Icarus, raised her trembling hand, squeezed it into a steady fist, and banged on the ugly-colored, purple door. In her other hand, she held a bottle of properly drugged wine provided by the Pleasure Dome's robotic director. The fertility doctor had suggested its use only to enhance the potency of her eggs' acceptance. Perhaps he was right and she would need the artificial encouragement. It had been awhile since she'd had sex--paid for or otherwise, but according to the tests, she was ripe for fertilization. Yippee!

"Enter. Door's open." The baritone growl that answered her knock sent those fluttering butterflies down Sol's stomach. The deep masculine tone also sent chills up her spine and raised the hair on her arms. Damned enhancement drug. As a warship captain, she'd never had such emotional reactions. She was well known for her calm, cool, commanding officer's demeanor. Hormones had turned her to mush. But if she felt this much sexual heat from just his voice, her playmate should give her first rate service. Soledad nudged the door open with the toe of her boot. She peered into the subdued lighting and tried to catch a glimpse of the room's occupant while still shielding herself behind the doorjamb. The dim light from the hall put Sol too much in outline for her comfort, but gave no hint about the man she was meeting. He was supposed to be pleasing to the eye and at least as tall as her six foot stature. The rest of the requirements were in computer numerical printouts of compatible genes, but the technical language looked like so much gibberish to Sol. And she cared little about what the donor looked like anyway. His healthy sperm was the most important thing to consider. That and his willingness to let her control the proceedings. Perhaps she really should have done as Te' always did and had the sperm artificially inseminated. Too late. He of the deep voice spoke again.

"Put the wine over there and take off your clothes ." The curt demand came dry and impersonal, just as if he expected Sol to be there for him and his wishes. The nerve. After what she was paying, this pleasure treat could at least be polite. Sol was never into the dominating macho trip. One strike against her donor. Time to nip this in the bud. She was in charge.

Sol flipped on an energy switch near the door and glared through the fake candlelight that the Dome considered romantic toward the voice's direction. "Hold your slipstream buddy. You're supposed to be of service to me." She wagged her finger at the lump on the bed. "Not the other way around."

The lump sat up. For several seconds, a large, dark-haired man blinked in the sudden light before rising, splendidly naked, from between the golden sheets of the opulent, silk- and brocade-laden bed. Light bounced off his high cheekbones and glittered in his slanted eyes, lending him a foreign cast before he dipped his head and safely dropped his gaze. He looked from the bed back to Sol with a frown. Needless to say, the overdressed, gaudy bed loomed as the focal point of the pleasure room. That is, it had before the man stood up. He, with his arrogant stance, demanded all Sol's attention. Bone-straight black hair tangled over the man's high forehead and dipped to his wide shoulders, while more of it curled in the middle of his broad chest. Between twin circles of flat brown nipples, a line of the sable stuff sprinkled past rippling abs and down his stomach to--Sol jerked her attention back to the safety of his shoulders--those broad shoulders. Yeah, her pleasure toy had enough body hair to be masculine and not look like an ape man, but he was big--much bigger than Sol thought she had specified. He filled the room with his brawny form, and, for a second, Soledad had trouble catching her breath, but not from fear. This sexual attraction rarely happened to her.

Without a word, the man edged closer, frank appraisal in his wide-eyed glance, just as she was sure it was in hers. Sol noted that although he was a large man, he wasn't a bumbling brute; he moved with a natural grace of someone at home in his body--so darkly sensual. Nearly at her side now, he dipped his head at Sol in a brief nod, his gaze puzzled, as if he were trying to figure out something. In the light's soft reflection, Sol noticed his odd eyes--light, icy pale one moment, then a cold, arctic dark of a bottomless lake the next. They seemed at odds with the night-jet color of his hair. And for a quick moment, Soledad thought she glimpsed something swirling behind the brilliant blue, something violent, but she dismissed it as a trick of the fake candlelight's flickering shadows. The damned light did show off his attributes though--only too well.

In her swift inspection, Sol noticed every smooth slab of muscle that flexed across the man's body. And he moved in fluid movement as if just to get her attention. Defying her stare, he deliberately raked back his heavy hair from his forehead--hair that was a shade too long for her taste--then he cocked his head to one side again, patiently waiting while she looked her fill. Between those chiseled cheekbones, Sol noted that his long, aristocratic nose was crooked, probably broken by someone not impressed by that insolent stare that he now used on her. Perhaps he was a professional fighter as well as a sex toy, defiant enough not to have his nose straightened. Soledad liked defiance in a fighter--among other things. Her lips quirked at the idea of some of those other things she was thinking about, thanks to that enhancement drug. But, frankly, the guy fit Sol's idea of the perfect father's size for her child. If he made her libido peak, so much the better. She was enjoying her long perusal. He evidently wasn't. Her playmate had lost his smirk.

A long muscle jerked in his jaw under the darkened shadow of old-fashioned stubble. Odd. He hadn't made use of the spacing luxury of hair removal for his whiskers. That thought brought a hint of strangeness to Sol, since a pleasure toy had access to all the modern oils and depilatories, and a toy wouldn't want to offend a paying customer. This one evidently didn't care about beard burn on his partner, and apparently he also didn't care for her lingering stare.

His snort brought a hot flush to Sol's cheeks before he insolently lowered his glance. Then the corners of his full, sensuous lips turned up. It was his turn to peruse her. His languid gaze slowly traveled from Sol's head to her toes then back again, all uniformed six feet of her.

His stare left prickly heat behind before he said, "Anyway you want it is okay by me ... Legs."

That mocking voice sent shivers up Sol's spine again, but she didn't change her bored expression. She, too, waited patiently for him to finish looking. Politeness seemed to be the meaning of the day. Soledad evidently met his approval for his arrogant body was on full alert, jutting out like a hunting hound.

At the thick, bobbing sight, another warm flush crawled up Sol's neck, but she shrugged the discomfort away. She set the wine bottle down hard enough to jolt the glasses that waited on the elegant table with its flimsy curved legs. She decided to ignore his reference to her own legs, but speaking of anatomy...?

Damn, she had seen naked males before, perhaps none as large or as attentive as this specimen, but this wasn't a virgin experience. She'd paid for professional services several times in the past, although not here in the Dome. And sometimes she had paid for services in other places with a more adventuresome male species. Spacing took you to far regions and was a lonely profession, although sometimes not lonely enough.

Crowded ship quarters made for liaisons that could become a problem between shipmates of rank. Long ago, Sol had learned to never mix business with pleasure no matter the attraction. She had slipped only once. And it had been a long time since she had indulged her pleasure or been this attracted. Her sexual adventures were a matter of tension relief, not pleasure, and never with anyone who was dominant. This partner seemed different. Her heart skipped a beat then raced. And this time the results would be more than pleasure. She would leave with a miracle of life in her womb. Somehow, that fact made a world of difference, at least to her. Her partner didn't seem to care about giving up his precious sperm, he was patiently regarding her.

"I want a bath and a massage before ... anything else." She glared at the man whom the fertility clinic's computer had selected as the perfect father of her child. And he did seem nearly so with his towering height. Again she felt uneasy at his dominance of the room, but she had asked that he be taller than her. Sol studied him further before deciding his unruly hair was a nice shade and suited him with its darkness. His ears were not overly large and lay close to his head. There were those stories about big ears meaning something else was also big. Sol swallowed a snort. She didn't think the size of ears had anything to do with sexual organs.

Suddenly, Sol noted that his expressive, lilting eyes twinkled with a mysterious wickedness--almost as if he'd read her amused thoughts. Ha. Good luck with that, buddy. No one gets past my guard. Thanks to her long military training, she had learned how to protect herself from overbearing males. But even then, in her dark past, she had witnessed a rape that she had been helpless to prevent. Never again would she be so hampered, so not in control. And, hopefully, that arrogant, superior look that most males used, as this one did to full advantage, grinning at her with his white teeth that oh so slightly overlapped in front, wouldn't be passed on to her son. Sol watched his lips move and tried not to stare.

"As you wish. One bath coming up." The man gave her a mocking half bow and flashed his firm butt in an arrogant stroll to the sunken marble tub that loomed just to the left of the red- and gold-draped bed. The handles and faucet glowed with the metal richness of false gold, too. But Sol knew that in these outlying settlements, real metal imports were too costly to be used as plumbing fixtures. Actually, most of the room's impressive furnishings were inexpensive imitations of actual ancient art. This part of the Dome seemed to be into an old world theme with the heavy brocade tapestries and large gilded mirrors set against decoratively carved plaster walls. Even the wall lighting flickered off the subtly painted frescos, as if using real candles for illumination. Sol's naked playmate should have looked silly in the elegant room, but he didn't. Rather, he looked as if he belonged, a muscled centurion of Old Rome who owned all the red and gold splendor and was used to living in it, just like he was at home with the luxury of running water. He called to Sol over his shoulder.

"Flowers or spice?" The weathered skin around those all-knowing eyes crinkled in laugh lines. He gave Sol a twisted grin. She suddenly noted silver strands scattered about in the hair at his temples. He was older than what she had first thought, and perhaps older than what she had specified, but by the gods, he was definitely libido lifting. Moisture pooled between her legs at the heated promise in his eyes. The man waited patiently for her answer, still looking as if he already knew what she would say.

"Huh?" Sol's voice sounded thick, and she swallowed against a tight throat.

"For the bath. Flowers or spice." He pointed to the cheap cherub-shaped dispensers of liquid soap. His expressive full lips barely suppressed a smirk. She felt like slapping him.

"Oh. Spice." Sol was still trying to figure out how this guy fit into the idea of a paid pleasure treat. His long body was toned and fit; nothing like how she remembered a pampered sex toy looked when last she visited the Straits ages ago. Oh, she'd expected him to be good looking but more ... soft ... and not so decidedly male. Not that she was threatened by him, she told herself. Men seldom posed a threat to her. The ones that tried never lasted long.

"Do you need help undressing?" The man now stood at her shoulder, then slipped behind her so close that Sol felt the heat of his words breathed on her neck. And he deliberately exhaled low, warm breaths. Delicate shivers slipped through Sol, tickling her stomach. One of his heavy arms curved around her middle. Her pulse leaped. He curled her closer. She grabbed his broad wrist and stopped his advance. For the moment, she just held his wide wrist bones in her two hands, not knowing why she had stopped him other than he was taking the lead. And going too fast.

Arrogantly, he ignored her hint, and on another low exhale, he slowly drew Sol back inch by inch until she rested full against his length. She felt him flush to her back, every damned hot inch of him. She felt him even through her leather uniform. But more than the sexual heat, unexplained comfort surrounded her within his rough embrace. Such serene pleasure flowed from him that her pulse throbbed as if her blood answered a call from him.

Sol closed her eyes, dropped her head back against his shoulder and surrendered to the pleasure of just being held, confident in the knowledge that she was safe, protected...

What? Sol jerked awake. Whatever was she thinking? Where had she gotten the idea that she could trust this stranger? Soledad Scott allowed no one to stand so close behind her, to hold her in such a submissive posture. She didn't know this man, despite his distracting strength. And she sure as hell didn't trust him. She wanted his sperm and nothing else.

With a practiced dark scowl, she spun her body at right angles to his loose-limbed stance, but he still loomed too close. Then a funny thing happened. As if he knew she didn't want the closeness, he dropped his arm and took a deliberate step back. Some of the stiffness went out of her, but she inexplicably missed his heat, the security of his touch. He regarded her with calm eyes, waited for her to make the next move. Sol noticed that his body's naked skin glistened tight and smooth except for where a series of odd black and white scars marked his ribs and curled around his right bicep. She stared at them thinking she should know what they meant. Oddly they looked like tattoos, a distinct pattern of diamonds and stars spaced and shaped like they meant something. But her head spun when she tried to think. She couldn't quite focus. Must be the damned drugs. She had drawn a strange playmate, but she couldn't complain. He still waited patiently with that noncommittal look on his compelling features.

Drawn by that serene gaze, Sol leaned in closer and inhaled more of the scent of cedar woods coming off his heated skin. For a moment, she again lost coherent thought amid the rush of responding hormones. He coughed or spoke.

Sol shook her head free of clouded thoughts in time to hear him repeat his question, something regarding help in undressing. She said, "Yes," at the same time she shook her head no.

Those odd eyes laughed, the crinkles deepening around them at her confusion. He slipped behind her again and reached around for the zipper on her one piece jumpsuit.

Then he hesitated, fingertips poised on the tab. "Yes or no?" he whispered near her ear, his voice husky. He waited for her to speak. Such a gentleman.

Again, Sol felt his expelled breath warm on her neck. She caught the hint of alcohol and the sharp bite of something darker, richer; such a definite masculine odor. She shivered as if with a chill, although the room was fast becoming hot--way too hot. Not daring to trust her voice to remain steady, and not daring to do more, she nodded yes, the back of her head thumping his chin. With her head tilted to the side and further back, Sol neatly fit under his jaw, a rare experience for her. The man was tall, just the perfect height to put...?

No, she told herself, don't go there--yet. She leaned away and quickly glanced up at his eyes. No surprise. He was watching her intently, the slanted corners of his eyes looking all the more alien and dangerous.

Suddenly, the dark ring in those pale blue irises widened. Sol swore she saw that strange mist swirl in them again before he deftly lowered his lashes. His fingertips lightly brushed against the hollow of her throat before he began the slow slide of her zipper down her front. Her heart rate notched higher when his fingers curved against her skin as if protecting her from the jagged teeth. All noise grew exaggerated in the quiet. The slithering rasp of her zipper was almost as loud as her ragged breathing. Her skin grew overly sensitive, too. His touch burned. His knuckles grazed between her breasts, rough fingertips rubbing against the tender skin. Sparks jumped. Static electricity--or something more?

Sol grabbed his hand, stopping her zipper just below her navel. After a moment, and with that calculating steady look, the man moved the zipper an inch farther down. His teasing, one-sided grin mocked her. She refused to respond with anything other than a glare. Again, another inch exposed and that deliberate brush of knuckles against her belly sent sizzling ripples across her skin, a sensation that she felt all the way down to the juncture between her legs. More moisture gathered there and throbbed.

Yeah, she was ready for fertilization. Ripe. Her body was at any rate; her reasoning mind just refused to cooperate. But there should be something more to this miracle of life than just a paid business arrangement. Perhaps she was feeling more hormones than anything else. She felt lost and out of control. She needed a distraction.

"Music," Sol gasped, as if asking for a life preserver.

A deep frown marred the man's forehead. His dark brows arched, "Music?" he echoed. He sounded dumb, perhaps as dumb as she felt.

"Yes, we need music," Sol stated with a series of stupid nods. She needed more time to think. Something didn't fit here, but she couldn't put her finger on the problem. After weeks of being pumped full of repressed hormones, she wasn't thinking like a levelheaded galactic ship's captain.

"We do?" The man still stared at her with a wrinkled brow and wondering gaze. His sex continued to bob and twitch at her. Sol's mouth went dry. She had a hard time speaking.

"Yeah. Something soft."

"Oh, something romantic." He exaggerated the word, nodded and grinned again, a peepshow of those tweaked white teeth. Sol felt like smacking those curved lips. The man managed to irritate her with that superior expression. And why, in this age of perfection and the business he was in, didn't he have those imperfect bottom teeth straightened? His lips twitched again, and she found herself watching his mouth for another glimpse of those maddening teeth. It was safer watching his mouth than looking between his legs.

"It doesn't have to be sappy," she snapped. "I just want to relax."

"Sure, Legs." A corner of his mouth lifted, but not enough. No teeth were exposed. Sol couldn't help watching. She flinched at his next words. "Anything the lady with the great legs wants, she gets."

With another flash of that firm butt, he strode across the room and tuned the sound system, disguised as a Grecian vase, to a stringed melody, then said "No?" to her deepened scowl. A high-pitched, Calaxian mating tune was turned on next, then with raised brows that defied her, he announced with a firm nod, "This is perfect," to a vibrating drum beat and a flirtatious guitar rhythm that sounded vaguely familiar to Sol. After a few minutes, she realized it was Bolero, ancient Earth music that fit twentieth century times better than that of ancient Rome. Perhaps he thought the sultry music would be perfect for mating.

Mating--her heart thumped again.

"Fine." Sol sighed, tired of the delaying tactics. She had to get on with this. Her hands itched to touch him. The music played on, caressing her nerves more than she had anticipated. The rhythmic drum beat across her chest with compelling notes. Her nipples tightened and puckered into little points against the material of her suit. Hormones, again.

Slowly, the naked man strolled back toward her, almost like a cat balancing on the balls of his feet. Sol realized that he wasn't dancing as much as hypnotizing her with his artless grace. And he knew she watched him while he studied her with that intelligent speculation in his eyes. But he was looking at her face, at her eyes, not at her breasts. Maybe he did have a brain to go along with all that muscle. Despite being a paid arrangement, Sol didn't expect a wham, bam, thank you, ma'am military sexual release from him. His studious stare hinted at deeper qualities. She anticipated the chance to experience some of those deeper ones.

And for a large man, he moved smoothly, with a natural acceptance of himself. Sol watched the spread of healthy muscles tensing and flexing across his chest as he glided nearer. She was sure he was putting a little extra into his movement just for her benefit. Arrogant male. But his brilliant gaze stayed fixed on her face. His fists tightened. That muscle jumped again in his jaw. He wasn't as relaxed as he wanted Sol to think. That thought pleased her. Sol sucked in a breath and unconsciously, bit her lower lip.

"Ahhh," he murmured, and slipped behind her again, that one arm curved around her waist inside her gaping uniform, brushing her exposed skin with the barest touch. And, just as before, his breathing tickled her neck and gave her goose bumps. He curled over her in a looming, dark presence.

He's dangerous, truly dangerous. The sudden insight surprised her, and Sol fought against old training drills of grabbing his arm and flipping him over her shoulder. She realized that here was as dangerous a man as she had ever met, but he had made no threatening moves on her. She shouldn't be afraid of him. He just made her heart flutter with attraction, right?

He swiftly found her jumpsuit's zipper again. And with the stealthy movements of a cat's paw, he unzipped her uniform the rest of the way to the bottom. The suddenness stole Sol's breath. When she caught it again, her rapid intakes raised and lowered her chest. She was so used to being in control, so why did she let this man take the lead and steal her defenses? Well, she wouldn't give up so easily. After all, she was the one in control--or was she? The man gave a quiet chuckle that vibrated through Sol's back to her belly. Still behind her, he slipped hard, calloused palms inside her one piece regimentals. He lightly traced his fingertips across her neck and down the center of her chest, not touching her breasts that ached so for his touch. His fingertips flattened to solid palms. His inquisitive hands left a wide square of heat on her flesh that followed in the wake of their path to her waist. He ventured lower. Sol shivered. Again, that sudden loss of control frightened her. As if he felt and knew her tension, her playmate moved his palms back up in a slow, delicious slide of skin against skin. Then, without a pause, his palms cupped her breasts, cradling them as if weighing their size. Sol wasn't overly endowed and held her breath, feeling uncertain. She breathed out when he hummed that pleased sound again. Then she tensed. Surely she didn't care if her body pleased him. Did she? She was in control.

In defiance, Sol pushed back against him. His quickened breathing sounded ragged. The heated breaths fanned her ear. Sol realized she was now inhaling and exhaling in time with him. Not a good sign of control. She started to lean away. He stopped her with just a slight tightening of his arms, then he flicked the tips of her nipples with his thumbs. Sol gasped.

He ignored her, pressed her tighter against his front and smoothed his palms back down her sides. As he caressed her flat abdomen again, his groan actually sounded as if he approved of her lack of underwear. Sol trembled under the vibrations of his voice. The rough sound tickled her ear. She didn't understand the language he spoke, the curses he muttered. And when had she let her head fall back against his shoulder so submissively?

In a daze, she turned her head closer to his chin. Her lips brushed his neck. His skin tasted of salty male sweat. He shuddered and caressed her breasts again. He touched her so freely, as if he had the right to do so. She should stop him. She knew she should. They were going too fast, things could get quickly out of hand. She wasn't ready for this, but she didn't want him to stop.

His soothing circles on her stomach continued, the pads of his fingers finding all of Sol's sensitive spots, almost as if he read her mind. Yeah, right there. Do that again. Yeah, that's it. Ahhh, now lower. He felt perfect--perhaps too perfect.

Sol wondered, suddenly, if she had made a mistake, a very big mistake. This man was too sure of himself, taking such control and going much too fast.

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