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Authors: Veronica Tower


BOOK: Jewel
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Veronica Tower


Jewel’s family fortune is entirely dependent on the
continuation of a multitrillion-dollar business relationship—a relationship to
be cemented by an arranged marriage to Kole Delling, a man Jewel has no reason
to love. Desperate to secure her freedom, Jewel joins the crew of the tramp
and passes her time on the outskirts of the Fringe
and in the arms of Erik Gunnarson.

Erik calls to Jewel in every way that Kole doesn’t. An
honest worker scratching out a living, he may be a little rough around the
edges but there’s no question how much he wants Jewel—in his bed, against the
bulkhead or in the shower. He can’t get enough of her, and he’s not too frigid
to admit it. With Erik at her side, Jewel finds it easy to forget the opulence
of her home world and the advantages of her birth.

But an accidental discovery near an abandoned planet
threatens Jewel’s newly found freedom. Driven by greed, the crew of the
is taking an awful risk, one that could jeopardize not only Jewel’s freedom but
the lives of every crewmember on board—including hers.


science fiction erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave


Veronica Tower


Chapter One


“Come on, Jewel. Is that all you’ve got?”

Erik Gunnarson, Executive Officer of the tramp freighter,
drove in hard with his left hand, making lightning jabs to Jewel’s cheek. She
had her faceguard on but Gunnarson was a large and powerful man, nearly sixteen
standard years her senior. He was also in excellent shape, packed with muscles
Jewel had only recently begun to build. His blows rocked her head backward.
Using his damned
techniques against her again. It was a fighting
style she’d never even heard of before she’d accepted a berth aboard the
in kickboxing with a host of additional elements thrown in. And if that wasn’t
bad enough, he’d mastered three different martial arts on top of that and knew
a smattering of at least six others. He constantly changed things up against
her so that she never knew what he was going to hit her with.

And that was the reason she loved to spar with Gunnarson.
Back in the day when she’d had to depend on her father to find her teachers,
the martial artists she’d trained with were always more afraid of hurting her
than interested in teaching Jewel anything. None of them had ever understood
why she might want to learn to defend herself. Wouldn’t her parents always be
able to afford security for her?

She threw her arm up to block the next punch but Gunnarson
anticipated her, stepping inside her defense, twisting about and tripping her
over his artfully extended leg.

Jewel hit the mat hard—an experience she’d become all too
familiar with lately.

Gunnarson stepped back out of reach of her feet. His blue
eyes shone clearly from behind his protective mask. “Your mind isn’t focused
today,” he warned her. “Are you sure you don’t want to quit now? I know we’ve
got the mats reserved for another twelve minutes but really, how much
punishment do you want to take?”

Jewel figured that after ten weeks serving together, the
exec ought to know she wasn’t the kind of woman who quit. But if he was foolish
enough to ask the question, she was perfectly willing to try to take advantage
of him over it. “I guess you’re right. I don’t know what’s wrong with me

She raised her slight, brown hand to Gunnarson in silent
request for him to help her stand.

He came forward easily enough, standing lightly on the balls
of his feet and slipped his pale fingers around hers. His muscles flexed and he
began to effortlessly haul her up to her feet. It was the obvious moment for
Jewel to strike back, but she hadn’t figured out how to escape the long reach
of her family by doing the obvious. She let the exec finish helping her to her
feet, then reached to the back of her head and unfastened her mask.

The moment Gunnarson lifted his hands to do the same, Jewel
circled her foot around his calf and knocked him on his ass. By the time the
exec realized what was happening, Jewel was sitting on top of him, thighs
astride his broad chest and grinning in triumph. “Now who’s lost their focus?”
she teased him.

Gunnarson finished removing his mask before answering her.
He had a cute little lock of blond hair that liked to fall free across his
forehead, making him look a lot younger than he was. He smiled up at her.
“Who’s to say that this isn’t exactly what I wanted to happen?”

Jewel wasn’t going to let him get away with that crap.
“Don’t think you can talk your way out of this. I’ve got you exactly where I
want you now.”

Gunnarson’s large hands encircled her waist. “That’s very
good because I like this position too.”

With a sudden twist of his arms he flipped Jewel to the side
and rolled over on top of her. “Of course, I like this position even better.”

Jewel tried to roll out from under the exec, but Gunnarson
was ready for her now and easily pinned her against the mat. She struggled some
more with increasing futility—something he clearly enjoyed—before she finally
conceded defeat. “Okay, you’ve got me. What are you going to do next?”

“How about this?” He lowered his face and surprised Jewel
with a kiss.

She didn’t know what to do. After weeks of imagining this
moment—even dreaming about it—he still caught her unprepared. She hadn’t really
expected him to try. He was the exec after all, her superior officer. And while
he didn’t know it because she’d lied about her age when she applied for this
job, he was nearly old enough to be her father.

Gunnarson kissed her again, keeping her hands pinned above
her head while his lips went to work on hers—nibbling, sucking, bruising them
open so his tongue could thrust inside her mouth.

This time she remembered to kiss him back, thrilling in the
adventure of it. In about ten seconds she’d kissed him longer then she’d ever
been permitted to mess around with all of her schoolmates and the wealthy sons
of her parents’ friends combined.

Gunnarson—make that Erik since they were kissing
now—released her hands so he could slide his long fingers into her hair and
cradle her head as they kissed. Then he rolled them over so that Jewel was
suddenly on top, letting his larger body support, rather than crush hers. She
knew she should probably stop them from going any further, but she was too
excited to do that. Besides they only had another eight or nine minutes in this
chamber. That deadline built in definite limits as to how far they could go

Kole Delling’s image invaded her mind—dark where Erik was
blond and even taller and more muscular—but Jewel pushed his visage out again.
She wasn’t going to let Kole spoil this moment with Erik.

A bulge began to grow between Jewel and Erik’s bodies,
distracting her from the thoughts of Kole. Once, when Jewel was still in
school, Knum Ezbet had gotten hard while he danced with her, but her chaperones
had quickly stepped in and separated them. Dirty dancing might be permissible
for all the other girls, but Jewel had always been made to understand that a
different set of rules applied to her. She’d been engaged to be married since
she was six standard months old. The continuation of a multitrillion-dollar
business relationship depended on her staying pure for her future husband. So
her chaperones had intervened before things could get too exciting and screw up
Mama and Papa’s fortune. But her parents’ minders weren’t around anymore and
Jewel was free to do exactly what she wanted.

Erik’s fingers slipped out of her hair and down to her
shoulder where he hesitated a moment before gliding lower, onto her
Jewel’s heart stuttered, missing a beat as his thumb brushed the upper slope of
her breast. Then it dipped lower, tracing her curves through the white fabric
before spiraling upward to find her nipple. He wiggled it back and forth,
encouraging it to grow hard. His mouth left her lips to kiss the surgically
enhanced cleft in her chin—another improvement her parents had insisted upon.

Jewel realized her eyes were closed as she lay perched
passively above Erik, wondering what he would do to her next. His fingers were
light and dexterous like a thief’s but strong and forceful like an ancient
warrior’s. In very little time he had her nipple fully engorged and straining
against her shirt.

He rolled the two of them over again so that Jewel’s back
was on the mat and Erik was positioned above her. His lips moved down to her
neck where his tongue flicked out to taste her pulse. Jewel’s whole body began
to tremble. Heat rose in her cheeks and neck, not to mention lower in her
loins. She knew that she should stop him, but they only had a few more minutes
before they lost the room. How much further would Erik try to go? How much
further did she want him to go?

Erik drifted farther south and the universe abruptly turned
inside out.

Jewel cried out in pain as a feeling of intense nausea racked
her stomach. Evidently Erik felt the same sensation for he shouted something
incoherent while he violently twisted away from her. The contents of her
stomach wrenched violently up her throat to spew out across the exercise room.
The pain was as intense as the vomit was revolting. The muscles in Jewel’s
abdomen cramped impossibly tight, bending her double as she forcefully
regurgitated again.

Out of the corner of her eye, Jewel saw Erik fighting to
move. Like her, he was vomiting all over the floor. Yet that didn’t
incapacitate him as it did her. Somehow he started moving, crawling toward the

Jewel couldn’t move like that, but she managed to force
herself to speak between projectile heaves. “What’s…happening?”

Erik forced three words of explanation out of his throat in
the brief moments between the efforts by his stomach to propel his intestines
up his esophagus. “Slide…space…translation!”

Jewel’s already rapidly beating heart shot into overdrive.
How could something like this happen?

was only fifteen days slide out of
Thimble—what the hell could cause them to break slide early and shift back into
normal space?

She vomited again, expelling mostly bile in her body’s
continued efforts to rid itself of even the lining of her stomach. Then, as
abruptly as it had begun, the pain eased, leaving only the overwhelming sense
of nausea and the foulest of tastes and smells behind it. As quickly as it
appeared, the crippling tension drained out of Jewel’s body and she collapsed
against the mat like a marionette dropped by her puppeteer. She landed in a
pool of her own vomit, but she was too dizzy and exhausted to move to a clean

Over by the wall, Erik somehow forced his way up to the com
unit. He was a strong man, but acting now was more a measure of character and
willpower than it was of physical muscle. She didn’t understand how he was
doing it, but his actions inspired her.

“Bridge,” Erik said in an abbreviated address that violated
basic shipboard protocols. “Stars, Captain! What just happened?”

Jewel didn’t want to move, but she couldn’t appear weak in
front of Erik. Gritting her teeth against a wave of vertigo, she forced herself
upright. She simply refused to appear less strong and capable than he. She
wanted his respect as much as his love.

Once seated on her ass, she put out a hand to steady
herself. Her whole body shuddered with queasy uncertainty and utter
exhaustion—a textbook reaction to enduring slide space translations without the
proper drugs in her system.

“Bridge!” Erik repeated, snarling the words in anger and
probably fear. Was the bridge crew still alive up there? “Answer me!”

“This is…Everson, Mr. Gunnarson,” a shaky female voice
finally answered. “You’d better—”

Everson paused as the sounds of renewed retching filled the
speaker. “Sorry…about that. You’d better get up here right away. The Captain’s
unconscious and it’s…it’s a real mess, Sir. We’re in a real mess.”

“On my way,” the exec responded before switching off the
unit. He leaned back against the wall, resting a moment, trying to catch his
breath while Jewel struggled to get her feet beneath her. “Nice of her to tell
us that last bit, wasn’t it?” he asked. There was no glint of humor in his
eyes, but Jewel still thought he was trying to make a joke. “I’d have never guessed
that we’re in a mess right now.”

Jewel finally managed to stand. Her legs were shaky. Perhaps
she was pushing too hard and too fast, but she was stubborn and proud and she
had no intention of looking weak beside Erik. She didn’t think he’d like a weak
woman. She knew she wouldn’t respect a weak man.

The Exec took a deep breath and pushed himself off the wall.
“I’ve got to get going. Would you like to come with me? I’m sure I could use
your help.”

Jewel nodded, then braced herself as the simple action triggered
another wave of vertigo.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s go.”

* * * * *

The first crewmembers they discovered in the corridors of
hadn’t pulled themselves back off the floor yet and didn’t
look like they’d be doing so anytime soon. Jewel could well understand their
difficulty, but wished they’d stop coddling themselves. If Erik and she could
stagger down the hall like this, then the rest of them could at least sit up
and see if anyone near them needed medical help.

Jewel’s head spun dizzily as she staggered down the
corridor, making it necessary to hug the walls to make any sort of forward
progress. Even then she nearly fell a dozen times.

None of this would be necessary if she hadn’t had to
deactivate her bioware to escape her parents nine months ago. The ridiculously
expensive hardware had been implanted in her head as a child, and one of its
most basic functions was the ability to adjust her body chemistry to prevent
nausea and illness. Unfortunately, it also served as a spy, reporting to her
she did. Jewel was twenty-three standards old. That
was more than an adult in most systems of the galaxy. But the Cartelites—the
elite socialites of the disgustingly wealthy Cartel Worlds—were so obsessed
with controlling their family fortunes that they’d long ago redefined legal
recognition of adulthood to give parents complete guardianship of their
children until they reached thirty standards.

But that was ancient history now. Nine months before, Jewel
had accomplished the impossible, not only escaping the custody of her parents
but deactivating the bioware spy they had stuck in her temple. Doing so had
almost killed her, but she’d survived and now she was free to stop existing in
a bubble with her life on hold. She was free to stop waiting for the man who
cared so little for her that he had put off their nuptials without any real
explanation, humiliating her and putting her whole future on hold.

Ahead of her, Erik pushed himself off the right side of the
corridor and staggered across to the left to avoid a crewman sprawled across
the floor in a pool of vomit. Jewel thought it was Dawil Kwon. She couldn’t see
his face, but nobody else had skin quite so dark or wore their hair in long,
dirty braids. She didn’t like Kwon but that didn’t mean she wanted to see him
suffering like this. She wouldn’t want anyone to have to endure this—not even
her parents—not even Kole.

BOOK: Jewel
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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