Authors: Jessa Slade
Tags: #Firefly spaceship captain, #Linnea Sinclair, #Susan Grant, #Nalini Singh, #Ann Aguirre, #Queen of Starlight: Sheerspace Book 1, #alpha male, #space opera, #hot sexy, #futuristic romance, #science fiction romance
“You tried,” she consoled him. “That means so much to us.”
He spun on her. “Does it? Who is this ‘us’?”
She was glad the night hid her guilty flush. Unlike Icere, she had the training, but for some reason she couldn’t control her reactions around him. “Everyone on Qv’arratz would sleep more peacefully knowing you are here tonight. Well, everyone except one.”
“You mean that one dissenter who is your traitor?”
She tilted her head. “Of course that’s who I mean.”
“I thought maybe you meant you.”
She stared at him, fists clenched. Oh, her control was very tenuous tonight. Considering the bombs could fall at any moment, she supposed she was allowed some break in her training. “Don’t be an idiot,” she said tartly. “Of course I am grateful too.”
He straightened, as if surprised. “You’re grateful? That’s satisfying. I’d have guessed all outsiders are idiots in your eyes.” He waved one hand. “And by ‘your,’ of course I mean everyone on Qv’arratz. And by ‘everyone,’ I mean everyone.”
She narrowed her eyes. “What is wrong with you, Corso?”
He stared back at her. “I’m an idiot. That’s what’s wrong with me.”
She shook her head wearily. “I don’t know what to do with you.”
“So l’auraly run at the first challenge?”
“I’m tired, Captain. And all of us—and by ‘all,’ I mean you too—could be dead tomorrow.”
“I know,” he murmured. “I am angry. At this traitor we can’t find, at the raiders who haven’t attacked again. At you.”
She braced her hands on her hips in exasperation. “Me? By all the tiny stones, what did I do?”
“That crystal could have killed you.”
“I was too young to understand the danger when I was exposed the first time. And at my keying ceremony...” She shrugged. “It was too late by then. But if I had died, perhaps you would not be here with me now.”
“And that makes me angriest of all.”
In the middle of the nearly abandoned village, he reached for her.
She closed her eyes as he threaded his fingers through hers and drew her to his chest. She didn’t resist but neither did she throw herself at him.
“Is a l’auralya allowed to say no?”
She opened her eyes. “Once our crystals are keyed, we’d never want to.”
“Tell me no.”
“Because I can’t tell myself.”
Her heart ached. “What do you want from me, Corso?”
“Nothing, princess. Everything.”
Frustration and a treacherous desire made her eyes prickle with tears. “That pretty well covers you, doesn’t it?” Of course the man who had the entirety of space at his fingertips would want it all.
Wasn’t there room for her?
“All I have is this.” She put their linked hands over her chest where the torque lay, unnaturally heavy.
But he freed himself from her grasp and slid his hand sideways over her breast. Her breath caught in her throat.
“Only the crystal you say, but you gave me the rest too.” His words were remorseless. “And you didn’t have to wait for the key. You chose for yourself, when you wanted it.”
She was l’auraly, she reminded herself, and for a second, the nightmare of the eyeless skulls filled with ghostly light made her shudder. But then her pulse thudded hard, and she knew he was right. Death and eternity and the emptiness of space might await, but her desire, her passions, the heart that beat under the torque, behind his flattened palm…that was hers. Hers, to spend—to burn—where she would, while she could.
The darkness bled up into space, sliced in two by the thin silvery rings of debris that girdled the planet.
For tonight, he was hers.
At an impasse for the moment, Corso followed Benedetta back to her rooms in utter silence. The night had blackened around them as the triple moons set. Her bedchamber was darkest yet. No light at all except for the shimmer of the crystal in her skin.
In that pale gleam, they undressed each other with slow hands. He might have blamed the darkness for their mutual uncertainty, but he knew that would be a lie. He’d done this to her. He hadn’t taken her thrice-shredded crystal, but he’d taken her confidence, that effortless l’auralya poise.
He might have hated himself except that matched his weakness too perfectly. Captain he might be, but that freedom could be taken from him at any moment. They didn’t need the enslaving crystals to be tuned to each other’s fears.
Or to want to forget—if only for the rest of the night.
With the curtains bound tight, the rasp of their rousing breath made a close cocoon of sound, and the darkness heightened every touch.
He took her as if this were his last chance. And he gave to her as if she’d asked it of him.
Not that she did. Oh, her body, her breath, even the pulse of her blood matched to his, an invisible glory burning across all his senses. The scent of her filled his being with suns and flowers and sweetness he’d forgotten to want.
She was all he wanted.
And she, who gave all of herself, now seemed to want nothing more of him.
The irony might have made him curse; the woman created to mirror a man’s deepest desires asked nothing of him because ‘nothing’ had been exactly his desire. But tomorrow they could be dead—the ultimate nothing—and now… Now he wanted more than nothing.
But even with her l’auralya insight, how could she believe his change of heart was more than mere battle nerves when he’d never felt so certain in all his life? He could only convince her by giving her everything he had. Of course, all he had right now was his mouth, his tongue, his fingertips, the heavy heat of his body stroking into her.
She reached for him with both hands. “Corso, let me...”
“No, it’s my turn.” He gently pinned her hands over her head and set his lips to the silvery whorl below her ear, where the qva’avaq marked her fluttering pulse.
She arched up into him with a soft moan, a parabolic curve that brought all her most tender, fascinating, shining parts into alignment with his. He did not leap on those temptations. Captaining the
, he’d memorized the brightest stars on the sheerways charts, but he’d also discovered the wonder and adventures—not to mention riches—of the less-traveled paths, the more subtle ways, the secret courses.
No doubt, dangers too waited along the sheerways’ dimmer threads, but wonder, adventures, and riches did not go to the faint of heart.
Why did he keep thinking of hearts? He let his breath feather over the gleam of her breasts. She arched higher, and her nipples peaked—binary suns twinkling with her agitated breath—but he centered his kiss just left of her breastbone, above her heart, where her skin was dark by comparison, unmarked. Untouched perhaps? He would change that.
He used all her l’auraly tricks—which weren’t so tricky, mostly pure delight—to make her gasp and writhe.
“Corso...” She clutched at his shoulders.
Ah, a gasp and a writhe
the calling of his name. He
a hero. He let her pull him upright over her, his hips cradled into the junction of their bodies, his hard length centered and ready. “Do I please you, princess?”
“Unbearably.” She wrapped her legs behind him, heels at his thighs, and took him to her core. He gritted his teeth and clenched every muscle to stop himself from emptying himself right then. She would have to set the rhythm since she had all but turned him to stone.
She rocked into him with another sweet moan, her arms flung carelessly wide and eyes half-closed. Watching her, he imagined every sensation she was feeling, and he swelled with the craving to push her past anything she had known.
At the rampant throb, her eyes flew open to meet his gaze. He smiled and she convulsed against him with one last gasp. She did not call his name this time, but since she had no breath, he thought his work well done. He matched her final thrusts and forgot everything as his universe compressed to just one silver star, and then blasted apart.
The desperate storm finally passed, leaving them adrift. He kissed the soft downcast arc of her long lashes as she lay sprawled across his chest, the curled fingers of her hand tucked against his neck and her unsteady gasps cooling his breast. With his arm encircling her, he traced idle circles over the lines of the qva’avaq on her bare hip.
Although he appreciated the silver map of her pleasure points, he’d already found one curve behind her knee that made her moan and wasn’t shining with x-marked-the-spot precision. How many other secrets did her body hold for him? Like the sheerways, it could take a lifetime to unveil every mystery. And he hadn’t truly started delving into her heart…
His circling hand stilled.
She sighed one long breath across his skin. “So quiet.”
He kissed her crown. “You want explosions?”
“I meant you are quiet. And you already gave me multiple explosions.” She angled her face to peer up at him. “Are you worried? You fought off the forces at L-Sept without even a ship at your disposal. This can’t be worse.”
“Worse?” He coughed out a rough laugh. “My superiors called me a traitor for what happened at Lasa. I refused a direct order—an illegal order in violation of sheerways edicts, human decency, and common sense, but an order nonetheless—and they shot down my ship. If I hadn’t fought for the Lasans, they would have terminated me. And then my former superiors would have scorched my corpse when they fired the planet’s atmo. So it’s not like I had a choice.”
She snaked her arm around his chest and squeezed. “That’s why your freedom is so important to you, not just for you, but for the Lasans too. Yecho and Icere did well when they chose you to keep the crystal from leaving Qv’arratz…to be our hero.” She emphasized the last words.
Though she’d no doubt intended the embrace to be supportive, he tensed when her fingers brushed the scars on his shoulders. “The l’auraly might want everything in the universe to be about thinking and feeling, but
was just about dying.” His voice cracked. “When my squadron mates shot down my ship, I was the only one to survive planetfall. The Lasan soldier who pulled me from the wreckage and told me to fight or die was dead by the next morning. Almost everybody else was dead by the morning after that. And when the pacification program was finally deemed a corruption of sheerways edict, dozens of my former fellow officers were executed. It wasn’t freedom; it was just…survival.”
Despite his stiffness, she held him close. But then, she’d never flinched from his scars. “And now surviving isn’t enough anymore.”
Tangle it, how did she go to the heart of the matter without hesitation? He’d fought alongside the Lasans because there’d been no other option if he wanted to live; but he’d stayed for the Qv’arratzy, the l’auraly—for Benedetta—because he had to, wanted to, needed to.
Slowly, he wrapped both arms around her, completing the embrace. “No, it’s not enough.”
They clung to each other a moment, until she whispered, “I wish this were over. Not this,” she clarified, hugging him hard. “But this threatened attack that never comes.”
“It’s hard to live at someone else’s mercy, or lack thereof.”
“And you walked away from that, didn’t you? Or flew away, I suppose, in the
.” She kissed the point of his shoulder where the scarring smoothed. “But it’s all I have known. I thought saving Qv’arratz and the universe included saving the l’auraly. But now...”
For once, he hadn’t been thinking of her l’auraly fate. But since she’d brought it up, he could think of nothing else. “Princess, I want to buy your key.”
She kissed his throat. “No.”
“I realize the l’auraly price is usually paid by kings and emperors and self-professed godlings, but I have the
as collateral and—”
“I said no, Corso.”
The refusal went through him like a plasma flare, and his fingers clutched reflexively on her hip. “You offered before.”
“And you turned me down.”
A dull heat burned in his throat. “You can’t have another patron on the line already.”
She sighed and sat up, turning away from him as she did to pull the sheet around her—the first time she’d ever covered herself from him. “You know I don’t, or I wouldn’t be here with you.” The swirls of the crystal around her spine shone in his peripheral vision like a distant galaxy. “But the l’auralya who offered that bargain no longer exists.”
What was she saying? “You are right here.”
She glanced over her shoulder at him, her jewel-toned eyes shadowed. “Yes.”
In frustration and desperation, he reminded her, “Qv’arratz owes me for saving you.”
“You haven’t saved us yet.” She held up one hand. “But I don’t doubt you will. After all, you are an undefeated soldier, Captain Deynah.”
“Captain again?” He almost choked on the words.
“It was you who spoke of payment.” She rose with a faint wobble that betrayed some inner weakness and grabbed the gown she had discarded earlier. “But for all that, I think you will not try to collect.”
Bitterness swept him. “You know me so well now?”
She nodded. “You fought for your own freedom as you are fighting now for ours, but more than a good soldier, you are a good man. I won’t burden you with…with battles that can’t be won.” Her fingertips traced the inner curve of the torque where the barrier sealant preserved the facets.
So why did those sharp shining fangs feel as if they were gnawing through him?
“You think I am such a good man?” His voice broke on a harsh note. “A mercenary would hold you to what you once proposed, and shred your change of heart.”
“It wasn’t my heart that changed.” She turned away to slip the gown over her head. The fabric skimmed down past her breasts and thighs, veiling the silvery lines where his tongue had roamed. “It’s too late. For us, if not Qv’arratz. Goodbye, Captain. You are freed and needn’t come back. I’m sure the final outcome will be clear to all of us by tomorrow.”
He jack-knifed to his knees, careless of his nudity, and grabbed her arm to yank her back. “I’m not leaving you.”
“You will eventually. You need your stars too much. And I...” With a smooth spin, she twisted out of his grip. “I didn’t understand that need, but now I think I finally do.”