Authors: Chandra Ryan
“No. You haven’t seen anything in years.”
“That’s why they let me out.” She smiled at having actually
“Yes.” She patted Rowe’s shoulder gently. “And because you’re
an amazing engineer. I told them I couldn’t fly this ship without you.”
Rowe nodded and then began the long meander back to her
station. She loved having Rowe aboard. It was like having her sister with her.
She only wished Rowe were as happy about the arrangement. She always seemed
“Captain.” Vance nodded as he held out a data stick. “The
diagnostic readout. As requested.”
She took the stick and nodded back. “I appreciate you making
this a top priority.”
“Only doing my duty, Captain.”
“Did you already look over it?”
“I did, sir.”
“And did you see anything?”
He shook his head. “No sir. I didn’t see anything
“Good to hear. I’ll look through it and if nothing jumps out
at me we can move on to spatial anomalies.”
She made her way back to her quarters and then loaded the
data stick into her secured reader. The numbers swam in front of her eyes
though. No matter how many times she tried to focus on them they never made
sense. Finally giving up, she locked the reader in her desk and walked back to
her bedroom. She’d look at it after she got a couple hours of rest. Today had
been a crazy day. And she didn’t think things would settle down anytime soon.
But everything always looked better after a good night’s sleep.
Parker spent the next week and a half filling out forms and
capitalizing on stolen moments to seduce Harlow. He hated the clerical work but
his time with Harlow more than made up for the countless hours of wading
through red tape. And since he’d been the one to insist on following the book,
he couldn’t really complain. Harlow probably didn’t care if the ship’s service
manifest was read, initialed and filed on time. But he did. So he did it. It
was actually what he was currently doing.
“I need to talk to you about a couple of mechanical issues
when you have time.” He didn’t even bother to look up from the readout. He
could feel her attention on him.
“Anything serious?” She crawled into the space behind him on
the couch and straddled him so she could read over his shoulder. Her long,
shapely legs resting next to his made it hard for him to focus.
“Long-range sensor static, prison-cell shields flickering,
riot guns misfiring…” He ran his fingers through his hair as he read over the
list. “It’s nothing serious. And all the issues have been fixed. It’s just a
She wrapped her arms around his waist and slumped forward so
her cheek rested on his back. “It always gets a little hectic right before a
pickup. But I’ve got a good team. They’ll make sure it all comes off smooth as
silk in the end.”
“You have a lot of confidence in your crew.” He checked off
the last item on the list and then filed it in the ship’s data banks.
“They’ve earned it.” She started to run her hands over his
inner thighs. “The
isn’t a flagship. It’s not even all that high
up on the Fleet’s priority list. We don’t always get the attention or the time
we need with the Fleet’s mechanics. But my crew shows up every day, on time, in
uniform. They put their blood, sweat and tears into her. They love her just
like I do.”
“Some apparently more than others.”
Her hands stopped. “What do you mean?”
“I couldn’t help but notice that Barkswell has signed off on
more of these repairs than any other officer.”
“It’s part of his job.”
“I’ve also noticed that he spends more time in engineering
than some of the ship’s engineers.”
Her skin prickled as she remembered the day Barkswell wanted
to go to engineering to check on the long-range scanners. But she quickly
pushed the sensation away. “He’s ambitious. He wants to captain his own ship
someday. In order to do that he needs to understand how a ship works at every
He could tell by the rising pitch in her voice that she was
starting to get defensive. He’d seen something he considered suspicious and
told his captain but now it was time to let the subject drop. “Then from what I’ve
seen, I’m sure he’ll make an excellent captain one day.” He put his hand over
hers and caressed her fingers with the pad of his thumb.
“Probably sooner rather than later. He was one of the
recipients of a Congressional Merit Scholarship when he was in training. Prime
Minister Lee personally gave Barkswell the award. Back when Lee was a
representative of course. Barkswell has been marked for greatness since the day
he signed his recruitment papers. And he’s lived up to his potential. He’s even
managed to save my ass a time or two.” She started to massage his thighs again.
“But I don’t want to talk about him.”
She kissed his neck. The soft touch made his skin break out
in goose bumps. “Nope.”
“Then what do you want to talk about?”
“You. Me. Sex on the couch.”
“But someone could walk in at any time.” He doubted anyone
would actually walk into the captain’s ready room without an invitation from
her but the door was technically unlocked. And the thought of being caught was
She wrapped herself around him so she was straddling him
from the front. “Then we’d better make this quick.” She winked at him as she
started stripping off the layers of her uniform. She’d gotten her jacket off
when Parker’s com badge buzzed. “Navigation to XO.”
He clenched his teeth but then forced himself to take a deep
breath and release the tension. “XO here, go ahead, navigation.”
“You’re needed on the bridge.”
“Okay. I’m on my way. XO out.” But he was surprised by a
burst of laughter from Harlow. “You find this amusing?”
“Most women complain about their men being too fast in the
sack. But you’re the one guy in the history of sex who wasn’t quick enough.”
“Ha. Ha.” He kissed her deeply. “I’m sure I’ll be laughing
over that one all damn day long.” He wrapped his arm around her and stood. He
kept his grip on her tight so she’d have to stand with him. “I’ll be back.”
“Oh, I know you will.” When she wiggled her hips, a
delightful wave of heat swept through him. “Don’t be too long.”
He kissed her one more time before letting her go. “Just don’t
start without me.”
“And if I do?”
He took a step away from her. “I’ll tie you up and go so
slow you’ll be begging me to let you finish.”
He turned away and started walking for the door at her
whimper. The woman liked to be tortured. She may tease him about not being
quick enough but there was nothing she loved more than to be driven crazy.
Hell, he might just tie her up and play with her for hours even if she did
manage to wait for him.
He smiled at the thought as he stepped out into the
corridor. Thankfully the bridge wasn’t far from him. When he walked onto the
bridge, however, his smile died. There at his station was Barkswell. The man
was at Parker’s console and staring at his screen. “May I help you?”
Barkswell didn’t even have the courtesy to look up at him. “There
was a glitch with the nav system. It shut down and when it rebooted it started
to reroute the ship’s trajectory.”
“The coordinates in this system are classified. You can’t be
digging through my computer.”
“I didn’t know how long it was going to take you to get
That was bullshit if he’d ever heard it. “I’m on the ship.
It’s not as though I have to be found and shuttled in. How long could it
Barkswell stood abruptly and shoved away from the console. “I
was just trying to help.”
Parker sank into the seat Barkswell had just vacated. “That’s
what they keep telling me.”
“Who keeps telling you?”
He put his palm on the biometrics pad and waited until the
nav screen came up. “Everybody. Seems as if you’re the resident fireman.
Rushing around to put out any flame that pops up.”
Barkswell snorted loudly. “I’m doing my job.”
“And you’re ambitious. You want your own ship.”
“No secret there.” He took a step away.
“I’m not so sure.”
“Do you have a problem with me?”
He was direct. Parker appreciated that. “If you’re causing
these glitches just so you can appear to be Mr. Fixit, yeah, I do.”
He looked up just in time to see Barkswell’s face turn
bright red. “I don’t like what you’re insinuating. I’ve worked my ass off to
get where I am. And I work hard every day to reach my goals.” He shook his
head. “I have to. Some of us actually have to earn our promotions. We don’t get
them by screwing the captain.” He looked pointedly at the lieutenant-commander
bars on Parker’s collar as he said the words.
Parker was out of his chair and had Barkswell pinned under
him before he even realized he meant to fight the man. Barkswell was strong and
clever but he hadn’t been enhanced so Parker had the upper hand. Not that he
could really celebrate the advantage. He was too busy trying to win the fight.
The two of them rolled around, throwing punches and scrabbling to secure a
“What the hell is going on?”
Parker and Barkswell both froze at Harlow’s voice.
“Were you seriously fighting? On my bridge?” They broke
apart like guilty children but neither of them answered her. “Both of you in my
ready room. Now.”
She didn’t even wait for them to get up off the floor. He
heard the clicking of her heels on the metal floor as she left and had to race
to catch up with her. And as soon as they crossed over the threshold to her
ready room he saw her standing at her desk with her back to them. She waited for
the door to close before she turned to face them. “Want to tell me what just
happened out there?”
Not really. No matter how he spun the story in his head he
“I was trying to fix a problem with the nav systems when he
came up and started leveling accusations.” Barkswell puffed out his chest as if
he were the one in the right as he spoke.
But she held her hand up for him to stop. “Wait. You were in
the nav systems?”
“No. I was trying to access them but I don’t have the
“Exactly. Those charts are confidential. You should know
better than to try to access them.”
“But we’re on a different trajectory.”
“And Parker will fix it. Am I clear?”
“Yes sir.” He didn’t look exactly happy about the order she’d
just issued but he seemed ready to let it be over.
“Good. You’re dismissed.”
Parker turned to leave but she stopped him. “Not you, XO.
You’ve still got some explaining to do.”
Barkswell’s body shook as if he was suppressing the urge to
say something but he managed to remain quiet as he left.
“Okay. Now it’s your turn.”
“I showed up and he was trying to hack the nav system.”
“I’m not deaf, Parker. Tell me how a man who prides himself on
living by the book ends up in the middle of a brawl on my bridge floor.”
“He insinuated that I got my promotion because of our
“Relationship?” She looked genuinely confused. “But we don’t
have a relationship.”
His chest contracted painfully and he couldn’t seem to make
himself breathe. Did she really believe that? Did she actually still think of
him—of what they’d shared—as a distraction? He shook his head as the
realization sank deeper. Of course she did. “Unfortunately he doesn’t know that
you’re just fucking me in order to get me out of your system.” He couldn’t keep
all of the bitterness out of his voice.
“Parker, I didn’t…” She paused. “I don’t know what to say. I
was honest with you. I never told you I wanted a relationship.”
She had a point. Not that it made him feel any better. “You’re
right. This is my fault. You were upfront with me. I just thought we’d moved
“No. I get it.” Only he didn’t. Not really. “But I think it’s
safe for me to say that I’ve officially gotten you out of my system.” He turned
and started walking toward the door. When he reached it he turned around to
look at her again. Just the sight of her made him hurt. “Now, if you’ll excuse
me. Barkswell was right about the trajectory. I need to correct the ship’s
course if you want to reach Salaan in three days.”
“Is that an order?”
“No. But I think we should talk about this.”
“I think we both understand where we stand.” He shook his
head. “I’ve got a job to do.” He didn’t look back as he walked away. He couldn’t.
He had to focus. He would deal with his residual feelings for her later. Much
As he made his way to the bridge he forced his breathing
into a normal, calm rhythm. And after a few steps his body relaxed. He’d
learned the trick years ago. Some shrink the military set him up with had
taught it to him. Probably the only useful thing he’d gotten from her. There
just wasn’t much a civilian intellectual understood about being a genetically
By the time he stepped onto the bridge and made his way to
his console a nice cocoon of numbness started to wrap itself around him. It
didn’t matter what Harlow thought they had. Whatever it was—whatever it could’ve
been—was over now.
He sat down and brought his focus back to the task at hand.
He had to find out what had caused the nav system to go down and then why it
changed course when it’d come back up.
Searching through the log provided his first clue. He couldn’t
tell what’d caused the system to shut down but he did find the cause of their
change of course. When the computer had come back up it’d switched to an
emergency route. Apparently it was a fail-safe. One he hadn’t known existed
It made sense. If the ship was attacked and the assailants
gained control, they wouldn’t be able to discover the locations of the prison
planets. It was actually rather clever. Except now everyone onboard knew about
The nav system shutting down could’ve been an accident. A
power surge might have confused the system into thinking the ship was under
attack. But with the run in three days it seemed like a big coincidence. One large
enough it merited looking into.
He corrected the ship’s course and then sent a detailed
report to Harlow. It might have been slightly cowardly not to go talk to her in
person but he needed some time to adjust. Besides, sending the report would be
more efficient. At least that was what he told himself. And he’d put everything
in there he would’ve told her had they met in person. Including a request for a
list of people in engineering she felt were trustworthy. That way as soon as
she got back to him he could go get help in his investigation. It was better
for everyone that he handled it this way.
Still, when her response came back as just a list of names
he was disappointed. “Guess I kind of deserved that, though.” Glancing through
the list, he stopped at Commander Vance. If anything was going on, Vance would
be the one to know.
A couple keystrokes later he’d located the commander in the
lounge. Parker wasn’t technically on duty. He was only at his console because
of the course change. And now that it’d been corrected he was due some R and R.
But before he left the bridge there was one last thing he needed to do.