“What is this about?” Commander VictOR demanded.
“I… I’m just showing Commander Kayley and her friends the command bridge, sir,” Lieutenant RikER stammered.
VictOR was not known to be a patient or understanding male. He glared at the lieutenant for daring to breach protocol. No known enemy was allowed access to the command bridge. Granted, these people were given special permission because of their circumstances. Still, the distraction they caused and the scene the lieutenant made by flirting and acting a fool was out of line. If having females aboard his transport turned his warriors into idiots, he may have to send them back to the Colonial Planet.
He couldn’t blame the male for acting the fool. Commander Kayley was tall, athletically built, with long, flowing black hair she usually kept in a braid and dark gold eyes. She was simply—gorgeous. But she was a Morininan. Her people branched off from the Morins who were and still are the sworn enemy of his people, the Katierans.
At one time, the Morins were a related species to the Katierans. They had become obsessed with wiping out any species that was not their own. They developed a virus they unleashed on many nations, including the Katierans. The virus resulted in death for many and mutations in others. It nearly annihilated the Katierans race. Females that survived the virus birthed fewer and fewer children. Their scientists and medic had spent decades trying to reverse the effects of the virus with no genuine success.
Those with extreme mutations split from the Katieran Prime nation and developed their own worlds like Kiljor and the Colonial Planet. VictOR came from Katiera, but he had a mixed crew on board that included both the Kiljorns, the Colonists, and now a handful of Morinians—what they refer to themselves as. VictOR still did not see their differences.
Almost a year ago, an old Morin-style transport ship was discovered with people on board claiming to be Morinians. Commander Kayley and her three crew members originated from that faction. They claimed they no longer considered themselves directly related to the hated Morins. His leaders believed them after a Morin ship attacked them in mid rescue.
His people took them in first. It did not take long before protests rose insisting the Morinians leave Katiera. So they shipped them off to Kiljor, then to the Colonial Planet. However, trouble seemed to follow the Morinians, no matter where they went. It did not help that a rebel group trying to overthrow the ruling leaders used fear and hate to spread distrust of the Morinians. It had been decided that the Morinians needed to have their own separate planet to live freely.
While the Morinian’s own transport was being repaired, each of the three nations offered use of their transports and crew to assist in finding a suitable place to relocate. The Kiljorns offered first and now VictOR and his crew had been ordered to offer their assistance. Lieutenant RikER originated from Kiljor and had somehow made himself the liaison for the Morinians. Unfortunately, having the Morinians on board caused all kinds of disruptions—he would not abide by that.
“I need them off the command bridge, Lieutenant. Now!” he demanded.
He turned his back, so he didn’t have to look at the three females and one Morinian male, but he felt their eyes on him. Worse, he could scent her. Kayley smelled delicious and made something animalistic rise inside him. He had to hold back the growl of need that quickly grew. It was surprising and disturbing at the same time.
He was passionate with a female who brought out that desire, but he always stayed in control. This unwanted response was unnerving and unwelcome. VictOR took pride in how he had control over all situations except this one. How could he prepare himself for one small, delectable female? She just wouldn’t leave. Kitana!
“Commander VictOR, may I have a word with you?” Commander Kayley requested.
“I do not have time. We are coming up on a minefield and will need to put all our focus on maneuvering around the risk. One false move and the whole side of our transport could be taken out.”
“We wouldn’t want that,” she replied sarcastically.
“No, we wouldn’t,” he agreed.
“Afterward? Will you come to my quarters to have an overdue discussion?”
Images of her spread out on a bed, naked, filled his mind. He had to struggle to get those thoughts out of his head. When he answered, his voice was a little too harsh.
“Fine, afterward. I’ll come by your quarters…to talk.”
“Thank you, Commander.”
He listened as the four Morinians were escorted off the command bridge. His shoulders lowered and the strain in the air lessened. Her scent still lingered, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
“You’re not going to be able to keep putting off meeting with them,” Second Commander LinEN said as he took a spot next to him.
VictOR grunted his agreement. “A week was too much to expect that they would give up asking for a meeting.”
“The Morinian commander, she seems persistent.”
“She does,” he agreed.
“Our people are completely capable of finding the Morinians a new home world. Why would Prime Leader RendEL insist that they be allowed to come?”
VictOR had the same thoughts and even asked his leader. He did his best to try to dissuade their ruler, but his arguments were rebuffed. He repeated what Prime Leader RendEL told him.
“The Morinians were chased across galaxies, hunted to near extinction. They have the right to decide where they will live.”
“Then why not just let them do it themselves without us?”
Ah, that was the opinion of many of his people, including himself, in the beginning. “Several reasons. First, their transport ship is still being repaired and upgraded. Second, the Morins may still be a threat to them. Third—”
“The three nations want to keep a tight rein on where the Morinians settle down,” LinEN finished for him.
“Yes.” He continued explaining the situation. “This is the second planet hunting trip Commander Kayley has made, but the first on this ship. There were at least two planets found on the first trip that were viable, but this female has insisted the search must continue.”
“Did she say why?” LinEN asked.
“Not that I know.”
“Perhaps if you actually meet with her and her people, you can get answers.”
Sighing, VictOR agreed. “I will meet with her as soon as we are clear of the minefield.”
“Do you want me to accompany you?”
He snorted. “I think I can handle one female.”
VictOR almost growled. “I believe my entire crew has noticed she is attractive. It has not escaped my attention.”
“Jealous that your males may have had a chance to spend time with her while you were refusing the entire time to meet with her?”
This time, his growl did come out. What in Kitana was going on here? Why was he acting possessive?
“Who has she been spending time with?”
“None that I know of specifically. Most of the crew is taking your lead.”
“What does that mean?”
“They know you are reluctant to have her on board, so most of the crew have kept their distance.”
Had his crew been shunning Kayley and her people because of him. “It’s not that I am reluctant to have them on board. I just do not know them.”
“You will have to interact with them to get to know them.”
“I know this,” he growled.
LinEN didn’t respond to his growl, but there was a smirk on his face. “Let me know what I can do to help with the Morinians. The second-in-command is cute.”
VictOR pushed all other thoughts to the side. “How long until we reach the edge of the minefield?”
“Five minutes, sir!”
“Have we found a path around?”
“Working on it, sir!”
“I want a path found in two minutes!”
Kayley remained still as she watched the interaction between the two Katieran males on the command bridge. One was the silly Lieutenant RikER that had traveled with her team since the beginning. He insisted on staying with them when the Katierans took the mission. She would appreciate his loyalty and dedication more if he wasn’t always trying to impress her.
The lieutenant was determined to prove his worth. All he had succeeded in doing was annoying her. She wasn’t sure why he tried so hard. She never gave him any reason to believe she felt anything for him. RikER was attractive, all the Kiljorns, Katierans, and Colonists were attractive. But her last romantic entanglement fell flat. At least she finally got RikER to stop calling her inappropriate things like “Hey, beautiful.” She rolled her eyes at that and glanced away from RikER.
Her friend and second-in-command, Brigit, stood to her left and leaned over to whisper in her ear. “Are you impressed with Lieutenant RikER? Do you want to ravish him in your quarters?”
“No, just no,” she whispered back.
“I think he’s cute. Maybe I’ll ravish him,” her science officer, Laurel, whispered from her other side.
“He doesn’t want you, Laurel. He only has eyes for our fearless commander,” Brigit whispered.
“Goddess, help him,” First Lieutenant Creole said, standing behind them.
She turned and glared at him. “I should have left you behind on the Colonial Planet.”
“But you didn’t. Maybe your judgment isn’t what it used to be.”
“Ignore him. He’s just jealous that there are better looking males on this ship,” Laurel said, sticking her tongue out at Creole.
“Remind me again why I brought the three of you with me on this mission?” Kayley groaned.
“Because we are your closest friends and most trustworthy warriors,” Brigit answered.
“Plus, no one else volunteered to come,” Laurel added.
“I suppose I’ll have to put up with you all,” she told them.
“We feel the same about you,” Creole said, causing the three females to growl at him.
Returning her focus to the two males arguing, her attention was immediately drawn to the other male—VictOR. He was the Katieran commander of the Horizon, which was the large transport ship they were traveling on now. He was tall like most Katieran males, physically fit, and very attractive. His hair was shaved close to his scalp in a familiar military style. His skin was a deep bronze like he had spent a great deal of time under the twin suns of Katiera. He had a great firm ass, and it made her mouth water just thinking about what he would look like naked.
No! She would not think that way about him. He was her nemesis at the moment.
Commander VictOR had made one excuse after another to not meet with her and her team since they boarded two weeks ago. It was frustrating and insulting. She wouldn’t need these Katierans if she still had her own transport ship.
She missed her ship the Renegade. It suffered a great deal of damage fighting and evading capture by the Morins. The Katierans were working on repairing and upgrading the ship, but she had no idea what that would cost them. What would the Katierans, Kiljorns, and Colonists demand in payment for the assistance they’ve already rendered? Her people, the Morinians, didn’t have much to offer, but they would do what they could—within reason.
Her attention narrowed with VictOR’s loud orders that nearly shook the command bridge.
“I want them off the command bridge, Lieutenant. Now!”
The high-handed male was ignoring them and shutting them out again! This would not do at all. She needed to address this with him but recognized doing so in front of his own warriors would undermine his authority. As a commander herself, she would not like that.
“Commander VictOR, may I have a word with you?” Commander Kayley requested.
“I do not have time. We are coming up on a minefield and will need to put all our focus on maneuvering around the threat. One wrong move and the whole side of our transport could be taken out.”
“We wouldn’t want that,” she said sarcastically.
“No, we wouldn’t,” he agreed.
She wasn’t going to back down. “Afterward? Will you come to my quarters to have an overdue discussion?”
That got him to turn to look at her. Their eyes locked, and she felt like she had been struck by a blaster. Her whole body shivered. She was trapped in his gaze and couldn’t look away. It seemed like they stared at one another for a long time while everyone around them faded. When he finally answered, his voice was as deep, gruff, and sexy as Kitana.
“Fine, afterward. I’ll come by your quarters… to talk.”
She nodded, “Thank you, Commander.”
As Kayley turned and started to leave the command bridge, Brigit whispered, “Someone’s got a date.”
Creole grumbled something about not liking it.
Laurel told Creole to mind his own business.
“Shut up!” Kayley growled at her team.
VictOR knew he was stalling again. It had been nearly two hours since he had promised to meet with the Morinians—with Kayley. He remained on the bridge to ensure the Horizon made it through the minefield without any problems. The path was cleared more than thirty minutes ago. LinIN had to practically kick him off the command bridge.
“We’ve got this, Commander. Go before I have you dragged out of my sight.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Very well. I will leave you in charge of the command bridge for the rest of the shift.” Then he practically stormed out.
He stopped to question warriors on their assigned duties, something he normally didn’t do. He still hadn’t made it to the quarters assigned to Commander Kayley. His honor would suffer if he did not keep his word. Not to mention his second-in-command would never let him forget it. Sighing, he made his way down the corridors to the section the visitors were housed.
The ship’s coordinator gave each of the four Morinians their own quarters, but all were side by side. He was told the third room belonged to Commander Kayley.
Stopping before her door, he knocked. There was no answer. He knocked again and again. His irritation rose when she didn’t come to the door. He was about to use his security override to access the room when the door next to hers slid open and the brown-haired female who was the second-in-command exited.
“Oh, are you here for Commander Kayley?” she asked.
“Of course, I am. I said I would come and here I am. But she is not answering.”
“She wasn’t sure how long you would be, so she went to the training center with Creole to release some stress.”
He was angry that she didn’t wait for him after putting on such a fuss about it. But more than that, he was worried about this stress. What was she stressed about? Was she worried about her safety? He would never allow anything to happen to her… to any of her people. Didn’t she know that? Maybe not, since she really didn’t know him. Again, this could have been prevented if he had met with her sooner.
His voice was gruff. “She should see a medic if she is not feeling well.”
“Oh, she’ll be fine after she gets to hit something or someone.”
“How long will this… training be?”
“That depends on how long Creole can take it. Kayley can be pretty brutal.”
For some reason, hearing about Kayley’s aggressive nature only enticed his curiosity. Most females he knew were soft and delicate. “I will go to the training center. Do you want me to accompany you there?”
“No, thank you. I’m going to meet with some of your scientists. You might offer to take Kayley to the Evening meal since she skipped the Midday meal.”
Skipped meals? That was unacceptable. “Why did she skip the meal?”
Brigit shrugged. “She gets so caught up in making plans and working that she forgets to eat sometimes.”
It surprised him that they had that in common. There had been many times in the past that he would work or train and forget to eat. But he was strong and could handle going a while without sustenance. Kayley was much smaller and should not suffer.
“That is not good.”
“I agree. You should do something about it, like ensuring she eats a full meal.”
VictOR grunted and walked off frustrated that Kayley was making him hunt her down. The confounding female was a thorn in his side, and now he had to worry over her stress and not eating. The sooner he got her and her people off his ship, the better. She was consuming his time and energy, his thoughts and his body were not under control when she was near. For his sanity, she had to go.
Kayley kicked Creole in his solar plexus, knocking him backward. He fumbled with his footing, nearly falling. Every kick, every punch she executed helped to relieve some of her frustrations over the Katieran commander. He promised to come to her quarters, and he didn’t show.
VicTOR once again closed her out of what was happening with the search.
It was his face she saw, not Creole’s, when her body took him down.
When he stood, she didn’t hesitate to kick him again.
“What in Kitana is wrong with you?” Creole asked.
She shrugged. “You left yourself open.”
He raised an eyebrow. “That kick was a little low, Kayley.”
“Your enemy may kick you low. You have to be prepared for anything that might happen. Let’s go again.”
“We should call it quits for today. I think we’ve drawn enough attention,” he said, pointing to areas around the room.
She glanced around the training center and frowned. Katieran, Kiljorn, and Colonial warriors were on their own training mats watching them. Some wore curious expressions while others had a mixture of distrust and outright dislike. Didn’t they have anything better to do? She turned her back on them.
“One more round.”
“I’ve got enough bruises. I might need to go to the medic bay.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re turning soft. All of you are. Now, who am I going to spar with?”
“Will I do?” a deep masculine voice asked from behind her.
Her whole body stiffened. She knew that voice. It belonged to the male that put all this frustration inside of her. Slowly, she turned to face him.
“Commander VictOR, you’re late.”
“My apologies for keeping you waiting. It could not be helped. Am I interrupting your practice?”
“Training, not practice,” Kayley told him with irritation.
“What’s the difference?” he asked.
“Training is for skilled warriors to hone their abilities. Practice is for novices without any real skill.”
There was silence, then VictOR laughed. “I see your point.”
“Now that you’re here, Commander, I’ll take my leave,” Creole said, giving her a wink before leaving.
She would have to kill him later, the traitor. Kayley gave Creole’s retreating back one more glare before she turned her attention to the other male she truly planned to harm.
Stretching her arms over her head, she shook out the stiffness. “So you finally showed up?”
“It appears so. Do you want to go somewhere else and have that conversation you’ve been wanting? Or would you prefer to pick up with your… training first?”
Oh, he was being a smart ass. But this might actually be the best way for him to finally see she wasn’t pretending to be the warrior she actually was.
“We can do both.”
Kayley didn’t waste any time. She stepped back rolling her shoulders and began to circle VictOR. He hesitated for just a moment, then he shrugged out of his jacket, leaving himself bare chested.
Her mouth went completely dry. Goddess, he was gorgeous. Every muscle was well defined with that bronzed skin his people were well known for. How was she expected to concentrate on anything other than how sexy he was? Kitana!
“What do you want to discuss?” he asked right before he tried to grab her.
She easily sidestepped then backed up. Kayley sprung forward when he wasn’t looking and threw a punch to his side surprising him.
“Why have you been ignoring us and our requests to meet?”
“I met you before.”
“Yes, twice. The day we boarded your ship, then earlier today on the command bridge for all of five minutes. We need to discuss the mission.”
He moved with deliberate steps, stretching his arms out to his side. “First of all, I am the commander of this transport and I do not answer to you. Secondly, I have been charged by Prime Leader RendEL to find a new planet for your people. It is something I am completely capable of doing without consulting with you. In fact, it would have been easier if you and your team had remained on the Colonial Planet until the mission was completed.”
She twisted to give him a back kick in his solar plex. It moved him a step back, but he was definitely harder to impact than Creole. He favored his left side, though. That might be a tell of his weakness. If he had any true weaknesses.
“This is our mission just as much as it is yours. If we had our ship returned to us, we would be doing this on our own.”
VictOR swung, but she ducked out of the way. “Your ship is still being repaired by my people. A courtesy, I will remind you, we do not have to give.”
She stopped moving to glare up at him. How dare he say that! Her second would tell her to calm down and be diplomatic. She took a deep breath and gritted her teeth.
“While we appreciate the assistance all three nations have given us, I have to wonder exactly what will be asked of us in return.”
He moved so fast that when she tried to land another kick, he caught her leg and pulled her around so her back was against his warm chest. Wrapping an arm around her front, he managed to keep her arms locked down.
“If you had such concerns, perhaps you should have addressed those with Prime Leader RendEL before you came on this trip. It would have been safer for you females to remain behind.”
“Oh, I see. Let the males handle things while you puny females stay home. Is that how you want to play this?”
“It is true.”
Bastard! Fury filled her, and she reacted accordingly. She gripped his arms holding her as she lifted her legs up and over, wrapping around his neck, then using all her strength, flipping him forward and onto his back. She came up quickly and straddled him with her knees, pressing his shoulders down on the mat.
“You are the biggest asshole!” she growled out at him.
He looked up at her with shock. “I don’t believe anyone has ever said that to me.”
“Maybe not to your face.”
Kayley expected him to push her off, but when she stared down at him, she found his eyes had darkened with… desire? Her position on him struck her as sexual, with her mound so close to his face. She noticed him, really noticed everything about him.
He was unbelievably sexy. The sweat beaded on his wide muscular chest had trailed down his rock-hard abs to disappear beneath the waist of his pants. His hair was dark, but there was some silver on the sides showing he was more mature than his fellow warriors. But that also meant he was more experienced. She liked that. His dark eyes penetrated her with a fierce desire. His lips were full and looked soft—kissable lips. She wanted to kiss him. What was she thinking?
In the next moment, he flipped their positions with her back on the mat and his heavy, warm, muscular body pressing onto hers. She tingled all over. He pressed his lower half down just a little more. She would feel how much their sparring aroused him.
He was closer now and she could feel his warm breath on her face. “I have never had anyone say that to me. Especially not a female.”
“Well, you deserve it. You refused to meet with us and treat us like parasites. Everyone on board looks at us with suspicion and keeps their distance. We’ve done nothing to you or your people.”
“That was the Morins, not us. We’ve done nothing but try to survive. We’ve been tossed from one location to another, no one truly accepting us. We might as well be the virus for the way we are treated.”
His eyes were super focused on her lips now. Did he want to kiss her? She frowned. “Are you even listening to me?”
“I’m what?” she asked. Before he could answer, they were interrupted.
VictOR growled as he moved to stand. “What is it, Lieutenant RikER?”
“Um… I was going to escort Commander Kayley to the Evening meal,” RikER said.
VictOR leaned down to offer his hand to help her, but she glared at him, getting up on her own.
“I’m afraid that Commander Kayley and I have matters to discuss in my quarters.”
“We do?” Kayley asked in surprise.
“What things?” she asked.
“The current mission. What your people’s needs are. We’ll share the Evening meal while discussing those things.”
She glanced at VictOR with doubts that he would go through with it. But if he wanted a witness to this, then RikER was the perfect candidate.
“Commander Kayley?” RikER asked.
“Yes, that’s right. I’m sorry, Lieutenant RikER. Maybe another time. Commander VictOR, I’ll shower and change before coming to your quarters in… an hour.”
“That will be perfect. I’ll place the order for our meal to be delivered.”
They nodded at each other before turning and walking in opposite directions. She was feeling off guard. Somehow she had a date with the grouchy and frustrating commander.
Brigit was never going to let her live this down.