“What the fuck?” Rock stumbled as the ship shuddered. He looked up as Sela ran onto the bridge. “Hold on to something. A ship just exploded in our path.” He focused on steering the Salvation out of the flames but something caught his eye. “Se, there’s an emergency pod! See if you can find their frequency and hail them,” Rock said over his shoulder, fully expecting her to jump to it. She was efficient that way. He scanned the area to see if there were any other emergency crafts, but didn’t see any other pods in the aftermath of the explosion.
“I’m supposed to be on vacation. I didn’t sign up for this,” Se grumbled.
“You didn’t have to come, you know.” It came out more harshly than he’d intended, but they were in crisis mode right now.
“Rave wouldn’t have forgiven me if I’d let you go on a gun run on your own,” she said clearly, then he thought he heard her mumble, “Stupid libido.”
“I’ve been doing this solo for a while. I don’t need my hand held by Rave and your cousin. Or you for that matter. Shit. Someone’s shooting at the pod. You get a frequency yet?” Rock threw back at her.
“I’m going as fast as I can.”
“Go faster,” he snapped. He wasn’t irritated with her but he needed to get to the pilot of that pod. He’d apologize later. Maybe.
“Damn it, Rock. If you don’t like my speed, do it yourself.”
“Stop arguing with me. I’d like to find out why my gun sale went south.” He didn’t understand her need to fight him at every turn. Most days it was a turn-on, but this wasn’t the time or the place for his cock to take charge.
“What are you talking about?” Se sounded peevish.
“That ship was my contact. Maybe whoever escaped in the pod has the answers I need.”
“Put more pressure on me, why don’t you?” Se said under her breath.
“Se!” He was about to lose what little sanity he had left. Didn’t she know that?
“It isn’t the fate of the world. It’s one gun sale.” Se sighed, pushing her hair out of her face.
“Those guns were going to a planet being overrun with marauders. The inhabitants need to protect themselves or they’ll be enslaved. So, yeah, the fate of someone’s world could be at stake. We need that pod.” They were going to have to do something about the sexual tension between them soon because he couldn’t take the fighting anymore. He’d rather be fucking. And now wasn’t the time. Damn.
“Stop it with the bleeding heart stuff. I’ve got them,” Se mumbled almost to herself.
“I’m the bleeding heart?” That made him smile. He’d never been known for his sympathy. Not that he wasn’t sympathetic, but money was a bigger motivator.
Se laughed. “Just talk to the pod. You’re keyed in.”
And just like that, his sanity was back. They really did work well together.
“Emergency pod, this is the captain of the Salvation. Do you need assistance?”
There was no response. Fuck. That couldn’t be good.
“Are you sure this is right?” He looked over at Se.
“Yes. They probably don’t know if we are friend or foe. They did just come off an exploding ship and who knows who’s there or what shape they’re in.” Se shrugged.
“This is the captain of the Salvation. We will shelter you. Please acknowledge,” Rock tried again, realizing that Se was correct—anyone could be in there and only a handful of people had known he was meeting up with the ship.
“How do you use this thing? Hello? Hello?” A masculine voice floated over the airwaves.
Rock bit back a shout of relief. “I hear you. Do you need us to bring you in?”
On screen, another shot hit the pod. Rock couldn’t look away—it was like a bad vid streaming in 3D, and he had front row seats.
“Rock, you need to get that ship in here or it’s going to fall apart.” Se’s worry colored her voice.
“Emergency pod, we’ve got a lock on you. Don’t touch anything. We’re bringing you in.” Rock manipulated the controls and the pod slowly inched its way toward the Salvation.
Come on, come on.
It was taking forever. Or seemed to be. He needed to upgrade his fucking equipment.
Finally! Rock had the pod in his ship and not a moment too soon. If he’d waited another second the pod would have been gone—along with his answers. Who had escaped and what the hell was going on?
“I’m going to meet the pod. Get us the hell out of here.” He left the ship in Se’s capable hands and made his way to the loading dock. The ship lurched, and he stumbled but caught himself.
“Damn it, Se. Take it easy,” he yelled toward the bridge.
“Bite me,” she yelled back.
In her dreams. In his too, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. At least not yet. But soon, damn it. He was tired of jacking off when he had a perfectly lovely companion travelling with him.
The bay doors opened and Rock halted at the sight before him. The person who’d emerged from the pod stole his breath. The guy was taller than Rock and slim, with rusty red hair and bright blue eyes. Rock’s type times ten.
“Are you my savior? You don’t have a gun hidden anywhere do you? I think I’ve had about enough of that for today, if you please.” The man clutched the frame of the pod, holding on so tightly his knuckles were white. Rock noticed. He took in every detail of the striking man.
Even his voice was sexy. His cock liked it, that was for sure.
Se called over the com, “Rock, hold on tight. We have a tail. I need to warp it.”
Se’s voice right after the stranger’s did something to Rock’s body that was unexpected, in the form of an instant hard-on. He’d thought he was hard before? So not what he needed right now.
“You might want to walk this way before we hit warp, and grab one of these bars.” Rock motioned for the redhead to join him, hoping he didn’t see the tent in his pants. No need to scare him—yet.
“Yes, about that…I don’t think—” The redhead crumpled to the floor.
“Shit.” Rock raced to the downed man. He knelt over him and gazed at the gorgeous form. What the hell have I got myself into this time?
Rock pulled the slim body close to protect the stranger from the jolt of the jump. No sense in hurting him more than he appeared to be already. Rock hoped it was mostly adrenaline that had made him pass out. Bracing himself against the floor, he prepared for the ship to shoot to its new destination.
“Did I die?”
The bluest eyes he had ever seen gazed into his. The red lashes fluttered with each blink. Rock cleared his throat and adjusted his position so the guy couldn’t feel his erection—it wasn’t going away any time soon.
Traitor. His stupid cock needed to make up its mind. He wanted Se and he wasn’t sure she’d be on board with adding another guy to the mix. What was wrong with him? Fuck. He hadn’t even approached the woman yet.
“No. You’re not dead. You’re aboard the Salvation. We pulled up as your ship exploded. I’m Rockwell Loy. The captain. Are you hurt anywhere?” He had to make sure the guy wasn’t injured somewhere he couldn’t see, and getting his hands on that trim body would be a plus in his book.
The ship levelled out and Rock got up, giving the other guy his hand to help him off the floor.
“No. No. I’m fine. I got away in time. I’m Zander—Dr Alexander d’Ado. Maybe I should sit back—”
“Let’s get you to sick bay. Do a scan.” Zander’s face had gone white. That couldn’t be good.
Before Rock finished his sentence, Zander had passed out again. Rock swept the smaller man up in his arms and headed out of the docking bay. The solid body was warm and somehow…right.
“Se, what’s our status?” he shouted toward the helm, not taking time for a com unit.
Focus on the job at hand, asshole. Weren’t you just lamenting the fact that you wouldn’t mess with Se? Now you want some stranger. I need to get laid.
God, he was fucked up.
“All clear, Rock,” Se yelled back.
“Could you meet me in sick bay?”
Couldn’t the woman ever do anything without all the questions? “Just”—he counted to five—“get down here.”
“Aye aye, sir. Whatever you say, sir.”
“Smartass,” he muttered under his breath.
They reached sick bay in no time at all. He lowered Zander onto the cot, glad to get away from the guy. Zander had felt too right in his arms, and smelt of cloves and something Rock couldn’t name, but which overwhelmed his senses.
“Whoa. Who is that?” Se entered the room, her gaze wandering over Zander’s body.
Rock glanced away to take a moment to settle himself. He didn’t know why, but Se checking out Zander had his libido on high alert. Damn it. Se was too important for him to be lusting after someone else. And now this, wanting them both. Yep. He was well and truly fucked up.
“This is the guy from the escape pod. We need to do a scan. He passed out, twice. Where did you take us? Did you lose our tail?” he shot the questions out in rapid-fire succession to distract himself from his lust.
Se grabbed the hand scanner. “I did a warp and vector scan. No one else is out here. We don’t want to stay for too long though, to be safe. Might want to do another warp so they can’t catch up if they did a trace on our signature.”
“What happened?” a confused voice said from the med cot.
Se and Rock both turned to peer at the refugee.
“Don’t move, Zander. I don’t want you to pass out again and we need to do a scan. How do you feel?” Rock kept his voice calm in case Zander didn’t remember meeting him.
“Like I’ve been ploughed into by a space cruiser. My head is aching.” Zander cradled his head in his hands as he tried to sit up.
“Did you hit it on anything?” Se approached Zander with the device.
“I don’t believe so, but it all happened so quickly. One minute I was on the ship with my equipment and the next, I heard a call for everyone to abandon ship. I didn’t even look back. I don’t have much experience piloting the pods, but it had an auto function. But then there were shots. After that, you pulled me in.” Zander pointed at Rock. “You aren’t involved are you? Should I worry about another attack? Well, you wouldn’t rightly tell me if you were the bad guy would you? Ouch!”
“Well—Zander is it? You hit your head on something. The scan is picking up a concussion. If you take it easy, you’ll be fine. And no, we aren’t the bad guys.”
“And just who are you, if you don’t mind my asking?” Zander still sounded skeptical.
“I’m Sela Sims. Helping out with co-piloting.” She gave a two-finger salute.
“Right. So why were you two in the sector?”
“You sure do have a lot of questions. Maybe you should answer some of ours. Like why was that ship firing on you? What kind of trouble did you bring my way?” Rock raised a brow.
“Me! This has nothing to do with me. I was minding my own business, hopping a transport to Vega Delta to finish my research.”
The warning sirens blared. Not good. They’d found them.
“Fuck me!” Rock pounded a fist into the door. “If this isn’t about you, why did they follow? Damn it, Se. I thought you said you lost them.”
“I did.” Exasperation filled her voice. “I also said they could have put a tracer on us. We were sitting there long enough. Don’t make this my fault.” Se pointed at him.
“Check him and the pod for a tracking device. I’ll see about getting us out of here.”
Rock rushed to the bridge, pushing thoughts of Se and Zander out of his head. He had a ship to save and a libido to get under control.
Zander examined his surroundings. How did he get into these situations? It was always something, as if he was accident-prone. But this one couldn’t be about him. He was a scientist working on a cure for an obscure disease that had hit Vega Delta. It wasn’t even a life-threatening illness. He did his research and stayed in his bubble of science.
“Sit tight and let me do a tracker scan. I need to recalibrate the equipment.” The woman waved the med wand at him and pushed a few buttons.
“There’s no way I have a tracker attached to my body.”
“I’ll believe the equipment.” She winked at him.
“Ma’am, I’m telling yo—”
“Oh, hell no. Do not ma’am me. It’s Sela or Se. I am nobody’s ma’am.”
“Well, yes, but I’m being respectful. I didn’t mean to offend you in any way.” He may not have been raised by a set of parents but he knew how to respect a woman.
“Just—just sit there and look pretty, okay? This will be over soon enough and then I need to get to your pod. You’d better not be lying and this had better not be some kind of trap. If it is, you’d better hope I kill you quick before Rock gets to your ass. Capiche?”
“There is no need for violence. I am being truthful.” What an odd, but attractive woman.
“Yeah, yeah. I hear ya.” Sela waved the wand over his body from head to toe. When it got to his knee, it started to beep.
“What is that?” It could not be what she thought it was. No way. The equipment had to be wrong.
“That is a tracking device. Looks like it’s embedded in your leg.” Sela reached behind her and grabbed an instrument before huddling over his knee.
“What kind of equipment do you have here? That looks old.” His curiosity overtook his uncertainty.
“We aren’t up to regs on our medical supplies but we don’t have much use for it here. Oh, I should say, Rock doesn’t. He likes to be all caveman about things and thinks a Band-Aid will fix it. I need to get that thing out of your leg before we warp again so hold still.”
Zander scrambled off the cot and backed away.
“Do you even know what you’re doing?” He was appalled that a non-medical person would try to extract something from his body, and would have preferred a real medical facility and a doctor. Or maybe he could do it himself.
“Sit down. It won’t hurt. Much.” Was that glee in her voice? “We don’t have a lot of time. Don’t make me knock you out. I’m going to need your help with the pod. How did you get a tracker in your leg?” She closed in on him.
“I don’t know. I—well, shit.” How could he have been so stupid? “I had to go to the med bay for a check-up. I was told it was mandatory for boarding. They gave me an inoculation in my leg. I should have—damn it. Pardon the language. I am not myself. I don’t mean to curse.”
“Yeah, you need to get over that. You’re not offending anyone on this ship. Now what are you involved in?”
He wasn’t involved in anything. Was he? Something about this whole situation was wrong. Very wrong. And he didn’t know if he had enough information to get to the bottom of it. He didn’t have enemies. He’d have to know a lot of people for that to happen, and he was very solitary. Growing up in one of the tech orphanages hadn’t led to many friends. Most of the world thought he was a freak, being born for the sole purpose of being a scientist. His DNA a mismatch of prime genes. A good old test tube baby. He had no idea who his parents were. Not that it bothered him anymore. He did his work and that was that. His life was beholden to the Alliance so he would do what he must, but he didn’t always have to like it. But enough of that, it still didn’t make any logical sense for someone to be after him.
“Get this thing out of my leg.” Starting to panic about all of the unknowns, he returned to the cot. “Please,” he added as an afterthought. It never hurt to be polite, even in the face of danger and his controlled universe being ripped apart.
He wasn’t this important. His day consisted of waking up, working, eating, reading and going to bed. Nothing exciting. Maybe he had an occasional fling, but those were few and far between. He didn’t like to be the aggressor, so he spent more nights alone than not. Zander racked his brain for any clue that would explain why this was happening. Now that he thought about it, things had been normal for too long. He was practically due a colossal fuck up.
“This will only take a sec,” Sela said calmly.
Zander took a deep breath and gathered his scattered thoughts. Control. He could take it back. “I’m ready.”
She was quick and efficient with the equipment and it didn’t hurt. More like an inoculation than anything. She dropped the transmitter into a liquid and he watched as it dissolved to nothing. It was such a small thing to cause so much trouble.
“Okay, let’s get to that pod and report to Rock. You okay to walk? I don’t want you passing out again. I won’t be able to catch you.” She looked him up and down and he straightened his posture.
“I’ll be fine,” he assured her.
And Zander would be. No matter how unlucky he was, he could handle himself. He may only be a scientist, but he knew the rewards of being able to protect yourself. The geeky kid that he’d been had needed a little help in that regard. Not that he was a lethal weapon or anything, but he could hold his own if he had to. He just hoped he didn’t have to.
He followed Se out of sick bay. It was then that he really got a good look at the woman in front of him. Her ass made him want to touch. She was sexy, with a curvy, lush body. Her long black hair swayed with her every step. He wasn’t expecting the rush of lust that racked his body. He’d attribute it to the adrenaline of fleeing for his life.
“You coming, or are you going to stare at my ass for the duration?” She teased.
Shit. Busted. He glanced up and she winked at him. At least she didn’t appear to be angry. He really didn’t think he could take a slap right now. His head hurt as it was.
“I—sorry. Didn’t mean to—”
She laughed and it was beautiful. The sound was music to his ears, a full belly laugh as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Se was all woman and he was very attracted to her.
“I’m not complaining. Just, not the time. And you’re cute when you blush. Your face almost matches your hair.” She turned back around and led the way to the docking bay.
He hated the fact that his complexion always gave him away. And the fact that he couldn’t be suave. He was a bumbling—well, he would say idiot, but that wouldn’t be true. He wasn’t exactly stupid. He pulled up short when he realized they had reached their destination. The ship wasn’t that big.
Se tossed something at him, and he almost dropped it but caught it before it hit the ground.
“What is this?” he asked, curiosity getting the better of his embarrassment. It appeared to be like one of the instruments he used to get a reading from certain elements.
“A scanner. Slowly wave it over the ship. If it beeps at you, then you’ve found the tracker. Easy.” She shrugged and started running her scanner over the hull of the pod.
So it was like his equipment. Shouldn’t be hard to use.
“Se, you found those trackers yet? These ships are coming into firing range. I need to jump and I don’t want them to keep following us,” Rock’s voice filtered through the bay.
“What is it with you and rushing me? We’re working here. Leave us be and do your magic. And I hate to say it, but unless you do a wipe, they are going to follow. If we weren’t traced before, we have been by now.” Se smiled at Zander and continued waving her scanner over the ship.
Zander jumped at Rock’s reply. The man sounded so angry and he was big. No way he wanted to get on the captain’s bad side.
“Damn it, Se. For once, could you please do what I ask and not fight me every fucking step of the way? I already did a wipe. I’ll do another one before we jump. Just tell me you’ve got it taken care of.”
“Awww, you know you like it when I give you a hard time.”
The ship jolted and Zander fell. What the hell? Was this ship going to be shot out of the sky too? Once was plenty, and if he didn’t have to experience it again it would be a good thing.
“God damn it, Se. We’re out of time. I’m jumping.”
Zander scrambled up and continued his work. Nothing. No trackers. It had been him the whole time. What the hell was going on?
“Rock, we’re good. Found one tracker and destroyed it.” Se turned toward him. “So, Zander, what do you have to say for yourself now?”
Rock’s voice on the com interrupted anything Zander could say. Not that he had any clues. He was in the dark, and he didn’t like the feeling of hopelessness that hit him.
“Hold on, you two. We’re preparing for warp in three, two, one, warp.”
Zander fell on his ass—again. He was tired of looking like a fool, but he was so out of his element. Where was his nice quiet lab when he really needed it? He never should have taken the job on Vega Delta.
Se reached out to help him up. “All right, Zander. Let’s head to the bridge and have a little chat. Something is going on and we need to figure it out.”
Zander nodded at Se and followed her again, with a heavy heart. How could he explain that he was a nobody? There was no rhyme or reason to any of this. And all those people, now dead, because of him and he had no clue what it could be. Maybe they were mistaken. It could have been a simple tracer device installed for tracking him on Vega Delta. But he knew that wasn’t the case and he wasn’t in the habit of lying to himself. Something was going on, and he was going to need help to get to the bottom of it. Hopefully they’d believe him.