Authors: Lee-Ann Wallace
Tags: #Erotic Romance, #Science Fiction, #Adult
The sound of raised voices penetrated the shell of Ellie’s device. Through the thick walls, he couldn’t make out what was being said, but it was obvious from the volume that Ellie was arguing with the man who had come to visit her.
Manik debated with himself whether he should get out and be there for her. She’d stated that the man she claimed was her ex would be angry because he’d had to wait, and she’d had fear in her eyes when she tried to get him into the device. Manik didn’t like the idea of any man putting fear in her eyes, and he certainly didn’t like the idea of her being alone with that man.
Making a decision he might later come to regret, Manik pushed on the lid of the device and heard Ellie say, “Let me go.”
The lid of the device lifted slowly, bringing the ceiling into view. He sat up and saw Ellie and a tall man with his hands around her arms. Both of them were turned towards him—Ellie with shock on her face and the man with blatant anger.
Manik wanted to rip those hands off Ellie and break every single finger that had touched her.
“Elmertia, who is this man?” the tall man holding her demanded.
“Take your hands off Ellie,” Manik demanded as he stepped from Ellie’s device.
The man turned back to Ellie, demanding again, “Elmertia, who is this man?”
“He’s just a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. He dropped in to say hello. Stadden, let me go.”
Ellie’s voice had a note of hardness to it Manik had never heard from her before.
It went a long way to calming him, knowing she didn’t want this man’s hands on her, knowing she didn’t still harbour feelings for him... but friends? That grated him. He didn’t want to be her friend. He wanted to be a lot more than that.
“A friend? Why was he in your Health Pod? Where you trying to hide him?”
He still hadn’t let Ellie go, and Manik wanted to walk over there and drag her from his hands, but he couldn’t afford to get in a fight with this man. He couldn’t afford to get thrown in a cell.
“Because I know how you get and I didn’t want a big scene. Now, will you let me go!” She started to struggle against the hands holding her, her tail flicking back and forth with agitation.
Manik had to keep himself rooted to the spot to stop from going over and dragging Ellie away from the man. Seeing his hands on her was sending his anger towards the roof. The only man who should have his hands on her was himself. No other man had the right to touch her.
Ellie’s struggles finally made the man let her go. She stepped away from him, retreating towards where Manik stood near the Health Pod. She’d put herself right between them, a position Manik didn’t like. It put her at risk of getting hurt if things went wrong.
“How do you know this man, Elmertia? He looks familiar for some reason—I think I’ve seen him somewhere before.”
“I told you we’re friends. I’ve known him for a long time, before I came to the station. He visited me once before, so maybe you saw him around the station then.”
Manik wanted to see Ellie’s face as she responded, but the tone of her voice spoke volumes. He wanted this man to leave. He wanted to be alone with Ellie and to find out if she’d lie to him as convincingly when she was in a difficult position.
“I don’t believe you, Merty. You were protecting him. I just don’t know why, but I’m going to figure it out. There’s more to it than him just being your friend. You never let anyone in your lab but Prixmina, yet you’ve let this man in here. You even put him in your precious device. That tells me he’s far more to you than some simple friend.”
The agitated movement of Ellie’s tail increased until it was swishing through the air.
“Stadden, you’re making my head hurt with your suspicions. Why can’t you just believe me? All I wanted to do was avoid this exact situation with you. That’s why I put him in my device, and he’s not a simple friend. He’s a very old friend that I enjoy the company of immensely, so why wouldn’t I allow him in my lab?”
Before the security man had a chance to respond, the door slid open and a woman of the same species as Ellie danced into the room. Everybody turned to look at her.
“What’s happening, Merty? I thought you didn’t have time for visitors, yet your lab’s full of people,” she said in a rush.
Manik watched the woman’s gaze travel over the security officer in a single pass and come to rest on him. Her eyes widened so much as they scanned him they almost popped out of her head. So Ellie had talked about him—the woman obviously recognised him. Manik almost purred in delight, then straightened up and looked at the security officer. The man was looking at the new woman with exasperation on his face. Manik wanted to smirk at the man, certain the pleasure he felt at knowing the women had talked about him was all over his face, but the man was looking at the two women.
“Merty,” she breathed as she rushed forward and grabbed for Ellie’s arms. “It’s him! He came back. I told you he’d come back. Didn’t I tell you he’d come? I just knew the mate bond would bring him back to you!”
“Mate bond?” Stadden demanded.
I looked around Prixy to see his angry eyes on me. My heart was in my throat as I looked back at him. I didn’t know what to say to him. He had a temper, and this was the exact situation I’d been trying to avoid.
Stadden had been trying to convince me to get back together with him ever since I’d broken off our relationship, but I’d met Manik not long after and had put him off, wanting to be free if Manik came back to me.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’d met your mate, Elmertia? When did you meet him? Before or after we were together?”
There was no point in continuing with the lie now. He knew Manik was my mate. As long as I protected when I’d met him, Stadden wouldn’t associate Manik with Vrentis’ stolen research, and everything should be fine.
“After. I met him after we were finished, and I didn’t tell you because I didn’t know if he’d ever come back,” I said.
He stared at me for a long time before he said, “I don’t appreciate being made a fool of, Elmertia.” He turned on his heel and left. The door slid open as he stalked towards it, and I knew he would have slammed it if it had been an old-fashioned hinged door.
“Oopsies,” Prixy said in front of me, a sheepish look on her face.
“It’s alright, Prixy. I should have told him a long time ago.”
Manik had been suspiciously silent through everything that had happened, I glanced behind myself and caught sight of his face. Anger burned hotly in his grey eyes, searing me with its intensity. My insides fluttered and my heart sped up. I didn’t like him being angry with me. He stared at me, his jaw working tightly until I couldn’t hold his gaze any longer and looked back at Prixy.
“What are you doing here, Prixy?”
“You haven’t been home, and I came to make sure you hadn’t passed out from exhaustion or something and to see if you wanted to come and get a meal with me, but I see you have better company.”
Her face was alight with wonder and delight. She shook me slightly by the arms. “He came back, Merty!”
“Yes, but he wants me to go away with him.”
I knew Manik was standing right there and could hear every word of our conversation, but this was Prixy. She was my best friend, had been my best friend since we were children with tails that were too big for our bodies, and I needed her advice.
“What?” she asked, her eyes wide, shock all over her face.
“He wants me to go on his ship with him. They have a cyborg who needs my help and a woman from a life pod the same as the man I’ve been studying.”
“You mean, leave the station? You’d be leaving all your research, all your progress on your device behind.”
I nodded. Prixy understood me. She knew what drove me, the reasons I’d first pursued the field of nano technology and how much I’d lost in the time it had taken me to get where I was now. She’d been with me every step of the way and had supported my every decision. I could count on her to help me make a decision that would be best for me.
She looked around me to where Manik was standing, her eyes widening even further before she looked back at me and leaned close.
“You didn’t do him justice when you described him, Merty. He’s gorgeous.”
Prixy’s voice was a whisper, but loud enough that I knew Manik must have heard.
I looked behind me to see Manik looking at the floor, a small smile on his handsome face. She was right. Of course, he was gorgeous. His long hair grew in a strip along the top of his head and down his back. He’d braided it to keep the thick strands contained, but having his hair pulled back tight just accentuated the sharp angles of his cheekbones and the strength of his jaw. Dark eyebrows sat over his penetrating grey eyes and those thick black lashes that framed them. The points of his ears skimmed the sides of his head that was smooth and begged me to stroke my fingers along them to see if the skin was soft or if it was coarse like some species. I could almost guarantee it was soft.
He was tall, or at least much taller than me, but that wasn’t hard. Most species were taller than mine. The muscles of his shoulders and arms stood out against the thin fabric of his top. From the way he stood, I could almost imagine him toting weapon holsters on his hips, which were lean and led to long legs encased in sturdy fabric pants. Military style boots completed his outfit and added to the dangerous aura that surrounded him. His deep bronze skin almost glowed in the bright lights of my lab. I wanted to stroke my hands down his body and feel the warmth of all that luscious skin. I wanted to feel him respond to my caresses and hear how I affected him.
I had a dilemma before we took our relationship that far. I had to figure out what to do. I had to decide whether I could leave everything behind and go with him, and I knew Prixy would help me.
“I don’t know what to do, Prixy,” I said looking back at her.
“I can’t tell you what to do, Merty. Not this time. This is too big, too important to let someone else make the decision for you. I can only tell you what I’d do.”
I didn’t want Prixy to make the decision for me, although in the past, when the decisions hadn’t been so important, I had done what she’d suggested without a lot of thought, but she was right... this was too important. What Manik was asking of me was life changing, and I had to be sure I wouldn’t regret my decision.
“Tell me, Prixy. What would you do?”
“I’d go,” she said decisively. “First I’d take that burning hunk of man back to our quarters and bind myself to him. Seriously, Merty. We only get one mate. You can’t let him walk away a second time. Everything else, all this...” She swept her arm out to indicate my lab. “All this is minor compared to losing your mate. You might lose it all in a few days anyway, and then you’d have nothing. You’d have missed your chance at happiness and be left regretting it for the rest of your life.”
Her words struck a chord inside me. She was right. We only had one mate, and to have found mine when I was young was a gift. If I let him walk out of my life, I’d have no one to blame but myself, but Prixy was important to me. She was my best friend. We’d been through a war together and survived. We’d lost our families together and left our almost-destroyed people behind so that I could study with another race. She’d stuck by me through thick and thin, so I couldn’t lose her.
“Come with me, Prixy.”
She looked back at me, indecision on her face for a long time before she said, “Not this time, Merty. I need to stay here.”
I stared at her, not quite comprehending what she’d said. I thought she’d said
but that couldn’t be right. She’d never said
before. She’d always followed me wherever I’d gone without so much as a complaint.
“What do you mean? What could possibly be here for you?” I asked disbelief in my tone.
She looked at me, sadness creeping across her face. “I’ve been waiting as long as you have to meet my mate, Merty. I’m tired of waiting. I want a relationship that means something, I want a person who will love me and cherish me and treat me with respect.”
“But you were the one who told me not to give up hope. It was you who told me he’d come back for me. Your mate’s not on the station. Imagine how many more people you’d meet if you were on a ship. We’d be stopping all over the place, meeting people who’d you’d never get to meet if you stay here.”
She shook her head at me and stepped back, dropping her hand from my arm.
“You haven’t asked if I can come, Merty. They might not have space for another person.”
I turned to Manik, starting to get a little desperate. She
to come with me. I needed her.
“She can come, can’t she?”
He looked between us for a moment before replying. “It shouldn’t be a problem. We have plenty of empty crew quarters at the moment. You’ll have plenty of attention from the rest of the crew. Apart from the Captain and Second in Command, every male on the ship is single.”
I turned back to Prixy, expecting her to be looking interested. Single men were of great interest to women on the hunt, and Prixy had been on the hunt for a while, but she didn’t look interested. I didn’t know what she looked like. If I’d had to guess, it would be determined, but there was something else there as well.
“I’m not going with you, Merty. I’ve found the man I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
I looked at her with shock. This was the first time she’d mentioned someone special to me. I didn’t even know she was in a relationship.
“Who?” I asked, curious as anything, my desperation momentarily forgotten.
“Xerrax, from medical.”
“But he’s gay.”
It was her turn to look shocked. “What?”
“I saw him with Desgak from lab sixteen. He’d only been here about ten cycles and I can remember thinking he moved really fast.”
Tears welled in her eyes and she shook her head at me, “No, you’re wrong.”
“I’m sorry, Prixy.” My heart ached for her, but I couldn’t change the truth.
Her face crumpled, tears running down her cheeks. She turned and ran from my lab, almost running into the opening door in her haste to get out.