Authors: Zoe York
“That’s another option.”
“Right.” Dragging a ragged breath into her lungs, she nodded. “So okay. We’ve got that as a back-up plan.”
“One of them.”
“One of what?”
His brows pulled tight and his lips thinned before he spoke. “One of the alternate options.”
Navena tried to swallow against the sudden dryness in her mouth. “Annulment, divorce, or…?”
He stepped forward, his jaw tense, dark eyes flashing. Giving her a hard look, he held her gaze for a moment before answering. “Or we stay married.”
himself as Navena’s eyes widened, then narrowed at him like it took a minute for his words to register, but when they did,
. Not the right time to say that, clearly.
Shaking her head, she spun on her heel and stalked into his cabin, slamming the metal door with a clang that reverberated all the way up his spine.
He lingered in the kitchen space, taking inventory of their food supply as he watched the closed door to his small cabin—now occupied by his super pissed-off wife—and figured out just how long they could spend hiding in deep space before they’d have to make a break for Midgard, hopefully undetected by any bounty hunters looking to collect from the Hefderians.
When he resigned himself to the fact that he was getting the silent treatment for the rest of the day, he grabbed a dehydrated food pack for himself for a dinner later on and left one out for her on the counter in case she woke up and still didn’t want anything to do with him.
Then he hunkered down in the cockpit, already missing his bunk. At least it had Navena in it. That was progress.
As he closed his eyes and tried to get some rest, he couldn’t stop his mind from spinning through the possibilities. He had enough supplies for them to take their time heading home.
Three weeks they could spend drifting among the stars.
Twenty-one days to convince Navena he could be a good husband.
One short Midgardian month to do the impossible.
avena was already awake
when the ship dropped to impulse speed. She’d been lying in bed—Aldric’s bed, which smelled like leather and sweet grass and the faintest hint of man—trying to figure out how long she’d been asleep and if she’d imagined Aldric saying that they could stay married.
She glanced automatically at the intercom on the wall once her stomach had untwisted itself from the sudden change in speed, but the cabin stayed silent. Standing, she grabbed the towel from the back of the door and filled the small sink with the scantest amount of water necessary to clean up.
Five minutes later, she found Aldric in the cockpit, drinking a steaming mug of coffee. Her stomach growled, and he wordlessly pointed to a nook in the wall where a matching mug sat along with an energy bar.
Breakfast of star-hopping champions.
Clearly she’d have to be the one to break the silence. Which she would…any second. Maybe after some of the surprisingly delicious-smelling coffee.
She wrapped her hands around the warm mug and looked out the one hundred and eight degree windows.
Dark space loomed all around them.
“Where are we?”
“Roughly nineteen hours from the Carina Nebula. We’ve just entered the radiation field and I shut down the overdrive engines to let them cool.” Aldric’s voice had a rough hitch he didn’t bother to hide. She deserved it after locking him out of his room. Wherever he slept last night, it wasn’t his bed, and that was her fault.
“That’s…not the direction I was expecting us to head.”
He paused before responding. “We need to lay low for a few days. Might as well have a decent view at the same time. Should be able to see it in an hour or two.”
“How did you know about this place?”
He raised his eyebrow at her. “We do have star charts on Midgard, you know.”
Flushing, she shook her head. “I know that. I just…I thought you eschewed space travel.”
“Me personally?” A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, but when she narrowed her eyes at him—why did everything have to be a fight?—he laughed and nodded. “Most of us do.”
He held her gaze for a long, pulsing beat. “Obviously I don’t,” he finally said.
She shifted restlessly on the spot, crossing and uncrossing her arms twice before giving up and tossing herself in the co-pilot’s seat. It squeaked in protest and her coffee splashed onto her hand in punishment for being clumsy. “Usually fly this thing alone?”
“Wouldn’t say I
fly it,” was his gruff response.
“It is yours, right? You didn’t steal it?”
His jaw worked back and forth for a second before he slowly twisted in his chair and gave her a surprisingly gentle smile. “You’ve only got two speeds, don’t you?”
As far as she knew, she only had one—full-on. She narrowed her gaze and tipped her head to the side. “Your point?”
“I’m not your enemy. You don’t need to always be on offense or defense.”
She was dumbstruck. “I’ve never thought of you as my enemy, Aldric.”
“You’re acting differently toward me now.”
“I could say the same to you.” She took a deep breath. Time to lay the cards on the table, as terrifying as that thought was. Never before had she been afraid to open Pandora’s Box. Never before had she actually believed there was anything big or scary enough to not be challenged head on. Now she wasn’t so sure, but it couldn’t be avoided any longer. She put down her coffee cup. “What did you mean yesterday, when you said we could stay married?”
“Just that. It’s an option.”
“The one you’d…prefer?”
He gave her a long, even look. It didn’t tell her much. “I don’t think I’m ready to talk about my preferences.”
The way he said it…slow, guarded…made her pulse pick up. There was a lot in what he wasn’t saying. Correction: her pulse was now hammering extra fast everywhere in her body. Neck. Wrists. Belly. The achy tops of her thighs.
What the hell? She licked her lips, the history of her friendship with Aldric flashing through her mind. From the stiff formality of their first meeting to the now-distant friendly sparring at Ashleigh’s farm, she’d never figured he was hiding anything from her.
Especially not thoughts about
There was no
That wasn’t an option.
Her heart twisted.
“Aldric?” she whispered, leaning forward a hair. The slightest of sways, but as soon as it happened, she knew she wanted him to kiss her again.
And this time, there was no facade. No roleplaying of a rescue under the guise of a black-market bride.
This time, they were alone, drifting in the dark shadow of a nebula. Shielded by debris and radiation, the ship couldn’t be more private.
After all the different ways he’d eye-fucked her in the last two days, the restraint plastered all over his face now should have cooled her down.
Should have told her she had this wrong.
But she didn’t. She knew in her gut that if she offered herself to him, he’d take her.
Oh, she wanted to be taken.
There’s a price
. It all made sense now. He was a Viking who wanted a mate. What had Ashleigh told her? Reinn had known from the first day that the Earth officer was the one for him, felt it had been determined by the gods.
That was silly, of course.
It was just chemistry. She just had to convince Aldric there was no harm in exploring it—satisfying it—while they drifted beneath the stars.
Perfect opportunity to get naked and sweaty and exercise the weird tension between them until it faded away.
It would. Of course it would—they’d been friends for two years with nothing like this happening.
But the man still staring at her, silently, wasn’t blushing or stammering or gruffly changing the subject.
He was just waiting for her.
“I want you to kiss me,” she said, sliding her hands over his knees on the huge, flexing muscles of his thighs. Jeez, he was built like an ox. “I think we’ll fight less if we kiss a bit.”
“I think,” he finally said roughly, wrapping his hands around her wrists. “If you crawl into my lap, we’re going to do a lot more than kiss. And I’m never going to let you go.”
A little laugh slipped out as she tipped her head to the side. “Don’t be silly.”
His grip tightened on her forearms, but he didn’t pull her closer.
“You’re serious.” Shit. That made things more complicated. She had to stop deluding herself on what it would be to give in to this burning desire.
“I’ve wanted to kiss you since the first day I saw you,” he muttered, then took a deep breath, his dark eyes pulling her in like a tractor beam. “If you’re going to tell me that we’re just friends, do it now.”
She shook her head jerkily. No, they weren’t just friends. “But I’m a soldier,” she whispered, her voice cracking with need and fear and anticipation. “If you try to detain me forever, eventually you’ll start a war or something.”
“What?” She gasped as he yanked her into his lap, his hands settling possessively on her hip and back.
“Will the war be with you, or your government? Because I’d take on an entire world to protect your heart, Navena.” He nosed her cheek, his breath hot and slow on her skin as he feathered kisses against the corner of her mouth and along the bottom curve of her lower lip. “I’d fight them all off with a single sword if you let me.”
“I wouldn’t,” she whispered, parting her lips for him, but he steered away from her mouth. He might be kissing her, but he wasn’t done talking yet.
“You’re a damn frustrating woman.” With a sigh, he pressed his forehead against her temple. “I’ll try to stop you from leaving.”
She knew that. Her heart ached at the realization that he’d eventually let her go, though. Maybe she wanted to be kidnapped by the Viking, after all.
“If you know that I’m going to leave, why…” She trailed off and wrapped her arms around his neck. It felt right to hug him tight. Just like that, like it was the simplest, most natural thing in the world. She couldn’t begin to explain it, but she was still sleep deprived and her life had been tipped sideways.
Maybe it didn’t need to be explained. Maybe it could just
for a while.
“I’d be your friend forever.” His voice scratched at her skin, reminding her that he’d be doing that for her and it would be hard. That it wasn’t what he wanted.
Had never been what he wanted.
She tightened her hold on him, his warmth seeping through her shirts and into her own skin.
“You haven’t been looking at me like a friend. Something changed.”
He closed his eyes and she laughed gently as she kissed one closed eyelid.
“Too late, Viking man. I’ve seen it. I can’t un-see it.” She inhaled shakily. God, this was hard. “I don’t want to un-see it, either.”
“Thank Christ,” he muttered, exhaling his relief against his cheek as he slid his face against hers. Stubble scratching. Lips parting. Breath hot and demanding.
She couldn’t think straight. He’d consumed her and they hadn’t yet kissed.
When was that going to happen?
His lips, softer than she remembered, pressed against hers.
Oh, yes. She parted for him, immediately sliding into a new kind of first kiss. He wasn’t Gretch and she wasn’t a prisoner, and the hard press of mouths they’d had the day before meant nothing.
meant everything. This was a real kiss, hard and heady and straight to light-speed intensity. She whimpered as his tongue stroked against hers, as he gave himself to her, sharing breath and taste and touch in a kiss so intimate it made her blush.
He turned his head, his lips sliding against hers. Chasing his mouth, she deepened the kiss again. More, more, more chanted her brain through a muzzy fog.
Blindly, she traced her fingers over his stubbled head and down his neck. Strong muscles flexed beneath her touch. She wanted to explore every inch of his massive body. Make him hold on to the top of a door frame and lick every single muscle from his collarbone down to his hips.
Get on her knees for him and suck him deep. Make him beg and plead before she’d let him spill himself down her throat.
She wanted him to return the favour.
She wanted everything.
For now, she settled with wiggling her fingers into the leather lacing up the front of his tunic and tugging the shirt open so she could splay one hand across the hard plane of his chest. With the other, she wrapped her fingers around his neck again. It was entirely possible she’d never stop kissing him, because it was too damn delicious.
On her hips, his hands tightened. She rocked in his grasp, because yes, please. Then he did it again, this time with an accompanying mumble against her greedy lips.
“What?” she asked breathlessly, pulling back just a bit.
“The computer is beeping at me.” He laughed and kissed her again, too briefly this time. “I didn’t hear it at first, either. I started an engine analysis before you came in.”
“Okay.” She nibbled at the corner of his mouth, not really caring about the engine particularly.
He shifted her effortlessly to the side—damn giant man with his giant strength—and turned his attention to the display panel. “Hmmm.”
“What, hmmm? And can it wait?”
He smirked and tugged her hand to his lips. God, he was kissing her fingers and it was making her melt. What the hell was going on with her?
And the weirdest part was, she didn’t really want or need an answer to that rhetorical question.
“If we’re going to get you back to Midgard sooner than later, I want to do a complete systems check before we make a run for the nearest wormhole.”
That was what she wanted.
Back to Midgard, where she could safely contact her command chain and find out what the hell had happened that she’d been abandoned in a prison on the edge of the galaxy.
And whose ass she got to kick over the fuck-up.
But right now, curled up in the warmth of Aldric’s lap, she had trouble remembering why that mattered.
More kisses seemed like a much better plan.
“Nothing. I’m just being a silly girl.”
“Are you thinking about how much you want to see me naked? Because I’m on board with that plan.”
She laughed and pressed her face into the warm, taut skin on his neck. “Mmm-hmm.” It was rude to lie, after all. “But that systems check sounds important.”
“It won’t take long,” he murmured, wiggling his hand under her tank top. She shivered as he traced circles on the bare skin of her waist and sighed as his mouth found her neck.
Dropping her head back against the edge of the pilot’s chair, she fought to remember reasonable, non-sex-oriented questions that would be good to ask. “Do you need any help?”
against the very distracting scent of turned-on woman and tried to focus on the tasks at hand.
Taste her neck.
Bare her breasts.
Not those tasks.
“Ummm.” He breathed in deeply. The usual sweet orange scent he’d come to associate with her was missing, as she didn’t have any of her usual toiletries. He felt badly for a moment, realizing he’d overlooked that, but having the real Navena in his arms—warm scent of skin and nothing else—was an unexpected intimacy he didn’t want to give up. “The systems check. There are a few visual inspections to do, then I’ll get the ship to run a tip-to-toe self-diagnostic.”