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Authors: Rhi Etzweiler

Fragile Bond (17 page)

BOOK: Fragile Bond
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“So that’s how they’ll see you then. How Dehna perceives you. Biased?” In this case, it was a black hole of shit. No way the furr could
begin a family
with an alien, for starters. Yet he’d be seen as divided. Unless Marc somehow made it clear whose interests he had at heart.

Unless Marc functionally turned his back on his own kind. Publicly. As brutally as his aggression toward the furrs had been thus far. He stared off through the trees, feeling the monumental impossibility of that hurdle.

Hamm rumbled, a sound requiring no translation. He could hear and feel that communion of mood and emotions.

“You and me both, then. Seems our positions would balance out and make it redundant. You’d think detractors like Dehna would want to keep you in play if it meant you had a human in your pocket, um . . .” He glanced at Hamm, eyeing the furr’s negligible attire, got distracted by the smooth stretch of toned abdomen, muscles rippling with every movement.

Damn but furrs had long torsos.

“A human in my what?”

Marc glanced up at Hamm’s curious expression, watched his nostrils flare as he inhaled deep. Yeah, he should take a few of those himself. His wandering attention span was not assisting the situation.

“Ah, in the palm of your hand?” He cleared his throat, wondering why his voice sounded raspy. “It’s an expression.”

Hamm held out his hand and splayed his fingers wide, palm nearly twice the size of Marc’s. He studied it, then Marc—slowly, from head to toe. “Is that where you are, or where you wish to be? I don’t think that translates quite the way you intend.”

And wasn’t that just fucking embarrassing. He had no idea what he’d just suggested. Glancing between Hamm’s still outstretched hand and his curious, searching gaze didn’t help matters any, either.

Marc’s brain always teetered on the edge of gutter-trawling. It only took a gentle nudge for his thoughts to spiral down into the lewd.

He clenched his hands on Mat until his knuckles ached and his forearms burned. The memory of what he’d done helped him refocus.

What were the odds the C-C team would insist he remain armed? He was torn as to whether he’d support the notion or not. He felt like an amputee with a ghost limb whenever he wasn’t carrying his rifle. But Mat didn’t feel like the reassuring presence it had once been. Instead, it resembled the weight of guilt now dragging at his soul.

He understood the commander’s wanting them to disarm as a show of good faith. Sure, the furrs could overpower humans with ease were it not for the technological weaponry. The furrs weren’t the aggressors in this situation, though.

And it wasn’t as though they could set aside their fangs, claws, and pheromones.

Mustn’t forget the pheromones.

He scrubbed his nose and mouth over the shoulder of his uniform, inhaling the faint but acrid scent-trace of Kevlar-gel, space-void, and his own sweat. Anything but furr-smell.

Okay. Fine. It wasn’t furrs in general. Hamm, specifically.

Anything but Hamm’s damp-dark soil-scent.

“What was it we were discussing? That you wanted to speak with me about?” The furr’s voice had a distracted edge, and he lapsed into flexing his hands again, claws unsheathing, disappearing, unsheathing again.

Had he really forgotten what it was they were discussing? That quickly?

Marc held Hamm’s gaze. He could see why their culture required a leader to step down when confronted with a scenario like this. Humans could arguably experience the same kind of “logic circuit disengage” as a result of arousal, but ordinarily with age came the ability to think
through
the hormones.

Except his thoughts were going in circles. A spiral, really.

Circling from rational, constructive thought to thorough distraction, then back around again. The temptation to degenerate into something inappropriate was strong.

Very. Too much to resist, in fact. And the moments of clarity were increasingly short-lived and disjointed. It was the pheromones again; it had to be, right?

He wanted to bury his hands in that ivory-gold mane, inhale the strange scent of Hamm’s musk and taste it on his skin, that sharp mineral flavor, dark roast coffee, feel that purr vibrate through his body again.

He reached out only to hesitate with his hand inches from Hamm’s mane when Hamm stared at Marc’s fingers. Wasn’t sure why he was even doing it. It could wait, surely. But the twisted locks of sun-whitened hair had a layer of yellow amber beneath. He wanted to feel it, trace the hidden lines of dense muscle and warm skin.

Shit. No, not right now. Not with the C-C team still out there in the meadow making every rookie mistake conceivable.

Hamm ducked his head and stepped closer, gaze shifting back to meet Marc’s as he purred faintly.

Marc took it as invitation and sank his fingers deep into his mane. Carding through dense hair to stroke the skin of scalp and neck with his fingertips.

Why did it feel like Hamm was the only one left in the universe that he could trust?

Was that the pheromones at work again? He couldn’t smell but a trace of them, though. There was a possibility that his nose was fried, desensitized. That just because he couldn’t smell it didn’t mean it wasn’t there, affecting him.

Hamm’s eyes slid shut and he canted his head to the side as though eager to have the caress continue without interruption.

A bit of mutual indulgence was harmless, right?

Except that now really wasn’t the time, and he’d started this so he needed to be the one to finish it.

But Hamm’s skin felt like warm silk buried beneath his mane. He must’ve found a sweet spot, too, because his purring increased in depth, the vibration low and powerful. And then Marc was plastered against the furr’s chest, pinned there by Hamm’s arms embracing him. With Mat trapped between them.

This was certainly familiar territory.

Except that Hamm had his forehead resting on Marc’s shoulder and was massaging the muscles in his back with the same rhythmic behavior he’d seen and felt felines use. He even felt the scratch of claws against the material of his tunic. The bone-deep vibration of Hamm’s purrs eased the stress from Marc’s body. Relaxing him more thoroughly than he’d let himself be in a very long time.

His mane was long and dense, with a faint wave. Marc tangled his fingers in it, feeling the coarse texture of the outer hair contrasting with the finer, shorter hair layered beneath, closer to the skin—skin that glided beneath his touch, slick and smooth with a faint sheen of moisture. Perspiration, trapped beneath the hair. Or natural skin oils.

No, that wasn’t just oil.

It was musk. It had to be. He leaned in and sniffed, just to be sure. His hand smelled as though he’d buried it wrist-deep in soil.

Hamm’s mane covered his musk glands. With every stroke of Marc’s fingers, he was stimulating the very pheromone scents he found so incapacitating.

He wanted to laugh at his own stupidity. Coating himself in the stuff certainly wouldn’t make the scent affect him any
less
.

The blame for this didn’t lie with the furr, either—how could the male have known he’d need to warn Marc off from something as basic as the physiology he’d lived with all his life?

It certainly made Marc wonder about the implications of what he was doing, though. What it meant that he had his fingers buried knuckle-deep in Hamm’s mane, stroking his skin. Stimulating the production of pheromones that would, unless he got real fucking lucky, short-circuit any higher brain function.

“Just tell me one thing, Hamm.”

The purring stuttered, muted, as he opened his eyes and shifted his head to study Marc. He could feel the gaze, even though he kept his attention focused on his fingers.

When Marc didn’t immediately continue, Hamm chuffed and growled a soft monosyllable that his translator didn’t bother with. He didn’t need it to.

“Why me? Why’d you target me to be spared, out of all the scouts in the valley?”

Part of him knew it was a stupid question to ask. There was more to it than coincidence. Hamm moved, burying his face against Marc’s neck. He nuzzled, inhaled, then raised his head and studied Marc.

“You smelled different than the others.”

“The other scouts?”

“Them. The team. Others of your kind.”

“I smell different.” Marc’s impulsive reaction was disbelief. But then he considered how large a role scent played in furr communication. They engaged it the way humans did sight, using nonverbal cues as communication. He wondered what his scent said to Hamm.

“Yes, you smell different. I’ve never met anyone who smelled like ’nip.”

“You picked me to spare because I smelled like your favorite recreational substance?” Marc closed his eyes and shook his head.

His desire to laugh dried up at the faint sound of a shuttlecraft. Not the roar of takeoff, but the cycling engines and anti-grav bursts of landing sequences.

Hamm heard it the same exact time he did, he could tell by the sudden shift and tension in Hamm’s neck, where his fingers rested. The furr’s hearing was sharper—why hadn’t he heard it before now?

“Why are they sending another shuttle?” Actually, Marc wanted to know why he hadn’t heard a single sound about it on his radio. If he’d had a mane, it’d be bristling. He clenched his hands, only to have Hamm growl and reach up to ease his fingers from a fistful of ivory hair.

“I am very curious to know as well. We should make our way back to the meadow.”

“What? You think I’m letting you walk right into a trap? Hell no.” He’d said that wrong. He had no illusions that he
let
the furr commander do anything. Or prevented much, either.

He’d become a sniper scout because he found pleasure in squeezing a trigger. He had a talent for accuracy, regardless of distance and shooting conditions. The death stick was a tool.

This time, he had to grapple with the fallout of what came after. Except, this wasn’t war.

Or it wasn’t supposed to be. Somewhere along the way, that’s what it had become. For the furrs. Regardless of what Hamm said, those furrs had died at his hand for no reason except ignorance.

No, he’d done what he’d been told. They gave him an order, and he followed it. He was a soldier.

And the rifle burned his palms now when he held it. Just the weight of it in his grasp made his chest constrict. Only when he carried it slung over his shoulder, hands free, did his breathing come a little easier.

He was broken, wouldn’t ever squeeze the trigger again.

Hamm wanted to go to Reccin’s aid, and Marc could understand him being upset. But the second wasn’t actually alone, not with those peripheral scouts in place. He’d much rather delay just a bit and observe before rushing exposed into an unknown situation. Marc relaxed his fist, let Hamm ease his hand away, then trailed his fingers over the tapering mane that disappeared on the upper edge of his pectoral. Feather-soft hair tickled his callused skin. “I say we go check on those scouts of yours, posted around the meadow. See what they have to say.”

It was the best he could come up with. He had no idea what his own superiors were doing. If they only wanted to pinpoint coordinates for the furr’s headquarters before obliterating it with space-based ballistics, this was excessive.

He couldn’t think of a reason for the additional craft. Obviously, there’d been a wealth of communication happening on the encrypted channel.

Hamm studied Marc’s troubled expression and gave a low rumble. “Weren’t you aware that sometimes the best move is to deliberately spring the trap?”

“It does pay to have a plan when you do that. Otherwise it’s just surrender, yeah?” Marc glanced at him askance, probably thought he was being obtuse.

He moved a little closer, canted his head and inhaled, hooding his eyes. Indulging for just one moment more. Then he stepped back, shook his head to resettle his mane. His skin tingled from having his glands stimulated like that. He probably shouldn’t have let Marc, but he was glad that he had. The experience would stay with him. Marc had stood there, stroking him as though it were the best entertainment he’d ever encountered.

“I’ll lead you around to the closest scout. Try not to make too much noise.” He turned away from the path into the sparse underbrush of the hillside that consisted more of tree trunks wedged between boulders than actual soil.

“Do we have to disturb the lookout? Or is there somewhere else we can observe from?”

“It’s the best spot, if you want to listen and see.” He glanced back, and Marc slid down the side of a boulder, catching against a trunk before he looked at Hamm.

They stared at one another in silence. Then Marc inhaled raggedly, sniffed, rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. He frowned at his hand, then Hamm. The musk oil from the glands in his neck had soaked into Marc’s skin, if not deeper. Knowing Marc was coated in his scent pleased him, made him purr.

“Is it possible to overdose on your pheromones, Commander?”

The salty-sweet tang of Marc’s essence echoed over his taste buds. Hamm rumbled in amusement and turned away. “Not that I’m aware of, but you don’t have a furr physique. Hard to say.”

BOOK: Fragile Bond
11.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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