Authors: Linda Mooney
Tags: #sci-fi, #aliens, #alternate worlds, #action, #adventure, #sensuous, #science fiction, #space opera, #romance
“His name is Isup,” he told her.
“Isup. I didn’t dream it.”
“It was no dream,” he confirmed. “We’ve been through much since we crashed here.”
She checked the room again. “So how did we end up here again?”
Instead of answering her, Kyber lifted her into a sitting position. Crawling over to where the food glyphs were located, he retrieved her a bowl of water and brought it back to her.
Kelen obeyed. Once she drained the bowl, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Okay. Your turn.” Her eyes dropped to his exposed genitals. “And while you’re at it, explain to me why you’re naked but I’m not.”
Kyber chuckled. “Do you remember the black cloud coming out of the apartment?”
Her eyebrows came together. “Black cloud? God, I’m starving.”
She started to crawl toward the food symbols, but he held out an arm. “Let me. Which do you prefer?”
He got her some oatmeal and carried it to her. He watched as she scooped the food into her mouth, savoring each mouthful for a few seconds before taking another helping. She was trying not to eat too fast, although he knew she had to be as famished as he’d been. After she’d finished the oatmeal, she leaned back and sighed contentedly.
“More?” he inquired.
“Not yet. Give me a few minutes to digest this.” She gave him a perplexed look again. “You said something about a black cloud?”
Kyber chose a different tactic. “What is the last thing you remember?”
She lowered her face as she thought. “We came into the main room. We were going to spend the night here.” She tapped a finger to her lips. The action made him want to pull her hand away from her face and kiss her, but he held back.
“I remember talking about there being three doors, then a corridor. And we wanted to get something to eat, so I went to go inside one of the apartments.” A shudder suddenly jolted her. Kelen gave him a wide-eyed look of shock. “Something hit me. Something cold and…” She winced, then shook her head. “I smelled something odd. It turned my stomach. But I don’t remember anything after that.”
He reached over and laid a hand on her knee. “How do you feel?”
“I’m tired.” She snorted and held up the empty bowl. “Still a little hungry, but not as much.”
“Your physician will want to know if you are feeling any aftereffects.”
She glanced around until she spotted the door. “Where is everyone?”
“We split up and took separate apartments.”
He pointed to the wall behind her. “Your doctor is in the next one over. He has your ex-commander with him.”
“What about your men?”
“The three of them are bunking together across the atrium.”
“So how did we end up together, alone?”
“Your doctor ordered me to bring you here and stay with you.”
“Why?” Her eyes narrowed. “What are you not telling me, Kyber?” she started. “Does it have something to do with that black cloud you were asking about? Kyber, what happened?”
“You opened the door to the apartment and a large black cloud came out. It swallowed you. I tried to attack the cloud to save you, but there wasn’t any form to the cloud. It wasn’t solid, but I felt like I was breathing acid. I managed to find you and drag you away from the apartment, but by that time the cloud had dissipated. You were unconscious for a long time. Since the both of us had contact with whatever was in that cloud, your doctor felt we should be quarantined together. He took the apartment next door in case I needed to reach him. In case you had a reaction and I needed his help.”
Kelen took a deep breath, then shook her head. “I feel okay. My breathing’s okay. How about you?”
“I’m doing better. It was hard to breathe right after contact, but it’s getting better. Other than that, I’m fine.”
“Are you? Or are you just telling me that to keep me from worrying?”
He sensed she would be very angry at him if she found out he was making light of his reaction to the cloud. She worried for him the same way he worried about her because they cared deeply for each other. If their situations were reversed, he knew he would want to be aware of any impending illness she might incur.
Taking her hand, he lightly squeezed it. “Each breath is easier than the last. I promise, if I feel anything foreboding, I will tell you or the physician.”
She gave him a relieved smile. “Thank you. Now, about your state of undress.” She motioned toward his lap. “Is there a reason for the striptease? Or is it wishful thinking, now that we’re alone?” One corner of her mouth tilted upward, the playful expression extending to the twinkle in her eyes. No longer able to resist, he cradled her face in his hands and leaned over to kiss that smile into submission.
Okay, so I lied.
Kelen tried to convince herself that she’d suffered no ill effects after her brush with what Kyber called a black cloud. Truth was, she didn’t feel…right. But she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was that gave her the impression she wasn’t at a hundred percent. It was like getting into a space suit and the moment the helmet clicked into place, realizing there was something wrong. You just didn’t know where, or what.
But now that she had some food in her stomach, she felt somewhat better.
She glanced again at the slight protuberance between Kyber’s legs and all thought of how she felt vanished in a haze of desire. Memories of how he made her feel when they were alone flooded into her bloodstream like an aphrodisiac.
This was their chance to love again, and she wasn’t going to waste another moment getting to the heart of the matter.
“Now, about your state of undress. Is there a reason for the striptease? Or is it wishful thinking now that we’re alone?” She resisted the urge to run her hand over the silken fur covering his thighs and reaching for the warm sac, when Kyber cupped his hands around her face and leaned in to kiss her.
No, not just kiss her. Possess her. Claim her as his, and demand she respond in kind with her lips.
Kelen was all too happy to reply, reaching up to find his thick neck and curl her arms around it. Getting up on her knees, she pressed herself against him.
He was still a novice when it came to kissing, but she could tell he enjoyed it. She smiled inwardly, knowing he would never kiss another because it was not a Seneecian act of endearment.
His arms tightened around her. Without warning, Kyber broke their contact, twisted his body, and flipped her into his lap so that she was lying sideways across his thighs. Kelen gasped at the suddenness. Looking up at him, she laughed as something prodded the small of her back.
“This is new.”
“We cannot go further until we perform the next ritual.”
He gently lowered her to the floor and crawled over to retrieve a bowl of water from the panel.
He brought the bowl back to where she had propped herself up on her elbows.
“It is part of our ceremony when taking a life partner.” He glanced over at the door, then back to her. “I know I promised I would tell the others of our decision. Although I had hoped we might be able to follow the ritual, I had accepted the fact that, due to our present circumstances, we might have to postpone them.”
Kelen sat up. An expression of expectant hope had crossed his face, bringing a light of joy to his eyes she hadn’t seen before. “But that’s changed?” she whispered.
“Yes.” His smile broadened to where she could see the tips of his fangs gleaming at the corners of his mouth. She wanted to kiss those corners and run her tongue over the teeth, but restrained the impulse. Whatever Kyber was planning to do was very important to him, and she didn’t want to ruin the moment.
He touched her blouse. “Remove your clothing. Please.”
She quickly shed the ragged shirt, which he took from her. As she pulled off her pants and boots, she watched him dip part of the shirt into the bowl of water. He paused, waiting for her to finish.
“Lie down,” he instructed when she was done.
“On my back? On my tummy? Or on my side?”
She settled herself in front of him, perpendicular to where he knelt. It gave her a nice view of his rear end.
“What are we doing?”
“There are three parts to the ceremony. Three rituals. The Commitment, the Cleansing, and the Confirmation. Once they are all completed, then we can truly call ourselves mated.”
“And this is the Commitment?”
“No. We committed ourselves in the lower tunnel, near the pools. Do you remember it?”
The memory of it was vivid and she smiled softly. “Yes. You said you wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, without fear of retribution.”
He took a deep breath. “And you said the same to me. Now comes the Cleansing. This is where we purify each other before giving ourselves. It’s symbolic, I know, but it means there will be no other, as long as we are together.” Kyber paused, giving her an odd look. “Kelen, on my world, there is no taking another to mate. Can you accept that?”
She teethed her upper lip. “What if I die? I don’t want you to be unhappy. Although the thought of you being with another woman doesn’t agree with me right now, would you be able to take another if I die before you?”
“You are assuming we will eventually get off of this rock.”
“Aren’t you?” She got up on her elbows again. “Kyber, you also know I won’t be able to bear you any children. Can you also
accept that fact?”
A warm hand touched her shoulder, brushing away a bit of her long hair. When he finally met her eyes, there was no deceit in them. “To answer your first question, yes. If either of us perishes, the other is allowed to claim another after a given period of time. But I cannot see myself finding anyone as strong, as resourceful, or as comforting to my soul as you. For these past many years, I believed I was destined to a life of solitude, until I met you. Trust me, Kelen, my shock at discovering how powerfully your essence beats within me is a memory I will forever cherish.
“As for your second question, I had long ago given up the hope of having children. That loss does not weigh as heavily on my mind as I know it must on yours. I am content to be filled with gratitude upon finding you, on claiming you, and on loving you.”
His admission was all she needed to hear. Lying down again, she stared up at him and waited.
Kyber closed his eyes and murmured several words in his language. Looking down at her, he dipped the fabric again in the water, then ran the wetness from her throat to between her breasts using a slow, light stroke.
“May every breath you draw purify you.” He gave her a little grin. “Can you repeat that from your viewpoint?”
“May every breath I draw purify me. Like that?”
Another dip of water and he drew a line from between her breasts down to her navel.
“May every drop you drink and every bite you eat purify you.”
“May every drop I drink and every bite I eat purify me. Am I going to have to perform this on you when you’re done?”
His next action was to press the wet cloth from her bellybutton to her pubic line. Kelen shuddered when his fingers dove between her lower lips, stroking her clit, then paused at her opening. She parted her legs enough to give him room.
“May all your past be expelled, leaving you open to a new life.”
“May all my past be expelled, leaving me open to a new life.”
He drew a line of water from her right cheek, down her neck, across her shoulder, and over her arm, continuing over the back of her hand to the tip of her middle finger. He repeated the process on her left side.
“Your arms will give comfort and security.”
“My arms will give comfort and security.”
Starting at her arm pits, he ran a line down her sides to her ankles.
“Your legs will bring strength and fortitude.”
“My legs will bring strength and fortitude.”
Putting aside the wet blouse, he lifted her hands and crossed them over her belly.
“Your past has passed. Your future is me. So say you.”
“My past has passed. My future is you. So say I.”
Kyber leaned back. “You are done. Now you do the same to me.”
She sat up as he made himself prone before her. “Kyber, on your world, would you do all of this in front of witnesses?”
“Many centuries ago, it was done that way,” he admitted. “But within the past few hundred years, the Cleansing has been done in private. Now, do you remember everything?”
“I think so.”
She went through the motions, repeating the liturgy as best she could, grateful for his help when she stumbled. When she got to the part where she had to moisten his genitals, she allowed herself a careful squeeze to tease him. Kyber said nothing, but his penis reacted with a vengeance. Once she was finished, she dropped the blouse to the floor and peered down at him.
“Okay. Is there anything else?”
“No. The last part is the Confirmation. It’s when we present ourselves to the rest of the group.” He paused. “Thank you, Kelen. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to perform the rituals, or that you would object to them.”
“Why would I object to them? They’re beautiful rituals. They’re essential in your culture.”
“What about your culture? Is there anything you wish to perform?”