Delivery (Star Line Express Romance Book 3)


Chapter 1

Joston

Yeah, sure, the Marinax is an Orquen-class stator. And has the best damned engineer if not in the entire Seven Galaxies then definitely in this sector. And a swell bunch of crew members.

But a few months ago when I impulsively signed on here, I had no idea just how fucking boring life on an intergalactic cargo transport could be.

Would be.

Is.

Back then, flying high—which is one of my favorite ways to fly—off the rescue out at Kaera Birtak’s burning-down mountain retreat, it seemed like being on the crew of the Star Line Express freighter Marinax was the obvious next step in my life. In my adventure.

Although I never really thought of this as an advancement since anything short of having my own Orquen-class stator or maybe a Phoetrum, even though I can’t say I love that design, wouldn’t be an advancement.

Hell, I never thought this would be a demotion, which is what it’s starting to feel like. Half the time I’m stuck in the engine room with my fellow Chorynean Aymee Desryx, who’s so frighteningly brilliant it’d take me fifteen millennia to catch up, and the other not quite half of the time I’m doing chores I’d rather not know existed.

It’s only these moments, like right now, while I’m floating outside the ship, making repairs, that I feel a bit like my old self, the one who loved flying, who craved speed, who was the best damned aircar pilot on Choryn. Or anywhere. The fastest. The most daring.

Hardly anything daring about wearing a pressure suit while bopping about the outside of the Marinax and tightening up this and that, but it’s a helluva lot better than being cooped up inside.

Than never being allowed near the helm, which is where I belong. And which is where Captain Zavl’yn definitely does not trust me. Just because I flew that aircar into the fire? Hell, that should be a reason to let me man the helm. Not ban me from it.

Fearless. That’s me in one word.

Or maybe Zav’s just testing me. I can’t be sure. Nik keeps telling me not to worry. Some advice from a guy who’s worried about 300 percent of time, what with his wife—and my boss—Aymee about to deliver their baby.

To make matters worse, I can’t even socialize tonight. They’re showing that despicable vid The Treachery of Joston Parst once again. The crew members, with the exception of me and Aymee, just love Parst. Even Lasson Birtak, who’s been doing business all over the galaxy while hitching a ride on the Marinax with his life mate, Chlo Nightbird, seems to have developed a taste for this piece of so-called entertainment.

Entertainment? Trash is more like it.

Why can’t they show Helmsman’s Mate instead?

Aymee and I have had this discussion hundreds of times. Like me, she loves Helmsman, and also like me, she’s just pining for the day when Salana and Captain Harlan will finally get together. Because the sexual tension between them is positively infuriating . . . and absolutely the most potent aphrodisiac I’ve ever encountered outside of one-on-one contact.

Which leads me to another reason why I made a terrible mistake signing on the Marinax: sex. Even though I’m pretty sure there are other unmatched crew members going at it with each other—and here I won’t name names—I can’t bring myself to that point. I’d have to see whoever it was again tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. And the night after that. They’d never go away. And I couldn’t escape. There’s nowhere to escape to.

No. Can’t do it.

Back on Choryn I had no such problems. I was the go-to male for a host of about-to-be-matched females. You know how it is—your match is set, you’re primed, your needs are in high gear, but your meeting at Café First isn’t for another day or another week or another few months. It can be frustrating.

Or so I’ve been told. And understand from firsthand experience. Not my own, of course, since I was never matched.

I always explain that it was a glitch in the lottery system, a system that no longer exists now that the creep Warali’s schemes and scams have been exposed. Lasson told me she’s in prison. He’s pals with her ex, Rhasov.

But, no, there was no glitch in the lottery system. I just didn’t want to participate. So I didn’t. There are ways around it, ways that don’t include bribery and scams. You just have to know how to fiddle with things. Which I do.

Because, really, just about the last thing on Choryn I wanted was to be tied to a female for even an entire day, much less for the rest of our lives. Based on a fucking lottery. Or, frankly, on anything at all.

Much more fun to play around with the females who were waiting for their first meetings. A very willing, very excited, very free group. Not that I ever engaged in group shenanigans. I prefer my females one at a time. And then immediately mated to someone else, relieving me of any responsibility.

I tighten a few more connections, run my gloved hands over the gleaming shell of the Marinax, sigh in unabated sexual frustration, and spring a leak in my pressure suit.

Fuck!

 

Niya

Chlo will be here soon. She commed me a few days ago. Her new ship, the Marinax, has a stop on Engra. Some kind of delivery.

She won’t be able to come off the ship—she’s in exile—but I’ll go to her.

It’ll be a relief to see her after all these years. She’s the only other being in the Seven Galaxies who knows the truth about my beautiful Aeryen. He’s just old enough now to know that something is different about him, but I keep assuring him that everything is all right. It has to be all right.

I hate having to shave the hair off his wrists. It appeared just a few months ago. It’s quite beautiful and soft. It sort of floats. But no Engra has such a thing on their body and, unlike Aeryen’s vestigial tail, which can be hidden, his wrists cannot be.

I need to talk with Chlo about this new development but I can’t dare say anything on the comm. We’re both very careful.

Chlo mated with a Chorynean, which seems very unlike her, but the Chorynean she mated is Lasson Birtak, who’s one of the wealthiest beings in the Seven Galaxies. Perhaps that had something to do with it, although Chlo isn’t that type. She wouldn’t care about his wealth. She would care only about him. So he must be wonderful.

What must it be like to be mated with someone wonderful? With someone, period? I used to dream of my future match, but since Aeryen, it’s become impossible.

I don’t regret my decision, though. I would never regret it.

Although it wasn’t exactly a decision. It was more of an impulse. I saw the baby and had to have him. To protect him. To take care of him. It felt like destiny or fate or whatever else they talk about in entertainment stories. I knew I was the right one to take care of him. And he knew it too. He reached out for me just as I reached out for him.

Yet sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t taken him in. If he’d been born without the vestigial tail. Or if his parents hadn’t rejected him.

Would I be mated now? Would Var have become interested in me? He used to sit in the seat across from mine, a fellow flight controller. He wasn’t handsome or charming, but he was dependable and kind. We had lunch together once, then he was promoted and moved.

Sometimes I think about him, or I think about someone like him, someone who would be dependable and kind. Who would love me and I would love him. Who would love Aeryen. And understand. And we’d be able to give Aeryen siblings.

But these are insane thoughts. There is no one like this. There’s no one I could trust with the knowledge of Aeryen’s vestigial tail and the gorgeous hairs that are now sprouting from his wrists. With the knowledge that he isn’t even mine, even though he is mine. And I’m his. We make a great family. An extraordinary family. A necessary family. A family based in love.

Would Var have become interested in me? Would he have been someone I could trust with the secrets that could destroy my beloved child?

If these secrets would destroy me, I wouldn’t mind. Let me be destroyed. But not Aeryen. He has his whole life to live. And I’ll do anything and everything to make sure that he does.

Including doing the unthinkable, which is what I’ve been unable to stop thinking about ever since I found out that Chlo and the Marinax will be here. Soon.

I’m ready.