THE RETURN CHAPTERS 1-3
“Warning! Warning! Warning! Planetary object approaching rapidly,” the computer blared, followed by a quick burst of sirens.
Orion’s ship broke through the atmosphere leaving a wispy vapor trail in its wake. The craft shuddered, his muscles strained to hold it steady as the outer alloy panels heated to a glowing red. Sweat broke out across his forehead. If it got any hotter in here, he’d roast like a corgal tangeron a spit. Orion pushed a button on the control panel above his head. The computer quieted. The ship cooled an instant later and then accelerated, throwing him back against his seat.
Hang on!The mental command went out to his passenger, Cassandra. He didn’t bother to look at the Atlantean woman while he steered the ship. She would be of no assistance. Like his brother, Ares, Cassandra was born on this planet and reared in the jungle. For all intents and purposes, she was an Earthling, which was one of the many reasons she’d asked to come along on this mission.
The primitive radar system on this planet would only pick up a brief blip before he disappeared altogether. They’d consider it a momentary malfunction and not bother to check it out. A Zaronian warrior on duty would not be so careless. Even the most innocent ping could turn into a major threat to planetary security.
He’d spent the past month studying everything there was to know about this tiny blue-green planet known as Earth. Queen Rachel and Jac were only too happy to fill in any missing gaps from his knowledge. He knew the foods, the topography and the weaponry. He’d even mastered the subtle nuances of communication. Their cultures might be different, but soon he’d acquire that knowledge too and be like every other Earthling, only better.
Orion was confident he’d be able to blend in with the primitive natives long enough to convince Brigit that her friends were safe, unharmed and now resided on planet Zaron. It would be a “walk in the cake” as Jac liked to say.
He sensed Cassandra’s interested gaze before seeing it. She caressed his muscled form, focusing on the male bulge between his thighs. He tensed as his cock responded. Be careful, little one, he communicated telepathically, the preferred way of the Atlantean people. I can read your lustful thoughts.He looked at her from beneath hooded eyes.
Cassandra shifted under his regard. As an Atlantean woman in her sexual prime, she was not shy about conveying her thoughts or acting upon her natural urges. Like Orion, she too searched for what could not be found on Zaron.
Don’t worry.He shook his head and smiled. I’m not interested in you either, and I believe I can contain my boredom for an hour or so longer.
Don’t flatter yourself, warrior.Cassandra laughed. It was just a thought, not a proposition. I would think you of all people would know the difference.
He grinned. I do, hence the warning.
Such conceit.She straightened in her seat. Not that it isn’t warranted, but I look for something…different. Less Atlantean.
And you think you’ll find it in an Earthling?
You’ll forgive me if I disagree.
‘Tis your choice.She shrugged absently.
Orion flicked switches transferring fuel into their reserve tanks. He wouldn’t argue his point. Where is it you wish me to take you?
I’ve longed to see the ocean again.Cassandra sighed, her expression turning dreamy and distant. Queen Rachel told me I might enjoy a place called California.
Orion frowned and punched another button, bringing up a holographic map of planet Earth.Where did she say this place is located?
The same piece of land you need to be on to find Brigit.
He glanced at her, not liking the reminder about his current assignment. Cassandra stared at the swirling map. Her eyes widened as her gaze alighted on a spot that glowed like a jewel under the sun.
What do the glowing lights represent on the map?
Colonies.He pointed to a spot on the east coast of the North American continent. The brighter the light, the more populated the area. This is where I must go.
Cassandra reached out and touched a spot on the opposite coast.I want you to take me here.
Orion glanced, then pressed a button to zoom into the area she’d indicated.The place you wish to visit is called Los Angeles.
Cassandra smiled. “Los Angeles,” she murmured aloud, testing the name on her tongue.That’s in California, right?
Good, then it’s settled. I will go to Los Angeles, California to begin my search.
Queen Rachel said you will need something called money. I’ve researched this item. It is what the humans use to barter with in exchange for goods, lodging and food.
Do we have any of this…money?
Yes. The replicator managed to produce a travel sack full of the stuff. You should have more than enough for what you need. I’ve also taken the liberty of placing a deciphering unit in your bag. You’ll be able to find any meaning or item by thinking about the object. It should help when it comes to communicating with the humans.Orion slid his hand across a panel at his side. It opened silently. He pulled out a rectangular metal device.
What is that?
A communication device.
Like the deciphering unit?
No.He flipped a switch on the side of the object and a tiny screen appeared. If you need assistance or come to your senses and want to return home, flick this switch and hold the device next to your head. It will pick up your thoughts, in the same way we’re having this conversation, and transport you to the ship. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of space when you activate it, because the device is powerful enough to transport objects around you.
Cassandra nodded and reached for the communication device.
Orion pulled it out of reach. Are you sure you want to do this? ‘Tis not too late to change your mind.
She forced a smile and faced him unflinchingly. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.
He stared at her for a few moments, assessing her sincerity, deliberating her fate. Finally, he nodded.California it is.
Reluctantly, he dropped Cassandra off in Los Angeles, California. She waved goodbye as his ship rose, a contented smile planted on her face. He still didn’t like the fact he’d left an Atlantean woman alone and unguarded on a beach, but Orion understood her need to carve out her own destiny. For he held the same desire. With her departure, his ship’s weight and readings adjusted to accommodate his lone presence. Even the overture they’d experienced earlier was now gone.
It was as he’d suspected, they’d had a stowaway. Orion knew he should be angry, but he wasn’t, not really. The only being capable of hiding his presence onboard throughout a galactic flight was a Phantom Warrior, whose ability to become invisible and pass through solid objects at will was legendary.
Orion was one of the few fighters ever to draw first blood on a warrior from planet Kantar and live to tell the tale. For performing such a feat, the Phantom Warriors granted him honorary brother status among their people.
However, friendship didn’t excuse disobeying a direct order. He wasn’t sure which warrior, Bacchus or Kegar, blatantly disregarded his command and stowed away to Earth, but Orion hoped the risk proved worth the eventual punishment.
Over the last few moons, Orion had grown restless like the other unattached males and females on his home planet. Zaron did not hold the same appeal to him as it once had. He itched to stretch the boundaries set in place for centuries. Maybe, while here on Earth, he’d take some time to do just that, between babysitting the Queen’s friend, finding the Seer and making sure Cassandra was doing well. He frowned as his latest assignment intruded on his thoughts.
He’d earned the title of warrior long ago, due to his birthright and his proven abilities. Later, he’d reached First in Command. His thoughts trailed off. He could no longer claim the position of First in Command with Ares’s return. Orion squelched the bitterness threatening to rise. He was happy to have family again. Truly. It was far more important than any position, but… It would take some adjusting to get used to his new role.
That was the main reason he’d stepped forward for this menial job. He wanted the chance to leave the planet and clear his head, even if it were only for a few days. He needed to make decisions about his future. Mingling with the Earthlings, with their primitive minds and underdeveloped bodies, just happened to be an unpleasant byproduct of the trip.
Perhaps not so unpleasant, Orion thought, as he considered Queen Rachel and Jac’s appearance.
They were attractive enough, in an exoticsort of way, but far inferior to Atlantean women in strength, beauty and agility. Although he’d never expressed his private thoughts, Orion still could not understand how his brother, Ares, and King Eros settled beneath their stature. And he wasn’t the only one. Whispers caressed the winds of Zaron, leaving emerging doubts in the minds of the people that their energy bonds held. Still, no one dared to step forward and challenge the King…yet. But the day was coming.
Perhaps their choices came from being marooned on Earth for so many years. Isolation did strange things to one’s thought processes. Coupled with the fact that this was a primitive planet, it would make the time here nearly unbearable. Despite his brother and the King’s reassurances that their energy binds were intact, Orion held doubts, too. It wasn’t possible to bind with a human, was it?
He shook his head at the absurdity of the question. Earth women were good for one thing, and one thing only—sex. Anything more would make him as foolish as his brother—and Orion was far from foolish.
But, he was curious.
He recalled Jac’s parting words, “Curiosity killed the kangaroo”. Orion wasn’t sure exactly what type of creature a kangaroo was but it mustn’t be too fierce if a mere thought could slay it. He mentally brushed her warning aside. He wouldn’t allow the words of an Earth woman to deter him, even if said woman was his brother’s alleged true-mate.
Once he encountered Brigit and found the Seer, he’d take several days and explore the planet. Perhaps, experience a few of the female delights available. Orion shifted as he imagined sinking his silver-ringed cock past a woman’s petal-soft folds into her wet quim. It should only take ten to twenty females before he was suitably spent. Afterward, he’d head back to Zaron where he would pick out an Atlantean woman, perform an energy bind and settle down.
Should be easy enough.
It mattered little to Orion that he hadn’t been unable to find anyone thus far who’d kept his attention for more than a few physical joinings. He was sure upon his return he’d succeed…or leave Zaron for good. Love would not be part of the equation. It was a useless emotion that could only get a warrior killed—or worse, weakened to the babbling state his brother, Ares, and the King existed in.
At least that was the plan…
Brigit adjusted the fabric in front of her. The wasabi-green galactic dragon costume turned out even better than she anticipated. The fabric horns protruding from the headdress were perfect in their burnt-orange splendor. The matching claws on her feet were equally as impressive. No one would beat her out of first place in this year’s most original costume contest, not even her ex, Rocket Man Rick, and his new girlfriend, Dorothy, the galactic slut puppy.
She giggled. He’d be sorry once he caught sight of her costume. Brigit continued to check the satiny material for any remaining straight pins she might have accidentally left behind. The last thing she needed was to get stabbed in the middle of her stroll down the catwalk.
The turnout for the Con this year was the biggest yet. The packed Marquis Hiltonia Hotel drew sci-fi and fantasy lovers from all over the world. Brigit came every year to take part in the costume contest and to be close to people who shared her dream of space travel. It was one of the few places she could talk about visiting the stars without hearing snickers of laughter.
Even her best friends, Jaclyn Ward and Rachel Evans hadn’t been able to keep a straight face when she’d discussed space travel. One day, when it became accessible to everyone, Brigit would have the last laugh. She only hoped she lived long enough to see that day.
Located on forty-five lushly wooded acres, the hotel facility offered every amenity. It boasted an indoor and outdoor pool, large work desks in all the rooms, two phone lines, robes and a fitness center.
Not that Brigit ever looked inside the latter. Blech, sweating wasn’t her thing. Nor were bugs, with their beady little eyes and clingy little legs and gnashing little mandibles. She didn’t do woods, mountains or the ocean either—too many creepy, crawly, bitey things in those places. Basically, anywhere without a department store and sidewalk was strictly off-limits in her mind. That’s what made outer space so perfect…no bugs.
If the Goddess meant for her Brigit to explore deeply wooded areas, She would have put in sidewalks and made skin bug repellent.
Brigit gazed out the window at the scenic dusk-draped landscaping and shuddered. She could appreciate the beauty of life and the lush panoramic garden views with its wall-sized hedges as long as she remained safely on this side of the windowpane. Green, growing, creeping, alive things were fine for the planet, but not her. Brigit rubbed her skin to dispel the sensation of tiny spiders crawling over the fine hairs on her arms.
She took a calming you’re-not-outside-so-you’re-safe breath, then glanced back at her latest design. Tingles raced along Brigit’s spine as she imagined the crowd’s reaction to her galactic dragon costume. In her mind, she could almost hear the applause.
Would it be mere applause?
She smiled inwardly. Nope, they would roar. She might even receive a standing ovation. She could almost see the people now. Brigit took a couple of practice bows, then waved and blew kisses to the invisible crowd like she’d just been crowned universal prom queen.
The only thing that would make her moment in the spotlight better was if Rachel and Jac arrived in time to cheer from the front row…but that wasn’t going to happen.
A momentary rush of worry swept through Brigit and she faltered mid-bow. Ever since Rachel had gone missing while on a research assignment with her boss, Dr. Donald Rumsinger in the jungle, Brigit had known something wasn’t right.
The professor had returned without Rachel, but quickly left when rumbles of a lost tribe surfaced briefly in the media. Jac went looking for Rachel a week or so later and Brigit’s sense of foreboding worsened. Now they were both missing. There was no doubt that something had gone wrong. Very wrong. She tucked the anxiety away, refusing to traverse that mental path. Worrying never helped anything.
If anyone could find Rachel, it was Jac. She may not be a commando, but she was the next best thing to it. Her ex-Navy SEAL father had made sure of it before he passed away. Brigit reminded herself again that her friends hadn’t been gone thatlong.
Despite Jac’s flippant be back by the weekendremark, Brigit knew it would take longer to find Rachel than that, especially with Rachel’s boss blocking Jac’s way at every turn. Heck, flying down to the jungle and back would eat up at least two days each way. She may be a bit on the flaky side, but Brigit prided herself on her ability to think clearly under pressure. Well, her version of clear anyway.
“It’s only been a little over two weeks,” she said aloud as if to reassure herself. Or had it been three? Brigit couldn’t quite remember. She’d never been good at keeping track of time.
Deep down she knew there was more going on than just Professor Rumsinger deceiving Rachel. Her best friends’ horoscopes read like the who’s who of planetary alignments. She’d never seen anything like it. Greater forces were at work, but for what purpose, she did not know. Brigit only wished that Rachel and Jac had believed her when she tried to warn them.
Subconsciously, her hand moved to the talisman around her neck. She fingered the medallion to ward off the ominous feelings coursing through her. The urge to flee was great. But from what? Brigit’s gaze darted around the empty room, before landing once more on her costume.
“Screw with the planets and they’ll screw you back,” she muttered, while ignoring the moths fluttering in her stomach. Wasn’t she doing the same thing with her own astrological chart? Shouldn’t she have stayed home after reading the travel caveats? And what about the warning of a stranger changing her life forever?
Brigit brushed the disturbing thought aside. She wouldn’t be meeting any stranger from a faraway land. How could she at a time like this? It was best to focus on what was happening today, right this moment, no matter how frivolous. Brigit glanced at the costume that had taken months to make. She needed to get ready to kick Rocket Man Rick’s ass in the costume contest. Yes, that was what she should concentrate on. The future would take care of itself, with or without her assistance.
That’s what I’m afraid of. The thought came unbidden in her mind. She dropped the talisman and proceeded to dress.
Seven o’clock finally arrived. Brigit padded out of her room and down the hall toward the lavishly decorated banquet room. She strolled past the front desk, hearing the employees’ muffled oohsand ahsthrough the thick material surrounding her ears. The muted sound reminded her how she’d miscalculated one little teensy weensy thing on the costume—earholes.
How was she supposed to hear the roar of applause through what was effectively earmuffs?
She continued ambling forward, taking care to pick up her enormous feet, so she didn’t trip over her orange dragon claws. No sign of Rick so far. Brigit knew he’d planned to dress like Apollo from the Battlestar Galacticaseries. Begrudgingly, she admitted he did sort of resemble the actor who used to play that part. That had probably been why she’d fallen for him in the first place. She’d always had a childhood crush on the men from the original old television show.
Brigit passed several people who smiled, their eyes briefly alighting on her costume, before looking beyond her in horror. She glanced over her padded shoulder, but didn’t see anything unusual. She shrugged and continued on.
A six-foot hard plastic tail, attached by thick string to the rest of her costume, swung from side to side like a scythe as she walked. From a distance, Brigit heard muffled grunts and a few groans, which she assumed were fellow contestants expressing their imminent defeat. She giggled, ignoring the drag of her tail.
They know a winner when they see one.
Brigit turned to smile and acknowledge their imminent defeat, only to see two people lying on the ground gripping their stomachs. She frowned. What in the world was wrong with them? They did a “desperate Montezuma’s revenge” roll onto their sides, before staggering to their knees. Hmm…it looked like it was a good thing she’d skipped the catered buffet this afternoon. Brigit kept walking, knowing the contest was in the bag.
Orion set his ship down in the middle of a grove of trees. The branches swayed dangerously to the side before settling back into place. With a flick of a switch, the craft disappeared, cloaked in the fading tendrils of sunlight. He glanced down at the time indicator. The number seven-fifteen blinked back.
He pressed another button at his wrist and a blip pulsed on the hidden sensor. The building where Brigit appeared to be, brimmed with human activity. No matter. He still must contact the woman before finding the Seer in the jungle and exploring the rest of the planet. With any luck, he’d been done by eight and gone from this place.
Orion passed his palm over a scanner and a panel on the far wall slid open, allowing him to exit the craft. He sent out a quick probe to ensure he was alone. It came back “humanoid life undetected”. Using stealth, Orion made his way through the woods, heading toward the main building. The gathering darkness did not hinder his progress. He could see the trail in front of him clearly.
The blips on his wristband grew stronger, their red pulses resembling beating hearts. The trees thinned a little, giving him a good view of his intended target. He stopped, slipping behind one of the huge bark-covered trunks. Orion watched as ornately dressed couples entered a portal, which quickly closed behind them. They didn’t appear to have to display papers, so perhaps he’d be allowed in.
He was about to step away from the tree when a scurrying noise caught his attention. He looked around, watchful for an oncoming attack. Bark rained down upon his head, bouncing off his shoulder. He spun, sword drawn, ready to face the unseen threat. A gray creature with beady brown eyes and a bushy tail froze mid-motion. Orion relaxed, for it appeared harmless enough.
The animal stared at him a moment, then began to chatter and squeak. It hunched its little legs and launched itself off the tree and through the air straight at him. Orion’s eyes widened in surprise and he jumped back unsure how to battle the unwarranted attack.
The creature hit the ground a few feet from him, then stood on its hind legs, his chatter rising in volume. Orion hit several buttons on his wrist, but nothing seemed able to translate its angry words.
“I know not what you want,” he bellowed, as the creature picked up something small with its front paws and lobbed it in his direction.
Orion ran his hands through his hair and then sheathed his sword. He backed away slowly, his gaze never leaving the animal. Jac hadn’t warned him about hostile beasts. Given her sense of mirth, she probably hadn’t done so on purpose. He groaned inwardly and made a mental note to speak with his brother.
Now that he realized an attack could come from any direction, the next creature Orion encountered would not fare as well as this one. He’d slay it and be done.
He took stock of his weapons and equipment, then strode toward the door cautiously, alert to any further threats. Several of the people entering the structure ahead of him appeared armed. Orion patted the Zaronian sword strapped to his thigh. If a battle broke out, he was prepared.
As he approached the portal, it slid open silently. Orion glanced around, but no guard waited on the other side of the threshold. He took a deep breath and consciously relaxed his tense muscles, before stepping inside.
A rush of cool air greeted his skin. He held his breath and immediately pressed a button on his wristband. The pressure within the structure registered as normal, oxygen levels steady, no poisonous gases detected. Orion released the air from his lungs. So far he’d been fortunate to go undiscovered this long. He refused to acknowledge the bushy-tailed, bucktoothed beast in the woods.
Several men and women stood behind a waist-high structure, their gazes locked to him. Dressed in similar blue uniforms, their curious whispers rose as he approached their location. Orion struggled with the urge to greet the women in the traditional Atlantean manner. Jac and Queen Rachel warned him not to do so. He thought it wrong, but followed their instructions.
A couple of the people before him pointed to the mark he bore on his cheek. Regardless of their primitive nature, they obviously recognized his position. The Zaronian burn identified him as a warrior of courage and honor. They bared their teeth when he stopped in front of them, but none bowed in respect.
Orion pushed another button on his wristband. The showing of one’s teeth appeared to be some form of greeting called a smile. Without thought, he mirrored their behavior.
A couple of the women, one fair of hair like Atlantean women and the other onyx skinned, stepped forward, their gazes raking his black synthetic uniform in hungry appreciation. Orion didn’t need to consult his translator device to know what their interest meant.
Despite their unique appearance, women didn’t change much from species to species—except on planet Radon, where the females’ quims were located where their faces should be. That slight alterationhad initially given Orion pause, but hadn’t kept him from fucking a few dozen of them in the end. His smile deepened as he made a mental note to return to the two women and take them up on their offer, after he located Brigit.
This Earth visit was turning out to be better than he expected.
The roar of a crowd snapped Orion’s attention away from the two women. He bowed slightly to the females and then strode down the long hall toward the growing sound. When he reached the great hall he saw the source of the uproar.
A platform of sorts stood in the middle of a pulsing throng made up of men and women. The warm fragrant air reminded him of the spice and bloom fields on Zaron. Orion glanced around in an attempt to ascertain the source of the merriment.
Several people stood on the platform dressed in fineries, facing the crowd. A couple strolled down to the end of the walk, hands clasped and smiling at one another. They were handsome for Earthlings with their brown hair and matching clothing. Perhaps they ruled these people.
Caught up in the festive atmosphere, Orion almost missed the deadly slithering creature stalking the group from the side. His hand sought his sword. He curled his fingers around the hilt in preparation for battle. The creature stood not much higher than his waist, but looked threatening nonetheless. Size did not necessarily indicate fighting ability. He’d learned that the hard way in his youth and only moments ago with the furry beast outside.
The creature’s green skin sparkled under the bright focused beams of light shining down from above, while the orange thorny spikes protruding from its head looked as if they could rip a man asunder. His gaze traveled down to its unsheathed claws. Orion shuddered at the thought of having one of those sticking out of his abdomen. He must act swiftly.
The people on the platform walked out one by one toward the middle of the masses. The crowd erupted as each person stopped and waved, drawing more appreciation from the adoring multitude. Orion pushed his way forward, shoving people out of the way, his gaze locked on the hideous creature as it crept toward the unsuspecting group. With the Goddess’s blessing, he’d be able to slay the beast before it harmed anyone.
Brigit ambled over the steps, her plastic-clawed feet clacking as she reached the top of the platform. Her ex, Rocket Man Rick and his slut, Dorothy were returning from their stroll down the catwalk. They smiled until they caught a glimpse of her costume, then frowned in unison. Brigit giggled.
Prepare to be trounced, you mutant turds.
The announcer introduced Brigit and she stepped out onto center stage, dragon tail swinging from side to side. The crowd applauded. With each step she took, the roar grew louder.
This was exactly what she’d hoped for. Better than she’d imagined. Rick and Dorothy probably quaked in their boots right about now. The contest win was a sure thing. As she reached the end of the platform, Brigit took a bow, then turned her head to make sure the crowd received the full effect of her costume.
It was at that moment that she realized the people in the front row appeared to be staring at something behind her. Brigit swung around, sending her tail slashing through the air. People gasped and ducked. That’s when she saw him.
A man well over six-six strode toward her with a wicked looking sword in his hand and a dangerous glint in his two-tone eyes. His hair, a turbulent shade of black with light blond stripes, flowed freely over his wide shoulders and down his back. He swept the runway like a storm, his silver hoop earrings giving off lightning-like flashes under the spotlight. He wasn’t so much a man as a force of nature. And that microburst was coming right for her.
Brigit squinted through her costume’s eyeholes and strained to hear around the fabric muffling her ears. Had the announcer introduced him? So drunk on adulation, she hadn’t bothered to listen. She knew she was the last contestant, had made sure of it so she could make an entrance, so who was he?
Her gaze strayed back to the man’s face of its own volition. His features could make angels weep, choirs sing and sinners repent. He was sensually beautiful, while retaining a fierce savagery. And there was no doubt that he was truculent, if not downright hostile. A wild palm-sized Celtic knot tattoo encircled his left cheek. Instead of deterring from his appearance, it only added to his devastating presence. If a genie mated with an alien, this would be their love child.
The skin-tight material of his costume left little to the imagination. Brigit saw the outline of another set of rings through his nipples. Her stomach tightened and gooseflesh rose on her arms. Something primal roared to life inside of her and moisture pooled between her quivering thighs.
Brigit’s heart paused, then began to thrum madly. She felt the beat all the way to her clit. So this was what instantaneous attraction felt like. Her attention moved back to his nipples. How many piercings did this guy have? The thought of finding out the answer to that question sent a wave of dizziness through her, threatening to buckle her knees.
Her gaze swept him, dropping of its own accord to the area below where his belt should have been. The bulge there made Brigit’s breath stutter in her lungs. She blinked. That wasn’t humanly possible, was it? The bulge grew under her perusal.
Heck, a second ago she thought the sword was impressive. Goodness!
Transfixed, Brigit almost missed the glint of silver as he raised his weapon, preparing to attack. And there was no doubt in her mind he was going to strike her. She screamed and took a step back. Her clawed foot caught the edge of the stage, knocking her off balance.
Brigit flailed helplessly, trying to keep from falling into the crowd. The movement sent her headpiece cascading onto the front row. She heard groans and grunts coming from the people behind her. She looked around a second before her tail slammed down into the groin of one of the men trying to help her back onto the stage. His eyes crossed and he keeled over.
“Sorry,” she said, wincing before facing the immediate threat. Tall, dark and deadly’s gaze locked on her face. Sudden confusion marred his flawless features, but it was too late, he’d already swung the weapon. The hiss of the blade stung the air.
Brigit screeched and tried to flinch away, but her bulky costume slowed her movements, while the hands behind her pushed her forward into the oncoming blow. She watched in fascinated horror as the blade came crashing toward her. This was it. She was going to die at a sci-fi/fantasy convention.
The burly announcer caught the man’s arm mid-swing. The action toppled the announcer, but his actions prevented the deadly blade from reaching its target. The weapon stopped inches from Brigit’s face. The breeze from the motion fluffed her hair. Even this close, the sword looked real…and incredibly sharp. With a microphone in one hand and the man’s arm in the other, the announcer climbed to his feet to address the crowd.
“I don’t think we need a judge’s score sheet for this one, do you folks?” he said. “But to keep everything fair, let’s see the scores.” The score sheets were gathered and handed to the announcer. “I believe we’ve found our winner. Let’s hear it for the Dragon Slayer.”
The audience roared, coming to their feet in a standing ovation—her ovation. Brigit could see Rick and Dorothy hooting and hollering in the background. This couldn’t be happening. She’d had this contest in the bag. She’d worked hard, only to have it snatched away at the last minute.
Someone pushed Brigit from behind, taking time to allow their hands to linger on her dragon-tailed butt. She glanced around and glared, but couldn’t ascertain the guilty party. It didn’t matter. She had bigger fish to boil. Mr. Tall, Gorgeous and Sneaky had just walked away with hertrophy.
Well he wasn’t going to get away with it. She’d protest the results if necessary. You couldn’t win a contest that you hadn’t entered.
Brigit turned on the sword-carrying, romance novel cover-looking warrior, who’d just snatched victory out of her grasp and planted her hands on her green material-covered hips. The man continued to stare at her as if one of her orange horns protruded out of her forehead.
There was something about the way he looked at her that made Brigit decidedly uncomfortable and it had nothing to do with the fact that one of his eyes was aqua blue and the other was jade green. Any other time she’d consider that particular trait unusual, maybe even oddly attractive, but not now. At that moment, she was too mad to think.
His gaze traveled over her costume-covered body, raking her length, as if by doing so he could see beneath the wasabi-colored material. Brigit’s nipples swelled, puckering painfully beneath her lace bra. Sweat beaded her lower lip, when only moments ago she hadn’t been hot.
Poor ventilation, that’s all. He wasn’t causing it.
Angered by her body’s response, Brigit squared her shoulders and pinned him with narrowed eyes. Uh-huh! You’re not getting out of this that easy, buddy. He didn’t even blink. He may be pretty, but he was obviously dumb as a stump.
Her fingers curled into fists as she fought the urge to pummel him where he stood. It might take a ladder and a baseball bat, but she could do it. They had to have those items somewhere in the hotel. She continued to seethe. And what did he do? He actually had the nerve to look amused.
That’s it, you dragon slaying perv! You’re about to encounter my wrath. Duck down here so I can reach you. You won’t be smiling in a minute.
His lips quirked as if he’d heard her thoughts…which was impossible.
Brigit stepped forward to tell him exactly what she thought of him or to box his ears, she wasn’t sure which. His nostrils flared, along with his multicolored eyes. He straightened to his full height as if readying for her approach. No, readying wasn’t the right word. He practically daredher to come forward.
Well she wasn’t going to do it. Not if it would play into his plans and make him happy. No way! Uh-huh! This called for a sneak attack.
Brigit battled the impulse to step back. It wasn’t in her nature to retreat. From his appearance, the big gorgeous bully was probably used to intimidating people. Luckily, she wasn’t mostpeople. Brigit knew she was scowling, but she couldn’t help herself. He’d stolen her win, humiliated her in front of her ex-boyfriend and his slutty new girlfriend, and the bastard didn’t even have the decency to look guilty about it. Hell, she threw her arms up in frustration. He actually looked pleased.
Had Rocket Man Rick put him up to this? She wouldn’t put it past him. She met her ex’s gaze. He smiled and had the temerity to wink. Furious, Brigit longed to smack that smug look right off his face, but first, she’d take care of the dragon slayer, who continued to look at her like he’d never seen a woman dressed in a wasabi-green dragon costume before. What planet was he from? Didn’t he know it was impolite to stare?
The man’s gaze skittered across her face to settle on the front of her zippered costume. He paused there, lingering on the exposed vee of her skin. He moistened his full bottom lip with the tip of his tongue. Heat radiated from him, penetrating wherever he looked.
What was he, a human blast furnace?
Brigit resisted the urge to zip her collar. The last thing he needed to know was that his goo-goo eyes affected her. Had she learned nothing from her last encounter with a splashy space guy? Obviously not. What was she saying? The dragon slayer’s smooth moves weren’t working on her. But even as the insidious thought crossed her mind, Brigit’s heart pounded madly, nearly deafening her while her throat went Sahara dry. She sucked on her tongue hard, trying to garner enough to spit in her mouth to yell at him.
The announcer quieted the crowd, before she could speak. “Let’s find out the winner’s name.” He smiled as he swung the microphone in front of the dragon slayer’s sensuous mouth. And it was sensuous, the way his full lips curled slightly, covering perfect white teeth and a tongue made for laving the most sensitive skin on a woman’s body.
The warrior said nothing.
“What’s your name, dragon slayer?” he asked again.
“Orion.” The man’s smoky voice echoed throughout the ballroom, sending ominous shivers down Brigit’s spine. She heard several women gasp.
“All hail Orion from the planet…” The announcer paused.
“Zaron,” the warrior said, his gaze never leaving Brigit as he took a bow.
She squeezed her legs together, ignoring the sudden throb. No way. No how. She was not turned on by another wannabe starfighter.
Brigit’s horoscope slammed in her head. It wasn’t possible. It had to be some kind of cosmic joke. First Apollo, now Orion.
So not happening.
Orion stared at the woman before him with something akin to terror surging through his body. His heart pounded painfully against his rib cage as he considered how close he’d come to killing her. He didn’t want to think about it. Couldn’t think about it. Had she not staggered back at the same time the man grabbed his arm, she would be dead. His blood froze in his veins as the implications of his actions sunk into his mind.
He would have failed his mission for the first time in his life if he had killed an innocent. A good rationale for feeling the way he did at this moment, but that wasn’t the only reason. Orion refused to look too closely at what the other reason might be. He didn’t understand those feelings and he didn’t understand this world. Why would a woman cover herself in such hideousness? Especially one as lovely as the vision before him. His gaze locked on her glowing red hair. He’d never seen anything like it. He longed to touch the flame to see if it was a hot as it appeared.
The man straining to hold Orion’s forearm released him and shoved a cup of some sort into his palm. He stared at the alloy, turning it from side to side. What was he supposed to do with this? He examined it, but other than holding a fair amount of Zaronian ale, he saw no use for it.
Orion gave the man a curt nod, then stepped toward the flame-haired woman. She was unlike anyone he’d ever encountered. Remarkable. Her green eyes spat fire every time she glanced his way. He understood her anger. He’d been close to death on several occasions while in battle.
But there was more than simple anger in her gaze. There was hurt, envy and something else. Something he recognized instantly…awareness.His eyes widened at the realization. Despite her anger this woman wanted him, almost as much as he wanted her. That thought sent a surge of urgency through Orion’s body, one he hadn’t felt in a very long time—if ever.
He flashed her a look that normally brought women flocking to his quarters on Zaron. Her gaze flared a fraction, then narrowed dangerously. Orion watched her tiny hands curl into fists. Did she think to harm him? The thought was ridiculous, but he admired the courage it took coming from one so small and it intrigued him. Perhaps all the small creatures on this planet were fierce.
Crimson color swept her neck and over her face. He debated whether to probe her mind, but decided against it. Her species was far too primitive to accept such a prolonged invasion without a true-mate energy bond in place. But he was tempted, especially after accidentally catching a few of her racier thoughts.
He stroked her with his gaze and heard her bite back a growl. Orion’s lips twitched as he fought the urge to laugh. He loved a good fight, on and off the battlefield. This woman would not come easily to his bed, but she would comemany times once she got there. The thought provoked, aroused and surprised him. He wasn’t at all certain when he’d made the decision to have her. He only knew it to be so, as if the Goddess herself had leaned forward and whispered take her, she’s yoursin his ear. Never one to “look a prized zebra in its teeth”,he accepted the Goddess’s gift without question.
“The first prize goes to Orion, dragon slayer from Zaron,” the man announced to the masses, motioning to the cup in Orion’s hand.
Dragon slayer?Why did the man keep calling him that? He wanted to check his wristband to see what kind of creature that was but he didn’t want to draw any more attention than necessary.
The crowd exploded. Loud whoops filled the air as he followed the announcer’s lead and tentatively raised the cup above his head. Orion was deep into his fantasies about the woman when the announcer’s next words dowsed his ardor as effectively as if he’d ripped the Katronian rings from his cock.
“Second prize goes to crowd favorite, Brigit Taylor for her celestial dragon.” The man held out a document to the spirited woman. She hesitated a second before snatching the paper out of his fingers. Her gaze swept past the announcer going straight to the cup in Orion’s hand, before she turned to the crowd and waved. Brigit smiled sweetly at the people, until she glanced back at him. Her happiness faded, replaced once more by anger. Without touching him, she slayed him repeatedly with her eyes.
This was the woman he sought? This was Brigit? Impossible! The man had made a mistake. Yet, even as Orion considered the probability, he knew there’d been no error. He could almost hear the tinkling sounds of the Goddess’s laughter over the crowd’s din. She hadn’t blessed him with this woman, she’d cursed him.
Orion’s gaze swept Brigit once more, taking in the hidden curves, imagining the feel of her skin beneath his fingertips, the taste of her nipples in his mouth. He swallowed hard. What would she look like without the hideous covering? His palms itched and his body tightened. So this was Brigit Taylor, friend to Queen Rachel and Jac.
This changed noth—everything.
There had to be a compromise somewhere. He knew his orders, but conveying his message and then leaving no longer seemed like a viable option. Besides, his orders mentioned nothing about refraining from touching, although perhaps they’d implied as much. King Eros and Ares should’ve been more specific. They’d left seduction floating in the realm of possibility. Orion’s smile deepened as he considered the prospects. There was“more than one way to skin a weasel” as Jac liked to say.
He sheathed his sword and laughed under his breath at the fates that brought him to this tiny blue-green planet. The Goddess certainly worked in mysterious ways. Suddenly the thought of babysitting didn’t sound quite so unappealing.
Brigit seethed in anger as she approached him. “Who are you? Did Rick hire you? There’s no doubt you’re a ringer, but whose?”
“Then where in the hell did you come from?” she asked as she steamrolled past Orion, not waiting for an answer. “And don’t you dare tell me Zaron,” Brigit shot back over her shoulder as she unhooked her six-foot plastic tail and shoved it under her arm. What kind of name was Orion anyway? He might as well call himself Spock. Talk about unoriginal.
Like Brigit expected, the man followed her as she exited the stage. Rick and Dorothy laughed and pointed at her as she passed, but quickly stifled their mirth when the dragon slayer shot them an admonishing look. She fumed. She didn’t need this…this…man sticking up for her. She could take care of herself. Brigit still couldn’t believe she’d lost to a guy wearing what appeared to be spray-on clothes. It didn’t matter that he looked like some kind of fabled god in them.
She glanced at him. He stalked behind her. There could be no other way to describe his movements or his grim expression. Brigit took a moment to examine his costume. It reminded her of something you’d get if Fredrick’s of Hollywood designed a spacesuit for men. Sexy, even without a splash of color beyond a couple of jade accents.
He hadn’t put a lot of work into his costume. Were the judges blind? It didn’t matter that the crowd had decided the winner and that the judges score sheets were simply a formality. She huffed. Obviously, there was no accounting for taste or true talent.
Brigit turned forward in time to avoid colliding into a structural beam. He would’ve loved that, having her so distracted that she walked into something. Bastard! Grr…why did he have to look so good in that outfit anyway? The contest should have been based on a costumes complexity, yet it had turned into a beauty contest. And there was no way in hell she could beat him in that arena. Heck, the chick who’d played Lara in Tomb Raiderwould have a hard time and she was beyond gorgeous.
It wasn’t fair. Brigit slapped the second place certificate against her padded thigh and glared over her shoulder once more. Just what she needed, a male version of an actress who embodied perfection following her around. As if things didn’t suck enough at the moment.
Sweat from the crowd permeated the air. Brigit pinched her nose and fought to keep from gagging. Would it kill some of these people to use deodorant?
When they reached the relative quiet of the hallway, Brigit dropped her plastic tail at her feet and stopped. The man almost slammed into her. She hadn’t realized he’d closed the distance between them. She craned her neck and tried to ignore the heat coming off his body. Brigit straightened her spine before she did something stupid like sway into him.
The fact that she found him attractive only angered her more. “I don’t know who you think you are coming in here and snatching victory from my hands, but I want you to know that I think it stinks. If I were bigger, you’d be sorry.”
He frowned, his expression one of utter confusion. “I’m not sure what I have done to offend you, but…” He hit a button on his wrist. Something crackled, then buzzed. “I apologize.”
Brigit glanced at his wrist and back to his face. “Don’t you think you’re taking your character a little too seriously? The spotlight isn’t on you now, so you can cut the act. By the way, what’s your real name? Bob? Fred? Tom? Mike? Percy?”
“I know not what you speak of. My name is as I told the people. I am Orion.”
Brigit planted her hands on her costume-covered hips and gave him her best withering stare. He didn’t crack a smile or even blink. Maybe he was telling the truth. She relaxed a fraction. “Hippie parents, eh? I understand. I came this close,” she raised her hand and pinched her fingers together, “to being named Moonbeam.”
Orion shook his head. “What do we do now?”
“What do you mean what do wedo? I’m going back to my room to change into my next costume and you…you…” She poked him in the chest to punctuate each word. Touching him was a mistake. Her fingers quivered as they hovered an inch away from his flesh. She balled them into a fist so he couldn’t see how much he affected her. “I don’t care what you do. It’s your business, but I better not see your perfect ass on stage in twenty minutes.”
He grinned. “You think my ass is perfect.”
Brigit snorted. “Oh, please. You know you’re gorgeous. If your head swelled any bigger, you wouldn’t fit down this hallway.” She waved her hands around to encompass the area.
A look of horror crossed Orion’s face as he reached for his head. He examined it carefully with his fingertips for a few seconds, then dropped his hands away. A moment later, he seemed to relax. “My head is fine.”
She rolled her eyes. Was this guy for real?
“I should come with you. We need to speak,” he said.
“What do you think we’re doing right now?” she taunted. “Besides, we’re finished talking. You’ve done all the damage you could possibly do to me in one night.” Unless you decided to fuck me blind.
Red slashed his cheeks and his jaw tightened. “I have not injured you. Nor would I.”
She blinked, terrified for a moment that he’d read her wayward thoughts. “Oh, forget it.” She swatted the air in front of her face in frustration. “I’ll see you around.”
Brigit turned to leave. Orion’s hand swept out before she could take a single step and grasped her elbow. Heat zinged along her arm, going straight to her sex. Her body came to life under his touch, colors brightened and sounds intensified. One minute she’d simply existed and the next, she became an active participant. She fought an outward tremor as her gaze narrowed on him.
The power he held in that simple touch frightened and intrigued her. Yet, the last thing she wanted was for this guy to know. Brigit glanced down at his fingers, which curled possessively around her arm, and then to his face. The message she intended must have gotten through because he immediately dropped his hand.
“That’s more like it,” she said, wanting more than anything for him to touch her again, but lower.
“Please allow me to accompany you to your quarters,” he requested, yet his eyes flashed with what appeared to be…desperation. But that couldn’t be right, what would this guy have to be desperate about?
If he’d been arrogant, she would have told him to go stuff himself. Instead, Brigit felt herself soften. “Okay, but just to my door and no further. I have to warn you that I know karate.” She whipped her hands in front of her, frantically chopping the air. “You try to pull anything funny and you’re toast, got it?”
Orion stepped back, watching her. Amusement had returned, taking shelter on his face, but he carefully kept it in check. “Rest assured I will pull nothing, unless you wish it.”
Brigit refused to read anything into his strange statement. She looked away unable to maintain contact with his jade and aqua eyes. The intensity burning in them was too fierce. At a distance, the man was gorgeous, but up close he was lethal. What she’d thought was a Celtic tattoo on his cheek looked more like a tribal brand of some sort. But that couldn’t be right. He didn’t strike her as the face branding type. What was she saying? She didn’t even know him. He could be one hotdog short of a bun and with a name like Orion, he probably was.
That realization didn’t stop her from making more covert observations. His smooth skin held a strangely clean odor, not soapy or freshly scrubbed, but clean. Almost as if he’d been sanitized. The silver hoops in his ears sparkled as they caught flashes of the muted light from the fluorescent bulbs above. Brigit found herself mesmerized by the sight, longing to swirl her tongue around the circle until she encountered his sweet fleshy lobe. No! No! No! This was definitely not good. Orion grinned, but said nothing. Brigit sniffed and continued on.
This man could charm a Rabbi out of his long winter gatkes.
She made a mental note to keep her underwear secured to her body.
Orion wasn’t sure what exactly he had done to garner the fiery-haired woman’s rage, other than almost killing her, but he knew what he could do to assuage it. Mirroring the behavior of the people at the front desk, his smile widened. Brigit glowered. Her expression did little to deter the rings on his body from quivering in excitement and anticipation.
What was he thinking? No matter what he’d considered only moments ago, he couldn’t in good conscience bed Jac’s and Queen Rachel’s friend. His orders were to deliver a royal message and then leave. That did not require removing his body armor flight suit and exercising his cock.
He watched the sway of Brigit’s hips from beneath her padded covering, hypnotized by the gentle swish from side to side. He longed to see her without the bulky material. She was a small-boned woman, the top of her head barely reaching the piercings dangling from his nipples. Yet, it would matter not, for they would still fit together nicely.
No!The word echoed in his head, even as the rings around his shaft vibrated, hardening him instantly beneath his clothing.
Orion shook his head, sending his hair cascading into his face. He brushed it back in annoyance. He needed to stop thinking about this woman lying beneath him, writhing, his ringed cock sunk deep within her, her nipples feathering his lips, her soft moans filling his ears, feeding his voracious sexual appetite. He blinked to disperse the unsolicited image.
He could get that need taken care of by the two women standing sentry at the portal of this facility. But even as the thought crossed his mind, Orion knew his interest in them had already waned. Something far more tantalizing teased his eager senses…and she had red hair, luminescent skin and a temper hot enough to make a Zaronian slitheracringe.
They reached Brigit’s quarters a short time later. She slipped the entry card into the lock and the door opened with a soft click. She took a step inside, tossed her tail onto the floor then turned, holding her hand out to prevent him from following.
The warmth of her palm resting against his chest burned through the thin material of his spacesuit straight into Orion’s soul. His breath caught in his lungs. The touch wasn’t meant to be sexual, yet it was as effective as stroking his cock. Her innocent caress scalded his insides, igniting a fierce primal need to claim deep within him.
He wanted to possess this woman. That knowledge shook Orion to his antigravity boots. He curled his fingers into fists to keep from touching her and did something he never thought he’d do in front of a woman; he took a defensive step back. Her hand fell away and the instantaneous loss he felt crushed his insides. Something was wrong. There was something unnatural about this moment, this woman. The need was too great, almost overpowering. This was more than a simple urge to join.
“I said you could walk me to my door, but you aren’t coming in,” Brigit said. “I don’t know you and I certainly don’t make a habit of inviting strange men into my room.”
The thrill he felt over her admission shocked Orion. He shouldn’t be so pleased that she didn’t freely welcome men into her body, but he was. He fought to clear his head. He must stop these foolish flights of fancy. He was on a mission. “I am Orion from Zaron,” he repeated like a battle mantra more for himself than for her.
“Yeah, yeah, so you’ve said, but that doesn’t make us friends.” She leaned closer, beckoning him with her finger. “I’ll let you in on a little secret,” she spoke in a low voice. “I’ve never heard of Zaron and neither has anyone else. You may want to try making the name more realistic sounding next time.”
Just because this primitive planet never heard of Zaron, did not mean it didn’t exist. He struggled with his anger. A muscle ticked in his cheek as he spoke through clenched teeth. “We must talk.”
“We can talk here in the doorway.” Her hands went to a silver clip on the front of her covering. It slid down with a hiss. The material surrounding her small frame fell open, exposing a black outfit that hugged her curves like a second skin and caressed her abundant thighs. A citrus scent filled the air. He realized the delicate fragrance emanated from her heated skin.
Orion’s mouth went dry as she stepped out of the material and stood before him with her hands resting at her sides. For a full second he couldn’t think, his mind spun, he couldn’t even breathe as his gaze swept her body. It was as if the Goddess herself struck him about the head. Perhaps he’d developed space sickness during his journey and didn’t realize it. Could that explain his symptoms? Finally Orion found his voice. “I bear messages from Jac and Queen Rachel.”
Brigit’s mouth dropped open in shock. For a moment she remained speechless. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Come inside.” She reached for the front of his spacesuit, sank her finger into the lightweight material and pulled him through the doorway.
Orion didn’t argue. He took the opportunity offered and stepped into her quarters. The room seemed to shrink with the soft click of the door closing behind him. The beige walls pressed in from all sides. He battled the urge to wrench the door open and take a deep breath. His nostrils flared as he inhaled her sweet scent again, the aroma intoxicating, reminiscent of ripe Zaronian fruit.
He watched Brigit bend over and pick up her dragon outfit to lay it on the gold-covered sleep paddock located in the center of the room. Jac and Rachel called it a bed. Pillows fell in disarray, some lying on the richly carpeted floor, while others teetered on the paddock’s ledge. Part of the gold material had been peeled back, exposing twisted white sheets. Had she lain there with another? No! She’d told him none were welcome. Perhaps he’d be the exception. He nearly grinned in anticipation.
Orion’s gaze slid from the bed to Brigit’s tempting backside. She swung around in time to catch him looking, but only arched a brow. It mattered not, he wasn’t trying to hide his interest.
“You said you’ve heard from Jac and Rachel. How? I didn’t think there were phones where they’re at.”
He hit a button on his wrist translator to double-check her meaning. “No phones,” he answered, clearing his throat.
“Then how?” her voice pitched higher. “Were you in the jungle, too? You don’t work for the professor, do you?”
“I will explain all.” Orion stepped closer. He couldn’t stop himself. He needed to feel her warmth again, the gentle touch of her fingertips. “Your friends are safe,” he said, not answering her questions.
Brigit’s green eyes narrowed. “What do you mean by safe? And how do you know?”
“Because they sent me here to tell you.”
“Sent you here to tell me what? That they’re safe? That doesn’t make sense. They could’ve just come themselves.” She shook her head.
He sighed. “The Queen and Jac are in no condition to travel.”
“Why do you keep calling Rachel a Queen? I’ve known her for years. She’s not royalty. I don’t have time for puzzles, Orion. This is the second to the last day of the convention and the next contest is in thirty minutes give or take. I have to get my costume together. So why don’t you tell me what’s really going on here? And make it quick.”
He paused, unsure of where to begin.
“Listen, if you’re looking for an excuse to hit on me, just say so. I’d be flattered. Really.”
He was horrified at the thought. “Atlantean men never strike women. It would be dishonorable.”
Brigit rolled her eyes. “Ugh!”
This wasn’t as easy as he’d first imagined. Being near Brigit left him feeling ale-headed. Yet strangely, Orion found himself wanting to remain in her company. It made no sense. Instead of explaining why he was here, Orion decided to stall. He needed time to discover what was happening and to get his head clear. Thankfully, Brigit had inadvertently given him the way to do both. He smiled. “I shall assist you with the contest.”
Brigit stopped shaking out the material, her attention riveted to his face. “You’d really help me?” Surprise colored her voice.
“‘Tis the least I can do.” He stepped closer and her pulse jumped in her throat. That small telltale sign of awareness pleased Orion beyond words.
She recovered quickly, hiding her discomfort by becoming bolder. “You’re right about that.” Brigit nodded. “It is the least you can do after snatching my trophy away.” She stared at him for a few seconds, her gaze taking in every inch of his body.
Orion tensed, when he realized she’d “turned the chairs” on him. He fought the urge to reach for her and give her a closer look. If she didn’t stop looking at him like that, he would.
Brigit stared into Orion’s eyes, the blue and green so strikingly cool, yet heating beyond inferno at the same time. There was no mistaking the need she witnessed. The walls practically expanded with each breath he took. It was like being trapped in a human pheromone factory in the middle of a meltdown. She shouldn’t be in a room alone with this man. He did strange things to her. Made her wish for stuff she shouldn’t want. Couldn’t have.
Okay, maybe shouldn’t have.
There was nothing really stopping her from reaching out and taking what he so obviously offered, except for the fact that the last time she’d done something so impulsive she’d ended up with Rocket Man Rick, who’d fancied himself a lothario and cheated on her every chance he got. Orion didn’t really seem anythinglike Rick. There was true honor in him. It practically oozed from his pores. She sensed a depth in him that her ex would never achieve and even though he banked his emotions behind a carefully crafted façade, she’d glimpsed kindness glowing in Orion’s fierce eyes.
Brigit shook her head in disgust. She was probably reading too much into Orion’s offer anyway. She never could tell when someone was flirting with her or telling the truth. It was like someone scrambled the signals in her brain and left meant right, right meant wrong. In truth, the only thing Orion offered was to help with the costume contest, nothing more. Anything else was wishful thinking on her part.
Crap! Talk about the wrong weekend to forget her vibrator.
Brigit reached into her sewing basket and removed spools of thread along with a measuring tape. It was best if she got this part of her job out of the way first. The less touching the better. She stepped forward and his eyes narrowed.
“What is that?” He reared back.
She cleared her throat. “I need to measure you, so that the cape I’m about to alter fits correctly.” Who was that talking? It couldn’t be her voice. It was too…too…sexy. And she didn’t do sexy. Quirky, yes. Sexy, no.
He glanced to the tape in her hands and back to her face, before punching a button on his wrist. A second later, he smiled. A wholly male, feral grin that had the hair at the nape of Brigit’s neck rising on end. What was he up to? Instead of proceeding, she hesitated.
What had that little thingy on his wrist just told him? And for the first time, Brigit had no doubt he’d received information from it. Was it a computer? She’d give him one thing, Orion certainly took his space captain-cum-dragon slayer part seriously, props and all. She made a mental note to ask him where he bought his accessories. Maybe she could pick up something for herself. Then another thought occurred to her. Maybe English wasn’t his first language. If so, the translator made sense.
“Could you hold your arms out to the side?” she asked, willing her fingers to stop trembling. She’d measured men before, but Brigit had never fitted a man who looked like Orion. She’d also never had anyone stare at her the way that he did.
What was up with that?
She wasn’t exactly in his league, not that he appeared to notice. She wasn’t even his type. Didn’t he realize that? Maybe she should drag him in front of the mirror and remind him. The man practically oozed sex. It would take a gallon of perfume and an extreme makeover to produce the same effect from her. Not that Brigit considered herself chopped liver, but she was a realist. The twenty-five extra pounds she carried firmly resided on her ass and thighs. This man didn’t have an ounce of fat on him.
Why was she worrying about this crap? It wasn’t like he was going to see her naked. No one had seen her naked since Rocket Man Rick broke her heart.
She took a deep breath and stepped forward, holding out the numbered tape in front of her. Brigit’s arms barely reached the distance between his fingertips and shoulder. She ignored his impressive biceps. It was like measuring a basketball player, if they had layers upon layers of muscle covering their lean frames.
Brigit inhaled. Big mistake! She’d thought his skin held no odor, but heaven help her, she’d been wrong. He smelled fresh, like ocean air on a sunny day with a subtle hint of underlying…what was that? Whatever the fragrance was it had to be uniquely Orion. Brigit inhaled again to be sure, then bit her lip to keep from groaning aloud.
Her legs shook as she moved to Orion’s chest next. It was like every naughty fantasy come true. She had to be on Today’s Funniest Videosor whatever that other program was that played pranks on unsuspecting people. There was no way Orion was for real.
She struggled to reach around him, which brought her breasts snug against the rough slab of his abdomen. It was like smashing herself onto hot marble dipped in wax. Her nipples pebbled instantly and her clit twitched. Was he this hard everywhere?
Twitch.Twitch.Twitch. Her damn clit was sending out “fuck me” in Morse code.
Brigit’s cheeks flamed. She took a step back, but forgot about the measuring tape wrapped around him and the close proximity to the bed. Her knees hit the frame and the tape tangled in her grip as she tried to prevent herself from falling. But it was too late, she’d already lost her footing. Brigit fell a second later, pulling Orion down on top of her. She closed her eyes and braced, waiting to feel the crush of his weight, but it never happened.
Her eyes flew open. Brigit glanced into a face she’d hoped not to see this close. Ever. Her heart sped at what she saw there. Orion watched her, his expression pained and beyond desire-filled. He’d managed to catch most of his weight with his hands. They lay tangled in the measuring tape, chest to breast, sex to sex.
The urge to kiss him rode her hard. Brigit’s body softened as she felt his shaft grow and thicken against her belly. She gasped in surprise when she felt the rings. He’d inadvertently answered the question she’d pondered earlier about the piercings without even opening his mouth.
How big was that thing? She toyed with the plastic tape in her hand, debating whether to measure it and find out.
Her gaze flicked to his lusciously cruel lips. Brigit had no doubt he could torture a woman for hours with those lethal weapons. Her tongue flicked out, wetting her suddenly dry mouth. Orion’s nostrils flared. Instead of swooping in and taking what they were both curious to experience, he slowly lowered his head, giving her time to pull away.
Brigit thought she’d explode by the time his lips finally pressed against hers. Soft, yet firm, he waited for her to relax. The second she did, he started kissing her, not with just his mouth, but with his whole body—and soul.
Orion hadn’t planned to touch her, but the second his body made contact with her lush curves his willpower snapped, abandoning him to his baser instincts. Her tongue darted out tentatively meeting his. She tasted pure, sweet and addictive. Her fingers untangled from the tape and slipped into his hair, threading through the length, caressing his scalp until he thought he’d burst.
Having his senses overloaded was a completely foreign concept. He knew women well. Or at least he thought he had until encountering this one. How had he lived all these years without Brigit’s touch?
Her mons gently cradled his ringed cock as if it were made for his body, and his body alone. He rocked his hips, grinding his shaft over her clit, drawing a whimper from her delicate throat. The sound caused a rise of excitement inside of him. And still he kept kissing her, feeding from her mouth, ravenous for more.
He coaxed her need, then demanded a response equal to his own. Heat spread from their lips through his chest, scoring his skin like unsheathed talons, searing his flesh until he was convinced flame had somehow fused them into one.
Goddess help him, he wanted this woman. No, want wasn’t strong enough to describe his desire. He cravedher.
Without thought, Orion moved his hand to cover her small breast. His palm dwarfed the quivering mound as he kneaded her flesh. Her kernelled nipple poked through the material of her clothing into his hand, reaching eagerly for his touch. Orion groaned, deepening the kiss, devouring her lips. Hunger fed his movements as he released her breast and sought the corners of the material covering the front of her body from his greedy eyes.
He gathered the clothing into his fists, ready to rip it from her. The words that would bind them played at the corners of his mind.
Brigit pulled back from the embrace and gasped, scattering his befuddled thoughts to the four winds. Her small hands rose, stilling his actions. “We can’t do this,” she said through kiss-swollen lips. “Not right now.” Her body trembled beneath him. “The contest starts in a few minutes. There’s no time. We have to hurry.”
Quarg! Pained, Orion nodded in agreement, since he didn’t feel capable of speech. He forced himself to release her, his hand instantly feeling the loss of her womanly warmth. He’d given her his word he would assist her. And assist her, he would.
“I don’t know if we’ll make it in time.”
Resigned, Orion rose from the bed. His cock protested as he adjusted it to a more comfortable position in his flight suit. Nothing helped. His body quaked from pent-up desire—an emotion he had no right feeling with this particular woman. He chastised himself. That had been close, too close. If Brigit hadn’t come to her senses when she had, he would’ve taken her without a second thought.
A wave of unease swept through him at how close he’d come to binding himself to a…to a…human. He needed to share the information the King ordered him to deliver and depart at the soonest. Remaining in Brigit’s presence only complicated the situation he found himself in. Orion turned to divulge the message only to see purple material flying toward his face. He caught it automatically. “What?” He glanced at the cloth.
“Put that on. I’d planned to make myself a cape with a long train, but I hadn’t gotten around to finishing it. My guess is it won’t fit since I didn’t hem it, but it’ll have to do,” she said pulling more things out of the container. Her arms strained and her butt wiggled enticingly. “You’re not exactly Emperor Hun, but you’ll make a good master to my Princess Lena slave girl costume.” She waggled her eyebrows. “We’re lucky that I always bring extra costume pieces.”
“I do not know these people,” he said through clenched teeth, trying to ignore her ass and his erection. At least the latter was beginning to diminish somewhat.
Brigit stopped her movements for a second and turned to look at him. “You’ve never heard of Emperor Hun and Princess Lena?”
Orion shook his head, trying to concentrate on the coldest regions of Zaron. Perhaps if he sat on ice that would help.
“That’s weird.” She frowned, but went back to the task of sorting clothing. “I didn’t think there was a human left on the planet who hadn’t heard of those characters. You’re at Con for cripes sake. We live for this shit. All you have to do is look around.”
She pulled a baggy shirt over her head and began to slip out of her old clothes, while struggling into new ones. Fascinated, Orion watched each article drop to the floor, unable to tear his eyes away from her feminine shimmy. A flash of thigh here, an elbow there, his imagination filled in the rest.
A couple of minutes later, Brigit whipped her shirt off and spread her arms wide, revealing the tiny scraps of material barely covering her womanly form. “What do you think?” she asked, smiling brightly.
Orion gaped for a moment. He couldn’t stop himself. His barely softening cock rose to attention in less than a Zaronian second. She was a vision of desire, achingly lush and tempting as sin itself. He coughed to clear his throat.
His gaze traveled from her feet up her legs to her thighs, which peeked out in strategic locations. Brigit’s wide hips left him salivating. He stared at the flat expanse of her bare stomach and imagined licking every inch. He continued upward on his visual journey over the soft swell of her… Orion’s mind screeched to a halt. He pointed to the swirls of material cupping her breasts and pushing them up until they spilled over the top. “Are you going to wear that?”
“What do you mean?” Brigit glanced down at her outfit. There may not be much to it, but she thought it looked pretty good. “I’m supposed to be Princess Lena, while she’s enslaved by Emperor Hun.”
“I understand,” he said looking thoroughly confused. “But where is the covering for your flesh?”
Brigit matched his expression. “This is it.” She waved a hand down her body.
“You didn’t seem to care a minute ago about my clothes, when you were trying to take them off.”
He spread his fingers, working his hand open and closed as if trying to relieve tension or get the feeling back. “That was before we joined mouths.”
She snorted. “Give me a break. It was just a kiss.” That was the understatement of the century, but Brigit kept her expression casual. The last thing Orion needed to know was that he kissed better than most of her ex-boyfriends fucked. “You aren’t getting all possessive on me, are you?” As she spoke the words, Brigit realized a part of her actually hoped he was. Would that be so wrong? Of course it would. One good toe-curling kiss and she was ready to beg this guy to father her children.
“Will there be a gathering like the last time?” Orion asked, his voice dangerously low.
“A gathering?” What in the world was he talking about now? Soon she’d need her own decoder ring to decipher his phrases. Where was he from? “If you’re talking about the crowd, then yes. I sure hope so.” She began shoving items back into her suitcase. Brigit closed the lid, then sat on top of the bag, bouncing a couple times in order to lock it. The damn thing had to have shrunk after check-in.
Orion’s eyes widened and his sensuous face turned down in scowl. “There were males at that last gathering.”
Brigit glanced around the room to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything and to once again check for film equipment. There had to be a camera crew somewhere. No way was this for real. Men like Orion did not exist on this planet.
“Will there be males at the gathering?” He tried to hide the annoyance, but didn’t quite succeed.
His question startled her out of her packing. Why did he sound so grumpy? “Yep, there will be guys in the audience and plenty of girls.”
“Then I forbid it.” His voice boomed and he slashed a powerful arm through the air.
Brigit giggled. She couldn’t help it. That was the last thing she expected him to say. He forbade it. She glanced at his face once more and the giggles turned to peals of laughter. He looked so serious, but she knew he had to be kidding. No guy got serious after one kiss.
“That’s a good one, Orion. In fact, it’s perfect.” Her shoulders shook. “I forbid it,” she said, lowering her voice to impersonate him as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Save it for the stage, the audience will eat it up, especially once you put on that cape. Oh, I almost forgot.” Brigit unsnapped the suitcase and dug to the bottom of the bag. She felt satin beneath her fingertips and pulled. The material slid through the other items like water off sex lube. “Put this on.” She handed him the mask.
Orion stood there, turning the item over and over in his hands like he’d never seen one before and wasn’t sure what to do with it. She thought it was odd, but didn’t have time to delve into why. As it was, it would be a miracle if they weren’t disqualified from entering the competition.
“It goes on your face.” Brigit grabbed the mask and then stepped behind him. His broad back filled her vision. She shook off her fascination and stood on her tiptoes, straining upward, missing the mark by five inches. It didn’t help that she was trying not to touch him. “Duck down. I can’t reach you.”
He hesitated, but a moment, then did as she asked.
Brigit slipped the mask in place, securing it against his head, and then spun Orion around to see. Her gaze locked onto his face. She’d been going for a bit of mystery, something to make the crowd ooh and aah, but Brigit hadn’t anticipated the impact a simple mask would make to Orion’s face. Good Goddess, he looked like an intergalactic bandit. All that was missing was for him to pull the sword from his side sheath and carve his initials into the wall.
“Um…um…that’s good,” she choked out and patted him on the arm then stepped back. The need inside her flamed, refusing to be doused. She’d wanted him before, but now…
“We need to talk,” he repeated, his voice gruff.
“Later.” She couldn’t have any kind of intelligent conversation with him looking like that. Before Orion could say another word, Brigit grabbed him by the forearm and dragged him out of the room. It was either that, or do something insane like blow off the contest so she could throw him on the bed and fuck him senseless.
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