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Sunday, 14 September 2014

The tall man standing in front of her had his back turned, hands
clasped behind him, his gaze focused on the navigation panel.
Peyton Valmont squared her shoulders. “You wanted to see me,
sir?”
For a moment there was no response. Then he said without
inflection, “Are you surprised, Lieutenant?”
No, she had to admit she wasn’t. Staying quiet seemed the best
course because if she voiced that out loud it meant she knew she was
going to get in trouble and that of itself was an admission of guilt.
At her silence, he swung around and pinned her with his infamous
ice cold gaze. There was a granite set to his lean jaw. Commander
Gallico said in clipped tones, “You disobeyed a direct order.”
Tread carefully.
She cleared her throat. “Actually, sir, I didn’t. I wasn’t present at
the briefing.”
“Are you trying to split hairs with me on this, Valmont?” His eyes
were pure steel gray and about as warm as the interior of a frozen
planet. “Everyone on this ship knew my decision about the stranded
personnel on Epsilon.
 Under his command by Annabel Wolfe


 Sending in a transport was too risky. The

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Annabel Wolfe

surface was unstable, the storm too severe to chance more lives, but I
don’t have to tell you that, do I? You witnessed it all firsthand.”
He was right. The conditions had been horrible. She’d never seen
worse and even without the storm blast the constant quakes and
collapsing landscape made finding the small band left alive almost
impossible. “It wasn’t the most pleasant mission, sir,” she conceded,
doing her best to not sound flippant or worse, cocky.
Because despite not the best odds, she had managed to somehow
spot their beacon, land the transport on the shaking little strip, and
when the survivors scrambled aboard, she’d also taken back off, no
small feat. Getting in had been a miracle—getting out had been a
living nightmare. It had tested every skill she had as a pilot, but she’d
done it.
To the grateful soldiers and colonists, she was a hero.
Unfortunately, to Commander Gallico, she was insubordinate.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t known there would be repercussions, she
reminded herself, standing stiffly at attention.
“It wasn’t a mission, Lieutenant. It was a hijacking. Taking a
military craft—even if it is the craft you are assigned to pilot—is
against regulations. You know it and I know you know it. You risked
an expensive piece of machinery, you risked the lives of your crew,
and since you just proved how damn good you are at your job, you
risked one of our best pilots.”
She opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, he
snapped, “Don’t you dare point out those people are still alive. I’m
more grateful for that than you can imagine, but it doesn’t change my
position on this.”
Of course not. As far as she could tell, Kelton Gallico was so by
the book he could probably spout regulations in his sleep. He was
young to be in his position and good at it too, but hardnosed in a lot of
ways. Basically the crew of the ship liked him for his unswerving
fairness and clear head if there was trouble, but they did follow the
rules to the letter under his command. She always had too, until now.

Under His Command

7

Very carefully, she said, “I wasn’t going to point that out, sir. I
was going to tell you my sister was down there.”
Silence. Nothing but the blip of the surveillance screens in the
background.
His eyes narrowed a fraction. “On Epsilon? What was she doing
on a failing planet?”
“Planet physicist, sir. Hired by the Minoan government to try to
analyze why the structure of the planet was beginning to disintegrate.
She was the one who advised them to send the distress signal but it
got worse even faster than she thought.”
Commander Gallico’s expression didn’t change. “I see. I hate to
even ask this, but was she with the recovered party?”
“Yes,” Peyton answered, remembering the feeling of pure joy in
the midst of chaos and urgency when Tara had clambered into the
cockpit, her face streaked with soot, her eyes red from the virulent gas
releases from the explosions, but beautifully alive.
“For your sake, I’m glad.” He turned then so he was in profile,
and sighed audibly, rubbing the back of his neck. “You’ve put me in
one hell of a situation.”
“Sorry, sir.” She was…but she’d do the same thing again.
Whatever happened now—even if she got demoted or lost her
commission—was worth it.
She covertly tried to gauge his expression. He was strikingly
handsome as most S-species males were, so the line of his nose was
perfectly straight, his mouth chiseled and at the moment set grimly,
and his ebony hair gleamed under the lights of the command center
which was his domain, just brushing the collar of his uniform tunic.
S-species—or Super-humans—had evolved as a result of genetic
engineering when Earth decided to form colonies on different planets,
and the result was they were taller, more dominant, better-looking,
healthier—everything enhanced. Earth was now but a sub-colony,
completely under the dominance of S-species rule. Being half-human,
half-S-species put Peyton at a disadvantage sometimes and she felt it

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Annabel Wolfe

now. He was pissed—in many ways he had a right to be angry—and
being in the same room with a very much larger, very ticked off,
regulation-crazy commander wasn’t her idea of a good time. Weighed
against the duress of the mission itself, she could feel the strain in the
tension in her shoulders and the dryness of her mouth.
He glanced over finally. “Let me first say I understand your
motivations and can’t put forth with any sort of honesty I might not
do the same thing.”
Relief washed over her but it was short-lived.
He went on in that same matter-of-fact tone. “But I have to
reprimand you, Lieutenant. I literally do not have a choice. Should I
allow you to get away with this, I’d be setting a precedent for anyone
who takes it into their head to become some sort of hero by breaking
the rules and risking their foolhardy necks and government property.
This time it worked out. The next it might not. My job is to maintain
order and discipline. It doesn’t matter that I sympathize with your
dilemma. Do you understand?”
Well, fuck, there went her career. Measured against her sister’s
life it was a small price to pay, but she loved her job. Peyton’s throat
felt tight but she nodded. “Yes, sir, of course I understand. You have
your duty.”
“Yes, I do.” One ebony brow arched upward. “It isn’t always
pleasant, either.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fair, sir.”
“I’m going to try to be. Considering the high level nature of the
offense, I could have you demoted down to an assistant navigator, or
even released from service, if I wished. I hope you realize that.”
Peyton felt a little sick.
“But instead I think I’ll allow you to choose. I’m going to ignore
the appropriation of craft without permission, which considerably
lessens the breach of conduct.” Gallico stared at her, his face set. “I’m
just going to address the direct breaking of an order. Your choice,

Under His Command

9

Lieutenant. Any of the standard punishments offered in statute
nineteen.”
He was being more than generous but since she wasn’t a walkingtalking military rules expert, she asked haltingly, “Off the top of my
head, sir, I don’t know them.”
There was actually a flicker of some actual emotion in his eyes or
it seemed that way. “I don’t suppose you ever thought they would
apply to you. Your record so far is spotless. It’s part of the reason I’m
being lenient.”
“And I appreciate it,” she murmured, desperately trying to
remember that part of her training. They’d had to read the damned
rule book from beginning to end, but he was right, she hadn’t
concentrated on the part where it listed consequences for failure of
duty. She ventured, “Six months off the controls without pay,
correct?”
“That’s one possibility, yes.” He inclined his head. “Or a loss of
rank.”
The first sounded awful, but the second was out of the question.
She’d worked hard to get to where she was, and at twenty-four, was
one of the youngest females to hold her own with a very maledominated force of military pilots. She swallowed the lump in her
throat. “Sir, I’m both a lieutenant and a level 4 pilot. One of only a
handful of females who have risen so quickly. I’d hoped to be a major
in the next five years.”
“I’m well-aware of your accomplishments. It makes this even
more difficult.” He hesitated and then added without any expression,
“There’s a third option. If you wish, you can trade into a month of
sexual service. It’s up to you. It would be standard. The slave
uniform, confinement to quarters for that month, full subservience.”
To her dismay, she felt her face flush. She’d forgotten about that.
On long journeys like this one the males got restless without sexual
activity. To keep order with such a large crew, there were human
females brought on board to service them, but the numbers were

10

Annabel Wolfe

understandably limited due to space and the males had to share. If a
female officer had an infraction and wished to pay the price with
sexual compensation, it was offered as an alternative to punishment
since it was actually helpful. When the regulation was put in place the
males had grumbled at being limited to just two options when women
had three, but then again, they appreciated the reverse discrimination
in other obvious ways, so the rule had held.
Peyton stood there, thinking furiously. Not touching her transport
for six months? Being a pilot was her life. It was what she lived and
breathed. Demotion didn’t hold much appeal either. If she could save
her career, she would. “How many males?” she asked in a tight voice.
The commander looked at her with those cool eyes. “They have to
outrank you. No female officer is obligated to sleep with anyone of
lesser status. We have two colonels, four majors, and a captain on
board. Due to your rank, you are permitted to just service two. If
that’s your choice, tell me which ones and I am sure they’ll be more
than happy about the arrangement.”
The officers all knew each other and socialized often and she
wondered if she could actually do it. She cast over the possibilities.
Being intimate with her colleagues after she’d done everything
possible to gain equal ground? It sounded…daunting, dammit.
Embarrassing, too, and thousand other things, but then she
contemplated again not being a pilot for half a year. Even worse was
going back down to being just another drudge who could only pull
transports in and out of docking.
No. Out of the question.
She swallowed hard and looked at Commander Gallico. Those
austere perfect features, his tall lean body, all that deliciously dark
gleaming hair. In private, the female officers speculated about his
personal life, but he kept to himself and if he availed himself one of
the humans, he was discreet about it. There was little doubt she found
him attractive, despite his intimidating standoffish demeanor. In a
hoarse voice, she asked, “What about you?”

Under His Command

11

****
Kel had no idea what the expression on his face might be, but he
did his best to keep it neutral.
This whole day seemed designed to test him in every way a male
could be challenged.
First was the agonizing decision he couldn’t possibly ask any
officer or crew to go down to the surface of Epsilon, his anguish over
the matter both private and difficult. It wasn’t easy to condemn the
people on the surface of the planet to certain death, yet when he
weighed the odds, it had seemed clear it wasn’t right to order a
hopeless attempt at rescue either. Then the news came Peyton
Valmont had taken matters into her own hands, left the ship
unauthorized, and while he stood in paralyzed indecision over what to
do about it, apparently pulled off the rescue of the millennium.
To compound the unpalatable situation, now he had to punish her.
Yes, he’d let her off easy, but never did he expect she would offer him
her body.
Did she know he’d secretly lusted after her since the moment she
set foot on his ship? The lieutenant stood there, her rich dark brown
hair highlighted by the subdued overhead illumination designed to
make sure there was no glare on the dozens of monitors, her vivid
hazel eyes reflecting her trepidation, but also her undeniable courage.
She was more than classically pretty, her features delicate and
feminine, long lashes framing those incredible eyes, a soft pink mouth
right now compressed into a tight line of apprehension.
It was common opinion she was gorgeous and though he never
commented one way or the other when the men talked about
Lieutenant Valmont, he definitely agreed.
If he wanted her before, he wanted her even more now. Fuck, how
was he supposed to manage this, especially when she’d suggested he
be the one?

12

Annabel Wolfe

Kel took in a breath, hoping he still looked unfazed. “What about
me in what way, Lieutenant?”
“If I have to do this, can I service you? Commanders don’t have to
share either, do they? Wouldn’t you count as two?”
“No. Naiad is just a step down in rank, second in command. We
share quarters, responsibilities, and just about everything else.”
Including you, should you choose this. He didn’t have to explain
it.
For a moment she said nothing. Then with obvious effort, she
nodded. Just once. “Okay, I can live with that. You and Commander
Naiad.” There was just a slight falter in her voice. “The other officers
are my colleagues.”
And he wasn’t a colleague. Of course he wasn’t. It was his duty to
distant himself from the staff. To be above it as he dispensed orders
and kept strict discipline. “I don’t…” he started to say, and stopped,
not sure how he wanted to finish.
What the hell was he going to tell her? He didn’t like the idea?
Yes, he did. He’d like nothing better than carry her off to his quarters
right this minute.
 His sex drive was as healthy and strong as any other
S-species male. With her—the slender yet suggestive lines of her
figure under the required uniform always intriguing—it was very
tempting.
She waited, her back perfectly straight, those entrancing goldgreen eyes wide. When he didn’t speak she explained haltingly, “I
don’t know if you understand how hard it is as a female to get treated
like an equal. Right now even the officers who outrank me regard me
as one of them. I’m going to lose that if I have to submit to any of
them. What you are talking about isn’t like having a sexual affair,
Commander, which is also against regulation for the same reason—
discipline.”
“This is a punishment,” he told her, an edge to his voice.
“I realize that. I accept it,” she countered, “but can you see my
position? This way at least I wouldn’t lose their respect.”

Under His Command

13

He could see her in a lot of different positions—that was part of
the problem. Kel looked around at the sterile surroundings of the
bridge. He was the commander, she was just a rogue female pilot, and
why he should feel so guilty about this was a mystery.
Valmont had walked in tense and defiant. She’d stood there and
took his diatribe on her disobedience, and then she’d waited for his
edict. Not that she had much choice, but still once he heard her reason
for why she had commandeered the craft and risked her life, he
understood.
It changed nothing. He really didn’t want to reprimand her in the
first place, so making it as easy on her as possible appealed to him,
but it had to be done.
She appealed to him. That was the problem. Since the first
moment she stepped foot on the ship, he’d wanted to fuck her.
Now he could have her. Whenever he wanted. In any way he
wanted.
Damn if his unruly cock didn’t start to swell at the thought.
Still, it posed problems if he agreed to this. Kel stared at her. “I
don’t want the crew to think I’m meting out discipline for my own
pleasure, Lieutenant.”
The word pleasure made her color deepen, pink giving a nice
color to her cheeks. “Excuse me for saying so, sir, but I think the crew
would object more if you were too harsh. Feel free to make sure they
all know this was my choice. I’ll do the same.”
It was probably true. She was a damned hero now. Soldiers
always admired the kind of courage she’d shown, and even more so
the reckless act showcased her remarkable ability to handle a
transport craft under any conditions. This solution would take her out
of duty for the shortest time possible and he wouldn’t have to dock
her pay either.
“You won’t have the opportunity to tell them,” he pointed out. “If
you choose this route, Valmont, you’ll be confined to the command
quarters.”

14

Annabel Wolfe

“Yes, sir.”
Naked. Nice.
“You’re sure this is how you wish to resolve this?”
“I’m certain, sir.”
“Very well.” He waved a hand past the door scanner and opened
the portal, gesturing at the two soldiers who stood at attention there.
He said curtly, “Escort the lieutenant to Level C. See that she’s
indoctrinated.”
Both the guards were too well-trained to show any kind of
reaction, but Kel felt their shock just the same. Level C was where the
females were kept and instructed on their sexual duties before each
voyage, so he imagined it would be common knowledge fast enough
just how he’d handled her insubordination. She left with dignity,
walking between the two much taller soldiers in brisk departure. Kel
wandered over and examined the flight log, but he didn’t really see
the notes he’d made. He needed to sit down and compose a report to
be sent to Minoa on the incident. Epsilon was clearly a lost cause but
at least there had been no further loss of life thanks to one daring,
beautiful pilot.
“How did that go?”
Kel turned around and saw his second in command, Jake Naiad,
enter the captain’s bridge, open curiosity in his expression. Naiad
murmured, “It couldn’t have been much fun. I saw them take her out
and she looked more resigned than anything.”
“It went,” Kel responded, rubbing his jaw. “And no, that part of
this job isn’t my favorite. I’ve had to discharge some good soldiers
already in my career. It didn’t appeal to me to do it again.”
Naiad was also tall—most S-species males were—blond, built
with whipcord leanness, his angular features refined and his eyes a
clear aquamarine. He was a good officer and one of the few males Kel
considered a true friend. They worked well together, and when they
were on Minoa between assignments, played pretty well together too.

Under His Command

15

The mutual competitive spirit meant they were good opponents in
sports and other leisurely pursuits, one of which was bedding females.
“Is that what you decided to do?” Naiad asked, sitting down in his
chair by the rows of panels. “You discharged her? I have to tell you;
that’s going to be an unpopular decision, Kel.”
“Am I running a popularity contest?” Kel retorted, lifting a brow.
“She broke about fifteen regulations.”
“Sixteen, but who’s counting,” Naiad remarked, rubbing his chin.
“Two of them big ones. Still, the governor’s son was rescued, along
with one other civilian and over twenty soldiers. How the hell she did
it, I don’t know. Her navigator said he couldn’t help her worth shit
and the thrusters quit twice. He also said she was like a machine. Cool
as could be and determined as hell.”
“The civilian was her sister.”
The other man stared at him and then gave a low whistle. “Okay,
that makes a difference. At least now I understand the determination.
Fuck, you still discharged her?”
Kel leveled an ironic look at him. “I never said I discharged her. I
said I would have been justified in front of any tribunal for doing just
that. Instead I dropped the unauthorized appropriation charge and just
addressed the direct disobeying of orders. I offered her the choice of
any of the statute nineteen sentences.”
Naiad thought for a moment, and then nodded. “That’s more than
fair. I hate to see her lose rank or be sidelined because she’s damned
good, but it’s a slap on the wrist compared to what could have been.
No wonder she wasn’t more upset.”
“Yeah, well, she didn’t want to lose rank or be sidelined either.”
For a moment Naiad looked puzzled but then he blinked.
“Valmont chose sexual servitude? That surprises me. She doesn’t
seem like the submissive type.” He grinned then. “Hey, I’m more than
happy to volunteer to be her—”
“She’s been assigned,” Kel interrupted. “It’s always awkward
when a female officer is punished that way. I let her decide.”

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Annabel Wolfe

Naiad let out an exaggerated sigh. “Too bad. Some of her fellow
officers, I take it. She’s a delicious little piece, in my opinion. Who?”
“Me. Us, I guess, would be more accurate.”
Blond brows shot up. “Nice work there.” Naiad grinned. “I’ve had
worse news. This day has gone from being a near disaster to shaping
up pretty good.”
“I didn’t coerce her in any way. It was her suggestion.” Kel was
irritated with himself for sounding defensive but was pretty sure there
was a hint of it in his voice anyway. “She doesn’t want this to affect
her status with the other officers she interacts with on a daily basis.”
“Smart female, the lieutenant.” Naiad’s blue-green eyes reflected
amusement. “I can’t say I’m disappointed. Neither are you. Even
before all this, I’ve caught you looking at her a time or two in a very
un-commander-to-pilot way.”
Was that true? It probably was, though Kel thought he’d kept his
interest hidden. Naiad had an annoying way of being perceptive at the
wrong times. “She’s noticeable,” he admitted.
“Very fuckable,” Naiad agreed with a low laugh. “I wonder if she
realizes how hungry for her you are.”
“She’ll find out soon enough,” Kel said in a clipped voice and
went to start his reports.

Under His Command

17

Chapter 2
The skimpy gown was almost entirely sheer and concealed next to
nothing, the hem not even reaching mid-thigh, the neckline low
enough her nipples were barely covered. She’d seen it often enough
on the human females but hadn’t ever contemplated wearing one
herself. Peyton looked at her image in the mirror of the cubicle and
winced in embarrassment. The rules were clear. No undergarments,
loose hair, and the word “no” wasn’t supposed to be in her
vocabulary. Available at all times, in all ways.
Since it was Gallico, she had better be able to abide by the
strictures to the Nth degree. Whatever they wanted he and his first
officer were supposed to get, and if she could just get through the next
month it would be over and maybe she could return to a normal
existence and be back on the job. She had no illusions that the entire
ship wasn’t talking about her choice at the moment, but it was without
a doubt the most expedient and that was important to her.
There was one big problem. She wasn’t a virgin, but the very brief
love affair she’d had two years ago hadn’t exactly given her much of
an education in how to please a male. The whole thing had been a
huge mistake and she and her ex-lover had really only spent two—for
her unsatisfactory—nights together. The sex had been both brief and a
little uncomfortable and she wasn’t all that impressed with the
process.
Oh well, she could grit her teeth and endure it, and as busy as the
Commander and Naiad were, maybe it wouldn’t be all that often
anyway.
“Ready?”

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Annabel Wolfe

She whirled around, not aware the door had opened. The two
soldiers that had taken her to level C stood there, both of them
looking at her. Really looking at her. Getting a damned eyeful too, she
thought, trying to tamper down the resentment. Neither had they
respectfully addressed her by her rank either. She blushed, which was
infuriating. “Yes.”
“Come with us.”
She did, one of them walking in front of her, one of them behind,
and she was just grateful that they didn’t encounter anyone she knew
personally before they reached the lift. Impassive, both males waited
as she got on, and then joined her, pressing in a code. Her own
quarters were on the officers’ level of the ship and she deliberately
didn’t look as they passed her door, going all the way to the very end.
One of them scanned the door open and gestured her inside. She
obeyed, stepping in, and the door swooshed shut behind her and she
was alone.
Her first thought was she wouldn’t mind being a commander
some day. The room was twice the size of her berth which she shared
with two other female officers. It had a private galley, a large sitting
area with a wall of screens and communication devices, and a
sleeping area with two large beds in comparison with the bunks they
were assigned, plus a cleansing room of impressive proportions.
Everything was immaculate and no personal possessions were
anywhere, but then again, she didn’t expect anything less from the
formidable Gallico. The only surprise was a book on one of the
lounging couches. She picked it up and looked at the spine, amazed to
see it was Voltaire. The commander read ancient earth literature? She
never would have guessed. Of course, because of her half-human
heritage, she had an acquaintance with some of the old classics, but
still it was a surprising facet to his personality. Quickly she set it
down, aware of its value. Almost no bound copies existed any longer.
He must have paid a fortune for it.
She sank into a seat, not sure what to do but just wait.

Under His Command

19

This had to go down as the most eventful day of her life, she
mused in weary contemplation. First the terrifying danger of the
rescue and her own fear she was taking her crew into a certain death,
and then the wrath of the handsome commander of the ship, which
she partially deserved.
Not to mention her impulsive request to be assigned to him, and
where that had stemmed from she wasn’t sure except Gallico was an
enigma—an intimidating enigma—and the idea of him touching her
was intriguing in some elemental way.
The commander aside, she was exhausted and even her trepidation
over what was going to inevitably happen next didn’t stop her lashes
from drifting downward.
****
Kel had stayed deliberately on the bridge late, as if to prove some
point that he hadn’t sentenced the lieutenant so he could haul her
straight off to his quarters and make use of her pretty body. Naiad
made a few ribald comments which he ignored, feigning an
indifference to her presence which he didn’t at all feel.
When he stepped inside the privacy of his berth and actually saw
her there, the stark immediacy of her presence spiked through him. He
had a feeling as the door swished shut, even though he had schooled
himself control his expression at all times, the look on his face would
have fooled no one.
Desire spiked through his body, straight to his cock, making it
stiffen against the confining cloth of his fitted uniform pants.
Peyton Valmont was asleep, curled on her side on one of the two
built-in couches in the sitting area. The filmy gown she was required
to wear barely covered the essentials anyway, and in this position he
could see pretty much everything. The thin material was bunched up
around her thighs so he could not only see her luscious ass, but the
enticing smoothness of her shaved pussy as well. It was one hell of an

20

Annabel Wolfe

erotic view and he guessed she’d be pretty embarrassed to know he
just stood there and stared at her, his erection swelling to full mast in
about two long heartbeats.
With slow deliberation he forced himself to look away, took in a
deep breath and adjusted his unruly cock to try and make himself
more comfortable—which didn’t work—and went into the galley. He
allowed himself no more than one glass a day of the crisp golden wine
he favored because as the officer in charge of the entire ship, even
when someone else was actually on duty, he was ultimately
responsible for every decision and he needed a clear head at all times.
This seemed the right moment to have that allotted drink.
He poured it into a tall fluted glass and went back in the sleeping
quarters and took off his tunic. Kel sat down on the edge of the bed
and removed his boots so he was at least a little more at ease if he
could just ignore the throbbing between his legs, and went back out
into the sitting area. Normally now he would switch on the monitors
so he could observe different levels of the ship and then relax as he
sipped his drink, but this wasn’t an ordinary evening and the view was
too distracting for him to pay any attention to anything else.
As he’d fantasized, her body was just the way he liked a female to
be formed. Slender but with nice, full breasts, shapely hips, and long
slim legs. Only once had he seen her out of uniform and that was a
fluke, as she’d been coming back to her quarters after obviously
making use of the ship’s exercise facility. Usually he was on duty
before most of the officers rose, but they’d received the news about
the instability of Epsilon and he’d been in communications all night
with Ran Kartel, the Governor of Minoa. Minoa was the central planet
of S-species government and Kartel the most important resource when
it came to tough choices. The decision to send his ship to see if a
rescue was possible had been made, and Kel had been up without
sleep for over twenty-four hours before their course was changed and
the matter settled, so he’d gone back to quarters to try and catch a few
hours of rest. Being sleep-deprived could be more incapacitating than

Under His Command

21

intoxicating substances and it was regulation that the officers get
adequate rest.
It was that morning, seeing her in gray loose pants and a thin
sleeveless top, a sheen of sweat on her face and arms, her hair not the
usual neat regulation coil at her nape, but pulled carelessly back, that
he’d realized the depth of the attraction. Her clothing hadn’t even
been at all sexy or provocative but he’d gotten the barest hint of the
sway of her tits under the thin material of her shirt as she stopped
short at his unexpected presence in the hallway and come to attention.
When he had fallen asleep, fuck if he hadn’t had a wet dream,
something that hadn’t happened to him since he was coming into
adolescence. He’d woken spent and shaking and embarrassed as hell.
Tonight, and for the next twenty-nine nights, he wouldn’t have to
imagine her beneath him, or above him, in front of him—he liked
inventive positions—tonight he would get to play the fantasy and he
still really couldn’t believe it had all worked out this way.
He sprawled in his chair, just drinking in the sight of her as he
sipped his wine. All that rich mahogany hair spilled over her pale
bared shoulders, and one hand was tucked under her cheek, the fan of
her long, curly lashes against her perfect cheekbones.
How long did he have to wait, he wondered, before he woke her
and carried her into the sleeping area? If he was considerate, he’d let
her sleep. On the other hand, her only real duties under the statute
sentence was to be available if he wanted sexual gratification and that
certainly was the situation of his rock hard cock was any indication.
The dilemma was solved as his communication device gave a
small beep. He slipped it free from the band of his pants and saw it
was the chief medical officer. Peyton stirred at the sound of his voice
as he answered a question about one of the rescued soldiers who
apparently had smoke inhalation illness from the toxic fumes on the
self-destructive Epsilon. During the call, she sat up and desperately
tried to arrange her gown to a more modest state. The silk of her
tumbled hair fell down to the middle of her back and framed a face

22

Annabel Wolfe

pink with embarrassment. She cleared her throat as soon as he signed
off the call. “How long have you been here?”
“A little while,” he answered, taking what he hoped seemed to be
a casual sip from his glass.
“I…I fell asleep, I guess,” she stammered.
“That is an astute observation, Lieutenant,” he remarked, amused
at her discomfort.
She adjusted her position so she was perched primly on the edge
of the couch, her thighs pressed together tightly, her shoulders
squared. Hazel eyes stared at him, not precisely with defiance, but
there was a measure of challenge there. After all, she was an officer
and from what he knew of her record and her service under his
command, both hard-working and skilled. This current position of
subservience wasn’t going to be easy. He hoped she realized it.
Kel asked, ‘Would you like a glass of wine?”
One brunette brow arched upward. “I don’t know. You will have
to explain to me how this works, Commander. Do all the male
personnel offer wine to the females who are there for one purpose
only or are you just being polite to me because of my rank?”
“On Level C they were supposed to explain to you exactly how it
works, Lieutenant.” He regarded her over the rim of his glass.
They had apparently, for her blush deepened. “They explained in
great detail how we are supposed to act toward you. But there was
nothing about how you would act toward someone in my position.”
“Rest assured the females we harvest from Earth and bring on
board for sexual purposes are treated very well. They share quarters
with the males in the crew and more often than not, attachments form
beyond the physical part of it. Governor Kartel’s wife was a human
female serving on a ship taking him on a diplomatic mission. He
married her, so obviously neither was unhappy with the arrangement.”
It was true. Very few of the females chose to go back to Earth
once their service was over. Most selected Minoa or one of the other

Under His Command

23

colonies and many of them ended up with S-species husbands or were
bred to keep the gene pool from becoming too narrow.
“I know they are not ill-treated,” she murmured. “I suppose,
though, I am not used to being regarded as an object with no rights.”
“Care to change your mind, Lieutenant?” As Kel made the offer
he sure as hell hoped she wouldn’t accept it. His hungry body tensed
even as he spoke. “This isn’t supposed to be easy for a female officer,
remember? If it was, it wouldn’t be offered as a sentence for an
infraction.”
She hesitated and then shook her head. “No, I don’t want to
change my mind, sir.”
He relaxed. All but his aching cock. It kept sending little signals
to his brain. Hurry, hurry, hurry. But there was a part of him reluctant
to let the beautiful pilot sitting so rigidly across from him know how
deeply she affected him. At thirty-four he was the youngest
commander in the fleet and he didn’t get into his position by drooling
after officers in his command. This situation was different, of course,
but under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have touched her.
Pleasantly, he asked, “Well, since you seem determined, let me
ask you again, would you like a glass of wine?”
****
He lounged there, larger than ever even in the more spacious
commander’s quarters, his piercing eyes holding her gaze.
The fact he’d removed his tunic shouldn’t have startled her since
he was off duty and in his quarters, but it did.
The material of the undershirt molded to shoulders impressively
wide and emphasized a muscled chest. Raven hair framed the chiseled
features the female officers whispered over, and brushed his strong
neck. Seeing him sitting in a relaxed sprawl, half-dressed, a glass of
wine casually in his long fingers brought home the intimacy of the
situation. He was even barefoot, she noticed.

24

Annabel Wolfe

Then she noticed something else. Despite her resolve to stay calm
and composed, Peyton’s eyes widened as she stared at the bulge in the
front of his tailored pants. It was undeniably large but why she would
be surprised was a mystery. He was a tall man and an S-species. With
her inexperience, she really didn’t have a lot to compare him to either.
She could feel the race of her pulse beat in her throat and her
palms were suddenly damp.
“Peyton?”
She jerked her gaze up at the use of her first name. He’d never
done that before. “What?”
The color of his eyes had changed she saw, from the usual icy
gray to more a storm cloud color, darker and mysterious. His lips
twitched into something that might even have resembled a smile,
though she had never seen him anything other than stern and remote.
Shit. He’d noticed her staring at his crotch and that was
mortifying. She had a sinking feeling he might find her relative
innocence amusing, or worse, a nuisance. It wasn’t that she hadn’t
had a few relationships, but they just never developed into anything
she felt strongly enough about for sexual closeness. When she did
finally try, she realized it was more out of curiosity than anything and
the resulting disappointment had caused her to break it off quickly.
Since then, she’d been too busy with her career to really fraternize
with anyone.
But here she was, basically undressed because the skimpy little
garment they issued the females in her position was designed to
arouse, and apparently it worked. The commander looked like he was
going to make sure she served her sentence. S-species males had
enhanced sex drives along with everything else. From the look of his
arousal, she wasn’t going to get off lightly.
An unfamiliar feeling of excitement coiled in the pit of her
stomach and her breasts felt suddenly tight and full. Absently she
rubbed the sore spot on her thigh where one of the medical staff had
given her an injection. It was supposed raise the level of her libido,

Under His Command

25

the young doctor had explained in a pragmatic tone. Peyton wondered
if it wasn’t working because she felt a little flushed.
“I take it you want to skip the drink.”
The statement, said with a cool undertone of amusement made her
realize he was no longer looking at her face, but instead at where her
now taut nipples made hard points against the gauzy material. She
really didn’t want any wine, so she said, “I’ll pass on the wine,
Commander, but thank you for offering.”
His gaze drifted lower, to examine her bared legs. “You have a
very nice body, Lieutenant Valmont. I might even say spectacular.
Why don’t you disrobe?”
She could think of a few reasons why she shouldn’t, the first one
being she never thought she would ever, ever be naked in front of the
formidable ship’s commander but the rules were clear. Whatever he
wants, whenever he wants it. She stood and reached for the hem of the
garment but before she pulled it off over her head, she took a breath
and blurted out, “There’s something you should know, sir.”
Ebony brows arched upward over those remarkable eyes. “Is
there? Go ahead then, inform me.”
“I’m not good at this.” That sounded wrong and made her feel
ridiculous, so she amended, “Or let’s say I haven’t had much chance
to know whether or not I’m good at it.”
“Sex or taking off your clothes?”
Who knew the man even had a sense of humor, but there was
definitely a note of what could even be teasing in his tone if you
stretched your imagination a little. Peyton lifted her chin and slipped
off her gown over her head. She said crisply, “The former, sir.”
“I see.” He sat there and examined every inch of her, from her
head down to her toes with a slow, sweeping assessment. “I think
your statement is flawed, Lieutenant. You could have had as many
chances as you wished. You’re a very attractive female. If you lack in
experience, I am going venture an educated guess from a male point
of view that it has been your choice.”

26

Annabel Wolfe

He was right, but that option was now gone. Nude, embarrassed
but trying not to show it, Peyton stood there obediently and watched
him finish his wine and set aside the glass on a small console next to
his chair. Then he stood in a leisurely fluid motion at odds with his
obvious arousal and inclined his head toward the doorway to the
sleeping quarters. “I think we can improve the level of your practice
in a very short time.”
The indication she should precede him was hard to miss. With as
much dignity as she could gather—especially since she was naked
and felt infuriatingly vulnerable—Peyton walked past him, aware of
the sway of her breasts with every step. At this point she wished she
was full S-species because then he wouldn’t be so very much larger.
The females were usually almost as tall as the men, and while she
wasn’t as petite as a full-blooded human, she was still a lot smaller.
Males enjoyed that, she’d heard. The disparate sizes of their
bodies meant her tightness would enhance his pleasure.
His pleasure. A shot of that strange sensation twisted in her
stomach again. She gave a small involuntary shiver as she stared at
the bed. It stood on a slightly raised platform, the utilitarian military
issue white linens giving the sleeping area a stark look, the floor
polished tile, the only color in the room a small pile of more antique
books stacked on a small metal table by the side of the bed.
Peyton jumped when she felt a large, warm hand settle on her
shoulder and she realized he stood right behind her. His touch was
light, almost delicate, as he trailed his long fingers down her arm until
he grasped her hand and urged her to turn around. She obediently—
but reluctantly—did as he wished, taking in a breath as she tilted her
head up and stared into his eyes. They held a glitter she had never
seen before.
His mouth quirked at the corner. “Relax. Surely anyone with the
nerve to land a transport on a disintegrating planet and manage to
pilot it back through one of the worst cosmic storms I have seen isn’t
afraid.”

Under His Command

27

“I’m nervous, sir,” she admitted. “Behind the controls I am the
equal of any pilot, male or female. In this situation, you are very
much in charge even discounting your rank. I dislike feeling
helpless.”
It was true. She barely came up to his shoulder so he towered over
her and the width of his brawny shoulders was intimidating. His voice
was a little husky as he said, “You won’t be helpless, Peyton. If at any
time you are uncomfortable with what we’re doing, ask me to stop. I
will. You have my word.”
She found herself staring at his mouth, wondering how it would
be against hers, how his lips would feel roaming across her skin…
“I am not allowed to ask you to do anything.” She almost forgot
and added, “Sir.”
“I really don’t think much about rank in bed.” His breath was
warm against her lips as he lowered his head.
When he kissed her, she fought a gasp, his hard mouth covering
hers in insistent pressure.
It was unlike any kiss she’d ever experienced. Hot,
dominating…exciting. Molten heat speared through her body. His
tongue invaded her mouth and she relinquished the battle.
She had to, she excused herself.
But even if she didn’t….
She would have.
He didn’t so much kiss her as possess her. The palpable hunger
surprised her in a male so normally controlled and cold. As he feasted
on her mouth, his hands began to roam. Over her ass, across the small
of her back, to her shoulders, and then downward, so his palms
separated them as he cupped her breasts. The reaction of her body was
instant, her nipples going taut.
“Let’s lie down,” he murmured against her lips. “Standing up is
good too, but this first time let’s keep it simple. I’ve been abstinent
this entire time out. I didn’t think it would be this long because we
didn’t anticipate the problems on Epsilon.”

28

Annabel Wolfe

Through his regulation pants she could feel his erection. He was
huge, the long length hard against her stomach, giving her a nervous
quiver. “Sir, I—”
He paused in the act of lifting her nude body onto the bed. “You
what, Lieutenant?”
What hell was she going to do? Try and back out now? “I don’t
know,” she confessed, staring up at him.
“I do know,” he said, that very slight smile surfacing again. “You
defied orders, correct?”
“Yes.’ She gasped as he deposited her on the bed.
Long fingers went deftly to the fastenings on his pants. “And
chose sexual servitude over losing rank or flying status, right?”
Peyton nodded, watching him undress.
“Then you requested to service me and Colonel Naiad. Do I have
this all straight?” He shoved the material down his lean hips,
revealing his jutting cock.
By the stars, she hadn’t really expected he would be so large. She
stared at his erection, fascinated, and squeaked out, “I think so.”
“I just wanted to make sure.” He stepped out of his pants and
climbed onto the bed. On top of her, in fact, settling his weight on his
elbows. Raven hair brushed his shoulders and one stray lock fell
across his forehead, giving him a softer look than his usual icy
command. He kissed her again, taking his time, exploring deep,
licking the corners of her mouth, skimming her teeth. His skin was
hot, smooth, the muscles in his upper arms bulging impressively as he
kept his weight balanced. His mouth trailed a warm, seductive path
along her neck. “Hmm…”
She quivered, excitement mixed with panic spiking through her
body.
“This works better if you spread your legs.”
At first she didn’t register the suggestion, nor did she realize she
had her thighs pressed tightly together. She wasn’t resistant as much
as intimidated. The idea of the latter bothered her. He was right.

Under His Command

29

Hadn’t she risked her life, her craft, and beat the odds just hours ago?
Hadn’t she faced him down and made her own choice: a choice she
still agreed with since it impacted her career in the least harmful way?
She could do this. If she was sure of one thing in her life, she
knew she wasn’t a coward.
Peyton took a deep breath and opened her thighs. Wide. Her
fingers clenched in the sheets but otherwise, she lay acquiescent and
docile. To her surprise, he didn’t position himself at once but instead
went on with his leisurely attention to her neck, moving upward now
and then to kiss her lips again. It was different each time, sometimes
fervent and demanding, then soft and intimate. Gallico lingered over
her mouth as if she wasn’t spread-eagled below him, tasting, rubbing
his tongue against hers, coaxing an unexpected response from her
wayward body. She barely noticed when he shifted position and the
tip of his cock touched her, nudging her pussy, testing the pliant
opening.
“How do you like it?” he whispered in her ear.
“Like what?” she countered, hardly able to breathe after the last
mesmerizing kiss.
He actually laughed. Commander Gallico laughed. He said, “Sex,
Peyton. How do you like it? Fast and hard? Slow and soft? I’m not
alone in this bed and no matter the circumstances, I’m not a selfish
lover.”
“I don’t, sir.”
“You don’t what?”
She shrugged. “Like it any particular way. I’m not sure I like it at
all.”
Uh-oh. More honesty than she intended.
He lifted his head and stared at her intently. His eyes had taken on
a smoky warm color unlike his glacial reputation. “Why not?”
Well, she’d opened her mouth, so she might as well tell the truth.
“I’ve only done it twice. It wasn’t particularly a pleasant experience
either time. I told you earlier that I—”

30

Annabel Wolfe

“Were you forced? I want his name. Did he hurt you?” In an
instant the ruthless commander was back.
Now she was embarrassed. This wasn’t supposed to be about her
lackluster love life. This was about sex, pure and simple. “No, not
really, and his name doesn’t matter. I just didn’t think it was all that
spectacular. I see you read the old earth author Shakespeare. Let’s just
say I could quote him. Much Ado About Nothing.”
He touched his finger to her lower lip. Just a brush, but it made
her stomach clench in an odd way. “Damn, if I don’t like anything
better than a challenge, Lieutenant. I warn you, if you want to test me
like this, you might find walking difficult for the next thirty days.”
From the sheer size of his stiff cock, she was worried about that
anyway. He penetrated her a little, and she took in a deep breath at the
incredible stretching sensation. “Whatever you wish, sir.”
“You’re wet. Your body likes this. And it only gets better.” He
nudged again, just a little deeper.
“If you say so.” She had no idea if he was right or not. All she
knew was her hips tilted up of their own accord to ease his entry.
Muscular thighs pushed her legs so wide she felt vulnerable like never
before in her life.
This morning she’d been ready to sacrifice her life. She had a
fateful feeling she was taking even a bigger risk at this moment.

Under His Command

31

Chapter 3
If you say so.
Kel couldn’t help but be amused at both the comment and the
slight edge of insolence in her breathless tone.
Peyton wasn’t acquiescent by nature—he knew that by the way
she’d disobeyed him and stolen the transport. Not to mention the stiff
set of her slender shoulders and defiance in her eyes when she’d faced
him earlier. And now, even as he started to take her, Kel could sense
what wasn’t actually resistance but maybe insubordination.
In other words, she didn’t really disagree, she just wanted to
argue.
Too bad. He was a bit too far gone for changing his mind and he’d
given her more opportunity than necessary to change hers.
Fuck. She was exquisitely tight. Just as he’d imagined the first
time she’d stepped on board the ship and he’d taken in a deep breath.
Those long slender legs were open in welcome, but her body was
tense beneath him and he had to do something to make her relax. He
was well-endowed and she was half-bred. The discrepancy could
cause pain or give sublime pleasure. The difference was the attitude
of the participants.
“Let me in,” he whispered, touching his mouth to hers, his hand
sliding between their almost joined bodies. “My size will make you
feel good if you relax, Peyton. Your body can do this, I promise.”
“I hope you’re right,” she said in a voice that sounded strangled
but her hot little pussy loosened a fraction and he slid in another
crucial inch. Perfect. Kel stifled a groan of satisfaction. God, she was
warm and wet and ready.

32

Annabel Wolfe

His hand worked against her breast, lightly squeezing and
fondling. She had the kind of perfect tits he liked, not really large but
very feminine with pert rose crests. Now, with her lustrous brunette
hair spilled over his bed and her gold-green eyes glazed in passion—
perhaps resistant passion, but he knew the signs—Lieutenant Valmont
resembled any man’s wet dream, all long supple limbs and silken
skin.
His for the taking. He pushed in a little more, noting it was getting
easier. The lady was hot and slick.
“I need to be all the way in.” He nibbled on her lower lip, sinking
deeper. “You’ll find it worth it.”
“So arrogant, Commander.” She arched and shifted, panting.
Her feisty attitude should irritate him. He certainly had been
furious over her daring earlier. But he found he liked her spirit and
independence.
Almost as much as he liked her warm, enticing body. “Let’s call it
a calculated conclusion based on experience.” He kissed her neck,
working at it, his cock going deeper.
And deeper.
All the way. To his balls. The hug of her inner muscles rippled a
telling shudder of pleasure through him. He withdrew, rocked a little
forward and sank back in, exerting pressure on her clit.
Peyton dug her nails into his shoulders and gasped.
“Good?” he asked tersely, not used to a female with such little
experience. She’d been disappointed before.
Not this time. It was a silent vow.
“I…yes,” she admitted. “Oh.”
“Thank the stars,” he muttered, setting himself against her as he
really started to move. In and out, one long slow stroke after another,
the erotic rhythm as old as the universe. His cock pulsed, his blood
raced, and the exquisite tightness of her vaginal passage made him
wonder if he would hold on or embarrass himself.

Under His Command

33

At least she’d started to pant. He felt the breathless exhales
against his neck with acute sensitivity to the growing enthusiasm of
the female beneath him. She moaned, and since he could give an
educated guess she didn’t want to moan, he felt a flicker of triumph.
Her hands slid over his shoulders and she arched into his next thrust.
Good girl. That’s it. Let’s do this together.
“Oh…ooh.” Peyton’s eyes closed as if she was concentrating on
something, hopefully the erotic rhythm of their joined bodies. With
his forefinger he massaged her clit with each inward glide of his cock.
His traitorous body finally decided he was going to embarrass
himself, and he didn’t care.
To his relief, at that crucial moment, she went wild beneath him. It
happened suddenly, the contraction of her inner muscles telling him it
was genuine, and he knew he’d wear the marks from her nails on his
shoulders. She cried out and trembled violently. The reaction sparked
a barbaric reflex in him he didn’t even know existed. Kel surged
inward, his muscles knotting, and closed his eyes as he stiffened and
exploded, pouring into her with such force it felt as if he’d stopped
breathing.
His immediate thought—when he could think again—was he
should have taken more care. Shit, he was usually controlled and
easy, especially with human females. He lifted a hand to smooth back
her tumbled hair and found it shook. It had been that damn good. “I
didn’t hurt you?”
“I have no idea,” she answered with surprising audacity, her eyes
still closed. Lush lashes rested on her perfect cheekbones. “Am I still
alive?”
He chuckled. It didn’t happen often that his mirth was
spontaneous. His life and occupation didn’t call for a lot of laughter.
“I take it that is a no, then.”
Those long lashes lifted and she stared into his eyes. “It wasn’t
like that before.”

34

Annabel Wolfe

A curious statement but he’d already learned her past experiences
hadn’t been very satisfying. “Does that mean an adjustment in your
assessment of sexual intercourse has occurred?”
“What do you think, Commander?”
“I hope so,” he conceded with an inner smile.
“Hmm.” The murmured sound could mean anything.
“I’ll be hard again soon.” He had no obligation to warn her, to
explain anything, but he liked her. She was beautiful, yes, but also
interesting. How did a female submit and yet not come across as
submissive? He wasn’t sure, but she’d managed it.
“So fast?” She looked up at him. “I thought it took a while for
most males.”
“We’ve been out for some time.” To prove his point he lifted his
hips, his still semi-rigid penis, encased in her tight sheath, already
swelling as if he hadn’t just climaxed. “I could probably go all night.”
“Is that so?”
Was she teasing him? It was a startling notion, especially since
she gazed up at him with a provocative light in her beautiful goldgreen eyes.
“Lieutenant, can I give you some advice?” He lowered his head
and nibbled on her lower lip. “Don’t challenge me any more than you
already have today.”
“Yes, sir.” Her lashes lowered just a fraction as if she meant it, but
she ran her fingers down his back, her nails trailing along his skin to
the curve of his buttocks.
Kel choked back a laugh. “It might just be me, but your sincerity
seems suspect.”
“Your sincerity, on the other hand,”—she wiggled her hips—“is
unmistakable. Somehow I knew it would be this way.”
The ingenuous remark took his off-guard. “What does that
mean?”
In answer she tugged him down and kissed him.
Hard. With lips and tongue and persuasive enthusiasm.

Under His Command

35

He may not have wanted to punish her for that rogue flight down
to the surface of Epsilon, but at the moment, his arousal surging
again, Kel was glad it had all happened. He also had the impression
that though he might be the commander, he wasn’t the one in control.
Impossible. He was always the leader, the decision-maker, the
dominant one.
She moaned into his mouth. Just a small sound, but it made him
rigid instantly. He rocked into her willing body, his prick at full
attention, her small sound of enjoyment penetrating his brain.
Kel began to move again, thrusting into the wet, welcoming heat
of her vaginal passage, savoring the breathless sound of her pants as
she lifted her hips to take what he offered.
Somehow I knew it would be this way…
Even as he took her, he registered the sentiment, the analytical
recognition of her meaning striking deep.
She’d thought about them like this. Him, inside her.
The fantasy hadn’t been his alone.
****
It felt so good, so incredible, there was no way to conceal her
open enjoyment. Peyton arched shamelessly, her clit tingling with
each powerful thrust of his cock into her pussy, a deep yearning for
that singular exquisite pleasure to wash over her again, taking the
breath from her lungs.
She gasped.
She clung.
She came.
Three times. It seemed like as each shuddering peak of ecstasy
waned, another one crashed over her until she wanted to beg Gallico
to stop, but at the same time implore him to continue.
This was what it was supposed to be like, she thought, pressed
against him, her arms around his strong neck as she quivered in

36

Annabel Wolfe

response to the motion of his lower body. When he went rigid, his tall
form tense and his head dropping so his face was buried in her
outspread hair, the pulse of his orgasmic release filled her with such
force she shuddered with him in perfect sync.
The whole thing was…enlightening. Empowering.
Who would think being reprimanded would turn out to be a
rapturous experience?
He adjusted his position, sliding free of her body and rolling to the
side. The broad expanse of his chest lifted and fell rapidly and his
eyes were half-closed, his expression enigmatic. There was a slight
sheen of sweat on his forehead. Peyton felt deliciously limp, wellused, but then again, well-pleasured also. Her thighs were streaked
with semen and her breasts still tingled.
“You’re probably exhausted.” Gallico murmured the words.
Deftly he turned her so her back was to his front, her ass nestled
against his groin. “We’ll save “all night” for some other time. I’m
tired myself. Let’s get some sleep, Lieutenant.”
The warmth of the embrace was almost shocking, maybe even
more intimate than the actual act they had just completed. One strong
arm circled her waist and his breath stirred her hair. While she’d
known she would have to service him sexually, she really hadn’t
pictured sleeping nude in his arms. She blurted out, “And here we all
thought you never slept, Commander.”
“Is that so?” His tone was dry.
“You must know you project a somewhat…” she searched for the
right word, “formidable presence.”
“You seemed to have no trouble disobeying me.”
“There you’re wrong, sir.”
“I’m wrong? Oh really? I think you just disagreed with me,
proving me right.”
She had. Peyton felt her cheeks flush but at least he couldn’t see it
with their bodies spooned together. “I meant taking the transport
without permission wasn’t something I did lightly.”

Under His Command

37

“I’m aware of your reasons, Peyton. But you should also be aware
that the ultimate decisions about what happens on this ship and with
this crew are mine. I was given the responsibility, and in the end, I am
the one to face the consequences if something goes wrong. Had you
been less skillful, and less lucky too, I would have had to answer for
not only the loss of life on Epsilon, but a destroyed transport craft and
a dead crew.”
She protested, “I disobeyed. It wouldn’t have been your fault.”
“I’m afraid the Minoan government wouldn’t take the same
view.” His arm tightened just a fraction. “A commander is supposed
to be able to control his men.”
“I—”
“Peyton, go to sleep. That’s an order.”
Continued argument was probably a bad idea, she acknowledged
silently, stifling her reply. She was tired, he was correct on that point.
Obediently she closed her eyes and listened as his breathing began to
shift in rhythm, the sound comforting in the sterile room. Behind her,
he felt solid and large.
When this was all over, she thought sleepily, she might have to
disabuse her fellow officers of Gallico’s cold, distant persona. The
crew routinely—behind his back of course—called him The Ice Chip.
There was nothing icy about the heat radiating from his rangy
body or those long, intoxicating kisses.
The last thought she had before slipping away in slumber was that
she was surprisingly looking forward to the next twenty-nine days.
****
The bridge was quiet compared to the turmoil of the morning and
the catastrophe on Epsilon. Jake Naiad sat in his chair, observing the
screens, but only with mild interest. Captain Ammati, one of the
navigators, watched a nearby meteor shower with vigilance, her hands

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Annabel Wolfe

hovering over the keys. Her sculpted profile was limed by the
artificial light, her pale hair caught in regulation style at her nape.
“So, tell me, Captain,” Jake said conversationally, “how do you
feel, as a female, over Lieutenant Valmont’s punishment for this
morning’s heroics?”
“Sir?” Ammati lifted her head and almost turned it so she could
look at him. Almost.
“You. Feel?” he repeated dryly. “I’m curious over your opinion.”
“You don’t want to hear it, sir.”
“I don’t?” He stifled a laugh over the combativeness in her tone.
“Well, let’s keep in mind I did ask. Go ahead, please.”
The captain turned and looked at him. She wasn’t a raving beauty
but somehow still strikingly attractive—a little too tall for his tastes,
almost his height—and she had lovely eyes. Long-lashed, sapphire
blue, and extremely direct. “Would you leave your sister to die on a
disintegrating planet, sir?”
“I don’t have a sister.”
“I thought you wanted my opinion, not to spar with words.”
She had a point. Her professionalism was undisputed. He inclined
his head. “Sorry. Not very sportsmanlike. All right. No. I doubt I
could leave anyone in my family behind if there was something I
could do about it.”
“The sexual service option for insubordination punishment
demeans females.” Ammati glanced at the screen and automatically
moved to make an adjustment.
“Would you have taken a reduced rank or demotion to a nonflying craft?” He was genuinely curious. Of the female officers,
Ammati took her job more seriously than most. Like Peyton Valmont.
“No, sir.”
“But you just said—”
“I’m career military, Colonel. I’d do what Valmont did so I could
get back on the job. I just wouldn’t like it.”

Under His Command

39

Jake elevated his brows. “That would depend on the males
involved, wouldn’t it?”
“Perhaps.” There was challenge in her declaration. “Most males
bore me.” She added, as if an afterthought. “Sir.”
He’d wondered. At a guess most of the men had wondered about
Ammati. Too bad. He wouldn’t mind a stab at changing her mind…
The door lifted in a low hiss. One of the senior officers came in,
an apologetic look on his face. “I’m sorry for the interruption, sir, but
she insisted and I received a request from Minoa—”
“Where’s Gallico?”
The furious interruption made him swivel in his chair. Jake saw a
young woman storm through the doorway past Major Grand, her face
flushed, and behind her a young male S-species who looked familiar.
Lounging back, irritated at the intrusion in an authorized area,
Jake said in clipped tones, “This is for command personnel only. Care
to tell me what’s going on?”
The young male shifted uneasily. “I’m sorry. My father helped us,
sir. She insists on seeing her sister and I—”
The governor’s son, of course. Jake recognized the resemblance to
the former head of the now defunct and uninhabitable Epsilon. He cut
off the young man. “So you pressured Minoa for a pass onto the
bridge of this ship because of who your father is? I’m afraid even if
you can open the door, I can still toss you out. I realize her sister
pulled you off a disintegrating planet, Mr. Janssen, but you still can’t
violate federation rules. There’s a briefing planned in the morning.”
Tara Valmont narrowed her eyes. She wore what must be
borrowed regulation off-duty military pants and a shirt of the same
drab color. Her loose hair was the identical rich color as her sister’s
but her eyes were tawny, not hazel. There was a slight mark on one
smooth cheek that looked like a chemical burn and one of her hands
was bandaged. She said tightly, “Don’t blame Will. He happens to
have the capacity to actually feel gratitude for my sister’s courage, so

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Annabel Wolfe

he offered to help. It probably stems from still being alive thanks to
her.”
The implied criticism was irritating. “Look, Ms. Valmont—”
“Dr. Valmont. I have advanced degrees in both physics and planet
dynamics.” Her chin lifted a few degrees. She stood with her
shoulders back, radiating militant outrage like a core mining blast
furnace.
“All right, Dr. Valmont, let me first disabuse you of the idea the
lieutenant’s courage has gone unnoticed by this command.
Commander Gallico however, has an obligation to keep discipline on
this vessel. She broke the rules, however well the outcome turned out
to be. Maybe as a civilian you don’t comprehend it, but I assure you,
your sister understood the repercussions.”
“How convenient this all is for you and Commander Gallico.”
“There was nothing convenient at all about the situation on
Epsilon.” His tone was clipped. “Not for any of us. I saw the
commander struggle with his decision. Do you think he took it lightly
to leave anyone there to die? If so, it proves you know nothing about
him. The odds of rescue seemed very slim from this side, Doctor, and
because it was so risky, he didn’t want to send more people to their
deaths. And what did he do when she proved him wrong? He used the
lightest sentence possible by dropping the charge concerning
unauthorized appropriation of military property and gave her
discretion in how the punishment was meted out.”
For a moment she seemed silenced. Then she visibly swallowed,
the muscles in her slender throat rippling. With quiet dignity, she
asked, “Can I see her?”
“No.” Jake softened the denial by adding, “But I’m almost off
duty. If you have a message, I’d be happy to relay it for you.”

Under His Command

41

Chapter 4
Peyton sipped idly from her cup, the beverage reminiscent of the
fruity earth wines she and Tara had enjoyed on their one journey to
her mother’s home planet. She’d already used the cleansing facilities
to wash, eaten the rations provided for both the morning meal and
midday, and used the interactive gaming equipment for entertainment.
From where she sat in the galley, she could see into the sleeping
quarters. Colonel Naiad was sound asleep, his tall body sprawled
carelessly across his bunk. One arm was curved over his head, his
face averted and his broad chest lifted evenly with each measured
breath.
The man was stark naked.
At some point he’d kicked off the sheet. Peyton worked in a maledominated part of Minoa’s forces and she’d seen her share of bare
chests, but Colonel Naiad had a very nice build. He wasn’t as heavily
muscled as Commander Gallico, but long and lean. Dark blond hair
was tousled against the stark white bedding and the dusting of pubic
hair across his groin was a slightly deeper shade. His cock was lax at
the moment, but still looked impressively large nestled between his
powerful thighs.
The night before had been enlightening in many ways. Peyton
wasn’t naïve about her lack of sexual experience, but she also hadn’t
been prepared for the revelation of erotic pleasure either. It
heightened her understanding of why the sexual service regulation
existed in the first place.
If what had happened between her and Kelton Gallico was an
indication, no wonder males craved sexual release, Peyton thought.

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Annabel Wolfe

The handsome commander had been surprisingly sensitive in contrast
to his cold reputation and the experience had revised her previously
lukewarm feelings about sex.
However, the daunting fact remained she was still supposed to
please both of them. While Commander Gallico was attractive in a
distant, unapproachable way—though she didn’t think him cold any
longer—Colonel Naiad was a little irreverent, his cynical humor
legendary, and he had a reputation among the females on the ship,
though word had it he didn’t touch anyone when they were on a
mission.
Peyton took another drink of the sweet wine.
“What time is it?”
She jerked, her gaze coming up at the sound of the husky voice. A
little of the beverage in her glass sloshed over the rim and splashed
her hand. “What?”
Unmindful of his nudity, Naiad sat up and ran a hand through his
hair. “I never did go to sleep yesterday because of the Epsilon crisis.
What time is it?”
She’d been partially responsible for the “crisis” so Peyton flushed.
“Past midday. Are you hungry?”
“Oh yeah.” He smiled in that lazy signature curve of his mouth
that made the female members of the crew squirm. “Pretty hungry,
Lieutenant. Food sounds good, too.”
Where Gallico was cool and distant, Naiad was intense, and
despite his rank, his slightly teasing manner was unsettling. She asked
in a cynical tone, “Am I supposed to get you something? These rules
are new to me.”
“I can manage.” He swung out of bed and headed for the
cleansing room. Over his shoulder he said, “And as for the rules,
Valmont, in my experience most pilots are pretty quick. You’ll catch
on.”
Not sure how to take that remark, she sat and waited for him to
emerge. The sound of running water was punctuated by splashing and

Under His Command

43

it was all intimate in a way she didn’t expect. When Naiad came out
he wore a pair of drawstring pants and his hair was damp. His lean
jaw was clean-shaven and the lazy appraisal in his aqua eyes
thorough. But he didn’t do anything more than move past her into the
galley and open the refrigeration unit. “I have to admit I’m starving.”
“Don’t you and the commander have hot food delivered?” She
was curious, and since she was going to be living in the same quarters
for a month, she felt she had the right to ask.
“Just when we request it.” He took out some rations and
unwrapped the meal. “We’re really used to eating alone. Being first
and second in command isn’t conducive to a lot of social activity.”
It really hadn’t occurred to her that aspect of the job would be on
the lonely side. He went on in a conversational voice, “I am very
much looking forward to that part of your temporary incarceration,
Lieutenant. It will be nice to have someone to talk to on a casual
basis. Almost all my conversation now is limited to procedure,
personnel, or this ship.”
Peyton watched him sit down opposite and smiled wryly. “I
thought conversation was the last thing you wanted from me.”
His return smile was wicked. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m looking
forward to the other part of this arrangement too, but having an
intelligent, articulate woman to spend some leisure time with is very
appealing.”
The other part. Under the skimpy gown, her breasts tightened as
though she had no control over it. The hormonal shot, no doubt, she
realized, trying to tamp down her mortification over her wayward
body’s response to both his oblique reference to what they’d be doing
no doubt after he finished his meal, and to his presence, bare-chested
and very male, just across the small utilitarian table. That damned
shot they’d given her to enhance her sex drive must be working for
she had certainly enjoyed the night before and it very much surprised
her.

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Annabel Wolfe

In a good way, she pondered, sipping her drink and watching the
male across from her. If she was going to have to do this—and it
seemed she was—it was best if she could take pleasure in it.
Maybe her expression reflected her thoughts for Jake Naiad sent
her an amused look. “You and Kel must have gotten along well. He
looked more relaxed when he relieved me this morning than I’ve seen
in a long time. By the stars even the prospect of dealing with your
sister didn’t seem to bother him.”
“Tara?” Peyton did her best to ignore the heat that climbed into
her cheeks at the reference to her changed relationship with the ship’s
commander and the intimacies they’d exchanged. “Why would he
have to deal with her?”
“She’s incensed over the idea you are being reprimanded. I did
my best to explain it all to her, but I get the impression she’s
somewhat of a rebel when it comes to the rules. She even managed to
get permission from Minoa to gain access to the bridge.”
Tara was a scientist by profession, but a free spirit by heart.
Peyton shook her head. “She can be very determined. I did my best to
talk her out of going to Epsilon months ago when she accepted the
assignment. The reports on the military frequencies about the
instability problem were frightening. She found the prospect of
analyzing a dying planet fascinating. I still don’t understand why they
didn’t begin the evacuations earlier.”
“I don’t either,” he admitted. “If my family were there, I would
have gotten them out right away. I was told some of the colonists
were third and fourth generation. They refused to leave their homes
until it became clear the situation was out of control. A mass
evacuation is difficult to manage but most of them got off in time.
The party you rescued was the last of them willing to go and at that,
they waited too long to send a distress signal.”
She was well aware of the situation because of her sister. Peyton
gazed at him curiously. “Do you have a family? Brothers,
sisters…wife?”

Under His Command

45

“Am I married? No.” He shook his head. “I have two younger
brothers, both civilians. My parents live in the First City on Minoa.
What about you? Anyone besides the militant Dr. Valmont?”
“You have my personnel file, Colonel. I’m sure you know both
Tara and I are half-bred. Our mother is from Earth and though they’ve
never married, our parents are fond enough of each other they still
communicate. She decided to go back to her home planet once both
my sister and I became adults. We went to visit her last year.”
“My mother is half-bred, so I’m only three-quarters S-species
myself,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ve never been to Earth, though
I’ve thought about it. It seems like I’ve been everywhere else. Tell
me, what’s it like? I’ve seen the data, but it can’t be the same as with
your own eyes.”
He really did seem to wish to talk. Peyton obliged, describing the
mountains, the vast oceans, the odd variation in temperatures due to
the planet’s orientation to its one sun so it was warm in the middle
regions and frigid in the north and south. While she spoke he asked
questions and refilled her glass. Though he didn’t have Kelton
Gallico’s distant reputation, he was professional in every way and she
certainly had never had a casual conversation with Colonel Naiad. It
relaxed her without her even realizing it was happening, and it wasn’t
until she looked up and caught the singular gleam in his aqua eyes
that it occurred to her he’d done it on purpose.
Peyton dwindled off in mid-sentence and shot an accusing glare
across the table. “I believe, Colonel, I’ve done all the talking.”
Broad shoulders lifted in an unrepentant shrug. “We’re going to
get to know each other on a personal level. It seemed like a good
place to start. We can move on if you like.”
****
The beautiful young pilot that had shown such wild daring the day
before looked adorably confused. Not caught up in the usual

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Annabel Wolfe

regulation style, her shining hair was loose around her slender
shoulders and the tiny garment she wore revealed more than it
covered of what he’d imagined under her uniform. Jake lounged in his
chair, well-aware the minute he stood she’d see his erection, now both
prominent and uncomfortable. From the brief exchange he’d had with
Kel as they changed commander shifts he gathered that the night had
been highly satisfying. Given her lissome body and those full breasts,
Jake felt a powerful physical attraction to Peyton Valmont, but he
really wasn’t one to just casually take any female to bed for the sheer
relief of it. Intelligence and personality mattered to him and he knew
Kel felt the same way, if not more so. Their tastes were similar
enough they were often attracted to the same female.
Like now, they often shared the same female. Jake clarified, “To
the bed.”
Her gaze flickered across his bare chest—and not for the first time
during their conversation either. “That’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?”
“Maybe so.” He gazed into her eyes, hoping she’d register his
sincerity. “But if you ever think Kel or I would either of us force you,
you’d be mistaken, Peyton. There is nothing remotely sexy or
gratifying about an unwilling partner. I think you’re beautiful, and
I’m more than curious to find out if the daring you exhibited when
you initiated one of the most courageous missions I’ve ever heard of
translates to sex, but only if you find me attractive also.”
There was faint pink in her cheeks and she said nothing for a
moment, but then she nodded. “I’m going to venture a guess and say
most females do, don’t they, Colonel?”
He grinned. “Call me Jake when we’re together here and save my
rank for when you’re back on active duty.”
“You’re nothing like Commander Gallico.” Her lush lashes
lowered a fraction.
Jake stood. “Did you expect me to be?”

Under His Command

47

As predicted, her gaze flew to the prominent tent in his loosefitting pants. “Well,” she said dryly, “you’re alike in one way
apparently.”
With a smothered laugh, he outstretched his hand. “If there’s
going to be a running comparison I need to warn you our styles are
somewhat different. Kel likes to be dominant in bed. I’m a bit more
flexible. If a female wants to take charge, that’s fine with me.”
Peyton looked startled but put her slim fingers in his. “How would
you know what he’s like?”
So the unconscious air of innocence Lieutenant Valmont exuded
was genuine. To his surprise, Jake found the lack of sophistication a
turn-on. “Most males find watching arousing, even if it is a female
with someone else. Kel and I sometimes take a female to bed at the
same time.”
She said nothing, but something flickered in her eyes. It was brief,
but he didn’t miss the flare of excitement.
“Intrigued?” Jake stepped around the table and tugged until she
was closer, sliding his arms around her. He brushed her temple with
his mouth. “We’ll show you sometime if you’d like.”
“I never said—” She started to protest, blushing. He could feel the
increased heat from her skin.
“But for now,” he interrupted, “it’s just you and me.”
His lips drifted across the graceful curve of her cheekbone, lower,
until he found her mouth. The kiss was long and slow, a journey of
discovery. She tasted of sweet wine and the soft contours of her body
fitted against him as she pressed closer and her hands came up and
slid into his hair.
Exactly. Just like that…
He cupped her ass and rocked his erection against her, the
throbbing in his cock increasing. Tongues brushed, breath mingled,
and he stifled a groan as she moaned into his mouth. They’d been out
too long on this mission, he thought in a haze of need. He was going
to have to exert control, which usually wasn’t a problem but he had a

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feeling it might be this time. Peyton Valmont was one of those
fascinating females who could hold their own with males
professionally and yet everything about her was intrinsically feminine
and alluring.
Subtly he eased down her gown—which wasn’t difficult because
it was barely there to begin with anyway—and cradled a firm breast.
“Very nice,” he murmured against her lips, giving a gentle squeeze.
The nipple puckered against his palm and she quivered.
“Believe it or not, what you’re almost wearing is still too much.
Here.” He lifted her easily and walked toward their sleeping quarters.
“Let’s get comfortable and proceed from there.”
When he deposited her on the bed, he straightened and pulled
loose the tie on his pants, easing the material over his straining
erection so it fell to the cool tile of the floor. “Mind getting naked,
Lieutenant? I’ll make it worth your while.”
The way she shimmied out of that ridiculously transparent gown
had a very adverse effect on his self-control. Jake watched her slip it
down, revealing perfect, firm breasts, a taut stomach and long legs.
The smooth shaved mound of her pussy gleamed with moisture
already and he was pleased at her arousal, but not all that surprised.
All the females on the ship whose sole duty was sexual relief for the
males were given an enhancing injection for their libidos. Her chest
heaved and she stared at him with what almost seemed like a
challenge as she dropped her gown over the side of the bed.
Fine. He could meet it and take it up a notch.
Jake sat down and smoothed a hand over the curve of her hip. His
fingers found wet heat between her thighs and she arched, a breathless
sound fluttering from her throat. He probed, sliding in deeply, and her
inner muscles clenched against the invasion.
“So soft and warm,” he muttered, wondering if he might ejaculate
from just touching the silken tightness of her hot pussy, adding
another finger as he mimicked the act of sexual intercourse with his
hand. “I need a taste.”

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49

Peyton watched him through heavy-lidded eyes as he lowered his
head between her legs. He loved female bodies: the way they felt
beneath him, the primal, perfumed scent of desire, the delicious taste
of arousal. As he pushed her thighs apart and began to gently lick her
labia, she jerked in reaction.
Just what he wanted.
“Delicious,” he murmured. His tongue delved between those
luscious folds and brushed the swollen nub of her clitoris. A tremble
racked her slender body and she arched with a small cry, her hands
fisting in the lightweight blanket.
With his fingers he parted those moist folds and exposed that
sensitive bundle of nerves, nibbling lightly, then exerting gentle
suction, listening with an inner smile to her inarticulate sounds of
pleasure as he brought her closer and closer to climax. Peyton’s
fingers threaded into his hair, clenching against his scalp. She spread
her legs wider and shuddered.
It was a signal he understood perfectly, knowing she was close.
Jake gave her what she wanted, increasing the pressure of his mouth
on her pussy just the right amount to push her over the edge. In the
rush of orgasmic release she screamed, a short wild sound he found
sexy as hell. He kept her there on the brink until she twisted and
gasped out, “Stop, please…oh.”
He lifted his head, telling himself to give her a few minutes to
recover, his hungry body reacting to sight of her open legged and
flushed in the aftermath of erotic satisfaction. Peyton still had her
eyes closed, the lashes long and silky against her pink cheeks, those
delectable breasts quivering provocatively with each breath.
“I can’t wait,” he adjusted his position and muttered in hoarse
apology. “By the stars, I need to be inside you now.”
Those lush lashes drifted upward. “Who’s asking you to wait?”
The saucy provocation wasn’t exactly what he expected and he
stopped for a minute in the act of sliding on top of her, gazing down
into the hazel depths of her eyes. “You want this?” he asked softly,

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admiring her audacity and using his hand to guide his rigid cock. The
opening he sought was slick with her sexual fluids, but small, and he
began penetration with excruciating slowness, taking his time though
his jaw locked with the effort.
“Yes,” she admitted, her hands drifting up the tense muscles of his
arms as he braced his weight above her. “After what you just did to
me, I think I owe you anyway, Col…Jake. That was pretty
spectacular.”
Even through the haze of intense desire, he took a minute to
wonder about her previous lovers, excluding Kel. It wasn’t really his
business, but maybe he’d ask her.
Some other time.
The tantalizing lift of her pelvis in acceptance didn’t help his
patience but it was a promise of not just capitulation but enthusiasm.
Jake pushed, finally sliding deep, his hips against the satin skin of her
inner thighs, their bodies completely joined. Exquisite pleasure
coursed through every nerve-ending in body, swamping his senses.
And when he began to move it got even better. He managed to
make it about four thrusts before he exploded, his climax slamming
into him like a shot from a pulse gun, knocking the breath from his
lungs as he groaned and ejaculated.
It took a little while—he lost track of time in the aftermath of
what might be the most intense orgasm of his life—before he could
speak. “I’ve been abstinent too long,” he murmured, kissing her lips
with delicate pressure. “Or else you’re just too beautiful. Give me a
minute and we’ll start again.”
“And here I thought you admired my mind.” She laughed, a
breathless sound.
“I do.” His mouth curved in a wicked grin. “But keep in mind,
when my cock is inside you, your mind or your skill as a pilot isn’t
my area of focus. If you want to discuss politics, the arts, or anything
else cerebral I’m more than willing, but we both need to have our
clothes on.”

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51

Peyton touched his jaw, the gesture almost tentative,
experimental. “You aren’t what you seem. Neither of you.”
He knew she referred to the rigid standards on which they based
military command of a ship the size of the one they were on at this
moment. Jake kissed her again and murmured against her lips, “Yes,
we are. It’s just that there’s more to us than what you see on a
professional basis.”

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Chapter 5
The male standing in front of her simply looked impassive. Tara
Valmont fought the childish urge to stamp her foot. Of course,
considering the bruising headlong flight they’d made for their lives
trying to get off Epsilon, she wasn’t sure she was capable of really
stamping anything. She ached all over.
Commander Gallico had agreed to see her but not until after he
relinquished the bridge. The delay had chafed and the small office
where she’d been escorted made him seem even taller, more distant,
more cold and indifferent. Icy gray eyes looked at her with
dispassionate regard. “Argument,” he said in a very calm, detached
voice, “is futile, Dr. Valmont. Your sister chose this particular course
to handle the insubordination charge.”
“So you say,” Tara snapped back, unwilling to take the chair he’d
offered, since she already felt at a real disadvantage just because of
his size. Even for S-species, he was a tall male. “I’d like to hear that
from her, thank you. How do I know you didn’t take advantage of the
situation?”
Ebony brows snapped together. “Because I just outlined the
conversation I had with the lieutenant, ma’am. That’s how.”
Going so far as to call him a liar to his face—when she didn’t
know if he was one—was too bold even for her, but Tara very much
wanted to make sure Peyton was being treated well.
In a more conciliatory tone, she said, “Can you please put yourself
in my position, Commander? Not only is she my sister, but I doubt
she would be in this predicament if it wasn’t for me. I feel responsible

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53

to a certain extent, and yet she is the one being punished after risking
her life. What possible harm can it do to just let me talk to her?”
“It is against the rules.” He crossed his arms over his broad chest.
“She’s confined to quarters. It’s that simple. My job is to enforce
regulations. When she commandeered that transport against direct
orders, she risked her whole career. When we get back to Minoa, I
have no idea if my superiors will applaud my decision to drop the
unauthorized appropriation charge or not. For all I know I’ll get
reprimanded as well.”
“She saved lives!” Tara gave up fighting the urge and paced
across the space. There was a virtual map of the galaxy they crossed
at that moment and she stared at the brilliant lines and symbols. She
turned back. “She saved the life of the son of the governor. Doesn’t
that count for something?”
“It seems to, since I put my neck on the line to give her the
lightest punishment possible.” His tone was dry. “If you are worried
over her well-being, I promise she’s fine. Now, if you’ll excuse me,
I’m a busy man.”
Not only was she dismissed, she was summarily escorted back to
her assigned quarters by two equally uncommunicative soldiers. Once
inside, she sank down on one of the chairs in the tiny recreation area
and morosely propped her chin on her fist. It wasn’t two seconds
before the light by the door flashed, indicating she had a visitor. With
a sigh she got up and went to scan the admittance panel.
Will Janssen stood outside, a frown on his face. He’d shaved, she
noticed, his chin clean and taut, and someone had given him a set of
clothes that weren’t singed and dirty from their precipitous flight
across a disintegrating planet. Tousled dark brown hair and very light
blue eyes gave him a boyish look, but Tara knew he was thirty. Under
his father’s administration he’d been in charge of the colony’s
governmental finances as chief officer, which was an important
position with or without his family prominence. It was also appointed
by the Universal Council, not his father. Will had still been on

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Epsilon trying to manage the last transfers of the assets of the laggard
colonists who refused to leave until the last minute. His determination
to do his duty had almost killed him.
They’d met socially a few times during her research stay on the
planet and she liked his mild-mannered personality and diffident air.
Their recent mutual brush with disaster seemed to have given them
some sort of natural camaraderie, though usually brainy quiet males
were not her type.
Without preamble, he asked, “Well?”
She stepped back and motioned him in, moving away to go back
and sit down. “Well nothing. Gallico won’t budge about letting me
see her. Bastard.”
Will trailed in and the door swished shut. “I see. I guess I’m not
totally surprised. From what I understand from talking to other
members of the crew, he’s pretty by the book.”
“Yeah.” Tara gestured at a chair. “Have a seat.”
“Was he actually a bastard?” He took the indicated spot and lifted
his brow in inquiry. “The common opinion seems to be he’s strict but
fair.”
“No, I guess he wasn’t.” She sighed and rubbed the stinging spot
on her cheek. The burn from a piece of flying volcanic cinder would
probably leave a small scar the ship’s physician who had treated her
injuries had informed her, but compared to what might have
happened, it was nothing. “He was just immoveable.”
“He and Naiad seem decent enough. I had a brief meeting with the
commander today. I needed to ask him for permission to use the
central communications system.” Will cleared his throat and looked a
little embarrassed. “I’m sure your sister is in good hands.”
Tara lifted her brows, unwillingly amused over his discomfort
with the subject. Most S-species males seemed to dwell on the subject
of sex a great deal of the time. The evolution of humans into a life
form with increased intelligence and physical strength had kicked the
sex drive up to the next level also. Without physical relief, the

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55

aggression surfaced in other ways. She said wryly, “Yes, well, their
hands are the least of my worries.”
Her visitor actually blushed. “I wasn’t referring to…I mean—”
Tara took pity on him and interrupted, “Actually, I’m not worried.
They aren’t going to mistreat her, I know that. They are both
attractive, and neither of them could rise so high in rank if they
weren’t intelligent and even-tempered, so that’s not the problem. The
issue is, as usual, that I got her into this mess. I don’t really want to
wait a month to apologize.”
It was impossible to keep the self-recrimination out of her voice
so didn’t even try.
“I don’t see how this is your fault,” Will argued. “Your job
brought you to Epsilon. At the request of the Universal Council, no
less. How could you predict how fast the situation would
degenerate?”
“That was exactly what my job was supposed to be. I guess my
only excuse is I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t think anyone
has. But that’s beside the point. What happened is the usual simple
equation. I do something—sometimes impulsive—and Peyton has to
rush to the rescue. I’m three years older than she is. If it has to be one
of us helping the other out of a potential disaster, shouldn’t it be the
other way around?”
It was true. Visions of both of them being punished because Tara
had these wild ideas: the volcano experiment that erupted all over the
main living area of their home and lit the building on fire, the sailing
without permission that actually sank their father’s boat in the inner
lake of the First City—if Peyton hadn’t been such a good swimmer
they both would have drown that time—and there were other
incidents. It made her wince to think of how many.
“I don’t think there’s a formula for the dynamics of sibling
interaction. Look at me.” Her companion shook his head and a lock of
unruly hair fell over his brow. “My younger brother is in the
diplomatic ranks and rising fast. He’ll follow in my father’s footsteps

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without a doubt. He already is. I’ve always envied both of them their
easy confidence.” Will shrugged. “I just don’t have it. I’m much more
comfortable with numbers and abstract aspects of economic systems.
It’s boring, I know, to most people.”
“You’re obviously good at what you do or you wouldn’t have
been appointed.”
“Good at something boring is still boring.” His smile was rueful.
And that same smile was attractive. She really couldn’t
understand it. Oh, he was handsome because most S-species males
were good looking—the genetic engineering made sure of that over
the past generations—but he just wasn’t her type. Her life was
dangerous fault lines between tectonic plates, volcanic explosions,
and shifts in sun orbits.
There was little doubt she was rash, liked things unsettled, and
often spoke without thinking. The male sitting across from her was
meticulous, cautious, and liked his worlds ordered.
Yet…he had stayed on Epsilon even after the tremors started, the
cities began to collapse in piles of rubble, and noxious gases made
breathing both dangerous and almost impossible. His quiet courage
and calm had helped the small band of survivors send off the beacon
that had led Peyton through the storm and chaos so she could find
them.
Maybe they weren’t that different.
“Boring is hardly the right word to describe you.”
Did I just say that? What the hell? What a stupid time for a
flirtation.
A startled look spread over Will Janssen’s face at her tone of
voice, not so much the words.
“Anyway,” she went on quickly, “whether I meant to or not, I did
put my sister on the line.”
“On behalf of those of us who are still here because of it, thanks.”

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“Yeah, well, I doubt Peyton is thanking me right now.” Tara stood
and moved toward the galley. “Do you want something to drink? I
think I do.”
****
Ran Kartel read through the report a second time and then clicked
a button. With as little inflection as possible, he said, “So we have a
second problem.”
“Yes, we do.” Upright in his chair, his hands clasped loosely in
his lap, nonetheless Governor Janssen conveyed a sense of urgency
without moving a muscle. “Do you think I would have left an unstable
planet—with my son on it—if I didn’t think so? When the
evacuations began this was one of my real concerns. The idea Epsilon
is gone…” He trailed off and shook his head, his expression strained.
“No one could prevent that.” Ran still held the number of
casualties in his head and it made him feel ill. “By the stars, Jerald,
who could predict the scope of the impending disaster? The Minoan
government and even the Universal Council weren’t prepared. We
sent Dr. Valmont in but her initial reports didn’t indicate the severity
of the problem.”
“As sophisticated as we are, I think it is still impossible for us to
be prepared when something new comes our way. Before I left she
came to me and said she was uneasy about the escalation of the below
surface activity. According to her—and she is an expert—such rapid
disintegration is unique. That’s why things weren’t handled properly.
In my last communication with Will, he said it was chaos.”
“And now we have a renegade ship out there.” Ran tightened his
mouth into a thin line. “Full of prisoners.”
“Full of the worst convicts in the Interstellar Federation,” Janssen
corrected. “I came to Minoa to try to organize a secure way to
transport them. The lieutenant governor did his best when he realized
the planet was doomed, but since we’ve lost communication with the

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ship and they’ve obviously turned off their tracking signal, I think the
worst has happened.”
Ran rubbed his temple, thinking furiously. “Sometimes we suffer
for being too humane, don’t we? He felt the obligation to save their
lives by making sure they weren’t left to certain death in a prison on
an exploding planet, and now they’re apparently free.”
“They’ll have slaughtered the crew of the Serpentine.” The
somber words fell heavily. “These are brutal criminals, Ran, none of
which had any chance of ever being released from incarceration.
What has happened is exactly what I feared. I came to Minoa to
arrange a full military supervision of their removal to a new facility.”
“What you’re saying is they aren’t going to be taken back easily.”
There were times when Ran felt the weight of his responsibility as
governor of the ruling planet keenly. Minoa wasn’t his only concern,
since he also sat on the Universal Council.
“That is precisely what I’m telling you.” Janssen sat, tight-lipped
and stern on the opposite side of the desk. “You know the Epsilon
facility was the most secure of any universal prison. If the planet
hadn’t fallen out from under it, it still would be. As much as I hate to
say it, there isn’t any time to waste and you do have a military ship in
the vicinity, Ran.”
“Gallico and his crew. Damn it, they’ve been out a long time
already. Besides, though they have a full crew, there are no combat
troops, Jerald. How am I supposed to suggest they peacefully take a
ship full of murderous thugs? If”—he lifted a finger for emphasis—
“they can find the damned thing anyway. We have no signal.”
“They left with plenty of fuel, bound for Gamma 5. So, we do
have a general idea of the Serpentine’s original course. Send Gallico
after them now. We only lost contact less than twelve hours ago. They
should still be in the area.”
Ran hated the volatile situation, but then again, he did need to act
and there was little time for long meetings to decide what to do. He
nodded.

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59

“I don’t think they should try to take the ship,” Janssen said in an
unemotional voice. “Boarding it would be suicide.”
“Are you suggesting we destroy it?” The idea was hard to accept.
Ran argued, “We don’t know the crew is dead. Minoa doesn’t kill its
own soldiers, Jerald. Maybe we’re just having a communication
glitch.”
“No communication at all and their signal off? Come on, Ran.
We’ve been friends a long time. Tell me the truth, do you really think
this is a communications error?”
He didn’t. He sensed there was something dark out there…the
feeling had plagued him all day. Sometimes his psychic abilities
allowed him to see the problem clearly, and sometimes he just got a
vague sense of foreboding. In this case, he just thought it was what
happened to Epsilon lingering. Ran let out a breath. “I’ll contact
Gallico and brief him on this latest development.”
Hollow-eyed, Governor Janssen gazed him. “Tell the commander
to not risk direct contact with these rogue males in any way if it is at
all possible.” After a moment he added quietly, “I care about every
life, but please understand, my son is on Gallico’s ship. I almost lost
Will once already.”

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Chapter 6
Peyton resisted—barely—the urge to move faster. Her hands
braced on the chest of the male below her, she closed her eyes at the
sheer pleasure as she lifted up and slid down with deliberate tight
control. The muscles of her inner thighs quivered and a suppressed
moan stuck in her throat made it hard to breathe.
It was a battle of wills and she was determined to win.
Well, maybe.
This position did interesting things to her entire body. She could
feel her breasts shift with each upward and downward glide on the
hard cock impaling her, the slick sensation of penetration evoking
tingles of pleasure, and being able to look into Kel’s smoky eyes was
almost as mesmerizing as the dual motion of their bodies as they
fitted together. Dark glossy hair spilled across the linens of the bed
and his skin looked bronzed in the artificial light, a film of sweat
glistening across his muscular shoulders.
Then he made the winning move. His hands, spanning her hips
and helping her rhythm, slid inward and one of his thumbs rotated
over her clit, pressing in just the right way…
All choice vanished. Rapture rolled over her in waves, making her
body quake and she collapsed downward in a sprawl across his hard
chest as Kel groaned and lifted his pelvis so she was filled with every
inch of his erection as he pumped his release into her contracting
passage.
Shared ecstasy hung them in the shattering moment, suspended,
aloft, together.

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61

It was spectacular, but not the best part, she’d discovered. In the
past days she’d found the commander had an interesting trait she
doubted anyone would believe existed under his unapproachable
exterior.
He liked to cuddle. Well, perhaps cuddle was an incongruous
word when applied to someone formidable like Kel Gallico, but he
seemed to enjoy holding her close, kissing her softly in the aftermath
of sexual interaction, running his fingers through her hair, and quite
often he held her hand as he slept. He was an impetuous sexual
partner but a tender lover. What’s more, she was beginning to get him
to open up a little and talk, not an easy task. Jake loved to laugh, to
tease, making sex a game—albeit a pleasurable one. Kel was the
opposite. Intense, involved, passionate and generous in bed, but
guarded when it came to his personal life.
She liked Jake Naiad very much. What she felt for the male
currently cradling her sated body in his arms was something quite
different. Her attraction to Kel had been there from the moment she
was assigned to the ship and was first introduced to its chief officer.
Writing it off as a purely physical reaction had been easy at first, but
she had the sinking feeling after the next three weeks were over and
her time served, she was going to be left with a dilemma like she’d
never faced in her life.
There was chemistry between them that wasn’t just male to
female sexual interest. She was becoming involved.
Peyton lifted her head and smiled lazily. “You were right. I think I
like being on top.” A languid sweep of her hand indicated their
position with her still sprawled across his hard chest. “It feels
different.”
Kel brushed a curl off her shoulder in a feather caress. A faint
smug masculine smile curved his lips. “Let me get this straight. You
just said I was right about something, didn’t you, Lieutenant
Valmont? I’ll have to note it in the ship’s log.”

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“You aren’t always wrong, sir,” she said in a superior tone,
fighting a laugh.
“I’m glad to hear it.” He tugged her back down, his hand cradling
her nape, bringing her mouth to his. The kiss was long and leisurely in
the wake of vigorous lovemaking, his tongue making a lazy
exploration of her mouth while he cupped one cheek of her bare ass
with his other hand, gently squeezing. Her nipples were still tight and
pressed against his damp chest and her breasts felt full and taut.
Kel rolled to his side, not breaking their intimate position with his
still semi-rigid shaft still inside her, one brawny leg settling over her
thighs, effectively holding her immobile.
Not that she minded, Peyton thought hazily as his mouth lifted
away. Being trapped under a naked and still partially aroused Kel
Gallico? Sign her up.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured, touching her cheek with the
backs of his long fingers.
“Thank you,” she whispered, the compliment moving her. Before
this moment, he’d commented he found her attractive, but the
sincerity in both his voice and the look in his silver eyes were
touching.
“I noticed you.” The words were said with a quiet reluctance that
was obvious, coming out slowly. “I’m not supposed to even think
about any of the female members of my crew in anything but a
professional way, but I broke that rule long before you defied me and
made that ill-advised mission to Epsilon.”
The admission was huge for someone who prided themselves on
rigid conformation to regulations at all times. For a moment she had
no idea what to say.
“If you thought I didn’t also notice you, you aren’t very observant,
Commander.” Peyton rubbed his shoulders, the hard feel of him
against her inducing a languorous desire despite her recent explosive
orgasm.

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63

“Why is it you manage to sneak criticism of my judgment into
most comments, Peyton?” He kissed her throat, his mouth lingering
on the spot where her pulse raced. “It’s damned irritating.”
“You don’t feel irritated.” She deliberately clenched her inner
muscles. “You still feel…hard.”
In response, he went still and briefly closed his eyes. “I do
suppose one condition outweighs the other at the moment.”
“Hmm, show me.”
The challenge might have been a mistake because he flipped her
on her back so fast she gave a small gasp of surprise and then sucked
in a breath as he began to thrust and withdraw. In and out, fast,
uncontrolled, wild. Peyton clung to his biceps, feeling the tension in
his muscles, the raw need in every movement. She matched him,
lifting her hips into the piston motion of is lower body, accepting but
also taking for herself.
Her climax crashed in fast, her already sensitized body arching,
shuddering in ecstasy as wave over wave of sensation swept her
away. When it ebbed, a second followed and she cried out in protest
of the excess, rapture taking the breath from her lungs in a prolonged
exhale as she shuddered.
It wasn’t until the third time that Kel joined her, his low groan of
satisfaction ringing through the sleeping chamber.
Replete and languid in his arms afterwards, she touched his silky
hair, the contrast of texture with the hard, honed lines of his body
interesting.
Actually, everything about him was interesting to her.
“Has there ever been anyone special?” she asked, the personal
question maybe none of her business, but at the moment, curled naked
in his embrace, his sperm on her thighs, it felt like she could ask it.
For a long moment, he was silent. Then he said wryly, “Can I
pretend to misunderstand the question?”
His sense of humor was so understated it surfaced more often than
people realized. Peyton loved the subtle nuances of his infrequent

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smiles also, like at this moment when he looked almost boyishly
chagrined. She playfully ran a finger down his damp chest and lifted
up on one elbow enough to look into his eyes. “That sort of cowardice
isn’t like you, Commander.”
“Ah, using a psychological approach by issuing a challenge, are
we? What a surprise.” He cocked an ebony brow. “Very well, I’ll
answer it. No, there’s been no one special enough in my past to ever
make me regret moving on.”
She hesitated to ask more, but then gave an inner shrug. If she
didn’t ask, she knew he wouldn’t volunteer any information. “I know
your career is important to you, but surely you’ve thought
about…other things.”
Something flickered in his eyes. “I assume you mean a permanent
mate, a family. What about you, Peyton? Have you ever thought
about ‘other things’?”
Before the Epsilon incident and her subsequent punishment—if it
could even be called that—she could have said honestly she hadn’t
except in the most abstract of ways. Like him, her career was the
driving force in her life. But, as they were now, the pleasurable sated
post-coital glow aside, treacherous thoughts of sharing more than just
the next few weeks with him were in the back of her mind. It was the
intimacy, she excused herself. His skillful touch, the tenderness he
always showed, the persuasive power of his kiss.
Falling in love with the austere Commander Gallico would be a
grave mistake.
She hoped she hadn’t already made it.
In a faint voice, she asked, “Can I pretend to misunderstand the
question?”
****
“What are you doing back here?” Jake turned and looked at him
with censure. “You’ve only been off the bridge a few hours.”

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65

“Peyton’s asleep.” Kel could see still picture her prone form, the
graceful curve of her back, one slim arm at her side as he eased away,
the other hand tucked under her cheek, the fingers curled like a child.
Only she wasn’t a child, her lissome form naked and gleaming in the
indirect light, long lashes against high cheekbones. “I wasn’t so
fortunate. Any sign of anything?”
“You know I’d alert you no matter what you were doing.” Jake’s
mouth didn’t twitch with the usual humor. Instead he looked grave.
“Nothing.”
“The ship is out there.” Kel frowned and went to sink in his chair
by the monitors. “We aren’t looking in the right place. They’re
hiding, which supports Governor Janssen’s argument the ship has
been taken over.”
“They’ll need provisions eventually.”
“I pity the poor planet where they decide to dock. We need to find
them first.”
Jake’s face had an uncharacteristic grim expression. “I have to tell
you I’m not sure how comfortable I am with these orders. Find the
ship and then wait for instructions. In no way attempt to board the
vessel. Refuse to engage in any discourse. Don’t negotiate for the
return of any hostages. I agree with the Council’s policies on not
bargaining with criminals, but according to Will Janssen that ship had
a full crew, plus a phalanx of prison guards. That’s a lot of our
personnel, Kel. A lot more than the criminals on board.”
“I know.” It wasn’t like he hadn’t caught the ominous undertones
in the conversation with Minoa’s governor. “But orders are orders. In
this case, we are the instrument. Rarely do we have all the
information. I trust Kartel to not make any decision lightly.”
“I do too, but I’m not at all sure I can issue a fire order on a ship
that carries more innocent people than convicts.”
The same dilemma was what had Kel sleepless, even after his
satisfying interlude with Peyton. At least the pleasurable diversion
had taken his mind off it for a little while. And he might have drifted

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off if she hadn’t compounded the unsettled state of his mind by asking
him some uncomfortably probing questions. “I guess we’ll have to
wait and see what they want us to do. If we even locate the
Serpentine.”
“A big variable, I agree.” Jake rested his head on the back of his
chair and briefly closed his eyes. “I’m half hoping we don’t. Let some
other military command take this one.”
“Peyton thinks they’ll head for Anaya Two.”
Jake’s eyes opened and his mouth curved. “You discussed this
with her? Here I thought you were just fucking each other.”
Kel scowled before he could control the reaction. “I’m not just…”
Thank the stars he managed to trail off before he said more. Not
that it helped much, for Jake looked openly amused. “Not just what?”
“Never mind,” he growled.
His second in command just laughed. “Let me venture a guess as
to what you’re not. Not as detached as you should be from the
beautiful lieutenant, am I right? I’ve felt that from the start of this
mission. Maybe you aren’t aware of the way you look at her.”
Kel stared at him, his mouth tight. If he denied it, he’d be lying
and he made it a personal policy to tell the truth at all times, even
when it was painful. Unfortunately, Jake Naiad knew him very well.
And it was undeniable the very first time he’d seen Peyton Valmont
she’d had a profound effect on him in more than just the physical
sense. If there was one thing he admired, it was skill, courage, and
intelligence. In bed, he found her passionate and arousing, but he also
thought about her in other ways.
It was a first in his life. Females were passing entertainment, not
someone you discussed command decisions with, and the reality of
the situation already had him uneasy.
“She asks about you,” Jake informed him. “I noticed from the
beginning when we talk she has a less-than-flattering-for-me tendency
to steer the conversation back to you.” He shrugged broad shoulders.
“You and our gorgeous lieutenant connect.”

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67

Our. He wasn’t precisely jealous she and Jake had a sexual
relationship. Kel knew his first in command well and Jake would take
care to pleasure her and that was what mattered. They shared women
often enough the concept was perfectly acceptable, but he would be
jealous, he realized, if Peyton showed a preference for his friend.
What the hell did that mean?
“Does it bother you?” Kel asked, settling into his own chair.
Naiad shook his head. “I saw it coming from the beginning.
Peyton and I are friends. You and I are friends. If she’s destined to be
your life mate, why wouldn’t I be happy for you both?”
“Life mate?” Kel’s brows shot up.
“I’ve never seen you so interested in a female and we’ve known
each other a long time. She is certainly interested in you. Considering
how tired she is when I get off duty I’m going to say the sex between
you two is more than just good, and—”
“I think you’ve said enough,” Kel interrupted curtly. Life mate?
Just the idea of it made him break out in a gentle sweat. His career
was his entire existence at this time of his life. Most males didn’t take
a wife until they decided to breed and even then it wasn’t necessary.
There were always human females to impregnate and the S-species
males had the right to keep the children.
No doubt Peyton would breed children as beautiful as she
was…and why did he even just think of that? Kel felt a muscle in his
jaw twitch.
“You should see the look on your face.” Jake grinned. “She’s
asked me about your family, by the way. She asked me if I’d ever met
your mother.”
Whatever he might have said to that was interrupted by a flicker
of the communication screen, indicating a message from the military
headquarters on Minoa. Kel leaned forward and flicked one of the
controls on the panel and an image solidified. General Ian Helm
looked more grim than usual, his mouth tightly compressed.
“Commander Gallico. Colonel Naiad. I am glad you are both there.”

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That didn’t bode well but Kel wasn’t sure if it was any more
alarming than the conversations he’d just had with Peyton and now
Jake. He said, “What do you know, General?”
“The Serpentine has been located.”
Jake muttered something undecipherable under his breath.
“Where?”
“Right now they are just out from Anaya Two.”
Damn if Peyton wasn’t right on target. Anaya Two was a small
planet with a tiny colony of settlers, peaceful and strictly agrarian. It
had no weapons defense program, which was a minor point in their
favor since the escaped prisoners couldn’t confiscate anything but
hand arms, but it did have both food and fuel. Kel swore softly. “The
colony knows not to let them dock, I assume.”
“The convicts are threatening to kill the crew one by one if not
granted landing privileges. They claim all they want is to take on
supplies.” Helm showed no emotion at all, his face a granite mask.
“They executed the commander of the ship at the end of the
communication just to show they aren’t trying to bluff us. We have no
idea how many of the rest of the crew and guards are still alive, but
maybe they are. It’s hard to say.”
This was truly turning into a nightmare like no commanding
officer ever wanted to face. “Do we have orders?”
Helm gave a decisive nod. “The settlers are being sent to bunkers
designed for emergencies such as meteor events and cosmic storms.
We’re going to let the ship dock, but the colony itself will be deserted.
You will take transports down and land also. At that time, you will
have an opportunity to effect retaking the hijacked ship. I realize you
don’t have combat troops on board, Commander, but your crew is
trained military personnel.”
In other words, they were in for a fight. No group of desperate
escaped felons was going to surrender quietly.
“Is this an extermination now?” He hated to ask it, but he did need
to know. “Are we supposed to take the prisoners if we can?”

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69

“Commander, you are supposed to do whatever you have to do.”
There was a pause. “On no account let them get near your ship,
understand? What they have now is a freight vessel. We’re taking a
chance letting you land with transports on the same planet, but the
Council is concerned about the lives of the crew of the Serpentine and
the settlers. If any can be saved, we’re willing to at least send you in
to try. But if a military vessel fell into the hands of these men…”
He trailed off and shook his head.
Unfortunately, Kel understood all too well. Criminals aside, he’d
never lose his ship while still breathing.

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Chapter 7
When the light flashed, she jumped up and then had to
consciously stop herself from running over to push the admittance
button.
By the stars, she was acting like an adolescent and Tara had no
real idea why. Well, that wasn’t quite true, she admitted silently as
she managed a sedate pace across the small space. For one thing she
was bored. That was the first excuse she gave herself. The boredom
on these journeys was always a problem for her, but normally she at
least brought along some of her own solutions to relieve the tedium.
Reading material, research to do, scientific papers to write, games…
On this trip she had nothing to play with. She reached out a finger
to touch the pad that would open the door. Nothing to play with
except possibly Will Janssen.
She had no clue as to why the idea intrigued her but it did. Quiet
intellectual males usually didn’t even garner a passing glance from
her. Her last true sexual interest—it was inappropriate to label it
love—had been a trooper who worked with a special division that ran
secret missions for the Universal Council. Missions that were usually
covert and always dangerous. He could fly any type of transport, had
the skills to survive in almost any type of atmosphere, handled all
weapons with ease, and spoke nearly every dialect in four solar
systems. The sex had been much the same as his personality, a little
rough and wild, just a touch on the dangerous side. Exactly how she
liked it.
Will Janssen lived and breathed numbers on a screen. His
existence was based on logic and rules, not risk. She was pretty sure

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71

he couldn’t say the word fuck in eleven languages like Lucas, but then
again, if he could, he wouldn’t. He was polite to a fault.
But, she thought as the panel slid up, she was attracted to him for
some reason. It didn’t make sense to her, but the interest was there
just the same. It was reciprocated as far as she could tell, though he
hadn’t once in the past days since their rescue from Epsilon made as
much as one suggestive move or even a comment to indicate he was
thinking along the same lines.
In short, Tara was pretty sure if she wanted him in bed, she was
going to have to make the move.
“I hope you don’t mind me dropping by every day.” Will smiled,
hovering outside the door. “I just sent the last of the figures I’d stored
in my handheld memory bank to my father’s assistant. That’s the end
of it. I guess right now, technically, I’m unemployed.”
“I’m glad you’re here. And believe me, if I did mind, I’d say so,
don’t worry,” Tara assured him, not for the first time. She made a
face. “I’m not known for my ability to keep my thoughts to myself.
Ask poor beleaguered Commander Gallico. Come on in.”
“I suppose I am not surprised he still won’t let you see your
sister.” Will stepped inside and the door swooshed shut. “He doesn’t
strike me as someone who would change their mind.”
“Yes, you’d be right.” Tara went back and sat down with a sigh.
“I asked if I could just talk to her on the intership monitor. Correction,
I begged. He said no to that also.”
Will laughed and took his usual chair. After almost two weeks of
these daily visits, he was definitely more relaxed than in the
beginning. The usual lock of curly brown hair fell over his brow and
he brushed it back in an unconscious mannerism she was coming to
know. He said, “I really can’t imagine you begging for anything,
Tara.”
She quirked a brow. “Under the right circumstances, I’ve been
known to beg.”

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The husky note in her voice didn’t go unnoticed. A faint flush
crept up the neck of the male sitting opposite and it was obvious he
couldn’t think of anything to say. Tara let her gaze linger on the nice
width of his shoulders, the clean cut lines of his face, the long length
of his legs. Like her, he wore military issue off duty clothing, just a
plain lightweight shirt and drawstring pants.
Easy to take off, which might be convenient…
She was definitely having some less than professional thoughts
about the governor’s son.
Was this uncharacteristic attraction the result of boredom? She
didn’t think so. It was odd, but for the first time in her life she thought
it might be because she liked him. No, there was no pressing adrenalin
rush fueled alone by animal lust between them. This interest was
different.
How to do this?
Had she ever seduced anyone before? No. The males she went for
usually were trying to push her into the bedroom from moment one.
Will cleared his throat. “Well, at least the punishment will be over
in a few weeks. We should be back at Minoa a month later.”
“A long time to be out.” Tara watched him carefully. “Males tend
to get restless.”
“Usually,” he muttered.
“How about you?” God, that wasn’t subtle really but she wasn’t
sure she was even good at subtle. She dealt with science normally,
and a very volatile science at that, with unstable planets and shifting
atmospheric problems and there really wasn’t a lot of time for subtlety
in her life.
Will looked at her, his light blue eyes hard to read. “How about
me what?”
“Do you get…restless?”
There was a pause. Then he said in an even voice, “I’m male.”

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If that was a yes, which it seemed to be, it was still on the oblique
side. Tara gazed at him and gave what she hoped was her most
provocative smile. “Are you by any chance restless now?”
There, that was about as blunt as it could get.
The room seemed to suddenly be smaller, the space between them
not as wide. Will didn’t move and he looked comically at a loss for
words. “Did I ever…I mean, did I act as if—”
“No,” Tara interrupted. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to ask before.
Usually males send all kinds of signals. I admit I’m having trouble
reading yours. You don’t prefer other males, do you?”
“No!” There was a dusky tinge on his skin. “Hell, I hope I don’t
give that impression.”
“No, not really, but—”
It was his turn to cut her off. He waved a hand in a helpless sort
of gesture. “I enjoy talking to you. I don’t come by here every day
just to slaver all over you.”
It was such an old-fashioned way of putting it she smothered a
laugh. Like something you might read in one of the old earth
romances her mother favored. And a very archaic attitude for an Sspecies male. They tended to be straightforward about sex, to
acknowledge their fierce carnal drives and not put a polite slant on it.
“What if I wanted you to slaver?” She stood and grabbed the hem
of her shirt, lifting the garment over her head. Underneath she wore
nothing else. With a quick twist, she pulled loose the tie at her waist
and her pants slid downward. Tara stepped out of them and stood
there nude, her heart pounding just a beat faster. “We’ve probably
seven more weeks on this ship. Why not pass the time as pleasurably
as possible together.”
****
She was so beautiful it took his breath away. Yes, Will knew he
was a damned romantic at heart and that happened to be a curse, not

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anything to reveal to someone else. But Tara Valmont had an
unfortunate effect on him. For a moment he stopped all respiration as
he realized she now stood gloriously nude in front of him, all long
supple limbs and smooth skin, her hair in the usual loose tumble over
her shoulders, her tawny eyes darkened to the color of precious
molten Earth gold. Taut breasts were tipped with pink, luscious
nipples and he could see the entrancing female V between her legs,
her pussy shaved bare, exposed and enticing. The tilt of her chin was
challenge and his body responded on cue.
Prefer males? Nothing could be farther from the truth. He wanted
her. He wanted her badly and it surprised him. Adventurous females
with a tendency to be outspoken and dangerous occupations were not
something that usually drew him. The world he favored—and the
females—inspired order, not spontaneous, wild lust.
Tara was anything but calm and cool, and yet he’d found himself
drawn to her ever since they’d first met back on Epsilon just after her
arrival. It had been at a formal political function, and Will had spotted
her across the room long before they were actually introduced. She’d
worn a daring low cut gown, the scarlet color complimenting her
slightly golden skin and enhancing those lovely eyes.
Right now his cock swelled so fast he felt lightheaded, and the
loose, casual pants he wore didn’t do much to conceal it. Her head
tilted at a slight angle, Tara studied the sudden bulge between his legs
with an expression of amused appreciation. “I have to say I hoped for
that reaction.”
She moved closer, breasts swaying just slightly, the nipples erect
now. Her tongue stole out lick her lower lip in a leisurely sweep. In an
intensely seductive movement, she ran her hands down the sides of
her body, starting at her breasts and lingering on the dip of her waist
before curving over the contours of her hips. She skimmed the plane
of her stomach and touched her pussy, rubbing lightly in a slow
circular brush across her clit. “That feels good.” Her voice was husky.
“But I’d rather have your hard cock.”

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If he’d been capable of saying something, he would have. But his
voice seemed stuck somewhere in his throat.
Tawny eyes challenged him. “Naked is required, I’m afraid. It can
be done the other way, but I like it better skin to skin. Why don’t you
take off your clothes?”
Take off my clothes…
Good idea. Will stood, his hands fumbling as he jerked off his
shirt and ripped loose the tie on his pants. His rampant erection
throbbed as he slid the material downward.
Tara’s eyes widened in a flattering way and she laughed
breathlessly. “Nice. Have I mentioned I’m half-bred? You’ll like
this.”
Audacious didn’t really begin to describe the sexy Dr. Valmont.
Will swallowed convulsively and pre-cum beaded at the tip of his stiff
cock. “I’m sure I will.”
Not exactly a sophisticated response he thought with an inward
groan, but thankfully she just lifted her brows and moved close
enough to put her hand on his chest, palm against where his heart
thudded in an erratic rhythm. Tara looked into his eyes and her other
hand brushed his thigh and then slim fingers circled his cock. She
gently squeezed and a ripple of pleasure washed over him.
“Big and hot and hard. Uhmm.” Tara lifted up on tiptoe and
kissed him while still stroking his erection. He wasn’t surprised that it
was as impetuous as everything else about her, the play of her tongue
in his mouth erotically teasing, her hand skillfully working him so he
gasped and his balls tightened.
Will touched her for the first time, a slide of his fingers through
her luxuriant hair as he cupped her head and at least attempted to take
some charge. The kiss became a duel between gentle exploration and
wild need.
The tight tips of her breasts brushed his chest and he lost.
“Sit.” She ordered, giving him a push. Will sank back down in his
usual chair, a little weak-kneed anyway, so it worked out perfectly.

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Tara lost no time in climbing on his lap and straddling his hips. “I
need to fuck you right now,” she said breathlessly. “We can use a bed
later. Feel how wet I am.”
She guided his hand to between her legs and sure enough, her
pussy was sleek and warm as he cupped her. The fragrance of her
arousal evoked a primitive reaction and he grasped her hips to steady
her as she positioned his swollen cock at her small entrance.
Aware of the disparity of their sizes, Will let her choose how fast
to absorb his length, fighting the urge to lift his pelvis as she worked
to take his erection all the way to the thick base. Slender thighs
spread, she panted and made what was probably the sexiest little
sound he’d ever heard when she finally braced her hands on his
shoulders and began to move.
Her breasts were gorgeous, full but not huge, the nipples a deep
rose, pale flesh swaying with her undulating movements. Will helped
as she settled into an up and down glide, flesh into flesh, male into
female. Tara arched her neck back, her eyes half-shut, and moaned
when he slid one hand across her smooth thigh and thumbed her clit.
It was true, he wasn’t the type of male who hauled every female
he met off to the closest convenient flat surface to mate with her, but
he did know what kind of stimulation his partners liked during
intercourse.
Tara loved it.
“Yes,” she said fiercely, her face flushed. “Make me come.”
He did it again. A shudder racked her body.
She was beautiful, abandoned without self-consciousness, her
sexuality both flagrant and—speaking as a healthy male—arousing as
hell. As her climax began she gripped his biceps so tightly pain
mingled with the pleasure, his release rising, rising, until the burst of
ejaculation tore a low, animal sound from his chest. The female in his
arms went limp, sprawled in delectable nude relaxation, her head
pillowed on his shoulder.

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77

At some moment, he guessed he started breathing again because
he didn’t pass out. Time was an abstract concept as he drifted in
orgasmic aftermath.
“How many other lovers?”
The personal question, murmured against his damp skin, made
Will stir a little. There was no reason not to be honest. “Only two.”
“I guessed it wasn’t many.”
That rankled a little. He’d felt the force of her orgasm. “I’m sorry
if my lack of experience—”
“By the stars!” Tara’s head lifted and she stared at him, all
gloriously rumpled naked female. “That isn’t what I meant at all. You
might have noticed I liked every minute. I still do.” She wiggled her
hips, his cock still sheathed to the hilt. “What I meant was I guessed it
about you on an emotional one. It wasn’t a judgment on your
performance. No complaints here.” She paused, and then asked, “Did
you love them?”
“Yes.” He knew how naïve it made him sound, but on the other
hand, it was true. “One relationship lasted for five years, the other for
three. I would have chosen either one of them as my life mate and
married, but circumstances sometimes change beyond your control. It
didn’t work out that way either time.”
Tawny eyes regarded him with a peculiar thoughtfulness. “I
suppose it is only fair for me to give you the same information. I’ve
had over a dozen lovers.” She shrugged her shoulders. “And no, I
didn’t love any of them. I tend to concentrate my energies on my
career.”
Will caressed her bare shoulder. “We’re quite different.”
“Yes,” she agreed in her practical straightforward way. “I’m
attracted to you obviously, but I am not sure why. Oh, you’re
handsome, but every S-species male on this ship is good looking.”
They watched her too. Will had noticed with uncharacteristic
jealousy more than a few glances sent her way as they walked past a

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group of military personnel if he escorted her out of her quarters,
which he did frequently since he couldn’t seem to stay away from her.
“Perhaps we can learn a bit from each other. Wrap your legs
around my waist.” He rose, holding her easily against him, and strode
into the sleeping chamber to her bunk, their bodies still entwined.
“The first time was your way, Tara. Let’s try it my way now, if you
can stand to let me be in command.”
She bit him playfully on the shoulder. “I can try.”

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Chapter 8
As predicted, there were no communications from the planet they
could now see on the tall row of screens, but surface scans showed
life forms, both in the bunkers, where it was expected, but also in the
main compound which had been evacuated. Jake said neutrally, “Let
me go.”
“No.” Kel had an implacable look on his face. “What I need is to
not be up here, wondering about what is going on down there on
Anaya Two. I’ll lead the recovery party, you safeguard this ship.” He
turned. “If at any time you think things have gotten out of hand or we
stop talking to you, just leave us there. That’s an official order. Got it,
Captain Ammati?”
“I’m noting it in the command log, sir,” the captain said, her
fingers tapping as she entered the information.
“I think I can remember that one.” Jake could feel the tension
between his shoulder blades. “You’re taking two transports down.
Who’s flying?”
“We have three pilots trained for military deployments like this on
board. One of them is currently under disciplinary confinement, so I
would think it is obvious she’s excluded. I gave orders for Lieutenants
Brown and Devonham to ready their crafts”
“Brown is only level 3.”
“He can handle this. He’s just giving us a ride.”
“Peyton is better qualified.”
A muscle in Kel’s cheek twitched. “Lieutenant Valmont is not
active duty at this moment, Colonel Naiad.”

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True enough, but while Jake had no problem with his superior
officer—and friend’s—strict regulation enforcement policy usually,
he felt giving this rescue attempt the best chance possible superseded
the rulebook.
“At least have her on standby to bring down more men if you need
them.” He had a bad feeling about all of this. It had been there when
they heard about the escaped convicts and it was still firmly in place.
Lawless desperate escapees roaming free on a peaceful colony, even
if the inhabitants were evacuated to bunkers, was a recipe for a danger
that could become a catastrophe.
He’d be damned glad when this mission was finally over. What
the hell were they going to be called to next? Disintegrating planets
and dangerous felons terrorizing peaceful colonies…it was going to
be hard to top those two.
“No. She stays here. Do you think I’d allow her anywhere near
Anaya Two under these situations?”
Captain Ammati looked up sharply in surprise at the vehemence
and content of a statement that was obviously a personal decision, not
necessarily a military one.
Even though the situation was far from amusing, Jake had to
smother a laugh over Kel’s chagrined expression over the slip. His
friend cleared his throat. “What I mean is I am not taking any female
personnel down with me. These men are extraordinarily dangerous
and haven’t seen females in quite some time. I’m taking every single
man we can spare and still leave you with the ability to run this ship.”
“I don’t disagree with that,” Jake assented. “But if you need
assistance—”
“No.” Kel gave him his infamous flinty look.
Then the commander turned and strode to the door, scanning out.
When he was gone, Jake turned to find Ammati staring at the
doorway with her brows lifted. He said in a neutral tone, “I doubt the
commander would appreciate you repeating what you just heard to
other personnel, Captain.”

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“I doubt they’d believe me anyway,” Ammati muttered. “If I’m
not mistaken, Commander Gallico just showed emotion.”
“He does, now and then, believe it or not.”
“Over a female?”
He wasn’t about to comment on Kel’s personal life, but the truth
was, Peyton was different. Instead of answering he said briskly, “Now
then, we’ll set a holding orbit pattern right after the transports launch
and I want all channels open. Who knows what they’ll find down
there.”
“Yes, sir.”
****
Something was going on. Peyton paced across the sitting area, too
restless to sit. Every moment that passed made her more suspicious, if
not downright worried. Kel and Jake both had been gone over twentyfour hours. Dual time on the bridge like that usually meant some kind
of emergency.
It chafed to be in the dark. This had something to do with the
hijacked Serpentine. She could feel foreboding building like a Minoan
desert sandstorm.
There was only one way she could communicate out. The rows of
monitors were all guarded by passwords she didn’t have, but the
medical emergency channel was always open. Since there was
nothing at all wrong with her, she hated to use it, but then again,
losing her mind wasn’t a great option either.
If nothing was really happening, Kel would be more than a little
unhappy with her if she used subterfuge to get information.
So she waited.
Two more hours went by and the feeling of impending disaster—
she could think of no other way to put it, even if it sounded
melodramatic—increased.

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Now she really was starting to feel sick, if having her stomach tied
in knots counted.
Another hour passed. Thirty minutes more went by with agonizing
slowness…
Peyton crossed the room and lightly tapped in the code.
Immediately the medical monitor sprang to life, flashing a series of
question on the screen.
Please answer the following questions: 1. Is the problem bleeding,
intense pain, or acute weakness? 2. Are you alone? 3. Has this
occurred before and is the condition noted in your medical file? 4.
Are you ambulatory?
Yes. Yes. No. Yes.
Well, she only lied once. It made her feel guilty, but then again, if
this was all simply a false alarm, she’d apologize profusely and if
Commander Gallico wanted to punish her, well, so far that hadn’t
proven to be such a bad thing.
It didn’t take long for the door light to flash and two ship medics
to enter, one male, one female, both efficient as they did a quick
medical scan and asked a few questions. Peyton tried to look as wan
as possible and was vague, too concerned to be embarrassed over her
skimpy attire. In the end, they did exactly as she’d hoped and put her
on a gurney and took her to the medical floor level of the ship for
further evaluation.
The moment she was wheeled in, she knew her instincts were
correct.
The entire place was mobilized, full staff in place. She’d been on
enough ships to know when an alert for possible casualties was
enabled. Peyton was put in a cubicle and a few moments later a doctor
entered. He was a middle-aged, a touch of gray at his temples, and
currently wore a harried look. “I’m Dr. Houchins, head of the medical
personnel on this ship. Can you tell me, Lieutenant Valmont, when
the first symptoms set in?”

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She was admittedly more than a little startled. He must have
correctly read her expression for Dr. Houchins said, “When we
contacted ship’s command to inform them of the message sent from
Commander Gallico’s quarters, Colonel Naiad asked me to treat you
personally.”
Jake, but not Kel. She wasn’t sure liked the sound of that. No, she
definitely didn’t like the sound of it.
“I started feeling ill about ten hours ago.” The truth, because that
was when she realized how long both Kel and Jake had been gone.
“It’s just gotten worse.”
“That’s a bit unspecific, but I suppose we can run a few scans.
We’re a little busy right now in preparation, but I don’t think your
condition is an emergency. It might be a little while to run the tests,
but in the meantime, we’ll keep you comfortable by giving you
something for the nausea.”
“What preparations? What’s going on?”
“Nothing for you to worry over.” He actually patted her hand.
In his defense, she supposed she hardly looked like a military pilot
with her hair loose and most of her body exposed by the next-tonothing gown she had to wear.
Fine, she’d get information another way.
“My sister is on board,” Peyton hoped she looked sufficiently
limp and apathetic. “Can she come sit with me? I am sure if you ask
Commander Gallico, he’ll agree.”
“He isn’t on the ship. I suspect Colonel Naiad is busy also, but I
don’t see any harm in authorizing that request myself. I’ll send
someone for her.”
Kel isn’t on board?
Her stomach truly began to churn. “Thank you.”
It seemed to be an eternity she lay in a small cubicle, the
surroundings sterile and not conducive to anything but anxiety, she
found. When the thin panel slid back and Tara came in, she felt the
breath in her chest catch over his sister’s expression. Immediately she

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sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. “I’m not sick,” she
explained.
Relief shone in Tara’s eyes. “Thanks for scaring the hell out of
me. I’ve been trying for over two weeks to get to see you, but the
medical unit wasn’t my place of choice, Peyton.”
“I was starting to lose my mind wondering what is going on. I
figured you would know.” She smiled, but it was tremulous. She was
so worried her palms were damp. “You’ve always had a habit of
being able to keep your finger on the pulse of any trouble. Why is the
ship on full alert?”
“You mean I usually am the source of most trouble.” Tara made a
face.
“It’s been known to happen. The ship?”
“I only know because of Will,” Tara said, an undecipherable
expression on her face.
“Will?”
“The governor’s son. You rescued him, too. We’ve sort of become
friends.”
Peyton could swear her sister was blushing. That was odd,
because Tara hadn’t blushed since she was about fifteen, but she’d
have to analyze that later. “What did he tell you?”
“The hijacked ship full of convicts incarcerated on Epsilon
requested docking on Anaya Two.”
“I knew it,” Peyton muttered. “That’s what I’d choose. It’s small,
few defenses, isolated. If they dump the crew there, take on more fuel
and supplies and leave quickly, they could conceivably disappear.
This galaxy alone has hundreds of ports where they could dock and
abandon the ship, effectively melting away into the general populace
or catching transports to other places.”
“Except we’re right here in the vicinity, which I’m sure they
didn’t count on.” Tara nodded. “They’ve been allowed berth and the
colonists have retreated to safe shelter. Commander Gallico took two

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crews of men down to the surface. The convicts won’t be leaving
either way.”
Either way. Peyton wished she couldn’t guess what that meant.
“We’re going to destroy their ship if Kel and his crew don’t
successfully capture them?”
“Will has communication with his father who is in touch with
Governor Kartel and the Universal Council. They naturally don’t
want to take that path, but from what I understand that’s their
position, Commander Gallico is only making the attempt to try and
save the ship’s crew, if they aren’t dead already.”
In other words, if Kel failed, all of them would die. Not just the
convicts, but the ship’s crew, and the rescue team.
Kel dead…
A horrible lump seemed to form in her throat.
And there was nothing she could do about it. At the moment, she
wasn’t even a pilot and officer, but just a female stripped of her
duties.
Still, she remembered Jake’s tale of Tara’s persistence. Peyton
straightened her shoulders with effort. “Do you think your friend
could get us on the bridge again?”
“Maybe.” Tara studied her warily. “But what good could that
possibly do? I’m not usually one to preach caution, you know that
well enough, but barging in on Colonel Naiad when he’s in charge of
a volatile situation isn’t going to win you anything but a reprimand.”
It was a good point. A very good point. But she could hardly be
expected to sit in quarters and just wait. Peyton said hoarsely, “Forget
the command center but can your friend find out what’s happening?”
There was a brief silence and then Tara sighed. “I can ask him to
try. From the look on your face, this is important to you.”
“It is.”
“Can I ask why?”
Because I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to Kel.
Peyton slid off the table. “No.”

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****
The landing went without incident, which was either good news,
or very bad news. Kel had expected an ambush, but the eerie silence
that greeted them was maybe even more dangerous.
“They’re around us,” he said quietly. “The scans showed life
forms. Don’t be fooled by the quiet. Look for anything that moves.”
Major Grand nodded, looking out at the long dark streets of the
deserted colony. The transports had touched down just outside the
main city, the crafts small enough to not need docking facilities but
certainly not invisible in their approach. They’d had to use beam
lights also, since power to the city was shut off except for the ship
port and the bunkers, which had their own energy sources.
“Which way, sir?”
Kel had no idea. He’d studied maps of the layout of Anaya Two’s
transportation grid but how to proceed depended more on the
fugitives than the directions of the paths of the city. “Since we’re here
to try and save the crew of the Serpentine, we should head for the
ship.” He nodded to his left, his voice terse. “That way. The terminal
will be guarded, of course. Let’s not expect any of this to go
smoothly. If the ship got here and docked successfully that means
either the Serpentine’s navigation officers are still alive or that some
of the prisoners know what they’re doing. So let’s assume they know
how to use tracking devices and have picked up we’re here, and they
expect us to come that way.”
One of his crewmen, his face grim as he studied a handheld
scanning device, said, “Commander Gallico, we have movement in
the east quadrant.”
“And the west,” Grand observed. “Five of them it looks like.”
“Scouting parties maybe, trying to find weapons and supplies. The
main bulk of the convicts are probably guarding the vessel. They need
that ship and know we don’t want them to have it.” Kel turned and

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signaled to the transports for lift off. He wasn’t interested in worrying
over any of them being hijacked either. Military transports didn’t have
the fire power of a big ship naturally, but they were armed and could
be formidable in combat. Besides the expensive equipment being his
responsibility, he was uninterested in finding out if any of the escaped
men could pilot one. Minoa had forwarded dossiers on all the
prisoners, but there hadn’t been time to do more than glance over the
information. Unfortunately the common theme among the
characteristics of the subjects of the files seemed to be a tendency
toward ruthless violence, usually unprovoked.
He was about to provoke them in a big way.
“Let’s remember they’ve had plenty of time to take uniforms from
the crew members. We’re going to assume everyone is the enemy
until positive identification can be made. If fired upon, fire back at
will. Let’s proceed.”
“Yes, Commander.”
The terminal was as dark as the rest of the city, a long, sleek
building that towered above them by hundreds of feet. Because Anaya
Two wasn’t industrial, the facilities were small by most standards, but
still big enough to house a full-sized shipping vessel like the
Serpentine.
They’d barely gotten around the edge on the approach when a
volley of flashing light erupted. It wasn’t a surprise—Kel knew they
were in for a battle—but as they all scrambled to get back behind the
corner of the building, he still uttered an very un-regulation word.
He’d been able to bring down fifty men with him. There were
very close to the same number of convicts and over eighty crew
members from the stolen ship. The odds would be in his favor if any
of the crew were in a position to help, but—a very large question
mark—who knew if any of the Serpentine’s personnel were still alive,
or if so, capable of assistance.
There was also the other factor of trying to infiltrate a defended
position. Every military officer knew that basic rule. The aggressor

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was at a disadvantage. Breaching the wall was the same difficulty
now as it had been back in ancient Earth history. He’d studied the
exploits of ancient generals and kings like Hannibal and Alexander,
not to mention Napoleon Bonaparte and his nemesis Lord Wellington
with interest. Without tracking devices and special communications
and computer intelligence, they’d pitted wits against each other and
won great victories.
It fascinated him, he had to admit, and with all the power shut off
on Anaya Two, he wasn’t all that far from those primitive conditions.
Their handheld trackers had a limited range and he’d just sent his
transports off planet on standby. To keep intercepts at a minimum he
had told Naiad to just monitor signals. Since he had no intention of
putting more of his crew in danger by sending a distress message if
things went wrong, Kel hoped his next communication with his
second in command would be from on board the Serpentine,
announcing they’d been successful and were in control.
Easier said than done.
It was a relief to know Peyton was under disciplinary action and
confined to his quarters. Even if the transports weren’t waiting on
surface, just touching down to allow the rescue parties to disembark
was dangerous. She’d have requested the duty too, he knew her, and
not just her luscious body and innate sensuality either, but her
determination and independent spirit. Besides, Jake was right, of
course, she was probably the best pilot on the ship.
Life mate. He wished Jake had never said it for it was constantly
in the back of his mind now and he needed to concentrate on other
things at the moment, like staying alive.
Other than the sullen light of a distant moon through Anaya Two’s
constant cloud cover, there was literally no illumination. The main
entrance to the terminal was not an option, but he hadn’t expected to
just stroll through it anyway.
“They can’t be organized, sir.” Grand’s face was barely visible
where they both pressed against a wall. The men did the same, silent,

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motionless, well-trained. “It’s got to be every man for himself in
there.”
“They have a mutual vested interest in escape, Major, so let’s
keep that I mind. I think you’re right, but there has to be some
leadership to get them to successfully overpower the guards, take the
ship, and dock it here for fuel and supplies. We have a couple of
options. There’s a service tunnel our opponents may or may not know
exists. I have reservations about it because it’s damned easy to get
trapped, but the airlock system is the other choice and it’s about the
same. I have the security codes for both. We’ll split into three parties.
One group will stay here and keep any of their satellite groups from
going back in, one will go in the tunnel, and one will try the airlocks.”
Grand nodded and hesitated before asking, “Pardon me,
Commander, but if we had the other two options, why did we try the
main door? Why not just sneak in and surprise them?”
A breeze drifted by, whispering past the deserted buildings. Kel
said, “Because right now they know we’re here. They are going to be
strung up, ready to attack us, knowing we’re out here waiting to try
again. The attempt was a diversion to focus all their attention right
here. I’m just counting on them not knowing it.” He smiled grimly.
“Are you a fan of history, Major?”
Grand looked perplexed, the obscure light giving his features
shadows and sharp planes. “Sir?”
“Divide and conquer.” Kel pointed toward where the vague
outline of a utility ladder rose in skeleton steps toward the main roof
area. “I’ll take fifteen men and go that way. Only use your
communication device if you have to contact me. I’ll be in touch
when we get inside so we can coordinate our offensive.”

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Chapter 9
“Just for a moment,” Will repeated patiently. “Colonel Naiad will
want to see me.”
The young officer obviously knew Will’s identity for something
flickered in his eyes. “My orders are to only to allow in specified
staff.”
“My father was governor of the colony where the escaped
prisoners were incarcerated. I was the exchequer for the prison system
itself on Epsilon. Don’t you think I might have something to offer?”
It was a bluff. Will didn’t, not really. Oh, none of what he’d just
said wasn’t true, but as far as helpful information on a rescue mission
on an unknown planet was concerned, Will doubted he could be truly
of assistance just because he approved the budget for the high profile
institution.
But for the sake of Tara’s younger sister he was willing to pretend
he did. Part of it was chivalry because he was one of those males who
ridiculously wanted to help any female in distress, even one was
obviously capable as Peyton Valmont. There was also the factor that
she’d saved his life—no one would deny that.
Tara, too, was a variable in the equation. His feelings toward her
were involved—more than involved from all the signs—and if it
would ease her sister’s mind to know what was going on at the
surface level of Anaya Two, he’d do his best.
“I suppose you can go in, sir.” The guard stepped back and
allowed the scan to flash. The door lifted. “If the colonel doesn’t want
you in there, he’ll say so.”

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From his previous experience with Naiad, the sergeant was
probably right. Will walked in, saw that the colonel paid little
attention to him but was instead riveted on a wall of monitors and
waited. It took a few moments but Naiad turned and flicked him a
brief glance. “I can’t believe you got her to stay behind. Either you
are very persuasive or obviously Peyton isn’t completely willing to
toss aside her career.”
“Yet,” Will said, encouraged by the lack of outright dismissal.
“She’s pretty anxious to find out what is going on.”
“Since she checked herself into sickbay, I’m going to guess you’re
right.” The colonel looked him in the eye. “I’m sympathetic to her
concerns, believe me. Can you actually help with this situation with
the prisoners?”
“In a general way only.” Will felt with Naiad being honest was
probably best, and the man seemed to understand why he was there
anyway. “I know what my father told me. I also have been on Anaya
Two before, when Epsilon negotiated to buy agricultural products in
bulk with their government.” He smiled briefly. “They always invite
the person who handles the compensation part of the deal. Funny
thing, isn’t it? I’ve seen the terminal anyway.”
“We have a blueprint.”
“Not the same as firsthand, is it? The Serpentine, too, is part of
our commercial fleet. I know nothing about military ships like this
one, but shipping vessels were something I dealt with often.”
“Their contents is not the same thing as how to run them.”
“True,” Will admitted. “But who knows what might help.”
“Well, you’re better than what else I have, so sit down.”
At least he wasn’t being tossed right out. Will took the offered
chair, which he suspected Naiad sat in himself when Gallico was at
the command center and used the chair the colonel currently
occupied. The other person present was a young female who barely
spared him a quick glance before riveting her attention again on a

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series of controls. Her fingers were constantly busy on one keyboard
or another.
“They’re here.” Naiad pointed at a flashing on one screen. “And
here. And here. The commander has chosen to go in at two different
points. It looks to me like he’s left a small force to keep firing at the
main portal. Otherwise, other than using life form scans, from this
distance, we can’t tell what’s happening. Our sensors are hampered
by the heavy cloud cover that is a constant on Anaya Two. There’s no
way to even distinguish between the convicts and our own forces. I
can only tell where we are because I watched Gallico and his team
land and go in. When things start to happen, it will be impossible to
discern friend or enemy.”
“The muggy, warm atmosphere grows nice crops,” Will
commented with a wry smile. “And yes, I know that doesn’t help at
all, Colonel, but keep in mind because Anaya Two is such a peaceful
agricultural society, nothing is laid out in a fashion to address defense.
That,” Will added, “is a good thing. The prisoners don’t have
anyplace to—”
“Colonel Naiad,” the female officer interrupted tersely, “we’re
getting a distress message.”
“From the commander?”
“No. From one of the bunkers, sir.”
Naiad surged to his feet, his good-looking face tight. “That’s not
supposed to be possible. They are sealed and secure, Captain
Ammati.”
“That may be, sir, but I have a beacon. It looks like the door shield
was lifted a few minutes ago.”
It was Will who said quietly, “The people of Anaya Two are
pacifists. If the convicts could use the central communication system,
they might have told those colonists anything.”
“Which is why every colony needs a military presence,” Jake
Naiad muttered darkly, bending to stare at the monitor. “Who the hell

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would open that fucking door? We’ve got enough hostages with the
crew of the ship to worry about.”
“Shall I respond?” The female captain sat, her hands poised.
Naiad gave a curt nod of assent. “The commander wanted the
communication grid quiet so the prisoners couldn’t ascertain our
surface movements, but I think in this case I don’t have a lot of
choice, do I?”
On one the screens the image of a young woman appeared.
“Commander?”
“Colonel.” Naiad corrected.
“My name is Betina Tosse and I am the assistant to the colony
commissioner. Sir, we have a problem in Bunker 15 and we are
evacuating back into the city. Any suggestions for a safe place would
be welcome.”
“What kind of problem?”
“The respiration filtration system has failed. People started feeling
ill before we realized the blowers had shut down.” She paused. In the
background, Will realized with a jolt, there were children crying. “I
realize the colony is under lock down but we haven’t been informed
as to why. Information would be welcome at this point. We’ve opened
the hatch for ventilation. There was no choice. Is it still dangerous
outside?”
“There’s a small band of life forms close to the bunker.” Captain
Ammati informed Naiad quietly. “The surveillance grid keeps
flickering in and out. I’ve no idea how many, but all our men are in
front of, or inside, the main terminal. Those are convicts, Colonel.”
“It’s dangerous as hell outside, Ms. Tosse.” Naiad rubbed his jaw,
his eyes narrowed. “How many colonists are there?”
“Thirty-one.’ Betina’s face wavered as the signal dropped, the
message choppy. “…enough air…distress…twenty females and
eleven children.”
Will felt himself pale. Naiad said harshly. “No males?”

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The screen cleared and her image solidified again, which was a
relief, but her answer wasn’t. “No. The bunkers are designed gender
specific. Containment is always boring and males and females tend to
like different activities. Besides, the children want to be with their
mothers.”
“This is like a damned nightmare. Isn’t there one practical person
in that whole colony?” Colonel Naiad said under his breath. “We
can’t leave them there unprotected but if I order one of the transports
to pick them up, all I have is one pilot and a navigator to somehow get
thirty-one civilians on board and defend the craft, not to mention if
our men need to get out of there, half their transportation is gone.”
“Send me.” Will wasn’t particularly brave…well, he’d never
thought about whether he possessed that quality or not. It didn’t
matter. All he knew was he wasn’t going to sit by and let innocent
women and children be preyed upon by lawless monsters. “Surely
there’s few more male crew you can spare to go along? Lieutenant
Valmont can handle the transport. Take my word, if it is anything like
what I saw her do on Epsilon, we’ll be in and out before you can
blink. I’ll get those colonists on the transport and Commander Gallico
will still have his transportation on standby if he needs them.”
“I can’t.” Naiad jabbed his fingers through his hair. “You’re the
governor’s son…and Peyton…No. I have orders. As for male crew to
go along, I don’t. The commander took everyone we could spare.”
“I can handle several different types of weapons.” It was an
exaggeration. Will had done a little training at one time, years ago
when he’d thought about a military career. It wasn’t for him, he’d
decided soon enough, part of his conclusion being situations like this
one. A cool choice was impossible for him to make under
circumstances where innocent victims were involved.
“Colonel? Please help us.” Betina Tosse’s composure cracked a
fraction. “What do you want us to do?”
For a minute Naiad didn’t move, then he said on a savage exhale,
“Don’t panic. We’re on our way.”

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****
Compared to what she’d encountered on Epsilon, this would be
like a scenic ride over Minoa’s first city. Peyton slid her hands over
the controls of her transport with the familiarity of a lover and
followed the coordinates.
There was no question the darkened conditions below were
disconcerting but she’d flown missions like this before. They’d been
drills though, she thought with an inner grimace. And not—though
she refused to dwell on it—with desperate criminals roaming the area
of touchdown.
She almost missed it, catching the dark spot in the last moment,
hauling the craft around and flicking the lights on as instructed for
one, two, three heartbeats. Then the craft settled down sweetly on the
specified flat spot by the bunker and she shut down the illumination.
“I’ll stand guard. Tara, you help the colonists board.” Will
Janssen, his fine features set, held a sleek military issue defense
firearm like he knew what he was doing, though Peyton knew he’d
been given just a brief lesson while the transport was fueled and
prepared. Tara nodded and Peyton enabled the door lift.
The warm smell of vegetation and fecund soil as the first thing
that Peyton noticed, the eddy of moist air hitting the cockpit. Tara and
Will jumped out, not even waiting for the gate to hit the ground. Her
navigator, Morrison, sat hunched in the seat beside her, weapon at
hand, his young face grim as he stared a one of the screens. He said,
“We’ve got movement out there. They heard us come in.”
“Yeah, well, we’re probably kind of hard to miss,” Peyton tried
not to tense up, checking her controls, prepared to lift off the minute
the last passenger was on board. “We expected trouble.”
She could dimly see through the shadows figures of the colonists
pouring from the bunker door. The first one to scramble up the ramp
was a young boy of not more than five or six, his eyes wide. Behind

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him came a frightened female, obviously his mother who nodded
when instructed toward the seating area and shooed him that
direction. More came, all with that same pale trembling look,
especially when someone discharged a weapon not far away. Not
Will, Peyton thought automatically, frantically scanning the sensor
monitors, but a hand weapon.
Tara was out there. It made her have to quell a surge of panic
when she thought of her sister’s danger.
The colonists flowed in, breathless and frightened, but it seemed
excruciatingly slow, though in real time it probably wasn’t.
“Here comes company.” Morrison slid from his seat. “I’m going
to guard the door. Hopefully Janssen can hold them off. That thing
he’s holding can blast a hole in the side of a bed of Minoan granite.
They don’t know he’s never fired it. Look, we have visual,
Lieutenant.”
Sure enough, along the perimeter of the bunker, she saw dim
forms come into view. It was eerie to see the stealthy advance, to
catch the gleam of a face, or movement of a hand. “Shit,” she
muttered, petrified, but her hands still hovering over the controls in
automatic readiness for lift off.
The last colonist climbed out of the bunker only a few feet away
from the convicts and someone—Tara—grabbed the woman’s arm
and pulled her at a run toward the transport. Will stood between them
and the threat, his weapon making a sweeping arc as if he meant to
fire at any moment. He backed slowly toward the waiting craft.
“Hurry,” Morrison shouted. “We’ve got them all.”
The first flash from the darkness came, but the shot hit the
transport. Attuned to her vessel, Peyton felt the vibration with a brief
spurt of rage. Will, she realized, was probably attempting to back up
the ramp into the craft, while still posing a threat. Another flash came,
and then dozens, and in a knee jerk reaction, she hit the floodlights,
effectively blinding their opponents. For a moment she saw a semicircle of males, their unshaven faces feral and washed to bone and

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angle by the brilliant illumination and then Morrison slid into place
next to her and said, “Jesus.”
“Yeah, I’m going to have nightmares after this. Janssen?”
“He’s in. Do your thing, Lieutenant. Get us the fuck out of here.”
Thrusters engaged, the small roar a welcome sound, and the
transport shifted and went up in a beautiful arc, whirling away into the
darkness.
“He hit?” Peyton asked tersely.
“I don’t know. I pulled him inside and hit the door. Your sister
dragged him off. I figure he’s in good hands and I’m not a medic.
You need me more. Let’s get back in one piece.”
“That was a pretty brave thing for Will Janssen to do.” She
shivered at the memory of those wild, fierce faces.
“We’re all damn heroes if you ask me,” Morrison said with humor
in his voice. “And I’m with you on the nightmare thing. I wonder how
Gallico and his men are doing. I wouldn’t want to be facing anything
like what we saw down there. They didn’t even look like men.”
She wondered, too. If she allowed herself to think about it she
might just lose her mind.
Kel.
Now that she knew it was possible to fall in love with the icy
commander, she wondered if it was possible to tell him.
All she wanted was a chance.

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Chapter 10
It was gratifying to know in the end even with similar forces, the
disadvantages of unknown ground, and having to infiltrate an enemy
held position, that well-trained men could still take the day.
Even against males of their species that were little more than
animals.
Kel felt sickened over the casualties to the crew of the Serpentine.
The initial breakout and takeover had been bloody and by all accounts
half the crew had been massacred. The navigators had been spared,
and most of the female personnel had been able to hide in a storage
area and gone undetected, but almost all the young able men were
eliminated. Out of eighty less than thirty survived, but that was at
least better than none. Anaya Two also, was spared the destructive
presence of a force of merciless, desperate criminals.
So everything had turned out well. His men had suffered a few
casualties but going in through the airlocks and the service tunnels
had given them the element of surprise, and no one on their side had
been killed. As for the prisoners, most had chosen death—some by
their own hand—rather than capture. According to the ship’s log,
there were still five prisoners unaccounted for, but he’d left men
guarding the ship and the colonists were still in lock down. A
Federation military vessel with full troops was on its way to take over
and the situation was at least under control.
At least in a professional way, things felt in control.
Kel threw his tunic on a chair. He smelled like smoke and dust
from crawling through what felt like miles of ventilation ducts.
“Who’s on the bridge?”

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“Grand and Ammati. They can handle it for a short time now that
the crisis is over. I’m headed back there in a minute. The Universal
Council wants to get your report in five hours. It doesn’t give you
much time to sleep, but you’ve been on duty longer than I have.”
That was true. Kel gave a small grunt of assent. Damn, he was
tired. “Where is she?”
“I assume you mean Peyton. With her sister on the medical floor.”
Jake looked impassive, but his eyes held a somber light. “Will Janssen
was hit twice as they were trying to get away. It seems to me the
governor’s son and Dr. Valmont have become a little more than
friends. Luckily, it looks like none of the wounds are lifethreatening.”
“Let’s hope you can say the same when we finish this
conversation.” Kel leveled his most frigid glare at his second in
command. “You sent her down there.”
Jake was unfazed. “Tell me what you would have done in my
place. Thirty-one unprotected women and children just waiting for
marauding murderers to come along and do their worst? I’m quite
sure, Kel, you’d not have left them there. Not if you had possible
recourse.”
Whatever he might have said next was stopped by the light
flashing at the door. Bare-chested, Kel leaned over and hit the device.
The door opened and Peyton stood there hesitantly in her trim
uniform. Her gold green eyes were ringed by shadows and she looked
wary. “I assume these are still my quarters.”
She was so damned beautiful it made his stomach tighten. And so
alive. It was a damned good thing he hadn’t known about her piloting
the transport to pick up those vulnerable colonists because he doubted
he would have been able to concentrate on doing his own job he
would have been so preoccupied with worrying about her. Without a
word, he stepped back to let her in.
“How’s Janssen doing?” Jake got to his feet more slowly than
usual and rubbed the back of his neck.

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“They got the bleeding in his abdomen stopped finally and the
doctors said his other wound is just superficial. He’s conscious and
coherent, which is more than I can say for my sister.” Peyton shook
her head. “She can be a little emotional at times.”
“I’ve noticed,” Kel said dryly, “but by all accounts, damned
brave, too.” He caught Peyton’s gaze and held it. “Must run in the
family.”
“This time I wasn’t defying orders.” Hazel eyes held a hint of
challenge. That usual hint of defiance and challenge he loved.
“No.” He shot Jake a sardonic look. “I believe my second in
command is the one in trouble there.”
“I didn’t do anything not supported by regulation.” Jake shrugged.
“But if you’d like to bring up disciplinary charges—”
He didn’t want to do any such thing.
“Don’t you have a ship to run?” Kel interrupted. “I’ll see you in
five hours.”
“Seems I’m dismissed.” Jake lifted his brows and sauntered
toward the door. “Get some sleep, Kel.”
When he was gone, Peyton still just stood there, as if waiting for
him to cue what happened next. He wished he knew. She was the one
who broke the silence by saying, “You’re going to find out sooner or
later so I’ll just tell you. I was so worried when neither you or Jake
came back I’m afraid I pretended to be ill so I could find out what was
going on. When they took me to sick bay I asked for Tara. I hoped she
could tell me. That’s why Will was in the command center when the
distress signal came through.”
He already knew the story. One of the first things he’d asked Jake
was how in the hell he’d decided to send down the governor’s son
into grave danger. When Kel heard Will Janssen had volunteered,
he’d also been told he was on the bridge.
The subtle tilt of Peyton’s chin told him she wasn’t a damn bit
sorry for using subterfuge to leave confinement. “Doesn’t surprise me

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at all,” he said without inflection. “What other rules did you break
during my short absence from this ship, Lieutenant?”
“I think that’s the extent of it.” Her gaze flickered over his bare
chest. She added, “Sir.”
“Do you think being worried over another officer’s absence
justifies a breach in regulations?” He took a long slow step toward
her.
“I think every situation is different,” she equivocated, standing her
ground, though her eyes widened as he reached for her.
“In other words, rules are meant to be interpreted?” Kel reached
out and slipped the clip holding her long hair up free. “Come on now,
Peyton, we both know that is not how the military works. It’s very
simple. I give an order, and because I’m your superior officer, you are
supposed to obey it.”
“Yes, but—”
“Please tell me you aren’t arguing with me.”
She would have if he hadn’t bent to capture her mouth in a searing
kiss, he was convinced of it. But she didn’t argue when he made short
work of stripping off her uniform tunic and regulation slacks. Or
when he cupped her breast beneath the thin layer of her
undergarments and made a small sound of pure male satisfaction at
the warm weight cradled in his palm.
Slim arms slipped around his neck as Kel lifted and carried her
into their sleeping chamber. “You’re tired,” Peyton murmured,
kissing his neck. “For the first time since I’ve known you actually
look tired. You need sleep, not sex.”
“I’m doubting I’ll ever be that tired when it comes to you,” he
muttered back. Moments later they were both naked and he balanced
himself between her open thighs, nudging wet heat with the swollen
tip of his hungry cock. He commanded, “Tell me again why you
broke the rules.”
She stared up at him, her expression full of confusion. “What?”

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“It’s important.” The admission was unwilling but truthful. “To
me.”
“I was worried.” Her breath came in slight pants and her eyes
were dark with passion.
“About?” He tested the resilience of her slit, opening it, letting his
crest enter her.
“You.” One exploring hand slipped over his chest, her fingers
brushing a nipple, making it pebble.
Kel hissed in a breath.
Just what he wanted—no, needed—to hear. “I don’t remember
ordering you to worry about my welfare, Lieutenant Valmont.”
“I don’t recall asking permission,” she said, lifting her hips in
supplication.
“How like you, disobedient at every turn.”
“And here I thought you liked my independent spirit.” To
punctuate her words she lightly bit into the muscle of his right
shoulder.
The trouble was, she was exactly right. He admired her courage,
her skill as a pilot, and not the least of it, her allure as a female. It
wasn’t just her beauty either, but something intrinsically about her
that was different from anyone he’d ever met. The moment she’d
stepped on his ship, it held him captive and this moment was no
different.
“I do,” he admitted, his voice rough.
“Kel.” Fingertips danced down his spine.
“What do you want from me?” The question was honest, raw.
“Everything,” she whispered.
He had a feeling that was true. With his usual care, he began to
fully penetrate her willing body, her knees lifting to give him
complete access to the ultimate possession, small hands caressing at
the base of his spine. “This kind of everything?” he asked as he
finally rested fully inside her, the hot wet grip of her pussy holding
his cock with perfection.

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“This is nice,” Peyton said, her voice a low purr, “but not quite
enough.”
Kel rocked his hips to apply pressure to her clit, rewarded by a
gasp of pleasure. “I’m not big enough for you?”
He would do anything to get her to say it. Anything.
Maybe even say it himself?
“Hmm…you’re perfect.” Peyton let her eyes drift shut. “But that
isn’t what I meant exactly, though I appreciate the demonstration.”
Kel went still. “Did you mean you’d prefer an emotional bond
between us and not just this.” He slid one hand between their joined
bodies and caressed her.
Her inner muscles contracted as her eyes flew open. “Yes, that’s
what I meant.”
“Don’t you think there is one?”
“I’ve never felt this way before,” she admitted.
That was close, but not perfect. He wanted perfect. “What way?”
“Kel.” Her hips shifted as he continued to stimulate the small
swollen nub between her legs. It wasn’t exactly fair play but he
wasn’t interested in fair. The slight bite of her nails on his shoulders
told him her orgasm hovered.
“Felt what way? Tell me.”
“Is that an order?” Her voice sounded strangled, the fluids of her
arousal coating his fingers and lubricating his cock.
“No. A request.”
Something flickered in her magnificent eyes. “I believe that’s a
first, Commander.”
“In honor of the occasion, can you humor me then?”
“I love you.” She twisted, arched, clung to him. “I love you.”
Joy crashed over him in sync with pleasure as the woman in his
arms began to shudder in erotic release. All control was lost as her
inner muscles tightened and propelled him over the edge into a starlit
vastness of swirling emotion and physical sensation.
It was unique. It was magnificent.

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It was perfection, he thought as he drifted off into a deep,
dreamless sleep.

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Epilogue
Minoa, five weeks later
The experience of appearing before the Universal Council was
one Peyton decided she would just as soon not repeat in the near—or
distant—future. As she was escorted from the huge meeting chamber,
she wiped her damp palms on the fabric of her immaculate uniform.
Three hallways, two different change of guards later to guide her, and
she found herself thankfully in a bay with a waiting transport.
Tara was probably with Will, she thought, as the soldier who’d
brought her that morning expertly guided the machine out into the
traffic flow of Minoa’s famous First City. Given that the son of the
former governor of Epsilon was recovering well, all the hovering care
wasn’t probably necessary, but then again, Tara rarely did anything
halfway. From the way the two of them looked at each other, the
likelihood of future plans seemed to be a certainty.
At least someone had future plans. Peyton looked out the window
at the vast cobalt lake that was the center of the city, her stomach in a
dismal knot. Since they arrived on Minoa a few days ago, she’d heard
nothing from Kel. Oh, she realized that he, like her, had a series of
hearings and interviews to attend after the events on both Epsilon and
Anaya Two, but would a message be too much trouble?
Apparently so.
What did she expect? Once her insubordination sentence was
over, Kel had returned to stern commander and even Jake had treated
her once again as if she was nothing but another female officer on the
ship. It was regulation that once she was on duty again they could

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only deal with each other on a professional basis—she understood
that—but it was still hard to handle. To make it all worse, almost
without exception every female officer on board the ship had asked
her either directly or indirectly about her “punishment.” It had been
infuriating to realize most of them would have gladly traded places
with her for the sojourn in the commanding officers’ quarters.
Even Tara had been curious, but luckily, too absorbed in Will
Janssen’s recovery to be too nosy.
Absorbed in her thoughts, Peyton didn’t even realize it at first
when they stopped. Not until the young driver opened the door and
stood there, respectfully impassive. “Here we are, Lieutenant.”
The tall sleek dark building was unfamiliar, but in one of the
city’s more upscale areas. Peyton shook her head. “This is the wrong
destination, Corporal.”
“I have my orders from Commander Gallico, ma’am. I’m to drop
you off here.”
Gallico. Her heart started a slow steady pound. Peyton slid out of
the vehicle. “I see.”
“Just program in his name on the touchpad.” The young man
nodded and pressed a button to allow her access to the building’s
foyer. It was all glass and obsidian, the smooth polished surfaces
modern. She tapped in Kel’s name and was rewarded by a door to her
right opening. This took her up three stories and the first thing she
noticed as the transfer elevator came to a halt was the familiar scent of
light fruit overlaid with a tangy bite.
Kel’s favorite wine.
He lived here. She’d wondered more than once what someone like
him, so austere in many ways but with hidden facets such as a
weakness for ancient Earth literature, would choose as a place to
relax, but she hadn’t expected the shining rock on the floor of the
hallway, warm rich green on the walls, or the soft sound of music in
the background.

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“Hello,” she ventured, uncertain and off-balance. With each
passing day she’d felt more and more disheartened when not a
whisper of contact had been initiated. The flutter of her pulse now
should annoy her—and it did to a certain extent—but she had no
control over it.
When Kel strolled into sight, two wine glasses cradled in his long
fingers, it only got worse. He was barefoot and wore civilian
clothing—dark pants, a white loose shirt, and his dark hair waved
around his elegant fine-boned face. Those gray eyes, so infamous for
their arctic glare, were the color of molten silver. “How was the
interview with the Council?”
“How did you know?” She took the glass of wine he offered,
hoping he didn’t notice her fingers trembled.
“I was under orders to not contact you. They wanted an impartial
version of the story from both of us.” He sounded very matter of fact.
“Once you talked to them, the ban was lifted. Follow me.”
She did as he asked—no, ordered in his typical way—finding
herself in a room furnished in a minimal style, with streamlined chairs
and a huge glass wall overlooking the city view. In the twilight, the
buildings were iridescent and Minoa’s two moons hung low in the
skyline.
Jake Naiad, sprawled in one of the chairs, got lazily to his feet.
Like Kel, he wore casual clothing and looked different, more male
than ever, if that was even possible. He smiled and said, “Aren’t you
glad all that is over? Have a seat, Peyton.”
Odd, how on the ship, even when they had been large, imposing,
and had complete authority over her, she hadn’t ever felt quite
so…under their command.
On the ship, there had been rules. They were bound by a code of
honor to treat her a certain way, even when she was being punished
for an infraction. Now, with two large, intimidating males lounging in
the same room but under very different circumstances, she felt a
glimmer of trepidation. “Yes, I’m glad it’s over,” she agreed, trying to

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look cool and collected. “They agreed your punishment for the
insubordination charge was sufficient and that they would let it stand
you dropped the appropriation of military property.”
“And then they gave you a commendation, ostensibly only for the
rescue of the colonists on Anaya Two, but we all know it stems from
what you did when you went down to Epsilon against orders.” Kel
looked at her with that unfathomable expression he seemed to
summon at will. “Congratulations. I signed off on it a few days ago
after my initial report was given. This should help in your quest for
promotion.”
Was that still her quest? At the beginning of this past mission her
career had been everything. Now she wasn’t as sure. The problem
was, though Kel had wrested from her a confession of deeper feelings,
he hadn’t offered up any of his own. It shifted the balance of power
definitely to his side.
Damn him.
Peyton took a sip of the cool, clear wine and then inclined her
head. “Thank you.”
“That is what you want, isn’t it? What did you tell me…to make
major in the next five years, correct?” Seemingly relaxed and
nonchalant, he raised his glass to his lips with lazy male grace.
But there was nothing casual about the look in his eyes.
“Y..yes.” The one word answered wobbled as she gave it and
Peyton quickly cleared her throat.
“Maybe you can change her mind.” Jake turned to his friend and
grinned with that typical hint of audacity that was his alone. “I’ll be
happy to help you get her in an agreeable mood. In fact, I’ve been
looking forward to it ever since I mentioned to her once that we often
share females at the same time and I could tell the idea appealed to
the lieutenant’s adventurous spirit.”
Peyton blushed. She couldn’t help it, the wash of heat suffusing
not just her face, but her whole body. One at a time she knew them
both well in the most carnal sense, but together…

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109

“Think it would work to soften her up?” Kel asked Jake the
question but he looked at her. “I mean, I’m pretty experienced with
females but this situation is new to me. I’ve never thought about one
on a permanent basis.”
Peyton’s eyes widened. Had he just said permanent basis?
“Let’s find out.” Jake stood, setting aside his glass on a small dark
wooden table. “I’m going to predict she’ll be amiable to adjusting her
career ambitions in your favor if we do this right. It never hurts to
start negotiations in the most pleasant way possible.”
“Not a bad plan.” Kel stood also.
Did he mean…as in life mate? As in wife?
Awash in both tentative joy and confusion, Peyton didn’t resist
when Jake gently removed the drink from her hand and tugged her to
her feet. His crystalline eyes held a teasing glint she recognized,
coupled with a palpable heat. Kel stepped up behind her. She could
feel the warmth from his tall, powerful body and his hands spanned
her waist, and then cupped her hips. He was hard already, the press of
his stiff cock against her backside unmistakable.
Warm lips teased her ear. “How about it, Peyton? Just for your
pleasure. And afterwards, you and I talk.”
Before she answered, Jake leaned in and kissed her, his mouth
hungry, persuasive. At the same time Kel trailed his lips down the
side of her neck in a tantalizing glide, pulling aside the collar of her
tunic so he could tease the juncture of neck and shoulder.
It felt marvelous. No, better than marvelous.
Just for your pleasure…
She believed him. Trusted both of them implicitly, so when Jake
continued to kiss her and Kel began to unfasten her clothing she
rested lax between them, languid with desire now, anticipation stirring
her senses. Perhaps it was the adventurous side of her but the idea of
two such virile males catering to her erotic needs at the same time
stirred a deep, restless yearning that pooled in her belly and between

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her legs. Her pussy throbbed and her nipples were stiff peaks as Kel
eased the fabric of her tunic apart.
Large hands cupped her bared breasts, gently kneading. Jake
dropped to his knees and pulled off her pants, helping her step out of
them. His breath fanned her thighs and he parted the wet lips of her
pussy and blew on her clit.
She quivered, Kel’s arms supporting her. And when Jake began to
lick her folds, his tongue delving in, finding just the right spot, she
arched back and let the surge of enjoyment take her. The abrasion of
teeth and tongue between her legs made a low moan catch her throat,
captured when Kel cupped her chin and tilted her face back so he
could lean over and kiss her.
The force of her first climax hit her in just that position, with
Jake’s skillful mouth eager against her pussy and Kel’s kiss holding
her prisoner. Ecstasy rose, spiked, and then ebbed only to rise again.
A second orgasm made her shake uncontrollably and she finally
wrenched her mouth free and gasped out, “Stop.”
“If you insist.” Jake rose, his hands going to the hem of his loose
shirt, jerking the material over his head. “I was just starting to have
fun.”
Fun? If Kel wasn’t holding her, she’d be sprawled on the floor.
Delicious weakness weighed every limb and she felt boneless, her
pussy still throbbing.
And she had a feeling they’d just begun.
“There is always something pleasurable about watching.” Kel
whispered in her ear, “You look beautiful when you come.”
If there was an answer to that observation, she had no idea what it
might be.
He proceeded to completely undress her then and lifted her nude,
sated body into his arms, carrying her into his bedroom.
As if orchestrated, both he and Jake disrobed at the same pace.
His bedroom was only sparsely furnished, almost all of it occupied by
the huge bed covered with plain dark linens. Peyton lay on the fine

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fabric, watching the two males—two very aroused males—move,
impressive muscles rippling as they shed their clothes. They were
alike, yet so different, except for their large sleek erections. Kel with
his dark dramatic coloring, Jake both fair and lean…a shiver of
anticipation ran through her.
Jake glanced at Kel, clearly asking him to proceed. She had a
feeling the deference had nothing to do with rank, or even friendship,
but that they’d never both made love to the same female when it was
clear she belonged to only one of them.
Mine, she thought with feminine possessiveness as she gazed at
Kel looming over her. They belonged to each other.
“This way,” he urged, rolling Peyton over so she was prone, the
linens soft against her breasts and stomach. He smoothed his hands
over her ass and thighs. “Up.”
“What?” Not sure what the order meant, she heard the huskiness
in her voice with an inner blush. She wanted this…was intrigued by
it.
“Like this.” Strong hands lifted her. When she was on her hands
and knees, Kel moved behind her, his erection nudging her pussy. At
the same time, Jake positioned himself in front of her, his stiff cock
available for her mouth. Peyton dipped her head, letting the crest of
Jake’s penis glide over lips just as Kel grasped her hips and entered
her.
Simultaneously pleasuring two such powerful males? It gave her a
rush of both pleasure and satisfaction, and her inner muscles clenched
in reaction to Kel’s penetration even as she tasted the salty essence of
Jake’s enjoyment and he gave a low groan when she began to gently
suck.
Kel stroked in carefully, plunging deep and then withdrawing in
long slick thrusts, each forward motion making her take Jake to her
throat, each backward slide bringing her head up. On his knees, Jake
had his head thrown back so the tendons in his throat stood out, his
eyes closed in pure pleasure.

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She wondered, in blissful anticipation of the explosion, which one
of the three of them would come first. The little frantic sounds she
made with every stroke were involuntary but she was close, her body
primed from her earlier climax, and when Jake fisted the base of his
cock he began to shudder. Kel, too, moved faster, harder, his breath
harsh in her ear, scorching her neck.
The world seemed to combust at one time. Jake growled, the feral
sound ringing out and Peyton twitched in response at the hot spurt in
her mouth, her body shuddering as her pussy tightened in rapturous
pulses. It was apparently the catalyst Kel needed to surrender and
ejaculate with such force he jerked, his head dropping to the curve of
her shoulder as he poured into her and murmured her name over and
over.
****
He wasn’t sure the gorgeous female in his arms even noticed
when Jake slipped from the bed and quietly dressed, leaving the room
with little more than a small knowing smile over the two of them
entwined in a tangle of arms and legs. Kel lightly touched Peyton’s
hair. “Are you still awake?”
“Hmm.” She stirred a little against his chest, all naked,
voluptuous, satisfied female.
He’d imagined her in his bed a few too many times for his peace
of mind, but then again, Peyton Valmont had done interesting things
to his usually orderly existence from their first encounter.
Naiad better be right, he thought, uncertain where he was never
uncertain. He wanted her as receptive as possible to what he had to
say. “I wonder if you might…”
He stopped. It made him sound indecisive to start out that way,
and he wasn’t an indecisive male. Tightening his arms so she was
firmly clasped against him, he tried again.

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113

“I’ve thought about you,” he managed, which wasn’t much better
than his first attempt. It irritated him to find himself so at a loss when
he’d been planning this speech, and so he added curtly, “I think about
you too much, actually.”
Peyton lifted her head, her gold green eyes steady. “I think about
you too. But then again, you know that. I’ve told you I love you.”
Love. He wasn’t precisely uncomfortable with the idea of it—it
had taken some effort getting used to the concept.
A lot of effort getting used to the concept.
A silence stretched on. Beautiful and disheveled, Peyton
impudently propped an elbow on his naked chest. “Come on,
Commander Gallico, I can’t believe you don’t have something to say.
An order to issue. An edict to hand down perhaps?”
Kel stared at her, irritation fading to amusement. She challenged
him. She had from the moment they met. Who knew he’d find it so
damned attractive.
“Marry me,” he said succinctly.
“Marriage?” Arched brows rose as a provocative smile glossed
her mouth. “Isn’t that a drastic step for both of us? You’ve already
had to discipline me once. Aren’t you afraid I’ll be a less than
obedient mate?”
He was sure of it, actually, but still felt a surge of joy at the soft
light in her lovely eyes. If love was this welling emotion, then yes, he
loved her.
“I’ll do my best to constantly remind you that you are under my
command,” he answered and kissed her.
“You,” she whispered against his lips, “are welcome to try.”
“I’ll start now with an order you can’t disobey. Tell me you love
me again.”
“You go first.” Her smile was pure brazen female triumph.
“You just disobeyed, Peyton.”
“I know.”

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“Why am I not surprised?” Kel brushed her cheek tenderly with
the backs of his fingers. “Fine, I’ll go first. I love you.”
Unexpectedly, her eyes shimmered suddenly. “I love you too. And
I promise to try to be a bit more disciplined when it comes to your
orders, how is that?”
“Don’t you dare,” he told her, pulling her closer. “Don’t change a
thing.”

THE END




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