Galen Andez crossed the threshold to his living quarters and set the door code to private. There were times when he would welcome the intrusion of his flight. Some days he left the door open hoping he'd catch someone from the training fleet to come and join him for an evening meal. Today his head ached, his muscles screamed in protest after extensive use, and he was the kind of fatigued that would end either with eighteen hours of sleep or with killing someone.
There wasn't an in-between on days like this. Too many hours linked to a Daylion Pride fighter could kill a man. This week he'd been hitting his limit every day ending in Y.
Stripping off his sweat-soaked shirt he tossed it in the general direction of his room before prowling over to the kitchen. Food. Lots of food, heavy on carbs and vat-grown proteins, and then he was going to sleep like the dead. Showers could wait.
He eyed the remains of a kitchen that had gone through this carnage six days trying to find something. Going out shopping was out of the question. Having his food delivered would require more human interaction than he could mentally entertain at the moment. There had to be something. A ration bar if nothing else.
A wink of emerald green caught his eye.
He tilted his head, watching the shimmering green to see if it would wink away, a hallucination caused by too many hours uplinked to a machine. Nope.
Stalking into the receiving area he stared down at the emerald green bra draped casually over the arm of one of the low, comfy chairs. None of the women in fleet wore bras under their body armor. It was, he'd been told, both uncomfortable and redundant. The body armor did an excellent job of keeping bouncing to a bare minimum. This... he ran a finger over the curve of the plush bra before picking it up. This was a fancy cage for full breasts.
The scent of warm wood and fresh grass lingered on the fabric like the memory of a ghost. Lyrian treesilk... expansive and luxurious. He caressed the fabric. Oh, hell yes!
There was only one woman he knew who would wear Lyrian made clothing. Last time he'd seen her he'd been a junior cadet still fighting for a chance to become a fighter pilot. She'd been... something else. Nothing like fleet. Nothing like the station-raised normcore people he'd been raised with. No ground pounder or starchaser could compare.
Just remembering her set his blood burning. The taste of her kiss was addictive, her voice hypnotic... Women like her were trouble. Sometimes the cause of it, but sometimes just there, like a rogue catalyst in the chemical equation of life.
A background sound he hadn't registered in his fatigued stupor became silent. He looked toward to the refresher room where the sound of water had stopped. Oh, hell no.
The door cracked open and a vixen with brindled hair curling from the refresher's humidity grinned at him. "Hiya, handsome. Dinner's in the chiller. I'll be out in a moment."
"Oh. No." Galen shook his head as his body tried to divide into two equal halves. One half wanted to run like a star was about to collapse in front of him. The other half wanted to rush to her embrace.
She tilted her head to the side, the little coquette. "No?" One bare foot crossed the threshold between the door and the living area. A tanned, toned leg followed, hinting at the naked body hidden from view. "Should I come out now?"
"What are you doing here?" His mouth was dry. Aching muscles found new life. She could have asked him to dance across the vacuum of space and he wouldn't have stopped to grab an EVA suit.
"My room wasn't ready, and I needed to shower. I didn't think you'd mind. Do you?" Her voice was pitched perfectly, a cross of sweet innocence combined with the fluster of a girl who knew he was cross but couldn't quite understand why.
Which was a bloody lie. Shyla was a 'pathic, one of the rare humans who could touch other human minds.
Every computer could read a person's fingerprint. Every 'pathic could read a mindprint, the unique pattern than belonged to an individual. She wouldn't have had to consult anyone to find him. She'd probably walked past, felt the impression of him in the room, and waltzed in without further thought.
"What if this were my girlfriend's room?" Galen asked, crossing his arms across his chest.
"I checked for women's clothes and signs of a lover. I wouldn't have stayed if I thought you were with someone." She stepped out of the refresher room wearing the shortest dress he'd ever seen on a woman. It might have been a long shirt. The navy blue fabric dropped from a string around her neck and unapologetically covered only the most spectacular views. Her back, arms, and legs were free to view, and he did, reveling in the sight of her.
Shyla reached out and stroked the side of his face with a gentle hand. "You're hurting."
He closed his eyes and took her touch too. The pain in his head eased, his muscles relaxed, the tension that wrapped around him like a boa loosened its grip. "Shyla..." He'd meant to rebuke her, to push her away, but it came out as a prayer.
One moment she was standing at arm's length, the next she was pressed against him, the heat of her body washing through him. Her lips found his, and he was lost.
When he opened his eyes he was laying on his bed with Shyla propped up on one elbow beside him. His pants were still on. The magical blue dress was still clinging to her and hiding everything he wanted to see. Shyla had added a knowing smile to her wardrobe. And he felt better than he had since the war started.
He flopped back on the pillow with his eyes closed. "Shyla."
"You needed it."
"No. I was fine."
"You were close to breaking."
"I was fine. I needed some nutrients and some sleep, not a full healing."
Two points of warmth touched his bare chest. Fingers, walking from his navel to his sternum, then dragging back down with the faintest hint of pain as her nails abraded his skin. He arched his spine involuntarily as she pulled her hand away. Every nerve in him thrummed with needing.
"You need so much more than healing, Commander." Her breath was hot against his ear.
"Shyla." This time her name came out as an impatient growl. Seven years without her. Seven years of thinking of what he would say next and all he'd managed to grind out was her name. Galen pressed his palms to his eyes in a desperate attempt to center himself. "Why is it that I can't think around you?"
"Because you haven't had a decent sex partner in three years and you've spent every waking hour since we parted beating your body into a pulp for the glory of the fleet and the safety of humanity."
"It's not about glory." Not anymore.
"Dying to save the rest of the species isn't a very efficient plan," Shyla said. She shifted on the bed and he felt the weight of her pulling the mattress down, the heat of her body near but not touching. "You should at least donate to the gene pool before you kill yourself."
A horrible thought occurred to him. "You're not-"
"No." She didn't need to hear the question. She probably didn't need to hear him talk at all. "Breath, Galen. I'm on the station for work. Lawfully hired. You aren't aiding or abetting a fugitive."
"This time," she agreed. "Nor did I come to seduce you, well, not with the intent to procreate. Children aren't really in my five-year-plan at this point." The bed bounced as she got up. "Come on, flyboy. You need to rehydrate before you fall back asleep."
He let her take his hand and pull him out of bed. "Shyla?"
She stopped in the doorway, silhouetted by the light of the kitchen. "Hmm?"
"I'm glad you're back."