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       Dovis, p.3

           Laurann Dohner
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  Dovis seethed as he entered the dining room. He’d awoken to reports about the new crew member. Mari from Earth had worked tirelessly while he’d slept the day shift away. Not only had she replaced the food replicator on the bridge, but she’d unclogged the tub in Cathian’s cabin. Nara had personally sent him a message to rub it in.

  It pissed him off. The human was trying to make him look bad.

  York waved him to his table. He nodded, stopped at the counter to get his breakfast that Midgel had cooked, and took a seat across from his friend.

  “How was your day shift?”

  York grumbled over his dinner meal.

  “Was Cathian on a tear about something? Were there problems?”

  “No. I met Mari.”

  Dovis felt hopeful. “Is she horrible? Rude? Disrespectful? Is Cathian ready to drop her at the next station?”

  “No.” York sighed and met his gaze. “She’s actually very timid and super polite. It’s her damn size.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “She’s smaller than Nara. Not too much in height, but she’s thin. I’d break her if I attempted to have sex with her.” York grumbled again. “I’m disappointed. I guess I should have remembered she was a slave. Their masters probably don’t feed them much, right?” His mood suddenly brightened. “That’s it! I’ll get her to eat, so she gains lots of weight and gets some padding over those dainty bones of hers. That would cushion her some.”

  Dovis bit back a snarl and shoved a piece of meat into his mouth.

  York grinned now. “She’s attractive. Her hair is super long. I don’t think they allowed her to cut it as a slave. She keeps it in three braids that are mingled together down her back, but it reaches her little butt, maybe a bit longer. She’s a great worker, too. She completed twice as many tasks in an hour as Harver did when he was still in charge of maintenance. It surprised me. She’s such a little thing. You’d think she’d get tired easily. Nara had to track her down to make her stop to eat lunch. The little human maybe didn’t know she’s allowed meal breaks. Poor thing. I can’t imagine being a slave.”

  Dovis felt his chest vibrate from a low growl. He didn’t want another human onboard. Nara was more than enough.

  “What’s your problem?”

  “She is trying to make me look bad.”

  York laughed.

  “It’s not amusing.”

  York nodded and ate his dinner meal. “I think you’re being oversensitive and looking for a reason to not like the human. You tend to be suspicious of others you aren’t close to. You did beat the shit out of Harver a few dozen times. He feared for his life.”

  “He invaded my cabin without permission. He deserved to be beaten.”

  “He was fixing your shower when you beat him last. It wasn’t as if he went into your cabin to go through your personal belongings.”

  “It’s my space. No one enters. I didn’t ask him to fix it. I would have done it myself.”

  “The computer told him it needed repaired. I know you like your privacy but you did damn near kill him. That’s why Cathian made you take over his duties once Harver fled. But it was supposed to be a short-term punishment for you running off the guy who kept shit going. Instead, you refused to hire someone else. Cathian finally took matters into his own hands.”

  “He didn’t allow me to run a security check on this Earth woman.”

  York snorted. “What’s the risk? She’s human. The scans confirmed it. One hundred percent. Nothing in her body is a danger to the other crew or the ship. No venom glands, no poisons she can secrete…”

  “She could be a terrorist who hates Tryleskians. Maybe she wants to blow up The Vorge. She has the skills.”

  York laughed again.

  “I’m not joking. We know nothing about her.”

  “I do. I read the recommendation letter from her previous owner.”

  Dovis stopped eating. “What recommendation? Cathian didn’t tell me he had any kind of paperwork on her.”

  “Probably because you’d try to use it against her.” York took a sip of his drink. “She was sold at the age of ten by her parents.” Anger flashed in his eyes. “Someone would have to kill me to take my offspring. I’d fight to the death to defend them. I did research on humans when Cathian took Nara for his mate. Our captain is protective of her, so I didn’t want to accidently offend her in some way. Ten is an age when humans still need guidance and protection from their parents. They are weak and vulnerable. Poor thing was sold instead and left to fend for herself.”

  “Maybe they sold her because she’s a terrorist.”

  York shook his head. “You sound paranoid—and you’re trying to pick a fight.”

  “You like to fight with me.”

  “You like fighting and making me angry enough to enjoy hitting you. There’s a difference. I know you’re like this because you want to keep everyone safe. You really take your job seriously. It’s your nature to protect the ones you care about. You’ll learn that Mari isn’t a threat. I also know that will take time. Just don’t taunt the human about her bad parents. That would be cruel.”

  Dovis scowled. “I wouldn’t do that.”

  “You’re not allowed to hit her. You’d kill her with one swipe of your claws. Humans are vulnerable basically anywhere on their bodies. Don’t forget that. Their skin is fragile and easy to penetrate with sharp objects. They bleed, too.”

  “I don’t hit females.”

  York snorted. “Wrong. You punched Marrow.”

  “In her arm…over a year ago. She tried to engage me sexually regardless of my insistence that I would never bed her. I warned her that if she grabbed my dick one more time, I’d hit her.”

  “I liked it when she grabbed my shaft.” York glared at him. “She just wanted to test you out to see if you could be her mate.”

  “I didn’t want her.”

  “Casual sex is great. What do you have against it?” York paused and his eyebrows rose. “Are you into males?”

  “No. My race just has a difficult time getting aroused when we can smell another male on a female. Marrow always smelled like she had done you recently.”

  “That’s sad. I didn’t know that about your kind. Does that mean you have to find only virgins to screw? Wait—you said you did a Bing. Was she a virgin? Was it her first day on the job at the brothel?”

  “I prepared myself.”

  York’s eyebrows rose again as he stared at him.

  “I used a drug that dulled my sense of smell to have sex with the Bing. It meant not smelling a damn thing for two full days before it returned. Do you see why I preferred to refuse Marrow? The drug also effects my sense of taste. I like to enjoy my meals. Sex with her wasn’t worth it to me. Also, I mentally knew her scent too well. My mind would have known with certainty that she smelled like you. It’s a mood killer.”

  “You poor bastard.”

  Dovis shoved another piece of meat into his mouth and chewed. “Forget I told you.”

  “Your race is very secretive. I tried to do research on your planet but not much is out there. Hell, most of you don’t even travel in space. Why did you leave Amarai?”

  Dovis finished and stood. “That’s never a discussion we’ll have.”

  “You wanted a security check done on Mari to find out about her past. Think about that. What are you hiding in yours, my friend?”

  Dovis carried his plate to the cleaner and dumped it inside, stomping out of the room. He had a meeting with Cathian. He made it to his friend’s office with minutes to spare and entered.

  Cathian held up a finger and spoke into a comm unit. “Understood, Rex. I know this trade agreement is important to Tryleskian. I’ll take care of it. We’ve already changed course. My ship will be there in a week.”

  Dovis took a seat, waiting.

  His friend ended the comms and sighed. “Why did I agree to be an ambassador again?”

  Dovis’s memory flashed to the Nito station, where they’d met ye
ars before, and his mood improved. He’d been working as a security guard at the time and the newly appointed ambassador had come to celebrate his position. Cathian had insisted he have a few drinks with him, and their friendship had been instant.

  “To avoid being forced to life-lock and breed children with a coldhearted female you detested. Your father put pressure on you to either do so, or represent your people. You chose this.”

  Cathian chuckled. “It was a rhetorical question. I never regret my decision. Nara makes me happier than I’ve ever been. I would have been miserable on my home planet. It’s just that some duties they ask of me make me want to tear out my mane.” He reached up and pointed to his hair. “I’d look silly with bald spots. Today is one of those times.”

  “What did Rex want?”

  “Pets.” Cathian lowered both of his hands to his desk and clasped them together.

  Dovis gawked at him.

  “That’s my reaction, too. It seems a male and his life-lock visited Callon planet on vacation and bought a few creatures for their children. They were a hit, and now many families want them. We’re going to the planet to negotiate buying enough to breed our own supply.”

  “What kind of creature is it?”

  “I don’t know. Rex sent me a vid and the information. I’ll go over it later. I was assured one would fit in the palm of my hand and they’re sturdy enough to survive inside our cargo hold for weeks. It also means we’ll have to set a feeding schedule once we have them. I’m supposed to buy at least a hundred males and females each that aren’t related by blood to make good breeding stock.”

  “I can’t believe we’re going to be hauling pets.” Dovis curled his lip in disgust.

  Cathian nodded. “The indignity. I agree. This is the job though. I guess it’s better than some duties they’ve asked of us. We’re not going in to negotiate in order to avoid a war. That’s something.”

  “I’d rather fight than babysit creatures.”

  “I just hope Nara doesn’t want one, whatever the hell it is.”

  Dovis frowned, not liking the idea of some tiny creature running free around The Vorge.

  Cathian had the nerve to grin. “I knew you’d have that reaction.” His features changed into a stern one. “Speaking of, don’t try to get rid of the female I just hired. Mari is the best maintenance engineer we’ve ever had. Not only is she overqualified to keep all machines on this ship working, but she has experience with life support rehauls. The Teki I got her from showed me an invoice for all the work she’s done just in the past two years. It deeply impressed me. She’s an actual mechanic instead of a tinkerer.”

  “The slave owner would lie to increase the price. How much did you buy her for?”

  “I didn’t.”

  That surprised Dovis. “What do you mean?”

  “She was granted freedom. He only requested I give her fair treatment, good pay, and protection from harm. Not one credit was exchanged. The Teki seemed very fond of Mari.”

  “Was she his lover?”

  Cathian shook his head. “Teki males aren’t sexually compatible with humans.”

  “Perhaps they found a way.”

  His friend leaned forward. “Part of my job is to study different alien races, Dovis. The Teki are ones we deal with often. Let me tell you how their males have sex. You’ve seen them, correct?”

  Dovis nodded.

  “The male has to lock his tentacles with the female’s, attaching their suckers together. They drain fluids from the female that arouse the male, and that makes their shaft fill and swell. It’s about the size of your thigh, by the way, when it’s ready to be inserted into the female’s body—which is now deflated from her fluid loss. A human doesn’t make the kind of fluid needed to make his shaft swell. They view humans as visually disgusting. They weren’t lovers, Dovis. The Teki kept apologizing to me for Mari being so ugly, but he insisted I could get over her horrid looks once I came to appreciate her skills to repair anything.”

  “Did he know at the time that your mate is human?”

  “No, but I informed him. He’d just heard we had a human aboard and hoped that I might treat Mari well, since we ‘hadn’t killed or sold ours.’”

  “What did he say then?”

  “He worried that the crew might sexually assault her. It seems some of the customers have attempted it in the past with his human workers. I assured him that would never happen. None of my crew would force a woman.”

  “I don’t like having another human here. They’re not suited for manual labor. The females are even less so.”

  Cathian unclasped his hands, touched the pad to his right, and handed it over. “Look at day one.”

  Dovis accepted it and read the checklist of repairs that needed to be done—and all the ones she’d completed so far. He scowled.

  His friend’s chuckle annoyed him more. “That’s more than you did in all the months combined that we were without Harver. Suck it up, Dovis. She stays. Avoid her if you must but I’m with Nara. I’ll personally wrestle you down and put a shock collar around your throat if it means Mari feels secure enough that you can’t do her any harm. I’d hate to watch you hit the floor twitching in pain, but then again…I’m taking a bath with Nara tonight. Mari fixed the tub drain.”

  Dovis threw the pad on the desk. “You’d threaten me with a shock collar? I don’t hit females. You should know that. You’re supposed to be my best friend.”

  “I am. That’s why I’m not going to toss you out an airlock or fire you if you scare Mari. She’s timid and frightens easily. Don’t use that to intimidate her. You will always be my best friend and head of security, but don’t think I won’t even out the odds if you pull your normal shit. No aggression displays near her. She stays. Even if that means giving her a way to drop your ass every time you snarl at her.”

  He wanted to punch something. Mainly, Cathian’s amused face. “Anything else?”

  “Be nice when you see her. It won’t kill you. She’s shy. I know Nara likes to engage you in arguments but Mari is very different. She was a slave. I had to order her to meet my gaze and to speak. She’s even more timid that Midgel. Keep that in mind. Don’t yell at her. She’d probably cry or something. Nobody wants that.”

  “Cry?” He was alarmed at the thought.

  “Humans do that when they are highly fearful or upset.”

  “Fuck. Midgel doesn’t do that, and I’ve growled at her before when she cooked a meal I didn’t like. This Mari sounds pathetic, Cathian.”

  Cathian rose to his feet fast and snarled. “Are you insulting the race of my mate again?”

  “Nara doesn’t cry.”

  “She does, but not from your shit. You just piss off my life-lock. Mari isn’t like Nara. Do we need to take this to the mats?”

  It was tempting. He did love to fight.

  Cathian sank back into his chair. “On second thought, forget it. I’m taking that bath with Nara. Not bleeding. Dismissed. Go spar with York if you need to get rid of your aggression. Better yet, pick Raff.”

  Dovis glared at Cathian, shaking his head.

  Cathian chuckled. “No to Raff? Not surprising.”

  “I know what he used to do. I’m never taking him on.” He got up from his chair and left, not wanting to think about the Tryleskian assassin onboard. That was one male he avoided confrontations with at all costs.

  Chapter Three

  Mari removed her jacket and tossed it onto the floor where she knelt. Sweat coated her skin from the heat of the steam that escaped the panel on the floor, making her fingers slip on the tool. She had to wipe her hands on her pants before attempting it again. The seals began to loosen, and she grinned as the last one released the metal plate. From there, it was easy to spot the problem where the steam leak occurred and assess the damage it had caused to the wiring.

  “Got you.” She turned to the toolbox resting next to her and opened one of the thin drawers.

  “What the hell?”

deep snarl almost made her scream. Her heart pounded as she twisted her head, staring at Dovis. He wore a black uniform this time that covered not only his legs, but also his chest and arms. Only his clawed hands and scary face showed.

  He stepped closer. “What are you doing down here in the middle of a sleep cycle?”

  He frightened her enough that she had a difficult time forming words.

  He crouched, leaving close, his black eyes gleaming. “Answer. What are you doing?”

  “Um, York sent me a message that his steamer in his shower wasn’t as hot as it used to be. I went over the system and figured the problem had to be where the unit goes to his cabin, since no one else had filed a repair request,” she said, voice barely above a whisper. She dropped her gaze to his covered chest. His eyes freaked her out. They were black and cold-looking. “I was right. Look if you’d like. Some of the wires frayed where the steam was leaking, since it’s humid and hot. I planned to replace the wires and fix the broken joint. It’s shorting out but not enough to completely shut down the power to his unit.”

  “It’s in the middle of your sleep cycle.”

  She bit her lip, feeling nervous. “I didn’t mean to break a rule, if that’s one of them. I’m very sorry.” She bowed her head and curled into her chest a bit. “Please forgive me.”

  “What the hell? Don’t do that,” he growled.

  Now he sounded upset rather than angry. She risked lifting her head just enough to peek at him. He had shrunk back onto his haunches and his black eyes weren’t glaring anymore. They appeared wide and startled.

  “Please don’t punish me. I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to work during a sleep cycle. I just wanted York to be able to use his steam when he wakes for his shift. It’s important that everyone like me so I can stay.”

  “Fuck.” He shot to his feet and backed far away from her. “Who said anything about punishment? I’m not going to hit you. I was just surprised to find you here while I did my rounds. I expected you to be asleep along with the rest of the crew.”

  She almost relaxed. “I didn’t break a rule?”

  “No. It’s just weird. You should be sleeping, too.”

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