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       Dovis, p.7

           Laurann Dohner
 
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  It surprised him when a small hand suddenly gripped his shoulder.

  He whipped his head around, staring at Mari. She frowned, her little nose flared as she sniffed—and then she shocked the hell out of him by leaning down to bury her face against his throat.

  She inhaled loudly. “You smell really good.”

  “What the hell?” He jerked away and almost fell out of his seat, tearing away from her hold. He glared at Cathian, expecting the captain to laugh. His friend would put her up to something like that as a joke.

  Instead of a smile, Cathian’s mouth hung open and his eyes were wide. He appeared concerned instead of amused.

  Mari stalked Dovis until his back hit the wall. Her head just came up to the top of his chest. She put her hands on him there and leaned in, sniffing again. She actually rubbed her cheek against him!

  Her scent hit him when he sucked in a sharp breath. She was strongly aroused.

  He grabbed her upper arms, careful of his claws, and held her back. “Cathian!”

  The captain leapt out of his seat and came up behind Mari, grabbing ahold of her around the waist and hauling her away from him. “Shit.”

  “Shit is right.” Dovis felt panicked as he looked down at Mari. She was staring up at him with a confused look but still reached out for him, trying to touch him again. He dodged her fingers.

  “Why do you smell so good?” She frowned.

  “You deal with this,” he told his friend, then Dovis fled.

  He ran out of the dining room and went straight to his cabin.

  Pacing didn’t help, so he eventually went to the computer, pulling up life signs. Cathian, Nara, and Mari were visiting the medical android.

  A new worry hit. What if the android took blood tests and there was proof of what he’d done? The Amarai might hear and put a death bounty out on him. Just because they weren’t known to like traveling in space didn’t mean they didn’t have allies from other planets.

  Cathian was an ambassador for his planet. Would he feel obligated to hand Dovis over to them? No. Cathian would refuse and fight if his planet leaders demanded he do so. It would cause problems for the entire crew, though.

  He snarled, shutting down the readings, and began to pace again.

  It seemed like an hour had passed before his door chimed. He rushed over and opened it. Cathian waited in the hallway.

  “Get in here. Why did you go see the android? Tell me you didn’t have it run blood tests.”

  “Calm down. I had it run tests but not record anything. I’m aware why that would be a bad idea. I also had it erase the entire visit and everything it discovered. The information for the entire day has been purged, to avoid being uploaded to our database.”

  Dovis sighed in relief. “What did you discover?”

  “You know about my race and our second hearts…”

  Dovis nodded.

  “A blood sample from Nara will show my DNA in her system. The same showed in Mari with yours.”

  He gawked at Cathian. “I’m mated to her? Is that what you’re saying? That’s impossible.”

  “Remain calm. We never ran any tests on Raff after you bit him, to hide what you had done to save his life. He might have had traces of your DNA too for a while. The android believes there are two possibilities.”

  He felt sick. “What?”

  “Your DNA traces will eventually fade from her, or it will become permanent, the way some races do when they mate or life-lock.”

  Dovis snarled, turned, and walked to the wall. He punched it—hard.

  “Don’t destroy your cabin. I sent Raff to get his blood drawn. The android will test to see if your DNA remains in his body or not. Not would be good. It would mean it’s faded.”

  He spun, staring at Cathian.

  His friend had the nerve to smile. “Don’t worry. If your DNA is still in Raff, I doubt he’ll want to claim first mating rights to you. He prefers females, judging by the brothel choices he’s made the few times he’s visited them. I saw his charges to The Vorge account. Females only.”

  “That’s not funny. The Amarai can only form matings with our sperm, when we’re in heat. Never with a bite.”

  “It’s a little amusing.” Cathian took a seat on the top of the desk. “You knew you were different from most of your race. Maybe that’s why they kill ones like you for biting. Maybe it’s about more than forcing a female to feel desire towards you—you can mate by bite. Hell, you could be capable of mating to a bunch of people by bite, instead of just one. We know it makes females, at least, sexually drawn to you. Mari was highly aroused by your scent. Did Raff ever hit on you?”

  “No!”

  “Had you been around her at any point before you bit her? Maybe she just likes you.”

  “I was around her, but she only felt fear for me.”

  “Not any longer.”

  “Stop smiling. It’s not funny!” He wanted to punch Cathian.

  His friend grew somber. “Raff will report here when he knows the results. The android won’t keep a record of his visit or test results.”

  Dovis paced. “What did you tell Nara? I know she was with you and Mari when you visited the android.”

  “I told her what you did saved Mari’s life, but it meant your life could be in danger, that it could cause you to have a death bounty on your head. That was enough for her to agree to keep quiet about your DNA being found inside Mari’s bloodstream. She asked questions of course, but I told her your secrets were your own and not my place to share.”

  The door chimed. Cathian got up and opened it, letting Raff in. The male entered and held Dovis’s gaze. He shook his head.

  Dovis sighed. “No traces at all?”

  “None,” Raff confirmed.

  “There we go.” Cathian smiled again. “Your DNA traces will fade out of Mari’s system. It’s just because you recently bit her.” He chuckled and bumped his shoulder to Raff’s. The family resemblance was obvious, with them standing close together. “I was taunting him about how you might want to claim him as a mate if you were carrying his DNA.”

  Raff growled low as he glared at Cathian.

  “He felt just as thrilled by the concept.” Cathian shook his head as he moved away from Raff. “Neither of you has a sense of humor. This will all be fine. Just avoid Mari until this reaction she has to you fades, Dovis. That shouldn’t be a problem, since you hate people.” He glanced back at Raff and chuckled again. “Good thing you’re not carrying his DNA. She might have thought you smelled good enough to fuck, too.”

  At that, Raff turned and left his cabin.

  Dovis reached up and rubbed his left ear. “Your cousin would probably have killed her. He’s not a friendly man.”

  “Who can blame him after the life he’s had? I’m glad he likes us.”

  “Are you sure he does? He rarely speaks. I never know what’s on his mind.”

  Cathian hesitated. “He’s never tried to kill any of us. I know he feels grateful to me for taking him off the hellish planet he was born and raised on. You saved his life once. York amuses him sometimes, because I’ve seen him smile once or twice over his antics. And Raff seems downright mellow around females.

  “My uncle may have abandoned him, but his mother remained until death took her away. I went through his bags when he boarded The Vorge, to make sure he didn’t have any drugs. Told him a medical scan for new crew was required. You know what Gluttren Four is like. I searched his bags while he was in the medical bay. I feared he might be addicted to something, but his bloodstream was clean, as were his bags. There were pictures and a few personal belongings of his mother inside. She mattered a lot to him.”

  “What about your uncle?”

  “You know that death look Raff gets?”

  Dovis knew it well, and nodded.

  “I’m never letting the two of them meet. Backi deserves to die for abandoning a pregnant female. He showed zero honor by doing so. He’s of my father’s same litter, though. My father and
the family covered it up. Gluttren Four is known for its high population of interbred races no one else wants to claim. Raff’s mother is at least five different species. My father only told me of Raff’s exitance in case his mother or her family ever contacted the ambassador,” he pointed at his own chest, “to file a complaint that the child had been abandoned by a Vellar. It infuriated me when I learned what Backi had done.”

  “Did they ever file a grievance with anyone who held your position before you took it?”

  “Unknown. There is no record of it. That doesn’t mean anything. I told you, my family covered it up. Backi would have been embarrassed if anyone knew he’d had a son with what they consider a mutant female. Remember how my father reacted to Nara? She’s only human, and not a mixed breed of various species.”

  “Your people are assholes…but so are mine.”

  “That’s why The Vorge is our home and we’re a family.” Cathian smiled. “Too bad Raff’s not your mate. We’d actually be related.”

  “Fuck you. That’s still not funny.”

  “Just avoid Mari. I’m sure her reaction to you will fade.” He walked to the door but paused, turning back to hold his gaze. “You know…you could do a lot worse than to be mated to a human. Nara makes me happy as my life-lock. Perhaps you should take advantage of her current attraction to you and keep the bond active, until you go into heat and can bond to her for good. She’s a damn good maintenance engineer.”

  “Get out.”

  Cathian laughed as he left. “I’ll have a chat with her about dodging you, too.”

  Dovis paced once more after the doors sealed, leaving him alone. He could avoid the little human. He just hoped she stopped feeling attracted to him soon.

  Chapter Six

  Captain Vellar made Mari take a seat. His office was nice, but it was where he held official meetings. She felt nervous and worried as she stared at him over his big desk. “Are you going to fire me?” She blurted her worst fear.

  “No. Of course not.”

  She wanted to profusely thank him, and opened her mouth to do so. The thought of having to leave The Vorge was enough to give her nightmares. Slavers would snatch her up and she’d be sold back into servitude. He spoke before she could.

  “You’re a part of my crew, Mari. You also did a very brave thing by getting our engines working. We’ll dock to the Grover station within the hour and the part will be delivered. Do you need help with the install?”

  “No. It’s pretty easy and basic.”

  “How long will it take?”

  She thought for a moment. “Three hours max. I’m going to have to clean up the coupling holder first, after I rigged one to work. It’ll be a mess when you shut down engines ,and it needs time to cool.”

  He leaned forward and braced his hands on the desk. “Can I trust you, Mari?”

  “Of course you can. My life is in your hands.”

  That didn’t seem to please him, as he scowled. “I’m not your new owner.”

  “My life is still in your hands. I don’t know what I’d do if you were to fire me and send me off The Vorge. Slavers would target me fast. I know I’m weak and defenseless, but I make up for it by being a good worker. I’m loyal, too. I’d never do anything to upset you or betray your trust.”

  “Damn the Teki for labeling you as either of those things. Humans are a sturdy race.” He rose to his feet, rounded his desk, and took a seat on the edge of it closer to her. “I’m about to tell you things you won’t understand…but I can’t offer you more of an explanation. I just need you to accept it and keep it secret. Not even the other crew can be told. Including Nara. Do you understand?”

  “Yes. I give you my word. Until death and beyond.” She bowed her head and offered her palm to him by straightening her arm.

  “What the hell is that for?”

  She glanced up. “To accept pain to prove my commitment.”

  “Fuck,” he snarled. “No one on The Vorge will ever hurt you. Put your arm down.”

  She tucked it against her body.

  The captain sighed. “Here’s the basics. Dovis saved your life. I can’t tell you how. But it’s dangerous for him if anyone were to find out, and it’s why you’re feeling attraction toward him. It will fade, Mari. Don’t ask questions. Again, I can’t answer them. And Dovis won’t. He’s going to avoid you until the physical attraction you feel for him stops, but it’s best you are aware of it. It’s the result of what he did to save your life.”

  She remembered how she’d tried to thank Dovis in the dining hall, for pulling her out of that crawl space—and then suddenly she’d wanted to touch him. More than that. She’d rubbed up against him, the need to touch him so strong it became a physical ache. Her body had gone crazy. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before.

  Her cheeks burned with heat at the memory and she dropped her gaze to her lap.

  “Do you understand, Mari? Secret stuff that must remain that way. You weren’t breathing and your heart had stopped by the time he reached you. You owe Dovis your life and your silence.”

  She forced her head up, stunned. She’d died?

  The captain seemed to read her thoughts, or maybe just the shock on her face.

  “Dovis is special,” he explained. “Different. It’s a crime among his people that he can do what he can. That’s more than you need to know, and you must not ever tell anyone what happened. They might send people after him.” He paused. “To kill him. We’re loyal to each other on The Vorge. A family. We protect each other. It’s why he refused to let you die. You’re one of us now. Do you give me your word you’ll stay silent?”

  “Yes. I swear.” She flashed to when she’d seen Dovis shapeshift. Did the captain know Dovis could do that? She wasn’t about to ask, just in case he didn’t. She figured he must though, because he said Dovis was special. She knew they were close friends. “It couldn’t even be tortured from me.”

  The captain smiled. “You’re an odd one, Mari. No one will torture you, but I’m glad you gave your promise. Just avoid Dovis and all will be fine. If anyone asks, tell them you had an odd reaction to the berry cake to explain why you acted that way with him in the dining room.”

  She instantly saddened. “Okay.”

  “What?”

  She met his gaze. He seemed nice. “They won’t let me have more berry cake. It was good.”

  He laughed. “Tell them it was the drink Nara gave you, then. I bet that was your first taste of wine.”

  “It was. The Teki don’t give slaves any special food or drinks.”

  “Blame the wine. I hate the taste of it. Nara loves it but it’s too sweet. There are various kinds she had me order.”

  “It was too sweet.”

  “There we go. We have a reason to offer if anyone asks why you practically molested Dovis.” He smiled. “He can claim to have been shocked when you touched him as a reason why he didn’t knock you on your ass. Not many females are attracted to him.”

  Her cheeks heated again. “Please give him my apologies. I don’t know what happened. I’ve never felt that way before. Ever. It was so confusing. My body did weird things. I’ve been avoiding the Pods since it happened. They probably know what I was thinking and what I wanted to do.”

  Captain Vellar chuckled. “The Pods keep all our secrets. No worries about them. I saved them from death. They can be trusted.”

  She was curious but didn’t ask.

  “That one isn’t a secret. Pods are normally protected on their planet, but sometimes a few greedy or powerful ones will sell their own kind to other alien races. Usually when the Pod family isn’t well connected to a lot of others. No one raises a fuss if a small group of them disappear. Our Pods were captured and sold to a criminal who used their abilities in horrible ways. They were enslaved. They were forced to read the minds of their master’s enemies, and then had to watch them die in gruesome ways.

  “Pods are gentle beings. It was incredibly difficult for them to exist that way
. They were bombarded with fearful thoughts and suffering every moment they were in captivity. We were on Max station when we found them. They approached us after reading our minds and pleaded for help, having escaped their guard. I granted them safety on The Vorge, the criminal attacked us, we won, and now they’re part of my crew, no longer tortured or kept against their will. I offered to return them to their planet but they feared being sold again. Here, they are safe and happy. As I said, the crew is a family on The Vorge. We protect each other.”

  “Thank you for telling me about them, and for saving me, too. My life on the Teki repair station would have become very difficult if you hadn’t hired me.”

  “The Teki didn’t sell you to me. He just wanted to make sure you were safe and paid well. It was a great deal for me, because your skills are amazing. We’re lucky to have you.”

  She beamed, happy for the compliment. “Thank you.”

  “We’re docking with Grover station within the hour. They have the part we need. Once it’s delivered and you install it, you’re welcome to take the rest of the day off. The station is a large one with some great entertainment venues.” He paused. “They have brothels with males, I’m sure, if that’s your preference. Charge anything you purchase to The Vorge account. We’ll take what you spend out of your pay.”

  He stood and smiled. “Just don’t blow all your creds. I’d also ask you to wear a wrist comm and one of the outfits with the patch that identifies you as part of my crew. I doubt anyone would be stupid enough to mess with you then. You could also ask to tag along with Midgel. She’s always looking for a crew member to accompany her while on leave. She’s shy too…but be warned, she’ll drag you food shopping for rare spices.”

  “I don’t need to leave The Vorge.” She dropped her gaze. “I also have no need to visit a brothel. I’ve never… I mean…never.”

  The silence between them grew, and she peeked up.

  He offered a small smile. “Oh. You’ve never had sex?”

  “No. The Teki protected me well.”

  His expression hardened. “It’s not always by force. I forget sometimes that you were a slave and how your life must have been. I take it that the other slaves left you alone?”

 
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