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       Dovis, p.8

           Laurann Dohner
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  “K’pa let it be known he valued me as his hardest worker. The other slaves knew they’d be killed or harshly punished if they injured me. I struggled and broke free when a few of the males tried to touch me. They immediately backed off.”

  “I’m thankful for that.”

  “Me too.” She hesitated. “May I ask you something?”

  “Sure.”

  She worked up her courage and sat straighter in the chair. “You’re mated to a human. I could ask Nara, but…it’s about what happened with Dovis.”

  “I can’t answer questions about Dovis.”

  “It’s not how he did what he did to save me. It’s about how I felt.”

  His eyes widened and he sat back down on the desk. “Ask.”

  “My body did weird things. Is that normal or is that only because of Dovis?”

  “The feeling of being strongly drawn to him without warning…that was Dovis.”

  She lowered her chin, not able to look at him anymore. “My nipples got hard, and I felt wet and it throbbed between my legs. Was that also Dovis? Or normal?”

  He cleared his throat slightly. “The Teki never had any talks with you about sex at all, did they?”

  “No.”

  The captain sighed. “I’m not exactly qualified for this.” He cleared his throat again. “Everything you described sounds perfectly natural for a human to experience when sexually aroused. Maybe you could mention to Nara that you’ve never had sex and don’t know anything about it. She’s suitable to have that talk with you. Just leave all mention of Dovis out of it.”

  “Thank you.”

  Captain Vellar stood once more, walking around his desk. “You can go now. The new U coupling should be delivered by York or Raff to you in the engine room soon. Let either of them know if you need assistance. Just don’t call Dovis.”

  “I won’t.” She got up and fled, happy that he hadn’t fired her.

  The other emotion she felt was gratitude, to be a part of The Vorge crew.

  It reminded her that she owed Dovis her life. She might not be able to go near him, but she could think of ways to repay him for saving her.

  * * * * *

  Dovis reached his cabin after leaving the bridge and saw a package sitting on the floor in front of his door. He frowned, sniffing the air. The faint scent of Mari filled his senses.

  He bent, picking it up. Another scent came to him—and his stomach rumbled immediately. He tore open the top of the box and stared at the meat pie rounds inside. There were a dozen of them.

  He accessed his lock, went inside his cabin, and used communications to contact Midgel, since she was the only one who made the pies and knew how much he loved the treat. She answered.

  “What is this?”

  The shy woman giggled. “Mari is building me a drawer to keep food warm and installing it later today. In return, she asked me to make your favorite cake. I made the pies instead. Are they good?”

  He reached inside the box and shoved one into his mouth, closing his eyes in delight as he chewed. “Perfect.”

  “Enjoy.” Midgel ended the call.

  He swallowed and contacted her again. “Why?”

  “Why what?”

  “Why did Mari want you to make these for me?”

  “I didn’t ask. All that matters is I’m getting a warming drawer. It will make my life easier.” She swiftly cut comms again.

  He growled, eating another small pie. They were his favorite. Midgel only made them for him when she needed a favor, which was rare.

  His door chime rang, and he put the box down and strode over, opening it.

  Raff stood there, looking annoyed. He held out one of his precious Jorki fur blankets.

  Dovis stared at it before frowning. “What?”

  Raff sighed and threw it at him. He caught it. Raff pointed and said, “Yours.” Then he turned to walk away.

  “Wait! Why are you giving me one of your blankets? You search for them every time we’re anywhere near Gluttren Four because you swear they’re the softest thing in existence.”

  Raff swung around and stomped back. “Two words—blue lights.”

  Dovis frowned deeper. “I don’t understand.”

  “I like the blue lights in the observation lounge. Mari is putting them in my cabin. Get it?”

  Dovis ran his fingers over the luxurious blanket. “So…why give me one of your blankets?”

  Now Raff looked annoyed. “Ask her. I get lights, you get the blanket.” Then he sighed. “She likes you, Dovis. Don’t be a dumbass. Keep her. You’re as flawed as I am. It might be your only chance to have a mate.”

  “Her feelings aren’t real. They’re just because I had to bite her.”

  Raff stepped closer. “I didn’t want to fuck your ugly ass, and you bit me. Ditch the fur and seduce her while you have her attention, moron. I hope you’re a great fuck to make up for your shit personality.”

  Shock jolted through him and he reached out fast, grabbing Raff by the arm when he tried to walk away.

  Raff stilled, glancing down at his hand before arching one eyebrow.

  “Ditch the fur?” Dovis was alarmed. Raff shouldn’t know he could shift. Cathian wouldn’t betray his trust.

  Raff smiled. It was a scary sight. “I survived growing up by learning everything about the people around me and finding their weaknesses and secrets.” He withdrew his arm from Dovis’s hold. “I put a vid device inside your vent when I first came aboard because I wasn’t sure I could trust you. I’ve since learned I could. I haven’t watched the feed since about two weeks after that, but it’s got a motion sensor. I recently got a bunch of alerts. Mari has been crawling through the vents all over The Vorge to clean them out. She’s not lazy like Harver was, only doing the outside of the grates. I watched the footage—she saw, Dovis. She knows you can ditch the fur. Bet she hasn’t said shit about it, has she?”

  He was too stunned to speak but he turned, staring at the two grates in his room that led to the vents running through the ship.

  “Mari’s a tiny thing compared to us. She crawls right through the vents on every level, using her clothes to catch the dust inside the ducts, and then she sprays the grates down a few times if they’re bad. Hard worker. She’s been doing it at night while the crew sleeps. Ex-slaves are always extreme people pleasers, her life depended on not pissing anyone off and making her owners happy. They also know how to keep their lips sealed.”

  Dovis faced him and tried not to show his panic. Raff and Mari had both seen too much. They knew he was a shapeshifter. “This is the most I’ve ever heard you say. And I’m tearing out the fucking vid device. You shouldn’t be spying on anyone.”

  Raff shrugged. “Old habit. It kept me alive. Do you know how many times I overheard someone plotting to murder me? Too many. Lose the fur and seduce the human, Dovis. Your bite did something to her. Use it. I would. Didn’t you notice how I stormed off after Cathian said something about Mari being attracted to me if your DNA was still in my bloodstream? I was tempted to have you bite me again just for that purpose. Unfortunately, it would only be temporary.”

  Dovis gawked at him.

  “What? I’m fucking lonely and flawed. I wasn’t born with a second heart to give to a female, like Cathian. It means I can’t life-lock to one. Take advantage of what your body can do, dumbass. Shift and track her down. Mari sure as hell isn’t going to want to kiss that muzzle and the pointy teeth you usually wear. Cathian and the crew would also be pissed if you scratched her with your claws. Ditch those, too, when you fuck her.” He turned and walked a few steps but then glanced back, grinning. “You might be less of a shaft-head if you had a mate.” Then the male walked out of sight.

  Dovis backed away until the sensor triggered his door to close. He rubbed his fingers over the soft material of the blanket and sighed. How many of the crew had figured out his secret, that he could switch forms?

  He snarled and walked to his couch, throwing his body down. Then he remembered
the vid device and jumped up again, stalked to the first grate and yanked it open.

  He found it inside the second one, cleverly hidden inside the vent. He growled, destroying the device.

  One thing was certain. He and Mari needed to talk. She couldn’t keep exchanging favors to get him gifts. He wasn’t even sure why she felt the need. Was it because his bite made her body want him? In his culture, males perused females. Maybe with humans it was reversed. Either way, everyone would be talking about it. He didn’t like being the source of gossip.

  It would be smarter to use the comms to speak to her but he wanted to do it in person, to see her face and read her expressions for honesty. He’d just avoid getting too close to her. She’d been fine in the dining room until she’d approached him.

  That was the key. Space.

  He took a few deep breaths and then ran a scan to see where she was at that moment. He found her in engineering. The new part had come and was being installed. He would wait for her to finish and then go visit her.

  Chapter Seven

  Mari had just put away her new clothes in her cabin when the door suddenly opened. She twisted around to watch Dovis enter. He wore his standard black uniform. He stopped just inside the door and closed it behind him. He lifted a hand and pointed a claw-tipped finger at her.

  “Stay over there. Sorry I used my security clearance to enter without permission but I didn’t want anyone to see me in your cabin.”

  “Why?”

  “That’s what I want to know. Why are you doing favors for the crew to make them give me stuff?” He looked angry.

  “I’m sorry. I thought it would make you happy.”

  “But why do it?”

  “To thank you for saving my life, Dovis.”

  “There’s no need. You got hurt getting the engines working to save us from being attacked by pirates. I’d have done it for anyone.”

  She didn’t know why that made her chest ache in a painful way. “Okay.” She lowered her chin and gazed at the floor between them. “I’ll stop trading favors.”

  “How did the installation of the U coupling go?”

  “Good. We’re able to leave the station whenever the captain is ready. I informed him of that but some of the crew want to spend another day here, I guess.”

  A low growl came from him. “Look at me.”

  She raised her chin.

  “Did you tell anyone what you saw from my vent grate while you were cleaning it?”

  She felt the color drain from her face. How did he know about that?

  “Did you?”

  “No.”

  “Were you purposely spying on me? Why?”

  “It was an accident. I was just cleaning the vents, I swear. I didn’t even know that was your cabin. The cabins aren’t marked by who they belong to.”

  He seemed to study her closely with his black eyes. “I believe you. What exactly did you see?”

  She hesitated to answer, not wanting to infuriate him.

  “Tell me,” he said, taking a step forward. “You owe me that much. The truth.”

  “I didn’t know you were in your cabin when I began to clean the grate. You stepped out of your shower. I was too afraid to crawl away in case you heard me inside the vent. Then you changed while going to sleep.”

  “You didn’t tell anyone?”

  “Never.”

  “Why not?”

  “I’m not allowed to talk about things I see while working. I’m just to do my job. Some slaves like to gossip but I’ve seen them punished for it. I would never do something that earned me a lot of pain or possible death. I keep my mouth shut. You can depend on that.”

  “What did you think when you saw me in skin?”

  “I was afraid you’d hear me and rip open the grate to tear me out of the vent if you discovered me there. I worked on a repair station for a long time. I’ve heard about shapeshifters before. I know this is probably your social form, but when you’re alone, you wear the other one.”

  “I frighten you like this.” He waved a hand at his body.

  “You’re big, and you have sharp teeth. You remind me of a race I saw once on the station. It ate another alien.”

  He gaped at her, blinking.

  “Sorry.” She lowered her gaze. “No offense.”

  “None taken. I promise to never take a bite out of you.”

  She smiled slightly and dared to look at him again. “Thank you. I appreciate that. I think I’d taste terrible and I don’t have a lot of meat on me.”

  “You actually taste good.”

  Her eyes widened, surprised at what he’d said.

  He cleared his throat. “Forget I said that. I just wanted to get thing cleared up between us. You don’t owe me anything. Stop doing favors for the crew to get them to give me their stuff or make me things. It was nice…but there’s no need.”

  “I’m sorry. This is all new to me. I was trying to show my appreciation.”

  He glanced around her cabin. “It’s very clean in here.”

  “Of course. I will always make sure I pass inspection.”

  He shook his head. “No one cares if your cabin is clean or not. Ask York. His cabin is a mess. I take it your owner made you keep your cabin clean?”

  “Not him directly, but one of his assistants or family members checked our living spaces almost daily. They were tiny rooms with a narrow cot. It’s punishable to be messy. It shows disrespect for all we’re given. Slaves should be grateful at all times.”

  “You’re not a slave anymore, Mari.”

  “I know. It’s just…I’m never sure how to act or what the rules are.”

  “I understand that. It was difficult for me when I first left my home planet. I knew nothing about other races. My first job was station security.” He almost smiled—or what passed for one when the corners of his mouth curved slightly at the sides of his muzzle. “I got the job because I scared everyone. I was aggressive, figuring I needed to be to prevent anyone from messing with me. I snarled at the person who interviewed me and he grinned, thinking it was great. He asked if I could fight, and I ended up training a lot of my co-workers.”

  “You look very tough.”

  He chuckled. “Not in my other form.”

  “I didn’t really get a good look. I was too afraid you’d find me in the vent. I just wanted to get away from you.”

  He closed his eyes—and she was stunned when his fur began to recede.

  His muzzle shrank and bones made soft popping noises. Just as she had inside the vent, Mari watched in amazement as his ears got smaller and he changed forms. Like before, he had tan skin and full lips—but when he opened his eyes, she gasped. The black color had lightened to a soft brown.

  Dovis was actually good-looking. When his muzzle had pushed in, the bones seemed to settle somehow to make his face a little wider and give him strong cheekbones.

  He took her breath away.

  “Still tough-looking?”

  His voice wasn’t as deep but remained very masculine and husky. She nodded. “You’re still big and muscular. You also still look as if you could hurt someone.”

  He smiled. This time it was easy, and clear to see since he had a very human-like mouth. She noticed he had long, thick eyelashes. His chin was squared. It was tempting to go touch his skin to see if it was as soft as it looked. She didn’t dare, though.

  “I’ve seen a lot of aliens. You’ve very handsome for one. May I ask why you hide this side of yourself from the crew? I mean, if you do. I just assumed.”

  His smile faded and he took another step closer, but stopped. “Cathian has seen me this way. Apparently, Raff has too. This is a shameful form for an Amarain. It’s rare and considered a birth defect.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “Myths on Amarai, my planet, say we’re a mutation. I was born in skin and couldn’t grow fur or change to look like them until what you would call puberty. My parents dumped me outside of our village after I was born, le
aving me to the elements to die. It’s shameful to birth one like me. An elder female found me and took me into her home. It’s how I survived.”

  “I don’t understand. Can’t all of your kind change forms?”

  He shook his head. “Not to this degree. They can shorten their fur and muzzles to show submission to someone more dominant but never all the way to skin. And I can do more than just change drastically in appearance.” He hesitated. “I bit your shoulder, Mari. There’s something in my saliva that can heal pretty severe injuries. It’s also considered a shameful mutant thing. My culture is kind of into fighting and suffering. To be able to heal the way I can is considered criminal and against nature.”

  “Your people sound pretty dumb. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to heal someone else.” Then she gasped, realizing she’d said that out loud and maybe insulted him. “Sorry!”

  He shrugged. “You’re attracted to me because of a side effect of my bite. There was a myth the elder female shared with me, about mutants being able to draw women to them sexually with their bite. I didn’t really understand or believe what she said…until you started sniffing and touching me. I apologize for that. It should stop once my DNA leaves your system. I had to bite Raff once, but he wasn’t attracted to me. It must be because you’re a female.” Dovis cleared his throat. “Anyway, I figured you deserved an explanation if you were confused as to why you’d find me sexually appealing. You aren’t losing your mind. It’s just a reaction to the bite.”

  “I appreciate you being honest with me.”

  “Don’t share anything I’ve told you.”

  “I give you my word. Until death and beyond.” She approached him and raised her arm, presenting him with her palm, then bowed her head.

  “What are you doing?”

  She lifted her chin. “Giving my word. I gave my promise to the Teki before. See?” She showed him her other palm, two deep, thin scars running along its length. “I’m willing to suffer the pain of you slicing my skin to prove my commitment to keeping my silence. I won’t make a sound while you cut me.”

  He grabbed her hand in his. His skin felt soft and hot. “I hate the fucking Teki. They did this to you?” He turned her hand over, examining the scars. A growl rumbled from him.

 
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