Her gaze went to his face. His body distracted her so much that she hadn’t really spent much time looking at his face, but as she took in his square jaw and chiseled features, she decided he had to be the most attractive man she’d ever seen. She stared at his dark-blond hair, fascinated by the color. She hadn’t seen that many people with blond hair in her life. And most of the people she had seen had artificially colored it. She had no doubt his was the real deal. All at once, she found herself wondering what color his eyes were. They had to be blue, she thought. That would match his hair perfectly.
Glancing at the other two women, Tanna saw he equally entranced them, and she watched breathlessly as Vi began to wipe more frost off the front of the glass to reveal a washboard stomach and lean hips.
“Vi, that’s enough,” Tanna ordered abruptly, pushing the other woman’s hand away when she started to move lower.
Vi frowned. “I just wanted to see if he’s built like that everywhere.”
Tanna wouldn’t have minded seeing more of him herself, especially since the only men she had seen naked in a while had been the computer-generated ones conjured up in the holo-chamber on their ship. And they definitely hadn’t looked anything like him. But ogling a man while he was in a hypersleep pod just seemed wrong.
He gazed up at her for a moment, and then glanced around the med-bay, confusion on his handsome face. “Where am I?” he asked slowly.
Damn, even his voice was sexy as sin. Which was surprising, considering he had just spent the last seven-hundred years in hypersleep. She would have thought it’d be more dry and raspy after so long. Apparently, Sela was damn good at her job. There should probably be a bonus in this for her.
Garrick paused in the middle of buttoning his shirt and turned to see Tanna Aldrick standing in the door of the med-bay, her hands on her hips, her dark eyes regarding him with a disapproving look. As the captain of a ship it was probably a stance she had used many times on her crew. And while it probably had the desired effect on them, for some reason, he couldn’t help but find it damn sexy. The pose only drew attention to her delicious curves. And the pout of her lips, which meant to imply dissatisfaction, only made him wonder just how soft they would feel on his.
When he first opened his eyes to find Tanna bending over him last night, he was too disoriented to really look at her. He had realized she was attractive, of course, but as he took in her long, dark hair, high cheekbones and full lips, he saw how beautiful she really was. And now that he was getting a look at the rest of her body, he had to admit he liked what he saw.
“So,” she said. “Did you have a wife back on Earth?”
The sudden change in topic threw Garrick for a moment, but then he shook his head. “No,” he said, and was relieved at the fact. It was bad enough that his family hadn’t known what had happened to him. Knowing he had left a wife, too, would have been even more painful.
“What about a girlfriend, then?” Naya persisted.
His mouth quirked. “No girlfriend, either.”
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously at that. “You’re not into other men, are you?”
Garrick almost choked on his scrambled eggs.
“Naya!” Tanna sputtered around her tea.
“What?” the younger girl protested. “I’m just trying to figure out why Garrick didn’t have a girlfriend. It’d be just our luck that we thaw out a hot hunk of a man like him, only to find out he flies on the other side of the cockpit.”
Garrick had never heard the expression before, but it was easy enough to figure out what Naya meant, and he couldn’t help but chuckle. “I might have been in hypersleep for seven-hundred years, but I think I can safely say I’m definitely interested in women.”
Leala smiled. “Just your luck, then, because you’re on a whole ship full of them.”
Garrick’s gaze slid to Tanna, lingering there for just a moment before he turned back to Leala. “So I noticed.”
Realizing he was waiting for her to say something, she said the first thing that came to mind. “The accommodations probably aren’t what you’re used to, but it’s the best I can offer.”
The corner of his mouth curved into the sexiest half smile she’d ever seen. “It’s fine. More room than the hypersleep chamber, that’s for sure. So, I can’t complain.”
Tanna laughed. “When you put it that way, I guess you’re right. Make yourself at home. Feel free to use the computer, if you want to jump on the Inter-Planetary Database to look something up.” She gestured to the door on the opposite wall. “You’ve got your own private bathroom through there, along with a shower. Just give me a shout if you need a hand.”
The words were out of her mouth before she even realized what she’d said. Garrick had clearly picked up on the double meaning right away, though, because he was regarding her with that same look in his eye that he had earlier down in the galley when he had made that comment about still being interested in women. She blushed hotly. “I didn’t mean if you needed a hand in the shower,” she said quickly. Crap, that sounds even worse. She needed to get out of there before she really embarrassed herself.
She backed toward the door. “I’m going to go. I’m sure you can take care of yourself.”
His mouth twitched and she felt her face color even more as she realized the innuendo in the words.
“I … um … I’ll see you later.”
Eager to get out of there before she said anything else embarrassing, Tanna turned to go, but the sound of her name on Garrick’s lips brought her to a halt.
Spotting a pod of dolphins frolicking a little ways offshore, Tanna stopped to watch them play in the surf. A moment later, she felt strong hands gently massaging her shoulders. Startled, she tensed, but then immediately relaxed again. While she hadn’t asked for sex to be included in the program, Hollie had obviously taken the liberty of inserting a partner for her. Considering that she had come into the holo-chamber to relieve some of her sexual frustration, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. And whoever he was, the guy had magical fingers. Damn, Hollie sure knew what she was doing. She tilted her head to the side and closed her eyes, letting out a soft sigh. “That feels amazing.”
The man pressed his lips to the curve of her neck. “I’m glad you like it.”
Tanna’s eyes flew open at the sound of Garrick’s voice. She whirled around to face him, her pulse racing. “What are you doing?”
His mouth quirked. “I was kissing your neck.”
She felt her face color. “Yeah, that much I figured out. I meant, what are you doing in here?”
He flashed her a sexy smile. “Helping you relax. That was why you came in here, wasn’t it?”
Tanna’s brow furrowed at the words, and then all at once, her eyes went wide as understanding dawned on her. Garrick wasn’t really there at all. He was the computergenerated sex partner that Hollie had inserted into the program. But how had the computer even known about Garrick? It couldn’t, not unless one of the crew had input him into Hollie’s hard drive. Tanna didn’t have a single doubt in her mind why they had done it. Though she was curious about which one of them it had been. Perhaps the bigger question was why Hollie had inserted Garrick into the program with her in the first place. Though Tanna supposed that was easy to figure out. He was exactly the kind of man that she usually requested in her holo-chamber fantasies. Big, tall, and one-hundred percent pure male. The moment his image had been loaded into Hollie’s database, he would have immediately been connected to Tanna’s preferences.
He let out a groan as an image of the beautiful dark-haired ship’s captain filled his mind. The snug-fitting breeches and curve-hugging tee she wore were a far cry from the flight suits that the female officers in the ISEA used to wear, though he suspected Tanna would look sexy in just about anything. Or nothing. His cock throbbed even more at the thought of her naked body.
He took a step closer as he spoke, his eyes turning a sexy, smoky blue. How did he do that? Tanna wondered. One moment they were teasing, the next they were smoldering so hotly it made her want to throw herself at him and beg him to take her.
She swallowed hard, trying to banish the provocative image from her mind. “I-I’m not sure what you mean.”
He reached out to gently tuck her hair behind her ear. “I think you do. There’s something between us, Tanna. I can feel it. And I think you do, too. ” He slid a gentle finger beneath her chin. “I want you. And you want me.”
As he spoke, Garrick leaned in so close that she could feel his breath stir her hair. He smelled so damn good that she just wanted to bury her face in the crook of his neck and breathe him in. God, how she wanted to make love to him! But she couldn’t do that. Malana had been right in that regard. Tanna knew what kind of effect sleeping with him could have on the crew. She had been on ships when these kinds of things went badly, and she didn’t want it happening on her ship.
“We can’t,” she said, the words coming out a groan.
He moved even closer, resting a hand on the row of cabinets behind her. “Why not?”
Being so near to him was making it difficult to think and it took a moment before she could answer. “The crew.”
“I understand. But they don’t have to know,” he said softly. His mouth was hovering dangerously close to hers now. “We could be discreet.”
God, he was good at this. She opened her mouth to protest, but Garrick must have grown tired of their verbal foreplay because he bent his head to silence her with a kiss before she could manage to get the words out. She instinctively placed her hands on his chest, intending to push him away, but when he lifted his hand to cup the back of her head, she felt herself melting against him instead. It was like she was completely powerless to stop him. Probably because she didn’t really want to.
Tanna sipped her Espozian tea before answering. A combination of black tea and sweet spices, it was the perfect compliment to any meal as far as she was concerned. “Yes, thanks.”
Leala toyed with the handle of her mug. “Really? Because you look a little tired.”
“Yeah,” Vi agreed. “Kind of like you do when you spend the whole night in the holo-chamber.”
Tanna almost laughed. Vi made it sound like she did that on a regular basis, when in reality, she had just done it once. Hollie had come up with such a hot guy and a sexy scenario that time had gotten away from her. Vi and Leala loved to tease her constantly about it.
She stirred her oatmeal. “Well, I didn’t spend the night in the holo-chamber. As a matter of fact, I went to bed early.”
At the other end of the table, Vi and Leala exchanged looks that could only be described as amused. “That’s not what we heard,” Vi said.
Tanna tensed, the spoon of oatmeal halfway to her mouth. “What do you mean?”
Vi shrugged. “Naya told us that she saw Garrick coming out of your cabin this morning.”
Damn. If the girl had seen Garrick leaving her cabin, had she seen them kiss, too? Tanna quickly spooned the oatmeal into her mouth and dipped it back into the bowl for another. “Naya’s mistaken. Garrick stopped by to talk to me about something, that’s all.”
“Then I guess Naya’s mistaken about the kiss she saw, too, huh?” Leala asked, her lips curving into a knowing grin.
Double damn. Tanna opened her mouth to deny it, but the other women were grinning and shaking their heads.
“Don’t even try and deny it,” Leala laughed. “It’s written all over your face. I know the look of a satisfied woman and you have it. Mr. Tall, Blonde, and Hunky spent the night in your bed.”
“Dammit,” she muttered. “I didn’t want anyone to know.”
Vi’s brow furrowed. “Why not?”
Tanna absently stirred her oatmeal. “I didn’t want there to be any tension on board.”
“Because you’re sleeping with Garrick, you mean?” Leala asked.
“That’s silly. There isn’t going to be any tension,” Vi said. “I mean, do we all wish we were the ones knocking boots with Garrick? Hell, yeah. But we all figured out from his first day on board that he was into you.” She let out a dramatic sigh. “I guess the rest of us will just have to make do with the holo-chamber version of Mr. Tall, Blonde, and Hunky.”
Tanna’s eyes narrowed suspiciously at the mention of the holo-chamber. “So, you’re the one who programmed him into Hollie!” she said accusingly.
Vi lifted her chin. “I never said it was me.”
“Who cares who did it?” Leala chimed in, leaning forward. “What I want to know is how you happened to find out about it, Cap’n? Were you getting busy with Garrick virtually before you started doing him literally?”
Tanna felt her face color even more. “No, of course not!” she protested, though she had no idea why she didn’t just admit it. The other girls already knew she and Garrick were sleeping together. “I … I was in there running an … exercise routine and Hollie just dropped him into the middle of it.”
Leala laughed and sat back in her seat. “Exercise. Right. I’ve never heard it referred to as that, but if that’s what you want to call it, fine by me.”
Garrick’s jaw clenched. “Maybe I should be asking you the same question,” he shot back. “You’re the one who risked your life to go after some stupid plasma container when you knew we were all waiting on the shuttle with a port-lock that was about to break loose.”
She folded her arms. “That stupid plasma thing is worth a quarter-million credits!”
“And that’s worth more than your life?” he demanded. “Or the life of your crew?”
She felt herself flush. God, how could he be so dense? “We’re a salvage crew, Garrick. Risking our lives comes with the job description. It’s not like we haven’t done it before.” She waved her hand dismissively. “You should have seen the time we were getting salvage off a ship that was heading into a black hole.”
Garrick swore. “Dammit, Tanna! I can’t believe you’re being so cavalier about this.”
She put her hands on her hips. “And I can’t believe you’re making such a big deal about nothing. Sure, we risked our lives, but the payoff was huge and we’re all fine. So, stop your complaining.” Turning her back to him, she reached up to pull off her ponytail holder and dropped it on the desk, then ran her hand through her long hair. “What I really want to talk about is how you disobeyed my direct order—”
“We’re done talking,” he growled.
As he spoke, Garrick grabbed her arm and spun her around. Tanna opened her mouth to ask him just who the hell he thought he was, but all that came out was a startled gasp as he sat down in the desk chair and flung her over his knee. She was so stunned that all she could do for a moment was lay there. She recovered quickly enough, though, and when she did, she immediately pushed herself upright with a hand on his muscular thigh. Or would have if a firm hand on the small of her back hadn’t pushed her back down. What the hell?
“Garrick…” she began, but once again, her words ended abruptly as his hand came
down on her upturned bottom.
Her eyes went wide. He did not just do that!
Even though Garrick was fine now, she still shuddered every time she thought of what could have happened to them. If Koralo’s men had stunned first and asked questions later, Garrick would be the slaver’s captive right now. She didn’t want to think what would have happened to him after that.
“I didn’t mean to wake you up,” he said apologetically.
“You didn’t.” She glanced at the clock. “What are you doing up so early?”
He looked down as he buttoned his shirt. “I never went to sleep.”
Something about the way he said the words made her frown. “Why not?” she asked, pushing back the covers. Getting to her feet, she grabbed her short robe from the arm of the chaise and put it on, then tied the belt around her waist. “Couldn’t you sleep?”
He didn’t look at her as he tucked his shirt into his breeches. “I was thinking.”
She reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “About what?”
Her brow furrowed. She didn’t like the sound of that. “What about us?”
Garrick was silent for so long Tanna thought he wasn’t going to answer, and when he finally lifted his head to look at her, his blue eyes were the saddest she had ever seen them. “I can’t do this, Tanna.”
A weight suddenly settled on her chest. “What do you mean?”
He let out a heavy sigh. “I can’t be with you anymore.”
Whatever she had expected him to say, it wasn’t that. The weight on her chest became even more crushing, making it hard to breathe, much less think. She couldn’t do anything but stand there and stare at him. “I d-don’t understand,” she finally managed. “I can’t keep putting you in danger, Tanna. It’s not fair.”
“Danger?” she echoed. “What are you talking about?”
He ran his hand through his hair. “Tanna, those men back on Xandori wouldn’t have attacked us if they hadn’t been trying to get their hands on me. I couldn’t live with myself if you got hurt because of me. Which is why I’ll be getting off the ship at whatever place we stop next.”
“You don’t have to do that. I wasn’t hurt,” she protested. “We’ll just be more careful next time.” Tears welled in her eyes. She couldn’t let him walk out of her life. She wouldn’t.
Garrick reached out to gently cup her cheek in his hand, wiping a tear away with his thumb. “Please don’t make this any harder than it is. I can’t bear it if you cry.”
She pushed his hand away angrily. “Don’t I get a say in this?” she demanded.
“Dammit, Garrick, I love you. Doesn’t that matter to you?”
“Of course it does. I love you, Tanna, too much to let you get hurt,” he said hoarsely. “Which is why I have to get off this ship.”
Tanna hadn’t even realized how much she wanted to hear Garrick say he loved her, but in all her wild imaginings, she never dreamed it would come out like this. It should have made her happy, but all it did was make her want to cry. She wasn’t going to let it end like this. Before she could say anything, though, the ship’s intercom beeped and Ena’s voice interrupted her.
“Captain,” she called her voice urgent.
Tanna swallowed hard. “Yes.”
If Ena thought her voice sounded a little funny, the other girl made no mention of it.
“You need to get up to the bridge, Captain. We have a big problem.”
Tanna sighed. “I’ll be right there,” she told Ena, then waited until the other girl had closed the com before giving Garrick a pointed look. “This conversation isn’t over.”
She didn’t wait for a reply, but instead walked over to the built-in along the wall and grabbed a fresh pair of panties from the drawer. She wasn’t letting Garrick go without a fight, and after she took care of whatever it was up on the bridge, they were going to continue their discussion. He wasn’t getting off this ship, she promised herself, even if it meant not docking anywhere for the next year. Or at least until she could get him to see reason.
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