Regarding the first scene: Just like the first scene of Chapter Four, I really needed to post this scene and move on. I’ll share my thoughts about how I think this turned out once the chapter is finished and I’ve enabled commenting.
The chapter is done! Yay! I’ve posted my thoughts in the comments below.
Kinixys stared at the female as the early rays of dawn pierced the undercanopy. She was curled up and sleeping beneath a lean-to shelter made from pieces of the wrecked hull. His chest swelled at the sight of her, and he blew a hot breath through his nostrils.
Aku be damned. She must have circled back and somehow slipped past him.
A warm rush of surprise swept over him, washing away the anxious concern that he’d carried with him all yesterday afternoon and into the night.
She was here.
She was safe.
Perfect. Now he could finally truss up the tiny, chaotic nuisance. If only he had some rope.
His conscience nudged him, reminding him of his promise to Emys. It should be his honor, and not lack of supplies, that held him to his word.
Since he couldn’t truss her up, he would wake her up. Then he would demand that she fully—rather than ‘kinda’—accept his sibling’s offer. Obviously, he would explain that she would remain by his side until her obligation was fulfilled. Perhaps inquire if she happened to have any rope on her.
Excellent. Those were all basic and efficient executables.
Glancing about the crash site, he found a bit of scrap and kicked it, sending it clattering through the scattered debris.
He’d hoped that the noise would wake her, giving her a moment or two to settle before he announced his presence. Instead, a bright flash burst from beneath her rickety lean-to shelter. He winced and turned his head away from the sharp, painful light. The afterimage of the deceptively innocent female, curled up in her makeshift burrow, was stamped across his vision.
Ah, the rascally female had tossed a flash grenade.
She now had the well-earned advantage. In his experience, a barrage of pulse blasts or low-tech bullets usually followed a disorientation-inducing attack.
Hunching down and curling inward, he grumbled as he waited for her to fire upon him. The sooner her bullets—or, most likely, rocks and sticks—bounced off the heavy scutes covering his back, the sooner he could rein her in.
“Oh, Kin,” she heaved. “It’s just you.”
She sounded relieved, not frightened, which was the outcome that he’d intended. So, why did imagining her jolting awake in terror—her heart pounding painfully inside her chest as a scream tore from her throat—rile his anger?
His hands curled into fists. What jackass put her on such a hair-trigger that tossing a flash grenade had become a fucking reflex for her?
“Grab her!” His impulses urged. “Protect her!”
Before he could stop himself, he blindly spun about. Warmth greeted him. He reared back.
By Aku! She was right there, and he’d almost slammed her into the ground!
Sucking in a startled breath, he pulled a heated, herbal scent into his lungs as the afterimage of her curled and sleeping continued to dominate his vision.
The word his seared fiercely through his body, priming his muscles.
“Easy there, Kin.” She stood next to him, her hand on his shoulder cop.
That was the slowest that she’d ever spoken to him. Also, she was giving him stiff, awkward pats. Unlike when Rogers had touched him, he didn’t want to shake off the light weight of her touch. He wanted her to whack him harder, so he could truly feel her through his scutes.
No. Wait, dammit. That wasn’t what he wanted.
Disgusted with himself, he snorted and shook his head, trying to clear his jumbled thoughts.
“There, there,” she stumbled over each word. “Just, um, take a seat until it passes.”
Then it hit him. Until it passes…
When he’d failed to control his impulses and spun around to grab her, she must’ve thought he was toppling over.
She was trying to steady him.
His wry chuff—certainly not an amused chuckle—grated his throat, perfectly underscoring his mood. His irritation squashed any mirth that had sprung from this ridiculous turn-about.
She sighed. “It’s best if you just stay put.”
The resignation in both her breathy exhale and tone struck him as a mildly chiding. As if his sudden onset of staggering blindness were somehow his own fault, and she must be the one to deal with the aftermath.
Well, true enough. He had been the asshole kicking stuff about, but this coddling was beneath him.
“I am unharmed.” He meant to shrug off her hand, but his body revolted and listed toward her.
For all the fucks.
She chuckled, “Yep. I remember. Nothing can get past your outer shell.”
That statement was surprisingly astute, coming from her. Yet, it didn’t please him. However, her wonderfully throaty chuckle that both preceded and followed her statement? That sensual sound very much pleased him.
But, again, he was way off target. He needed to return to the fundamentals of his plan:
Enforce her acceptance of Emys’s offer.
Establish her close and unwavering proximity to him at all times.
The last item, as always, held the greatest importance.
He cast his gaze side to side, but only saw her—curled, sleeping, vulnerable. “Tell me. These trees? Do they have vines?”
“Vines?” Her confusion already answered his question. How disappointing. The things he could do with a well-woven, fibrous cord. Even while blind. “Um, no. No vines.”
Fine. No rope. For now. Fortunately, the second issue—keeping her close—had gratifyingly solved itself.
He let her scent and his nose guide his gaze, turning the faceplate of his helm to her. “I’ll need you to guide me, Fema—”
She cut him off with gargle-y, phlegm-y noise. “Ugh! Do not be one of those people.”
“Do you mean a ‘people’ who asks assistance from the one who wounded him?” Was she serious? A request such as his was the cornerstone of—literally—thousands of thriving societies on hundreds of civilized planets.
“No.” Interesting. Her larynx could both growl adorably while continuing to vocally enunciate. “Don’t call me ‘female.’ It’s… dehumanizing.”
“That seems unlikely.”
Although, if uttering this word somehow molecularly restructured her, how the hell was he supposed to know? Honestly, she had blinded him.
She huffed. “I meant it’s impersonal. Sterile.”
Sterile was not a word he’d wanted to hear. Not if mere words could anatomically alter a human. It was a ludicrous notion. He’d seen no evidence that humans had mastered subatomic manipulation.
Yet, the question tore out of him. “Are you fertile?”
“Am I what now?” Her heat receded, meaning she must be backing away.
His impulses raged, demanding that he grope about for the female until he snagged her.
Wonderful. Great idea. Then what? You’ve nothing further to say? Exactly, you fucking idiots.
Good thing his instincts were stirring. He snapped to attention, ready to receive their sound advice.
His instincts solemnly informed him, that after snagging the female, the next step would be to hold her.
Fuck. His instincts were compromised.
His chest seized, unable to draw air while his heart hammered against his ribs.
“Hey, hey, hey.” The sound of her voice drew closer. Then the press of her tiny hands returned to his shoulders. She eased him onto his backside. “Calm down. Nice big breaths. In. Out. In—You guys don’t normally breathe this fast, do you?”
No. Well, sometimes. He really wasn’t supposed to be heaving like this because an Akupara was always calm and steady.
“I am unharmed,” he wheezed out. Though, his health wasn’t paramount. “But so are you, yes? You’re fertile?”
She lifted her hands from him. “That’s a weird question and I’m not answering it.”
“Based on your accept—”
“Are you fertile?”
A funny thing happened. His cock hardened.
“Based on your silence,” she said smugly. “You see my point.”
“No. I don’t. You’ve blinded me.”
“It’s weird, Kin,” she huffed in frustration.
Not entirely. It might be weird timing for his cock to engorge, but strangely, it didn’t strike him as off-puttingly weird.
“You don’t even know my name, but you’re asking about my ovaries.” Then she grumbled. “Buy a girl a drink first, fella.”
If she meant to insult him, she’d cut him deep. He was rushing. Each encounter with her thus far had ended after a handful of exchanged words before she would run away.
If she ran, as before, he couldn’t follow. He would lose her again. An Akupara did not reveal his true speed to an Outbaler, but his stupid impulses couldn’t give a shit. Thoughts of her running had his leg muscles priming, readying to race after her despite the unforgivable breaking of his oath.
Hell, this female was dangerous. For the dishonorably first time, he was going to fail in his duty to his Bale. Another Akupara would have approached her with more caution. Instead, he’d set their interaction on this disastrous path when he startled her awake, then called her ‘female.’
He needed to course-correct.
“My apologies,” he choked out. “I would have your name.”
When she spoke, her voice pitched higher. “That’s how you ask me?”
Yes? Maybe he should inform her about the thousands of thriving soc—
“Whatever.” She heaved. “It’s Rez. Call me Rez.”
That was… short. Too short.
His own name, Sub-Commander Kinixys Strazar Dobar Umara, The Last of the Bale, reflected the years that he’d spent tenaciously battling the worst of himself to rise as The Last of his people.
Likewise, in his eyes, Rez deserved more than one syllable and three short letters. Her name hardly resounded at all. It could be spoken quickly, like the snap of one’s fingers.
No. The name didn’t suit her. But, she declared herself thusly, so he would oblige.
“Well met, Rez of…um…” Shit. She really did need more tacked on there. “The Only Runner of Two Dash Four Dash Kay.”
He would never call her First or Fastest. Leveling those low insults was unworthy of him.
“Dash what?” She laughed. “No, Kin. Two. Four. Kay. Twenty-Four Carat. That’s the name of our settlement. Well, the name of the mine. Supposedly the settlement came after.”
Ah. That information was both senseless and insignificant. But an Akupara must proceed in measured increments, so as not to miss purposeful and significant data. Surely, she possessed information like that.
Then again, this female—no, Rez—managed to be both typical and atypical of her species. Like Rogers, she was quick to judge, but unlike Rogers, she was quick to act. She probably held information that was both senseless yet significant.
Truly, such a revelation would not surprise him.
“Rez—” He bit back the rest of her title. “Have I satisfied the requisites to alleviate any remaining weirdness?”
She sighed. “Sure. Why not?”
He clenched his jaw. Rez’s disgruntled, impatient tone didn’t match the afterimage that still flashed before his vision.
Curled. Innocent. Exposed.
Well, for Emys’s sake, the Bale would now shelter and protect Rez.
As soon as she answered one, tiny question.
“So, then, Rez.” He looked right at her. Well, he was pretty sure that he was looking right at her. “Are you fertile?”
Rez groaned. “Not answering that, Kin.”
The last asshole to ask her about ‘breeding’ got a flying fist to the balls. She’d been wearing her duralloy-lined mitts, which had made it totally awesome. For her. Not for him. That guy had hobbled around Two-Four- Kay for months afterwards.
Yep. She adored her kickass mitts that Joia had made for her. Too bad they weren’t a match for the Akupara’s infamous armor.
She eyed Kin’s groin and the sizable armored cup that covered it. Yeah, junk punching him would probably break her hand and wrist. Perhaps dislocate her shoulder as well, especially if she added her speed to the impact. It was probably best to keep her mitts tucked in her pockets, to remove the temptation and all.
“You accepted the Bale’s offer,” Kin sighed, and although his helmet muffled his harsh exhale, she could pick up on his rising frustration. “The question is required.”
Well, too fucking bad. She wasn’t gonna answer it. But there was no reason to make it an obstacle, either. Better to hop over it and move on. She had a settlement to rescue.
“How about we just figure it all out when we get to your Bale?” She ran her gaze over his faceplate. It was tilted slightly upward, directed at her. The solid, matte surface of his helm reflected no light. Who the hell knew if he was really looking at her or even listening to her? “Does that work for you, Kin?”
He shifted and, only using his legs, he rose up to his feet. “Though vaguely stated, it’s an acceptable alternative.”
Of course it was ‘vaguely stated.’ She totally knew the drill. Never volunteer info. Ever. In her experience, her answers had always meant shit anyway. The scientists would simply strap her to a metal slab and extract the information from her blood and tissue.
So, yeah. Kin would get shit from her in that regard. And if he proved to be like the scientists from the lab? Well, he would have to catch her first. Which was highly unlikely, since his own people celebrated him for being dead last.
“Fine,” she grated out as she glared up at him. “Can we go now?”
Then it hit her. However, her travel companion was blind as a bat and slow as a turtle. One of those setbacks was her fault.
Her chest clenched painfully as her mind did a panicked tear through all of her available options. She could ditch Kin yet again. Race back to Two-Four-Kay. She and Joia could haul Luna off. The three of them could escape to Briarwood, hide in her boltholes, and live happily ever—
Dammit. No. That wasn’t going to work.
Her gaze snapped to Kin.
There. Right there.
He was her only alternative.
“What I mean,” she cleared her closing throat, ruthlessly banishing a rising, scratchy sob that threatened to crack her voice, “is that I can guide you. You know, until your sight comes back.” She blinked back the unshed tears that burned her eyes. “If you know which way to go, that is.”
The entire time, she gazed at his boots, which were wide—like the plinth of a column—and accommodated the spread of four thick, blunt toes. In her mind she imagined him lifting one foot, and the sole would look like the bottom of an uprooted tree—trailing roots with clumps of dirt and wiggly worms…
Please, please, please let this plan work.
The silence stretched too long. Three, perhaps five whole seconds of agonizing waiting twisted her gut.
She spoke in a rush, tossing out the first idea that jumped out at her. “Or, if I could get detailed directions, I could—“
“We stay together,” he said firmly with his faceplate still honed on her.
She… didn’t like that. It was always to her benefit that no one could easily pinpoint her. Because, if someone always knew where she was, then sooner or later, they would catch her zipping about the settlement or the forest.
But, she could do this for the girls. Really, how long could it take? At Kin’s pace—once his sight improved—it could be three to four days to the southern edge of Briarwood.
“Okay, then let’s—” She rolled her eyes because there she was, pointing southward. Idiot. “Um, do you know which way to turn? Or do I need to…”
Her humiliatingly awkward offer trailed off.
Together, she and Kin remained motionless in the charged silence. She, with her hands raised but not touching him. Him, with his eyes probably looking toward her but not seeing her.
God. This was so weird.
“Move me,” Kin said.
His deep, gruff voice pulled her forward a few steps. Her palm prickled with awareness as she rested it on his corded forearm. A supple, silicon-like substance connected hundreds of tiny scales that comprised his armor. The consistent pattern reminded her of tiles, with the silicon-like stuff serving as grout between scales. Only, the seams were minuscule, probably well under a millimeter in width.
At her touch, his muscles tightened, rippling the flexible armor. A corresponding ripple ran up her arm as well, tingling her skin. How completely fascin—
Wait a fucking second.
Kin’s deeply sexy voice and mesmerizing armor aside, did he just order her to touch him?
Her nipples immediately tightened as a treacherous throb pulsed between her legs.
Ugh. Fine. Yes, it had been awhile, but she would lose her damn mind if she fucked a guy like Kin. Hell, imagining the sheer boredom of laying there, waiting for him to finish, had her shuddering in dread. Plus, his endless minutes of uninspiring humping wouldn’t give her enough stimulation to get off.
Her tits and clit needed to sit down, shut up, and re-examine their stupid choices.
With a huff and an eye roll, she gripped Kin’s arm and pulled.
That’s right, Mountain Man, just go with it. Turn. Turn. Keep turning. Turn some more…
And there! Southward.
Keeping her grip—well, her pseudo-grip because his forearm was too thick for her to truly grasp it—she tugged him forward. He lifted his feet and followed. Thank god for that. There was no way she could forcibly drag his ass around.
For the first few steps, she guided him around the larger chunks of shuttle debris. With a huffing grunt, he ignored her next sidestep and trudged straight through, crushing wreckage beneath his boots.
She hopped over a charred support strut because, you know, her feet didn’t double as trash compactors. “You’re a one man demolition team, Kin.”
He silently stepped on another shuttle component, then said, “What’s an accordion?”
“Accordion?” She echoed. Kin’s question pulled her attention away from the re-enforced deck plating that he’d just crumbled like… “Oh, I said that out loud.”
“Aloud.” His voice rumbled outward from his helmet. “You said that aloud.”
She gave him a confused look that—god help her—he couldn’t see.
“Yeah.” She turned and glared at him. “That’s what I said. ‘Out loud.”
He grunted again. “Perhaps, to be prudent, a full wellness examination should be conducted at the Bale.”
She bit back a groan.
So. Many. Freaking. Words.
She could have dashed to Two-Four-Kay and back by the time he’d finished speaking. Why? Why so many useless words?
She keep glaring at him. Jerk.
“Tree,” he said.
Check that. Useful words, the fewest possible. Not one, completely useless—
She walked into a tree.
Not even a little tree. One of the huge mammoths that supported Briarwood’s dense uppercanopy.
As she rubbed her shoulder, her cheeks flamed with prickly heat. “Thanks for the fucking warning, Kin.”
“You’re welcome.” He paused. “I said it aloud.”
Oh, this fucking jerk. ‘Aloud’ her ass. “You can see.”
“Yes, you fucking can!”
“I can feel the roots.”
She looked down. Yep. Thick, fat roots jutted up from the dirt, carpeting the ground at the base of the tree. Not a single one was pulverized by Kin’s feet.
“Wait.” She batted her gaze between the newly flattened swath through the debris and Kin’s boots. “You can feel through your boots?”
“Yes?” She gaped at him. “Like, ‘feel’ feel with each step?”
“No. Only once.” He held up one finger.
Huh. She just noticed. He had one thumb and three fingers on each hand.
But that didn’t help her understand his answer. “Only once what?”
“I feel each step only once.”
“I don’t under—” She shook her head. “But you’re wearing boots!”
“They go with the armor.” He dipped his chin, as if looking at himself. “Full kit.”
She pressed her fingers to her throbbing temples. “You wear touch-sensitive armored boots that can pulverize spacecraft-grade hulls and struts?”
He turned his faceplate away from her and toward the tree. “Yes.”
Lowering her hands, she blinked at him—like, a gazillion blinks—before she blurted out her reply. “Yes? Seriously?”
“Yes. I’ve said so aloud three times now.” He sighed, then mumbled. “I will insist on a full exam.”
She yanked her hand off of his arm. “I heard that!”
“Excellent. One less thing to examine.”
“There will be no examination!”
“Possibly.” He tilted his head. “Your loud voice is drawing several predators.”
She snapped her mouth shut because he was right. But he was also an idiot. “Those War-wolves are a good twenty-klicks off. We’re fine.”
Kin turned toward her. His matte faceplate concealed his face, so she had no idea if he was arching a brow in surprise or sneering in disdain. Shit. She didn’t even know if Kin had eyebrows.
He nodded. Well, his annoyingly blank helmet nodded. “Passable hearing. Yes. We’ll skip that particular exam.”
Her hands balled into fists.
Punch him. Punch him. So gonna punch him.
But she needed the jerk.
She relaxed her hands and scrubbed at her face. Well, it had been nice, for a few short minutes, to let Kin distract her with his irritating communication skills. Whether he’d intended it or not, her fear and anxiousness about her friends had become more manageable now. Truly, the examination wasn’t her problem to solve. (It would soon be the Akupara’s when they actually tried to examine her.) She just needed to get help for Two-Four-Kay.
“Listen, Kin.” She scrubbed at her face with her hands. “Fine. Yes. Full examination. Honestly, you probably need one too.”
“I am unhar—”
“Someone attacked your shuttle, Kin,” she cut him off, but kept her voice even. She was simply stating facts. Not voicing any sympathy at all. “Your engine went into cascading antimatter failure and you’re damn lucky to’ve escaped.”
She ran her eyes over him. Yeah, he looked big and strong. If she hadn’t witnessed arcing antimatter disintegrating other people round her when the scientists’ barge crashed on Warren’s, she would never think that those pretty, blue streaks of light could harm someone as badass as Kin.
“Really, someone should look at you,” she said softly. Which came really close to sounding like she gave a shit about him. “I mean, if someone’s gonna examine me, we’ll make it a two-for-one or something that saves time. Like a coupon.”
Fuck. A coupon?
She shifted uncomfortably on her feet. “You guys have coupons in your culture? Like, deals and stuff?”
“Yes. We strike deals.”
“Oh. Good.” Right, that was good?
“You’re proposing a deal?”
“Did you mean to say that aloud?”
Fuck him. “Yes.”
Kin said nothing as he stared at her. Well, his expressionless faceplate stared at her—again.
“I said ‘yes’, Kin.” She took a fortifying breath. “You were attacked. So was Two-Four-Kay. It might be related. It might not.”
He shifted closer. “Your people need the help of the Bale.”
Was that a question or statement? Sounded kinda like a subliminal demand…
Whatever. Didn’t matter. Moving along.
“Yes.” She didn’t blink or stutter as she kinda lied.
Rogers and everyone else needed help. That part was totally true. Two-Four-Kay had no police force or militia or even a freaking neighborhood watch. No one owned a single functioning pulse blaster or stunner. If Rogers had his head about him, the mining equipment could be used, but then that meant close-quarter fighting.
The settlers were screwed.
She and Joia could look after themselves and Luna, once they convinced Luna to leave the settlement behind.
But the Akupara didn’t need to know all of that. Just the relevant bits. Like, that both the Akupara shuttle and the settlement were attacked one after the other.
Thoughts of coincidence and common enemies fled as Kin closed the small space between them. Her back flattened against the tree as her heart thumped wildly. Trapped. Trapped. Trapped.
Stupid heart. She wasn’t trapped. She could always run. At the right time, she could race away.
Kin dipped his helmet, bringing them eye to visor. “No more ‘kinda.’ You fully accept.”
Her belly warmed as her chest rose and fell. Each of her breathy exhales fogged the smooth surface of his faceplate. The condensation caught the morning light, giving the matte helm a bit of sparkle, before evaporating.
“Very well.” His voice rumbled her chest. “You accept the offer. I accept your deal. We both will be examined.”
“Perfect.” She swallowed thickly. “Good. All good.”
“Yes.” Kin pulled back and nodded once. “Then we shall harvest your donated eggs for my sibling.”
Chapter Five is now complete. I’ve enabled commenting and have shared my thoughts as well.
As always, thank you so much for reading!