Surprise! Because this chapter has been edited for content, and the next one is a little shorter, you get two chapters this week!
Also, the Chaos Reigning ebook is on sale for the first time this week!
It’s only $1.99 (down from $11.99!!) in the US (international prices may vary), so if you’ve been meaning to pick up a copy, this week would be an excellent time! Please spread the word. :)
Valentin and I spent the rest of dinner on more pleasant topics. As the meal came to a close, anticipation pushed my pulse faster. Finally, Valentin stood and offered me a hand. I slid my fingers into his and sparks danced up my arm. He helped me to my feet, but made no move to pull me closer, despite the heat in his gaze.
“Would you like to check out your ship now?”
I nodded wordlessly. Truth be told, my ship wasn’t the only thing I hoped to check out tonight. I sent Ari a message explaining that I was taking Valentin for a private flight in Ardia, so ground control wouldn’t try to stop us when I took off.
“Should you let Luka know?”
We headed for my private hangar. On the way, I reached out and threaded my fingers through Valentin’s. He smiled at me and my stomach flipped over. Giddy excitement mixed with nervousness, but as soon as I set foot on the ship, my nerves settled. Proof of Valentin’s care surrounded me, an unmistakable statement.
And I would show him exactly how much I cared, too.
But first, I had to get us in the air. I was dying to get a feel for the ship that would become my home away from home. I led him to the bridge. Instead of letting him go, I pulled him closer. “Thank you,” I whispered, trying to put the enormity of my feelings into those two words.
Valentin’s mouth curved into a tender smile. “You’re welcome.”
“If I kiss you right now, I’m not going to stop at a kiss. And then we won’t take off and Ari and Luka will interrupt us to figure out what’s going on.”
Heat blazed in Valentin’s eyes, and his hand flexed against mine. “Get us in the air,” he demanded, his voice low and rough.
I shivered as the sound washed over me. I reluctantly let go of his hand and stepped away from him. Moving away felt impossible, but the faster I got us in the air, the faster I could stop worrying about interruptions.
I slid into the captain’s chair and the console lit up. After a final, heated glance that caused my stomach to clench, Valentin dropped into the navigator’s chair and shrugged into the harness. I did the same.
The console was an update on the familiar controls of Invictia. Everything was just a little easier, a little nicer. I let ground control know that we were about to take off, then went through the launch precheck. Ardia passed all of the checks with flying colors.
I opened the hangar roof and a slate gray sky slowly appeared on the screens that lined the front of the bridge. Looking at the screens, it was as if the front of the ship didn’t exist and I could see directly outside. The images were piped in from the cameras embedded on the hull.
Once the roof was fully open, I initiated the liftoff under fully manual control. I wanted to see how the ship handled before I put the autopilot through its paces. The ship rose, and the ground dropped away in a dizzying rush. The engine barely hummed, not taxed at all.
“Oh, you’re a beauty,” I murmured appreciatively. “Hold on,” I warned Valentin.
At his nod, I jerked the controls hard to port. The ship slid sideways through the air, as smooth as butter. I felt a very slight pull against the harness holding me in the chair, but the compensators were the best I’d ever experienced.
I flew a crazy pattern, just because I could. The ship kept up beautifully without so much as a single warning beep.
I laughed in pure delight.
A few minutes later we broke atmosphere and entered into the vast openness of space. I plotted a course to a distant planet. The stardrive’s recharge time was listed as just under three hours, which was unbelievable. I looked at Valentin, who had turned his chair so he could see me. “Is this recharge time correct?”
He nodded, a smile hovering on his lips. “But I would prefer if you kept it to yourself.”
“You should’ve been destroying Quint,” I murmured.
Valentin nodded. “Maybe not destroying, but we certainly would’ve been doing better if they hadn’t known our every move before we made it.” His tone took on a dangerous edge. “And now that the traitors have been removed, Quint will find us a much more difficult opponent if they decide to back out of the treaty talks.”
“Is that a concern?”
He shook his head. “Not currently.”
I looked at the plotted route again. “I told Ari not to expect me back tonight. Is Luka going to freak out if I tunnel us somewhere?”
The corner of Valentin’s mouth curled up into a wicked grin. “Probably. Where are you taking me?”
“Somewhere where we won’t be bothered for a while. Is that okay?”
I froze as Valentin’s attention morphed. Before, he’d been contained. Now languorous heat filled his eyes and smile. He watched me with the still, quiet patience of a large predator.
“Are you planning to take advantage of me?” he asked, his voice rough.
Desired blazed bright, bringing with it the urge to play. I shook off the impulse to stay frozen. I wasn’t prey so easily caught. I turned back to the console. “Only if you’re very, very good.”
He made a low sound. In my peripheral vision, his fists clenched against his thighs.
I changed our destination to Trigon Seven, a local planet. It was still technically in the Rogue Coalition’s loose boundaries, but the planet was uninhabitable, so that part of space was empty.
The planet was also very pretty, bathed in brilliant colors that swirled through the gaseous atmosphere.
I tweaked the route to ensure we were on the sunny side of the planet and plotted a distant orbit that put us well outside of any danger from the planet itself.
As fun as it was to tease Valentin, I needed an honest answer. “Would you prefer to stay here in case something comes up?”
His mouth quirked but he resisted making the joke I’d inadvertently set up for him. “No, I’d prefer to go somewhere. That way you won’t be able to escape for at least three hours.” The predatory look returned. “If only Ardia had a worse stardrive.”
I focused on him completely, as if he were one of my targets. He stilled, recognizing the danger. I let desire bleed into my expression and warned, “If we transit, you won’t be able to escape me.”
“Tunnel now,” he demanded.
I hit the confirmation button without looking. Ardia easily slid through space with barely any vibration. The stardrive truly was exceptional.
Trigon Seven had barely appeared on the screens before Valentin was on his feet, muscles tense.
Anticipation tightened my stomach, but I checked our course to ensure we wouldn’t accidentally find ourselves in a moon in the next few hours. That done, I slowly unclipped my harness and stood.
Valentin lunged towards me, only to pause when I mirrored his movement, keeping the captain’s chair between us. He frowned and took a purposeful step around the chair. I matched the step with a grin.
Before he could cut off my escape, I dashed for the door with a laugh. It took a heartbeat, but then his steps echoed mine. The ship was too small to truly provide much challenge, but I sprinted down the main hallway and vaulted over the railing into the cargo bay. I landed in a roll, using my momentum to bring me back to my feet. I turned to dash down the lower hallway, but Valentin landed in front of me, absorbing the fall with his legs.
He had me and he knew it. A feral, victorious smile transformed him into the hottest thing I’d ever seen. I trembled as my desire blazed out of control, but I couldn’t give up quite so easily.
I moved to dart around him, but Valentin snagged my waist in a lightning fast move that would’ve been hard to counter—had I wanted to, which I didn’t. He pivoted so that we ended up chest to chest, with his arms wrapped around me. I tipped my head back to meet his eyes and my breath caught at the blatant desire carved into his face.
Then his mouth crashed down on mine and static filled my thoughts. There was only heat and lust and the slick slide of his tongue.
I buried my hands in his hair and arched into him. After several moments, I broke the kiss long enough to gasp, “Bed!” I wasn’t too particular about the location, as long as he started losing clothes and soon.
He bent and swept my legs out from under me as he lifted me against his chest. I kissed the strong column of his neck and his steps faltered. Pleased, I did it again and he growled something unintelligible.
We made it to the master suite, and Valentin set me on my feet. With proof of his care and devotion surrounding me, I strategized the fastest way to get him out of his clothes. He beat me to it, though, peeling himself out of his sweater with such slow deliberation that it had to have been intentional.
I watched, mesmerized, as lean muscles encased in golden skin were revealed a centimeter at a time. Once the sweater hit the floor, I pressed my hands to the hard ridges of his abdomen and his breath caught.
He drew me closer and I met his mouth halfway. The kiss was a sweet exploration, a homecoming, and a roaring fire all rolled into one.
I wanted him. Now.
I pulled back and dipped one finger under the waistband of his pants. At his nod, I popped the button open. “Can I touch you?” I whispered.
“Yes, anywhere you like.” He flashed a crooked grin. “I have some suggestions if you need ideas.”
[scene redacted to keep it PG-13ish]
We were both breathing hard and sweat glistened on our skin. Valentin collapsed to the side, pulling me with him until we were pressed together in a tangle of limbs. He kissed me, slowly, tenderly.
I drifted with my head on his chest, listening to the beat of his heart. I was happy, content, boneless with pleasure, and willing to stay here for as long as possible.
Valentin seemingly shared my thoughts. “If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up,” he whispered.
I leaned up and kissed the corner of his mouth. “Me, either.” Then I gave him a sultry glance from under my lashes. “But whatever are we going to do for the next couple of hours until we can return to Arx?”
He rolled over and braced himself above me with a growl. “I can think of a few things.”
I gave him a brilliant smile. “So can I.”