Having the Zetithian feline gene gives Larry Tshevnoe awesome beauty, fearsome strength, sensuality and sexual prowess unmatched by any other males in the universe. But it can make the quest for true love…complicated.
Enter childhood friend and fellow Zetithian Althea Banadänsk. Her empathic powers make her the only one who can show Larry what he truly desires, and she’ll do anything to help…even if that means hiding her desperate craving for him.
But when a distress call sends them off course—and into danger—they find more than their hearts are at stake. Now it’s up to them to become the champions of truth and justice throughout the galaxy…or risk losing it all.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Larry was prepared for Althea’s reaction. After all, that was pretty much what everyone said when they first laid eyes on his ship. “Don’t worry. She’s got it where it counts.”
“Uh-huh,” she drawled. “Sure she does.”
“Come on now, Al. You know Mom wouldn’t let me fly around in a no-good ship. In fact, she’s the one who found it for me.”
Jack had also taken it to the same Delfian mechanic who’d outfitted the Jolly Roger, which could outfly damn near any ship in the quadrant—a distinction Jack was not only very proud of, but went to great lengths to maintain and seldom missed an opportunity to demonstrate. Larry’s vessel, being smaller with less room to accommodate the supercharged stardrive components, came in a close second.
“Hmm…” Althea studied the exterior, her gaze ultimately landing on the name painted above the main hatch. “The Three Stooges? Seriously? I mean, I get the reference, but what kind of a name is that for a ship?”
Larry had heard that comment before too. “Did that before Moe and Curly decided they wanted ships of their own. Never got around to changing it, especially since I’d already had it registered. I tend to refer to it as the Stooge, but I’m probably the only one who does.”
He stepped up to the hatch and keyed open the palm lock, then waited while two sections of the battered hull slid up like a pair of gull’s wings. “I’d thought of calling it the DeLorean, but that name was already taken. Guess Mom isn’t the only ship’s captain with a fondness for antiques.”
This time, Althea didn’t even rise to the bait, which had Larry more than a little concerned. He’d always been able to make her laugh. Something was different. Something even a Zetithian with the occasional prescient vision couldn’t figure out.
His concern was short-lived, however, because the other oddity of his starship chose to put in an appearance.
“Mother of the gods,” Althea whispered. “You might have warned me.”
To her credit, she hadn’t screamed, which was what most people did when they met his Scorillian navigator—or sidekick as Brak preferred to be called, a preference he seldom failed to mention.
After a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure the coast was clear, Larry beckoned to his partner. “Hey, Brak. C’mon out and meet Althea.”
With a wave of his fluffy antennae, Brak minced down the gangplank, holding out a barbed appendage as he approached. “I am pleased to meet you, Althea. I’ve heard so much about you.”
Althea chose to tap the joint above Brak’s terminal pincer rather than shaking hands with the huge insect, a move that Larry considered to be quite prudent. “Nice to meet you, Brak. I haven’t heard one damn thing about you.”
Brak’s antennae flattened as he rotated a bulbous eye toward Larry while keeping the other eye aimed at Althea. “There are times when I believe him to be ashamed of me.”
“Not ashamed,” Larry said. “Just careful. If the Baradans had known you were on board, they might not have let us land.”
Brak thrust his mandibles forward in a gesture Larry had only recently identified as a pout. If Althea could read Scorillians—and Larry honestly wasn’t sure she could—having her along for the ride would go a long way toward deciphering his shipmate’s moods. Although some of Brak’s emotions were probably best left in the dark.
“You know I am not a carrier of the plague,” Brak whined. “Why does this unjust stigma persist?”
Larry shrugged. “I can’t help you, Brak. Maybe if it was called something other than the Scorillian plague, you might be able to escape the connection, but it isn’t, so I guess you’re stuck with it.”
“So annoying.” Brak nibbled the tip of his pincer like a nervous Nellie biting her fingernails. “Particularly since we Scorillians have so many other redeeming qualities.”
“Yeah. So I’ve heard.”
Brak displayed his annoyance with the usual crunching of his mandibles. “I’ll be in my quarters if I’m needed.” With a flutter of his translucent green wings, Brak did a quick about-face and retreated up the gangplank.
Scorillians might have other attributes, but Brak’s ability to navigate a ship was Larry’s particular favorite. Brak claimed he could plot a course through a black hole and come out less than ten meters from his intended target on the other side. While that was an obvious exaggeration, he’d certainly never been lost—at least not to Larry’s knowledge.
Larry’s own expertise was in deep space communications, and he was amassing a fair fortune by upgrading outdated comsystems. Since most manufacturers would rather replace a system than upgrade it, he was able to save his clients a considerable amount of money, and his popularity had grown along with his bank account. He didn’t even have to advertise. Word of mouth got him all the work he could handle.
He’d been doing the same type of work even as a teenager aboard his parents’ ship, and while he could have set up shop somewhere, he wasn’t one to sit around and wait. So, like the tinkers in days of old, he traveled to wherever his services were needed, which was how he’d met Celeste.
If he’d met her on the street in Rhylos’s brothel district, where sex pheromones were continuously pumped into the air, he would’ve discounted the attraction entirely. But they’d met when he’d stopped off at the orphanage to visit Onca and Kim. Since there were no airborne pheromones inside the Palace, the only enticement was Celeste’s own personal scent, which was alluring, if somewhat baffling.
She was pretty too. Lush, curvy figure. Long, softly curling blond hair. Sparkling green eyes. Captivating smile. Yeah. She was very attractive, not to mention intelligent, witty, and charming. He just couldn’t decide whether he loved her. Perhaps he was wrong to go running off to find Althea—after all, hardly anyone consulted an empath before choosing a mate—but since he’d known Althea all his life, he saw no reason not to make use of her abilities. The truth was, with everything he’d seen and heard about how much trouble the sexual prowess of Zetithian males could cause, he didn’t trust himself. Or Celeste.
“He is kinda moody,” Larry whispered as Brak disappeared through the hatch. “Think you can handle that?”
Althea slung her oversized duffel bag over her shoulder and started up the gangplank. “I’m sure we’ll get along fine as long as I don’t have to share a bunk with him.”