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Stowaway


Becky Black




Published by Becky Black at Smashwords

Copyright 2011 Becky Black


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Blurb


The capture of stowaway Kit Miller brings some rare excitement to the life of Raine, security chief on a deep space cargo freighter. Kit’s a fugitive, a shameless flirt and the sexiest man Raine’s ever seen, but Raine’s determined to resist him. Getting involved with Kit would be inappropriate and Raine prides himself on his rigid principles.


To Kit, Raine is just another authority figure like the ones who’ve screwed him over before, so he can’t work out why Raine makes him feel so safe. Why the muscle-bound hunk makes him so hot is easier to understand.


Eventually, desire overcomes their wariness and they begin a passionate and mostly secret affair. When Kit proves his loyalty to the crew and the ship and Raine shows Kit he’s not the kind of man Kit assumed he was, their feelings grow deeper. But the end of the voyage is looming, and they face losing each other forever unless Raine is ready to give up all he’s worked for to love a lawbreaking stowaway.




Table of Contents


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

About the Author

Chapter One


Who is that?

Raine’s glance at the security monitor turned into a stare. On screen a young man, wearing the uniform of the ore plant’s admin section, opened storage crates. He checked inside each one, made a note on a pad, and moved on to the next.

Raine knew the plant had a few admin people aboard already, but this one was different. Most of the others were women, and at first glance, Raine thought the person checking the crates must be too, because of the long dark hair. On second glance, he realized that the tall, lean body and long legs were clearly male. But his face arrested Raine’s attention most of all. Even on the monitor, with the man in a dimly lit cargo container, Raine could see the fine bone structure, the dark eyes.

Beautiful.

He must have come aboard at Drexler; Raine had seen some young men there with long hair. Very different from the usual style sported by spacers. He raised his cap with one hand and rubbed the other over his crop, feeling it tickle his palm, before replacing the cap.

His paperwork forgotten, he watched the monitor. Could he hope, even for a moment, that the long-haired beauty might be interested in spending some time with him? The Dawn’s crew and the ore plant workers didn’t mix much—something he generally approved of—but he could make an exception.

A knock on the door frame made him start, and he flicked the monitor to another feed. More crates, with no mysterious handsome young men checking them. Katherine Warner, his deputy, stood in the open doorway. She couldn’t have seen the monitor from there.

“Are you going to the senior staff meeting, Boss?”

“Yes. But it’s not for another hour.”

“Okay. I’m going to take a squad down to check all the cargo is still secured after that grav fluctuation. I’ll get them started and be back here in time to cover the office.”

“Good. Thanks, Warner.”

“I’ll see you in an hour.”

She left, and Raine glanced at his security monitor, which still showed crates. He could switch back to the other feed, but Warner’s interruption had made him suddenly aware of what he was doing. Ogling the unwitting young man like some kind of voyeur. He should be ashamed. He turned the monitor off entirely. As chief of security on the Light of Dawn, he had better things to do.

Like a ton of admin. This was the best time to get it done, before the ore-plant workers came aboard and he had to deal with the trouble they always brought with them. For three more weeks, they’d have only the Dawn’s crew and a few ore-plant admin staff aboard, like…

He caught himself thinking about the long-haired man on the monitors again.

* * *

Kit closed the lid of a crate and scribbled down its number and contents on the pad. Dried goods. Nothing he could use, but keeping a record would make for shorter foraging trips later.

The next lid he opened revealed boxes of protein bars, and he almost let out a cheer. These he could use. He ran back a few steps, grabbed a utility cart, and piled a couple of the boxes onto it. It already held other boxes, packets, and bottles, the spoils of his expedition so far. The haul would last for some time, allowing him to stay safely in his bolt-hole.

He was glad to have the food, but all this processed stuff had started getting to him. He longed for something fresh but didn’t dare sneak into the coolers and fridges of the huge kitchens, afraid to run into the staff.

After a couple of trips out of his nest to explore and forage he’d figured the place out. This wasn’t only a cargo freighter; it also carried an onboard processing plant. It must take on raw material and process it on the way to its destination. But most of the workers for the plant weren’t aboard yet, only a few office clerks, kitchen workers, and other support staff. When Kit had found a storage crate full of the same uniforms the plant staff wore, he’d grabbed one in his size, hoping it would make him less conspicuous when sneaking around.

He’d seen other people who wore different uniforms, and he guessed they must be the ship’s crew. They usually stayed in the forward section of the ship, though some of them came to the cargo holds sometimes. Kit kept out of sight when he spotted any of them.

It would be easier when the rest of the plant workers turned up and he could lose himself in the crowd. The plant and its empty bunk rooms had space enough for hundreds of people. He’d probably be able to sit at a table in the dining room as if he belonged there and stroll into the locker room for a shower every day. He’d managed only two showers in the two weeks he’d been aboard, sneaking into a silent locker room in the middle of the ship’s night cycle. He needed another one damn soon, because he couldn’t stand himself right now.

After checking a few more crates, he decided that his well-stocked cart held as much as he could get into his hiding place. Time to get back before someone spotted him. He’d seen security cameras fixed above the doors of the cargo containers and in the ship’s corridors, but he could do nothing about them except hope the uniform worked. Hope if he walked around looking busy, ticking things off on his pad, people would assume he belonged here.

Confidence was key. Last time he’d ventured out, he’d walked past two young women wearing the same uniform as his borrowed one. Heart pounding, mouth dry, certain they’d challenge him, he nevertheless managed to smile at them. After they passed, he heard what distinctly sounded like whispers and a giggle. If they were checking anything out, it was his ass. His looks helped, as usual, his face and body distracting people. They were so glad Kit was here they forgot to question if he should be.

Deep inside the cargo container, far away from the door and its camera, he stopped, knelt down by a wall panel, and pushed it up and across. It loosened. Some of the wall panels came off, to allow access for repairs, he guessed. The tricky part was getting them back on from the inside. Working fast, he transferred his stolen supplies into the cramped space behind the bulkhead. Once he’d emptied the cart, he locked it to a bracket on the wall. Good thing they had those. He didn’t know what the hell had happened a few hours ago, but the gravity had cut out for several seconds, and he’d woken up a meter off the floor, in time to fully appreciate the fall when the gravity kicked back in.

He could crawl in after his supplies and get some more sleep, he supposed. But he’d slept too much since coming aboard, catching up on all the sleep he’d missed in his life, between working late and partying. Sleeping meant he didn’t have to think about any of it—the lies they’d told about him. The trumped-up charges he couldn’t beat, didn’t have the money to even fight. About Jeff. Damn, he’d thought about him. Don’t think about him, he ordered himself. Don’t think about the fact you’re stowing away on a cargo freighter already a gazillion miles from home and heading who knows where. Don’t think about the fact that if they catch you, it’s back to jail, where your good looks aren’t going to be any help. Quite the opposite.

Don’t think about it.

Every time he went to sleep, he hoped he’d wake up to find this was all a nightmare. Maybe it was. One more sleep, one more wake-up, and he’d be home.

No. That wouldn’t happen. And he’d slept enough. He had something more urgent on his mind. He replaced the panel and set out to steal a shower.

* * *

There he was again, walking along a corridor. Raine almost didn’t spot him, because he’d tucked his long hair up under a cap. Why do that? It’s too beautiful to hide.

He had to find out the man’s name. Perfectly reasonable to check his identity. Just a security check. He watched the monitors until he got what he wanted. Full-face view, straight on.

“Freeze,” he ordered the computer. “Back two seconds.” There. A perfect shot of the face. “Zoom in. Enhance.” What color were his eyes? Impossible to tell. “Computer, match face against ore-plant admin personnel database. Male. Currently aboard.”

The computer ran the comparisons and came back with its result.

No match.

Raine clicked his tongue. The face recognition wasn’t perfect, so he decided to trust his eyes. He brought up the ID pictures of all the male ore-plant admin staff already aboard and scrolled through them. His interest as the security chief began to overwhelm his personal interest in the mystery man. He had to confirm the man’s identity, for his peace of mind.

He reached the last picture without finding anyone who matched.

What the hell? Or rather who the hell?

The man couldn’t be one of the Light of Dawn’s crew, or he’d be wearing their uniform, and Raine would know him. He brought up a contact on screen and made a call to the ore plant’s admin office. A woman answered.

“Hello. This is Chief Raine from the ship’s security office. Could you please tell me if you’ve had anyone taking inventory in your food stores container today?”

“No, Mr. Raine. We finished all our stocktaking several days ago.”

Raine’s mouth went dry. Nevertheless, he kept his voice level when he thanked her and ended the call. He stood, grabbing his gloves from the desk.

“Warner!” Was she back yet? Yes. She appeared at the door in seconds.

“Sir?”

“We have a stowaway.”

* * *

Kit peeked around a corner. All clear. He was close to the locker rooms and aching to get under the stream of hot water until he felt clean and normal again.

Okay, go for it. He stepped into the corridor. He’d put on the cap that went with the uniform, hoping the peak would help hide his face when he passed security cameras or any people.

Like this guy. Shit. He wore the uniform of the ship’s crew. He’d come around the corner at the opposite end of the corridor, and he was heading straight for Kit. Looking for Kit?

Kit came up on a side corridor to the right and ducked into it without a moment’s thought. He should have taken the moment. He’d turned into a dead end. No—an elevator stood at the end of the short corridor. Kit ran to it and whacked the call button a good one. Footsteps came closer, turned into the short corridor. Shit. Shit. Shit. Open, damn you! Open the damn doors.

The doors slid open, and Kit dived inside. Close! Come on! Oh, there’s a button for that. He hit it. The doors began to close.

“Computer, hold the elevator.” The loud and bossy voice would be registered on the system—unlike Kit’s. The doors slid open.

“No!” Kit slapped the button again in desperation. The doors stayed stubbornly open. The man started to run, and Kit had no place to go. He considered making a break for it and trying to shove past him. But the guy was big, broad-shouldered. Kit would never get past him in the narrow corridor. Too late to try. Kit flattened himself against the wall of the elevator car as the man burst into it and snapped out a command.

“Computer, section ten. Security override, no stops.”

The doors closed, and the elevator moved off. The man turned to Kit.

“Now, who the hell are you?”

Brown eyes, squinted half shut, glared at Kit from under the peak of a dark blue cap. The face, more tanned than most spacers Kit had seen, was that of a man in his thirties, and not bad-looking at all. But Kit didn’t have the time to think of such things. The other man seemed to fill the elevator car, and Kit stayed leaning back against the wall, making himself smaller, afraid of provoking the man. He looked strong as a horse. The damn size of one too.

“What’s your name?”

Kit glanced down instinctively. He’d picked up a name badge discarded on a bench when he’d sneaked into the locker rooms a few days ago to take a shower. The other man wore one too, though of a different design. His read Raine 3rdM, whatever the hell that meant.

Raine shook his head at Kit’s giveaway glance down. Naturally. Most people didn’t need to read their name off a badge. Kit tried his luck nonetheless.

“Uh, John Willis.” The badge he wore read J Willis. He took a guess.

Raine pulled out a Link and pointed it to scan the badge, making Kit flinch back. Without a word, he held up the device to show the face of a man, with the name James Willis underneath. He was a dark-skinned, moon-faced man with an extra chin or two, making Kit glad he’d only filched James Willis’s badge and not his whole uniform.

“Ah, I lost some weight.”

“And pigment?”

No answer would serve, so Kit stayed silent.

“I’m chief of security of the Light of Dawn,” Raine said. “I’m arresting you for boarding this ship without authorization. Turn around and put your hands on the wall, please.”

His tone had softened from when he’d first burst into the elevator. He’d clearly decided Kit wasn’t a threat, which made Kit bristle. Okay, so this guy could probably snap him in two, but Kit wasn’t harmless, he could…

“Turn around.” Some of the snap came back.

He could turn around and assume the position—that’s what he could do. He turned to face the wall, laying his hands flat on it. His heart thudded in his ears, and he started breathing fast. Caught. Fucking caught. Screwed.

“Are you carrying any weapons?” Raine asked.

“No.” Which was stupid. He could have picked something up. A kitchen knife. Anything. And he’d do what? Stab Raine to death? Ridiculous.

“Warner,” Raine said, speaking on the comms, Kit realized. “I’ve got him in an elevator car, and we’re on our way to section ten. Send a squad to meet us there.”

“Right, Boss,” a woman’s voice replied. Kit glanced back at Raine but got a scowl that made him turn away again quickly.

“Stand still,” Raine ordered. He wore gloves, leather ones, and took them off before he began to pat Kit down. As he ran his large hands over Kit’s body, Kit’s stomach knotted with instinctive fear. Raine didn’t do anything to hurt him, but he could feel the strength in those hands. They swept down his legs—nothing hidden there, the pants he wore too tight-fitting to conceal much. They swept up again, brushed Kit’s ass, making him sigh. Kit might be scared, but those big strong hands touching his ass could only feel good. Raine paused but then moved again and checked the pants pockets, quickly sweeping his fingers around, close to…

“Sorry,” Raine said softly.

Oh, don’t be. The apology and the slight hoarseness of his voice could mean one of two things. Either embarrassment about rummaging around so close to another man’s goodies—or it meant Kit had the start of a plan. He forced the fear to the back of his mind, tried to relax. Wait for his moment.

Raine was thorough. He turned up the collar of Kit’s stolen jacket, then whipped the cap from his head. Aware that it made him memorable around here, surrounded by crop-haired spacers, Kit had pulled his hair up under the cap. It fell down, sweeping over his shoulders and back.

Raine’s breathing changed. Kit heard it speed up, and he smiled. The hair always worked. A glance back and he was sure. Raine had desire written all over his face. Lust burned in his eyes.

Kit turned, right into Raine’s arms, and knew instantly what he wanted. Knew he was lost in a moment when everything else had faded away. No elevator, no space freighter, just them, their bodies responding to each other’s heat. He pressed himself forward, straining against Raine’s body.

Kissing him.

Chapter Two


Raine smelled so good, all soapy and like citrus, that Kit felt dirty by comparison, and he wished he’d made it the locker room for a shower and shave. His bristly chin rasped against Raine’s much smoother one. He didn’t smell good, and he had bristles; he expected Raine to shove him away in disgust any second.

He didn’t. He never broke the kiss. Kit expected at least some surprise, but Raine’s response was instant and hungry, indicating to Kit that he didn’t get it nearly enough. He pushed Kit back, heavy body pinning him against the wall of the elevator car, and held Kit’s head in his large hands, fingers tangling in his hair, pulling him closer.

Kit had to fight an urge to wrap his arms and legs around Raine, wanting to hang on to the strong man and feel safe after being so scared for so long. The urge confused him. It made no sense. He should be afraid of Raine. He was a cop. Chief of security, whatever; it meant the same.

But none of the other cops had kissed him. And what a kiss. Clumsy, perhaps, bumping noses until they found the right angle, Raine pressing too hard, too demanding, lost in the passion. Clumsy but so good Kit wanted to lose himself too. Raine’s tongue deep in his mouth, Raine’s hands in his hair. He didn’t want to open his eyes. Time would start again if he did. But he had to. Had to let his gaze slide away to the elevator’s control panel and the indicator showing them passing levels and sections.

In his mind, he made Raine a silent apology. Raine was hot, and he seriously needed to get laid, a problem Kit might otherwise have been happy to help him with. But not today.

Now! Kit reached out and smacked the Emergency Stop button. The elevator stopped with a jolt that jarred Kit’s spine, but he regained his balance and shoved hard. Raine stumbled back, got his feet tangled together, and fell, crashing against the opposite wall. He cursed, surprisingly mildly.

The doors were open. As Kit had hoped, the elevator had stopped close enough to a floor that it had triggered the outer doors to open too. The car was a meter away from the deck, but he jumped down and hit the ground running. He sprinted off down an empty corridor.

No more elevators. Find a repair shaft with a ladder in it. He had to get back down to the cargo hold and vanish.

* * *

The stowaway jumped out of the elevator before Raine even hit the floor. By the time he’d clambered out into the corridor the man was out of sight. But somewhere ahead, Raine heard running footsteps.

“Raine, you okay?” Warner’s voice came through on his comms as he took a breath, regaining his composure and willing his cock to go the hell down.

“I’m fine,” he said as he strode off. “He got away from me.”

“So I saw.”

He had a flutter of panic, wondering if someone had installed cameras in the elevators and not told him. Or if he’d left his comms channel open when he threw the man he was arresting up against the wall and shoved his tongue down the guy’s throat.

“He came out of the elevator like a cork out of a bottle,” Warner said. “But I’m tracking him on the cameras. Take the next right.”

He followed her instructions, speeding up when she told him the stowaway had found a maintenance access shaft and climbed inside. Damn, those things were a labyrinth.

“Scan for body heat in there,” he ordered. He’d had too close an encounter with the guy’s body heat already. No scanners involved. What the hell was he going to put in his report? “The prisoner escaped from custody while I was distracted by sexually assaulting him”? What the hell had come over him? The man wasn’t all that good-looking, was he?

But the hair… Something about the hair. Thinking of it made Raine’s softening cock start to stiffen up again, and he growled a warning at himself to keep his mind on the job.

“I’ve picked him up on the scanners,” Warner reported. “He’s heading down.”

“He’s probably intending to go to ground in one of the cargo containers.” Once he got inside one and out of range of the cameras on the door, he’d have a hundred places to hide.

“It would take us days to find him in there.”

“I know that.” He regretted his snappy tone at once. She didn’t deserve the rough edge of his tongue. The only person at fault here was himself. He could be walking into security with the guy in handcuffs right now if he hadn’t lost control. He took a deep breath and spoke in a more even tone.

“Get a squad into position to cut him off before he can get inside a container.”

“Right, Boss.”

He found an elevator and headed down to rendezvous with his squad. At least when they caught the man this time, Raine would have chaperones, so he couldn’t behave like a lunatic again. He closed his eyes as the elevator swished away, trying to regain full control of his emotions. Breathe deep. Become calm. See the sand and the sky and be there in the silence. Forget the anger. Forget the lust. Do the job.

With his eyes still closed, he took his gloves from his pocket and put them on, hands chilled after sweating. It had been an instant of weakness, no more. The stowaway had taken advantage, seen a way to distract him. He couldn’t claim he wasn’t at fault, but he hadn’t initiated the kiss.

He’d sure as hell responded. Growing hard in an instant—which never happened to him. He just wanted the guy so bad. The musky smell of him, a few days unwashed, had an excitement to it. Not since the old days out in the desert… Stop.

Sky. Sand. Heat. Calm.

His eyes snapped open as the elevator doors slid back, and he strode out to meet his squad. They waited in the long, bare corridor that held the doors to the detachable containers holding cargo and stores.

“You’re ahead of him,” Warner reported. “He’s two levels above you, still moving down.”

Raine glanced up instinctively, then looked at the access panel in the bulkhead where the stowaway would have to emerge to come out on this deck. It came out right beside the door into the container Raine had first seen him in. Did he already have a hiding place in there?

“Knox, Munro, get inside the container. One of you go up a level, one down.” Each of the huge, detachable containers had three levels. “Don’t go too far in case he passes this one.”

“Right, Boss.” They headed into the container. Meanwhile, Raine hid himself and the rest of the squad in service alcoves along the corridor. They could stay entirely out of sight while Warner kept him updated with every move their quarry made. In a moment, she confirmed he was coming out of the access hatch Raine had expected.

“Got him on camera again,” she said, voice soft as if afraid the fugitive would overhear, though their earpieces fitted snugly and no sound leaked out. “FYI. The bridge is monitoring us.”

And the captain herself would be on this watch, Raine knew. Okay, better end this quick. And hope she never found out about the way Raine had acted in the elevator.

“He’s heading into the cargo container,” Warner said.

“Wait for it,” Raine whispered to his squad. If they went too soon, the stowaway might double back out of the door and run for it. Raine wanted him trapped between the men already inside and the squad out here, leaving him no place to go but into Raine’s arms, ah, their arms. Arrested.

“He’s five meters inside,” Warner said.

“Go!” Raine snapped out the order.

They ran, feet pounding on the metal deck, piling through the narrow door into the container. The stowaway stood at the top of the steps leading to the bottom level. Another set led to the upper level, but neither was an option for him, because of Munro coming up and Knox coming down. Raine’s squad cut off his retreat. Trapped, he stared around, eyes huge in his pale face.

“Give yourself up,” Raine ordered, approaching him slowly, not wanting to panic him. “You won’t be hurt.” Or indeed kissed. He had to give up, surely. Nowhere to go. Munro passed the landing and headed up the last flight, closing in. Abruptly, the stowaway spun away from Raine and ran straight at Munro, taking off down the steps at a dead run. What the hell? Raine ran after him and saw him grab the handrail and vault over it. Oh hell, no, don’t do that! Munro made a grab at him, missed.

It would have worked, jumping onto the lower flight, passing Munro—if the man could have kept his footing after dropping nearly three meters onto a metal staircase.

He couldn’t. He yelled and went tumbling down the steps. No! You idiot! Raine pelted down the steps, jumping past Munro, who’d fallen over cursing when he made his grab and found only air. This was turning into one pig of a day. First grope a prisoner, then lose him, then finally kill him. Nice work, Chief.

He swung around the landing and raced down the lower flight. His quarry lay at the bottom of the steps, arms and legs sprawled around like a swatted insect, but moving. Raine first sighed with relief and then gave a shout of annoyance. He was trying to get up. Instincts taking over, Raine jumped the last few steps and slammed the man to the deck, a knee in his back, grabbing for his wrists.

“Get the fuck off me!” The man struggled under him. “I can’t breathe!”

Possibly, but Raine wasn’t ready to give him the benefit of the doubt yet. He pulled the cuffs from his belt and slapped them round one wrist and then the other. Only then did he take his weight off his prisoner, who went on wriggling around, hauling at the cuffs.

“Stop it.” Raine crouched by him, breathing hard. “You’ll only hurt yourself.”

“I am hurt, you bastard.”

Raine felt a moment of guilt but shook it off. Nobody had forced him to make that stupid jump. And he couldn’t be too badly hurt, because he was fizzing with rage, face flushed and eyes narrow and furious.

“Then keep still. We’ll take you to the infirmary in a second.”

The rest of the squad arrived, going more slowly down the steps than Raine. Sensible if they didn’t want to break their necks. Still, he gave them a look as he stood. A Boss Special, he’d heard them call it.

“Today would be good, people.”

“Saw you had it handled, Boss,” Munro said, grinning, none the worse for his fall on the steps.

“Get him on his feet,” Raine said. A couple of them hauled the prisoner up, and he yelled when he put his feet down. They had to hang on to his arms when he lifted his left foot up, wincing.

“Can’t put any weight on it?” Raine received only a pained shake of the head in reply. “Okay. Sim.”

“Boss?” Sim loomed over him. The stowaway stared with alarm at the man everyone called Big Sim for the obvious reason.

“Carry him.”

“Boss.” Giving the prisoner no time to resist, Sim grabbed him and slung him over one huge shoulder. Though this quelled most people’s resistance once and for all, it seemed to reactivate this man’s anger.

“Hey, put me down, you great big—get your hand off my ass!” Sim ignored the words, hauled on the man’s belt to adjust his hold, and started to carry him up the steps. Raine followed a few steps lower down, which brought him head to head with the prisoner.

He glared at Raine and tried to flip his hair back off his face. Seeing him like this—upside down, flushed bright red, eyes narrowed, hair as tangled as a bird’s nest—the moment in the elevator seemed even more like an instant of madness. The guy was a scarecrow. While they were at the infirmary, Raine should ask the doctor for an eye exam.

* * *

Sim set Kit down on a bed in the infirmary and moved back, but he stayed close enough to quell any trouble. He needn’t have worried; Kit had lost his enthusiasm for making trouble. Between his ankle and bruising, he felt like lying here and sleeping for a week. Maybe he’d wake up in his hiding place and getting caught would all be a dream.

A man started running a scanner over Kit. “I’m Doctor Skerritt,” he said. “Lie still, please. Did you hit your head?”

“No.” Kit didn’t look at the doctor; he looked at Raine, who’d followed them in and stood at the doctor’s shoulder, watchful and wary. At a signal from him, Sim moved farther back and stood by the door.

“The ankle isn’t broken. It’s badly sprained, though.” The doctor injected something to numb the pain, and a nurse started taking Kit’s shoe off. “You won’t be going anywhere for a few days.”

“He won’t be going anywhere except the brig for some time,” Raine said.

What a dick.

They must be too far out to send him home. They could hardly turn around; they had schedules to keep. But would they hand him over to some ship heading to Drexler?

The brig might be preferable, especially if he had Raine watching over him. After the way he’d responded to the kiss, the classic “seduce the guard” tactic would be a shoo-in. When the doctor moved away to tap information into a terminal, Raine stepped closer and reached for Kit’s hand. Entirely on instinct, Kit let Raine take it, wishing Raine’s gloves were gone, wanting skin-to-skin contact with him again.

Raine swiped his Link’s scanner along Kit’s hand. “Thank you,” he said, stepping back and speaking into the comms. “Warner, I’m sending our guest’s fingerprints through. Run them through the police data from Drexler, please.”

“Jerk!” Kit shoved his hand under the sheet on the bed, flushing and cursing himself for a fool. Did you think he wanted to hold your hand, idiot?

Raine didn’t react to the insult. He wore a closed and guarded expression. No wonder, since he’d revealed too much already in the elevator. Too late to mend it. Kit smiled to himself. I know you now, Raine 3rdM. I know what you want.

“Hello, Chief. You certainly livened up a dull afternoon on the bridge.”

“Captain.” Raine snapped to attention as a woman came in. Short and in her fifties, with hair cropped like most spacers, she wore the crew uniform somewhat more casually than Raine. Raine relaxed his stance a second after going into it, but he stayed tense, and Kit decided he must be fighting the urge to salute.

“Good work catching him.”

She wouldn’t be saying that if she’d seen what happened in the elevator.

“Ms. Warner coordinated the pursuit,” Raine said.

“Excellent. Pass on my appreciation.” She turned to Kit. “I’m Captain Victoria Dryden. I’m in command of this freighter.”

“Hi.”

“Hi.” His casual greeting produced a smile from her and a frown from Raine. “What’s your name?”

“Kit.” They had his prints; they’d have his name any second. No point in staying anonymous. Anyway, he needed a different approach with her. She was the captain, but she was also a middle-aged woman. She might even have kids not far from Kit’s age. “Please don’t send me back.” He wouldn’t survive in prison.

“We’ll get to that. How did he get hurt?”

“He fell down some stairs.” Raine grimaced. “I know how that sounds, ma’am.”

“Quite,” she said. “Did you fall down some stairs, Kit?”

He could stir up trouble for Raine, accuse him of brutality, he supposed. But what would it achieve? “Yes, ma’am.”

“All right, then. How did you spot him, Mr. Raine?”

“I saw him in a stores container on the monitors. As you see, he’s wearing a uniform of the ore plant admin people. That fooled me at first. But I saw him again, and I got suspicious.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t recognize him, and it appeared to me he was walking around checking things but not doing any actual work.”

“Ah, and you knew the ship already had a full complement of people who walk around checking things and don’t do any work.”

Kit chuckled. Oh, yeah, this lady knew about the world of business.

“Be quiet,” Raine ordered him.

“Calm down,” Dryden said. “It was a joke. Laughing at the captain’s jokes is not only permitted but in fact encouraged.”

“Oh. Yes, of course, ma’am, very funny.”

She caught Kit’s eye, and he thought he saw her give a tiny eye-roll. He gave her a smile in response. We’re all pals. You wouldn’t send poor little Kit back to a horrible fate, would you?

“Christopher Miller.” Kit’s head snapped around at the sound of his full name. Raine looked up from his Link, and there was a kind of sadness in his eyes. Disappointment. He turned to Dryden. “He was in custody on Drexler awaiting trial for theft from the company he worked for. He escaped.”

“I was framed.”

Raine ignored the protest. “No previous criminal record. No record of violence. Just a thief.”

“I’m not a thief.”

The disappointed look again, and this time it made Kit furious. Raine didn’t know the facts—didn’t want to know the facts—but he stood there passing judgment anyway. He tried to sit up, but the pain of his bruises and leg made him flop back down.

“Thank you.” Dryden’s voice was cooler and more serious than a moment ago. “Okay, what to do with him? The usual procedure is to put a stowaway to work until we can put him off the ship.”

“I wouldn’t recommend letting him roam loose, ma’am. He could be a saboteur or spy from a rival company.”

“I don’t think any of our commercial rivals have declared war on Colonial Freight yet. Anyway, if they wanted to spy on us or sabotage us, they’d get a regular crewperson onto the roster. It makes no sense to put a stowaway on board who’ll probably be locked up when he’s found.” She turned to Kit. “Are you prepared to work, Mr. Miller? Work hard?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And follow all the rules and restrictions we’ll have to place on you?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m not here to make trouble, I swear. Things…ended up this way. Nothing I ever planned.”

She turned back to Raine. “Then I’d rather have him earning his keep than sitting idle in the brig. I believe the galley is short one junior steward’s assistant this trip.”

The galley. That’s what they called a kitchen on a ship, wasn’t it? “Junior steward’s assistant” probably fell somewhere behind the ship’s cat in the hierarchy on board, but it had to be better than sitting in a cell for however long it took before they kicked him off the ship.

“It involves plenty of scrubbing and elbow grease, Mr. Miller,” Dryden said. “Something I don’t expect to hear a word of complaint about.”

“You won’t. Thank you, Captain.” He glanced at Raine, who was scowling at him.

“Where’s he going to sleep?” Raine asked.

“I thought the bunk room the men of your squad sleep in,” Dryden said. Raine stared.

“Ma’am?”

“Where better to keep an eye on him?”

“But…” Raine stopped, regarding Kit with narrowed eyes, clearly unhappy with this arrangement. Kit grinned, hoping to make him even less happy.

“Yes, Captain. But I think there’s something else we can do to keep an eye on him.”

Chapter Three


Kit’s hair. Raine couldn’t stop thinking about it. He lay in his bunk every night and relived the moment when he’d whipped the cap off Kit’s head and his hair fell down. Remembered Kit standing braced against the wall, legs apart, a pose both tense and inviting. Thought of running his hands over Kit as he searched him. The legs. The hips. The butt. God, the butt.

But the hair had tipped Raine into the moment of madness he’d given in to when Kit turned around in his arms. Imagining Kit’s hand instead, he touched his already hard cock. What if Kit hadn’t escaped from him in the elevator? Had instead fallen to his knees, unzipped Raine’s pants…

Which was insane. He’d never been turned on by the idea of having sex where he might be caught in the act. Nevertheless, the thought of it made him moan softly and stroke himself more firmly, desire mounting.

Kit started sucking his cock, looking up at Raine with eyes like grass after a storm. So good, and not enough. He pulled Kit to the floor to lavish kisses on his lean body. They weren’t in the elevator; they were in the desert, both naked now, in deepest night. The blue-white light of the primary moon bathed them, turning Kit’s pale skin softly pearlescent. Raine’s dream come true after so many long lonely nights out there with no company but the strange life that buzzed and clicked in the darkness as it struggled to make it to dawn. He’d grown up with tales of ghosts and demons out in the deep desert. Could there be angels too? An angel had come out of the darkness to lie at his side.

Not at his side but under him, long slender limbs wrapped around Raine, head back, hair spread on the sand. Raine kissed Kit’s elegant neck, feeling the pounding pulse under his lips, the heat of Kit’s marble-smooth skin, tasting the salt of sweat. He thrust into Kit, making him cry out and arch up like a cat, eyes wild, frantic, clinging to Raine’s shoulders as he begged for more more more.

Coming together. Kit screaming with pleasure while Raine’s mind shattered into fragments of starlight. Together. Raine holding Kit’s trembling, recovering body, their chests heaving.

Raine sighed as his mind reassembled itself, and he was back, lying on his bunk, sweaty, sticky, and alone. God, this was a mess. He rose and got in his shower. Kit was expected to leave the infirmary tomorrow, and Raine would have to deal with him, so he couldn’t keep thinking about him this way. Every night his thoughts started in the elevator and ended up in places Raine could never go with Kit. Never.

He turned the shower to cold.

* * *

Five days after the team captured Kit, Sim and Knox brought him into Raine’s office. The doctor had passed him fit to leave the infirmary and start work. Raine hadn’t worried about how to keep an eye on him so far, since he could barely walk, but now he was mobile again, they had to institute some security.

“Dismissed,” Raine said to the other two. “Leave the door open.” Best not to be alone with him after what happened in the elevator. Kit didn’t look as if he wanted to kiss Raine today, though. He regarded him with a glowering expression.

“Sit down.” Raine’s natural inclination would be to leave him standing, but he’d seen Kit limping as he came in. Kit subjected the chair to a scowl, as if it had said something insulting about his mother, and then sat.

“We found your hiding place,” Raine said. “Cleared it out.”

“Shame, I’d just got it nice.”

“We didn’t find much in the way of personal belongings.”

“I didn’t have time to check a bag before I stowed away.”

Raine ignored the smart-aleck answers and opened a desk drawer. He took out the bundle of credit chips they’d found in the hiding place and put it on the desk. Kit froze. “Is this the money you stole?”

“No! I mean, I didn’t steal any money. I told you, remember? I’m innocent.”

“Yes, I remember you told me.”

“That money…” He stopped, shook his head. “It was given to me.”

“I’m sure. A gift from a friend?”

“It’s none of your fucking business, okay? I’m here. I’m going to work and follow your rules. The rest of it you can keep your big nose out of.”

“Watch your mouth.” Raine stood, feeling a flush rise to his face to match the one on Kit’s. Kit tensed, but his expression stayed defiant, chin up. He had dark shadows under his eyes, and Raine remembered how hard it could be to get a good night’s sleep in the infirmary. Kit must be tired and snappy because of it. He felt the same way himself; he’d slept poorly the last few nights.

He took a breath to calm himself and saw Kit do the same thing at the same moment. Sky. Sun. Sand. He repeated the words in his head and felt himself relax. Did Kit have a mantra like that? Drexler was a rainy place where most of the population lived in one gigantic city. Did Kit imagine the sounds of a rainy night to calm himself?

“Okay, it’s not my business,” Raine said, in a voice so calm it sounded offhand. “Making sure you behave yourself is.” He took a device from a desk drawer, a band about the size of a bracelet.

“Are you right- or left-handed?”

“What?”

Raine held up the bracelet. “Which wrist would you prefer this on?”

“Neither for preference. But it’s too big for a cock ring, even for me.” He smirked when Raine flushed again. Dammit, don’t react; he’s trying to get under your skin.

“Left or right?” he persisted, voice lizard-cold, unhinging the bracelet.

Kit held his left arm out. “Is this something useful, or do you have a sideline in jewelry design?”

“It’s a tracking device.” Raine snapped it closed around Kit’s wrist.

“Oh, of course it is. You couldn’t have got me one in green? I’m told green brings out my eyes.”

His eyes were gray, but warm, and yes, Raine could imagine in the right lighting they could look green. As green as they looked in his fantasies. He tore his gaze from Kit’s eyes and checked the bracelet. Definitely locked closed.

“I can track you anywhere on the ship. If you go somewhere off-limits, I’ll know immediately.”

“How am I supposed to know where I can’t go? Is this one of those, ‘you’ll find out the rules when you break them’ scenarios?”

“You’ll be told. If you take this off or break it, I’ll know.”

“Then you’ll have me on the carpet, eh?”

Have him? Raine’s mouth went dry at the thought.

“I think it’s secure,” Kit said quietly. “You can let me go now. If you want to.”

Raine realized he was holding Kit’s hand. He’d moved from the wrist without even realizing it. He let go like it was hot and backed up several steps. Kit looked up at him through his eyelashes, through his bangs, and the look was so calculated it made Raine as angry as it made him hot.

The same attempt at distraction he’d tried in the elevator. Raine suddenly wondered if Kit might not simply be a thief but also a con artist. Well, he wouldn’t con Raine. Not again. He went back behind his desk, turning away from the gray eyes and the glossy black hair. The hair he saw every time he closed his eyes to sleep. The hair he remembered having his hands buried in while his lips were on Kit’s.

Oh hell, he had to get this under control. A con man would home in on this weakness like a hawk on its prey. He’d own Raine. He put on his gloves. He kept his office warm enough not to need them, but he felt a need not for warmth but a barrier. Protection for his skin, which felt vulnerable and easily provoked into betraying him.

Kit fiddled with the tracker, checking if it would come off over his hand. Impossible. Though loose enough to turn on his wrist, he couldn’t slip it over his hand without crushing the bones first.

“What if I had to get it off?”

“You won’t have to.”

“There might be a reason.”

“None that I can think of.”

“What about when I take a shower?”

Don’t picture him in the shower. “It’s waterproof.” Raine cleared his throat when his voice came out hoarse.

“I’m going to be working in a kitchen. It’s not hygienic.”

“Keep it clean and you’ll be fine.”

Kit fiddled with it some more, a troubled look on his face. “It freaks me out that you can track me all over the ship.”

“Not my problem. You agreed to obey the rules we set for you. Would you rather be in the brig?”

“Would you be standing guard?”

“Don’t.” Raine scowled at him. “Don’t try to get around me. It’s not going to work.”

Anger flashed in Kit’s eyes for a moment, but then he grinned again and leaned back in the chair. He let his hand hang down over the armrest, showing off the tracker as if he were modeling it for a commercial.

“We’ll see. Okay, I’ll wear your pretty bracelet. Can I add some sequins? A little glitter?”

“Add whatever you like, as long as you keep it on. You’re also going to report to me once a day about your movements.”

“What? Why? You’re tracking me wherever I go.”

“Because I want to know why you’re going where you’re going. Make sure you have a good reason to be there.”

“Does that include the bathroom?”

“Knock it off. Okay, here, this is for you.” He passed a ship’s Link over to Kit. “It will show you a plan of the ship and where you’re allowed to go. There isn’t much else you can do with it, but you can use the messaging and planner and the ship’s library if you like to read. Be aware I can monitor your activity on it. Make any attempt to get at the rest of the network and you will spend the voyage in the brig. Clear?”

“Crystal.” Kit tapped on the Link’s screen. “Are there any games on it?”

“You’re already playing enough games.”

Kit looked up at him with surprise, then grinned. “You’re getting to know me already, Chief.”

“Don’t call me Chief. It’s not appropriate.” The captain and the other officers called him Chief, but Kit shouldn’t. He held no rank on the ship, and he wasn’t under Raine’s command.

“What should I call you then? ‘Cuddles’? ‘Snuggle bunny’?”

More games. “You can call me Raine.”

“Aw, I thought we were friends. Can’t I call you by your first name? I hate formality.”

“You can call me Raine.”

“And what will you call me?”

“Mr. Miller.”

“Ah, yes. The way the cops do it,” Kit said with some bitterness.

“I’m not a cop.”

“Oh, so you just have a stick up your ass?”

The tone of polite enquiry almost unmanned Raine. He fought a war between spluttering in outrage and collapsing into laughter. Frigid calm won instead.

“Get up. I’ll show you where you’re going to sleep.”

“Is it anywhere near where you sleep?”

“Ask me that again when that becomes any of your business.”

An appropriate reply. But as he led Kit to the bunk rooms, Raine found himself wishing they were going to his cabin instead. As they walked through the cold corridors, he imagined his warm cabin and his bed, Kit beside him, skin to skin. Thief, con man, whatever, it didn’t matter.

He didn’t take Kit to his cabin; he took him to the bunk room occupied by the male security officers. A couple of them were in there sleeping.

“Here,” Raine said quietly as they walked into the dimly lit room. “This bunk will be yours.” He pointed out a lower bunk. “Check those drawers underneath and the locker on the left and you’ll find clothes and other essentials. Bathrooms and showers through there.” He pointed at a door.

“Cozy,” Kit said in a soft voice.

“You start your first shift in the galley in six hours. I’d suggest you get some sleep before then.”

“Right.” Kit took out the Link he’d put into a pocket and tapped it a couple of times. “You’ve got my shifts set up in the planner. Thanks.”

“And your daily check-in sessions. Don’t be late.”

“Oh, I’ll never keep you waiting, Raine.”

He drew out the name, made it sound sensual, sultry. Ridiculous. It was just a name. Without another word, Raine turned and left. Standing with Kit beside a bed in a dimly lit room brought up far too many disturbing thoughts to allow him to linger.

* * *

“You’ll have to tie your hair back.” The chief steward Trish Ellis looked at Kit’s long hair with a slightly bemused expression. Like most people aboard, she wore her hair short.

“I don’t have to wear a hairnet, do I?” As he’d passed through the galley on the way to report to Trish’s office, he’d passed a man and woman preparing food. Both wore hairnets, even with their crops.

“No,” Trish said. “You’re not a food handler. The only food you’ll be dealing with is scraps when you’re clearing the tables. So, um, Mr. Miller—”

“Call me Kit.”

“Kit, okay. Your duties will mostly involve cleanup of the galley and mess hall. You’ll also have the job of bringing up supplies from the food storage container to restock the pantries up here. Have you worked in catering before?”

“No.”

“I’m sure you’ll soon catch on. If you work hard and prove to me you’re reliable, I’ll see what other duties I can give you.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Oh, Raine would be so pleased with him—the model junior steward’s assistant. Kit had every intention of working hard and proving himself reliable and trustworthy. He’d always taken pride in doing a good job. But it also meant they’d be off guard when his chance came.

“Come and meet Gracie. That’s Grace Maddison.” Trish led him from the office. “You’ll be working with her most of the time. She’s going to show you the ropes.”

For some reason, he’d expected someone older, but Gracie was a couple of years younger than Kit himself. They found her cleaning the serving counter with a bucket of steaming soapy water.

“Gracie,” Trish said. “This is Kit Miller.”

Gracie looked up at him—she was quite short—and grinned. “Hi, Kit. Am I glad to see you. I thought I was going to be scrubbing this place all by myself for the next four months.”

She wiped her wet hand on her apron and held it out. Kit shook it and found it still damp and soapy.

“Sorry,” Gracie said. “Here.” She handed him a towel, which only made both his hands wet.

“Gracie,” Trish said, “I’ll leave him with you like we discussed so you can get him to work, okay?” She went back to her office.

Kit reached for the scrubbing brush Gracie had been using. “So let’s get this counter scrubbed.”

“You need an apron first,” she said. “These whites soon soak through.”

“Not exactly the height of fashion either.” The baggy kitchen gear he’d found in the drawers under his bed was sexless. “Might as well wear a sack.”

“Tell me about it.” She handed him a white apron from a rack.

It helped. He tied the apron quite low and let the bib fold down over the front. Not great, but at least it gave him his hips and waist back. Gracie laughed.

“You’re the only person I’ve seen who can make that outfit look good.” She fished around in the bucket of water and came out with another scrubbing brush. “Okay, first we clean out the steam-tray slots. Always check they’re cold first.” She held her hand inside one of the deep recesses on the counter, nodded, and began scrubbing it out. Kit followed her example.

“Nothing could make these shoes look good,” he said. They had thick rubber soles and a plain, black, deeply unappealing upper.

“No, but believe me, by the end of a day spent on your feet, you’ll be grateful for them. They’re comfortable if nothing else.”

“So I’m going to be on my feet all day, huh?”

“Yep, that’s the way of it for us dogsbodies. Lowest of the low. The captain doesn’t have a parrot, but if she did, it would get paid more than us.” She stopped and grimaced at her words. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think. It’s kind of weird, you being, you know, what you are.”

“A stowaway, you mean?” He smiled at her. “It’s okay; you can say it.”

She nodded but didn’t ask him any more about it. Good. He liked her already but not enough to tell her all his secrets.

“What’s that thing on your wrist?” Gracie asked.

Kit scowled at the tracker. With a malicious smile, he stuck his arm into the hot water bucket up to the elbow. Waterproof my ass.

“It’s a tracker, so Chief Stick-up-the-ass can see where I am all the time and can send his hit squad after me if I take a wrong turn.”

“You mean Chief Raine? Aw, he’s a sweet guy. You don’t like him?”

“He’s my jailer,” Kit said grimly, which silenced her—for about twenty seconds.

“Where are you from, Kit?”

“Drexler.”

“Me too.”

“How long have you been aboard?”

“Four years.”

Hmm. Four years and still scrubbing the galley. Kit wondered what held her back from advancing.

“You like it here?” he asked.

“Oh yeah. Trish is nice, and Paul and Penny, the cooks, they’re fine too. What did you do back on Drex?”

“Junior exec at an investment company. I was doing okay. Making my way up.”

He’d made good progress. He’d worked hard and played the games you played to climb the corporate ladder, in the office, and sometimes the bedroom. But then… Gracie was looking at him, a then what? expression on her face, even though she didn’t say the words. Kit shrugged as if he didn’t care.

“Doesn’t matter. It’s the past.”

“What about family?”

“There was just me and my mom. Then there was just me.” At least she hadn’t lived to see her son end up as a fugitive, branded a thief.

“Sorry.”

“What about you?”

“Nobody worth sticking around for.” Some bitterness underlay her words.

Kit scrubbed in thoughtful silence for a while. He’d submerged the tracker in the bucket of water a few times as he worked, and so far Raine hadn’t come charging in with all guns blazing. Looked like the thing was as waterproof as he claimed.

“So tell me about the crew,” he said. “Like what about Chief Stick-up-the-ass?”

“Raine? Why Raine?”

“I get the feeling I’m going to spend a lot of time with him.”

“Oh yes?” She gave him a knowing look.

“I mean, I have to report to him every day so he can give me a pop quiz about what I did today.”

“Oh, that’s the reason, is it?”

“What else could it be?” He teased her with a face the picture of innocence.

“I can’t imagine. Or I could, but then I’d have to go dump a bucket of cold water over myself, and I’m already soaked.”

“Gracie!”

She giggled, and sobered after a second. “Raine’s nice. He’s always polite to me. Lots of the crew don’t even notice I exist. But he isn’t stuck-up that way.”

Those were points in his favor, Kit supposed. His personal interactions with Raine couldn’t be classified as “polite.”

“Right, we’re done here.” Gracie tossed her scrubbing brush back in the bucket with a splash. “Time to get some fresh hot water and mop the floor.”

Kit followed her to fill up a couple of buckets on wheels. When he squeezed cleaning fluid into the water as it ran from the faucet, the citrus smell took him straight back to the elevator and the scent of Raine’s skin. The thought gave him a fluttering low in his belly, but he turned his mind from it and back to the woman at his side. Petite and forgettable-looking, her hair limp and skin pink from the steam, but with a sweet smile. She made him feel a different kind of warmth than the thoughts of Raine did. She could be a friend.

Not that he had time for making friends. He had more important things on his mind. They set to work mopping the floor of the mess hall, working around the bolted-down tables and bench seats. Kit grinned and shook his head, suddenly aware of the classic nature of his situation.


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