My back was to the woman as I walked the long, drab hall to the rental bunks of the small supply space station. I'd heard she was the pilot in charge, recognized her voice immediately. Lux Moyans. Someone who'd been a huge chunk of the most annoying part of my life--yet one of the happiest, too.
I no longer did happy.
"Jarana, I know it's you--even with that leather mistress helmet thing you've got going on. No one could forget that arrogant stride."
I closed my eyes. Counted. Which was exactly how I spent most of my flight college years around Lux. The woman drove me nuts. I'd have to deal with her sooner or later, so I tightened my fingers on the faux leather boots dangling from my hand and turned, knowing my bare feet looked ridiculous with the tight red and black skin suit. The flooring in this station was made of interlocking metal hexagons, like an Earth beehive, and my high boot heels had forced me to go barefoot.
"Still a bitch, I see." Lux stalked to face me, her flat-soled boots loud on the metal floor. Narrow features and pretty olive skin paled when she got a good look at my face. To say I'd changed would be an understatement. I'd been nicely round--or lush, as my lovers had liked to say. I'd preferred my body that way, but years of hard work and fury had turned me stick-thin and changed my once round, attractive face blade sharp. Everything was harder about me now and I didn't care.
"Captain Moyans." I inclined my head, knowing she wondered how I'd fit all that Gwinarian hair into the tight, red shell cap.
"So, it is you." Her eyes were so wide they had to be drying out in this docking station's piped-in wind--which was supposed to be breezier to make it feel natural. Something was obviously wrong. Plus, nothing would make the gunmetal gray walls and floors feel natural anyway.
I winked at her. "Close your mouth. I'm pretty sure they pipe in Earth gnats along with these silly breezes."
She pulled strands of black hair out of her mouth. And then the toughest woman I'd ever met sent shock through my system when she blinked back tears. The low, green fluorescent lights placed five feet apart down both walls gave her eyes a shiny, lime-colored tinge. It wasn't her best color, and I tried to focus on that instead of the tiny clenching somewhere in the vicinity of where my heart used to be. But it hurt. Snarling, I moved to go around her.
She grabbed my arms and it did make me pause. Lux hadn't been the touchy-feely sort either. In fact, the only way I'd gotten what I wanted out of her had been through a fantastic beverage from the Toquerian Sector. My lips twisted at the memory. Was a good one. Everyone knew the famous pilot Lux did what she had to in order to get her way. But Gwinarians are a stubborn race too.
She nodded. "Yeah, it's you. I recognize that shit-eating grin. And I know what caused it, so let's not go there."
This voice caused every nerve in my body to go on alert. The deep tenor was like music to my ears, and it sang of my home world deep in my soul. I closed my hands into fists, the boots I'd chosen for style over function making a loud crunching sound. Resisting the urge to jump into Egan Lothbrun's arms made me shake. The younger me would have already been wrapped around him--or carting him off to the closest bed. Restraint burned along my nerve endings, causing my heart to beat painfully on my ribcage. I sucked in stale, manufactured air, worked to school my features as long, luxurious, Gwinarian-red hair and amber eyes filled my vision. His hair was the color of the tawnlet flowers on Kithra: deep, dark and stunning.
I stared at Egan as a starving woman stared at her last slice of gorvo fruit. I hadn't seen anyone from my home world in seven years, and to see this man I'd called friend...alive... My gaze flicked down, and I caught the scars on the side of his neck and closed my eyes.
"Jarana?" He did what I couldn't. Pushed Lux aside and wrapped long, strong Gwinarian arms around me tight. "Jarana," he whispered in my ear. "The sun is bright on Kithra today."
I held my breath at the traditional greeting a Gwinarian gave another when there was great attachment involved. Then I flinched when Lux touched my back softly. I'd never known her to be so easily affectionate, but if she was with Egan, I understood. His flirty good nature and big heart had made more than one Gwinarian woman contemplate family filing. And it took true commitment and love for one of our females to form the kind of attachment that jump-started our reproductive organs.
He let go, a faint frown marring the beauty of his welcome features. I knew what was wrong--I stayed stiff, unyielding, nothing like the giddy, sex-happy Gwinarian girl I'd been before.
I wondered if they'd clued in to who I was now. It's not like I'd kept my life as a Tracker hidden, and specializing in hunting down Replicants had given me a reputation I'd earned rightfully. Replicants were an alien species that could change form as long as they had the race's DNA and the form was humanoid.
Taking a couple of steps away, I focused on the foot-tall black and yellow painted squares of the side paths. They held sensors that beeped when hover dollies got too close. I breathed in the fake air and remembered that this wasn't a homecoming for me; this was a takedown.
"Damn, Jarana, it's good to see you. And it's nice of you to raise the temperature of this supply station with that outfit of yours." Egan winked.
A frown pulled Lux's dark eyebrows together. "She looks like the Sadistic Mistress of the Clan Ladybug."