Tez barked a low warning.
Mauk tensed and put a hand to his laser. His sensitive hearing picked up cautious footfalls approaching his position, crushing through the heavy underbrush of succulent plants. The dense rain forest canopy filtered the day sun, causing intermittent flashing glare as the trees swayed in the hot breezes. He waited under the tree canopy in sight of the starflyer he'd landed moments ago.
The overprotective dog growled again, turning his head as if to ask for orders. A second later, he smelled a woman's fragrance, the sweet scent of lavendula perfume oils.
Good. The woman he'd agreed to meet today had come to him. At last. Damn, he'd waited too long for this, resigned himself to leaving her be, giving up what was promised him. Ruthlessly he suppressed the anger and frustration at his long denial, calling on the self-control he prided.
The sun's glare played hell with his nightviz enhancements. He couldn't see the approaching woman worth a damn. The dog saw and he looked in the direction of Tez's gaze, as always faking better sight with the dog's aid. Staring hard, he forced his eyes to grab every bit of tree-filtered rays of New Tropic's Mother Star offered. In all his years of life since his initial cyber improvement surgeries, he'd never felt the day vision trade off as much as he did right now. His human eyes had reacted faster in this sort of light.
A female silhouette solidified now, outlined in the glow and bursting glare of the sun, but he wanted more. Though her image came intermittent and vague to him, he could see she had a hell of a womanly shape to her and a graceful walk.
His dog watched the woman with canine stillness and cautious suspicion.
The woman halted with military precision about three meters of safe distance away. "Are you Captain Ginn Mauk?"
The ultra-feminine voice caught him in the gut like a punch. His lips kicked up in a half-smile. Damn, he liked her voice as well as her fragrance. Both flowed and ebbed through him like the white waters of a moon tide on his long ago home world, Durah Colony. He wanted to hear her speak again, come closer so he could inhale her scent.
He blinked a couple times, trying to get a better image of her, needing to see the woman who went with the sensual voice that stirred his body to life after too much numbness and slumber. He wanted to demand she step closer to him, but held his tongue for now.
Having waited so damn long time for this woman, his to claim, he could remain patient longer, much longer.
He took a step toward her. She froze. He thought better and sat down on a nearby downed Nuria tree log so as not to frighten her. With all he had in him, he resisted hauling her into his arms and taking her down to the floor of the jungle under him. Now.
"I used to be a captain for Cybertainia Fleet," he answered with a calm, measured speech that did not give away his edgy mood. "I fly for myself these days so drop the formality. Most call me Mauk."
She stepped closer and he sucked in his breath at the full sight of her. She was exotic, with large, tilted eyes and pretty, rounded lips. He wanted very badly to see what color her eyes were.
She gave him with a sharp nod of her head. "Yes, well ... ah ... thank you for the courtesy, Mauk. My name is Adina Kellin." She very formally offered her hand, delicate fingers smartly aligned, thumb up.
"I knew who you were--" He stopped talking as he took her soft, fine-boned fingers in his. Mating chemicals roared through him, for her, as for no other woman. "I knew before you called to ask for a meeting today." Heat and fire clawed at him causing him to squeeze her hand too tight as he fought to disguise a tremor in his own hand. He knew she was a Kellin. When her fingers reciprocated, gripping his, palm fitted to palm, he found himself reluctant to let go of her. Ever. He placed his free hand over hers, holding her two-handed. By all the suns, the speed of his attraction to her shocked him. It must be that she was owed to him, his bargain earned.
"You know me?" she asked, with her intent expression sparking curiosity, but she took a cautionary step back, tugging on her hand.
What game was she playing at? Making an extreme effort to ignore the urgent throbbing her voice brought to his entire being, he pushed himself to loosen his grip on her hand one finger at a time. As much as he wanted to hold her hand in his forever, he let it fall away at last. A feat of a warrior's willpower she could not appreciate for she knew nothing of his inner turmoil. He hoped.
Looking to her hand with an odd expression of fascination, she rubbed her fingers as if they tingled from the contact. Interesting. A good sign. He would let her explain why she'd not contacted him before. Why she'd made him wait so long.
Her gaze turned back to him. God, he liked the straight-forward way she looked at him. She placed her hands at her waist now.
"Tell me? How do you know me?" she demanded.
"Waited a long time for you." He knew she was a beloved and sheltered daughter of Zel Kellin. Zel held sole interest in a huge interstellar starflight fuel empire and happened to also be as close to an enemy as Mauk had. When he'd answered the vidcall, he'd recognized her surname immediately. He stiffened now, watching her.
"You have?" she asked. She sounded puzzled. Her refined dark eyebrows knit into a frown.
"Excuse me, but I do not understand. I'm early. I'm always early. How could you wait a long time for me?"
"So you are." He laughed. "Today you are, but years late in another way of seeing the matter."
The lady took a wary step back. He needed to back off with the talk of lateness.
"Sit down," he said in his best soothing tone. He indicated the smooth bark of the tree where he'd sat down. "I regret that I could not meet you in the city." The rough outer bark had fallen off with time, leaving a comfortable surface, but he wished he had a better chair to offer her. A seat fit for royalty would not be too much for this beautiful creature. God, he was fast growing besotted with her. Unlike him. Damn it all, he hadn't expected this greedy reaction.
Hell in space. Instead of sitting down, she began to pace.
"I understood the necessity to save time. I have an urgent schedule to keep myself. My sister Wrena is missing," she told him. Her eyes caught and held his gaze. I haven't heard from her in weeks."
"Missing?" This was not what he expected her to say. Had he really thought she'd say my daddy sent me to you as promised?
"I haven't heard from her in so very long. I ... I fear for her safety." Her movements were agitated. "I need to find her. Soon. It's urgent. I need to know she's well.