Matt paced the room like a caged lion, tugging on the stupid tie Cade had made him wear. He didn't care if this was a celebration of the birth of Cade and Sairah's first litter or not. He hated dressing to the nines and making nice with a room full of people who knew he'd once been a powerful commander like Cade, and pissed it all away with one mistake. That he'd been suckered by a beautiful woman didn't matter. He'd cost ten men their lives and had not only been demoted, but made to start all over again--with this stigma attached.
Cade had been the only one who'd stood by him, and it was for him that Matt was here tonight in this ridiculously tight suit enduring scathing glances and listening to hushed whispers.
Sairah walked toward him with a smile. Her gorgeous red hair was cut in a boyish style that made her look years younger but still as sexy as ever. The loose white dress swayed with each step, but showed she'd lost her pregnancy weight quickly. It was probably the long hours she still kept in the lab. He frowned.
"Wipe that frown off your handsome face."
"I mean it, Matthew. It's my party and no one cries unless I want them to."
"I'm not going to cry." He crossed his arms and gave her a look that usually made his subordinates shake in their government-issued boots.
"You don't scare me." Sairah smiled, slid her arm through one of his and pulled him to her side.
He sighed, but couldn't stop his grin. Cade had lucked out with his mate.
"I want you to meet one of my lab assistants. She used to work on your ship, but I made Cade give her to me. She's been wonderful, and really helped out when I had the triplets."
"I told you to stop the matchmaking, Sairah. This is Leandros, not Earth. No one will ever give me a chance to redeem myself, and I won't subject a woman to the harassment I face on a daily basis."
"It's not as bad as you think." Sairah patted his arm. "Besides, I kind of hoped you'd keep an eye on her."
"Why? Being seen with me would ruin her reputation."
"It's not her reputation I'm worried about."
"Then what is it?"
"Her low self-esteem. She has fewer friends than you think you do. Stacey is reclusive like you, and probably doesn't even know what happened all those years ago."
"I have no doubt someone will step in to enlighten her quickly enough. Save the woman some pain, Sairah. Match her with a guy who's looking for a mate."
"Stacey's one of my best friends, Matthew. Do you mean you'll refuse to watch over her tonight for me?"
"You're dooming her if you insist on this, Sairah. You have no idea how ruined her reputation will be, do you?" Matt looked around desperately for Cade. He had to talk some sense into his mate.
"Cade won't save you. He cares about Stacey too. She's been a godsend to me since Devon, Derek and Donald were born."
Matt couldn't help his double take at the names. "You named them finally?"
"Yeah. It was hard, but I think those are the names we're keeping."
"You aren't sure?"
"She's sure." Cade stepped next to them. "Don't even try to change her mind, Matthew. For a woman who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to take it, it's amazing how hard it is to pick three names. Imagine if we'd only had one baby!"
"Knock it off." Sairah poked Cade in the chest.
Matt had to bite back a grin watching his commander being taken down a notch by his wife.
A short woman with messy blonde hair that curled in ringlets just past her ears walked up to them. Matt's slacks seemed to grow another size smaller when he looked into her green eyes. She was gorgeous, and the tiny red dress she wore showed off every single curve on her body. His hands itched to stroke breasts that threatened to spill out of the tight gown. Matt lowered his hands to hide that his flag was at half-mast.
"I think I should go back to the lab. I want to run some more tests on those samples we picked up." Her light melodious voice ran straight up his spine and made his dick even harder.
"Absolutely not!" Sairah grabbed the woman's hands. "We're all taking the night off, including you. I want you to meet our good friend, and Cade's right-hand man, Matthew Richards. Matt, this is my best friend and assistant, Stacey Quinn."
Instead of holding out her hand, Stacey blushed and ducked her head. "It's a pleasure to meet you," she mumbled to the floor.
"The pleasure is all mine." Matt bowed since she didn't want to shake his hand. Of course she'd have heard all the rumors. Sairah's praise wouldn't earn him even a smile of kindness. Her automatic rejection stung.
Her tanned skin flushed. For a second he wondered if she was embarrassed, but vetoed the idea as impossible. Women didn't look twice at him once they knew who he was and what he'd done. It was a shame. One sniff of her honey floral scent had him stiff and aching. He wanted to take her upstairs to the guest room he'd used on occasion and bed her thoroughly.
Her curves teased and tantalized him. Matt's breath came quicker at the image of her spread out on his bed at his mercy. He'd fuck her so hard and good she'd scream his name to the stars. Why the urge to pound his cock into her was so strong, he didn't know. He didn't care either. He couldn't have her. She deserved a better man than he could ever be.
Sairah winked at her friend. "Stacey's shy."
He almost snorted. Almost. At times like these minding manners sucked. "Really? Are you sure? I thought maybe it was rumors of my past that made it impossible for her to make eye contact with me."
Stacey gasped and looked up at him. He realized what a mistake it had been to goad her into a reaction when the full impact of her beauty slammed into him. Forget half-mast. His dick went from semi-erect to jackhammer hard in under six seconds. The desire to fill her pussy to bursting grew even stronger as she stared at him wide-eyed.
"I don't pay attention to rumors, Commander Richards."
"I'm not a commander. Not anymore." He bit out his retort, trying not to show how much her sexy voice affected him. Hard, and horny as hell, he was surprised he hadn't shot his load in his pants at her husky voice. She had a mouth made for sin. What would it take to get her on her knees?
Stacey shifted her gaze to Sairah. Her expression reminded him of the way a doe looked when he was closing in for the kill.
"Work is a sore subject with Matthew. I'd try to avoid discussing it."
"And my personal life is off-limits as well," he added, taking perverse pleasure in the way Stacey flinched. He needed to do something to keep her from recognizing his arousal. He was sure all the other females in the room could tell, Sairah included.
"Don't make me kick your ass, Matt. All we did was introduce you to Stacey, not pick out a china pattern."
"China pattern?" Matt wasn't sure he wanted to know what Sairah was talking about, but curiosity won out over his need to remind her not to threaten him.
"On Earth you pick out a china pattern when you register for your wedding."
Matt growled deep in his throat. Cade's hand on his shoulder worked like a bucket of ice water.
"Please forgive Matthew's behavior, Stacey. He's not used to socializing because Cade keeps him locked up on the spaceship all day long."
"Sairah." The one word, issued from between Cade's clenched lips, silenced Sairah quick as lightning. "I'm sorry, Stacey. I might be used to the childish bickering between my mate and best friend, but you're not. I apologize if either of these two have made you uncomfortable."
"No." Stacey smiled at Cade, but her expression quickly turned to one of unease when she looked at Matt. Perhaps she'd picked up on his predicament. "I know how Sairah is."
"Hey! Standing here!"
"It's those Earth customs she was raised with." Cade winked at his wife and leaned down to whisper to Stacey. "You should have seen her during her first meeting with my father."
"After I knew the jerk was your dad, you mean."
Sairah crossed her arms and glared at Cade.
"You know, as entertaining as this has been, I really should get back to the lab."
"No!" Cade and Sairah shouted as one. They both turned to Stacey, and Matt saw his chance to escape.
Matt slipped past Cade, slid his arm around Stacey's shoulder and turned her to the door. "I'll just escort you safely back to the lab then, if that's okay with you."
"Yes," Stacey stuttered, but didn't pull away.
"Tell Matt about your trip to Earth where you studied big cats for several years," Sairah called after them.
Stacey's cheeks flushed, and he wondered what it was about her trip to Earth that he should know about.
"What does she want you to tell me?" He pulled Stacey closer as he guided her to the front door. He couldn't wait to step outside and release her. Ever since he'd put his hand on her, tingles of awareness had raced from the point of contact through his body. The longer he kept his arm around her, the harder resisting her became. Maybe she'd doused herself with some sexual attraction spray before coming here tonight. But if that was the case, why didn't another male challenge him for her?
Once they'd stepped outside, Stacey tried to step away, but Matt held on to her. He didn't understand how she could make him hot with one glance, or how her body made his burn with lust from a single touch, but he wanted to.
"You don't actually have to walk me to the lab." She tried to pull away again.
"Oh yes, I do. Cade is watching from the doorway and Sairah is peeking out a window."