Boun-ty (n): a reward offered to find a troublemaking man--often not worth it
Time to play 'Bag That Hot Alien,' Juliet's favorite game. Whether 'bag' meant 'turn him in for bounty' or 'sex him up, then turn him in for bounty' would depend on the talent and swimsuit portions of the competition.
Heat radiated off her mark from across the bar. Not too bad, she thought, sipping whiskey. She didn't bother to disguise her ardent study; she wanted him to notice.
Big, very big. Two hundred pounds of long, lean muscle, she guessed. And probably human, or something similar. Shaggy black hair over a rather handsome face, at least from back here. She glanced at the picture of him on her iPaidALotForThisGadget. Yup, that was him. Ragnar Manscape, the man she'd been hired to bag, drag, and return to King William (the Nefarious). Apparently, Ragnar was a bad, bad, boy and had royally pissed off the king. William wasn't the forgiving sort, hence his self-given moniker of "the Nefarious."
Juliet swept aside the four untouched cocktails sent to her from various pox-ridden barflies and threw her shoulders back, the thrill of the hunt coursing through her veins. She'd done this a hundred times before. The best bounty hunter in ten galaxies, she always got her man. Or sentient creature. Or whatever. She polished off the last of her drink, the icy alcohol shivering down her throat and into her empty stomach.
After adjusting her best assets higher in her push-up bra, she took a deep breath, imbued with perhaps too much confidence. She fluffed her hair and sauntered across the dim bar, red liquor signs flashing at her from all sides, illuminating her path. For a dive bar, this place slumped grungier than most. A group of 'musicians' huddled in a corner making a cacophony. Hard to hear over the din of chatter, but the jarring music could be felt as surely as the smell of the place could be seen.
Manscape sat tipped back in his rickety wooden chair, long legs planted on the table. His worn black boots had kicked many an ass by the look of them. She pushed his feet aside and plunked her trunk junk on the table. Startled, he stood and whipped a gun out of nowhere, pointing it straight between her eyes. "Buy me a drink," she purred in the Collective's language, trying not to flinch at the muzzle inches from her face.
Juliet's blood heated at the sight of him this close--not exactly handsome, no, but rugged in an I-eat-folksingers-for-breakfast kind of way. The only indication he wasn't human was the presence of a smattering of orange spots near his temples. They were disarmingly cute in such a rugged setting. His nose had perhaps been broken one too many times, his chin needed a good razor, his mouth set crooked and hard, but all in all: dead sexy. Too bad. More like dead meat once the Nefarious was finished with him.
Juliet needed to work fast--she'd be dead meat if she didn't deliver him within the next twenty-four hours. It had taken a week to track him to this hellhole planet at the corner of Nowhere and Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.
A pair of amazing cerulean eyes fluttered over her, narrowing on one: her crotch, almost peeking from under the shortest skirt she owned, two: her chest, spilling out of a leather vest, and three: her crotch again. A gratifying once over--she didn't shop at Sluts-R-Us for nothing.
"Buy me a drink," she was forced to repeat with a toss of her hair. Maybe he didn't understand her? Really, by this point most men had melted into quivering pools of hormone all over her painful, yet alluring, spike-heel boots.
He smiled, revealing a good set of almost-straight teeth. A wave of pure desire flowed through Juliet's chest, settling in the general area of her illicit miniskirt. She was a sucker for a charming grin from an inconvenient man.
Not lowering his weapon, he said, "You came over here. You're buying, Blondie."
With one hussy-red manicured finger she pushed the gun barrel away. "Don't call me Blondie and I will."
Those dangerous baby blues crinkled at the corners. "Then what do I call you?"
"We're not dealing in last names tonight?"
Juliet wiggled off the table and thumped into a chair. "Is this what you consider sexy banter? Does it sound better once I have a cocktail?"
He laughed--a big, rich chuckle that echoed through his broad chest. Manscape sat down and appraised her again, slowly, his gaze like a warm, welcoming bath. "I like you, Just Juliet."
She couldn't help but return the smile; she was a sucker for a hearty laugh. He put two fingers to his lips and whistled. A waitress instantly appeared, giggling all over him, her tentacles reaching around his shoulders to caress his chocolate-colored leather jacket and the impressive set of shoulders contained therein.
"Whiskey," he said, his eyebrows rising. One of her members slid around his neck and turned from yellow to fuchsia. The waitress tittered again, un-snaked herself, and sauntered away, ogling over her shoulder at him all the way to the bar.
"You have quite an effect on women." Juliet swung her legs out and crossed them for his benefit. "Do you think you can make me turn colors?"
"I'd like to try."
Juliet laughed and sought out his gaze, holding it, squeezing it. Seduction was ninety percent hot, throbbing looks. The other ten percent was boobs. She wasn't the most gorgeous girl alive, but possessed a body to kill for and wit enough to destroy even the toughest prey. Would a man like Manscape suspect an aggressive lady of being up to no good? Nah, not if the waitress were any indication of his affect on beings of the female persuasion. Juliet leaned in and whispered, "What color would I turn?"
He sat forward. The captainey scent of his skin--booze and machinery--breezed through her nostrils, intoxicating as the whiskey bouncing in her belly. "What color do you want to turn?"
"I asked you first."
"I asked you second."
Juliet leaned back and exaggerated a sigh. He just failed the Q&A portion of the Mr. Man of the Evening Competition. "Boy, you really do suck at flirting. What's your name anyway?"
His eyes narrowed, but he smiled. Easygoing. She was a sucker for easygoing. "Ragnar Manscape, captain of the Bobo, fastest ship in the galaxy."
She snorted. "Bobo? Your ship is named Bobo? Is your first mate a clown named Rainbow?"
"Well, that's not very nice. I bought it a long time ago and let my little sister name it. It's in honor of her favorite blanket, Bobo. It was either that or 'Pink Unicorn.'" His geeky little grin caused her stomach to drop straight into her damp panties. She licked her lips. He watched her mouth, deliberately. Okay, so maybe he wasn't the smoothest operator ever, but he just soared ahead in the Mr. Congeniality sweepstakes.
Two semi-clean glasses slammed onto the table, jarring Juliet out of her reverie, which involved Ragnar, a bullwhip, and a jar of peanut butter. "Hmph." Apparently, the waitress was unhappy at Juliet's close proximity to her favorite customer. Lady Tentacles slopped amber liquid into the two glasses and plunked the bottle down before huffing away.
Juliet cleared her throat and wondered what he'd done to earn King William's ire. He didn't give off a killer/rapist/generally-evil-dude vibe. No crazy eyes. And she knew crazy eyes. "What shall we drink to?"
Ragnar picked up one glass and handed it to her, then grabbed his own in two long fingers. "To new adventures."
Juliet threw her head back to shoot the whiskey. It seared a path down her already over-heated body. He followed suit. She poured two more double shots and scooted his glass over the table. "We can't stop at just one."
"Are you trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me?"
"Yes." And she wasn't lying. All the judges (her eyes, her pulse, her tingling nether bits) agreed that he was a winner. Her plan adjusted accordingly. She would one: talk him onto her ship; two: have hot, sweaty, illegal-on-most-planets sex with him; three: repeat step two; and four: deliver him for bounty.
"Good." Ragnar dragged her into his lap, her bottom settling nicely onto his hard thighs. One almost-rough hand swept a curl out of her lip gloss just before his mouth fell to hers. Juliet groaned at the warm, whiskey taste of the delectable velvet lips moving over hers, slow and perfect and talented. Damn, she loved her job. She cradled the back of his head, fingers running through his soft, thick hair. Grabbing a handful, she pulled hard, eliciting a grunt from him. His tongue flicked the inside of her lips, creating an ache deep between her legs.
"Let's get outta here." If they didn't, the greasy patrons of this bar would be getting quite a show in a minute or two.
"Uh-huh," he agreed. He stood, sweeping her out of the chair and jarring her onto the ground. Pain shot from her too-high heels through her shinbones.
"Ow. Take it easy, muscles."
"Sorry. What are you, anyway?"
She bit her lip in an adorable manner. "I could go in so many directions with that question..."
He proceeded to ostentatiously cross his arms and shake his head. "You're human, aren't you?"
"Why do you say it like that? Human. With that air of what a pain in the ass."
"You said it, not me."
She peered up at him, a full head taller than she. He must be six-three--a foot taller than her, maybe? Big enough to do serious damage. But she'd handled her share of big ones before. Heh, heh... big ones.
"What are you smiling about?"
"Shouldn't I be smiling? Is that a human thing to do?"
With a grunt (of disgust, of desire, of gas? Who knew?), Ragnar grabbed her hand and headed for the exit. She threw some money in the direction of the table to pay for the drinks.
Stumbling behind him on those damn heels, Juliet spied--ye gods--a long, orange tail waving behind him! She sucked in a breath as the tip, pointed like the devil's, breezed across her belly then curved under her skirt. "Stop that!" She batted it away as Ragnar paused and glanced over his shoulder with a wide grin.
"It has a mind of its own." He chuckled and took off again, dragging her behind him.
"Does that line work on most women?"
"Are you supposed to have that tail, or were you cursed by a disenchanted ex?" Juliet splashed red wine into her best crystal wine glasses. She might have trampy taste in clothes, but she had Tiffany taste in everything else. Well, if Tiffany decorated bordellos. Awash in crimson stripe wallpaper; cherry furniture; and many, many books; her den, deep inside her ship the Valkyrie, resembled a late nineteenth century Earth whorehouse. Just the way she liked it.
Ragnar perched on her velvet loveseat, looking rather silly--all arms, legs, and leather. And tail. She couldn't quite wrap her brain around that tail, but there were several other things she'd like to wrap herself around. In the flickering candlelight, he bulged in every good way a man could.
He'd peeled his leather jacket off to reveal a fitted tan shirt curving over a mamma-mia set of pecs. And the pants! If they clung any tighter to his backside they'd be made of paint. If she stared too long all her blood pooled south and she became quite dizzy. Pull yourself together! So he's stupidly, asininely, deeply, wrongly hot. She would boink him into next week, then give him to King Whatshisface as planned.
"I'm supposed to have it." He flashed that come-hither smile. She hithered herself over to sit beside him, wine in hand. It was the polite thing to do.
"Have what?" Lost in lustful thought, she had completely forgotten the thread of the conversation.
"Oh, yeah." She took a calming sip of vino and pulled down on the too-high hem of her miniskirt. It didn't budge. "What race are you anyway?"
"Alutian. From Alutia, a small planet in the Xanadu galaxy. We're similar to humans and humanoids, but we have--"
Juliet's mouth fell open as she examined him up and down. "And what?"
He fluttered the long eyelashes that men always seemed to have and picked up his wine. "I don't know if I should tell you. You don't seem to like my tail."
She toyed with the rim of her glass. "Are you being coy? I have to ask because you're not very good at it."
Sighing theatrically, he shook his head. "All you humans are alike. Snobs."
"I don't think snobs show cleavage like this."
"I don't think you're ready to know."
Juliet grabbed the front of his shirt and shook him. "What is it? Gills? A hollow leg? A third nipple?"
"May I have more wine?" He waved the glass in front of her nose. Maybe he did know how to flirt. Juliet peered into his seemingly sincere eyes. They were really blue. And really mesmerizing. Who was this guy? She didn't get flustered over just any space himbo.
Grabbing the glass from his hand, she stomped to the bar, biting down an absurd laugh all the way. She clicked her manicure on the polished mahogany as she poured the burgundy. No, no, no, no. She should not be talking to him so much. Horror of horrors: she liked him. Her tummy flip-flopped as she glanced at him, standing with his back to her, bending over her bookshelf. She liked him a lot. Pathetic that the best first date she'd had in ages involved a guy she would soon tie up and trade for reward money. Mmmmmm...tie up.
That silly tail swished behind his tight little ass, back and forth, back and forth, hypnotizing her into behaving stupidly. Would it feel like another hand on her skin, touching her, flitting across her body? She groaned and clanked the bottle on the bar.
"Everything okay?" he turned and asked, the very picture of innocence.
"Yup. More wine coming up." At this rate they'd be honeymooning on the romantic planet of Romantica IX and adopting a stray puppy by the end of the week.
Before her hormones could protest, she pulled a tiny vial from between her breasts and poured a saffron-colored powder into the glass. Odorless, tasteless, and able to take down a charging aadrex in under a minute, her drug of choice effectively eliminated warm and fuzzy feelings in the victim, too.
Pharmaceutically enhanced wine for him, normal wine for her, she swished back to the couch and handed the correct glass to Ragnar. He took hold of it and pulled a hardcover from her shelf. "What language is this?"
"Earth English." She removed her first edition Mutiny on the Bounty from his grip. "A lot of them were penned by annoying humans and are antique."
Not taking a drink from his wine, he said, "You enjoy old things."
"Yes. Most old things." She cocked an eyebrow. "How old are you?"
He laughed and set his un-sipped wine on the table. "Old enough." Taking her chin in his large hand, he leaned in and whispered against her lips, "And I promise you, before the night is out, you will love my tail." The bristles of his five o'clock shadow prickled as he opened his mouth against hers, pulling her bottom lip with his teeth, setting her on fire in an instant.
He set her drink aside and pushed her onto the couch. From chat to flat on her back in two seconds--she had to admire that kind of efficiency. Then coherent thoughts seeped from her brain, chased out by his lips and the rushing testosterone--hers, his, theirs. Ye gods, but she responded to him instantly. Her skin ached to be caressed everywhere. The expensive book thumped to the floor so she could use both hands to clutch his broad back.
She spread her legs and he settled his pelvis in-between them, pushing against her silk panties. One of his hands unzipped her vest and the other brushed her hair from her forehead, when she felt what must have been his tail slide ever so softly up her leg to tease her inner thigh. Oh, he is yummier than a... than a... she was too horny to make clever comparisons.
Groaning, with every bit of will she possessed, she pushed against his shoulders and tore her mouth from his. "Don't you want your wine? It's too expensive a vintage to waste."
"I have what I want," he murmured, lips against her neck, fingers caressing her breast. She shuddered at the provocative tingles which shot straight from her nipple to her sex.
Balancing himself on his arms, he furrowed his brow and examined her. "You should drink yours. You seem to be nervous."
"Nervous? Me?" she asked nervously. "Maybe you're afraid you're more talk than tail."
He came up to kneeling and ran a hand through his coal-black hair. "Fine." The tip of his alien appendage curled around the wine stem and brought the glass to him.
Snickers bubbled from her gut. "Nice trick."
"Thank you. See? You and Torval will be good friends soon." He took a pull of the wine, finally.
She shimmied from horizontal to vertical. "You named your tail Torval? I thought men only named their..."
"You don't know?" Juliet smirked and poked her finger in his chest. "If your race doesn't have one of those then we're wasting our time."
With one last swig he finished the drink and set the glass on the table with purpose. "I've no idea to what you're referring, but it sounds sexual in nature. You should be ashamed of yourself. Speaking of shaming ourselves, let's discuss the birth control situation, yes?"
"Aren't we confident?"
"This from the woman who just double-checked to make sure I have one of those?"
Juliet chuckled. She could win an award for 'Least Convincing Innocent Maiden Ever.' She played with her cleavage. "Birth control is not an issue."
Nope, cheap and dirty sex with virtual strangers was a cake walk nowadays, what with the Collective coming into power on a policy of free STD cures for everyone in the universe. Why politicians hadn't campaigned on a platform of hot, stigma-free humping years ago was a mystery.
She squealed as he caught her waist and swung her over his shoulder, her butt mere inches from his non-manscaped face. "Do you have a bedroom on this bucket?"
"Bucket?" She reached down and spanked him, hard. "This is an Accelerator 7GX, Racing Class, jackass. Do not disparage my ship or you can take yourself off it."
She reached to smack him again, but his tail caught her wrist mid-swing.
"Bedroom?" he asked again mildly, still holding her arm.
"Straight down the corridor in front of you, second hatch on the right. And hurry up, all the blood is rushing to my head instead of the other, more fun, direction."
As ordered, he took off the way she indicated. Her bedroom, small and cozy, soothed the eye in rich jewel tones of sapphire and emerald. Swags of exotic, gold-threaded silks hung from the ceiling, creating the perfect backdrop for debauchery. He deposited her, bouncing, onto the coverlet, the thick midnight silk velvet sliding like a lover across her too many inches of exposed flesh.
Paling a bit, he squeezed his eyelids and clutched one tall, dark bedpost.
"Are you feeling okay?" She crept away from him ever so slightly.
He swallowed and swayed. "Um. What--" He fell atop her, his dead weight hitting her like a ton of man.
"Ow!" She squirmed to no avail underneath him. Taking a big, fortifying breath, she heaved against one side of him and rolled him enough to crawl out from underneath. On her knees, she put her ear to his heart and sighed at the slow, regular beating there. A snore sent her jumping.
With an exhalation of mixed relief and disappointment, she sat against her inlaid headboard and zipped up her boobs. Satisfied he was out like Ripped Van Winkle, she relieved him of his gun and searched for anything else of use. An unusual ankle pistol and two hidden knives later (procured with only a modicum of absolutely completely necessary groping), she retreated from his sleeping form.
Juliet squirmed in sexual frustration. Maybe she shouldn't have drugged him. Ugh, this strange man and his strange parts had left her feeling uneasy in more ways than one. Best to be rid of him as soon as possible. But first...
Ten minutes, and one happy visit with her battery-operated and adjustable speed "boyfriend" later, she restrained her recumbent guest and locked the bedroom door behind her. It was pure, dark maple and intricately carved, as were all her hatches, save to the bridge and the hold. She loved the contrast between the severe gunmetal grey of the ship's interior walls and the old-fashioned doors. Running a finger across the cold metal hull, she fantasized about the wooden paneling she would install one day, to make the Valkyrie resemble an old seafaring vessel straight out of a nautical museum.
With a spring in her step, she tripped to the bridge and sat in her captain's chair. Sheer power sparked through her, as it always did when she brought the engines of her ship, her freedom, to life. The Valkyrie rose eloquently from the edge of the little backwater desert town on M'Nanua where she had found Manscape, then turned into the black calm of space.
She had always wanted to fly, even though her parents frowned upon it. The black sheep daughter of an uber-wealthy, famous New York family (New York, United Nations, Earth--not New New York, cesspool that it was), she had caused trouble since day one, kicking the midwife in the face on her way into the world. Mr. Lawrence, her father, blamed her for his loss of hair and frequent chest pains, and she supposed he was right. But a life of tea-sipping, gossip, and marriage to some guy with a roman numeral after his name would not cut it. No, the titles of Lady Adventuress and Bounty Hunter suited her more than Debutante. Juliet smiled. At moments like this she wanted to thank her father for throwing her out of the family home at twenty.
Jutting her chin at the cosmos, she punched the coordinates to the Gaia System into the nav-com. She eased the throttle forward. The ship lurched, her heart lurched, and the engines roared to life at her command.
On her way, she leaned back in the brocade chair and admired the shining brass and hardwood all around. She was queen of her floating castle, answerable to no one. Picking up a richly-bound hardback of Hxrox's Battle for the Arganuan Nebula, she decided she would find a hot, yet not-as-alarmingly-appealing-as-Ragnar, man on her vacation with whom to tryst.
She wouldn't miss him. Or his tail.
Not much, anyway.
It suddenly occurred to Juliet that she was too good at her job--it made things too easy.