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Episode 13

Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).

Terran Prime station, 2398 TST

Brayden

He tried to exit his room, but the way was blocked. Again. By her. She stood there, smiling up at him, a serene expression on her face and carrying a covered tray. Her brightness dimmed a little at the look he gave her.

“Tessa,” Brayden groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m on my way out.”

She averted her eyes, looking to the side, and nodded. “I-I can see that. Um… you missed dinner, so…” She pushed the tray at him, removing the lid. “Here.”

Brayden’s eyes zeroed in on the dessert. “You baked me a pie?” His eyes were wide, lips slightly parted as he gaped at her, at a loss of words. That the pie didn’t come out straight of a food dispenser was obvious because of its crispy crust. “That’s… that’s…” he spluttered. Nobody has baked him a pie before.

Tessa shrugged, her cheeks reddening. “It was nothing. I noticed you have a sweet tooth, and pies are your favorite. But I’m not a master baker or anything, so expect little.”

Damn it. Why did she have to act so sweetly, be so considerate? Ever since he saved her life a few days ago, she started following him around, doing nice things for him, thanking him again and again.

He hated it. Hated the attention, the care. Brayden knew he had to put a stop to all this nonsense, effective immediately, or he’d end up hurting her.

He was a rascal, an asshole and a douchebag, and she was an angel. The type of woman that should steer clear of a wretch like him.

Her innocence and sweetness made her unbearably attractive, and that alone raised too many warnings in Brayden’s mind for him to ever act upon his feelings.

He’d ruin her. Utterly destroy her.

He knew, because he’d done it to other good, sweet girls. Snuffed the light right out of them with his darkness and brokenness.

So, now, standing in front of Tessa Starr, Corporate Chair on the Terran Prime, Brayden forced a mocking grin. “Whoa, baby girl. That was so nice of you, but I’m a bit full at the moment. But if you’d like, I’ll pencil you in between all the other women trying to feed me tomorrow.” He patted his stomach, his voice dropping to a seductive whisper. “And after, perhaps we’ll switch to another activity starting with F, that one a lot more fun. Does that please you?”

Tessa’s eyes snapped to his, and she drew to her full height, shoulders straight. Brayden swallowed a groan. Sweet, feminine, and with a backbone? Fuck, could she be more perfect? “I know what you’re doing,” she hissed.

“And what am I doing?” He played along.

Tessa’s lips pressed together, and she swallowed before she changed the subject. “If you don’t want it, then simply say so. There’s no need for…” she waved her hand to encompass all of him.

Brayden snorted and leaned down, invading her private space. “No, I don’t want it,” he enunciated clearly, letting his lips curl in another grin as he jerked his head in the direction of his private cabin. “But you can leave it inside, on my desk, then… bend over it and grip the other end tightly because I’m. Not. Gentle.”

Her nostrils flared, then she turned her back on him, striding away on the sound of his laughter. After she turned a corner, Brayden sighed and rubbed his hands over his face.

Goddamn it.

Instead of going to his office to work on the algorithms, like he’d planned, Brayden switched directions and took the elevator down to the Entertainment section. He had a CC meeting in one hour. But fuck it. He needed a drink.

An hour and a half later, he stumbled into Central Command. The other senior officers were already there, in the middle of a meeting, as Brayden threw himself into a random chair. He groaned and let his head fall back on his shoulders, sneering at the looks the others were giving him.

“These security measures you put up, Commander, are proving to be quite bothersome,” Alvin Gall, the quartermaster, complained. “My office receives dozens of comms every hour, comms that multiply when I return them, and having to input my personal code every time I do this… it’s a waste of time.”

“I understand that, quartermaster, but I’m afraid it’s necessary for now,” Zale replied, calmly. “We’re in this together. So, it’s natural for all to make some concessions.”

Gall sputtered, his cheeks flaming red, indignation written all over his face. Brayden grinned, finding the meeting highly amusing after a few too many drinks. After a second, the quartermaster frowned and switched his attention to Tessa. “How do we know what Miss Starr is saying happened? How do we know it’s true?”

“Quartermaster Gall, do I need to remind you about the duty we—” Zale began, but Brayden had enough.

“Fuck off,” he hissed, leaning over the table to get in the man’s face. “How dare you imply she’s lying? How-how… y-you cocksucking…” He trailed off as an intense wave of nausea twisted his stomach.

“Silence!” Zale thundered, his shout echoing throughout the room. “This is inappropriate behavior, from the both of you! The security procedures and issued protocols remain firmly in place until further notice. And that’s final.”

After that, the meeting quickly adjourned. No one had any more complaints, and every issue seemed unimportant now, in the face of the tension stiffening everyone’s frame.

Brayden closed his eyes and listened to the low murmurs around the room. After a few minutes, it got really quiet, then a heavy hand dropped on his shoulder.

“Brade…” That was all Zale said. All that needed to be said, really. His brother knew him the best, knew the demons he was trying to purge. “Come on. I’ll take you to your room—”

“Commander, there’s an urgent message for you,” one of the officers on the bridge said, coming into the room.

Zale sighed and got up from his crouch, patting his shoulder. “I’ll be back shortly.”

Brayden mumbled a reply and closed his eyes again because the room was spinning too rapidly. Someone cleared his throat, and Brayden tilted his head, seeing Maze was still present. As was… her. Great.

Tessa Starr returned his stare, her features set in a scowl. Brayden gave her a lazy grin, then wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth. Smooth man, real smooth, he thought.

“Did you have a chance to look over the bits of code I sent you?” Maze asked, trying to diffuse the tension in the room. “I know you insist that code written with auto-completers is not good enough, but I’m sure that—”

His words faded as Brayden blacked out for a minute. He jerked when Mason lifted him over his shoulder. “What’re you doing?” he slurred. “I can walk.”

“Taking you home. Come on, man, relax.”

Brayden fidgeted, trying to dislodge himself from his friend’s shoulder. This was so embarrassing. He was a grown man, not some toddler to be carried and tucked into bed. He’d rather Maze left him alone, dropped him straight in the middle of the corridor, and let him pass out there like some drunkard.

It wouldn’t be the first time Brayden woke up somewhere like that and dragged himself to bed.

He groaned and lifted his head, his eyes connecting with Tessa’s, who was trailing after the two of them. He heard Zale’s voice, vaguely, asking a question and Maze’s rumbling reply, but the blood was rushing into his ears, making them swish and pop, and the dizziness got worse.

In front of his private cabin’s door, Mason dropped him and steadied him as he swayed on his feet. “Put in your code, man,” the behemoth said.

Through narrowed eyes, tightened against the glare of the pad’s screen, Brayden tapped the sequence of numbers, then went through all the other Bio-Authentication steps. Finally, the door to his cabin swished open, and he stumbled inside, going straight to his rumpled bed, and collapsing on it belly-down.

Gentle fingers tugged his boots off. Brayden jerked and struggled to an upright position, scowling at the two Tessas kneeling on the floor at the foot of his bunk. “Wha?” Then, shaking his head, he pointed to what he thought was the door. “Get out.”

She shook her head at him. “I’ll leave in a minute.”

He wanted to argue some more, but he was feeling too shitty to oust the energy. He collapsed back on the bed and brought his knees up, curling into a fetal position. Shivers rocked his body, and beads of sweat dotted his forehead.

Tessa returned, tilting his head up and pressing a glass to his lips. “Drink,” she whispered.

He parted his lips and allowed the cool liquid to slide down his dry throat. She waited patiently until he finished the entire glass, then lowered his head to her lap and placed a cool cloth on his forehead. Brayden sighed and closed his eyes.

Her fingers combed through his hair and she started humming softly. Brayden allowed it for a few minutes, before his heart started throbbing painfully in his chest at the display of affection. He swallowed the knot in his throat and opened his mouth to deliver what was necessary. “Sweet baby girl, I don’t think I can satisfy you tonight. If that’s what you’re waiting for, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.”

Her entire frame stiffened. “Don’t,” she warned.

Brayden chuckled. “On second thought, if you don’t mind doing most of the work, I’m up for some fun.” He turned on his back, and pushed his hips upward in a lewd gesture, making sure she saw the way his pants tented. She blinked and blushed, fastening her eyes on his crotch for a moment, but then looked away at his wink and knowing smirk.

“This isn’t about sex,” she whispered.

“Oh? Then what’s it about?”

“I just thought you needed someone. A friend.”

Her words wiped the amused expression off his face. Brayden glared at her and clenched his jaw. “I have enough friends. But I could always use another booty call…”

Tessa shook her head again, nervous fingers tucking the strands that escaped her bun behind her ears. “I-I’m not…” She took a deep breath and tried again. “I should go.”

Brayden laughed bitterly. “God, you’re such a boring prude.”

She delivered her glare through a set of narrowed eyes. “Fuck you!” She exploded. “Fuck this! Fuck me, for being stupid enough to try to make it up to you, you jerkface man-whore!”

Brayden jumped to a sitting position, ignoring the way his head throbbed at the action, and turned to face her. “Then enlighten me, Tessa Starr. Why do you continue stalking me if you don’t want my cock?”

Her entire face became red. “I’m not stalking you!”

Brayden scoffed. “You are. Every time I turn, you’re there, smiling creepily, skulking around, bringing me stupid gifts—“

“I’m trying to be nice, you idiot!” she shouted, panting.

“Why?” he roared right back.

“Because I owe you. Because you were there when I needed you, and I want to do the same.”

He sneered at her. “You don’t owe me anything. But, hey, if you want to truly repay the favor, then let me fuck you, just once, and I swear to you, we’re even.”

She tried to get up, to put some space between them, but he curled his fingers around her wrists and tugged her back down. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers, clamping one hand around her jaw when she tried to pull back, fingers digging in her soft flesh.

He could feel her teeth tearing into his lower lip and he moaned at the pain. This kiss wasn’t gentle. It was as angry as he was all the damn time, as punishing as his guilt, as painful as his past.

Finally, he let her go, and she scrambled to her feet, looking at him with wide eyes, full of horror. She pressed her fingers to the cut on her lip and looked down at the blood smearing her pale skin with the same expression.

Her lips started trembling, and Brayden saw the tears brimming in her eyes. He gritted his teeth and forced his eyes to remain firmly on her, feigning a look of disinterest.

Pressing a palm to her mouth to stifle a sob, Tessa turned away and ran out of the room.

Brayden leaned over the side of the bed and vomited on the floor.

Next episode (Luna’s POV)…

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