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
How stupid to believe Brayden Connaway would ever show interest in a woman like her. She thought that just because he’d come to save her, he would… what? Date her?
He made it perfectly clear how he felt about dating. In the rudest way possible.
She tried to be nice, and he called it stalking. Fine.
So, for the past few days, she’d been ignoring him. At CC meetings, in the corridors, whenever they passed each other…
She wasn’t planning on speaking to him, not if it wasn’t truly necessary.
And furthermore, if she’d ever find herself in danger again, god forbid he’ll come to her rescue. She’d rather die than accept his help.
So, like the frontier woman she was, she took matters into her own hands and approached a burly Rakh’Sha security officer, asking him to train her in self-defense.
The Rakh’Sha accepted, but his training wasn’t cheap.
They arranged to meet daily, before breakfast, in the common gym spanning across one of the lower levels. Three days later, Tessa got the hang of the basics.
Being so much taller than her, Cavut Fifth, the Rakh’Sha security officer acting as her trainer, decided to focus on a special branch of the martial arts only: the one studying how to take down bigger, heavier targets, effectively and rapidly.
In his own practical way, Cavut announced they’d stop when she’d throw him to the mat. Tessa believed it would never happen, but his training was still proving useful, especially after he revealed a few tricks and moves that would incapacitate the attacker long enough for her to flee.
Bracing her palms against her knees, she bent down at the waist and wheezed. “Cavut, you’ll be the death of me.”
The Rakh’Sha snickered. He hadn’t even broken a sweat while she was a mess. “Had enough for today, little Tessa?”
Straightening, she shook her head. “No. Come on. Let’s practice the move one more time.” Dancing on the balls of her feet, she shook out her arms, before bringing them up in the defensive position Cavut had shown her.
Cavut rumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “While I admire your dedication, I propose we stop for the day. Continue tomorrow.”
Tessa frowned. “Come on, you Rakh’Sha bastard.” She made come-hither motions with her left hand.
“You don’t look so good, Tessa.”
“I’m fine,” she protested.
“No. Your face is all red.”
Tessa pushed out a breath. If she were honest with herself, she’d admit she wasn’t feeling so great. “I said I was fine.”
“I’m the trainer here, and I decide when we’ll stop and when we’ll continue. So, we’ll see each other tomorrow.” At her growl, he thrust a palm up in the air. “Go, take a cold shower, and make sure you have plenty to eat and drink at breakfast.”
He turned his back on her, cutting off the rest of her protests, and strode away, disappearing inside the locker rooms. Rolling her eyes, Tessa palmed her forehead, flinging off the beads of sweat.
Bending down, she picked up her water bottle and her towel, and then followed Cavut into the locker rooms, moving toward the showers. The first stall was occupied, the shower on, so she got inside the one beside it.
Ten minutes later, she finished, exiting the stall completely dry and dressed. As she moved to the sinks, she found Cavut brushing the longer hairs on his tail. She removed the make-up wand from her pouch, selected the right shades, then began applying it.
“Why do human women feel the need to camouflage themselves so?” Cavut rumbled, watching her motions intently.
Tessa paused, cutting a look in his direction. “It’s make-up, not camouflage.”
“Lie. You cover your face with colorful paint, that’s camouflage. We paint ourselves, too, for ceremonies and special occasions. But you wear it every day.”
“Maybe every day’s special for us,” she teased. Finished, she shook out the wand to deactivate it, then slid it inside the pouch. Sighing, she turned to him. “I don’t know why, Cavut. Some feel more secure wearing it, others do it to hide imperfections and accentuate the more attractive features.”
“Why do you do it?”
“Both, I guess. It’s just part of my routine.”
He seemed to ponder this seriously, tilting his head to one side and fixing her with a piercing look. “I don’t see any imperfections you’d need to cover.”
That brought a chuckle out of her. “While your words are sweet… isn’t my nose too big and my lips too thin?” She gestured to her eyes. “These are my best feature, so naturally, I feel the need to draw attention to them.”
Cavut frowned, pointing to the scar marring the skin around his left eye. “If I were to apply make-up, wouldn’t this attract more attention, rather than less?”
“Not if done correctly.” Tessa grinned toothily at him.
“I will never understand humans, women least of all.” He shook his head, then finished putting on his uniform. Because of their anatomy, the Rakh’Sha security officers wore sleeveless robes cinched at the waist over the bulky pants, and PolySyn socks with thickened soles instead of military boots. “If you’re ready, we should proceed to breakfast.”
Tessa tied up her hair in a ponytail and put on her suit jacket, sliding everything from the counter into her purse. “Oh? And do you plan to accompany me to breakfast? To what do I owe this honor?”
Cavut gave her an unimpressed look. “Until I make sure you’re okay, you’re not leaving my sight. You’re too pale.”
Tessa snickered. “I’m too pale, I’m too red… You’re never pleased, are you, Cavut?”
He strode away, grumbling under his breath. “Exasperating humans…”
Laughing, she followed him out of the gym, then into the left-wing elevator. It was too easy provoking the burly Rakh’Sha. “I’m fine, Cavut. Probably a bit dehydrated.”
“If you’d have a bit to eat before training, like I told you to, you wouldn’t have the issue now.”
“I never get up on time,” she complained.
“You lack discipline.”
“That was sarcastic in nature.”
Cavut flicked his claws, the Rakh’Sha equivalent of an exasperated gesture. “Humans…”
Tessa snorted. “Brawny, alpha Rakh’Sha…”
Cavut flinched. “I am not alpha. I am Fifth.”
The doors to the elevator opened, and Tessa strode into the mess hall. Rubbing her forehead, she sighed. “Forget it.”
Cavut stopped in the middle of the room, wearing a puzzled expression. Tessa grabbed his arm and dragged him after her. “Nothing. Let’s just eat.”
With their trays filled, they joined Cavut’s friends at the table. Three other Rakh’Sha, and two Tul-Khamin. Politely, Tessa introduced herself to each man, then kept to herself as they began their banter, focusing on her food instead.
After a minute, Cavut noticed her silence, and prodded her with an elbow. “All good?”
Tessa nodded, putting down her fork and grabbing the water bottle. “Sure.”
“I’m fine.” She rolled her eyes. “I just didn’t want to intrude on your time with your friends.”
Cavut frowned, shaking his head. “You’re not intruding.” His eyes skimmed over her face. “Your coloring has improved. Though it is hard to tell under all that camouflage you’re wearing.”
Tessa guffawed, spraying water all over the table. Smooth… Wiping her nose, she cleared her throat. “I told you, it’s called—”
The voice stopped her in her tracks. She squeezed her eyes shut and exhaled. She thought about ignoring him, like she did until now, but it would be childish, especially in front of the guys. So, she turned in her seat and gave him a nod. “Brayden.”
Brayden’s lips opened and closed. “Wh-what are you doing here, in the Security Officers’ mess hall?”
Tessa shrugged, tilting her head toward Cavut, who was watching their exchange with furrowed brows. “Having breakfast.”
Brayden’s eyes tightened at the corners, and his lips pursed. “I see.” Then, he focused on the security officers sprawled around the table. “Gentlemen.”
The men, including Cavut, rose to their feet and saluted. “Chief,” they responded simultaneously, saluting.
Even with rumpled clothes and bloodshot eyes, Brayden Connaway looked good. Tessa averted her eyes, cursing herself for the attraction she was still feeling toward him.
Straightening to his full height, Brayden gave the men a brisk nod, then strode away.
There was an awkward minute of silence at the table after, causing Tessa to fidget in her seat. She chased her scrambled eggs around the plate with her fork.
“Is this because of him?”
Cavut’s question caused her to look up at him in surprise. “What?”
“This training of yours. Is it because of him? Did he hurt you?” His question ended on a vicious growl that made her hair stand on end.
“No, no.” She hurried to reassure him. “Cavut, no.” This one more firmly, seeing he wasn’t calming down. “It’s because someone attacked me, throwing me in the disaffected section, during the black alert… Brayden came to save me. He brought me out before the life-support failed…”
Cavut searched her eyes for a long second. Finding nothing but truth in her gaze, he nodded and drew back. “All right. I believe you. But if he ever…”
“He won’t, Cavut.”
He put a heavy hand on her shoulder, long claws resting against her collarbone. “But if he does,” he insisted, “you’ll tell me at once. You’re my friend, and I have your back.”
Surprised at his words, Tessa blinked. “Thanks, Cavut. I consider you a friend, too. And I appreciate the gesture.” Her Correslink beeped, interrupting their exchange. Rising to her feet, she activated the holoscreen and started tapping. “Shoot. It’s my alarm for the long-distance comm.” Because of the deep space relays, any comms with the remote Earth had to be synchronized. Usually, Tessa sent recorded reports to Corporate, but yesterday, they’d requested a live meeting. “Have to go. See you later.”
“Tomorrow. We’ll see each other at training tomorrow morning,” Cavut hollered at her back.
Tessa waved a hand over her shoulder and quickened her pace, crashing through the mess hall’s double doors. In the corridor, she faltered, pausing for a beat.
Brayden was lounging against the opposite wall, straightening when he saw her exiting. He cleared his throat and put away his flask. Shaking herself off, Tessa resumed her brisk pace.
“Found yourself another one to stalk?”
The words froze her in place. Slowly, she turned to him, aiming a glare in his direction. “Fuck off,” she bit out.
Smirking, and with measured steps, Brayden approached. “Shit, baby girl. I didn’t know you were into alien dick.”
He always managed to disarm her with his crudeness. Angry at her blush, she sputtered, “Th-that’s not… we’re not… I’m not… Ugh!” Inhaling deeply, she tried again. “Cavut’s my trainer.”
“Wait. Did you say trainer?” He stared down at her in shock.
She nodded, hugging her purse to her body. “Yeah. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“What do you need training for?”
Tessa’s lips tightened. “Self-defense.”
His eyebrows arched. “Self-defense,” he repeated, drawing out the words. “And you chose that Rakh’Sha tool to train you?”
“Cavut’s not a tool!”
He laughed bitterly and advanced, invading her personal space. Instinctively, Tessa stepped backward, until her back pressed to a wall. He crowded her, bracing his forearms on either side of her head. “I sense he’s more than a trainer. Do you want more? Is he making you wet when—”
“Let me go!”
Angling his head down, Brayden rubbed his nose along her own. “Give me a kiss and I’ll do it.”
Pushing his shoulders, Tessa turned her head away. “You’re drunk.”
“Actually, I’m not,” he replied, chuckling.
“Then you’re an asshole!”
“Ah. There’s no denying that.”
She pushed against him using all her strength, but he wouldn’t budge. Remembering Cavut’s teachings, she brought her knee up, and when he turned sideways to protect his junk, Tessa used the heel of her palm to jab him in the neck sharply.
The hit wasn’t supposed to bring him down, just offer her the opening she needed to bolt, but he must have been drunker than he said, because he fell woodenly to the floor.
Tessa paused for just a second to make sure he was all right, then hurried down the corridor toward the elevator that would take her away from him.
His baritone laughter reached her ears as she pressed the button to open the doors. “Tessa! Baby girl… That just makes me try harder!”
Thankfully, the doors closed, cutting off the rest of his words, and she slumped against the wall at her back, closing her eyes tightly. The man was insane!
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