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Stardust Paws and Alien Claws: Chapter 3

Cassidy

I took a deep breath as Doanor led me through the sleek corridors of the Koloss, my mind whirling. This was definitely not what I had expected when Jacob offered me this pet-sitting job, but how could I turn down the chance to work with Lazamai? Those rare, enchanting creatures were the dream of every aspiring xenobiologist. 

Even the pretense of dating the gruff, imposing Doanor didn’t seem so daunting. He radiated strength and competence, despite his perpetual scowl. Pretending to be his romantic companion for the sake of secrecy? I could handle that…probably.

We stopped in front of an unmarked door. Doanor pressed his palm against a panel. 

“These are my quarters,” he rumbled, gesturing for me to enter as it slid open. He coughed. “Ours, for now.”

I stepped inside, and my jaw dropped. This wasn’t just a utilitarian sleeping chamber – it was a lavish suite. 

The main room opened up into a spacious bedroom, dominated by an enormous bed covered in sumptuous fabrics. Soft amber lighting bathed the space in a warm glow. A large viewport offered a breathtaking view of the starry cosmos, punctuated by the occasional streaking ship.

Doanor watched me take it all in, his expression unreadable. “Through there is the study,” he said, nodding towards an open archway. 

I wandered over and peeked inside. The study was even more impressive – a cozy nook lined with overflowing bookshelves and a sturdy desk facing another viewport. On the other wall screens flickered, reminding me that a ship’s captain worked here.

“And the refresher is through that door,” Doanor added, indicating another portal.

Curiosity piqued, I stepped into the cavernous bathroom. A separate glassed-in shower alcove shimmered.

Gleaming metal and polished stone surrounded an oversized sunken tub, big enough for at least three people. 

Or one person and a massive minotaur man.

Heat crept into my cheeks as I re-emerged. “It’s, um, very nice.”

“The sleeping quarters are meant for two,” he stated bluntly. “To maintain our…facade.” 

A flutter of nerves danced in my belly as reality sank in. I would be sharing this decadent space with Doanor, at least for appearances’ sake. Sleeping in the same bed as this imposing alien male, his powerful body mere inches away…

“I will be resting in the study, of course,” Doanor announced.

Oh. Of course.

An awkward silence stretched between us, the unspoken tension crackling like a live wire. Doanor shifted his weight from foot to foot, his tail lashing behind him. I found myself mesmerized by the tiny movements, hyper-aware of every twitch and flex of his muscular frame.

This was ridiculous. I was a professional. I could handle some undercover role-playing with a handsome alien captain, even if he did make me feel more than a bit flustered.

Straightening my shoulders, I met Doanor’s intense gaze head-on. “Well, I suppose I should get settled in then. What else do I need to know about?”

Doanor cleared his throat, his deep voice rumbling like distant thunder. “The Lazamai have been secured in a hidden cargo bay, left over from the Koloss’s smuggling days. I’ll show you once we’re underway.” 

A thrill ran through me at the prospect of seeing those elusive creatures up close. “What other cargo are we hauling?” I asked, trying to appear nonchalant despite my burning curiosity. “What does your crew think is the cargo?”

Doanor’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Nothing too exciting, I’m afraid. A shipment of Alaari ore for a mining consortium and some Xendryl tech components.” He waved a large hand dismissively. “But enough about that. Let me give you a tour.”

He led me out into the main corridor, the overhead lights casting stark shadows across the angular planes of his face. My gaze traced the sharp curve of his jaw, the slight flare of his nostrils as he breathed. Up close, I could make out faint scars criss-crossing his muscular frame – mementos of battles long past, no doubt.

The corridor branched off in several directions, each section marked with alien glyphs. Doanor gestured to our right. “That wing contains the crew quarters and mess hall. The opposite side leads to engineering and the cargo bays.” 

As if on cue, a towering figure emerged from a side passage. Zylith, the rocky-skinned Novalian crewmate, nodded gruffly at Doanor before turning to me. His obsidian eyes glinted with fleeting curiosity.

“Everything’s stowed and ready for departure,” Zylith rumbled, his voice like gravel crunching underfoot.

“Excellent.” Doanor tapped his commbadge. “Jharra, Jhessi, prepare for launch sequence.”

A pair of high-pitched trills answered in the affirmative. Clearly those were the diminutive siblings who manned the helm. I couldn’t wait to meet the rest of this motley crew.

“You should see this,” Doanor said, gesturing for me to follow. 

We made our way to the bridge, the corridor sloping gently upwards. My heart raced with a strange blend of trepidation and exhilaration. This was it – my first real journey among the stars.

The bridge opened up before us, a wide expanse of gleaming panels and flickering holoscreens. The viewports curved in a broad arc, revealing a panoramic vista of the bustling space station beyond. Docking arms and gravitic moorings tethered other vessels of every conceivable shape and size.

Jharra and Jhessi whirled in their seats, flashing me toothy grins that crinkled their obsidian eyes. Despite their childlike stature, their three-fingered hands flew across the controls with practiced ease.

“Engines at full capacity,” one of them piped up, the translator rendering their chirps into a musical lilt. “Awaiting your command, Captain.”

Doanor crossed to the central console, his massive frame radiating an aura of assured command. “Release all moorings. Take us out on vector Kalith-7.”

The deck trembled beneath my feet as the Koloss’s powerful engines thrummed to life. Gradually, the docking clamps retracted, and our ship drifted free of the station’s embrace.

I gripped the back of a chair for balance as we banked sharply, the inertial dampeners straining to compensate. Doanor glanced back at me, a ghost of a smirk playing across his features.

Before I could react, another jolt sent me stumbling forward. Sturdy arms encircled my waist, drawing me flush against Doanor’s powerfully muscled chest. His warm, leathery skin brushed my cheek as his musky, earthy scent enveloped me.

For a suspended heartbeat, the universe shrank to this singular point of contact. My pulse thundered in my ears, drowning out the cacophony of the bridge. Heat blossomed across my face and traveled downward, awakening a molten ache low in my belly.

Then, just as abruptly, Doanor steadied me and stepped back, his expression inscrutable once more. “You’ll want to be careful,” he said softly, not meeting my eyes.

I nodded mutely, still reeling from the lingering imprint of his touch. Get it together, Cassidy. You’re here as a professional…who just happens to be pretending to date an impossibly virile alien captain. 

The cosmos stretched out before us as the Koloss banked into the inky blackness of open space. Stars winked into being, their brilliance no longer outshone by the station’s glow. I drifted closer to the viewport, drawn by the breathtaking vista.

So this was the great unknown that awaited us. Despite the immense distances, it no longer seemed so vast, so isolating with Doanor and his crew by my side.

After an eternity compressed into mere moments, Doanor’s rough voice snapped me from my reverie. “Shall we continue the tour? There are a few more areas I’d like to show you.”

I followed him from the bridge, doing my best to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. My mind still swam with phantom sensations – the scorching press of his body, the lingering musk of his skin. This façade of intimacy was going to take some getting used to.

The corridor curved gently to the left before opening into a spacious galley. Sleek metallic countertops curved in a broad horseshoe shape, punctuated by built-in cooking stations and food printers. A long dining table dominated the center, already set with an array of covered dishes that released tantalizing aromas into the air.

At one of the cooking stations, a lanky, reptilian figure twisted around at our entrance. Glittering scales shimmered across her lithe, sinuous frame, and a pair of slit-pupiled eyes regarded us with open curiosity.

“Kylari, this is Cassidy,” Doanor said by way of introduction. “She’ll be with us on this job as…my companion.” His tail curled slightly as he spoke the final word, almost imperceptibly.

Kylari cocked her head, flicking her forked tongue against the air as if tasting my scent. An enigmatic smile drew up the corners of her thin lips. “A pleasure to meet you, Cassidy.” Her voice slithered like silk against my skin, smooth and hypnotic. “I must say, you’ve landed yourself quite the impressive mate.”

Heat flooded my cheeks anew as I opened my mouth, grasping for a reply. Doanor cut me off with a rumbling chuckle. “I’m the lucky one,” he demurred, slipping an arm around my waist and pulling me against his side. “I’ve been counting the days until we could finally meet in person.”

My breath hitched in my throat at his casual possessiveness, his words igniting sparks that danced across my skin. He played the role of besotted partner with utter conviction, his deep voice practically smoldering with restrained ardor.

Two can play at this game, buster. 

Looping my arms around his thick neck, I raised myself on tiptoe to press my lips against the taut cords of muscle at his throat. A shudder ran through his powerful frame, so fleeting I wondered if I’d imagined it.

“And I you, my heart,” I murmured against his skin, allowing the barest hint of a caress with my tongue.

Doanor froze, the sudden tautness of his body belying his relaxed facade. His pupils flared, blown wide for the span of a single ragged breath. 

Before either of us could shatter the delicate tension, Kylari cleared her throat with a low trill. “Well, now that you two have been…reacquainted…” She turned back to the cooking unit, deftly slicing some kind of violet tuber. “I’d best get dinner prepped so you can properly celebrate your reunion later.”

My face burned anew, but I refused to be the first to break away from Doanor’s embrace. Let him make that move, if he dared. I wet my lips as I met his smoldering gaze.

“Yes, dinner first,” he agreed at last, his voice pitched lower than usual. “And then…perhaps we can continue our more private tour?”

The heated promise in his tone made my knees go weak. Before I could formulate a suitably brazen response, however, he extricated himself from my arms with a deft smoothness that left me unbalanced.

“For now, I should check in on our other cargo,” he added, turning on his heel and striding from the galley. “Let me know when you’ve finished, Kylari.”

I stared after his retreating form, equal parts stunned and aroused. That smug, insufferable…magnificent brute! How dare he draw me into this game of seductive one-upmanship only to leave me utterly discombobulated?

Then again, perhaps I’d been too effective at flustering the mighty Captain. My lips curved into a slow, predatory smile.

This mission had just become infinitely more intriguing.

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