Excerpt Tempting the Stars


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Chapter One

Captain Alyn Evans wondered if there might be anywhere on Deneb Prime he could get his sword polished. Then he smiled. Getting his weapon seen to on Deneb had gotten him into this mess. This glorious mess.

He added “Find sword polisher” to his task list and logged off his office terminal. He stepped into his ready room, took the sword in question from its hooks on the wall, then exited onto the bridge, trying not to look as if he were about to exact some crew discipline in old-fashioned style.

With portside watches already started, the Red Dragon having been in orbit around Deneb Prime for several hours, only Lieutenant Kress manned the bridge. She stood from her engineering console when Alyn came out of his ready room.

“Please, sit, Lieutenant. I’m not on duty.” He waved a hand at himself, his civilian clothes. “Just finalizing some arrangements.”

“Yes, sir.” She sat, glancing at the sword he held by its scabbard. Alyn tried to pretend it was an umbrella, or something else less conspicuous. Though an umbrella aboard a starship wouldn’t be any less conspicuous than a sword.

“I’ll be leaving the ship in about thirty minutes. Mr. Kashari will be with me. Please forward any messages for either of us. Expect me back by 1500.”

“More final arrangements, Captain?”

“A few. But it’s all under control. Everything will be ready in time for tomorrow.”

“Everyone aboard is looking forward to it. It’s the first time there’s been a wedding aboard in years. In fact, I don’t know if there’s ever been one.”

Especially a wedding between the captain and the senior company rep. “Perhaps we should start offering weddings as part of the package to passengers,” Alyn said. Then he realized he’d have to conduct them and thought maybe not. “Have a good watch, Lieutenant.”

He left her to what little work anyone did on port watches and walked to his quarters. The ship was quiet, most of the crew on liberty, enjoying the delights Swan City had to offer to the spacer on leave. Bars, clubs, a certain sauna… The memory of his first meeting with Jarvez kept him entertained all the way to the door of the quarters they shared.

Jarvez Kashari. The man he’d asked to marry him three months ago. The man he would marry tomorrow. He slid open the door.

“Jarvez?”

“Bedroom.”

He found Jarvez in there with a lot of clothes piled on their bed—a shame, or else Alyn might have allowed them a short delay in leaving.

“What are you doing?”

“Packing.”

“You’re leaving me already?”

“Will you behave? I need to take something with me to the resort.”

“We’re only going to be there one night,” Alyn said. “And I promise you clothes are not required.”

Jarvez gave him an impatient look. “I’m not leaving the next day in my bridegroom outfit, thank you.”

“Good point. I do intend to tear that off you with my teeth, so…” He sat on the edge of the bed, trying not to crush too much in the way of fine linens and silks. Alyn might have wondered why one man needed so many clothes, but he appreciated Jarvez’s peacock tendencies because of how good he always looked. Tomorrow he’d see Jarvez the bridegroom, and he couldn’t even begin to imagine how spectacular he’d look.

“You tear any part of that suit and you’ll be getting the cold shoulder on your wedding night.” Jarvez went on hunting through clothes, frowning at them.

“It doesn’t matter,” Alyn said, “if it’s only for coming back here. Pick something casual.”

“What are you packing?”

Alyn shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll do that tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? The wedding is tomorrow. You’ll do it tonight. I’ll do it for you.” He looked at his watch. “Is that the time? We’re going to be late. Come on.” He tried to haul Alyn up off the bed. Since Alyn was considerably heavier and stronger, that didn’t work so well. Instead Alyn took Jarvez’s arm, pulled him close, and raised a hand to cup his face.

“Stop panicking, love.” He kissed Jarvez softly, felt his fast breathing, the heat of his flushed face. Tomorrow could not come soon enough. He couldn’t believe his luck. Every day of the three months since he proposed he’d been expecting Jarvez to change his mind. Because how could Alyn be so fortunate as to have this gorgeous, fascinating man as his own?

But no, Jarvez wanted it as much as he did and had taken on all the arrangements. Something Alyn was glad to be relieved of, though he was mildly alarmed at how much stress their quite simple wedding was causing Jarvez. What would he have been like if he’d been marrying back at home in the style expected of a son of the richest and most powerful family in Shiraz? Alyn was satisfied with simple, but he wondered if Jarvez mourned the elaborate ceremony he would never have.

He’d warred with himself after proposing. He wanted to be married, but on the other hand, he wanted their wedding to be the celebration Jarvez deserved. He wanted their families present. But when he’d made the suggestion of waiting until they returned home, another four months after leaving Deneb, Jarvez’s horrified reaction had made him shut up and never suggest it again. He couldn’t think Alyn had changed his mind, could he? Alyn didn’t think so. Jarvez still believed his grandfather had some way to stop the wedding—something more likely to happen if they waited until they reached Earth. Jarvez wanted it done and irreversible.

“Everything will be fine,” Alyn told Jarvez, as he’d told Kress. More in a spirit of reassurance this time. “You’ve got everything under control, and it’s all going to run smoothly, I’m quite sure.”

Jarvez leaned his forehead against Alyn’s. “I hope so.” He sighed. “You know what I’m afraid of. Any surprises. Anything that’s come from Earth. Anyone.”

“Your grandfather is not going to stop this.”

“If he can find a way, he will.”

“There is no way. You’re a grown man. He can’t stop you marrying.”

“I know. I do. But it’s taking me a long time to accept that. I kept expecting him to be here when we arrived.” Three months ago, Jarvez had made a promise to his grandfather, telling him he’d give up his job on the Red Dragon and come home. A promise he’d made to keep Alyn out of prison. A promise he’d never intended to honor. Their marriage would be the final message back to the old man that Jarvez had no intention of leaving Alyn and the Red Dragon. It might mean never seeing his family again.

“Remember,” Alyn said, “aside from Will Garrett, nobody knew about our wedding plans until three weeks ago. Not even the fastest ship can reach Deneb from Earth in that time.”

“I wish you hadn’t told Will. He works for the company, and he’s still got a thing for you. He could have sent a message to Earth.”

“Don’t start that again. Will treated it as a confidence. He’s a lawyer. He knows how to keep secrets. We’d better go. We’re going to miss those tailors’ appointments.”

“You distracted me, damn you,” Jarvez said, face flushing again, eyes widening, pushing away from Alyn. He grabbed a jacket and bustled out of the bedroom. Alyn followed, picking up his jacket too, and the sword he’d left in the living room of their suite.

“Why are you bringing that?” Jarvez asked as they left to head for the hanger bay. “For your fitting?”

“That, and I thought I’d see if there’s anywhere I can get it cleaned.”

“Cleaned? That isn’t on the list.” Jarvez pulled his portable terminal out of his pocket, scowling at the new item on their shared task list. “So it is now. Do you think Deneb Prime is packed with sword smiths ready to fight for your business? I swear, you are the most annoying man. How could you spring this on me at the last minute?” He gave up on English and lapsed into Persian to truly express his feelings about fiancés who pulled ridiculous requests about swords right on the eve of the wedding. Alyn walked at his side, quite enjoying the tirade.

Tomorrow could not come soon enough, though. Jarvez couldn’t remain this tense indefinitely. He’d explode. Once the wedding was over, everything would be fine again.

* * * *

They split up when they arrived in Swan City, Alyn to collect the dress uniform he’d sent down yesterday for final adjustments by the company’s preferred tailor, Jarvez going to the fitting of the wedding suit he’d ordered from an exciting designer.

Several hours later, Jarvez emerged into the reception area of the designer’s establishment—obviously it wouldn’t be called anything as crass as a “store”—to find Alyn waiting for him. Not carrying the sword anymore. Good. He could not picture them having lunch with that lying across the table.

Alyn rose, smiling. “All set?”

“Yes.” He saw Alyn wanted to ask about the outfit, but Jarvez had sworn not to breathe a word of it. This made him feel a little like the bride at this wedding, rather than a groom. But as he got to wear civilian clothes and not a uniform, he intended to make the most of it. “Everything okay at the tailor?”

“Fine. The uniform will be waiting for us at the shuttle port. They gave me very hearty congratulations on landing such a wealthy and well-connected husband.” He grinned. “Then I went over to the place that’s agreed to polish my sword.”

“I told you I’ll leave you if you let anyone else polish your sword.” They walked outside. “I think we have time to go to the jeweler before lunch. I called and got us a table at Quinnini’s.”

“On such short notice?” It was one of the best—and most expensive—restaurants in the city. Even for lunch you usually needed to make a reservation a month in advance.

“When I dropped the name Kashari, they miraculously found a table had just opened up. I might as well use the family connections while I still can.”

As they walked, Alyn, out of uniform and ridiculously relaxed, linked their arms. He wore a big smile.

“Aren’t you nervous at all?” Jarvez asked.

“I have some butterflies,” Alyn admitted. “But that’s all. You need to stop worrying, Jarvez. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop the wedding.”

“There’s still time. It would be like Selah to pull something at the last minute.”

“How can your grandfather stop it? You’re an adult. You’re mentally competent—once you’ve had enough tea in the morning, anyway. You’re not currently married to anyone else you haven’t told me about.” He glanced across. “Are you?”

“Damn, did I never mention the wife and seven kids back on New Vegas?”

“And neither am I. So it will be fine. Especially as it’s happening on the ship.”

That had been Jarvez’s idea, and a good one, even if he said so himself. They could have married in more spectacular style in Swan City, at one of the best hotels in the sector. But Jarvez had decided he preferred the ship, where nobody could barge in without warning.

“He could have the shuttle bringing the celebrant to the ship shot down.” Jarvez kept a straight face long enough to make Alyn stare, then smiled ruefully. “Okay, maybe he wouldn’t resort to murder.”

They reached the jeweler. As they waited for their rings, Jarvez strolled around the store, looking at the fine pieces on display. Many of them would have made good wedding gifts for Alyn, but, aside from Uther, his little Welsh dragon pendant, Alyn wasn’t much of a jewelry wearer. He’d insisted the only gifts he wanted were Jarvez’s ring and Jarvez himself. How had someone as materialistic as Jarvez ended up falling for a spacer who could pack most of his possessions into a couple of trunks? A delicious conundrum.

He paused for a while, watching a craftswoman in the store’s workshop, which customers could see into through a large window. The woman wore magnifying goggles and worked on a necklace held in a clamp, carefully picking up emeralds and diamonds with a pair of long, fine tweezers and placing them into the necklace, then closing the setting around them gently with a small pair of pliers. The precise and detailed work held Jarvez riveted until Alyn laid a hand on his shoulder, making him jump.

“Jarvez,” Alyn said quietly, squeezing his shoulder. “The rings.”

He joined Alyn at the counter, where the jeweler, wearing cotton gloves, took the two men’s rings from a velvet box. The box had their initials beside each of the rings, so they’d get the right ones tomorrow. If he looked closely, Jarvez could see that Alyn’s was larger, but the difference wasn’t huge, and in the heat of the moment he didn’t want to try to jam the ring meant for his more slender finger onto Alyn’s hand. They inspected the rings carefully. Neither put them on. Jarvez had no idea if it was supposed to be bad luck to put a wedding band on, even to check the fit, before the marriage. But he wasn’t taking any chances.

They settled the final bill—which Alyn looked like he was going to have a seizure about, though he said nothing—and left the store. Jarvez glanced once more at the woman in the workshop and wondered if she’d engraved their rings. He smiled at her anyway, whether she had or not. She didn’t notice him.

The rings preyed on Jarvez’s mind on the way to the restaurant. Alyn had the velvet box inside a small case. It was sturdy and he hung on to it tight, but still Jarvez worried that today of all days would be when they were mugged. Maybe Alyn should have the case chained to his wrist? And if only he had the sword with him after all. Oh, and have robbers use his sword to chop his hand off to take the case? He shook himself from his wild imagining as Alyn spoke.

“Get something light to eat. My confidential source tells me there’s a special dinner with the officers planned for us tonight.”

“Stop saying ‘my confidential source,’” Jarvez said. “I know you mean Sumi.” Sumi was a once enslaved young man, freed by Alyn and given a job aboard the Dragon as a steward. Since he was loyal first and only to Alyn, Sumi kept the captain informed of some matters that might not otherwise reach his ears.

“I can’t confirm my source,” Alyn said. “But anyway, don’t fill up on bread.”

* * * *

“Alyn, wake up. Alyn.”

“What?” Alyn muttered thickly. “What’s wrong?” He waved a hand to activate the sensor to turn on the dim light by the bed and turned over. Jarvez had insisted he couldn’t sleep with a light on all night, the way Alyn was used to. The movement sensor was a compromise.

In the low light, Jarvez looked wild and scared, hair sticking up all ways and eyes big and round.

“What?” Alyn asked again, waking up more, worried.

“Where are the rings?” Jarvez asked. “I can’t remember what you did with them when we came back aboard. Did they come aboard? Did you leave them in the restaurant?”

“Oh for… I put them in the safe in my office.”

“Ah. Right.” He sagged, lay facedown, resting his forehead on one arm across Alyn’s chest. “Yes. Yes, you told me that. I’m sorry. I dreamed I was looking for them and I couldn’t find them, and I panicked and…” He looked up. “Then I woke up and couldn’t remember where they were.” He scowled, sitting up. “How secure is that safe anyway? It’s not for valuables, just sealed orders and things like that.”

“I’d like to see you get into it without the combination. Lie down, will you?” Jarvez did and let Alyn gather him close, though he still felt tense and tightly wound. He ran his hand up and down Jarvez’s back, easing away the tension.

“Everything is fine,” he said, the words a soothing mantra. “Nothing is going to stop us marrying. I promise you.” He went on in this vein for a while. As he spoke, Jarvez’s hand came to rest lightly on Alyn’s cock. He didn’t stroke or rub, just let his hand lie on it. Fingers slightly curled, cupping protectively, proprietarily. After a while, the light above their head went out, leaving them in pitch darkness. Alyn stopped talking as Jarvez relaxed into sleep. The silence was broken only by Jarvez’s breathing and the faint hum of the air circulators—both noises so familiar they barely counted as a sound. Alyn’s brain filtered out the noise of the air vents almost entirely. From the living room came the soft thump of Parisa, Jarvez’s cat, jumping off whichever piece of furniture she’d been sleeping on.

For the last time, Alyn went to sleep holding his lover. His fiancé. Tomorrow night he’d be sleeping with his husband


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