Today's Reading

I cracked my eyes open a tiny bit. The light panel on the ceiling glowed softly. Were there supposed to be two of them?

"She's coming to," one of the men warned.

I squinted, trying to get my vision to clear, and when that didn't work, I closed my eyes and willed the nanos to work faster. They weren't affected by my desire for speed, sadly, so I resigned myself to wait.

"Everyone out. Pull up the separator and leave it up. Let's see how the little princess likes her new palace," John said.

The faint ozone smell of an active energy field reached my nose. Booted footsteps exited the room, then the door creaked closed and locked with a metallic thunk.

I wiggled my fingers and toes. It was a start.

"You alive?" Loch asked.

"Mostly," I slurred. "They stunned me then dropped me headfirst onto the deck. I'll live."

"Where are we?"

"Station orbiting Theta Sagittarii Dwarf One," I said. I sat up and closed my eyes against the light-headedness. In addition to my throbbing head, I was sore from being hit with a stunstick twice in an hour. Overall, it could've been worse, but not by much.

"Damn," he muttered. I was with him there. I didn't know why he was concerned, but I knew that we were just two short jumps away from the gate that would deliver us directly to Earth. That only gave me a little over a week—in open space no less—to escape.

I cracked my eyes open. I sat on a narrow cot with a thin mattress and no sheets or blankets. A quick glance confirmed I was in a standard holding cell on a Yamado frigate—only the Yamados etched their House symbol, a crane, on every door.

Far more interesting than the Yamado door was the man sharing the cell with me. Even through the slight distortion of the blue energy barrier, I saw that deeply bronzed flesh wrapped his heavily muscled frame. Broad shoulders tapered to a narrow waist with rippling abs. Defined arms and muscled legs completed the picture.

It was only after I'd stared for a solid five seconds that I realized why I was seeing quite so much of him: he had been stripped down to only a skintight pair of black boxer briefs.

I jerked my gaze up to his face and blinked in surprise when I met luminescent eyes. But when I met his eyes a second time, they were brown. Ocular augments existed, but as far as I knew, they permanently altered your eyes. It could've been a trick of the light, but it was worth watching.

His gaze was sharp and direct. Several weeks' worth of dark beard shadowed his jaw. His hair was the same length and I wondered if he normally kept his head shaved. The scruffiness made it hard to tell his exact age, but he was probably a few years older than my twenty-three.

"Like what you see?" he asked with a smirk.

"Yes," I said after a few more seconds of frank appraisal. Surprise flashed across his face, but why would I lie? He was beautifully built. He was perhaps not conventionally handsome but he had a deep, primal appeal. One glance and you knew that this was a man who could take care of problems. Add that deep, gravelly voice and he was temptation incarnate.

Now that I wasn't mesmerized by the amount of flesh on display, I saw that he was chained to the wall behind him from both ankles and wrists. The chains disappeared into the wall and their length could be adjusted. Right now, they were short enough that he couldn't sit comfortably. Whoever he was, the mercs weren't taking any chances with him.

I stood and wavered as sore muscles protested. Damn stunsticks to hell. With the bed taking up more than half of the floor space, there was barely any room to walk. I knew from the schematics that the cell was a meter and a half wide by three meters long. The barrier dropped down just past the two-meter mark, leaving my unfortunate cellmate trapped in a one-and-a-half by one-meter box. He wouldn't be able to lie flat even if they released the chains enough to let him.
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