Back in Action by Elayne S. Venton

Back in Action by Elayne S. Venton

Back in Action

by Elayne S. Venton

Changeling Press

Ebook ISBN: 02840-00901

[ SciFi Cougar Romance, MF ]

Gavin Moore idolizes war hero Dana Tangier, but is he strong enough to protect her from her past?

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Chapter One

Alpha II Space Station, Earth date 2184

From her defensive position behind a pile of twisted metal, Dana Tangier watched First Lieutenant Gavin Moore roll to his left and take out the last enemy aerial combat mini-drone with his laser whip. A long beep echoed around them and the lights brightened in the holographic game room.

“Congratulations, Lieutenant. You’ve racked up a record score.” Dana rolled her sore shoulder as the heavy pulsar rifle disappeared from her hands at the same time the holographic battle challenge faded away.

She hadn’t worked out this strenuously in years. Thank goodness her next training session put her back in the classroom, behind the podium where she belonged. Why in the world had she offered to substitute for Moore’s partner?

“I did well because I had a war hero for a partner,” Moore remarked, moving behind her. Without a by-your-leave, the young lieutenant massaged the tightness in her shoulders. For a brief moment, she tensed. At the International Military Academy, a student touching an instructor, and vice versa, crossed the line of appropriate behavior. However, Lieutenant Moore had graduated five years ago. He’d recently returned for six weeks of specialized training before he headed out on his next mission. He certainly wasn’t nursing her overworked muscles for a better grade. Besides, a complaint would stop his wonderful kneading fingers.

“I’m afraid my glory days are behind me, Moore.” She winced and dropped her shoulder when he dug into a tender spot.

“Sorry.” His touch gentled to a soothing caress. “If it were up to me, I’d take you on this mission instead of Krystal.”

“That would be a disastrous decision,” Dana quickly asserted.

“Why? You might be ten years older than Krystal,” he continued, “but your instincts are ten times sharper.”

Dana stifled a snort. Ten years older? Try seventeen. “Krystal is a great fit for your mission. Better than I could ever be.” Fresh from military academy, Second Lieutenant Krystal Riddon was intelligent, in perfect physical shape, vivacious, and the best Tai-Jorian linguist Dana had ever taught. She’d mastered Tai-Jorian customs as if she’d been born in their capital city, which meant the girl loved to party. All those groping males wouldn’t bother her a bit. “As soon as she recuperates from her hangover, I want you two back in here,” she said over her shoulder. “She needs your expertise more than you need mine.”

His hands stilled on top of her shoulders, their warmth seeping through her thin athletic shirt to her damp skin. “I might know my way through tactical maneuvers, but there’s plenty you can teach me.” His breath stirred the short layers of her hair at the back of her head. Lowering his voice, he added, “In other areas.” He skimmed his fingertips down her arms and clasped her wrists. “I hear the Tai-Jor are openly erotic,” He pulled her arms behind her back and crossed her wrists. “Do you know anything about that?”

A chill slithered across her shoulders. What was he doing? She shook off his hold, stepped away, and turned to face him. The rebuke poised on her tongue instantly melted away.

The sight of his sparkling brown eyes and the slight pull of his lips to one side in a taunting smile hit her square in the chest. Whether it was his good looks, or simply his youthful abundance of testosterone, he wrung a deeply guarded passion from her every time she neared him. If she were fifteen years younger…

Well, she wasn’t.

“I’m very familiar with Tai-Jorian mating rituals,” she said in a professional tone. Another reason why she’d be a bad choice for the mission. The memory of being kidnapped, fought over, and forced to submit still gave her nightmares. She’d vowed to never tread on the Tai-Jorian continent again, or on their planet Moria for that matter, and to do her best to prepare visitors for a society with little tolerance for outsiders who don’t follow their rules. “We’ll go over Tai-Jorian sexual conduct tomorrow.”

“Can’t wait,” he said with a waggle of his dark brows.

She crossed her arms and leveled a no-nonsense look at him. “Here’s the bottom line. The Tai-Jor will only deal with linked pairs. You and Krystal must forge an inseparable bond before you leave this space station. Otherwise, you’ll get nothing accomplished.”

“Are you saying I should bed the Wild One?”

“Whatever it takes, Moore.” If Krystal didn’t appreciate Moore’s bright mind and buff body by now, she’d better soon. The Tai-Jorian Council would be spying on them every second. “Keep her focused on you at all times. Krystal’s weakness is her wandering eye. On Tai-Jor, flirting is an art form with nuances we’d overlook. One misconstrued gesture and a Tai-Jorian will fight to the death to mate.” A sour churning twisted in her gut. Single Tai-Jorian males fought over everything. “You know how to hold a woman’s attention, don’t you?”

He answered her with a cocked brow and devilish grin. A familiar heat warmed Dana’s insides. Yes, Gavin had charm in spades. It was one of the reasons she’d recommended him as negotiator. King Ahnjee and Queen Ahnru disliked bargaining with outsiders, but they might be swayed by a man who clearly enthralled his partner. Although, she feared Moore would rather engage in a covert operation than woo the enemy into trading technology for a citizen of Earth.

“The Tai-Jor will be influenced by the way you treat Krystal. Keep her engaged, and you’ll keep the king and queen engaged. Battle tactics are the back-up plan. Don’t forget that.”

“Make love, not war. Got it, Professor,” he said with a wink. “You hungry?” He patted his flat stomach. “I’ll treat you to the daily special in the mess hall. You can teach me how to talk dirty in Tai-Jor while we eat.”

Although famished, she shook her head. Was he pushing her buttons tonight, or was she reading too much into nothing? “I only have enough time for a quick shower before my next class.”

He pulled the front of his sweat-dampened shirt away from his chest. “I should do that too.”

He stared at her meaningfully, but she didn’t have any more time for his playful banter. She nodded and walked away before the vision of Gavin Moore naked and dripping wet in his shower developed into a full blown sexual fantasy.

She’d barely gone ten steps out the door when the Mission Director’s signal beeped into the tiny communicator clipped over her ear. “Tangier,” she answered without breaking her stride.

“The Tai-Jor mission is being moved up.”

Crap. “How soon?” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Moore catch up to her and walk alongside, matching her stride as they headed toward the turbo lift.

“Intelligence reports the Carthians are within five Earth days of Moria. We need to find and extract General Hamm now. I don’t care that he’s sought political asylum in Tai-Jor. If the Carthians get to him before we do, they’ll force him to disclose the secret of his super-weapon design, and they’ll use it against Earth. Get your team mobile. The cargo is being loaded aboard the transport as we speak.”

Dana winced. Rather than complain that Moore and Riddon had a great deal more to learn, she offered an option. “Give me an hour to put some training videos together for the flight.”

“One hour, Tangier. Not a second longer.”

“Yes, sir.” He disconnected before she had a chance to say more. She voice-dialed her teaching assistant. “Patrick, I need you to take my next two classes.” She cast a sidelong glance at Moore. “The mission has been moved up.”

Moore, who’d been watching her closely, grinned from ear to ear.

“And get someone to drag Lieutenant Riddon out of bed. She has one hour before flight time.”

Beside her, Moore picked up the pace.

“Whoa,” she said, grabbing his arm. “I have last minute instructions for you. A five minute shower, Lieutenant, and then grab your gear — I know you’ve had it packed for days,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “And bring it to my office.”

“Yes, ma’am!” He saluted and sprinted down the hallway.

She hated to see Gavin Moore go. Every moment with him had been a pleasure. Not only was he easy on the eyes, he absorbed everything she said with interest. She expected him to go far in life, assuming he and Krystal fooled the Tai-Jor well enough to gain their cooperation, and they escaped alive. The pair had forty-eight hours of flight time to solidify their strategy.

Inside her office, she quickly set up the recording equipment. While she waited for Moore to arrive, she downloaded the lectures notes she hadn’t had a chance to present yet onto a memory stick.

Her heart leapt into her throat when Moore barged into her office without knocking, his duffle bag slung over his shoulder. “Whatcha got, Tangier?” he asked as he dropped his pack.

“Close the door.” The order sounded a little sultry to her ears, but apparently it didn’t affect the lieutenant that way. Thank goodness. “We’re going to visually record some body language poses that will show the Tai-Jorians how well you and Krystal are connected. The two of you can practice them during the journey.”

A twinkle flashed in Moore’s eyes. “Sounds like fun.”

“I assure you it’s very serious. The Tai-Jor believe if you can’t connect with someone on a personal level, you can’t be trusted. Stand over there.” She directed him in front of the visual recorder while she checked the settings. “Your interactions with Riddon will be monitored and judged on a comprehensive level. Anything about her that annoys you, good or bad, must be overlooked. In your head, you’re crazy about her, and whether she’s interested in you right now or not, you must convince her she’s mad about you too.”

He gazed at her steadily as she joined him in front of the lens. “I can be very persistent.”

“I hope so,” she said, trying to ignore the nuance of his tone and look. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking, although she had a good idea it had to do with her, but she didn’t have time to analyze it now. “Whenever you speak to each other, face one another like so.” She set her hands on his hips. “Now put your hands on my shoulders. That’s right,” she nodded at him when he complied. “Eye contact with your partner is very important. On the other hand, eye contact with a stranger is considered rude. When speaking to a Tai-Jorian, keep your gaze below the neck. Staring at a woman’s breasts is acceptable; staring into her eyes is not.”

“Well, that’s going to be an interesting adjustment, but easy enough.”

“Good.” She moved a step closer. “They don’t have varying voice pitches and facial expressions to show emotion like we do, although their eyes can be telling — which is why eye contact is rude. It’s too personal to share with a stranger.” She swallowed hard at the intense way he stared at her. His gaze unsettled her, so she ignored it and proceeded with her explanation. “Electrical impulses run close to the surface of the skin in all Morian races, not just the Tai-Jor. They communicate primarily through touch. It’s like static electricity, sometimes it’s barely noticeable — like when your hair stands on end — and sometimes it’s a shock. The more emotional they get, whether it’s excited, angry, or sad, the higher the voltage.”

“So without touching one or looking one in the eye, how do I decipher whether I pissed them off or pleased them?”

“Excellent question.” She wiggled her hips. “It’s in their body language. Rocking or rolling hips means they’re pleased. Pairs may grind against each other when they’re excited about something. It might not be about sex at that moment, but because of the electrical stimulus, it will probably lead to sex, so be prepared. Tai-Jorians are blatant exhibitionists and voyeurs.”

“Really?” He grinned and thrust his hips from side to side.

She choked back a laugh, and then slapped her palms on his ass, enjoying the sting in her hands from swatting his firm cheeks. “That’s scolding.”

“I could’ve guessed.” He inched closer. “Why didn’t you demonstrate the excitement action?” he asked, rolling his hips in a seductive wave. “I might need practice with that one.”

She shot him a dirty look. “I think you follow. Now this is anger.” She stepped back a little and pounded a fist against her belly. “This is understanding.” After a slight pause, she gently rubbed both palms over the hard curves of his chest.

“Does the male use the same action on the female?”

Dana swallowed. “Yes.” She waited, but he didn’t touch her breasts. “I understand your hesitation now, but you can’t be timid about touching your partner.” She looked directly at the camera. “The woman must accept his touch without reluctance. The Tai-Jor don’t care about our principles when we’re on their turf.”

The sudden pressure of his hands on her upper chest surprised her, but she hid her reaction.

“Like this?” he asked solemnly, rubbing circles near her collar bone.

“That’s fine. The more deeply you empathize, the more centralized over the breasts your hands must be.”

His palms slowly slid down. She watched his face as his splayed fingers drift down the smooth tight fabric of her black top. As the center of his palms reached her nipples, he glanced up at her. He stopped and gently rested his fingertips on the fullness of her breast. “I get it,” he said, dropping his hands away.

Her pulse raced in the dip of her throat. For all his sexual innuendo, Gavin never pushed too hard. At least not with her. She mentally shrugged. Hopefully he’d be more forward with someone his own age. “It gets more intimate, I’m afraid. If one is agitated, he or she will rub a leg up and down the other one’s thigh. If one disagrees with the other, grabbing a partner’s privates is an acceptable means of trying to change his or her mind.”

“I hate to ask, but is it a hard grab or a sensual one?”

“Depends on the mood and the manner which has proven most effective in the past.”

“Should I tell you which works best for me?” he asked with a twisted grin.

“I have a good idea.” She shook her head, not only at his antics, but at the strange urge to stroke his cock and beg him to change his mind about leaving her. What was wrong with her? She’d never reacted to a student this way before. Sure, plenty of young people left an impression on her, but she didn’t just like Gavin Moore. She really liked him.

“If I were Tai-Jorian, a nip on your chest would give you permission to explore.” Heat flushed her neck as she contemplated doing just that. Harsh memories stopped her cold. “Actually, a tiny bite anytime, anywhere is a blatant invitation for sex.” She clenched her jaw. “You can rebuff the invitation, but there may be consequences. Rejection is not taken lightly.”

Rather than follow that path of thought, she wrapped her arms around his back and hugged him. “Fear,” she said softly, worrying about what lay ahead for Moore and Riddon. She tilted her head back and looked up at him. “Be careful. The Tai-Jor can be cruel, and their touch can be deadly.”

A slight twitch furrowed between his brows. “They hurt you.”

She shook her head, denying it, but she couldn’t look him in the eye. Without thinking, she hugged him tighter.

He patted her back. “Don’t worry, I can handle whatever comes up.”

His arrogant confidence didn’t assure her. “If they suspect a problem, they’ll separate you from your partner. That will make negotiations impossible.” She captured his gaze, willing him to be careful. “You must show solidarity. I can’t say it enough.”

Moore eased one hand between them, the one furthest from the recorder, and slipped his palm up her ribs. He watched her face, his eyes darkening as his fingers pushed up the underside of her breast.

Hiding her surprise, tamping down the pleasurable shudder that ran through her, she stared at him.

“I understand,” he whispered as his fingers flowed past her nipple and caressed the fullness of her breasts.

Ohmigod. Turning her face away from the recorder, she closed her eyes and stole a moment of personal pleasure. She arched ever so slightly into his warm caressing hand, and imagined him laying a trail of moist kisses down the column of her neck all the way to her nipple. The tip pebbled at the thought of his warm lips covering it. Liquid fire slowly burned from her breast to her core, like a sip of fine liquor.

Damn. The handsome lieutenant constantly slipped beneath her defenses. Why did she let him get away with handling her all the time? He probably laughed behind her back at how vulnerable she was to his casual touch. But oh, the gentle massage felt so good. She squeezed her thighs together and relished the twinge of desire that settled in her pussy.

Stop. What did it say about her when she sought her thrills from meaningless strokes by a young officer with his boot halfway out the door?

As much as she wanted to say something, anything, words escaped her. She looked back at him, silently imploring him to stop caressing her, stop making her bones melt, stop teasing her with his prime flesh and male virility. His gaze dropped to her mouth. Self-consciously, she licked her dry lips and rubbed them together.

The hand on her back slipped lower until his fingers sank into the fullest part of her butt cheek. He dipped his head, leaning closer.

Blazing stars. He was going to kiss her. What do I do?

Stupid question! She should jerk backward, stop this foolishness.

His lips descended, nearer and nearer. She couldn’t move. He was so damn attractive. Yearning swirled low in her belly. Cream gathered behind her pussy lips.

Stop him!

A slight turn of his head and he ducked close to her ear. “I’m going to miss you, Tangier.” His lips brushed her neck.

Her whole body jumped.

God, what was he doing to her?

She backed away, her gaze searching his blank face. “Recorder, stop.” A frown pulled between her brows. What just happened between them? Was he playing her? Heat suffused her cheeks. Sonofabitch. She’d have to erase that last minute or so.

He swept a hand down his crotch, quickly adjusting himself. After a tense moment of silence, he smiled at her. “You’re one hell of a coach. I hope practice goes that well with Krystal.”

Dana gathered her wits around her through one deep breath. “It better, Lieutenant Moore.”

With a stark emptiness settling in her heart, Dana walked over to the recorder. “There’s no one better than you,” she mumbled. A flip of a switch on the recorder and she previewed the ending. As she suspected, his kneading hand was hidden on the recording. Unfortunately, the playback clearly showed his fingers clutching her ass and the tightening of her butt cheeks when she’d squeezed the ache between her legs. A press of a button and she erased the damaging evidence.

“Let’s wrap this up with a quick summary.” She set her hands on his hips and he automatically set his hands on her shoulders. “Recorder on.” She looked up at him with all the professionalism she could muster. “Remember not to look a Tai-Jorian in the eye. Whatever you do, do not attempt to address one solo. You will not like the consequences. When you are done speaking, step close…” She gave Moore a slight smile and stepped forward, relishing his heat one last time. “Give your partner a squeeze –”

Someone pounded on her office door right before they flung it open. “Tangier!”

Dana leapt back from Moore as her assistant skidded to a halt before her.

“Lieutenant Riddon is sick.”

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