PERFECT HOMECOMING by Sandra Sookoo
Sometimes the future meets us when we’re not looking.
Andrew Grabel is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air and Space Force. It's tradition for his family, so is never being home for Christmas. Though he longs to celebrate the holiday with all its feel good nostalgia, the reality of space travel doesn't make that possible. Neither does an R and R stint on a far-flung space station since Christmas is unique to Earthlings.
Mira Nisirian is on Epsilon station for one reason only—to steal anything of value then get out for her next destination. She's a thief and a criminal, and though she might dream of fitting in with Earth people and their culture, nothing can erase her Neptune origins or her real alien form. Choosing Andrew as her first victim is her first mistake...
...falling for him is the next. What's more, Andrew's constant talk of Christmas fascinates Mira. She covets the home she sees in his eyes. Andrew's future outlook is shaken as he finds himself trying to convince her the Earth holiday is a state of mind, but Mira's compulsion to share her truth might damage their budding relationship.
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“Excuse me, ma’am, but I believe you neglected to pay for the items you took from the buffet.” He grabbed her wrist, his fingers easily encircling her arm.
Moss-green eyes flashed under a veil of midnight lashes. “Well then, you must have missed the pockets I picked along the way because I’m a much better thief than that.”
Shocked she didn’t attempt to deny the charges, he pulled her behind the display boards. No sense in calling attention to themselves. Even a criminal deserved a bit of privacy. It was Christmas, after all, and he should show some goodwill. “I don’t think you understand. I have no patience for criminals.”
He held up her hand. The loose-flowing sleeve fell to her elbow and revealed the tracking bracelet.
“Are you out on parole, or did you escape from a prison colony?”
A wash of faint pink color stained her pale cheeks as she attempted to wrench from his grasp. He tightened his hold. Her lips parted, the lower one slightly fuller. “Neither. Let’s just say I bartered my way out and leave it at that. Everyone involved has been properly compensated.” A hint of an indefinable accent flowed through her speech. Andrew stared at the bracelet. None of the tiny lights were illuminated, and scratches marred the surface as if she’d tried to pry it from her wrist. “You disabled it.”
“Surprised?” She neither confirmed nor denied his statement.
“You should be. Not everyone can do that without the proper tools at her disposal.” Again, she tried to get away. Andrew didn’t budge. She lifted an eyebrow. “However, my problem is removing the damn thing. It’s apparently beyond my limited skills…unless you’d like to help me with that tiny little problem, handsome?” The blatant invitation in her voice competed with the high wattage of her smile.
“Absolutely not.” He held her gaze, fascinated by the play of shadows in her spectacular eyes. A lifetime of secrets resided there. His curious nature surged to the forefront. Would she give them up if he kissed her? Shaking his head in an attempt to banish the absurd thought, he said, “Your next stop is prison.” He had zero time to try and fix her problems when he couldn’t manage his own.
“Actually, my next stop is an outbound freighter that leaves tomorrow morning.” One of her feathery, arched eyebrows rose. “Release me. I have business at the other end of the station.” A tug accompanied the request, as did a glint in her eyes.
“I’ll bet you do.” Andrew didn’t know if he was more disappointed that she might be a prostitute or that his interest in her hadn’t waned following the thought. “I’ll bet trouble follows you around.” He didn’t want to get involved, did he?
“It might.” She cocked her head. “Does it matter?”
“I’m not sure, but here’s how I see it.” He pulled her against him and slid his free hand along her spine to her waist. Her silky hair brushed his skin and sent electric impulses up his arm. The warmth of her body seeped into his hands while her scent invaded his nostrils and scrambled his brain. She smelled faintly of vanilla, pears, and the subtle sweetness only a woman had. His stomach rumbled as his cock hardened.
She tipped her head backward, still holding his gaze. “I’m waiting.” Her lips parted with a sly smile and revealed even, white teeth. “Do you have a different proposition for me?”
Damn. The woman’s a dangerous mix of sex and sin. She’ll be trouble. Did that mean he wanted to take her on during his layover? His heartbeat accelerated.
Why not? It’d be good to have a new challenge.
“Since it’s Christmas, I’m willing to overlook your crime if you promise you won’t rob anyone else while you’re on the station.” His heartbeat thundered in his ears. As though compelled, he pressed her softness against the harder planes of his body. “Is it a deal?” Andrew released the wrist he held hostage in favor of sliding his hands to her ass and pulling her even closer. She stood as tall as his shoulder, just the right height to tuck under his chin or wrap in his arms.
Surprise and something darker flickered in her eyes. “That depends on what you’re offering as an incentive.” She snaked a hand around his waist. The other slid up his chest to fiddle with the zipper pull of his flight suit. “Any ideas, because I can suggest a few.”
“No.” He swallowed but couldn’t force moisture into his dry throat. Every second he held her brought him near an edge he wasn’t sure he wanted to jump off. She obviously ran with a crowd opposite his, and she skirted the law with the ease of familiarity. He couldn’t align himself with such a person. That wasn’t who he was, yet the temptation of holiday companionship wouldn’t be denied.
“Let me help you out, handsome.” She tugged away, and with an expression of triumph held his slim, brown wallet in her right hand. A silver bracelet encircled that wrist, this one etched with markings and symbols he couldn’t read and was different than the prison cuff. “You take me to the bar, and I’ll return your wallet.” She waggled the bit of leather out of his reach. “I’ll even let you buy the drinks since you look like a traditional sort of guy.”
“And if I don’t?” Annoyed that she’d gotten close only to pick his pocket, Andrew took a step backward. He rubbed a hand over his hair. His gut churned with either excitement or unease; he couldn’t tell which.
Her shrug pulled the tunic tight over her breasts. “Your loss, but my guess is it’ll be difficult trying to pilot your ship without the proper identification or clearance tags, not to mention the paper money I’ll bet you have.” She shook the wallet. “All converted into intergalactic denominations, right?”
“Of course.” How else did she think commerce happened so far removed from Earth’s society? He lunged. She gave him a throaty laugh and retreated another step.
“Nice. Earthlings are always loaded, and they flaunt it.”
“You should know. Aren’t you from there?” The woman seemed as human as he did.
A shadow flickered across her face. She rubbed his wallet against her cheek. “Spend a couple of hours with me. I’m told I’m actually a pleasant person once you get to know me. How bad do you want it?”
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