Adjusting her bags, Lincia Morlin--Lin for the most part--made herself as comfortable as possible onboard the government transport, or the oversize pansy ship as her friend Keeran liked to call it.
Lin would have to agree. All around her within the opulently decorated gathering room sat numerous galactic senators, dressed in their regal finest, chatting with their entourages of traveling companions. She would have much rather taken a public transport, but her father forbade it.
As the daughter of a galactic senator, she would travel in safety. Lin rolled her eyes. God forbid Senator Morlin's daughter should be caught on a public anything.
He bragged incessantly about her position with the GDRC--the Galactic Disease Research Center--but only because of the prestige. She was the youngest director ever appointed. Unfortunately not once had he expressed pride in her medical abilities or her successful containment of two plague outbreaks on planets Areon and Lunista.
Of course those wouldn't matter to him. They were underdeveloped planets not even part of the Senate, so therefore not worthy of his concern.
Keeran dropped into the cushioned seat next to her with a tired sigh, pulling Lin's thoughts from her father. Her black hair cascaded over her shoulder as Keeran bent down to set her bag into the secured bin next to her seat. With one dainty hand, she brushed her long black curls from her face as she sat up straight and glanced around the interior.
Most senators had their own personal ships, but sometimes they traveled together on one of the transports, especially if they needed to discuss something in a group. And today looked as though they were discussing something very important.
Lin knew there was a major vote coming up, but to be honest, she hadn't paid too much attention. Politics was her father's arena.
“I saw that,” Keeran said.
“Saw what?” Lin asked.
“That rolling your eyes thing you do. You must have been thinking about your father.”
Lin smiled, not at all surprised at just how well her friend knew her. Keeran reached up and gathered her hair off her neck and pinned it to the top of her head with a clasp.
“It's so hot on these damn things.”
“I know. But if you think it's hot here, just wait until we get to the lower ground of Rhinari.”
Her friend studied her closely as she leaned over to gently finger the soft suede of her traveling suit. “You are changing first, right?”
“I would hope you are as well.”
They both smiled.
“If your father knew what you were about to do...” Keeran began.
“I don't even want to think about it.”
“I can't believe your guards have kept quiet all this time about our antics.”
Lin shrugged. “There's never been any trouble, so why bring them to his attention. As long as things go well, the guards never say anything. They may grumble and voice their concerns, but they know, ultimately, where I go is my decision. The only place they never follow me is ground zero of a medical outbreak.”
Her friend grinned. “Can't say as I blame them there.” Keeran moved her gaze to the senators at the far side of the room, talking intently. “What do you suppose all the hubbub is about?” she asked.
“I think it has to do with the upcoming vote this afternoon. Some of the senators are angry that the Senate hasn't done anything about the slave trade industry.”
“Why haven't they?”
“To be honest,” Lin said with a tiny bit of sarcasm, “I think it's because the senators that are most adamant they stay out of it are the very senators that are involved.”
“Corruption in the Senate,” Keeran replied with a snort. “Who could ever imagine such a thing?”
Lin giggled. “I know. Right?”
Keeran nodded her chin toward the tall man who'd just entered. His long white hair and storm cloud gray eyes made his identity unmistakable.
“Isn't that the former senator from Tilarus, Stefan Marcone?” Keeran asked.
“Yes. And forget it. He's very happily married.”
“Doesn't mean I can't look and admire,” Keeran said with a grin.
Lin returned her grin. She had to agree with Keeran on that point. Stefan was definitely gorgeous. “He must be here to lobby against the slave trade. Everyone knows he's been trying for years to get the Senate to do something about it. My father, on the other hand, believes we should stay out of it.”
“Why?” Keeran asked, her eyes wide with shock.
“Because the girls are taken to planets outside the Senate's realm of control. Therefore, not our problem.”
Keeran rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Your father is a real gem of a guy, Lin. No offense.”
“You're not telling me anything I don't already know.”
Keeran's eyes lit up as she sat straighter in her chair. Lin knew that look. Her friend had seen someone of interest. Lin followed her stare, then scowled once she noticed the object of her friend's interest.
Captain Anthony “Tony” Carrington.
Gorgeous didn't even begin to describe that man. He wore his black hair long, about halfway down his back, which made him look more like a pirate than a fleet captain. Today he had it secured at the nape of his neck, his strong neck, attached to wide, thick shoulders and a tapered waist.
Her frown deepened as her gaze traveled back up his massive torso. The high neck of his dress jacket covered the scar she knew ran across his throat where someone had slit it years ago. No one knew for sure how it had happened, but the rumor was he'd pissed off weapons smugglers. That wouldn't surprise Lin. The man had a way of pissing people off, especially her.
Despite her dislike of the man, her admiring gaze traveled upward, past a strong chin, full kissable lips and straight into eyes so light blue, they resembled arctic ice.
Her heart skipped a beat the second she realized he stared right back at her. A black brow arched in mild amusement as he held her gaze. For a second, she couldn't look away.
“That man has to be one of the most gorgeous men I think I've ever seen,” Keeran murmured. “I get goose bumps every time I see him.”
Her friend's comment broke the spell, and she quickly averted her gaze. “Yes. And I'm sure he does too every time he looks in the mirror at himself,” Lin mumbled.
“Wow,” Keeran said with a slight chuckle as she spun in her chair to face her. “Where the hell did that come from? Do you know him?”
“I know of him more than I know him. But we've met a few times at my father's functions and at the Senate building.”
“And?” Lin countered, trying her best to avoid the conversation she knew was coming. She usually told Keeran everything, but for some reason, she was too embarrassed to talk about this.
“Oh come on. Something had to have happened for you to make a comment like that.”
“Nothing's happened.” Lin used the tip of her finger to lightly scratch above her eye, avoiding her friend's curious stare. “He just rubs me the wrong way.”
“Uh-huh,” Keeran said, then leaned closer to whisper, “and you're full of crap. What happened?”
With a sigh, Lin thought back to that night. That hot, star-studded night that Captain Carrington had kissed her. It was a kiss she used for comparison now, even though she was loath to admit it. The man had a mouth and tongue that could make any woman submit, even her. If they hadn't been interrupted, God only knew what she would have submitted to.
She'd avoided him as best she could ever since. As always, Anthony seemed to find her avoidance amusing.
“Well?” her friend prodded.
Lin sighed. “God, you're like a dog with a bone.”
“Since when have you not been able to tell me something?”
“It's not that.”
“He kissed me. Okay?” Lin grumbled. “Now--”
Lin sighed, knowing she would have no choice but to tell her now. “It was at one of my dad's parties. He was there.”
“Really?” Keeran raised an eyebrow in interest. “What was he doing there? I mean, your father doesn't normally invite the enlisted men, even the high-ranking ones, does he?”
“Not usually. He came with someone else. Senator Hiras, I think.”
“That snake from the outer rim? What the hell is he doing hanging out with that guy?”
“Good question.” Lin pointed her finger at her friend. “You know, maybe--”
Keeran wagged hers. “Oh no you don't. Back to this kiss.”
Lin's shoulders sagged. She should have known she wouldn't be able to change the subject. Her mind traveled back to that night and the feel of his lips on hers, his hands as they'd cupped her cheeks, his hard body pressed against hers.
“I had escaped to the garden. You know how I hate those parties. Apparently, so does he.” She shrugged, hoping that would be the end of it.
Lin frowned slightly. Now that she thought about it, she wondered what he'd been doing out there. As she'd approached, she'd thought she heard voices, then he'd appeared, distracting her. Had the kiss been a diversion of some sort? But why?
The sound of Keeran's fingers snapping directly in front of her gaze brought her back to the present.
“Keep going,” Keeran demanded.
Lin's lips thinned. “Keeran, I really don't want to talk about this.”
“Because. It was just a kiss, nothing more.”
“If it was just a kiss, then it shouldn't bother you to talk about it. Right? Are you sure there's not something else going on here, Lin? I know you, and something isn't right with all this.”
“It bothers me because I don't trust him. I've heard things about him...things that... I just can't believe I would be attracted to someone like that.”
“What things?” Keeran asked, worry filling her deep blue eyes.
“It could all just be rumor,” Keeran offered.
“Wow. That kiss must have really made your head spin.”
Lin gave a very unladylike snort.
“I take that as a yes.”
“He's definitely talented in that arena, I'll give him that, but--”
Keeran slapped at Lin's leg and slanted her eyes toward Anthony, who slowly approached them. Lin tensed and immediately clamped her lips closed. The last thing she wanted was for more-arrogant-than-words to hear her talking about him.
“Lin,” he said with a nod of his head.
Lin swallowed, trying not to let his closeness affect her too much. She rubbed her palm against the side of her plush leather seat to wipe away the sweat that had begun to gather there.
“Captain,” she replied.
Trista Ann Michaels