Dalera tipped back her chair and crossed her feet on top of her desk as she studied the new reports she’d just downloaded. Although she could have displayed the files on the flat screen on her desk, she preferred the comfort and mobility of her sleek handheld computer tablet. As part of the upper management for the Intergalactic Trading Company on Pandora II, she was responsible for making sure all the imports got to their destinations safely and all the exports shipped out on time. It was almost the end of the workday now, so she just had to finish up.
Her eyes narrowed as she scrolled through the fuel and repair costs for one of their larger cargo ships. She’d warned the captain not to use an inferior fuel, but the idiot hadn’t listened. The wear and tear on the main engines negated any savings and inflicted more long-term problems. In fact, they were losing a good nine point--There was a knock on her office door.
“Ms. Adorea?” Her secretary was already poking his head in.
At five feet eleven, Leon wasn’t a particularly small man, but he still looked like an adolescent. His curly brown hair and hazel eyes gave him an open, wholesome expression that was sorely at odds with his choice of garb. While he made sure to dress within the bounds of professional decency, he still showed off as much chest and biceps as possible. Dalera had once run into him after work at one of the local bars, and he’d been wearing a tight black outfit--leather pants, open vest, and just a bit of mascara to set off his long lashes. She wasn’t sure if it was just her imagination, but ever since then, she’d had the distinct impression he was flirting with her.
“Yes, Leon?” She responded neutrally.
He smiled and batted his eyes. “There’s a Mr. Tyler to see you. He doesn’t have an appointment, but he says it’ll just take a minute.”
Dalera licked her lips and felt her heart rate speed up. She yanked her feet off the desk. Radek Tyler was one of the off-world men who’d toured the trading company several months back. He was some kind of foreign diplomat--she often had trouble keeping track of their titles. She’d gone out to lunch with him and his associates, and in the brief time they’d been together, they’d made some serious eye contact.
Clearing her throat, Dalera tried to get her racing heartbeat under control. “Please show him in.”
Leon disappeared for a moment before opening the door for the familiar figure. Although she tried to brace herself for the impact Radek had on her, he still took her breath away. At well over six feet tall, he had a body that was a symphony of sculpted muscle, which was enough to make her hot beneath her business suit. His fine brunet hair seemed slightly unkempt in a roguish sort of way, and he had the deepest brown eyes she’d ever seen. He seemed built for sex.
“Mr. Tyler.” She greeted him as she came around her desk. Her voice didn’t sound like her own, but at least it came out steady.
The sight of him threatened to make her blush, especially after some of the naughty fantasies she’d had about him. Just the other night, she’d dreamed of stripping him naked and riding him on her desk. She quickly yanked her gaze up when she realized it was drifting downward.
“It’s so nice to see you again,” she told him politely. She shook his hand.
“You too, Ms. Adorea.” Even his voice was strong and deep. “I’m sorry to drop by without an appointment, but I wanted to catch you.”
Dalera almost started grinning like a lovesick teenager. “So...what can I do for you? You haven’t been having any problems with my company, I hope.”
Even she hated the way she said “my company,” but that was how she’d been trained. She didn’t own any part of the company, but the president wanted everyone to feel like one big corporate family. Yeah right.
“No, not at all,” he assured her, eyeing her steadily. “I was actually hoping you could help me out. I’m currently overseeing a contract with...”
Her gaze started drifting over him again, and she couldn’t help but fantasize. What did Radek look like under those conservative pants? She was pretty sure he didn’t have a penile implant. Men who did usually wore something tighter. Judging by what she could see of his bulge, he was a good-sized man. Although she’d never been one to want anything above average--all you needed was a socket full, as the saying went--she was still curious.
Off-worlders were such sensual, dominant creatures, and they seemed to act just as aggressively as the women here on Pandora II. Dalera had to wonder: what would it be like to be with one of them, to have them make all the advances? More than that, what would sex with one of them be like? In general, off-world men were taller and broader than the local males, and they looked you straight in the eye. She’d love to see what they could do with those bodies in a bedroom.
She could picture herself unzipping Radek’s fly slowly, slipping her fingers inside the warm opening, and teasing him until he grew and grew. After a moment, she’d open his shirt and let his pants fall to the floor. His eyes would never leave hers. Although he’d be ready for her, already straining, she’d take her time with him and kiss him thoroughly. She knew his lips would feel warm and soft. He’d embrace her passionately as she took him in her arms. Radek would reach out to feel her breast, and then he’d throw her over her desk and do things with her that no other man had ever dared do. He’d--
“Dalera,” Radek repeated. “Are you listening?”
“Yes, of course.” She had to scramble to remember what he’d just said. “I’d be happy to look at those figures for you. I’m sure one of the currency conversions just got inputted incorrectly.”
He seemed satisfied with that, but Dalera wanted to kick herself. It had been nearly three months since she’d broken up with Airion--okay, since he’d cleaned out her bank account and left her because she couldn’t “commit”--and she hadn’t gotten any action since then. By Goddess, didn’t she deserve a little fun? Her attraction to Radek was undeniable, and now she was finally free to act upon it. She just had to get up the courage.
Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Here on Pandora II, women weren’t just socially dominant; they were the sexual aggressors as well. If she wanted to hook up with him, it was up to her to make a move, and that was never an easy thing to do. Despite all she had going for her--great job, nice house, good looks--she still feared rejection as much as the next gal, and Radek was an even greater unknown. While she was pretty successful with the opposite sex, she’d never tried to pick up an off-worlder before, and she had no idea how he might react. It was enough to rattle even the bravest soul.
“Thanks,” he told her, looking reluctant to leave. “I know I’m creating extra work for you, but I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
Dalera just nodded pleasantly. “No problem. Why don’t you swing by Friday? That will give me enough time to look this over.”
“Will do. I appreciate your help.” He let himself out of her office.
Dalera studied his backside in appreciation as he headed for the turbo lift.
“Damn,” she growled, cursing her cowardice. He’d been right here, and she’d let him get away.
“Ms. Adorea?” Leon popped back in. “Will that be all?”
With a deep breath, Dalera got her mind back on business. “Yes, Leon. Just give me a minute to finish up here.”
She quickly transferred the files she needed and locked up before she followed him out. Although he was a very efficient secretary, Leon was a bit of a klutz, and he managed to drop his key card as he passed his desk. Rolling her eyes, Dalera held the lift for him, and they rode down together. She was secretly hoping that Radek might still be downstairs when she got there, but there was no one in sight. As usual, she went home alone.
Thanks to her job with the Intergalactic Trading Company, Dalera was able to afford her own house. Since Airion had left her, she’d been able to come and go as she pleased, although she still wasn’t used to the emptiness. Back when they’d been together, he used to greet her at the door when she got home from work. It was nice to find dinner ready and waiting for her. Of course, the sex had been very convenient too, albeit a bit lukewarm.
Although Airion may not have been the love of her life, at the time she’d been content with him. There was something to be said for simply having someone to come home to. But where did passion and excitement fit in? Was it even possible to find those qualities in a steady relationship, or were the two states mutually exclusive? She didn’t have those answers. All she was sure of was that she couldn’t stop fantasizing about a certain off-world man.
Keying her way through the door, she trod across the empty living room and activated the overhead lights. Turning on the telecommunicator on the far wall, she scrolled through a list of missed calls and discovered that two solicitations had been blocked. There was just one audio-visual recording. To her surprise, Airion’s image came up on her screen.
At five feet ten, her ex was barely bigger than she was, although he often wore high-soled shoes to make himself appear taller. He had straight blond hair and dark eyes, and he was always sure to pick clothes that accentuated his figure. There was a time when just the sight of him had made her smile, but those days were over.
“Hello, Dalera.” His thin lips were curved down, and his voice held just a hint of irritation. “I was going through some old stuff I had around and found a few of your files. They’re of no use to me, so I copied them and sent them to your in-box.”
She responded with a disdainful snort.
As if he’d suddenly become aware of how petulant he looked, he let his features soften before he continued. “Let me know that you got them okay. It’s not like we can’t still be civil, right? You know where to reach me.”
With a soft beep, his image disappeared.
Dalera was unimpressed. “Make up your damn mind,” she grumbled at the blank screen.
Since he’d walked out on her, Airion had left a handful of such messages, although the last one had been almost a month ago. Sometimes she thought he wanted to come back to her, while other times she was sure he did it just to tick her off. Tonight she didn’t care either way.
With a wave of her hand, Dalera turned out the lights as she walked back toward her bedroom and began stripping off her clothes. She stepped into the shower, and the water immediately turned on at its preset temperature. The high-pressure jets massaged her from different angles. When she was done, she threw on something comfortable and made her way to the kitchen.
Drawing on her limited culinary skill, she heated a meal for herself and sat down to eat it while poring over the reports on her computer tablet. Making sure to keep at least one finger clean, she touched the screen. After scrolling through the data, she had to shuffle a few things around.
When she got to the file Radek had given her, her mind began to wander, but she did her best to concentrate so she could help him out. As anticipated, the problem was in the conversions, and a quick recalculation soon solved the dilemma. For someone who looked at trading reports all day, it was easy to fix, but she knew it would have taken him a long time.
“I wonder how he’ll make it up to me.” She’d already thought of some interesting possibilities.
On that note, she finished up and headed to bed. The empty space beside her seemed especially cold tonight, so she wound up staring at the ceiling, doing that most dangerous activity of all: thinking.
Although Dalera wasn’t even thirty yet, her father had been on her case for a long time now about settling down. Since he and her mother had gotten married when they were twenty-one, he felt like she was overdue. He never wasted an opportunity to point out that she made more than enough credits to support a husband. It didn’t help that her younger sister, Cassi, was already celebrating her fourth anniversary and was expecting a baby.
What was she supposed to do? You didn’t meet nice boys in bars, and she wasn’t really sure where to go. She’d met Airion through a mutual friend, but look where that had landed her. After living with her for a year and a half, he’d suddenly told her she wasn’t meeting his needs, and he wanted someone who would really commit to him. All right, so maybe “suddenly” wasn’t an accurate word. In all fairness, there’d been plenty of signs along the way, but it had still been a shock. The worst part was that he was right. She’d asked him to move in with her because they’d reached a plateau in their relationship, but she couldn’t bring herself to propose to him. Deep down, she knew he wasn’t the right one.
Of course, that was the great universal problem: how do you find the right one? In her secret fantasies, she dreamed of an exotic stud. She wanted a big, feisty man--someone adventurous like her father had been in his younger years--not one of the usual, tame boys so abundant on Pandora II. Just the thought made her blush because she knew what that meant.
What she really wanted was someone like Radek Tyler.
The only problem was that she wasn’t supposed to want an off-worlder. She’d learned that a long time ago from one of the few female teachers at her school. Besides teaching Advanced Mathematics, Ms. Satu delivered the sex-ed lecture for the girls. Once she’d finished going over the mechanics, she’d made it very clear what society dictated for women of her social standing: “A gentlewoman
,” she’d announced, “never strays from those appropriate to her position and circle. You may learn to please men, but you must always think before you act
In other words, don’t just jump anything that moves, and aside from a little fun, stick to those men who fit into your preconstructed world. That certainly left off-worlders out, which meant that Dalera’s fantasies would have to stay in her head.
So far, she’d tried to make the most of her life as a bachelorette, but maybe it really was time to settle down. If she kept working hard, she could meet a nice local boy, marry him, and support him and any children they might have. That sounded great, didn’t it?
She tried to make herself believe it, but somehow her heart just wouldn’t respond. The quiet family life held no appeal for her when pitted against the temptation of a steamy love affair. If only some part of her wasn’t so lonely, she could have told herself she was better off as a player.
* * *
Radek walked into work the next day and went in search of Aster. A mediator for the consulate, Aster was one of the few Pandoran men who didn’t think Radek was a slut just because he was sexually independent. Since starting work at the consulate, Radek had been on this planet for nearly eight months now, but he still couldn’t adapt to the way of life here.
Unlike on his home planet, the women on Pandora II were sexually aggressive and nearly as strong as he was. While he’d found their advances exciting at first, he’d come to realize just how different their cultures really were. In addition to plying him with drinks and cheap one-liners, the women here always wanted to be on top. He’d discovered the hard way that they didn’t appreciate his style of lovemaking.
His last date had been the worst. After a nice dinner, he’d taken her home and gotten her naked in bed. Things were heating up, she was wet, and Radek had just started to ease her thighs apart and dock his rocket when wham
! She punched him right in the eye and sent him tumbling off the side of the mattress. He was too busy trying to control his temper to understand everything she yelled at him, but he gathered that the missionary position here was considered extremely risque.
It had now been almost a month since that incident, and Radek was more than a little frustrated. All he wanted was for someone to let him take the lead once in a while, but that was proving difficult. Although he was game for a certain amount of experimentation, he had too much piss and vinegar in his veins to be forever submissive. Perhaps that was what had made him think of Dalera.
She had to be one of the sexiest women Radek had ever seen. He’d first met her when the consulate had arranged for him and some of his fellow diplomats to tour a handful of the more prestigious businesses on planet. The idea had been to get a feel for the commerce system, but he’d been bored out of his mind by most of what he’d seen: maps of shipping lanes, stats, labeling systems, etc. Then they’d passed through the upper levels of the Intergalactic Trading Company, and he’d met her.
Dalera was a tall, busty blonde with long, tight legs and a backside he wanted to bite into. Her face was finely crafted to accentuate her blue eyes, and just looking at her lips made him wet his.
When Radek had offered his hand, he’d received a firm, but not crushing, handshake in return, which was a relief after dealing with some of the executive women on planet. Dalera’s voice was strong and clear but quite a bit sweeter than many of the others he’d heard, and she had the prettiest smile.
Economic discrepancies aside, he’d really gone to her office yesterday just to see her. Unless he was deluding himself, he felt like they’d shared a connection during their brief meeting, and he could tell she was something special. Although she was certainly a sexually healthy young woman, she hadn’t tried to make a pass, and she was one of the few women who hadn’t treated him like some kind of walking boy toy or eye candy. He just had to find out if there was a reason for that.
It was possible she was already in a relationship. After all, the inhabitants of Pandora II were no more promiscuous than the people of his planet: some slept around, some were monogamous, and everyone had their different tastes. Even so, he felt like there was some chemistry between them.
He spotted the man he was looking for. “Hey, Aster.”
The short redhead turned to greet him. “Radek, how are you?”
“Just fine. I was hoping to find you here.” Radek tried to sound nonchalant. “So, yesterday I stopped by the Intergalactic Trading Company, and Dalera Adorea agreed to take a look at something for me. She seems really nice.” He cleared his throat. “Do you know anything personal about her?”
Of all the reactions he might have gotten, the response Aster gave him was the least expected. The man actually giggled.
Radek had heard plenty of snickers and chuckles in his lifetime, but he’d never heard a grown man giggle. Although he tried to remind himself that he was a sophisticated man of the universe, this actually disturbed him quite a bit.
“You think she’s cute, huh?” Aster teased him with a big smile on his face. “What are you going to do, go drape yourself over her desk? Make eyes at her?”
Radek attempted a casual shrug while he checked his temper. “No, I was thinking of asking her out.”
“Really?” Aster squeaked in disbelief. “Boy, you are bold. But then, that’s how men really act on your planet, huh? I keep forgetting you’re an off-worlder.”
Despite himself, Radek smiled. This last statement was a high compliment, and it was nice to feel accepted. He had to keep reminding himself not to be so ethnocentric.
“I just want to know if she’s seeing anybody,” he explained. “Is she free, or does she already have somebody? Is there a Mr. Adorea?”
For a moment, he was worried that Aster was going to start giggling again, but the man’s voice remained level.
“No, you’re in luck,” he declared. “Ms. Adorea isn’t married, and she just broke up with her live-in a few months ago. I have it on good authority from her secretary, who’s been dropping stuff just so he can bend over and shake his backside at her. Every man in that office would love for her to ask him out, but she’s very professional. She conducts herself like a perfect gentlewoman.”
Radek grinned. This was good news. If she was free, then he could ask her out and maybe see where things led. He even had the perfect excuse to go see her again.
“Thanks,” he told his friend quickly as he headed toward his office. He was already envisioning the meeting.