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Star Diplomacy

Star Diplomacy

Genre: SciFi space opera romance

Character of Stone with bare, striped chest, wearing military gear and combat pants. From Star Diplomacy, a free SciFi space opera short story.

A short story sequel to Falling Stars.

Time was running out.

Stone could feel the grains of sand dwindling, disappearing swiftly through the neck of the hourglass. The pace was steady, and the pressure was mounting. Terrene and Maelstrom were on the verge of war. Hostilities were high. Aggressions had been taken. The only thing left was for someone official to update the status of their interplanetary relationship.

Yet here he was, ready to give diplomacy one last shot.

He straightened the sleeves of his dress uniform and smoothed back his salt-and-pepper hair. He was always on his toes when negotiating with the Maelstromian ambassador, but there was no predicting the tactics she’d take this time. They’d had several talks since tensions had begun to escalate, and he’d always found her to be adaptable, smart, creative, beautiful

“Are you ready, sir?” the leader of his security detail asked.

Stone pulled his thoughts back on track. He needed to remember that Maelstromians took their cues from their water planet—and that water could also be angry, punishing, and relentless. His Terrenes were certainly already at that point. These talks weren’t going to be easy.

He gave a nod, and the soldier opened the door.

The guard on point went in first, automatically evaluating the room for threats. He did the same, even though the all-clear had been given. Old soldier, old habits. They were meeting in a hotel conference room, and the Maelstromian contingent was already present. He mapped out the personnel in his head and finally focused on his counterpart.

He’d known where she was the moment he’d stepped into the room.

“Colonel Evren,” the facilitator said, announcing his arrival.

The Maelstromian ambassador flinched as if caught by surprise. She turned swiftly, and her colorful skirt flared. Her eyes were wide when they locked with his, and Stone stopped where he stood.

Beautiful. He’d gotten that right.

The material of her dress swung like a pendulum against her legs before settling into place, but the look in her eyes lasted a split-second longer. He frowned. What was that? Resolve? Uncertainty? Fear? Instinctively, he took a step forward, but the emotion quickly cleared.

He dipped his chin in acknowledgment. “Ambassador Nova.”

Of course, she was on edge. They were adversaries. He just usually hid his reaction to her better.

“Colonel,” she said, her voice smooth as a brook in a meadow. She straightened her spine. “I’m glad you’re finally here. We have much to discuss today.”

Stone kept himself from bristling. Terrenes were punctual. She was the one for whom schedules were fluid. “This was our agreed upon time.”

“Yes, of course.” Her cheeks turned a delicate pink. “I apologize.”

She gestured at the seating area in a move that made her voluminous sleeve pick up the swinging motion so recently displayed by her skirt. “Shall we get started?”

He watched her as they approached the table that had been set up for discussions. She was so different from the females on Terrene. Her wavy hair was unbound, and her dress was free flowing. She was sensuality incarnate, yet something was different about her today. Her grace was gone, and her steps toward the table seemed stiff.

“By all means,” he said. Her edginess was something he should watch… or take advantage of.

He approached the elaborately carved tabletop fountain, used to it enough now that it didn’t raise his eyebrows. Water spewed out of a colorful fish’s mouth and trailed down in a spiral to the moat. The ceremony was something he tolerated, but the frou-frou protocol meant something to her. He stuck his hands into the flow of water and turned them palms up as she’d taught him.

The ceremonial handwashing was supposed to symbolize starting fresh, a new beginning, yet she hesitated before reaching out.

He felt a warning prickle along his nerve endings. Before he could identify what was off, though, she thrust her hands into the water, dampening them and then placing them atop of his. They touched, palm-to-palm, and his thighs clenched reflexively. She bent her head, concentrating on what she was doing, and her light brown hair swung forward. It curtained her delicate face, but he could still see the pink in her cheeks.

Her fingertips rested atop his wrists, and his pulse pounded. Even knowing it was coming, his thoughts went topsy-turvy when her touch stroked over the balls of his hands… the sensitive bowls of his palms… and, finally, along his fingers up to the very tips.

Ember. Such simple contact. So slight, but it hit him like a boulder every time.

He gritted his teeth when she broke contact, but then she presented her palms to him—offering up her vulnerability, showing her trust.

Touch her? Yes, ma’am.

He ran his hands through the stream of water again and settled them over hers. Her skin was warm, and she flinched when a droplet of water escaped from his fingertip to run along her wrist. The sound she made was soft, but he glanced at her quickly. A sheen of sweat glistened on her upper lip.

He flicked away the renegade droplet on her wrist, but she pulled away before he could complete the ritual. Grabbing the towel on her side of the table, she whisked away the moisture until she was almost scrubbing at her skin.

His fingers curled into his towel. He could deal with rigid negotiators, and he was even better at handling duplicitous manipulators. She was neither, but trying to negotiate with a hard-on just wasn’t fair.

He tossed the towel back at the table, and it skidded across the polished surface until it tipped into the moat of the fountain. The fabric gobbled up the moisture until it was sopping. The ambassador averted her eyes from the mess, but surreptitiously blotted the moisture from her top lip before turning to the negotiating table.

Moving purposefully, Stone pulled back her chair for her before her aide could do it. The male lifted an eyebrow, but he stepped back from the table when Stone shot him a glare. The Maelstromians had their protocols; so did the Terrenes. Once she was seated, he sat down across from her so they were eye-to-eye.

And then they got into it.

“You attacked us,” she said, her voice lifting. “The peace accord on Maelstrom was an ambush.”

His attention narrowed. So this was what Maelstromians were like when they reached the limits of their adaptability. He’d never expected a water-world female to be fiery. “None of us know what happened at the peace accord, because you’ve been blocking communication transmissions from the Storm Chaser.”

“Our ship that your King’s Guard stole.”

“Commandeered—along with the Sciroccons—because a mob of Maelstromians reportedly overtook theirs.”

“Well, we want it back.”

She smacked her hand atop the table, making Stone pull back and at least two Terrene guards move forward. He held them at bay, flashing the hand signal to hold.

“Along with your king,” she said as she pushed back her chair and stood.

“That’s a non-starter.” He rose right along with her, and the Maelstromian guards weren’t as restrained. His hand automatically went to the laser gun he carried at his hip, but it wasn’t there. Because he wasn’t a soldier anymore.

Retirement didn’t take away the instincts. He looked her over, even though he knew she’d been scanned for weapons upon entry just like he had. She was standing wrong for an attack. She faced him straight-on with her chest heaving and her hands curled into fists with her thumbs tucked inside.

Unlike him, she didn’t know how to fight—but that didn’t mean she wasn’t fighting mad.

“Please, please,” the facilitator said. “Let’s have calm.”

Stone didn’t even look at the man. He was confounded by the behavior of the woman who’d just washed his hands… and given him that gift of a sparking hourglass filled with sand from a Maelstromian beach. “Ambassador, need I remind you that you’re on the planet of Terrene and your ship, The Deluge, isn’t here to protect you anymore?”

“Is that a threat?” she hissed. Her wavy hair swung as she stepped right up to him and lifted her chin.

“Hold on now,” the facilitator warned.

Stone paid him no attention as he lowered his head so their lips nearly touched. He could feel the heat radiating off her and the snap of chaotic energy. “The Deluge held our city of Turfox captive for days. I can hold the military back, but I can’t promise you that civilians won’t want payback for that.”

That was what had started all of this. People weren’t talking through their differences anymore. Tempers had been flaring out of control—on Terrene and on all the planets.

“The Maelstromian embassy is on protected diplomatic turf.”

“We’re not at the embassy.”

Her pretty eyes flared.

“You need to go,” he told her quietly, willing her to listen to him. “Get off planet as soon as you can. It’s not safe here for you anymore, Ambassador.”

That look that he’d seen when he’d first entered the room flashed over her face again, and he felt the brush of her hand against his. Almost as if she’d reached out…

But then she pulled back. “We’re through here. You’re obviously not willing to negotiate. Our talks are done.”

“Because we won’t do what you’re ordering us to do?” Stone cocked his head. “Drop the communication blockade. Once we hear from the Storm Chaser what happened, we can have more reasonable discussions.”

“I said that we’re done.”

* * *

Stone headed back to the land skimmer, pissed off, frustrated, and uneasy. Something had happened back there, something he didn’t understand. When had the female gotten that unreasonable?  He knew she could be stubborn as a lume, but she’d usually work with him. She was the one who’d come at things from different angles when he’d hold fast to the same approach.

Water always found a way. Wasn’t that the saying?

But her whole energy had been off.

And the fact that he was analyzing something as woo-woo as someone else’s “energy” showed just how far she’d gotten inside his head.

He jerked off the dress jacket of his uniform and threw it into the back seat of the skimmer. It stripped him down to the black T-shirt he wore underneath, exposing the stripes on his arms. There. That was how far from woo-woo he was. He was a Terrene, and he could feel the fight coming, deep in his weary bones. A soldier always knew.

He grabbed his laser pistol out of the compartment in the skimmer’s door and strapped on the holster. He secured the tie around his thigh and tucked his knife into another holster at his ankle.

“Ready, sir?”

He stretched his neck to the side until he heard a pop. “Affirmative. Let’s get back to the base.”

He was a diplomat now, but he wasn’t going around unarmed. Not with the way things were ready to pop.

The driver fired up the skimmer, and Stone replayed the negotiations in his head as if it had been a battle. What could he have said differently? What signs might he have missed? That look in her eyes. What the ember had that meant?

Outside on the streets, they passed a fight amongst neighbors. A worse one between street vendors made them pull aside to stop it.

They were just getting back into the vehicle when a communication came over the airwaves, startling everyone. It wasn’t only because channels had been watered down by the Maelstromians for days, and this one was crystal clear. It was also because it came from everywhere.

“What is that?” the driver asked, turning up the volume on the communicator in the skimmer.

The street vendors stopped their squabbling, one to look at his wrist communicator and the other one to scowl at the loudspeaker at the city intersection.

“Quiet down,” Stone ordered. All-channel broadcasts were used only for emergencies.

“Citizens of the Akasha system, this is President Caelestis of Scirocco, coming to you with King Starsun of Terrene and Chieftess Sitora of Maelstrom.”

Their king. The security detail straightened up fast.

There was the sound of an explosion in the background, and President Caelestis continued in a rush. “We had a joint message prepared for you, but we are currently under fire, so this will be short. Violence has been taking over our solar system with fights between planets, amongst neighbors, and even between family members. We, the leaders of your planets, are reaching out today because we believe we have found a cause. It’s not hatred or aggression or politically motivated, but a malady. A medical issue. Repeat. We have reason to believe the cause for all the fighting is a medical issue.”

Another voice came over the comm channel. “Symptoms include high body temperature, erratic thoughts, and a loss of control. But we also believe we have found a cure.”

A sickness? That was the reason for the craziness that had gripped their planets? All the anger and violence?

The leaders continued to communicate the treatment, but Stone got stuck on the symptoms.

A fever.

He tapped his thumb against the skimmer’s door handle. That chaotic energy…. The slap against the tabletop… He remembered warm fingers sliding over his skin… pink cheeks… dampness on a full, trembling upper lip…


The driver turned in his seat. “Excuse me, sir?”

“The Ambassador.” She was afflicted. Stone jackknifed forward to turn up the volume. He’d known something was wrong. What was the cure? “Take us to the Maelstromian embassy—and floor it.”

* * *

Misty rocked back and forth on the sofa as she tried to figure out what to do next. She was so angry, so blazing incensed, she couldn’t think straight. And it scared her. She prided herself on her logic. On her ability to navigate through tricky situations and use her diplomatic skills to represent her planet. She liked figuring out what made people tick, what their motivations were, and how to connect with them.

Yet what had she just done?

She’d pushed the colonel even closer to war.

Although the Terrenes did deserve to get their butts kicked.

Char. That was not her way. None of this was her way.

Spearing her fingers into her hair, she lifted the mass of curls off her neck, trying to find relief from the heat.

She knew better than to push that male. She’d have just about as much luck pushing against a slab of granite. Colonel Evren was Terrene through and through:  gruff, battle-hardened, rigid… and sexy as all get out.

Ember’s bells. She shot to her feet. She was supposed to stay sharp in order to keep up with that military brain—not be tripped her up by those blue, blue eyes and the predatory way he moved.

She began to pace. What should she do? Schedule another round of talks once she calmed down? Head for the spaceport like he’d suggested? Maelstromians didn’t run away; they swam.

The smile pulling at her lips felt unnatural, and the laugh that escaped her sounded unhinged.

“Ma’am!” She flinched in surprise when her aide rushed into the room. “There’s a problem at the front gate.”

“The gate?” The humor drained out of her. “Rioters?”

Had he been right?

“It’s the colonel. He’s demanding to see you.”

Her stomach dropped. Evren had come here? “I told him that negotiations were over.”

“I don’t think he listened.”

They hurried to the room across the hall where they could see the front gate from the windows. The Terrenes were definitely here, with their colonel front and center.

Only he didn’t look like a distinguished diplomat anymore. This version of him wasn’t nearly as tamed. He was armed and dressed for battle. His hair might be streaked with silver, but his body was still strong and honed. Her gaze stuck on his muscled arms, all striped and primitive, and her knees went a little wobbly.

But then she realized he was arguing with her guards. He was trying to gain access to embassy grounds.

Anger imploded inside her chest. He hadn’t gotten his way at the negotiating table, so this was his next move?

“If he aggresses here, on Maelstrom ground—” She pulled away from the window with a gasp when he suddenly did just that. One moment he was talking to the guard, and the next, he had the male on the ground. He’d moved so quickly, it had been a blur, and his unit followed his lead.

She saw him reach into the guard shack, and the gate begin to lift.

She realized then how fragile the embassy’s security really was. Her Maelstromian forces couldn’t match the Terrenes on land. On the seas, the situation would be reversed, but that didn’t help her now.

“How dare he do this,” she hissed. “The Interplanetary Council will have his head.”

She spun on her heel when the front door to the embassy banged open.

“Misty.” The voice roaring up from the first floor could only be that of one person.

“Ma’am, we need to hide you,” her aide whispered frantically. “The transporter. We can get you down to the water where you can stay ahead of them.”

“No,” she said, balling her hands into fists. Her rage was nearly consuming her. “I’ll talk to him. I won’t allow him to hurt anyone else.”

“Where is she?” the male voice downstairs called. “Point me to her. I come in peace.”

Peace? She stomped out to the landing and leaned over the railing of the staircase. “I didn’t invite you into my home, you sparking land grubber.”

Her aide let out a gasp.

And then the colonel was there, shielding himself against the banister as looked upwards to find her. “That wasn’t very nice,” he said with a grumble. “Not when I came all this way to help you.”

“Help me?” she yelled. “You just shot my guards and broke into my residence.”

He began to ease his way up the steps with his weapon in hand. “Technically, I didn’t shoot your guards, I stunned them, and I’m not breaking in. I’m riding to the rescue.”

“This is the Maelstrom embassy. You aren’t allowed in here. Period. Not even to… to… put out a fire.”

“Interesting choice of words. Does it feel warm in here to you, Ambassador?”

“What?” Her head twitched. “Stop pointing that thing at him.”

Evren stepped onto the landing, his footsteps not even registering in her pounding head. He looked big and intimidating, but there was a look in his blue eyes. Blue as the ocean depths…

He tucked away his weapon. “How are you feeling, Misty?”

“A little testy, I’ve got to admit.” Especially with him saying her name like that. “What are you doing here, Colonel?”

“You seemed out of sorts during our talk earlier today. It concerned me.” He settled his hands on his hips, making his chest seem wider. What did the stripes there look like, she wondered. Just as swiftly, she wiped the thought away from her mind with a brush of her hand across her forehead.

Her fingers came away damp.

“Did you hear the broadcast?” he asked.

“Of course, I heard the broadcast.” Irritation made her stand straighter. “Your king turned himself over to my people, just like I asked you to do.”

Only he wasn’t looking at her. He’d asked the question of her aide.

“Uh… Yes, sir. Colonel, sir,” the male responded.

“Doesn’t look like you’ve tried the treatment.”

“We… uh… The staff has been trying to figure out how to broach the subject.”

“So, I’m not wrong?”

The aide dropped his gaze. “No, sir.”

Misty’s head snapped around. The treatment? For the heat sickness? “Who’s ill? Why wasn’t I told?”

She took two steps back when both males looked at her.

“Where are her quarters?” the colonel asked.

“Right across the hall, sir.” The aide caved faster than he had during the diplomacy talks when the Terrene had insisted on pulling out her chair for her.

Which had made Misty feel all fluttery inside…

She was feeling none of that now.

“Go get as much ice as you can find,” Colonel Evren ordered. “Put it outside her door.”

He took a step forward. “I’ll take it from here.”

“But sir, I don’t know if I should leave her… with you…”

The enemy.

The colonel narrowed his blue eyes. “Nobody’s taking care of her but me.”

Misty whipped her hand out and pointed at the aide. “Don’t you dare.”

“Yes, colonel.” He was already gone and bounding down the staircase.

Evren took another step, and she swung her finger around towards him. “You are in so much trouble, breaking all these rules.”

“I know,” he said quietly, “but it’s you.”

When she exploded at him, choosing fight over flight, he was ready. She lunged at him, throwing her fists at his chest, but he just caught her up more tightly. She wiggled and shoved, stomped and kicked, but there was no breaking the bond of his strong arms.

“Easy, love,” he murmured as he swung her up into his arms. “I’ve got you.”

Stone carried Misty into her private suite and kicked the door shut behind them.

“What are you doing?” she asked as she wiggled and pushed.

She felt warm against him, too warm, but he wasn’t putting her down. “We need to get your fever to break.”

“How are you planning on doing that?”

She began to squirm harder, and he hefted her up higher. Her weight was comfortable in his arms, but her soft curves were distracting.

She obviously hadn’t listened to the broadcast well, and it made him even more concerned. That communique had contained vital information she needed to know—both about the heat sickness and the state of affairs in the solar system.

He looked at her uplifted face and felt his chest tighten. So pretty and delicate, but sweat dampened her hair at her temples. How tight of a hold did this thing have on her? “Something you’ll like,” he said. “A dip in some cool water.”


If he hadn’t picked up on the signs before, he would have now. The unease in her voice was all wrong for a Maelstromian.

The next room was a bedroom, and his body tightened when he realized it was hers. Turning into it, he carried her straight to the master bathroom. He was in her private space, and they were alone for the first time. No aides, no facilitators, and no guards. The intimacy was palpable, but this wasn’t the way he’d wanted it to be.

He put her down and blocked the path to the door as he began to run cold water into the tub.

She took a step back. “There’s no need for this.”

“You’re overheated. I can feel it coming off you in waves.” He unhooked his gun belt and set it on the vanity. “Go ahead and strip down. It will be ready soon.”

Her eyes widened, and she let out a hiss when water splashed from the faucet onto her arm. She rubbed it frantically, and he frowned.

A Maelstromian with an aversion to water?

“No!” she cried as she darted for the door. He caught her by looping an arm around her waist. She began truly fighting him then, desperate to get away from what the sickness knew was coming.

“I’m sorry,” he said, pressing his lips to her ear. She kicked and clawed as he pulled her towards the tub. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She let out another cry that nearly rent his heart in two.

“Let me go.”

There was no time to get the ice, and he wasn’t going to dump her in or hold her down. Instead, he did the only thing he could think of.  Picking her up off her feet, he walked them backwards to the nearly full tub. Bracing himself, he sat down on the edge.

And then he slid in, clothes and all, with her writhing in his arms.

All ember broke loose the moment cold water enveloped her. And it was cold. Teeth-setting cold. Stone tucked her up against him as she bucked and twisted, letting out shrieks and curses. He held onto her tighter, even though he knew his body heat would only extend the ordeal.

Cold water splashed over the edge and pooled on the floor. He turned off the spigot with his foot and braced his boots against the edge of the tub to try to keep them dry. All the while, she fought and lurched against him.

“Ahhh,” she cried.

“Just let it work. It will be over soon.”

Her dress was soaked and clinging to her curves, and her hair hung in wet, tight ringlets. She twisted again, trying to leverage herself away from him. A towel smacked against the floor when she dislodged it. Splaying her fingers wide, she tried to latch on to the towel rack.

He reached up quickly to stop her and pressed his larger hand against hers, lining up their palms and their fingers. Her hand trembled rigidly until she laced her fingers through his and caught on tight.

He folded his fingers around hers and held on.

She curled into him then, tucking her face into his neck. Relief poured through him. She was still in there; she knew he was trying to help. Shudders went through his body. The cold was affecting him, too, but he held on for all he was worth. He’d been trained to withstand discomfort; she hadn’t.

She twitched and moaned and let out an uncharacteristic curse. Water splattered every time she hit at it, making her more upset. The tub was barely big enough for two, and he felt every move she made. But over time, the fight drained out of her, and she sagged against him more heavily.

It scared him. The communique from their leaders had been quick and sorely lacking in details. Was the treatment known to be so challenging? Had he done more harm than good? Would she hate him forever?

After what seemed like an eternity, he felt her stir again, and his heart jumped. With a numb finger, he lifted her face. Water dripped off her chin, and her hair hung in tangles around her shoulders, but her eyes were clear. The flush was gone from her face.


They’d better be on a first name basis now. “Yeah?”

“I think I’m okay now.”

He dropped his head back over the rim of the tub. “Thank the heavens.”

“Can we get out of here now?” Her hand lit on his chest. “I think you’ve had enough.”

I’ve had enough?”

“I’m used to cold water.” She rubbed her thumb along his where they still held hands. He hadn’t noticed, but his skin was dangerously pale. She dropped her gaze. “Just not when I have the heat sickness.”

His heart thumped. There she was, the calm, sweet, easy-energy female who’d enthralled him. His chest tightened. “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

Together, they clamored out of the tub and grabbed towels. When she started trying to dry herself through her sopping dress, though, he’d had enough. He caught the clinging material, peeled it off her, and tossed it aside.

It hit the floor with a wet smack.

Much like the thoughts that hit his brain when he looked at her. He went stock still. She was spectacular, all lush curves and long legs. Legs she was trying to hide. She lowered her towel to cover them, but not before he saw iridescent scales. His gaze snapped up.

The flush on her face had nothing to do with a fever.

“Maelstromian,” she whispered.

He caught his wet T-shirt with both hands and tore it over his head. He started to breathe more heavily when she looked, wide-eyed, at the stripes on his chest and arms. “Terrene.”

She stepped towards him, and his gaze dropped to her full breasts… and the necklace with a teardrop-shaped turquoise stone that nestled between them. He caught it.

“You kept it,” he said as the backs of his fingers brushed against her curves.

“I wear it every day.”

Close to her skin, away from where anyone else might see and question it.

Holding tight to the “diplomatic” gift he’d given her, he pulled her closer. Their gazes connected. Heated. And then they were kissing each other as if there were no tomorrow.

Misty pressed her body tightly against Stone as he wrapped his arms around her. He was chilled to the bone, and she tried to share her body heat with him—her non-fevered body heat. Her breasts plumped against his chest, and her nipples pulled tight.

He’d come for her.

She hadn’t even known she’d needed him, but the by-the-books diplomat had broken every rule to get to her.

“Thank you,” she said. She ran kisses down his neck to his heart. The stripes that encircled him came to sharp points along his muscled midriff, and she had to touch. “Thank you for helping me.”

He wrapped his hand around the nape of her neck. “I knew you weren’t yourself.”


“Your energy was wrong.”

Surprise bloomed in her chest. He wasn’t an energy-reading kind of guy. She looked up into his face.

“You weren’t my Misty.”

He had her. The master negotiator had her.

She pressed her lips to his chest and licked a bead of water off his skin, and then another.

He shuddered, and she began pulling him out of the soggy, cold bathroom to her bedroom. She blindly reached for a towel and began to rub it over him vigorously. He grabbed another and began blotting her hair.

She kissed him again.

With a flurry of towels and wet clothes, they stumbled out of the bathroom, unable to stop touching one another as they headed for the bed. They tugged at wet clothes and pushed at laced-up boots until they were both naked. When he yanked back the covers, she crawled in and pulled at his hand for him to follow.

He dove in, and she pulled the comforter all the way up to his head. It tented over him as he stretched out atop of her. His muscled body was lean but heavy. His legs tangled with hers, and she felt the bump of his erection.

That was already hot and hard.

She dug her fingers into his back. She’d wanted him here for so long.

“If it makes you feel any better, my head would go foggy every time I looked at you from across the negotiating table,” he said.

“I didn’t notice.”

“Yeah, you did.”

He scooted lower, and she arched as he ran kisses down her neck. He continued along her breastbone to that spot where her necklace lay.

“Were you wearing this the entire time?”

She bit her lip. “Mm hm.”

Her nipples beaded hard when his warm breaths hit the stone and her skin beneath it. Yet she wasn’t ready when his tongue darted out over her nipple.

“Oh!” she cried. He closed his mouth over her and began to suckle until she was twisting and raking her fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair. She sucked in gulps of air when he went back to the necklace, but then he was at her other breast, taking his fill. “Stone!”

His erection was swelling and prodding at her core. Lifting her legs, she wrapped them around his waist.

He groaned when she squeezed.

“Holy heavens.” He moved until he was above her once more. “If I’d known it would be like this, I would have broken the rules before.”

“Me, too,” she said, her voice nearly humming.

He caught her hand and placed it so it rested palm-up on the pillow next to her head. A sound left her throat when his fingertips grazed over the ball of her hand… the sensitive bowl of her palm… and finally, along her fingers up to the very tips. They were touching intimately from head to toe, but the simple caress made her heart tumble over itself.

He raised an eyebrow, and she knew what he wanted.

She lifted her other hand and rested it on the pillow on the other side of her head. He did the same thing, brushing her skin ever-so-softly, titillating her and arousing her until she could barely stand it.

“You didn’t let me finish earlier today,” he said.

He laced his fingers with hers at either side of her head, and then she was captured by her Terrene lover, who held on as tightly as she did..

“This time, I’m going to finish.”

Misty let out a cry of pleasure when he thrust into her, deep and true. And then again. And again.

His mouth came down on hers in a ravenous kiss as he fucked her under the covers. Their bodies sealed together, moving as one, as she took him deeply.

Heat built between them. Sweat slickened their skin.

But the fever here was of their own making.

“I got hard every time you made me do that ceremony,” he said, his words choppy and rushed.

“I got wet.”

‘I knew it.” He dipped his head, and her breasts shuddered as his thrusts became heavier. More urgent. “I knew it.”

Their fingers intertwined, and suction kept their palms tight. Misty was pinned in place, but there was nowhere else she wanted to be than here. His stripes moved with every flex of his muscles, and the sight was so erotic she felt her energy rising. Their spirits intertwining. And then the rush went through her, sweeping her away on a tide of bliss.

Her thighs clenched spasmodically against Stone’s hips, and he let out a shout.

His body jerked, and she felt him coming. Her neck arched against the pillow.

An after-tremor rocked them both, but, at last, his weight dropped onto her. He kissed her temple, rubbed his legs against hers, and then eased out of her. Sweat covered his brow, and a flush of color ran under his skin.

She worked her hand free of his to brush back his hair. She’d been dying to run her fingers through it forever. “Chill gone?”

He smiled, stunning her, and kissed her.

“I didn’t know Terrene soldiers could smile,” she said, “especially grumpy diplomatic types who play things close to the vest.”

“I think we’ve always communicated just fine,” he said as he settled down beside her and wrapped an arm around her waist.

She lifted her head off the pillow when she heard the clang of an ice bucket hitting the floor outside her suite.

“A little late for that,” Stone muttered.

She looked at him. “What are we going to tell everyone? We can’t be involved if we’re diplomats from different planets. The conflict of interest.”

“Wanna bet?” He propped himself up onto an elbow. “I’ll tell you exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to follow the example of our leaders. We’re going to have a press conference later today to tell them that you were afflicted with the heat sickness, and that we used the treatment to cure you.”

She caught on. “If the two of us can help each other, so can our citizens.”

He nodded.

She blushed. “Maybe we should leave the sex part out of it.”

“I don’t see why.” He brushed his lips over hers. “We’ll just call it diplomatic relations because you and I are going to be involved. It’s in the best of both our interests.”

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