I STARED at his arm so tightly coiled around me, running my eyes down his bulging veins and the thick patch of hair covering dark skin. I liked bears as much as any other type, but Adam wasn’t doing it for me. His dick bulged in his pants beautifully and I found no reason at all not to give it a shot—again. Precisely because I had known even before undressing it wouldn’t work out, though he felt good enough buried inside me. He was trying hard. They always did. The less I responded, the harder they tried. Pounding someone into the middle of next week wasn’t as fun if the receptacle of your pleasure didn’t show much of their own.
The feeling of him invading me wasn’t turning me on, not really. In a half-hard, sort of complacent lump, my dick dangled between my legs and my stomach, not quite there and not quite absentee—the irony of it wasn’t lost on me. My knees were buried deep in the mattress and my forehead dug into the pillow. I saw his legs framing mine. I felt his pulse quicken. It wasn’t going to take him long. My gaze darted for the window, a colorful motel sign with flickering lights outside drawing my attention. The sky was a wild navy, close to black, as the colorful lights blinked on and off. Black, deep black eyes flashed through my mind and my insides clenched painfully, my heart lurching in my chest. Adam grunted, the squeeze finally toppling him over. Boredom with my life threatened to manifest through a gut-deep sigh. It itched to erupt. I squished it back down at the last moment. He was a good guy and I liked hanging out with him. I even enjoyed letting him fuck me, since he seemed so happy to be able to. I wasn’t cruel enough to mention my limp dick, but it flapped all shriveled and numb between us, an unflinching obstacle in our way. He probably thought I had some medical issue; his eyes were kind and brimming with feeling as he held me afterward. I enjoyed that too, being held. I liked the taste of his mouth when he kissed me, the smell of his skin as I nibbled on his neck. I enjoyed his voice as he talked me to sleep, the sound of him laughing when I said one half-assed thing or another.
In the morning I’d wake to an empty room, a note on the nightstand saying something had come up. It was too hard for him to face my lack of response—in the heat of night it could be lost between dark shadows. It would be easier to pretend. The glory of morning was merciless, though. Could he do anything better? Was there something in particular that did it for me? No. Didn’t I find him attractive? Of course I did. It just wasn’t there… the infamous it always missing. It bothered him that he couldn’t be it for me, and I hated myself for my impotence to enjoy him. He really was a good guy. We were going to break up in a week or so at most. I was really good at telling when that moment came. It hung between us like a colorful sign we both pretended wasn’t there. And just before breaking up, he’d try harder than ever, just to be sure we’d given this thing all we could, because he really liked me. So I knew it was time, that time again.
I woke up to the empty motel room—no surprise there. The note rested neatly on the nightstand, elegant writing explaining one emergency or the other. I didn’t bother to read it, but he had beautiful longhand. I took the time to admire that. I’d keep it as a memento, probably. I liked mementoes of all my failed attempts at it. They grounded me. Slumped on the bed, the sticky sensation in my body finally pushed out that soul-deep sigh. A shower, a bit of a shave, and a bite of last night’s pizza later, the usual image of Rizzo Berg greeted me in the mirror. I smiled ruefully, slicking back my hair. In the morning it was easy to fight away the memory of deep black eyes. But at night there was nowhere to hide, so I’d find someone new to try and dissolve my memories into.
As soon as darkness would fall, another unsuspecting victim would be human padding for my shield against the deep black.
“SO, YOU’RE into hiking?”
I sighed. Hiking, for freak’s sake! I was a city guy. Asphalt jungle was the wildest I could do. The man was a nature freak, worst kind. I liked my comfort, thank you very much! I liked my sofa, my high-count sheets, my gadgets, plumbing—you know, the better part of civilization. Why would I ever want to fight for my sleeping space with a rat or something? Live and let live. You stick to your area, leave the wild to stick to its own.
I discreetly took out my cell and texted Gena. Call me NOW or die!!!! was not our regular S.O.S. signal, but she’d get the message. Sure enough, the fake emergency call came. Sadly, I had to run. Could he call me again sometime? Sure, he could. But I’d block his number on my way out of the restaurant. Who came to a restaurant date in khakis anyway? I hit speed dial and settled into the cab. It took Gena about thirty seconds to answer, and she was laughing already.
“Okay, lay it on me. Did he come wearing a clown nose?”
“Very funny. Khakis, Gena. Freaking khakis! And he’s a nature freak. Whatever were you thinking?”
Her annoying laughter burst from the phone. The cabby actually peeked at me, grinning too. What the hell was so funny? I frowned.
“Stop the cackling, woman, your kids are plenty traumatized as it is. What were you thinking when you set me up? Really, what sort of friend does that?”
Her annoying laughter sounded even louder. The cabby snickered. Well, buddy, bad news, no tip for you.
“If you don’t stop that I’m hanging up on you.”
“Okay, okay. See, Riz, the thing is I told him you’re a horrible person. Drop-dead gorgeous, but a horrible person. He wouldn’t hear of it. I think all that green has affected his brain or something.”
I snorted. “Even you think it’s freaky, admit it, and he’s your cousin. Who goes out in the wild to ‘experience the universe’? Seriously? Isn’t the universe going to stop by for tea and biscuits if you’re downtown? Jesus Christ.”
She burst out laughing again. So did the cabby.
I sighed. “Come over for beers to make it up to me. I don’t feel like contemplating this fiasco alone—you should share my misery.”
I needed not to spend the night alone, and I didn’t feel like making an emergency booty call.
A small sigh came from the other end of the conversation. “I’d love to, but Ben and the kids are doing pasta. Like, they’re cooking it themselves. Someone needs to be here and call the firefighters when they’re done.”
Yeah, family stuff. My best friend Gena wasn’t the carefree awesome friend I’d known since we were teens. She was a responsible awesome woman now, with a family, white picket fence, and the works. There’d been times when I felt like she had walked out on me somehow. Which was, by and large, my main interaction with people—them walking out on me, me walking out on them. Sob story unfolding, that was me.
“You should come over, Riz. I’ll make us something edible when they’re done with the impressionistic-slash-abstract cooking.”
Yeah, right. Because her kids and I mixed like oil and water. “No, thanks. I need to have a drink or something. Rain check, okay, honey?”
“Sure thing. Love you, heartless.”
I snorted. “Yeah, enough to sic nature freaks on me. Love you too, mini-me.”
Nicknames and jokes, and a lot of memory lane, pretty much all we had left from our wild days. Nowadays she had kids running around the house, and I had dates with strange specimens wearing khakis. Sigh. There had been a time when she would have dropped everything to keep me company during the night. But now she trusted me to fill that time on my own, most likely with some hot stud. It had grown harder and harder to do the whole keep-my-body-busy-so-I-can-kill-my-mind trick.
Another night spent alone on my sofa with a glass (or twenty) of wine. Much better company than freaks, I huffed. Really, the khakis wouldn’t have been that bad. They made his eyes stand out, anyway. The nature-freak factor was there, but I could have gone camping into oblivion if I had to. He just… didn’t have it. Why waste the time on dating a couple of weeks to arrive at that conclusion? It led to nothing but aggravation anyway. I’d already set up a foolproof method of picking out things that wouldn’t work out, and I just avoided the incoming fiascos. If it wasn’t it, it was time wasted, his and mine. Unless we were talking one-night stand, of course—then it was only my time wasted, which was the point of the whole thing, after all.
A bubble bath was due. The ridiculously bubbly sort, chilly and fluffy on top and melting hot at heart; it would be the perfect haven. I could almost feel my bones melt away into bubbly bliss. My mind wandered; it went there only for a moment. I pictured him sinking in the bathtub, tall and wide and intimidating—my comfort fantasy. His thick arms would break the foamy surface and beckon me with short and assured motions. He wouldn’t ask. He wouldn’t have to. At the slightest move of a hand, I’d fly to him, throw myself at his feet with abandon. The hot water would have nothing on the heat of his touch. I shivered, the crackling of bubbles bursting around me making him feel almost real. My hand slid slowly down abs and reached my groin. As always with my fantasy man, it was the best I’d ever had. The ghost of his black eyes cut my breath short. I had to pluck him out of my thoughts before real disaster would happen.
Sleep came easily after the hot bath. I fell unconscious as soon as my head hit the pillow.
SOMETHING poked me. I had no pets, so what could be poking? It better not be Dwight doing some romantic breaking and entering again. I was so calling the police on him. I tried to cuddle deeper into my comfy sheets, except they weren’t comfy at all. In fact, my hip seemed to be resting on all the comfy-ness of concrete. I cracked open my eyes. A lot of white, migraine-inducing amounts of brightness—I cringed. Nightmares, perfect. I hoped really hard it wouldn’t be the one where I was trapped inside a closed casket.
It was a metallic tone, inexpressive, with the annoyance factor of a GPS. I couldn’t fix my eyes on anything. It seemed to be all white in every direction. Color-coded nightmares, fabulous. But not the closed casket one, at least.
That voice was really getting annoying. I scrunched my face up in a frown, eyes squinting in the attempt to focus on anything around me.
“Get up. Now.”
GPS voice needed to die. “Fine! Fine. Control freak, much?”
It was odd to stand when you had no clue of your surroundings. I crouched first, going up slowly. I was wearing the pajama pants and tank top I had fallen asleep in. The fabrics felt real enough to me. Was it some sort of lucid dreaming? That would have sucked. I wasn’t into that whole “experiment in your sleep” thing. When you slept, you were away. If nature had made it that way, then it made perfect sense for me not to mess with it. Or else you wake up in a wacky white room with GPS voices giving you instructions. Maybe the wine had been spiked and I was tripping.
Yeah, right. “Not going to happen. It’s hard enough to stand as it is. Tone down the brightness, will you?”
Some clacking and chirping later, the place transformed. I did a three hundred and sixty check. Dirty white replaced the poke-your-corneas-out brilliance from earlier. It was some sort of floor I was on. My surroundings came complete with three same-color walls and glass on the fourth side. On the other side of the glass wall, though, there was my problem.
He was tall, a clear six-foot-four and then some, with unnaturally wide shoulders. It could have been the ridiculous uniform he wore. Nobody had shoulders like that. His torso was clad in the same sort of texture as his shoulders: slick black, looking almost plastic. Strong arms that weren’t bulging with muscles crossed over his chest. They were covered in a much finer fabric than his torso, a dark gray, and his legs… oh my! Long, lean legs, by the look of it. A sort of… skirt, really, of the same strange black plastic on his torso kissed his ankles, parted along both his legs. A patch of the gray peeked from under the partings. Wow. It was odd, but sort of sexy, in that Scottish kind of way. Would the wind blow the skirt up? It looked heavy. I grinned.
Obviously, GPS-boy had no manners. A weird fantasy for me to have, but then again I did have an overactive imagination.
I frowned. “If you think you’re going to check me out like that, with no effort, you’re in for a surprise, GPS-boy.”
He smirked. “‘GPS-boy’? That’s rich. You think I’m a disembodied voice here to help you make your bumbling way somewhere?”
Uhh, GPS-boy did humor. “Not disembodied enough, obviously. As far as fantasies go, this sucks, man. I’m just letting you know now so you can whip up some excitement from under that dress of yours.”
His eyebrow arched, perfectly elegant yet not quite handsome. There was something about him. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something that screamed danger. It called to me.
“Do I look like a fantasy?”
“Well, the dress is a strange touch. Not judging, don’t get me wrong. But this whole priest-on-the-go look isn’t doing much for me, you know what I mean? Don’t have that fetish.”
A few clacks later, the glass wall retreated into the ceiling. Neat trick.
“Rizzo Berg, twenty-five years old. Perfect health. I guess character wasn’t part of my algorithm. I need to adjust that for future research.”
Uuuh, the doctor fantasy. Kinky. “It’s rude to talk about a beauty’s age, you know? Didn’t they teach you that in Fantasy School?”
As he stepped closer, my body launched into autopilot and stepped back. All of a sudden I missed that glass wall. The skirt around him didn’t twist with his movements. It seemed solid, though it didn’t look thick. So it was some sort of armor, then. Blood rushed through me at high speed. It was his eyes that launched the auto-piloting, though. His gaze didn’t waver in the slightest. He was slowly, deliberately studying every inch of me, like I was a pair of new shoes he might be buying. The sense of being inspected sent my skin flaming.
“So what, are you taking me out for a test drive or not?”
His eyes snapped up to meet mine, freezing my blood in place. Forest green sliced through me, and with a simple glance, he had me completely frozen stiff. A prickly sensation went up my spine in slow crawls. This was certainly going to be exciting.
“Stop being difficult. I need to make sure you’re 100 percent healthy, Riz.”
I frowned. “Friends call me Riz. You, GPS-boy, don’t qualify.”
A small smile split his lips. They were thin lips on a small mouth. The rest of his face betrayed little to no information at all. He was pretty close to expressionless, except for the small burst I’d sassed out of him. Well, I just needed to sass him some more, then. Knowing nothing about your captor, fantasy or not, wasn’t a cool place to be. I was thinking so logically… was it really a dream or a hallucination?
“You’ve been teleported onto my ship. My porter wasn’t meant for humans. I need to check you’re all there.”
“Well, you should have checked before doing the tele-thingy. What if I’m missing a lung—or a ball? Not like you can pick one up and stick the part in now, can you?”
His clear eyes traveled over me again. “You look fine. Missing major parts would have become obvious by now. I can certainly think of one part you could have gone without, though.”
“Oh really? And that part would be…?”
Annoyance slapped me through his gaze. Cold yet intense, almost oppressive. If this guy was a figment of my imagination, I had been given some sort of upgrade in my sleep. A hallucination would never have that kind of gaze. My imagination just wouldn’t come up with that.
“We’ll just assume you’re fine, then. Won’t we, Riz?”
I sighed. “I hate to break this to you, GPS-boy, but we’re not friends yet. Try harder. I’m sure you can come up with something to bond over. Say, style and dresses.”
His lips twitched, but no smile came off it. “This is a regular Recuperator uniform. You’d do well to get used to it—there’ll be a lot of it around.”
“Okay, this is getting annoying now. If this is a dream, it’s high time I get up. You’ve completely killed my fantasy mood anyway.”
“You’re not dreaming. You’re on my ship, and I’m your Recuperator. From here until we reach the drop-off base, you’re my charge. After that, you’ll pester someone else. Behave, do as you’re told, and we’ll both get there with all parts in place.”
“Listen here, Skipper. Unless we’re sailing the Sea of Angst in your slinky sailboat, there’s no way I’m anywhere but in my bed having a weird dream. I’m not going with your plan here.”
His lips split in that small smile again. “About 80 percent of humans react like this to Recuperation. So you’re nothing special, Riz. Nothing I haven’t seen before. Let me enlighten you about your situation.”
I scoffed. “Sparky, you wouldn’t be able to enlighten if a light bulb was sticking out of your—”
He tsked. “Remember you’re my charge until drop-off. I decide if and when you eat, bathe, sleep. I’d advise you try to keep on my good side, though you probably wouldn’t be able to even if you wanted.”
“Ha. Ha. Really, stop it with the humor, it’s making my eyes shrivel up and die.”
He stepped closer, my autopilot driving me into the wall one step at a time. I tried to will my feet still but they just went on retreating me into a proverbial corner. When I had nowhere left to retreat to, the slick black of his torso almost touched my nose. My eardrums were pounding. The man was freakishly tall. I wasn’t a short guy, but he towered over me easily.
“If you won’t behave like a gentleman, I won’t be able to behave like a gentleman. So, Riz, tell me, how would you like this to go? The easy way—” He brought his lips to brush against the top of my ear, making me shiver. “—or the hard way? I’d have a lot of fun with the latter, though you might enjoy it considerably less than the alternative.”
A gush of air burst from my lungs. I would have certainly enjoyed the latter too.
“See, GPS-boy, now this looks more like a dream of mine. Does that skirt of yours come with a matching belt? A good spanking would be great.”
I felt more than heard him chuckle. His chest vibrated with it for a moment. Pinning me in place with that gaze of his, he retreated a couple of steps.
“Don’t tempt your luck, Riz. You might not like my version of a hard way.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re delectable when you go all hard, GPS-boy.”
His eyes flashed a brighter green just for a moment, stealing my breath. My whole body was pounding, throbbing from just one glance. My knees began to trickle away. Fuck me speechless, I was getting hard.
“I’m Conrad D’Ollet. Captain Conrad D’Ollet. You may call me Captain.”
“Oh no, Sparky. Maybe I’ll call you Connie. It sounds… fitting. Considering the skirt and all, I mean.”
His eyes squinted just a bit, but other than that his face remained quite clear.
“Your next meal will be when I decide you’ve gained some manners. Someone will come in for your Guidance.”
With a smooth move, he turned his back on me and walked away. Him walking was something to behold, decisive steps but unhurried. He exuded a level of confidence I hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him, and I did try. He was like a magnet.