Phoenix Rising
By Janet Lynne

Part 9

See Part 1 for disclaimers

-17-

Kara held her mate's hand as they passed the huge maintenance bays on their way to the inner sectors of the station. She slowed as they approached an open bay where a sleek cruiser sat.

"Wow, honey. Look at that," Kara murmured as she admired the lines of the fast looking, silver space yacht.

Devon grinned as she stood beside her lover. "You like that, huh?"

"It's beautiful. Looks fast, too."

"Oh, she is. Her twin engines can propel her to roughly four times the Phoenix's maximum velocity."

"Why is it so sleek? That doesn't matter in space."

"She's atmospheric, too. Cruises at mach ten. A very nice ship to have planetside."

"Mm, I'll bet." She grinned up at her mate. "Do you think you'd enjoy owning one like her?"

"Oh, yes. I plan to. Come on, babe. Our bath awaits." Devon urged her curious mate on, eager to get to their destination.

"You plan to? Devon, I don't think I can even comprehend how expensive a ship like that must be."

"About twice what I paid for the Phoenix," Devon reported matter-of-factly. "I've got nearly that much invested. This run will give me more than enough to buy a yacht like that. Come on, love…I need some alone time with you."

Kara's jaw dropped, nearly hitting the metal floor as she was pulled toward the corridor leading to the inner sectors. As they left the section lit by flashing yellow lights, her lover looked at her comically as she said, "You can de-magnetize now, babe."

"Devon, just how lucrative is the free-shipping business?" Kara asked as she stopped and kicked at her heels.

"Very, Kara. But it's offset by the danger, isn't it? Not that we're at risk," she added confidently. "We aren't. Now, are you coming, or am I going to have to enjoy that bathtub by myself?"

Kara shook her head, both in disbelief and to shake herself out of her surprised state. She looked at her playful mate and said, "Devon, tell me honestly that you could enjoy that bathtub without me."

Devon stopped and faced her mate, grinning. "Oh, you know I couldn't. Come on, baby."

Kara returned the silly grin. "I'm right behind you."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As she cupped warm, soapy water onto Kara's back, Devon was struck once again at how completely her life had changed in such a short period of time. She shook her head as she said quietly, "Kara, sometimes I can't believe how completely my life has changed. Three months ago I was a devout loner, but now I'm here…with you…happier than I had ever dreamed possible. And to think that I nearly blew it."

"What do you mean?" Kara asked quietly, leaning back against her mate's chest and resting her arms on Devon's knees.

"I almost didn't give into the love that I knew I was feeling. I mean, even though I was attracted to you…hell, I was attracted from the first moment I saw you…I was determined not to fall. I thought that I didn't have room in my life for a relationship." Devon shook her head again and kissed Kara's neck. "Stubborn. But you melted my heart…right there on my bridge that night you brought me tea so that I could sleep…and I think, frankly, that I was just too tired at that point to fight it. I let you in, and that's all it took. It was all you needed, all my heart needed."

"Still, Devon, you took the chance."

"I didn't have a choice, Kara. Not really. I knew it was my destiny. I had had the vision, and then the dream, and you were so sweet, despite my behavior toward you. You kept trying. So thank you. It was you, Kara, not me, who allowed this to happen."

"Honey, thanks, but it was more than that. It was our destiny, as you say, and I know that your guides must have given you a nudge."

Devon chuckled and wrapped her arms around Kara's stomach. "Well, that's true. My buddy Jim gave me kick in the ass too. But I know for a fact that my guides nudged me. After uh, after we kissed for the first time, I meditated. I asked for strength and guidance and all three of my principal guides showed up and, um, basically, applauded me. It was so funny, Kara. I was humbling myself, asking for their guidance and one of them…she was my grandmother…shook her head and said, 'I have warned you before of the trait of stubbornness. This time you listened to your heart, and I am proud. But it will always be a challenge for you.' She reminded me to try to operate in the positive pole of stubborness, which is determination, rather than falling prey to the negative pole of obstinacy."

"Mm, honey, that sounds like wonderful advice." She glanced back at her love and grinned coyly. "I'll have to help you to remember that."

"You do that," Devon said as she caressed Kara's stomach softly.

"Mmm, that's nice, love. You know, I was determined not to fall in love so soon again, too. I think that the first time I saw you I had to tell myself not to even think about it."

"Oh yeah? You liked what you saw?"

"Oh, Jesus, yes. Gods, Devon, you striding through the spaceport in your flightsuit, with those long legs and cute butt, nice breasts. God, I didn't have a chance. Then when we met and I saw how beautiful you were, and you spoke to me with that deep, sultry voice. Not a chance. I didn't have a chance."

"How soon did you start fantasizing about me?" Devon asked jauntily.

"That is privileged information."

"That quickly, huh?" Devon grinned. "Don't feel bad, Kara, so did I. Gods, and on duty, no less. I thought I was losing my mind."

"Our hearts. It was our hearts that were lost. And I'm so very, very glad."

"Me too," Devon mumbled against Kara's soft neck as her hands began to wander gently.

The warmth of Devon's touch started the sweet fire that she had come to know so well, and Kara caressed the arms that encircled her. "Why don't you show me how glad you are?"

"Your wish is my command, Kara," Devon said as she gently encouraged her mate to turn and straddle her lap. "Observe," she muttered as her lips closed the distance between them and captured Kara's.

Very shortly, Kara knew, without any question, just how glad Devon was that she had lost her heart to her soulmate.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Fifteen minutes before the start of the space station's gamma shift, Devon strode onto her ship. She kicked at her boots and launched herself toward the bridge, flying adeptly to the main corridor and pulling herself around the corner to the bridge's hatch and keying in her security code. The display showed a green light and chirped positively before the door slid open, and Devon sailed inside, grasping a handhold directly above her seat and pushing herself down and into the chair. She deftly pulled her harness around her and set about checking the status of the ship's systems.

As she ran a check on the scanning system, the comm buzzed and Jim's image appeared on the small screen.

"Jim, come on in," Devon replied as she punched the code to open the outer hatch.

"Thanks, Dev. Rusty's with me."

Devon nodded as the image winked out. A few moments later, the cabin door slid open and her crewmen floated in.

"The grunts are right behind us, Dev. Shall we show them how we want this done?" Rusty asked.

Devon grinned. "Sure Rust, we might as well give it a shot." She turned her seat toward the cabin wall to the left of the door. "I'd like the forward console installed there."

Rusty nodded. "Okay. Jim, let's take a look at where we want the console in Engineering to go."

"Lead the way, Rust. Dev, I'll suit up and observe the installation up above, and you and Rusty can supervise onboard."

"Sounds good, Jim. And, uh, tether yourself off, please. I don't want…"

"Yes, Andy, I know…you don't want a repeat of the Ganymede incident, but I'm not drunk now, am I?"

"I don't know, Jim, what have you been doing the last four hours?" She grinned at her friend.

"Devon, I can vouch for his whereabouts and the fact that he has not been drinking," Rusty provided helpfully.

"Oh, you can, Rust? That's interesting. You two aren't becoming an item now, are you?" She leered gently at her friends.

"Cap, if that's not the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is. And pardon me for saying so, but it's none of your goddamned business."

Devon gave him a lopsided grin and held up her hands apologetically. "Okay, sorry. Get going, then and show those Fleet grunts how to do it right. I'll see you two later."

"You're, uh, not leaving already are you? I know she's a sweet little thing, Cap, but don't forget who you are."

"Thanks so much for the reminder, smart ass. No, I told you, I'll supervise up here until I'm satisfied that they're doing it to my specs, and then I'll return to my sweet thing." She swiveled her head toward the comm unit as it buzzed, saying with a decided leer, "By that time I'll be in need of some more of her sweetness." She noted the presence of three E.V. suited figures and buzzed them aboard. "Now get out of here you two, and do your jobs."

"Yes, ma'am!" The two irreverent men left the bridge and a moment later, a weapons specialist joined her there. She proceeded to discuss the installation with him, receiving nods of agreement, and a few minutes later, led him to the corridor to show him where she wanted the conduits for the wiring placed. He agreed and jotted notes into the data unit affixed to the wrist of his dark blue spacesuit, then left to begin the installation on the exterior of the ship.

Devon, satisfied that the job would be done to her liking and that her crewmembers were capable of handling the matter, secured the security codes on all of the ship's systems and then left the bridge, leaving the hatch open so the soldiers would have access. She was eager to return to her mate, and, with some embarrassment, noted that she missed Kara and felt uncomfortable at having left her alone. What the hell is wrong with me?

She shook her head as she left her ship and then made her way through the maintenance sector, minding the signs cautioning people to walk in that sector, rather than float, for safety reasons. Impatiently, she hurried her pace as much as she could, angry because she could fly a lot faster than her magnetized boots could carry her. She came to the "sleeve" that provided access to the inner sections and proceeded toward the Solarwinds Hostel and her waiting partner.

As she approached the retail sector, a thought struck her and she slowed, glancing in the windows of the shops she passed. Ah, yes, she thought happily as she noted a display of fine articles, and entered the shop. Nearly an hour later, she exited, fingering the small package in the pocket of her flightsuit. She felt very warmed at the purchase she had made, and thanked her guides silently for reminding her. Thank you, my friends. I had not thought of doing that here, but I think my love will be pleased. At least, I hope she is. She took a deep breath and blew it out nervously. Gray gods, what has that little woman done to me?

Devon strode along the wide, tidy corridor, lost in her thoughts and oblivious of the people and activity around her. Finally, she reached the hostel and entered as the tinted glass doors slid open. She made her way to the lift and scanned her ident card, stepping inside when the door hissed open. It stopped at her level and she exited, making her way down the inviting, carpeted corridor to their room. She scanned her card again and the door swished open.

Kara was seated at the room's comm console, near the window that overlooked the center of the station and provided a partial view of the immense planet behind it. She looked up from her data screen and smiled at her mate, stretching her arms above her head.

"Hi, honey. How's the install coming?"

"Good. It's a nice system…state of the art…and should give us all the peace of mind we need."

"Good." She rubbed her stomach and glanced at the time display. "Gods, I've been working all this time. Are you hungry, hon?"

"Mm, hm," Devon murmured as she approached. She pulled Kara from the chair and into her arms. "God, Kara I'm pathetic. I miss you when we're apart."

"That's not pathetic, Devon, it's sweet, and I feel the same way." She wrapped her arms tightly around her mate and reveled in the feel of her firm body. "God, you feel good."

"So do you." Devon buried her face in Kara's hair and mumbled, "I wanna take you out to eat…is that okay? I know a good place."

"Yes! I'd love that."

"Good. Why don't we get ready…it's past dinner time."

"Great…I'm starved."

Devon pulled back and gazed down at her mate with a smile. "Kara, you're always starved."

"Hey, keeping up with you is very demanding…I have to keep my energy up."

"I can't argue with that, baby," Devon delivered with a rakish grin, turning Kara's heart to mush.

"God, Devon, that smile…"

"You can show me later how much it turns you on."

"Definitely. Come on, let's get dressed."

Devon looked down at herself. "I am dressed."

"Honey, you look great in your flightsuit, but it's a flightsuit. Why don't you wear that nice, blue tank that matches your eyes, and a pair of flight pants?"

"Okay, but only if you wear the green top that matches your eyes."

Kara grinned up at her mate. "Deal."

Twenty minutes later they were walking hand in hand down the corridor of the retail sector. Devon turned them into an inviting inn with an old-fashioned façade, which gave it the appearance of an old English pub. "They have good brew here and great food. I think you'll like it," Devon provided as she ushered Kara ahead of her.

They were greeted by a tall man behind a sim-wood counter. "Captain Andropoulos, it's good to see you again."

Devon nodded politely. "Thank you, Sims. It's good to be back. Do you have a quiet table…"

"Yes, Captain, right this way," the man interrupted and led them to a table in a corner of the room. Devon helped Kara to her seat and nodded her thanks before seating herself with her back to the wall. Old habits die hard, it seems.

"Captain, what may I get you to drink?"

"Well, Sims, to start, I think we'd like two mugs of your house ale and with dinner a bottle of your finest champagne…2152, if you have any."

The man nodded appreciatively. "We do. Very good choice. I will return with your ale momentarily."

Devon nodded and turned her attention to her mate with a smile.

"Champagne again, honey? What's the occasion?"

Devon picked up Kara's hand and kissed it tenderly as she gazed into her eyes. "The occasion is that I love you."

Kara sighed and then pulled Devon close for a kiss. "I love you, too. With all that I am."

A short time later, their meals arrived and the waiter opened their champagne. He started to pour it into the two long-stemmed glasses, but Devon waved him away. "That's alright, I'll get it. Thank you."

He nodded and left the two women alone. Devon gracefully filled first Kara's flute half full and then her own, and held it up. "To my future wife. I love you."

"And to mine. I love you, sweetheart."

They each sipped from their glasses, eyes locked, and Devon pulled from her pocket a small, velvet box and set it on the table in front of Kara.

"Devon, what's this?"

Devon looked down at the table, then back into Kara's shining eyes. "We didn't talk about this, so I hope you don't mind…but I saw these and they seemed perfect." She nodded toward the box with a smile. "Open it."

As Kara reached for the box, Devon said quickly, "If you don't like the idea, I'll take them back…it's not a problem."

"Honey, I'm sure whatever it is, I will love."

Devon shrugged and waited with anticipation as Kara picked up the box and looked, surprised, into her eyes. "Devon, this isn't…"

"Open it, Kara."

Kara took a breath, suddenly feeling she knew what was inside, and opened the box. She gasped as she saw a lovely set of golden wedding bands. "Oh, Devon…"

Devon whispered, "Do you like them…are they okay?"

"Oh, my God, Devon…they're beautiful. I love them, honey." She looked up into Devon's eyes as tears began to flow. "They're perfect, and so are you. Thank you."

Devon released the breath she had been holding and gasped, "You love them?"

"I love them, Devon."

"Gods, I'm glad. Um, the Sennaa don't exchange rings as part of their joining ceremony, but I um…well, I really wanted to wear a wedding band. I hope you do too."

"I do, Devon. Very much so."

"I'm glad, Kara. Um, do you, um…do you think we should…"

"No, I don't want to wait. I'd like to wear mine now…if you don't mind."

Devon beamed. "No, I don't mind. I would like that too." She gently picked up Kara's left hand and tenderly kissed her knuckles, then picked up the smaller of the two rings and slid it on her ring finger. Looking up into Kara's eyes, she said softly, "Kara, this is a promise…to marry you on Sen. I love you."

Kara gasped as Devon slid the ring onto her finger, unable to speak. Silently, she picked up Devon's ring and inserted it on her finger. She whispered, "Devon, I make the same promise…I love you so…so much." She brought Devon's hand to her lips and kissed it tenderly before laying it against her cheek. "Gods, Devon…"

"I know, Kara." A sob found its way up from her throat and she brusquely wiped a tear from her cheek before grabbing her champagne flute and downing the rest of the amber liquid.

Kara laughed, sobbing quietly. "Devon…"

Devon leaned over and pulled her into an embrace, and they kissed, lingering as long as seemed appropriate, given their location. Devon pulled back and cleared her throat. "Well, okay, let's eat then, huh? I suddenly have a dire need to get you back to our room."

"Yes, love, let's do that." Kara sighed as she picked up her fork, staring at the beautiful ring of white and yellow gold on her finger. The golden band was etched with lines of white gold, creating a very lovely two-tone effect. "My God, Devon, it's beautiful. When did you do this?"

Devon cleared her throat again. "Um, today. There's a Tiffany's not too far from the hostel."

"This is from Tiffany and Company?"

Devon shrugged. "Yeah. A, uh, a lot of people live and work here and a lot of money flows through."

Kara smiled wryly and asked, "Do you still have enough money for that ship you want?"

Devon grinned lopsidedly. "Not anymore, no. But this was a necessity. That's a luxury item for when we retire from shipping."

"Mm." Kara nodded sagely, then grinned. "You are something else, Devon Andropoulos."

"So I've been told. Eat. Dessert awaits us back at our room." A lifted eyebrow told Kara what Devon had in mind for dessert, and she dug into her meal, finishing it in record time.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon scanned the card, which opened the door and toggled the lights. "Lights, low," she commanded as she gently pushed her mate toward the sleeping area.

"Captain, I think that you intend to have your way with me."

"I most certainly do," the Captain replied as she tugged at her partner's shirt, pulling it from her pants. Kara wrapped her arms around Devon and grasped the back of her tank top, pulling it out of her pants so that she could run her hands up along Devon's back.

Devon threw her head back, enjoying Kara's touch, and exclaimed, "God, why do I need you so much?"

"For the same reasons I need you…but let's examine them later, okay?" Kara asked as she pulled up on Devon's shirt, removing it.

"Hey, I thought I was seducing you," Devon muttered, surprised, as she stood before Kara in her bra.

"You are. And quite successfully." She leaned forward and kissed a prominent breastbone, then moved down, eliciting an intake of breath.

"And so are you," Devon muttered as she brought her hands up to run through Kara's hair. She sucked in another breath as Kara's lips moved sensually over her bra, while her hands found their way under the band of the tight garment and attempted to remove it. Devon helped her, impatiently pulling it off and flinging it aside, then guided a grinning Kara's mouth back to where it had been.

"Mmm," Kara mumbled against Devon's inflamed skin. "You taste good."

"God, and you feel good. Come here, Kara." She pushed Kara back toward the bed and sat her down, then climbed into her lap as she pulled off her shirt. Kara's hands went around her waist and down under the waistband of her pants, and Devon moaned as she sat back and undid the pants. Kara pulled them off and Devon slipped out of them, then attended to Kara's bra, removing it quickly and laying her down.

She covered Kara's body with hers and found her lips, tasting her deeply. Small hands wrapped around her back and raked short nails gently along her ribs, settling under her briefs. As Devon deepened the kiss, she ran long fingers down Kara's sides and worked at her underwear. "Get these off…I need to feel you."

"Yours too."

Devon rolled off Kara and quickly removed both sets of briefs, then returned to her place above her mate. Kara wrapped herself tightly around Devon as their mouths met again and hips began moving together. They began a passionate, gyrating dance, while lips and tongues tasted and fingers caressed. Before long, both cried out and then their bodies slowed and stilled, and they lay entwined. After a few minutes to catch their breath and soak in the sated bliss, Devon rolled them over and kissed her way down to Kara's curls, beginning the dance anew.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The low, gray light of simulated dawn awakened them and Devon stirred, jostling the small woman sprawled across her chest.

"Who set the alarm?" Kara mumbled drowsily against Devon's chest.

Devon kissed the tousled hair beneath her chin and answered, "I did. Sorry, baby. I need to check on the ship."

"What time is it?"

"Oh-eight-hundred."

"Mm, you slept in, huh?"

Devon chuckled and kissed the blonde head again. "Yep. You're having a very bad effect on me."

Kara crawled up and captured Devon's lips intensely, then broke it and whispered, "Not bad. Good. Admit it."

"I admit it," Devon breathed and pulled Kara close for another kiss, which deepened and intensified until Devon broke it and gasped for air. "Jesus, Kara! That was quite a wake up call."

"I wasn't tying to wake you up, I was trying to keep you in bed."

Devon grinned rakishly up at her. "Well, I need to wake up and go check on the ship, but why don't we compromise and take a shower together?"

Kara's answer was to jump up out of bed and offer a hand down to her mate. Devon grinned up at her. "Shit, honey, I didn't know you could move that fast in the morning."

Kara returned the grin with a raised blonde eyebrow. "Given the right incentive…"

As she gazed up at her naked lover, Devon received all the incentive she needed to arise and join her in the shower. An hour later, they were strolling toward the ship together, hand in hand, feeling more connected than ever, and blissfully in love.

As they neared the airlock to the ship, they could see out the observation window several mechanics standing/floating atop the cabin section of the ship. They had partially attached a gun mount and wiring from it stood out at odd angles. Devon nodded, pleased and keyed them into the airlock.

"Want to walk or fly, babe?"

"Fly, of course!" Kara answered with a grin.

"My little daredevil. I knew there was a reason why I fell in love with you."

"I aim to please."

Devon groaned. "Oh, gods, Kara, and you do. Believe me." Before entering the ship, she pulled Kara close and exchanged a sweet kiss with her. "Depending on how things go here, wanna get lunch at the pub again?"

"Mm, yes, since we didn't take the time to eat breakfast."

"Ah, but we did have dessert."

Kara giggled as they separated. "Which was very tasty but not terribly filling."

"But oh so satisfying, Kara." Devon grabbed her hand as they passed through the hatch and launched them toward the bridge.

"Mm," Kara agreed.

They sailed through the open hatchway and grabbed handholds. The outer shell of a new console sat beside the doorway, and wiring ran up through it, the various colored wires splayed at odd angles, waiting to be attached to equipment and electronics.

"Looks like they're making good progress," Devon remarked.

"Yes. I wonder how it's coming along in Engineering?"

"Let's go see."

Devon offered her hand and Kara grabbed it, letting her mate launch them down the long corridor toward the aft end of the ship. Halfway to the cargo section, Devon got playful and spun them around so that they were lying horizontally in midair. She leaned over Kara as she whispered, "I like this position."

"Mm, so do I. Maybe after we do our EV training we can, um, go into the cargo bay and lock the door."

"Sounds like a plan." She leaned down and kissed Kara, pulling her up against her, and their legs entwined. Just as they ended the kiss, the cargo section hatch opened and Cyd and Chad floated out.

They made their way past the two women hanging prone in midair and Chad offered nonchalantly, "I see I'm not the only aficionado of zero-g sex, am I Cap?"

"Did I ever say you were, Lorenzo?" The Captain grumbled as she righted herself and her mate.

"Nope. We're going to get some lunch…wanna come?"

Devon surprised them by answering, interested, "Where are you going?"

"The Bull and Bear…near the hostel?"

Devon nodded. "Yeah, that's where we were going too. If I can get away from here, maybe we'll meet you there."

"Great, Cap. Hope you do. See ya!" Chad waved and Cyd grinned as he pulled her behind him.

"I hope we can meet them, honey. It's fun to get together off-ship."

Devon grinned and nodded. "I know. Even though we're cooped up together here for months. But don't tell them I said that."

"Oh, no, never. They'll never hear from me that Devon Andropoulos enjoys their company. Or that she's really a big softy with a heart of mush." Kara giggled.

"Kara! I am not!" Devon responded, mildly incensed.

"Sorry, honey, you are. Why do you think I love you so much? But don't worry, I won't tell. Your secret is safe with me."

"It had better be." She pushed Kara ahead of her into the cargo corridor, and the Doctor proceeded to somersault her way across the space.

Devon sailed by her and hung by the opposite hatchway, remarking wryly as she watched her approach, "Well, I can see that more zero-g training isn't necessary. I think I can rate you as space-ready."

"Thanks, honey!" Kara embraced her and planted a kiss on her cheek, and they tumbled into the Engineering section clasped together.

"Holy shit!" Rusty exclaimed with a belly laugh as they tumbled through the air toward his new weapons console. Devon stopped them before they could damage it and scowled at her mate as she settled them to the floor. It was short lived, however, when Kara mollified her with a sweet kiss.

"Honey!" Devon hissed, but smiled weakly, unable to feel angry with her partner for more than a millisecond.

"Devon Andropoulos…acting like a schoolgirl in love. Never thought I'd live to see the day. But I'll tell ya'…I'm glad I did." Rusty shook his head in wonder.

"Very funny, Rust. Show me the new setup, please."

"Sure thing, Dev. It's only partially in, as you can see." He pointed to a console in exactly the same condition as she had found the one on the bridge to be in.

"Okay. Where's Jim?"

"Topside, supervising. Making sure they only put the minimum number of holes in my hull."

Devon grinned and nodded. "Good. I appreciate that, Rust. Do you guys want to break for lunch? We're meeting Cyd and Chad at the Bull and Bear."

Rusty rubbed the red stubble on his chin. "Yeah, that sounds good. We've been here since oh-seven-thirty hours. Let me call the boss in."

"Rusty, I didn't expect either of you to have to be here for the entire installation."

"I know, Cap, but we wanted to keep an eye on things. You never can be too sure. Not unless you're doing it yourself."

"That's true, generally, Rusty, but the Fleet is good. These guys know what they're doing."

Rusty nodded his agreement, "Yeah, they seem to. Let me buzz Jim in and we'll take off."

A half hour later, Devon and her crew were sitting together at a large table, enjoying good food, good brew and much laughter, appearing more like a family than a work crew.


-18-

"Oh my God!" Cyd gasped, and her mug of ale stopped short of her mouth. "You're wearing wedding bands!"

Devon immediately lifted her mug to her lips, blushing behind it and Kara beamed with pride and love.

"Devon, Kara, what is this?" Jim asked, shocked. "Did you…"

Devon waved him off. "No, no. Not yet." Looking at her mate beside her, she added, "We're, um, getting married when we reach Sen. They don't do rings, so we thought we'd get them now." She cleared her throat before adding, "You're all invited. To the ceremony."

"Well I'll be fucked," Rusty exclaimed, shaking his head. "I guess the wonders will never cease. Congratulations Dev." He reached around Jim beside him and clapped Devon heartily on the back. "Kara, I don't wanna kiss her, but I'll give you a peck…come here, cutie."

Kara, blushing furiously to match her mate, stood and leaned across the table to accept the congratulatory kiss on her cheek.

"Right, Devon, Kara, congratulations!" Chad added. "And I'll kiss you both!"

"No you won't, Chad. A handshake will do it," Devon provided with a grin as she wrapped a protective arm around her mate and extended her hand to the young crewman.

"Ah, Dev, come on. This is a special occasion."

"Shit…" Devon mumbled as she stood and pulled the handsome young man into a hug. He wrapped his arms around her tightly and kissed her cheek.

"I'm happy for you, Devon."

"Thanks, Chad."

They separated and he opened his arms to Kara, who stood and accepted the hug. She received a quick peck on the lips, to her mate's displeasure, and Chad grinned widely at his boss.

"Alright, Chad, give her back to me, please."

"Sure, Cap." He sat down again beside Cyd, receiving a mild glare, and pulled her close, trying to mollify her with a kiss to the cheek.

"So," Cyd asked. "What contract length are you getting?"

Kara beamed again as she grabbed Devon's hand. "We're talking about a lifetime one."

Devon added, "Yeah, um, discussing it." She looked almost shyly at Kara and kissed her fingers.

"Well, I think this calls for another round!" Jim declared with a goofy smile. He stood and waved to get the waiter's attention.

"Jim, I said I was buying today," Devon reminded him.

"Devon, shut the hell up please. You're getting married for Buddha's sake and we're celebrating. You are not paying for this round."

As her friends continued their raucous celebration, Devon sat back in her chair and grabbed her mug, mildly displeased, and Kara joined her, leaning against her and wrapping an arm around her waist.

Devon mumbled quietly, "I hate displays like this. Maybe the rings weren't a good idea." She looked over into sparkling green eyes. "But, um, I'm not saying the wedding's not a good idea."

"I know what you're saying, Devon. And the rings were a good idea, because we both wanted them. We both feel married already, don't we?"

Devon nodded. "Yes."

"Then the rings are a good idea." She held up her hand and gazed at the ring. "It's beautiful, and it symbolizes a beautiful love. I love my ring, Devon."

Devon gently grasped Kara's hand and stared at the golden band, which shone dimly in the low light. "I love it too. I'm sorry." She looked around at their friends, who were sharing a laugh over a joke they had missed. "I just don't like having a fuss made about me."

"I know. I feel the same way. But let them be happy for us."

"Okay." She pulled Kara close and they shared a long kiss.

"Devon Andropoulos." Devon took her time ending the kiss and looked up to see who had addressed her. "Long time."

The sight of the tall, shapely blonde caused an inward groan and Devon drawled, "Rachel Sterling. Not long enough." She picked up her mug and took a long draught.

"Devon, is that any way to greet an old lover?"

"Be happy that's the greeting you got, Rachel. What do you want?"

"I just wanted to see you how you're doing. What has it been? Five, six years?"

"I don't know, and I don't give a damn. If you'll excuse me, this is a private party."

"Aren't you going to introduce me to your little friend?" She looked down her nose at Kara as she added, "You must have found her at one of the lower class brothels."

Devon exploded from her chair and stood nose to nose with the woman as she growled, "Get the fuck out of here, Rachel. You're not welcome."

"Really, Devon, I know you can do better than her. Remember what I did for you. What I can still do for you."

"Rachel, you fucked me. Hard, and I don't mean physically. When I didn't do what you wanted, you used me and tossed me aside when you were finished. Now, if you don't leave, I'll have you thrown out."

The woman laughed darkly, which made her look older than her forty years. "Please, Devon, my father's consortium owns half of this base. I'd like to see you try."

"It's either that or I'll kick your ass through the door myself." With that statement, Kara stood and grabbed Devon's hand, and Jim, Rusty, Chad and Cyd stood as well, offering their Captain their support.

"Well, I see that your taste in friends hasn't changed." She inched closer to Devon again. "Think about it, Devon. I'm running Sterling Shipping now and still offering you a partnership. You can be very, very rich." She reached into her small bag and retrieved a small data crystal, then tucked it into Devon's cleavage. "Contact me."

Before the woman could turn away, Kara reached down into Devon's bra and retrieved the crystal, then dropped it to the floor and crushed it under her boot before looking up and defiantly stating, "My wife is not interested in your offer."

The tall blonde's eyes widened briefly and then flitted to Devon's hand, taking in for the first time the expensive ring on her finger. "Wife? Why Devon, you stupid bitch. You refused to marry into the wealthiest shipping family in the system, but you'd marry a little tart like this?"

Rachel never saw the punch coming. All she knew was that she was suddenly on the floor, spitting blood from her mouth. "Ahh!" She screamed. "You fucking bitch!" She brought her hand to her mouth. "I will own you Devon! I promise you!"

As she struggled to stand, Devon knelt beside her and said in a calm, but hard-edged and menacing voice, "There are plenty of witnesses here whom you don't own that will testify that you provoked me. Now, go away and crawl back into your slimy hole, or I swear to Sennaat, Rachel, I'll blow you away." She stared pointedly into the woman's angry, brown eyes as she added, "I can do it, too, with the guns my ship is now authorized to carry." She reached down and grabbed the woman's chin roughly. "Don't push me, Rachel…you're no match for me, and you do not want to make me angry. Now, my wife is a doctor, would you like her to see to your jaw?"

"Fuck you!" The woman screamed as she used a chair to lift herself to her feet. "You've made a huge mistake, Devon, and I intend to make you very, very sorry for this."

"You're welcome to try," Devon said smoothly as the woman hurriedly left the pub. She turned back to her friends and received a round of applause. Waving them off, she pulled her protective little "wife" close and received a warm squeeze.

Devon looked down into misty green eyes. "Wife, huh? I liked the sound of that, Kara."

"Good. You'll need to get used to hearing it. Are you going to tell me later…about her?"

"Anything you want to know." She kissed the soft hair below her and sighed. "Jesus, Buddha, and Sennaat…and it was such a nice day, too."

"It still is. We're not going to let a…a."

"Bitch?"

"Yes. Like her ruin our day are we?"

"No. We are not." She reseated herself and pulled Kara into her lap. "Jim, where's that refill?"

As Jim refilled her mug from the large pitcher of ale the waiter had brought, Devon kissed her mate deeply, savoring her future wife's beautiful, loving essence and wondering briefly how she could ever have been attracted to a self-centered, vitriolic user like Rachel Sterling. The difference between the two women was like the distance between the stars. Like the difference between a bright shining quasar radiating light and warmth and a dark, black hole, sucking the energy from everything that falls within its grasp.

Devon chuckled and shook her head at the analogy. "Gods, Kara, my taste in women has improved astronomically, hasn't it?"

Kara smiled warmly and Jim answered the question for her. "Absolutely, Devon. Without a doubt."

Devon smiled her thanks and pulled Kara close again, enjoying the feeling of holding her and not caring who saw it or what anyone thought. "Well, people, shall we continue this party?"

The question was met by a chorus of, "Yes!" and Devon grinned as she called the waiter over again.

When she had the man's attention, she stated loudly, "We need more food and ale here. Everyone, tell him what you want." With the arrival of platters of food and pitchers of ale, the party continued for several more hours. Devon and Kara were extremely pleased to share their happiness with their friends and both enjoyed themselves immensely.

Over at the long, simulated-wood bar, a man sat quietly the whole time they were there, nursing two drinks. He surreptitiously watched the happy group and occasionally made notes into his data unit. As inconspicuous as he was, his presence did not go unnoticed by the sharp-eyed Devon, who recognized him and began to formulate a counter-attack to the attack that she now knew was coming.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Whoo, Kara…baby, this is bad. I should be on my shi…ship…checking readouts, make…making sure it's secure…um, and something else," Devon slurred as she furrowed her brows, trying to remember just exactly what it was that she should have been doing rather than getting drunk with her crew. Kara got them into the room and the door slid shut behind them.

"Lights, low. Nonsense, love. We were celebrating." Kara giggled as she added, "Some of us more than others…but it was great to see you relax." She pulled her tall mate over to the bed. "Now come here and let me love you."

"Oh, yeah. Love me, baby," Devon tried to drawl but wasn't quite successful at it. Kara helped her to the bed and she flopped down on her back. Kara removed her boots and pants for her before crawling onto the bed next to her. "Mm, yeah, undress me baby."

"Are you sure you wouldn't just rather sleep, honey?"

"No, baby, no. I want to love you. Come here, Kara. Let me lo…love you."

"Okay, but would like a stimulant first?"

"Kara, I don't need a sim…stimulant. Just kiss me. That'll wake me up." Devon reached up to caress the lovely face gazing down at her.

"Whatever you want, my love."

"I want you, Kara. For the rest of my life."

"You've got it," Kara whispered as she leaned down and captured Devon's lips. She shared her love with her mate, affirming her love for her and awakening Devon's passion.

Devon returned the kiss fervently, surprising Kara, and rolled them over so that she was on top. "Let me show you how happy I am to be engaged to you."

"Please do."

Very gently, Devon began to remove Kara's clothes, planting tender kisses on each area as she bared it. She kissed the curve of a breast, and then licked at it gently, and Kara moaned, pulling Devon fully atop her. "Yes, Devon."

"I love you, Kara," she mumbled against a nipple before licking it and sucking it into her mouth.

"Mmm, Devon, love you."

"God, you taste good. Have I told you that before?"

Kara giggled. "I think so, yes."

"Mm. Good, 'cause it's true. What's this?" She playfully twirled her tongue around the other nipple.

Kara gasped and giggled. "That's the other one, silly."

"Mm, oh. It tastes good too."

My God, she's a silly drunk. Who'd have thought? "Oh, my God, Devon, yes!" Kara gasped as long fingers suddenly found their way under her panties while a hot mouth attended to her breasts. Jesus, how can she be so good when she's drunk? Kara thought just before she lost herself in the pleasure that Devon was delivering to her. It was some time before she had recovered enough to repay the gift to her sobering mate.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The next morning, Kara awakewned to the pleasant sensation of long fingers caressing her skin from the backs of her thighs to her shoulder blades. "Mm, honey, that's nice. How do you feel?"

"Fine, love. Why?"

"Why? Honey, you were just a tad drunk last night."

Devon furrowed her brows. "Was I? I don't remember that."

"A classic symptom, love."

"Hm. Well, I feel okay. That's good quality ale. I can usually hold four or five pints with no problem."

"Jesus, honey…that's a lot."

"Nah. I'm a big girl."

"Mm, yes, you are. Do you, um, remember what happened when we got back here last night?"

"I do. We made love, and it was so good, Kara."

"Mm, hm," Kara agreed with a grin. She snuggled against her living pillow as she added, "What's the plan for today?"

"Fool around in the bathtub, check on the install, eat lunch, do some EV suit training, get dinner, secure the ship, fool around in the bathtub, go to bed."

"In that order?"

"Yep."

"Sounds like a perfect day. Let's get started." Kara hopped out of bed and held her hand out to her mate, mimicking her behavior from the previous day.

"Can't wait, huh?" Devon grinned rakishly as she grasped Kara's hand.

"Nope. Come on."

Devon hopped adroitly out of bed and embraced a naked Kara from behind. She whispered in Kara's ear, "I'm right behind you."

"Gods, what a nice place for you to be."

A short time later, after wearing themselves out playing, "Where's the soap?" and assorted other sexy water games, they lounged together in the bubbling, lukewarm water.

"Honey, I thought we had settled on getting a lifetime contract."

"Kara, it's what I want, but I don't want to trap you. I'm not sure you fully understand what a spacer's life entails. Especially a free-trader like me."

"Devon Andropoulos, I know exactly what I'm getting and I want it for the rest of my life. End of discussion. Now, tell me about that woman yesterday."

Devon let out a sigh. "Yeah, all right. She's an ex of mine, obviously. An ex-lover…I never had any steady partners or girlfriends. Her father is a shipping magnate…the Sterling Consortium…and I worked one of his ships for a while. I had several lovers while I worked the Charleston, and she was just one of them. I didn't treat her any differently than I did any of my other lovers just because she was the owner's daughter, though she thought I should."

Devon kissed the soft hair in front of her and continued. "After we'd slept together a few times, she asked me to go into business with her…she wanted to set up her own consortium and needed talented pilots…but I had already decided to try to go mercenary. I hated the way the consortiums operated and wanted no part of it. When I told her that I wasn't interested, she upped the offer…asked me to sign a marriage contract with her. Again, I told her I wasn't interested. She was upset, but she let it drop. Also, it seems that she was having a disagreement with her father at the time. He wanted her to enter into a marriage contract with the son of a competitor, for business reasons, obviously, but she couldn't stand the guy, so she used the fact that she was sleeping with me to piss them all off. She blatantly came after me, and other women, but mainly me, using me to get at her father."

"When he'd had enough of her behavior, he fired me and had me blacklisted from all consortium ships. I was not able to find work for almost a year…until I finally found a free ship that needed a pilot. After about six months, I was broke and I went to her for help. I proposed that we set up our own free ship. She laughed in my face...said that there was no way she could stay rich running a free-trade ship and said it would have to a consortium partnership or nothing. I opted for nothing. She had a fit and threw me out. That was the last time I saw her."

Devon shook her head sadly. "She really screwed me…both literally and figuratively. She was nothing but a conniving user, and I'm ashamed to admit that I used her too, for sex. Gods…"

"Honey, it's okay."

"No, Kara, it's not, and I'm glad I'm a different person now. But you know what? I wouldn't be if not for you."

"Devon, that's ludicrous. The woman I fell in love with is ethical and honest. Jesus, Devon, the Grays do business with you and only you."

"That may be, Kara, but until I met you, I was still using women wantonly for sex."

"Devon, they were adults, weren't they? They were capable of making the decision to sleep with you. Weren't they using you just as surely as you were using them?"

Devon shrugged and her breasts caressed Kara's back. "I guess. But it was so…unfulfilling…and I did it anyway."

"You're human. I've had more casual sex than I care to admit, too, Devon. We're human." She turned and straddled Devon's lap. "But now, we're monogamous. Joyfully, blissfully, wonderfully monogamous."

"Yes, we are. Don't forget happily, ecstatically, absolutely contentedly," she added with a grin.

"Mm, nice adverbs, honey. Yes, we are. The past doesn't matter. It has helped to shape us, but it doesn't define us."

"Mm."

"Are you worried that she'll try to hurt you somehow?"

"I'm pretty sure she will, knowing her like I unfortunately do. I saw one of her henchmen in the pub yesterday, so I know he was keeping an eye on me. But don't worry, Kara. I can handle anything she throws at me, believe me. She has a lot of bravado, but not a lot of intelligence. I'll be watchful."

"You'll be careful."

"Okay, baby, I'll be careful."

"Promise me, Devon."

"I promise, Kara." She wrapped her arms around her soft, slippery mate and pulled her close. "I'm not doing anything to endanger this ship, its crew, my cargo, my love, or my upcoming marriage contract. Believe me, Kara."

"I believe you, Devon." She sealed her statement with a tender kiss, which as usual, deepened, and they were somewhat later getting a start on their busy day than they had planned.


Part 10

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