Check out the début novel of new Ellora's Cave author Alexis Reed - phew! You won't be disappointed.
As the only woman on board the pioneer-class galactic vesselThe Adamant, Chief Engineer Samantha Hartland knows better than to let any man into her bed—or her heart. Unfortunately, she doesn’t want just any. One. Man. Blake and Kane Damsen, identical twins and fellow officers, haunt her most vivid erotic dreams. Together.
Blake and Kane have kept their passion for the green-eyed mistress of engineering a secret for two years. Barely. But when one of the crew members reveals he’s willing to kill to get Samantha’s attention, she turns to the twins for help. She gets a lot more than that in the bargain.
Samantha zipped up the front of her black, station-issue uniform and glanced hurriedly in the mirror, tying her long auburn hair into a hasty knot. There were dark circles under her bloodshot eyes from the double shift she’d pulled in Engineering the night before. By tonight, they would be worse. Eight more hours of trying to save her dying engine, punctuated at thirteen hundred hours by Jason’s funeral service. Her jaw tightened as her mind drifted to the young cadet, barely twenty years old, who’d been killed in the engine accident. Stop it. Stop it now. She shook her head hard. That was all she needed, another onslaught of tears. She’d be both late and bedraggled, neither of which made her appear the picture of competence her team needed to see right now.
Turning from the mirror, Samantha pulled the sheets taut on her bunk and surveyed her small, neat quarters. They weren’t the biggest on the ship, but they were nicer than most of the men’s bunks—a concession the captain made for the ship’s only female. The Adamant was a pioneer-class bird, where crews were almost exclusively male. She just happened to love old engines and “Twyla” as they called her, because she was in her twilight years, was a beautiful artifact from the early years of spin-drive manufacturing. Twyla was dying, ruined by the same explosion that had killed Jason. She just had to keep Twyla going until twenty hundred hours tomorrow, when the new drive arrived on the The Stronghold. Thankfully, life support wasn’t threatened by the damage, butThe Adamant would be adrift without Twyla.
Hold on just a little longer, old lady.
Making a deliberate sweep of her quarters with her gaze, she noticed two small, wirelessearbuds lying innocently on her dresser, waiting to be forgotten. Sweeping them up with an annoyed grunt, she tucked them in her breast pocket and knelt to lace up her boots, trying very hard not to think of what the hell else could go wrong between now and twenty hundred hours tomorrow.
Just a little longer, Twyla…
She didn’t give herself any more time to think. The heels of her boots rang hollowly on the hard floor as she strode to her door and released the lock.
As her door slid back into the panel, a small object that had been wedged into the corner clattered to the floor. She knelt reflexively to examine it, half fearing an explosive device and rolling her eyes at her own paranoia. For God’s sake, it was an accident. You just haven’t figured out how it happened yet.
No explosive. Just a vidcard, she realized, turning it over in her hand and frowning. Why use avidcard for a message and not the network? Unless the sender wanted privacy. Damn. She hated mysteries and she didn’t have time to watch the vid right now.
A singular scent—sandalwood—stole into her awareness and she turned, smiling up at the tall, broad-shouldered form of Kane Damsen as he strode toward her. His ice-blue eyes met hers and she suppressed a shiver as a tingle of awareness bloomed low in her belly.
“Kane.” Her greeting sounded low, almost sultry, to her ears. Embarrassed heat rushed to her face but he appeared not to notice. Instead he grinned and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“Guilty.” He extended a hand and she took it, allowing him to help her to her feet.
“How is it that you know me from Blake? Nobody else on the ship does,” he asked, his tone a mixture of curiosity and mischief.
His voice stroked her skin like so much black satin and Samantha had to bite back a goofy, love-struck smile. She hesitated, her heart skipping a beat. Truth be told, she’d know the Damsen twins from one another in a snowstorm in the dark. She’d been absolutely smitten with both of them, and just as determined to hide it, since launch day two years ago. Being Chief Engineer had its price. Hers, she figured, was not jumping the bones of the two most beautiful men she’d ever laid eyes on.
He held her hand for a split second longer than was strictly necessary and she was very aware of his long fingers wrapped around her wrist. Then he slid his hand from hers, his thumb trailing—was he doing that on purpose?—along the underside of her wrist, completely undoing her composure. Straightening her spine, Samantha reached desperately for a detached, professional demeanor. He’d asked her something. What had it been? Oh yes.
“Your eyes, of course. His are gray,” she said rapidly, almost stumbling over her words. Strictly speaking, she supposed, Kane’s twin had blue eyes. But Blake’s were just a shade closer to gray. It made his gaze just a little harder, a little darker than Kane’s, in keeping with the differences in their personalities. One thing she knew though—both men looked at her with the same smoky desire that made her ache in places she’d rather not think about while in uniform. What was worse, her responses to Blake and Kane were as identical as the other crew members thought the twins were. Ménage relationships weren’t unheard of on board ships, where the men often outnumbered the women by as much as three-to-one. She had to admit, the Damsen twins made the idea of a triad a deliciously appealing fantasy. But Samantha’s own upbringing had involved only two parents and her memories of the screaming chaos that had been her home had not left her optimistic about commitment to one man, let alone two. She’d worked very hard to keep her desire confined to the dreams that woke her, wet and panting for the twins, on an all too regular basis.
But it was more than her own fears of repeating her parents’ mistakes that kept her from exploring the heated promises she saw in the twins’ eyes—it was her job and this ship. As Chief Engineer and the only female on board a ship bound for a distant planet, her presence already created tension among the men. There was no way she’d be sharing anybody’s bed, let alone those of two men, both ranking officers. It was so unfair, she thought, regarding Kane’s dear, crooked smile. She’d met the perfect man, and there were two of him. And they were both strictly off-limits.
Kane felt rather than saw Samantha’s shiver as he stroked his thumb down the inside of her wrist—just once, just enough to throw her off balance. She was so damn cute when she lost her composure. Her dark red hair was knotted loosely at the nape of her neck. He wondered for the thirteen trillionth time what it would look like tumbling down over her creamy shoulders. Or falling in waves down her bare, arched back, swaying like silk as she rode his brother’s cock. Then his. Then… Kane bit back a groan at the familiar strained, heavy sensation in his groin. Thank God for codpieces. And damn them to hell. They were fucking uncomfortable with a hard-on.
Think I like it any better? Blake asked through their mental connection. Let me guess. You’re messing with her mind again. I told you to block me when you do that. Kane almost laughed at the pained note in his brother’s voice. His brother, the practical officer and helmsman.
If you weren’t stuck on the bridge all day, you’d follow her everywhere she went and you know it. Her ass is a Blake magnet, Kane replied.
And her long red hair is a Kane magnet. Dude, you have issues. You get a boner just thinking about that hair.
You don’t? Kane asked incredulously.
The brothers had known since they were teenagers that they’d never have a normal love life. Their psychic connection was too strong for them to be with different women. Over the years, they’d learned to block each other out when they needed to, but strong emotions and urges made complete emotional shielding almost impossible. Dating separate women proved to be torturous for both of them. Kane had even screamed Blake’s girlfriend’s name once during sex with his own partner, which had pretty much sealed it. They would have to learn to share.
At the Academy, they’d met a few adventurous women willing—some even eager—to be shared, but it hadn’t been for more than a few nights. To those women, the twins had been a novelty, nothing more. He couldn’t blame them. Ménage sex was one thing but a committed ménage relationship, particularly with men as demanding as he and his brother, was another. It would take a special kind of woman to love him and his brother equally, especially after she learned that they shared her with their minds as well as their bodies.
Their psychic connection was one thing Blake and Kane had always kept to themselves—for practical reasons. It wasn’t something you could put on a résumé. Finding a woman who could accept them for what they were, who could love them equally—that would be a miracle. At Blake’s insistence, they had waited two years to approach Samantha, not wanting to ruin something that seemed so promising and not wanting to tip the delicate hormonal balance on board The Adamant. With the end of the voyage only six months away, Kane’s impatience was growing. What if some other crew member—Langley in Engineering, for instance—took her first? The idea of her with her second-in-command made him burn with jealousy.
She isn’t ours yet. Blake’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
Letting his gaze sweep possessively over Samantha’s form, Kane promised silently, She will be. Blake, he reflected, had some distance from her, sitting at the helm all day. It was easy for him to sit up there, completely confident that Samantha would be theirs once they reached the Outer Line planets. Kane wasn’t so sure and he sure as hell wasn’t going to lose her to complacency.
Bullshit it’s easy for me to sit up here alone, Blake responded to his train of thought. I see her every morning, just like you. She’s nervous, dickhead, and if we push it, we’ll lose her.
She wasn’t there this morning, Kane said, his thoughts shifting to concern. The three of them almost always shared a table at breakfast. He frowned.
Samantha smiled up at him and he noticed how pink her cheeks were, how dark her beautiful green eyes. He resisted the urge to brush his thumb across what he guessed were tear tracks on her cheeks. Of course. The accident in the engine room. He felt like smacking his forehead. She’d taken it very personally.
She’s been crying, he told Blake. His brother’s concern was a dark well in his mind.
Jason? The young crewman had been a kind, gentle soul and good friends with Samantha.
Probably, Kane answered. Then, on sudden impulse, he added, I’m asking her to dinner. She’s going to feel like crap after the funeral. As an afterthought, he clarified, Dinner at our place. There was a brief pause as Kane quickly censored the hundred or so images of her, naked and wet for them, thatbustled into his consciousness. Samantha had never been to their quarters. Who knew if she’d say yes? But oh God, if she did… Concern for her state of mind and fear of losing her warred with those images in his head. A million possible answers to the all-important question—what did she look like in the throes of orgasm? Despite his worry, he grinned inwardly, knowing the effect his thoughts would have on his brother’s crumbling reservations about approaching her.
Oh, for chrissake, you’ll kill us both. Just go for it, Blake replied. But in case you’re thinking of using this to seduce her, I’m not in. Kane suppressed a snort.
Liar, he said loftily, then added, you’d be in balls-deep if she said yes, no matter the circumstance. But I’ll try to be a…gentleman.
Samantha coughed awkwardly and Kane realized he’d been staring off into the distance, as was his habit when talking with Blake.
“Sorry,” he said aloud, “woolgathering.”
“You do that a lot around me,” she said lightly. They walked together down the corridor, Samantha lengthening her strides to match his.
“Sorry,” he repeated. “It’s a bad habit.” She sighed and turned to look at him with a troubled vulnerability he knew she wouldn’t have shown any other crewman. Except Blake. A wave of possessiveness washed over him.
“What’s wrong, beautiful?” Kane asked. She looked exhausted, almost frail. Her lips curved into a smile, an attempt to look chipper that was totally ruined by the dark rings under her eyes. He hadn’t realized she was so burned-out. All the jokes about sex and chivalry went out of his mind. Now he just wanted to fix it for her. He had the sudden urge to order her to go back to her quarters and rest, but he knew how important it was that she get to the engine room. Technically, only Blake could give her direct orders, but if he spoke with great authority…
She’d probably laugh at him.
“I’m just tired,” she said, an edge of hoarseness in her voice, no doubt from shouting orders over the racket in the engine room. “I can’t wait until The Stronghold gets here and I can stop the engine triage on Twyla. If we have to go on like this much longer, I’m going to have you guys stick oars out the airlocks and paddle.”
“Well, at least you have a backup plan,” he said drily, grinning. She laughed, lifting his spirits.
“It’s good to hear you laugh,” he said gently. He ached to touch her. They stopped when they reached the Sound Room, where he spent his days unscrambling communications from distant ships and planets. Ignoring her small gasp of surprise, Kane urged her into the alcove and out of the foot traffic in the corridor, guiding her ever so lightly with his hand in the small of her back. When she turned to face him, he could see her nipples pearled under her uniform. Panic warred with indecision in her eyes, but she didn’t object to his touch. His chest tightened with anticipation. Small victories counted.
She drew a small plastic square out of her pocket, holding it out for his examination. It was avidcard.
“Did you send me this?” she asked. He shook his head, genuinely puzzled. He hadn’t known they even had those things on board.
“No,” he said, frowning at the small black square. “Who even uses vidcards anymore?”
She shrugged and sighed. “It’s nothing important. I’ll figure it out.” She returned it to her pocket and met his gaze squarely with those lush-fern eyes. Kane considered pursuing the matter further but decided against it. He had more important things to attend to. Moving slowly, carefully gauging her reaction, he laid his palm on the wall next to her head, blocking her view of the corridor. Her eyes widened a fraction and her pupils dilated beautifully. Kane had to bite back a groan. She was so perfect.
“Have dinner with us,” he said softly. She shivered under his gaze, her pink tongue flicking out to moisten her lips.
“Ah…” she stammered, blushing an attractive rouge that had nothing to do with the redness he’d seen on her cheeks earlier. Her breath came soft and shallow.
She looked like something small and wild, caught between desire and wariness, considering her options. He could have kissed her right there, everything and everyone else be damned.
Oh God, don’t do that. I’ll run us into a planet, Blake interrupted. Later, when I’m not driving.
Irritated at the interruption, it was a second before Kane realized she’d asked him something. “I’m sorry, what?”
“The officers’ mess?” She’d decided, then. Score one for the Damsen twins. He suppressed a slow, predatory smile. She fidgeted with her watch. “I’ll meet you guys at twenty hundred hours?” The crew kept to a twenty-four hour Earth schedule. Time not marked by days and nights was unthinkable to creatures whose biology had evolved around sunrise and sunset.
“No,” he said, moving his hand to her shoulder and leaning just a little closer, enough to make his intention clear. “In our quarters. We can cook a lot better than the ship’s generators, and you deserve it after the long hours you’ve spent keeping Twyla sputtering along.” She stared at him for a moment, her lips parted slightly in unconscious invitation. Kane crossed his fingers behind his back, hoping he wasn’t pushing her too far. He felt a little juvenile doing it, but it couldn’t hurt, right?
She exhaled, recovered her composure and straightened.
“Well, that isn’t much of an endorsement of your cooking skills,” she said with mock scorn, her eyes twinkling. He wondered if she had any idea how crazy she made him and Blake. “But it sounds wonderful,” she added, relenting. “What time?”
Breaking into a broad smile he prayed wasn’t hopelessly goofy, he managed, “Nineteen hundred.”
“I’ll be there,” she said jauntily. With that, she continued down the corridor. Just before she turned the corner, she turned and waved, smiling.
Kane keyed in his code and stepped inside the Sound Room. When he heard the door close, shutting out all sound from the outside, he thrust his arms above his head.