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Copyright © CHANDRA RYAN, 2014
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

After walking down the hallway to her bedroom she grabbed a set of workout clothes and a towel and threw them into her duffel before making her way through the maze of corridors to the gym. Dealing with that ass Fleet sent had left her needing a good sweat. And since she wasn’t due on the bridge for another hour there was no reason to deny herself the pleasure of one. Opening the hatch to the co-ed locker room, she grabbed a locker and stripped down to her underwear.
It’d bothered her to be so naked in front of everyone when she first came onboard the Tempest. But she’d somehow managed to get used to it over the years. Besides, nobody saw her as anything other than the captain now. That hadn’t been the case ten years ago when she’d only been a tactician with the rank of ensign. Everybody had stared at her back then. She’d felt like a fish in an aquarium. It’d been the worst sensation ever. But that was no longer the case. She’d earned her crew members’ respect and no one stared at her anymore.

She smiled at the truth as she slipped on her workout clothes. In the gym she stretched and then started jogging at a relaxed pace around the track to warm her muscles. It wasn’t a full-sized track. Her ship wasn’t large enough to house a complete one. But it was big enough to work up a sweat.

She’d run today and work out on the weights tomorrow. That was her routine and she did it without fail. It was important to stay strong. Only the strong survived military service. And she planned on doing better than surviving. She would excel.

She used that thought as motivation as she began to run seriously. Taking steady breaths, she forced herself to focus on the track in front of her. Nothing else existed and nothing else mattered. At least, nothing did until her lungs burned and her heart raced. And when she was unable to make herself run another lap at the grueling pace, she slowed down to let her body cool. Only after another two laps did she finally allow herself to stop.

Gasping for air, she bent over to ease the stitch in her side. Every inch of her body hurt but the pain was dull and she knew it would disappear under the warm spray of the shower. She’d lived through worse. Probably would do so again. So she refused to waste any energy whining about it. Forcing herself to stand, she made her way toward the promise of relief.

The locker room was almost deserted when she walked back through the door. Not a great surprise. It was almost time for lunch and meals were one of the few social activities on the ship. Only a handful of crew members would choose to work out over catching up with the day’s gossip. But since she had little use for gossip, this was the perfect time for her.

Taking off the sweaty clothes, she shoved them into her locker and grabbed the towel before stepping under the warm jets of water. It was such a small luxury yet the water pelting her sore muscles and then trailing down her skin felt decadent. It was as if fingers were massaging and caressing every inch of her body all at once. And she wanted nothing more than to stay under the warm water all day. But she was the captain and there was a long list of things that needed done. Ignoring it would only make it grow faster.

She reluctantly turned off the water and then wrapped a towel around her body before stepping back into the locker room. She’d expected to find the room completely deserted this time. But she was wrong. Standing in front of one of the lockers with his back to her was Parker. And he was shirtless.

She cleared her throat softly to let him know she was there but she instantly recognized her mistake as he turned to face her. Her gaze was drawn to his strong arms then pulled to his chest. There was a long scar that stretched over his left side and ended just over his sternum—his heart. Whatever had caused it had been inches from taking his life. But somehow he’d survived. He’d won.

Realizing she was staring, she forced herself to look away from him. “Sorry, I didn’t want to startle you.”


It was a stray thought. One she hadn’t meant to pick up. But one that left her acutely aware of her near-nakedness and made her feel vulnerable. Which was an emotion she just didn’t do. She was his captain. His leader. And she was going to have to make sure he understood their relationship.

She forced her spine to straighten as she walked briskly to her locker and took the towel off without reservation. It was what she needed to do. She had to stay in control of the situation. Show him that he was nothing more than a uniform in her mind.

As she grabbed her clothes from the locker she refused to think about him. Instead she focused on the list of things that needed her attention as she dressed. Or at least that’d been the plan. But it wasn’t long before Parker’s image intruded on her thoughts. It was maddening and completely inappropriate. They had a major run coming up. Soon her ship would be transporting some of the worst criminals in this quadrant from

one side of the galaxy to the other. She didn’t have time for inappropriate right now. But damn it all, it was kind of exciting.

The wayward thought made her freeze. That she might actually be enjoying the attention of a man was bad enough. But a crew member? That had never happened before. No matter how strong his arms were or how much she loved scars. And she shouldn’t allow it to happen now. But she couldn’t stop herself from looking over her shoulder to find him. Bitter disappointment filled her as she discovered the spot he’d just occupied was now empty.

What the hell was wrong with her? Now dressed, she slammed the locker shut and grimaced as the accompanying noise echoed eerily through the room and brought her back to her senses. She knew what was wrong. And it didn’t matter how many doors she slammed, her new XO wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Was she comfortable with having a man under her who constantly stared at her ass or came rushing to her defense? Hell no. She was even less comfortable with how her heart raced whenever she caught him thinking about her. But she’d read his file. He was good.

Yeah, she’d bet he was better than good—at everything.

A shiver worked through her body at the thought but she quickly pushed the sensation away. He was good at his job, she corrected. And she needed a good XO. Nothing more. She ran a brush through her tangled hair and pulled it back into a bun before setting off for the bridge. Her attraction to Max Parker would die down once she got to know him a bit better. As soon as she saw him picking his teeth or heard him whine about the long hours he’d just be another crew member. She was sure of it. And if not, she was a practical woman. There were ways to work the attraction out of their systems before it became a distraction to either of them.