Using Fejo: Chapter 3

Klinara swept her nails over the silky fabric covering her breasts and smiled. Fejo held in his frown. She was doing it to draw his eyes to her body and, despite his best efforts, it worked. That was how it’d been for as long as he could remember. She knew just how to tether him, to make him wonder if he was tethered at all. But not anymore.

“This pickup is quite large,” she reminded him, eyeing the exposed skin of his chest as if admiring a piece of art she owned. “Have you ensured you’ll have room?”

“Of course,” Fejo answered, crossing his arms and leaning against the stone wall inlaid with shells and coral. The smell of salt and brine on the air lulled him and made his body tense at the same time. This had been his home…at least it’d been the only home he’d ever known before stepping foot on his ship.

Being back in Huvuita gave him mixed feelings. Visceral and immediate and confusing. He shared a bond with the Huvuitian Ganglu Sea that couldn’t be broken. He knew all the currents and caves, having explored them extensively as a child. But being within the fortified compound that sat on Klinara’s small island made his skin crawl. If he were a male with less control, he’d dive into the turbulent water and swim away right now.

He had business to attend to before his trip, though, and Klinara rarely deigned to leave her manicured estate unless she had to.

“Good.” She finally raised her black irises to his face. “I hope you don’t mind the extra males accompanying you.”

It wouldn’t have mattered if he minded. Klinara wanted them to go, so they’d be going. As always, if he wanted to stay within her good graces and continue to acquire contracts, he had little say in the matter. He shot her his most charming grin. “If you want them there, then I don’t mind. As long as you haven’t lost your faith in me, that is.”

She cocked her head at him, her smile vacant, giving away nothing. “Do I have any reason to?”

Years ago, he would’ve scoffed at the idea. Scoffed while trailing behind her like a lost hatchling. But now…

He bent, breathing through his mouth to avoid her peppery scent, and purred, “Never.”

Flexing her wings, the faint iridescence of her white feathers shimmered in the direct sunlight. She shooed him away and smirked.

Fejo stepped back with a playful grin, ignoring the knot in his stomach that had formed at the proximity. He must’ve hidden his reaction well, though, because she settled. Her features grew confident and relaxed; she thought he still wanted her and would do what he was told.

“I’ve made sure all our deliveries and pickups are made on our way out. That way, we can head directly home after retrieving the package,” he explained further.

A winged male from a darkened doorway emerged and placed a bright orange ubla into Klinara’s hand. She sipped the beverage, not acknowledging the extra lengths Fejo had gone to to make sure her delivery arrived as fast as possible.

“Will you tell me what it is I’m picking up now?” Fejo tried, masking his eagerness by pretending to admire the gentle curve of her wing like he always used to do.

When she’d first explained he’d be traveling through restricted space on his next trip, he’d asked what he was meant to pick up, but Klinara’s willingness to explain the details of his jobs always depended on her mood. Yet this time, he got the feeling she was withholding information rather than toying with him in the way she liked. Which could mean a few things.

It could be she was losing trust in him. Perhaps the long time spent apart now that he was a citizen of Tremanta had something to do with it. She’d taken it as a great insult when her favorite pet had become a citizen of another city. He’d smoothed it over by reminding her that because he was now a merchant for Tremanta, he had access to a larger ship and longer routes. She’d liked that explanation but still treated him differently since that day.

Her reticence to describe his cargo in detail could also mean she herself didn’t know, though she’d never admit to that. The buyers who came to her to order goods were often Clecanians of importance. Ones who wouldn’t want their names tied to any illegal trading. An easy way to squash rumors of trading something like Bystergian crystal was to make sure no one on board knew they were moving Bystergian crystal.

Rather than answer him, she took another sip of her drink through pursed lips, then said, “I heard your ceremony is coming up a few days before you leave.”

Ah. Was that why she was in such a mood? “If you had agreed to pick me, I wouldn’t have to look elsewhere,” Fejo prompted, lifting his brows and letting his gaze travel over her body. The swell of affection that had for so long plagued him every time he saw Klinara was absent. He had no idea when his desire for the female had finally sputtered out, but he thanked the Goddess it had.

For too long, she’d kept him loyal and blind. Only after she’d started sending him out on interplanetary pickups had his devotion to her dimmed. But it was better for her to assume he was still smitten. If she suspected he wasn’t, Fejo knew she’d do everything in her power to reel him back in.

She’d promise love and devotion while twisted in the sheets of her bed, and just when he started to believe her, she’d push him away. Each time she’d done so, he’d fallen for it, and each time he’d been forced to learn the hard way that it was all an act. She’d kept him hooked on her for decades in order to use him and to satisfy her own vanity.

He’d grown to hate her over the years and he knew he’d never fall for her tricks again, but turning down her advances, without it resulting in her temper exploding and scalding everyone in the vicinity, would be exhausting and complicated.

“I asked many times,” he prompted when she said nothing. Her eyes drifted toward his shoulders, and he straightened his back. He knew what she was so unsubtly seeing—or rather, not seeing. Fejo had no wings, yet by some cruel trick of fate he’d been born into a multi-island city full of winged inhabitants. He’d been an outcast his whole life. Always left behind on annual flights to the community island. Even before he’d been taken in by Klinara’s father, he’d felt trapped in his damn flightless body. Now he’d made his home on his ship, soaring above them all.

Old cuts ran deep, though, and Fejo found his shoulder blades flexing and bunching the way they used to when he’d been teased as a boy. He could recall floating on the water and fantasizing that wings would sprout from his back one day.

“How many ceremonies have you been to now?” she prodded. Klinara understood just where to punch to leave a mark. She knew Fejo had only ever sought to feel wanted, and she also knew he’d never been—and would likely never be—picked as a husband. Not as long as he was working as her merchant. No female wanted her husband to work during their three-month marriage. Moreover, no female wanted to live on a ship in cramped quarters for months at a time while he worked. And yet he continued to submit himself, though he had a perfectly valid excuse to be exempt.

He let the knowledge that he’d at least have a good time in the testing room wash over him. It was enough.

Unable to stop himself, he flashed a flirtatious grin. “Too many to count. But the testing is always so delicious. It’s just the thing I need before a cross-universe trip.”

The look of jealousy that flitted over Klinara’s face lifted his spirits and seeded dread in his gut in equal measure. She’d see his eagerness to be with other females as a challenge and might try to lure him back into her bed. He didn’t have the energy to sweet-talk his way out of it at the moment.

Weariness curled its way through his veins, and before she could decide on her next move, he spoke. “If that’s all, I’ll head out. I still need to prepare the ship and show your new males how things are run. Do they have any special skills I should be aware of?” Fejo glanced over at the males lurking in the corner. Both mauve-skinned and Tetran in appearance rather than Huvuitian like Klinara. She never liked her minions to be members of her own race—at least not any who lived in Huvuita. She’d learned that from her father.

“No,” she said simply.

Fejo analyzed the two males again. They were large. Larger than most Tetrans, with deadly spiraling horns extending from their temples. And they were scarred. Since they hadn’t made it a point to visit a medic and heal those scars, Fejo assumed she must’ve plucked them straight from their city, where imperfections were accepted and where taking the elixir was frowned upon.

Too many scars for them not to be excellent fighters. They most definitely had a skill, but he doubted it was a skill often required while manning a peaceful merchant ship.

He glanced back at her and caught her staring. She hadn’t dismissed him yet and appeared to be deciding whether or not she wanted to. Her gaze wandered down his body, lingering. His stomach roiled. Would she ask him to stay? And could he think of a good enough excuse not to? Finally, she seemed to lose interest and swept him away with a long, regal wing.

“Be sure you make contact at every port this time. I want to be aware of your progress.”

Fejo bowed, holding her gaze and masking his relief with a heated look.

Klinara’s chin tipped up in approval of his flirtation before he turned and walked to the ladder reserved for guests who couldn’t fly into the compound. Many houses on the thousands of islands dotting the Ganglu Sea had gates meant to be signs of welcome for other Clecanian races who were visiting.

But not Klinara’s home. He’d never felt welcome here.


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