Using Fejo: Chapter 8


Vanessa was there in his room. Surrounded by his things. And he was on his way to talk to fucking Klinara. “What does she want?” Fejo asked, a little too aggressively.

Uja eyed him. “She wants to know if you’ve met the males she assigned. There seemed to be more, but she wouldn’t say.”

Fejo knew what else. There was no way Klinara hadn’t heard of his marriage. But how she would take it, he had no idea. It’d hurt her pride. She liked to think she had a special hold on him that no other female could match. For many years, that had been true. But distance had equaled clarity. In time, he’d seen her for what she was.

His stomps reverberated down the hallway even through the thick, shock-absorbent flooring, and when he finally reached his private, secured communication room, his skin was heated.

Uja’s heavy steps continued down the hall and he shouted “Good luck” over his shoulder.

With a sharp inhale dangerously close to a growl, Fejo shook out his limbs and prepared to speak with Klinara. He connected the call and waited. And waited. And waited.

No answer. He let out a frustrated breath and called again. She loved toying with people.

On the third call, she answered.

“Klinara, I heard you were looking for me.” Fejo kept his tone as light and charming as ever.

“Yes, I was. I wanted to know if everything was running smoothly. How are my males getting along?” Her tone was bored, as if his call was an inconvenience.

“I haven’t met them yet. I requested they arrive a week ago to learn the lay of the ship, but they didn’t show until a few hours ago. I just boarded and was settling in.”

She sucked in an inhale of recognition. “That’s right! You have a wife now, don’t you? What is she like? And why would she want to go on a cross-galaxy haul?”

Insecurity flared to life in Fejo’s chest. He’d wondered the same thing. For three days now, he’d been telling himself that Vanessa must’ve felt the same connection he had. That she must’ve been as intrigued by him as he was by her. But the way she’d been acting didn’t confirm those thoughts.

If anything, she was skittish around him and guarded. She’d been guarded before, but not like this. Before, she’d said whatever was on her mind. Now, it seemed, she chose her words carefully. At least until he got her riled up enough. Then a flash of her sharp wit would come out for a brief moment before she shielded herself again.

Why would she have picked him? He was becoming more and more confused by this. Klinara bringing it up only made his uncertainty grow. “I’m sure you remember how persuasive I could be, Klinara. Besides, she’s human. They do things differently. They value their partners in a different way.”

“Is that right?” Fejo could hear the displeasure in Klinara’s voice. He shouldn’t have been talking up Vanessa, but he couldn’t help it.

“Yes, and I need to be getting back to her, so if there is nothing else…”

“Yes. There is. I need the delivery sooner than expected. I expect you to cut some of your stops.”

Fejo’s hands balled. “I’ve already paid my bribes. I can’t cancel now. It’ll damage the relationships I’ve built.”

“They’re paying double. You’ll make any money you’ve lost back. Don’t worry.” The finality in her voice rang through the silence. “Besides,” she added offhandedly, “this will give you more time on the ship with your new alien pet, won’t it?”

And there it was. Fejo slid his eyes shut. Whether Klinara really needed the package sooner was beside the point. She wanted to punish him. Force him to damage the relationships he’d built with traders across the galaxy because he’d been lucky enough to be picked. And by a human, no less. Klinara was nothing if not petty.

“Fine,” he said, keeping the growl out of his voice. He should lay on the charm again, keep her happy, but Fejo was tired of these games. “I’ll cut a few stops.”

Klinara gave a small hum of satisfaction. “Send your updated itinerary, and contact me at each stop to keep me informed of your progress.”

He disconnected the call and shook off the visceral hatred he felt whenever he had to interact with Klinara.

He lifted the communicator again and programmed in another call. As he waited, he pictured Vanessa in his room. Where would she be? Wandering around and admiring all of his things? Or perhaps sprawled on the couch? Her dark hair would make a lovely contrast to the rich color of the fabric. What if she was in the bed?

“Fejo.”

With a start, he realized someone had been repeating his name. “Yes, my Queen. I’m sorry.”

“You have news?”

“Klinara has requested I cut some on my port stops. She says her client pushed for it and is paying double. We’ll be departing soon. Have you been able to get any more information about what we’re picking up?”

“No. Only that her buyer is someone who holds a lot of influence.”

Fejo ground his teeth. The Queen knew more. She could’ve told him how she’d discovered Klinara’s buyer had influence, for example. But it was clear she wasn’t going to reveal anything else. Did he not deserve to know after working for her all these years? Had he not proved his loyalty by now? He’d been masquerading as Klinara’s henchman for long enough. “We’re still in agreement, right? After this, no more.”

The Queen remained silent for a moment. “I’m afraid I cannot make that promise. We need more. The Insurgents are still out there. Just because we haven’t heard from them does not mean they don’t exist or that they’re not plotting something. I’ve had odd reports from some trusted colleagues in different cities. Powerful people are growing impatient. I need to know if they are gathering weapons and preparing to take what they want.”

Fejo felt his muscles swell with anger. He didn’t know why he was surprised. It seemed everyone around him only wanted to use him to their own ends. He understood what he was doing was important, but when was he going to have a say in his own life? When would he be able to dictate who he worked with and where he went?

Although the Queen’s intentions were good and she was not a cruel female, it was clear she saw him as a cog in the machine that was her plan.

Years ago, when he’d come to her and asked for citizenship, she’d allowed it without too many questions. At the time he’d just wanted distance from Klinara and had suggested he start trading out of Tremanta in order to connect with more important clientele. He’d had no intention of betraying Klinara.

But as time had gone on, the Queen had continued to visit and ask him about his life. Somehow, she’d worked out what Klinara was up to and had come to him with an offer. Eligibility in the Tremantian marriage ceremonies without the requisite schooling, the funds to build the ship of his dreams, and freedom once Klinara and her entire smuggling enterprise had been abolished.

He’d brushed off her offer at first, but the idea that he may eventually be able to have a life of his own and possibly a wife stuck with him. Then, after one fateful day when Klinara had once again mocked him for his wingless body and uncertain ancestry, something in him had snapped. He’d gone to the Queen the next day. That had been five years ago, and though he’d entered every ceremony he could and had his glorious ship, he didn’t see his promised freedom being granted anytime soon.

The Queen continued to speak on the other side of the line, and he listened to her directions in a subdued silence, never arguing, never asking for clarification. Then he hung up. He stepped toward the door but before leaving, pressed his palm against the smooth Askait metal of the ship. The energy of his home pulsed under his fingers. The familiar rumble was a balm to his soul. He slid his eyes closed.

He could make this work. He could get enough information on Klinara to expose her. It was clear this run was important. All he had to do was push harder. Learn more.

His confidence built, and he decided he could also convince Vanessa to extend their marriage. Then, after all was said and done, he’d hire his own crew and use his ship to make the runs he wanted. He could make Vanessa happy. Maybe they’d even have a child.

In order to accomplish any of these grand plans, he needed to focus. With renewed determination, he strode purposefully to his room.

***

Whatever had perturbed Fejo before he’d left for his call had vanished by the time he’d returned. With that thousand-watt smile back in place, he’d grabbed Vanessa and escorted her through the ship, heading for the bridge where his crew were apparently waiting to meet her.

“I need to tell you something before you meet the men,” he said, peering down at her.

Oh no. What now? She was already nervous enough about meeting the crew, who might or might not be criminals. “Uh-huh. What’s that?”

“I may act differently in front of them. I’m the boss, after all, and none of them are quite as delicious as you.”

Vanessa didn’t know how to respond to that. She’d figured he’d have to be a bit more professional, but wasn’t he also the captain of a ship? Wasn’t eccentric and boisterous part of the job description? He led her to a door at the very end of the hall, double wide and dotted with dull nubs.

When the door slid open, a large assortment of staring men stopped her in her tracks. The room they were in was clearly the other globe of the ship, except this room was larger than Fejo’s room and there were a lot more men in it.

She’d thought Fejo’s stare was intense. Some of the men eyeing her now put Fejo to shame in the intensity department. One man in particular, who had a bald head and fiery orange skin, flashed a grin, and she had to stop herself from recoiling at the glimpse of razor-sharp teeth.

She spotted Uja standing in the far corner of the room, staring at the backs of all the men as if he expected them to riot any minute. Fejo stepped forward and cleared his throat in a way that sounded more like a short growl. To her surprise, some of the men who’d been staring at her quickly looked away. An unmistakable show of submission. Why the fuck did that turn her on?

She glanced to Fejo and found him standing straighter, his shoulders thrown back and his hands clasped behind him. He’d somehow made his body look larger and more imposing than normal. Or perhaps he always made himself look smaller in front of her.

He’d also unclasped his coat so it spread wide with his stance and displayed the multitude of blades hidden beneath the fabric. Had he accumulated more since she’d last seen them?

As she gazed at the hard line of his mouth and his icy stare, she couldn’t help but once again wonder how dangerous he was. And she couldn’t stop the shiver of arousal that traveled through her body.

He turned to her for a moment, and his brows crinkled together. Then he faced his crew again and spoke. “This is my wife, Vanessa. She’ll be with us for the duration of our run. She’s human and unfamiliar with space travel. If she asks any of you a question, I expect you to answer her with respect and truthfulness. If she tells me any of you have been inappropriate, I’ll throw you into the lock and shoot you out with the garbage.”

Vanessa’s breath caught in her chest, and she focused on the floor. The declaration from Fejo had been so unexpected and so violent yet said so matter-of-factly. She didn’t know how to react. Was he serious? Would he really murder someone if she told him they’d been inappropriate with her? Or was it just a saying?

The hush that fell over the crowd made her wonder how serious the crew believed Fejo to be. Once again, unease fell around her like a dark cloud. She mentally calculated the credits she’d received from Alice and Luka to pay off Vitash and recited her Lentri Port directions in her head. Walk toward the large green tower. Turn left at the spare parts shop on the right…

“Now, are there any questions?” Fejo asked in a tone that was clearly rhetorical.

It didn’t surprise her that nobody responded. She chanced a glance around the room once more and found that far fewer eyes were studying her. She took the opportunity to examine the bridge and noticed holographic screens lined every wall. Otherwise, the room was bare. There were no chairs or physical controls or anything. It was wide open. Did everyone just stand in here during the day?

When no one spoke, Fejo nodded approvingly. “Wife,” he addressed her. “Do you have anything you’d like to say? Any instructions you’d like to give the crew?”

Instructions? What was she meant to tell them? She knew Clecanians had a deep respect for women, but thinking she’d have any say with these men was laughable. Still, she didn’t want to seem meek, so she cleared her throat and lied. “It’s very nice to meet all of you. I hope to get to know you more on the trip.”

A quiet murmur broke out, then stopped suddenly. She glanced at Fejo, whose lips were tight. Had she said the wrong thing? Was she not supposed to get to know the people she’d be living with for three months? Well, that was stupid. Just because they were men didn’t mean she should never talk to them. Other than Fejo, they were the only people around.

Back at the Pearl Temple she was allowed to speak to the male guards. Was it different now that she was a wife?

Fejo leaned down and whispered to her, “Would you rather stay here when we depart or wait in the room?”

Vanessa didn’t need to think about her answer. She’d much prefer hiding away under the covers as they took off into the great black vacuum that was space. “I’d like to go back to the room if it’s all the same to you.”

He nodded and placed a large palm on her lower back to guide her out.

Normally she hated when men did this as if it were normal, but he was her husband now and being herded seemed like the least of her worries. Also, she didn’t hate his touch. His large hand spanned her lower back, and she found the heat seeping through her shirt not altogether unenjoyable. Still, her bitchy brain urged her to tell him off for guiding her like child.

They walked silently back to his room, and she wondered whether she was supposed to apologize for something. “I wasn’t prepared to say anything,” she started with a bit of defensiveness in her tone.

He watched her and grinned that gorgeous grin. “You did nothing wrong. I suppose it makes sense that you’d want to interact with people who aren’t me during your time here. But the males on my ship aren’t used to females from Clecania giving them attention. Especially wives.”

“Why is that?”

“Most of the males on my ship are ineligible for marriage. They have their various dalliances on the different planets and ports we land on but no wives.”

“And are they satisfied with that?” she questioned. It was really too bad the men on Clecania outnumbered the women by so many. She actually hoped things worked out with Earth and that all Clecanians could go find mates among humans if they wanted to. She just didn’t have the time to wait for that eventuality.

“No,” he said simply.

After reaching his room and entering the large yet crowded space, Fejo stopped and stared at her. He often stared, but his gaze held something else. An uncertainty she hadn’t seen before. He said nothing, and she grew uncomfortable under his scrutiny.

“So, what now?” she asked in a tight voice.

“I have to see us through customs and ensure we enter cruise speed. Normally, I wouldn’t need to, but Clecania requires captain supervision while exiting port. I’ll be back shortly. We can begin our marriage properly if you’d like.” He inched closer as he spoke.

The luxurious deep burgundy of his coat complemented the black of his hair and his dark eyes. He really was a gorgeous man. He reached toward her and swept her hair over her shoulder, a gesture he seemed to like to do often. Then he gripped the back of her neck and pulled her up for a tender kiss. She hadn’t had time to raise her guard, so the sigh she released at the feel of his hot tongue against her lips was all the more embarrassing.

Heat pooled in her belly as he deepened the kiss and drew her in closer. She hated how much she loved his firm grip on her nape. Despite her reasonable brain screaming at her body not to respond, she felt herself grow wet. The small rumble that resonated in his chest pulled her out of her stupor, and she broke away.

His hungry gaze raced over her face, lingering at her lips, and he inhaled deeply. “Is something wrong, lovely?”

Quite the opposite. Too much was right. She had to keep her head on straight, and she couldn’t seem to do that with Fejo in the room. She needed to get a handle on this—and quick. Weren’t the wives supposed to be in charge of the relationship?

“Fejo,” she said with resolve, “I have to take things at my own pace. I need to get to know you a bit more and settle in before we do…things like that. So next time, keep your lips to yourself.”

She’d hoped he’d look chagrined, but he only tilted his chin up and analyzed her once again. “There’s something you should know about me,” he said with a crooked grin. “Although I may not look particularly Clecanian, as you say, I am very Clecanian. Actually, my sense of smell is better than most Clecanians. So, I can tell that you want me.” He leaned in so he met her eye level. “And I can tell you don’t want me to know how much you want me.”

Scorching heat rose to Vanessa’s cheeks. The stupid underwear trick hadn’t worked. He knew exactly what effect he had on her.

He scanned her likely beet-red face again and his grin widened. “I don’t know why you’re so skittish around me, little wife, but I plan on winning you over.”

Vanessa’s embarrassment slithering through her veins brought her temper to the surface. She managed not to blurt out the curses that sprung to her lips; unfortunately, that meant her glare and clenched jaw were unavoidable.

Fejo straightened and backed toward his door, his grin even more brilliant than a moment ago. “I can’t wait to see that fire in you flare when I finally have you under me.”

Just like that, her anger was replaced with shock and cursed arousal. Damn it.

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