Since her parents’ divorce, Nova has suffered from debilitating timidity and an inability to tell anyone what she wants. So when her dad moves on with a new Dragaken wife, it hurts. And having to meet her on alien cruise ship for the first time? Even worse. But that all changes when Nova meets her step-brother, Alek. She’s never wanted anything more. When Alek reciprocates, Nova is tossed headfirst into a confusing hyperwarp of danger and desire. But on this weeklong family bonding trip, there’s no telling which side of her will win out—will Nova adhere to her human taboos, or will she finally drum up the courage to pursue her happiness and go after what she wants?
The intergalactic cruise ship was beautiful. Larger than any city I’d ever seen, though it was difficult to appreciate when the reason I was on it was anything but beautiful.
I wouldn’t be here if not for my father’s new marriage—several years after Mom left us, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. When Mom walked out, Dad hadn’t even been on Earth. Come to think of it, he hadn’t been home since I was a child.
Now, his mysterious new wife had the funds to secure multiple tickets for an interstellar luxury cruise? That was no easy feat.
But as I followed the crowd down the shuttle’s sky bridge to the ship, I refused to be impressed. I vowed that no matter what, no matter who this woman was or what position she held, I would not be her cheerful, happy-to-be-here stepdaughter. I was ~not ~happy to be forced on a week-long vacation just to meet my new “family.”
No doubt Dad had filled her in on my ordinary, humdrum life, and she thought she could soften the surprise of their coupling with a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. I snorted into the back of the furry alien in front of me.
Stars, this was going to suck.
Crisp, manufactured oxygen filled my lungs the moment I stepped onto the cruiser’s landing terminal. Electric nerves bristled under my skin. Humans and aliens of all kinds wove together under the luminescent lights, herding me toward the deck where cruise hosts were mingling.
The hosts, neatly dressed in sleek white and shimmering blue suits and carrying chrome trays lined with tall red and blue drinks, twisted through the tide of multi-colored furred, scaled, finned, and fleshy bodies.
I had no idea what kind of drinks they were, but I knew I needed one. Somewhere on the vessel, my father and his new wife waited for me.
I was sure that my wrist-com would ping with a message any minute now. Then I’d have to find Dad and meet this fancy alien woman who seized his attention in such a short amount of time that they’d barely had a wedding.
A wedding his only child wasn’t invited to.
Though most races didn’t have weddings. Not like the ones on Earth, anyway.
A webbed host passed by, and I swiped the nearest drink—a red one. The little yellow umbrella swayed, and the oddly shaped ice cubes clinked on the glass as I followed the rest of the passengers onto the upper deck.
As fellow first-timers spread thin to gawk and coo over the otherworldly sights of the cruiser, I tipped back my glass and took a sip of the red concoction. Vibrant fruit and sharp citrus flavors swept over my tongue. Only when it hit the back of my throat did I feel the familiar punch of alcohol.
Stars, that was good.
Intoxicating as well. It was so fruity and strong, egging me on to keep sipping—not that I needed any encouragement. If I showed up drunk out of my mind to dinner, that would send a message to them straightaway: I was not here to bond with any of them. I simply wanted to enjoy the vacation on my terms, then get back to my lonely life on Earth.
I raised my glass and sipped, but only air hit my thirsty lips. The drink was gone, and clouds filled my head. I put one hand out before me, as if to steady myself and tried to take a deep breath.
Whatever they put in that glass was stronger than anything I’d ever had before. I wouldn’t need a second one to be the drunkest I’d ever been.
At this rate, I might throw up on my new stepmother. The thought made me laugh, then wince as something vile threatened to climb back up my throat. Swaying to my right, I stumbled until I felt exterior glass supporting me. Leaning back, eyes closed, I tried to coach myself through hazy thoughts.
That worked a little too well. What do I do? J-just pretend you aren’t wasted. That’ll work.
Famous last words of everyone who drank more than they expected to. Even my inner monologue sounded slurred.
The weight from my hand suddenly lifted, and a touch of something scaly brushed my arm. My eyes stayed closed; if I opened them, I was scared I’d projectile vomit all over the upper deck.
What the fuck was in that drink?
A bell chimed through the ship’s speakers, reverberating like a gong within my skull and forcing me to bite my lip to stop the nausea from spreading. Stars, why is it so loud? Bright light seared through my closed eyelids just as another chime rocked me. Then, the fuzzy, faraway sound of a captain’s voice greeting us made its way into my intoxicated, laden brain.
It was impossible to make out what he was saying, so I didn’t try.
Suddenly, a low humming beneath the ship vibrated through the flooring. The hairs on the back of my neck rose, and my stomach plummeted to my feet. Both eyes shot open.
That was a mistake. Inches from my face outside the window, streaks of sparkling white and blue lights exploded into space, and the sour, sickly taste of vomit coated my tongue from the harsh sight. Swallowing thickly and trying hard not to gag, I forced it down as the ship’s momentum sent my body reeling away from the wall.
I stumbled back, arms flailing and eyes wide. The ground rushed up to meet my face, and I moved too slowly to brace myself against the incoming crash.
Unyielding, warm arms suddenly encircled my frame, and my face smooshed into the firm chest of a stranger. A powerful, intoxicating masculine scent filled my nose, and the heat of that body melted the panic from my bones.
My body relinquished to the calm strength of the man who’d caught me. Even through the black fabric wrapped around him, I felt his undeniable height and sculpted planes of muscle.
Oh stars, I’m too buzzed to be in the arms of a hot guy right now.
But it wasn’t just that—the churning vibrations in my stomach melted into a sudden, calm lull akin to an ocean at low tide. The sensation was familiar, secure, and deeply comforting. Something I hadn’t felt in years, not since I was a child, or perhaps ever.
“Are you all right?” Concern vibrated within the deep voice rumbling through him as his hands ran up my sides to grasp my shoulders.
The security evaporated. A charged bolt zipped through my body, and every coincidental touch on my skin was pure bliss. My heartbeat echoed between my legs. Stars, what was happening? I hadn’t even looked up yet.
I peeled my face away from his chest and tipped my head back to see the stranger who’d been kind enough to catch me.
The first words of my starstruck reaction flung themselves off my tongue. “Oh, fuck me.”
Ravenous eyes flicked over my body. The corner of his mouth kicked up, and his corresponding chuckle made my stomach dip. “That can be arranged. It is a long trip, after all.”