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To save him, she must strip him bare. Security expert Buck’s senses are inhumanly keen, to the point he can see through time and space, and that’s just the start of his odd abilities—thank you, alien captors. He also experiences paranoia, flashbacks, and the occasional hallucination—thank you, PTSD. No wonder he fears he could hurt one of the Malcolm crewmates he lives to protect, the closest thing to family he has left after the destruction of his home planet. Brilliant scientist Aleema can teach him how to use his modifications without triggering PTSD. She’s survived the same meddling aliens and suffered even more dramatic alterations. At least her unwanted immortality means she’s had time to figure out how the modifications work and use the knowledge to aid other survivors. Helping Buck means spending some serious time together. Time enough to fall in love. Just as happiness seems within their grasp, Aleema realizes one of Buck’s modifications dooms him to an unthinkable future. To save him, she must place herself in the hands of their common enemy and leave Buck to face his worst fears without her.
If you've read the previous Chronicles of the Malcolm books, Thrill-Kinky and Bad Kitty, you already know Buck's a little damaged.
In this book, we learn he was the victim of some alien medical experiments as a POW, and they've had lasting effects--ones that will either make him more than human or destroy him. Aleema may be the only person who can help him, but she's been warped by the same aliens. This excerpt shows Buck and Aleema's first meeting and it's not exactly a "cute meet" to say the least! The combination of attraction and paranoia mark a lot of their initial interactions.
At first glance, Aleema was good-looking, a tall, curvy human woman with black hair brushing her shoulders and skin far darker than Buck’s own fair complexion, though lighter than Mik, who was as close to actual-factual black as a human got without cosmetic mods. Maybe this gig wouldn’t be so bad. Awkward, sure, telling his woes to a complete stranger and a pretty one at that, but at least he’d have something nice to look at while he was getting his head shrunk. Then he took a second look.
She had human features, human coloring. But her eyes were solid black and when she extended her arms to hug Gan, Buck saw her left hand had webbed fingers like a Seera. She had only five fingers, like a proper human hand, not seven, but it was close enough to a Seera to register as a threat.
He reached for his laserpistol before he could stop himself. The voices in his head screamed no. Not his conscience, although that was making some noise about the notion of shooting a friend of Gan’s in cold blood, but the voices in his head, the horrors that more often than not prompted him to do stupidly violent things. This time, the horrors were reminding him of things he’d rather forget about his time as a prisoner of the Seera. The experiments they’d performed on him and other captured soldiers.
Stars, the things they did to themselves sometimes, just for fun or curiosity, best as he’d been able to figure out. A Seera scientist never met a natural body that couldn’t be “improved” in some way. If Aleema was a survivor of a Seera experiment herself, one worse than what he’d undergone or at least leaving more obvious traces, it made sense why Gan wanted them to meet. Buck was still creepified, but he’d give her a chance.
He could always shoot her later.
Aleema peered cautiously out the door, checking all directions and, not for the first time, thanking the stars for the irony that the modifications that made her caution necessary also made it easier by improving her field of vision and heightening all her senses. It had been years since anyone other than bored teenagers had messed with her, and the teens had confined themselves to painting rude slurs on her housepod.
Her neighbors were used to her odd appearance and as long as she wore gloves and dark glasses or contact lenses, she could move about freely in other areas. She probably wouldn’t get harassed if she omitted the gloves and glasses—she wasn’t the only Seera survivor in Naxos City with some visible effects—but her mods were extensive enough they made people notice her, and that was never a good idea. If people paid too much attention, they might pick up that she didn’t age, even as much as people addicted to vanity regens inevitably did. Besides, it never hurt to take precautions.
Over the long years, a lot of people had tried to kill her. They hadn’t succeeded, of course, but the attempts still hurt. She might heal faster than unmodified humans, but she felt pain just as keenly. Gan was waiting outside, just like he’d commed that he would be, his human husband by his side.
A bearded human male, scruffy and scarred, paced back and forth behind them as if guarding the rear. He had the posture of a soldier and was assessing the street for threats even more obviously than she had been. It had to be Buck, the man Gan hoped she could counsel. Assuming he was Buck, he screamed armed and dangerous. He didn’t have a weapon visible, out of respect for local laws, but she could tell he was carrying. He hid it well, but her vision was keener than most, saw things it wasn’t supposed to notice. And marling stars, he was attractive, though he seemed to be going out of his way to hide it, with the messy brown hair and untrimmed beard. His faded red clingshirt stretched over a broad chest that a loose olive jacket did little to conceal.
She knew from Gan’s coms that Buck’s baggy olive trousers—some planet’s military surplus, she guessed—hid a prosthetic leg, but she wouldn’t have suspected from the way the man moved. She took all that data in and analyzed it in the short time it took her to walk toward Gan, another blessing and curse of being who and what she was.
She wasn’t a cyborg—though people who had the good fortune to be unfamiliar with the Seera sometimes thought she might be one of those rare flesh-machine hybrids—but both her senses and her thought processes ran far faster than the norm. Which meant that even while she gave Gan a big hug, taking in his pleasant, familiar smell of milk and sunshine, she remained vigilant. Remained aware. Took in that Buck had noticed her eyes and her hand. Registered that he twitched toward the laserpistol concealed by the baggy jacket, but stopped himself. Noticed the quick terror that passed over his face and the confused calm that followed it, like an order no one else could hear had squashed his momentary urge toward violence.
Stars, he was like her, as Gan had hoped and feared. The Seera hadn’t gotten as far with him in ways visible to the naked eye, but he’d had a lot less time to adapt to the ways his brain and body were no longer quite his. With any luck, she could buy him the time he needed.
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