Luck of the Gaian

A Gaian man shouldn’t be capable of loving a woman he wasn’t attached to, but somehow Calli Lisole had gotten past Captain Stanus Renden’s defenses and straight into his heart. Not that he’d ever to admit his attraction for the little card dealer from the space station Paradise’s casino. She just isn’t the right kind of woman for him.

But when pirates attack the station and the pair of them end up trapped in a tiny safe room, the feelings lurking in both of them must finally be faced.

“So where is tall, dark, and Gaian?”

Amber’s teasing voice drifted from the next table, audible over the chimes and pings of the slot machines surrounding them. Momentarily ignoring her friend, Calli continued to sort and stack the colored chips in front of her. She always counted them twice before opening her Alpha High card table.

Not that there was anyone waiting to play against her during the graveyard shift of the casino. The few players who that hadn’t already found their luxurious beds in the station’s hotel, or returned to their ships, were already at their favorite tables. The bigger crowds wouldn’t show up again until at least early afternoon, long after her shift was over. Being on the outs with her boss was costing her a lot in tips, but it was better than giving into the lecherous twit. Besides it gave her most of the day free to be with Ranni and that was worth more than a few chips.

As for Mr. ’tall, dark, and totally-unattainable’ as Stanus Renden should more accurately be called,... “I haven’t seen Captain Renden in a couple of weeks.” His ship, Resolve, hadn’t docked with Space Station Paradise recently. Not that she’d checked, at least not more than once every couple of days. His whereabouts weren’t all that interesting to her. “Why do you ask?”

Amber grinned at her. “Well, maybe because Resolve docked about two hours ago. I thought he’d be here by now.”

Calli tried to ignore the uptick in her heart rate. She was so not interested in an unreachable Gaian man. “You’ve been watching for his ship? Maybe you’ve formed an attachment for him.”

Amber grinned at her. “Attachment? No, that’s a Gaian male thing. I check for all the ships, every evening. Crews of the freshly docked are usually eager to play, particularly if they’ve been a long time in space. That can make any shift a good one.” Amber shrugged. “I noticed Resolve on the list and thought you’d like to know. After all, he’s only interested in you.”

Calli finished counting chips and slipped the security band off a new deck of cards, fanning them expertly and pulling out the end cards and triple fools. “He’s interested in playing Alpha High, not me. He wears that respirator like it was armor.”

Gaian men could only have sex with a woman they were attached to and, as an unmarried man, Stanus Renden wore a breathing mask to filter out any pheromones that a random woman might give off, binding him to her. “In all the time we’ve played cards Captain Renden has never even scratched his nose under that clear mask. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t eat, just plays cards for hours on end.”

Amber’s grin widened. “Hours on end, watching you, watching your hands with the cards. You mark my words, he’s interested... he might not take that mask off, but he’s thinking about you, just the same.”

“No he’s not, and I can prove it to you.”

“Can you?” Amber glanced over at the doorway. “Well you’re about to get your chance. Don’t look now but here he is, fresh off the boat.”

Calli steeled herself not to lift her head toward the casino doorway. If Rendon was here to play cards with her he’d make his way to her table eventually and if he wasn’t.... well, either way she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of staring at him.

Besides she’d already stared at him over the past few months and knew what she’d see if she did look up. And up she’d have to look. A tall, handsome man, he wore a spacer’s suit like it was specially tailored for him, revealing a musculature that spoke of serious workouts in his space freighter’s gym. No she wasn’t going to stare at him...

“Good evening, Ms. Lisole.” At his soft as velvet voice, tinny behind the mask he wore, she had to lift her head to acknowledge him, and once more ended up caught by those strangely warm grey eyes. His lips curved up behind the clear plastic of his respirator. He waved his hands at the set of empty seats opposite her.

“Is there room at your table for me?”