She was aware of someone coming to sit beside her. Seeing the clad knee nudge her, she immediately knew who it was, and she had a smile ready for him when she lifted her head.           
             Blynn smiled back. “How do you feel about settling down?”

            Ayn caught the double entendre but chose to ignore the second one. “It’s going to feel strange not flying through space anymore.”

            “Ah, but think of all the dangers we’ve had to face when we did. The asteroid belts, the meteor showers, the radioactive nebulae, the—”

            “All right! All right! You’ve made your point!” She laughed.

            But he continued. “And that’s not mentioning those planets with their dangerous or poisonous atmospheres we had to work in, or their gravity that nearly crushed the blood out of your body. I could go on but I won’t.”

            “Thank you.”

            “Have you had dinner yet?”

            “I started to when the captain came on to tell us the news.” She checked over her shoulder at where she’d been sitting. It was occupied by others.

            “Come on.” He took her hand and stood, giving her arm a tug. “I’m starving. Let’s go get something.”

            As they made their way toward the front of the cafeteria where the food producers were located, she glanced up at him. Once again she was keenly aware of how small she appeared when she was next to him, and she wasn’t a tiny woman. Blynn Trainer was one of those tall, broad-chested men that most women adored being with. The kind of guy they swooned over and dreamt of. The kind of guy they’d readily jump into bed with, whether they were married or not, just to get a taste of what he had stuffed inside his jumpsuit.

            Except Blynn wasn’t the kind of man who got involved in extramarital affairs. From what she’d personally witnessed, and what she’d overhead others say when they spoke of him, he was a loner but dependable and a damn hard worker. Many of the guys on the crew he led when they went down-planet to excavate liked him.

            Why in the cosmos he happened to take a liking to her continued to baffle her.

            They got their food and found a table where they could have a modicum of privacy while they ate. Ayn glanced at the pot roast he dug into and chuckled. “Why you get the same thing almost every time you come to eat continues to astonish me. Or do you only get it when I’m eating with you? Please tell me you don’t have it for breakfast, too.”

            He lifted those green eyes at her, a deadpan expression on his face. “Why don’t you stay over some time and find out?”

            She managed to answer him with a small smile and nothing else. It was an old… No, not old. More like…long-standing joke… She mentally shook her head. No, it wasn’t a joke either.


            “I know, I know,” he whispered. “No pressure. I told you I’m willing to wait.”

            She dropped her gaze to the bowl of soup she was stirring. “I’m sorry.”

            “Don’t be.” He reached out to take her hand and gave it a squeeze. “I understand. I know you will when you’re ready. I promise you I can wait, and I will wait for you. However long it takes, I’ll be here when you’re ready.”

            They’d had this discussion before. He wanted her. She wanted him. But her past with Doone, the way her husband had abused and mistreated her, made her freeze whenever Blynn tried to touch her intimately. It had taken months before he could hold her hand or kiss her without her becoming petrified with fear. She knew he’d never hurt her, but her body was too accustomed to going into survival mode. Its reaction was automatic as her defense mechanism kicked in. She couldn’t help herself. The ship’s psychiatrist had told her it would take some time before she could accept another man in her life. To her immense relief, Blynn was willing to wait.

            “I love you. You know that, right?” she murmured.

            He snorted. “Yeah, I do. And I don’t get tired of hearing you say it. Makes the wait worth it.” Giving her hand another squeeze, he let it go, and they continued on with their meal.

            She was contemplating dessert with the intercom honked, signaling another message from the bridge. Blynn chuckled. “Damn. We haven’t had this many notifications since we were almost hit by that rogue comet.”

            They were both surprised when Tivey’s face filled the screen again. “Bringing you an update, as promised,” the man informed them. “After careful consideration, the Council has decided we will not, I repeat, we will not take residence on Segarius 7 itself. Instead, we’re going ahead with the formation of the ring, and establish our world colony in orbit above the planet.”

            “For someone who earlier said we were going to take our time and not be hasty in our decisions, this sort of takes the wind out of that, don’t you think?” Blynn muttered.

            She shushed him to concentrate on what the captain had to say next.

            “I know you’re probably asking why we’ve already made that decision, since we’ve yet to send down any troops to investigate this world,” Tivey continued, and Ayn tossed Blynn an amused grin. “It was made for several reasons, the first and most important one being the fact that we’re going to be doing some serious drilling and excavating down there. As many of you know, sometimes the digging can initiate tremors, or worse, landslides and other seismic activity such as earthquakes. We fear that, even if we establish drill sites far away from wherever we establish our colonies, the digging might inevitably cause untold destruction. Furthermore, with as much ore as this planet holds, we may need to open up additional drilling sites after one site has been consumed.”

            The man looked off-screen to check something, then returned his attention to the front. “We will begin docking procedures at oh-six-hundred hours.” Tivey grinned. “If you’re still in bed at that time, don’t worry if you’re jolted during your sleep. We’ll try to make the transition as smooth as possible, but we can’t promise there won’t be a few bumps or vibrations.

            “The next time I sign on, it’ll be to announce the formation and completion of what we’re calling The Earth Ring. Until then, Tivey out.”

            Several seconds passed when Blynn commented, “Oh-six-hundred, right?”

            “That’s what the man said.”

            He turned in his seat to face her directly. “Ayn, I have a proposal to make. Just…” He held up a hand to stop her from commenting before he was ready. “Hear me out before you reply. I know you know I know what I’m facing when it comes to getting you to trust me. So I’ve been thinking. A lot. I know I’ve promised to take it slow and easy, so here’s what I propose our next step to be.”

            She stared into his green depths, almost afraid to breathe. Hoping beyond hope that he was going to say what she’d been praying to hear him say.

            “Move in with me, Ayn. Come live with me. You know I have my own cabin. You can take the bed, and I’ll take the pull-out bed in the front room.” His smile grew wider, but she detected a nervousness in him. “Our civilization is getting a fresh start on a whole new future. I think it’s time we, the two of us, did the same. So, what do you say, Ayn? Don’t you agree it’s time you moved out of that cabin you used to share with Doone? A cabin that holds nothing but bad memories for you, even though you’re sharing it with Lorraine now? Let her have it and get a new roomie. Shuck that part of your past, and start a new future with me, okay?”

            He searched her face. She knew he was expecting her to turn him down the same way she’d turned him down or away on so many other things. But he was right. She needed a fresh start. She was allowed to have one. She’d earned it, especially with someone like him.

            Sensing she was about to turn him down again, he added, “Tomorrow morning, we’ll come have breakfast. While we’re eating, we can watch these ships move into position…and you can find out if I have pot roast with my corn flakes.”

            That last bit was enough to tip the scales. She took a deep breath. “You’re right. It’s time I allowed myself…us…to start a new future. I accept your terms, Blynn Trainer. When do you want me to move in?”

            He didn’t reply. Not in words, but in the soft, trembling kiss he gave her that, for the first time, she neither shied away from, nor cut short.

            In truth, she found herself wanting more of them, and that acknowledgment surprised her.