The wild grasses kept her from breaking any bones, but the impact still managed to knock the wind out of her. Long minutes passed as she lay there, gasping for breath. Her suit was solid black; the coalescing pattern of stars normally flowing across it had been burnt into temporary darkness.

She managed to roll onto her back when a familiar feeling washed over her. Closing her eyes, she waited for his touch. The sound of his voice.

“Star? How are you doing?”

She opened her eyes to see him kneeling down beside her. Damn, he looked so good, especially with that little worry line running across his forehead. “I’ll live, but I’m going to be black and blue tomorrow, let me tell you. Did it work, boss?”

He grinned at her. “It worked. I managed to get a good look-see during your light show. Can you manage to get back to Three on your own?”

“Yeah.” She tried to sit up amid aching muscles. The groan that escaped her was unexpected. Hunter’s expression shifted from relieved back to worried. “It’s all right,” she reassured him, holding out a hand so he could help her up. “Think of it as doing an exercise you haven’t done in a long time, and finding out afterwards which muscles you’d been neglecting.”

She started to say more when Hunter jerked his headset off and thumbed the switch, turning it off. Before she could ask him why he’d done that, strong hands reached out and pulled her up onto her feet, where warm arms wrapped around her until she was securely held against that marvelously protective chest she adored.

Quietly, Star buried her face in his neck as her arms tightened around his shoulders. Several seconds passed as they stood, encased in each other’s embrace. It felt so natural and perfect, with his hands holding her along her lower back and ribs. Pressing her tightly, possessively against him. The feeling was more comforting than she could remember.

A pair of lips brushed her temple, making her wish again that she could accept him in the light. She was slowly getting to the point where the thought of it no longer frightened her, but it would be a while longer before that could happen. But until she could, he would not touch her lips with his.

In the past, the first thing any man she had dated had wanted to do was to mash his mouth against hers. Sometimes sloppily. Sometimes hard. Often hurtful, as if force and pressure were the hallmarks of a passionate kiss.

Hunter had kissed almost every inch of her body. She knew his mouth almost as intimately as the rest of him. Only, they had never truly kissed. The lack of it made her lips hunger to feel them. She wanted to know, needed to know if he could burn her soul with his hot mouth as easily as he burned her skin.

And I promise you, I will kiss you like no other man has ever kissed you, or will ever kiss you.

A shiver ran through her, and Hunter squeezed her tighter. “Talk to me, my heart,” he whispered in her ear.

Pressing her lips to his throat, where his neck was bare above the collar of his tunic, Star wanted to ask him a hundred questions. She had to know, for the sake of her heart and her sanity, would he still be within her reach after she conceived? They would still be Guardians—that was their life’s duty. But was what she was feeling also running through his veins? Did his heart leap whenever she entered the room, like hers did? Did he spend nights tossing and turning in bed because it had become too empty and too cold? Did he touch himself when he was in his cleansing chamber, and imagine a lover’s touch upon his skin?

A lover’s touch . . . .

“Udo.” It was more breath than word. His mouth found her pulse beneath her ear as he freed a hand to push away her wealth of glossy black hair, and his tongue sent sparks all the way down to her toes.

A tinny beep sounded. With an abruptness that surprised her, Hunter suddenly released her and stepped back, jamming the headset back on and thumbing the mike open. “Yeah, Deceiver. Be there in a sec.”

Star felt her skin contracting at the rush of cold that swept over her, as his warmth was no longer keeping her comfortable. As she watched him answer the comm link, it dawned on her that they had just held each other in the full light of day. In uniform. With her mind and her body reaching for him, and now watching him as he stood staring at her with those blue eyes she would love to fly in.




She blinked. Udo.


Her eyes dropped to the neckline of his uniform, seeing it for the first time, not as the attire he wore daily when he was a Guardian, but as just another piece of clothing keeping his body hidden and apart from hers. She couldn’t see any buttons. No fasteners that she could tell. How in the world did he put it on? Screw that—how did he take it off?

Her gaze dropped further. He was wearing boots. Were they ankle high? Or higher? It was hard to tell with his long pants.


Slowly, she lifted her eyes to see a gentle smile on his face. Did he realize what was happening to her? Could he grasp the miracle that was coming over her? A small, tentative smile lit her face, and Star gently shook her head. “No,” she murmured quietly so the headset wouldn’t pick up her voice. “Not now. Right now my name is Terrin.”

Her eyes centered on his mouth. He had a beautiful smile. A perfect smile. A loving smile. It had the power to make her happy just to dwell on it.

“My name is Terrin, Udo. And I think I’ve fallen in love with you.”

There. It was out, and she wasn’t frightened any longer. She hadn’t planned on telling him. Not now. And certainly not like this. But it sounded like the most natural thing, to tell him. In fact, it felt--

He stepped closer to her, close enough to block the sunlight. His hand reached up to her face, and Star closed her eyes, ready to feel him nuzzle her cheek or her temple, as he always did when he lowered his face.

Her world came to a shattering halt as his mouth came down over hers. Taking her sanity, claiming her heart, drawing everything away from her until she could no longer breathe. Or think. Or have any other sensation numbing every nerve in her body except for the giving and taking caress of his lips.

Life was in his lips. He gave her life. Intoxicating, soul-shaking, mind-blanking life. He held her cheek with one hand, and his lips possessed hers until she could do nothing but fall weakly against him and let him have absolute control of her. Hoping he would take her over and over. Feeling him delving as deeply into this part of her body at this moment the same way he’d taken her virginity in her lonely little bed back at Guardian Command. Taking her further and further away from here and now, until the center of her universe was contained in the length and breadth of one man. One friend, one teammate, one incredible lover.

A soft chuckle vibrated in his chest. “Think?” he asked in that deep voice that filled her head with memories of passion-filled nights. And promises of more to come.

“I swear by all the stars in the heavens, Udo,” she somehow managed to confess as his lips sipped her like precious water. “I love you.”