Chivva stepped out of her apartment, feeling a quick vibration on her wrist from her Minky watch. Tapping the screen, she accepted the voice call from her boss. “Hey.”
“Got a new contract this morning. Don’t go to Grand Canal like I told you to yesterday.” Before she could ask where she was going, her boss said, “I’ll call you back, the client’s calling.” He ended the audio call abruptly.
Chivva stood in the middle of the hallway, debating if she should wait for a callback or spend the extra time at the Fast Star, grabbing a quick breakfast. Before she’d made a decision, she saw the building manager, Naff, on his knees, breaking away a section of the wall.
A plethora of basic tools and broken floorboards were scattered around him. Chivva figured that now would be the perfect time to tell him about a recent change in her lease. “Um, Gini moved out about a month ago. I didn’t know if I should just tell you or update the lease.”
The black-horned Night Demon grabbed the broken piece and flung it on top of his growing pile. Answering without looking up, he said, “I don’t care, as long as the rent gets paid.”
“Right,” she said, scratching the side of her head. Demons didn’t care about stuff like that. He probably didn’t even know her name.
Walking around his mess, she tried to stay out of the ring of old, moldy planks.
“You plan on living alone, or are you going to sublet your extra room?” the Demon called out.
Chivva stopped. “I don’t know. I’ve never rented to a stranger before.” Gini was a friend from work at Mete-Net. They were both nuclear engineers.
The Demon broke another part of the floorboard away. “If you want to offer it up, I have people on a waitlist.” Naff peered over at her.
“Better than nice, they have money.”
Chivva didn’t want to pay all the rent by herself. She’d done that this past month, and it had been a hit to her account. Biting her lip, she said, “Okay.”
Chivva hoped he didn’t mean Demon deal. That was a death wish. As her manager, he wouldn’t do that, would he?
Just then, her watch vibrated with another call. She tapped the screen. “Hey, boss.”
“Be at Scape-Goat as soon as you can. Talk to a Red Demon named Roody.”
“What’s broken?” she asked, utterly confused. Scape-Goat didn’t sound like an industrial park, which is where she usually worked.
“His power’s out. He didn’t know how or why.”
“Why didn’t he call the power company? Why am I going?”
“Because he doesn’t pay for power. He uses a transverse cell system.”
She cursed to herself because no one used cell systems anymore—they were death traps. The cores weren’t stable, though using a transverse gave them a longer life span. Her boss was sending her to a job she couldn’t do. Which meant she’d have to think of a way around legally fixing it.
The call ended before she could tell him that she didn’t want to take the job—not that anyone else was a nuclear engineer. Dropping her arm, she simply stood there, seething.
Exhaling, she doubted she’d have enough time to get food. It was going to be an all-day job, especially if it was really bad. Checking the distance between the Scape-Goat and the apartment on her watch, she saw it wasn’t that far away. She could still get Fast Star’s coffee and cookies and arrive at a decent time.
Turning back towards the elevator, she heard Naff call out. “Chivva. Come here.”
He knew her name?
Slowly whirling around, she said, “Yes?”
Naff used two fingers and beckoned her forward.
Feeling like a kid in trouble, she walked slowly and defensively. When she was almost at the edge of his tools, he told her, “Go back to your room and put on the ugliest outfit you have.”
“You heard me.”
“I did. I’m just not sure why you’re telling me to change.” Looking down at herself, she added, “I’m not indecent.”
The male’s eyebrow rose. “Have you ever been to the Scape-Goat?”
She shook her head because it didn’t really matter if she had been there before.
“Exactly. Now, go change. The place is a Red Demon bar-slash-back-room-blitz. Females who go there are only looking for one thing. Demons who go there see only women to blitz. Add to that the fact that you look like…that, and they’re going to think you want to roleplay.”
Scowling, she said, “That’s disgusting. I’m a professional who has an actual contract to fix…to manipulate the power. Not to mention, I’m not dressed in any way that says…’Hey, you want to find a room?’.”
Ignoring everything she said, he asked, “Do you have anything moldy? Or maybe something old that smells like death?”
Honestly, should she be insulted? Did she look like someone who owned things like that? “No. Who the hell keeps moldy, old clothes?”
Kadin’s door swung open, and her neighbor slithered from his room, almost knocking into her. Chivva’s heart sank as the nightmare himself cut his eyes at her as if offended that she was in front of his door.
Stepping back, she waved her hand. “Don’t let me stop you from getting to your important day.”
Kadin’s lip curled. “As if standing in my way could stop me.” The bastard shook his head and acted as if he didn’t have the time to even breathe in her space.
Her jaw flexed. Seth of Stars, she hated him. Loathed how much he thought she was simple. How…beautiful he looked. How much she’d crushed on him when she first moved in.
But how could she not? His hair was perfectly styled with a casual flare, almost messy as if he rolled out of bed looking hot. No one got out of bed looking that way. Maybe they were hair implants that stayed that way. Yeah…that sounded like a Bolark thing to do.
Kadin wasn’t full Bolark, though. His skin wasn’t scaly, but it did have multiple shades of green and a little yellow like a full-blooded Bolark’s did.
She wondered if that was why he was so mean—making up for his lack of proper scales.
Naff pointed at Kadin. “Hey, you. You want to cut half off your rent this month?”
Chivva’s head spun back to the Demon. What? Why was Kadin getting half off his rent? She wanted half off.
Her evil neighbor lifted his chin arrogantly. “I’m listening.”
Naff pointed his crowbar in her direction. “Take her to Scape-Goat. Make sure no one touches her. Stay with her until she finishes her job and then bring her back. This Terran will get blitzed to death if she goes alone.”
What did the Demon just say? That she was going to get sexed to death? That wasn’t even a thing. Was it? Besides, Kadin wouldn’t protect her. With her rotten luck, he’d probably kick her in the door and say, “Have at her, boys.”
No. Hell no. “I don’t need a bodyguard.”
Kadin’s Bolark green eyes widened dramatically as he took her in. His gaze slowly roamed down her body, stopping briefly at her chest. On the scan up, she saw a curl form on his upper lip as if he couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to blitz her.
She should feel violated. Chivva had just told Naff that she wasn’t dressed for a blitz. But Kadin made her…extra-sensitive. She didn’t know why, but he did.
Kadin arrogantly peered over at the Demon on the floor. “Two months of free rent, and I’ll stay with her while she does her job.”
Kadin was actually considering escorting her to a Red Demon bar to keep people from touching her? No, that had to be a lie.
Naff had better not be stupid enough to believe this jerk-face.
Stepping in front of Kadin, she told Naff, “There could be a million Red Demons in that place, and they wouldn’t even compare to Kadin. Trust me, I’ll be fine.”
Naff tilted his head slightly. It took another second for her to figure out what she’d said that had made him smirk.
“I meant…Kadin is worse than a million Red Demons.”
Behind her, she heard Kadin’s mouth open with a slight wet click. “I have higher standards. Of course, they’re worse.”
“You don’t have higher standards. Having perfect hair and clothes does not make you better than everyone, despite what you think. You’re mean on purpose. That’s not a virtue,” she said, not looking behind her.
“I’m not mean. I’m honest. That is a virtue…according to Terrans.”
Naff waved his tool absently. “He sounds like a perfect bodyguard, especially if you’re going to see Roody.”
Kadin cursed as if he knew who Roody was. It didn’t matter. She argued, “I’m not having breakfast with the guy, I’m just going to have him point out where the cell system is located.”
“Cell systems are ancient.”
Chivva was surprised that Kadin knew what a cell system was. A little impressed, she turned to him, ignoring how close she was now standing to him. “I know. And I have to fix it or find another way to get the power back up.”
The side of Kadin’s lips turned down, and she could see the perfect straightness of his jaw. Being so close was bad. She should back up.
His words sounded half-annoyed and half-contemplative. “If it’s dead, the core is dead. There’s no preserving that.”
His frown deepened. “Then how are you going to fix it?”
She thought about it. “Depending on how big the place is, I can probably put in a water-fusion refractor. I think I have an extra one.”
Kadin’s jaw dropped, and something that hinted at interest sparked in his expression. “You have one lying around? Where?”
“In my shed.” Duh. Every self-respecting crank had a shed.
“Where is your shed?” His tone was lighter, as if he wanted to see it…or break in and inspect it, laughing arrogantly at how unimpressive it was to his high-grade tastes.
“Where I built it. And it’s legal.” Trying to step around him, she said, “Excuse me.”
“Not a chance,” he said, holding a hand out in front of her. “If I’m going to be your bodyguard today, then I need answers. Lots of them.”
Shoving at his hand, she said, “No, you don’t. Because you’re not going to watch me. You just want to know my private business so you can find a reason to throw it in my face later. The reality is, you couldn’t care less if I ever came back.”
“Is this your Terran way of getting me to confess some feeling towards you?” Kadin said mockingly.
She tried to take a step forward again, but he refused to let her pass. Then he got very close, so close she could smell a subtle hint of crisp early morning rain. Chivva forced herself not to lean in.
His voice was low when he told her, “Three things will happen today, a trio you can’t change. One, you’re going to realize that you have no say in what I do. Two, you’re going to accept that I’m going to watch you work. And three, you’re going to show me your shed.”
Kadin stayed in her space. She didn’t know if he was waiting for confirmation or what. When he finally pulled back, she heard him tell Naff, “I want two months rent-free for this, not one month half-off.”
Naff, who she’d almost forgotten about, chuffed. “Should have taken the first deal, Bolark. Because if you want me to eat two month’s rent, then I’m moving you into Chivva’s extra room.”
“What?” She gasped as Kadin echoed her words.
There was no way she was that unlucky. Seth of Stars didn’t hate her that much…did He?
Naff continued. “You wanted to move into a one-bedroom because, and I quote, you don’t need a second room. Well, there it is. My one-bedroom offer.” Naff didn’t wait for a response. He turned around and shoved the head of the crowbar in between the wall and the floorboard to crack them apart.
“I said I wanted a one-bedroom apartment. I didn’t say anything about sharing.” Kadin moved to her side.
“You’re not sharing a room now. What you wanted to do was pay less rent. This is how business works, Kadin. I figured you knew all about that.”
“I know business, Demon.”
The air was thick with tension, and Chivva didn’t want to add to it, but there was one small thing that needed to be said. “I don’t want to live with Kadin. I literally set my alarm an hour early every day just to avoid him.”
Kadin frowned at her as if that were the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.
Naff didn’t turn around. “Chivva, our deal was for me to find you a roommate. Your opinion has nothing to do with our deal. You already agreed. It’s done.”
Kadin, the bastard, gave her a look that said: sucks for you.
“Don’t look at me like that. You don’t want to live with me either. Not that you could even handle it. You can’t stand me, and I will likely make your life hell. I listen to music nonstop, and I sing all the time. I hate cleaning, and I snore.”
Kadin folded his arms over his chest. He wasn’t pissed like she’d expected him to be. Instead, there was a small smirk on his face. “You’re a horrible liar. I live next door. You listen to music in the shower and when you’re buzzing yourself happy. That’s it. You vacuum every other day, and I can smell cleaner from outside your door every Saturday morning. You snore, that part is true. And for the past month, you’ve binge-watched Drifting Treasures. Sixteen seasons of people scavenging space garbage. If there is anything that would make my life hell, it would be listening to another episode of that.”
Chivva hadn’t known she could feel equal parts murderous and embarrassed at the same time. But here she was, living that nightmare.
Next to her, Naff cleared his throat. “I’m starting to get the feeling that you want the room.”
Kadin scowled. “Knowing what she does wasn’t an indicator that I want any part of it.”
Shaking his head, Naff said, “You really should have taken the first deal. My last one will be you finding your own place to live.”
“You can’t do that,” Kadin said with a growl.
Turning his head back towards Kadin, the tip of his horns swiveled by, and Chivva leaned back to ensure they didn’t catch on her pants.
“Your rent’s been late three times, and I’ve already sent you two warnings. Legally, I can evict you.”
Chivva watched Kadin. His head lowered, along with his threatening voice. “You sent me two warnings. Three years ago. Both times were when my wife at the time emptied my bank accounts. Since I divorced her and kicked her out, I haven’t gotten another warning.”
“Rent was paid an hour late yesterday.”
Kadin’s lips pulled back in a snarl. “Wouldn’t have been late if your mate didn’t let my ex-wife inside my apartment. That female got the numbers to my new bank account. Which, as you can guess, meant she drained every last kelep.”
Chivva had had no idea that Kadin was married. She’d moved in two years ago, and she’d never seen a female leaving his place. When did he get divorced? How long was he married?
Also…Chivva would lose her mind if someone emptied her bank account once, let alone three times. She didn’t want to feel bad for the jerk, but…she couldn’t help it. That was awful. And she thought she had bad luck.
Kadin’s green eyes shot to hers, offering a threatening glare. His look silently told her that she’d better not repeat a word of this.
“She had a marriage certificate and valid Bolark citizenship. Marnak and its business must obey the laws of the race.”
Kadin growled. “The marriage was voided. The certificate was invalid, and if your mate had taken a second to verify it, she would have known.”
Chivva bowed her head and stepped back, needing to leave the conversation. This was too personal. Kadin deserved a modicum of privacy.
A green hand pressed against her stomach, stopping her from leaving. It was the first time he had ever touched her, and it felt too intimate. Kadin’s voice was only a hair above a whisper, but it vibrated with command. “Go put on that ugly mud-colored sweater. It’s the most off-putting thing you have.”
Her skin tightened at his tone and the insult. Pushing back her shoulders, Chivva stood tall and pressed against his hand. “I don’t have that anymore.” Because she’d lost weight and had gotten rid of all her fat clothes.
“The stained red one, then.”
Green-eyed bastard. How did he even remember that one?
Through flattened lips, she told him, “I threw it away eight months ago.” She’d worn it once, a year ago. Kadin had seen it and told her that she looked as if she’d tried to take a bath in grease.
Kadin hummed to himself. “Fine. I guess this vomit-looking thing will have to do.”
She snapped forward and got in his face. “It’s not vomit. They’re pink and green flowers, you jerk!”
Kadin didn’t look the least bit remorseful. “You’re a construction worker. Why are you wearing flowers in the first place?”
“Nuclear electrician.” She wasn’t a builder, not that she looked down upon them, but her designation deserved respect. She’d worked hard through school.
“As if that changes anything. Why dress nice to work in sludge?”
The same reason she always did her hair and makeup—because she liked looking pretty. Was that so bad? And she didn’t work in sludge.
“It wouldn’t matter what I wore, you’d find something nasty to say regardless. Now, I have a job to do, and you are not invited.” Chivva sidestepped the male and stomped all the way to the elevator. Thankfully, Kadin didn’t follow her, which meant that he wasn’t going to take the Demon’s offer. She was thankful. Maybe her luck wasn’t completely gone.
Kadin was an asshole. He knew that about himself. He cultivated and refined it, especially when dealing with people like Naff. “Don’t ever bring up my personal business again,” he said as calmly as he could, considering that his blood was boiling.
Naff tilted his head, not to look at him but down the hall.
Kadin didn’t need to follow his line of sight to know that Chivva was headed to the elevator, stomping and clearly hurt. He’d done that. He knew it, and yet he never liked the aftermath. But it was either that or lose the last shred of self-dignity he had left.
His ex-wife had already destroyed his trust in relationships and females that appeared sweet and helpless. He wasn’t going to let another one trick him.
Chivva had moved in the day after he’d kicked out his ex-wife. One day later, Seth of Stars was clearly trying to destroy his last piece of sanity when he stepped out of his apartment to discover that his neighbor was a sweet, smiling Terran with lush curves and dimples.
Kadin had been rude to her from that moment on, pushing her as far as he could. Now, two years later, he’d started to hate himself more every time he cut her down. Her soft smiles were gone. Long gone. And she walked with her head down, seeming almost…broken.
He did that.
He hated himself for it.
“Chivva won’t survive Scape-Goat,” Naff said as if Kadin cared. Maybe he did, and that pissed him off even more. Naff was a Night Demon. He was supposed to be the scum of the planet, yet even he showed that he cared.
Kadin followed Naff’s line of sight again, making an educated guess that Chivva wouldn’t go straight to Scape-Goat. She’d hit up Fast Star first for some coffee, the black garbage that Terrans drank.
The Demon didn’t bother looking at him when he asked, “Are you taking the deal or not?”
Yes, he was taking the damn deal.
He couldn’t let the manager know how much he liked the idea. Kadin wasn’t an idiot. Dealing with Demons was tricky, and he now had all the legal ammunition he needed after finding out that his ex-wife had conned Naff’s mate.
Now, all he had to do was add a little more leverage to solidify the plan he had already carefully organized. Adding Chivva to the package was like a signing bonus. “5303 is finished. I talked to the head of maintenance last night. I checked with your mate this morning; it’s not assigned.”
Naff turned the top half of his body, eyes narrowed.
“We’ll take that one.”
“It’s a one-bedroom.”
“I’m aware,” Kadin said, and saw a small flash of something in the Demon’s eyes as if he knew more.
He couldn’t know how Kadin truly felt about Chivva. No one could.
“And I know,” Kadin continued, “you got a quote from Emmerson to upgrade the elevators so that everyone has to have a keycard to operate them. That will be happening this month, or I will go to the Federation authorities and tell them you let my ex-wife into my room without my permission. All I have to do is show the voided marriage cards, and security will come to the same conclusion I did. You broke the law.”
Because if his ex-wife took another kelep of his, he was going to hire an assassin and have her murdered. That nasty, soulless brat couldn’t stop making his life hell. He’d already had to get the Federation involved to bring her up on charges.
If they found her, which he knew they would, he was going to push for her to be sent to Debsa, the prison planet. She deserved to be with others of her soulless kind.
Naff typed something into his Minky pad. A few seconds later, he told Kadin, “Have your apartments cleaned and emptied by the end of the day. You can have 5303.”
Kadin would hire a team to move everything. Considering the deal complete, he said, “Leave both sets of keys to the new apartment at the front desk. And pull the rent from my account—in two months.”
Kadin turned on his heel and headed towards the stairs.
Behind him, he heard Naff say, “Careful, hybrid, your Yunkin side is showing.”
Kadin whipped around, then went back and picked up a wall cutter to point at the Demon’s scarred face. “You know who I am and what I do. Nothing I have ever done was honorable.”
Naff looked at the cutting tool, seeming unintimidated. “You’re not the only Yunkin in the building whose honor code is literal and not philosophical.”
Dropping his arm but not the tool, Kadin replied, “That makes no sense.”
“Doesn’t it? Why don’t you keep that with you, you may need it.”
That’s why he picked it up, he wasn’t an idiot.
Stuffing the wall cutter in his pocket he turned back around. With luck, he wouldn’t have to rush to catch her. Then again, if Chivva wasn’t across the street stuffing her face like a starving child, he would have to break open Scape-Goat and search every room. Because there was no way Chivva wouldn’t look like perfect prey to those who frequented the place.
Aside from those dark thoughts, Kadin could still feel the excitement in his blood. He would be sharing a room with Chivva. All those months of pushing her away were over. Living with Chivva would not be like living with his Bolark wife.
The rules weren’t the same.
Seth of Stars, he couldn’t wait.
Chivva was not prepared for the likes of him.
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