Book 2 of the 8th Wing
From Carina Press
Nils knows the pilots refer to his department as NerdWorks. As far as Celene is concerned, the closest the tech geeks come to combat is all-night Nifalian chess tournaments. But behind the NerdWorks insignia on his sleeve Nils is an able fighter, ready to prove himself and gain Celene’s trust.
The desire between the two is unexpected, but with the fate of thousands of lives hanging in the balance, the hotshot pilot and the tech genius must succeed in their mission – no matter the cost.
“Who knew space travel could be so damn sexy!”–Readaholics Anonymous
“Chain Reaction is a sexy, fun, clever story that’ll keep you entertained from the first page to the last.”–Wit and Sin
“You’re out of your mind.”
Nils glanced up from strapping on his protective gauntlets to see Commander Frayne standing at the gear room entrance. Frayne was big and could look mean as hells when he wanted to, but right now Nils’s mind was on the other side of the SimCom Room door.
“I know how to fight.” Satisfied with his thick gauntlets, Nils checked the readings on his plasma blaster. Everything looked optimal. He never expected any less from his equipment, but he couldn’t risk any kind of failure. Not for this mission. And not in front of Celene.
Don’t think about her. You’ll only fuck things up if you let her get into your head.
“Not fighting the SimCom.” Frayne stalked further into the gear room and leaned against the storage lockers. “Celene.”
“I can handle her.” His voice held a lot more confidence than he felt.
Frayne chuckled. “If you think that, you’re definitely crazy.” He crossed his arms over his chest, and Nils fought the urge to check his own arms for bulging muscles. Sure, Nils trained, and hard, but when it came to sheer physical intimidation factor, Frayne’s readings were off the charts. It was rumored that the commander used to be a street brawler on his homeworld. Based on the available evidence, Nils didn’t doubt it.
“I’ve seen Celene in combat,” Frayne continued. “Hells, I’ve even gone a couple of rounds with her in SimCom. She didn’t beat me, but damn if she didn’t give me a run for my creds.”
“You can’t discourage me, Commander.” Nils replaced his plasma blaster in his thigh holster. He checked the rest of his gear on his belt. Everything was exactly in place, as he knew it would be. He didn’t get to the top of the Engineering food chain by being sloppy.
Nils stared hard at Frayne. “Marek betrayed the 8th Wing and he betrayed me. I want on this mission. And neither you nor Lieutenant Jur can dissuade me.”
At the mention of the traitor’s name, Frayne scowled. If Nils wasn’t prepping for another fight, he might have been intimidated by the commander’s anger.
“Wish I had your tech skills.” Frayne’s jaw tightened. “I want to be the one who kills that sipkaswine. Not just for his treachery to the 8th Wing, but because his actions caused Celene to be captured.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “The Wraith wasn’t the only thing that was going to be sold.”
Nils’s gut clenched. “I’ll find Marek. And make him pay.”
Satisfied with this answer, Frayne smiled. Actually, it was more of a teeth baring than a smile, but the intent was clear. “If Celene has her way, you’ve got to survive her and the SimCom first.”
Nils moved past him, and they walked out of the gear room together toward the area of the base reserved for the combat simulator chambers. As they walked, they passed 8th Wing soldiers, who all stared at Nils as if he were walking to the neutralizing capsules.
He couldn’t let them intimidate him. If he let his concentration waver for a microsecond, everything would spin out into chaos. He liked Engineering because it meant he could harness chaos, tame it. The variables and the parameters were his to control. Science and tech could be relied upon, behaving in precise ways that could be predicted and even subverted if one understood them properly.
Much better than dealing with people. Early in his career with 8th Wing, he’d been given the option to pursue medical training. He preferred the constancy of tech. Besides, if he kept all the equipment running properly, there’d be less need for medical attention. 8th Wing troops could engage the enemy in the best ships and with the best weapons he could construct, keeping losses to a minimum. A fair trade.
They approached the SimCom section of the base. He was minutes away from the biggest physical challenge of his life.
“Any advice, Commander?”
“Just watch your ass.” Frayne smiled darkly. “And your balls.”
Waiting outside the SimCom were Admiral Gamlyn, Ensign Skiren and Celene. Skiren’s pretty face lit up when she saw Frayne nearing. Nils’s gaze moved past her to Lieutenant Jur.
She’d changed from her flight suit into PT cargo pants and tank top, divulging in aching detail the strong, sleek lines of her body. Like him, she had a plasma blaster on her thigh. Her long, dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, revealing the curves of her high cheekbones and the brilliance of her silver eyes. At his approach she raised one brow and her full lips thinned with impatience. She wanted to fight and she wanted to get the mission started, and she looked so damned fierce and beautiful it felt like a sonic blade piercing his chest.
His palms began to sweat. Not precisely the scenario he’d envisioned when he finally claimed her attention. And he had envisioned many, many scenarios.
“Last chance, Calder.” She stalked toward him and put her hands on her hips. “Sub someone else. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
He didn’t want to get hurt, either, but he’d do whatever it took to earn his place on this mission.
“Whenever you’re ready, Lieutenant Jur.”
She growled in frustration and then stalked to the SimCom chamber door.
“Are you sure about this, Lieutenant Calder?” Admiral Gamlyn asked.
“Absolutely, ma’am. I’m the best person to accompany Lieutenant on this operation and if I have to go through SimCom to prove that to her—” he spread his hands, “—so be it.”
“SimCom with the safety protocols off.” Ensign Skiren sounded almost gleeful. Given that she used to be part of the galaxy’s criminal element, her delight in possible bloodshed was not a surprise.
Nils nodded. “I can do this.”
“Your call, Lieutenant Calder.” The admiral punched in a combat sequence into the panel beside the chamber door. She keyed in her secure code and performed a genetic scan in order to unlock the safety protocols. Had he wanted to, Nils could’ve breached the security protocol—he’d been the lead engineer on the SimCom overhaul two years ago. Hardly anything on base didn’t wear his fingerprints. Hardly anything tech, anyway.
With a hiss and beep, the door to the SimCom chamber slid open.
Celene strode into the chamber without faltering. She grinned at him over her shoulder. “Time to fight, NerdWorks.”
He straightened his shoulders, took a breath and then walked inside.