Zia drew in a long, slow breath, letting the warm salt and floral tinged air of Pacifica fill her lungs, and released it with a contented sigh. The cooling pad beneath her provided the perfect barrier between the hot, lavender sand while countering the heat of the sun’s rays baking her from above. Optimum comfort was promised and delivered. Somewhere in the distance, she heard shouts and laughter of others, but no one close enough to bother her mid day repose.
She’d never allowed herself time to relax like this back on Nevarro. It was always work work work, stress stress stress. But since coming to the resort planet two months ago, she’d slowly let go of the natural drive that had seen her become VP of Research and Development for one of the top mining companies on Nevarro before she’d reached her thirty-fifth standard year.
Correction: Former Vice President.
Being on Pacifica was the result of her forced departure from Exeter Mining, but she was so very lucky to be here. And even luckier to be here with the woman she loved. Those last few months on Nevarro had been strenuous, and had nearly killed both her and Liv. They were safe now, taking a short holiday while they figured out where to go next.
Eyes closed, her breathing and heart rate synchronized with the lulling sound of the surf against the soft sand. Zia forced herself not to dwell on the worries of what they’d do to make their living after the visit to Pacifica was over. They’d figure it out soon enough. Right now, she just wanted to soak in the sun while she waited for Liv to join her.
“Happy Founder’s Day.”
Reluctant to rouse from her doze, but responding to the familiar voice, Zia opened one eye just wide enough to see Liv standing over her. Liv’s short dark hair flittered in the sea breeze, haloing her head. Like Zia, she wore a snug one piece outfit. The strapless garment showed off Liv’s lithe body, and Zia smiled in appreciation. “We’re not on Nevarro anymore, hon. They don’t celebrate Founder’s Day here.”
Every day was a celebration on the resort planet. How could it not be in a world marketed specifically for its just-hot-enough beaches, placid oceans, and low, rolling hills?
“I know.” Liv held out a red and silver box slightly larger than her fist. “Here.”
Zia rose to lean on her elbows. She’d assumed that leaving Nevarro meant they wouldn’t celebrate. Apparently she’d been wrong. “Sweetness, I didn’t think we’d be observing the day. I didn’t get you anything—”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She shook the box. “Just open it.”
Zia sat up and crossed her legs as she gave Liv a reproachful look. They often exchanged gifts—flowers or small tokens—without the expectation of reciprocation, but Founder’s Day was a major holiday on Nevarro, with parades and parties scheduled across the planet. Not that she’d participated in many. Work had always come first, and the few times she had someone to share the festivities with, she’d felt a certain amount of resentment if she had projects pending.
But things were different now. She was different now. And it was all because of Liv.
Smiling, Zia took the box and gave it an experimental shake. Neither heavy nor rattling, whatever it was thumped against the sides. Slowly, she ran her finger under the edge of the paper.
Liv bounced on the balls of her feet, sinking deeper into the sand. “You’re doing that on purpose.”
“What?” Zia asked, widening her eyes in mock innocence. Liv was not the most patient person; in some things, anyway. She finished loosening the paper and set it on the pad. Lifting the top off the box, she stared down at the circle of white fur inside. “Is it alive?”
“No, silly.” Liv huffed dramatically and reached in. With a flick of her wrists, she held a furry disc in each hand connected by a springy, flat band wrapped in the same material.
“Put them on.”
The grin on her face made her look like a kid, and Zia couldn’t help but smile back despite her confusion. “It’s over 34 degrees. Not exactly ear muff weather.”
A sly glint lit Liv’s brown eyes. “Put them on and come with me.”
What was she up to? Zia set the furry head gear over her ears, muffling the sound of the ocean waves. Liv extended a hand to help her up. When Zia was on her feet, she kissed Liv’s cheek. “They’re great, but—”
Liv covered Zia’s mouth with her own, eliciting a moan of desire from Zia as heat flashed from her breasts to her groin. God, she loved kissing this woman. Before Zia could deepen the kiss, Liv broke away and started toward the cottage they shared, tugging Zia along by the hand. “Come on.”
Feeling a little silly mincing across the scorching sand while wearing ear muffs, Zia wondered what Liv had in store. The breeze off the ocean tossed her long hair over her shoulders, but the ear muffs kept it out of her face. Another change since being with Liv; she used to wear her hair up and controlled.
The sweet scent of the false hibiscus blooming beside the cottage drifted on the air as they walked to the rear door. Like the other dwellings further along the beach, the white-washed exterior reflected the sun’s heat while the blue roof tiles collected and converted its energy for use.
Liv stopped on the slate porch of the rear entrance and let go of Zia’s hand. Instead of opening the door, she reached behind the carved stone bench beside it. She turned around, a long, puffy coat the color of putty in each hand.
Zia took a coat from her, one eyebrow cocked in a silent question.
“Humor me,” Liv said. She shrugged into the other coat, closed it up to her throat, and withdrew her own ear muffs from the deep pocket. “And hurry up before I melt in this thing.”
Zia donned the garment as Liv reached behind the bench again. The coat came down to Zia’s shins. It was already getting too hot, and she was grateful for the cool stone beneath her feet.
“These too.” Liv handed Zia a pair of fur-lined boots.
She brushed the sand off her feet and did as she was told. The boots felt awkward and alien after weeks of running barefoot on the sand or with the thinnest of sandals when propriety demanded shoes.
Liv put on her own pair, a grin still splitting her face. “All right. Now, close your eyes.”
Zia complied. She had an idea what Liv had done, considering the cold weather gear she currently wore on a beach planet, but didn’t want to spoil it. Part of a gift was the giver’s anticipation. Goodness knows she was just as delighted to give Liv some trinket as Liv was to receive it. She felt Liv’s fingers entwine with her own and gently squeezed them. Liv squeezed back.
The door clicked open. A burst of icy air hit Zia’s face and she instinctively sucked in a breath. Beneath the coat, her body gave a reactionary shiver, even though it was well protected. Her sudden inhalation brought with it a distinct metallic hint to the air. Just like Nevarro’s. How had Liv dropped the temp in the short time Zia had been out of the house? How had she managed the very taste of the air? The enviro controls must be pushed to their limits.
“Don’t open your eyes,” Liv admonished.
She ushered Zia in and the door closed behind them. In her mind’s eye, Zia saw the layout of their little cottage by the sea. They’d entered the enclosed porch with a long, low couch she and Liv often used during their evening meal so they could watch the peach and purple sunsets. From the outside, the one-way windows appeared to be solid walls, giving them complete privacy while enjoying the view. And each other.
Through the arched doorway and to the left was the kitchen where Liv sometimes cooked their meals, but more often than not they had the Compu-Chef whip up something.
Liv led her to the right, into the small living room. After a day in the luscious heat of Pacifica, Zia’s cheeks felt frozen even though it was probably only ten degrees C. A trace of some tantalizing scent came to her. Cinnamon? Hard to say with her nose as cold as it was.
“Over this way.” They approached the place where a low table sat between two chairs and a short couch. Instinctively, Zia swerved away from what would be the corner of the table.
“Now sit,” Liv said, taking her shoulders and easing her down to the couch.
Trusting her lover, though still not quite sure what to expect, she sat on the edge of the seat. Liv moved away and busied herself in front of Zia. Though she listened hard, she couldn’t determine what Liv was doing. A few taps, a muted beep. The urge to peek nearly overwhelmed her, but she didn’t want to ruin Liv’s surprise. Whatever she had planned was important to her, and that meant it was important to Zia. After a moment, Zia felt a wave of warmth cut through the cold.
“Open your eyes.”
Zia opened them and gasped in delight, the cold all but forgotten. The entire living room was lit with strings of tiny white lights. The table had been moved aside, and on the bare floor in front of her was a roaring fire encircled by smooth stones. The hologram looked and felt so real, Zia’s nose warmed. Liv stood near the table. On the honey-colored surface waited a platter of pastries, a basket of huskberries, and a colorful coffee pot with two matching mugs.
“I couldn’t find a Founder’s Day flag here,” Liv said, her breath coming out in a silvery puff, “and getting one shipped over was more credits than I could justify.”
“It’s amazing.” Zia’s voice caught around the lump in her throat as a surge of love squeezed her chest. “I can’t believe you did all of this.”
Liv shrugged, but the smile on her beautiful face told Zia she was pleased with Zia’s reaction. “I programmed the Chef with a recipe I found for the pastries. They’re pretty close. And the cocoa is good. Had to fight to override the temp setting. Seems the Chef couldn’t quite understand why I wanted such a hot drink here.”
Zia laughed. Leave it to Liv to argue with a kitchen appliance.
Liv’s grin faded a little as she continued. “What happened on Nevarro probably isn’t stuff either one of us wants to remember.” She knelt in front of Zia and grasped her hands. Cool skin warmed quickly when their palms came together. “But it’s where we met, and I never want to forget that. By leaving like we did, we never had the chance to share one of my favorite holidays.”
She released Zia’s hands and rose to pour cocoa—the Nevarro Founding Father’s preferred beverage and a tradition of the holiday—into each of the mugs. Passing one to Zia, Liv sat beside her. The mug radiated enough heat to warm her hands while the delectable scent of chocolate made her mouth water.
She sipped the rich beverage and smiled. Careful of the hot drinks, Zia kissed Liv’s cheek. “I will never forget this. Thank you.”
Liv took the mug from her and set both back on the table. “There’s one more thing.”
She rose, taking Zia’s hand again, and led her toward the bedroom.
Zia’s smile broadened. This was definitely going to be one of her better Founder’s Days.
Liv glanced at her as she pushed the door open and moved aside. Zia stepped into the room and her mouth dropped open. Flames flickered from dozens of white candles that filled every flat surface except the white fur-covered bed. The scent of wax and cinnamon tinged the icy air.
“How?” Was all Zia could manage.
“I’ve be getting things together for the past two weeks,” she said. “It’s not easy keeping surprises hidden from you.” Liv took Zia’s hand and led her to the bed. She ran her fingers under the closure of the coat and pushed the garment off Zia’s shoulders. The chill air on her chest made her shiver. “I took advantage of your time down at the beach. Now I’m going to take advantage of you.”
Eyeing the promise of the fur on the bed, Zia’s nipples tightened from the cold and from the anticipation of what was to come. She covered Liv’s mouth with her own as she opened Liv’s coat and ran her hands up her lover’s arms to her shoulders and neck. She threaded her fingers through Liv’s hair and deepened the kiss. Liv’s arms came around Zia’s waist, one hand at the small of her back, pulling their bodies together, and the other working the closure of her beach frock.
“Hurry,” Zia said as she lowered her hands to Liv’s clothing and did the same. “I’m freezing.”
They peeled each other out of their clothes and kicked off the fur-lined boots. Despite the cold, Zia stopped for a moment to stare at Liv. The Pacifica sun had darkened her skin to a golden brown that glowed in the candlelight. Cold and arousal made her nipples pebble, and Zia couldn’t stop herself from reaching out to caress Liv’s breast.
Liv sucked in a breath and moved closer, her hands skimming along Zia’s sides and up to her chest as their mouths came together. Tongues twined and heat blossomed throughout Zia’s body. Liv’s scent filled her, increasing Zia’s need to have her.
One hand at Zia’s breast and the other at her waist, Liv eased her around and guided her backward toward the bed. Zia’s legs hit the side. As she lowered herself, still kissing Liv, she reached out and flipped back the fur blanket. They broke the kiss only long enough to get into bed, but kept one hand on each other as they moved, neither willing to lose contact with soft, hot skin even for a moment. Zia realized they both still wore their ear muffs, but didn’t care.
Liv covered Zia’s body with her own, her weight and they way they fit together giving Zia a sense of contentment she’d relished for the last two months. Breast to breast, stomach to stomach, thighs pressing between legs, she couldn’t think of any other place she’d rather be than in the chilled room with the woman she loved.
Liv pulled the fur around the two of them, creating a cocoon of warmth. Only their heads were exposed, and Zia delighted in the contrast of the nip in the air while her body heated beneath Liv’s as they kissed. After several breathless moments, Liv lifted herself away, her gaze wandering over Zia’s face from brow to eyes to lips.
Zia cocked her head. “What? What are you thinking?”
Their gazes met and Liv smiled. Zia’s insides melted. “I’m thinking,” Liv said, “how I’m very grateful Carmine Nevarro discovered keracite on that cold rock, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. I love you.”
Zia ran her fingers through Liv’s hair and drew her back down for a kiss. “Love you too. Happy Founder’s Day.”
Liv and Zia met when Liv was on a job to steal from her. Read how theft and betrayal turned into desire and love in Rulebreaker from Carina Press http://tinyurl.com/452do63
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