A colonist living on a lonely Martian plain receives her new mate, a man culled from among the newly transported convicts…
NOTE: This 7600-word erotic, sci-fi short story was originally published in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF FUTURISTIC ROMANCE, but has since been revised and expanded.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF FUTURISTIC ROMANCE
Running Press ♦ January 1, 2013
ISBN-10: 0762446013 ♦ ISBN-13: 9780762446018
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The transport arrived amid a whirl of dust kicked up from the barren yard beside the house. The gritty air nearly obscured the moon, Phobos, as it made the first of several orbits for the day. The aircraft hovered, framed by the uneven curves of the asteroid, then set down with a thud that shuddered the fiber-board planks of her front porch, vertical engines stalling then shutting off altogether. Slowly, the dust settled.
She’d been sweeping, preparing the cabin for the transport’s arrival. As with every element of the company’s schedule, the ship arrived precisely on time. Although she was prepared, a flutter of anticipation tickled her belly. She set aside the broom, wiped her palms against the sides of her sturdy blue work pants, and descended the stairs, eager to meet the shipment.
A man dressed in a gray company coverall climbed out of the cockpit and strode toward her.
Mary’s heart skipped a beat when she realized she hadn’t had a face-to-face conversation with another human being in a very long time. She pasted on a smile. “Welcome.”
His sharp gaze swept her little cabin, the golden fields beyond it, then finally rested on her. “You Mary Bledsoe?”
He likely wondered how someone of her stature had managed to pass the physical tests to qualify for farming. She stiffened her spine to add a few centimeters to her small, wiry frame and met his gaze with her usual calm, chilly stare. “I am.” She bit back a sarcastic, Who else do you think I could be? Every one of the thousand colonists had been handpicked and transported by the company-they had a monopoly on Martian transportation and industry.
His mouth twitched, but he kept his gaze steady. “I have your shipment, and I’ll need your signature on the bill of lading.”
She nodded. “I’ll need to inspect.” She’d received notice of the contents of the shipment via the comm-console situated in the cabin’s main room shortly after claiming her homestead.
Although the fields had been pre-planted and her new home fully furnished, there were still some items, especially the perishables, that needed stocking: replacement blades for the combine sheltered in the barn, pallets of foodstuffs, clothing, and fuel packs…and her mate.
Trying not to appear overeager to see him, she waited as the transport commander’s crew scurried to let down the rear ramp and roll out the pallets. With well-trained efficiency, they stacked them beside the porch. She counted the pallets with their quick-wrapped goods, scanned her gaze over the identifying labels, signed for delivery, then shoved her hands into her pockets to hide the fact they were beginning to shake.
The commander’s mouth firmed into a straight line. “Did you receive training in the use of the B-Mod collar?”
He knew she had. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be here, already in possession of a land grant. She gave a curt nod. “Yes. I also signed saying I knew there were no guarantees for my safety or his willingness to work. If we don’t suit, if he proves stubborn, then I’ll return him.”
“Just don’t get too attached, ma’am. You have enough on your hands without coddling one of these rejects.”
The brusque quality of his voice surprised her. Was he truly worried? Should she be more concerned? Her hands drew into fists inside her pants pockets.
But then he extended the chain with the controller for the prisoner’s behavior modification collar, a thin ID tag with a recessed button on one side. She slipped it over her head and followed him to the side of the transport. The guard inside the vehicle opened the door. The prisoner scooted on the seat toward the edge, hands still in manacles, then slid to the ground beside her.
Heart rate rising, she gazed up into a face set in grim lines. Blue eyes, cold as ice, sparked with some deep emotion as he stared back.
He was larger than she had expected. Surprisingly so. Prisoners built like this one were generally shipped to company loading docks or to the dome’s arena. He was dressed as she was in sturdy denim pants and long-sleeved shirt. She studied his broad chest and wide shoulders. He was built like a gladiator; his arms and thighs were deeply muscled. “You’re sure he’s mine?” she asked, turning toward the commander who’d fished a key from his pocket to unlock the prisoner’s handcuffs.
The pilot’s grunt and the flinty glare he gave the prisoner said he too had some reservations. “His collar matches the invoice. Guess they thought you might need the extra muscle.”
Anger flashed at his comment. She’d had enough of men thinking she wasn’t up to the rigors of Martian prairie life. Her hand still gripped the B-Mod chip. She slipped it slowly away, remembering her training. Show no fear. As long as she had the chip, she had control.
Without glancing at the metal torque hugging the base of his neck, because she didn’t want to betray her sudden case of nerves, she lifted her chin and cleared her expression.
“Do you have a name?” An inane question. She winced inwardly.
One side of his mouth quirked. That flash of movement might have been her imagination because he gave her a stony stare.
The commander cleared his throat.
“Ma’am,” the prisoner amended with a drawl.
Heat crept up her neck, but she ignored the blush threatening to suffuse her face. Turning back to the commander, she offered her hand.
His grip was strong, the look he gave her doubtful. “Good luck to you, Mary.”
Not a professional form of address, but no one had called her by her first name, alone, for a very long time. For that small gift, she gave him a warm smile. “Thanks for everything. We’ll be fine here.”
A duffel was tossed from the transport by one of the guards. The bag was small. Likely only a couple changes of clothing for the prisoner. She jerked her chin toward it, knowing she was still being observed by the crew. “Bring it,” she said, making her tone curt. She turned, walking toward the cabin, wondering if the lock on her new mate’s door would actually hold the man.