Keeping her fingers curled inward in case the thing decided to bite, she ran her knuckles along its lavender-furred shoulder. “Hello, little fellow. What’s your name?”
The creature made a little “jweek jweek” sound and closed its eyes.
She opened her hand and stroked the feather-soft fur. “Is your master aboard?”
In answer, it clambered the rest of the way up her chest and settled on her shoulder, long tail wrapping gently around her throat. It closed its eyes and settled down as if to sleep.
“Okay, then.” Strangely fortified by the greeting, she continued into the cargo bay. A beat-up CrossX Spacer Elite sat to one side of a dimly lit, industrial-gray area. She breathed deeply, relieved she’d taken a few minutes to download Syndicorp’s specs for the shuttle. Her accessibility to the galactic web after she was on board was uncertain, and she needed to look like she knew what she was doing. Against the far wall, two open airlocks provided her no guidance.
“There you are.” A deep voice made her spin, and she collided with a broad chest smelling of sweet rum and ginger. Her gaze roamed upward from the silver-banded dark beard bisecting the captain’s chest to his firm but sensuous mouth. She wasn’t used to feeling so short. His hair, pulled into a top-knot, exposed silver earrings, and one strand had come loose to hang between his intense, obsidian eyes. Had he been waiting for her? An unfamiliar yet exciting thrill fluttered in the pit of her stomach.
“Come here, Jhikik.” He plucked the little creature from her shoulder, taking no more notice of her than if she’d been a tree.
He was looking for his pet, not waiting for her. The strange feeling in her stomach subsided. She adjusted her satchel. “What kind of animal is that?”
He settled the creature on his own shoulder where it chittered loudly. “Netorpok.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“Endangered species.” He adjusted its tail around his neck as if it was choking him. “Banned on most worlds.”
“Oh.” Joy tried to be nonchalant, but there could be another story here. Some exotic pets were banned because their intelligence made them more like slaves than pets. “Is he sentient?”
Kashatok shook his head and rubbed two knuckles along the creature’s forehead on either side of its horns. “Though sometimes I wonder.”
His gaze shifted to her for the first time since she’d bumped into him. Her breath caught. She’d never been particularly attracted to bad boys, but this pirate’s attention made her quiver low in her belly. “Um, where should I put my stuff?”
A muscle in the side of the captain’s jaw twitched and his copper skin darkened with a slightly blue-green tinge. He took a long drink from the bottle in his other hand. “Bunk room’s down that corridor behind you.”
Bunk room? Joy’s throat grew tight. Passing for a guy would become exponentially more difficult if she was sharing quarters with a bunch of other men. What if they took communal showers or something? She hadn’t thought this through very well. “I don’t get my own quarters?”