On Friday morning, Frankie woke up in her own body.
Not that waking up in her own body was unusual—not at that point, anyway. And Frankie had no idea of knowing how unusual it would soon become. All she knew was that she’d hit snooze one too many times and now she was running late.
“Crap,” she muttered as she glanced at the clock on her phone and bolted out of bed. She barely had time for a shower—a super fast one—if she hurried. There was going to be no time to wash her hair though, which meant she was going to be fighting frizz all day, especially if the humidity was high. And since she lived in Tampa, Florida, the humidity was always high.
As the hot water poured over her body, she tried to wake up. Why had she kept hitting the snooze button anyway? Oh right—it was the dream she’d been having. It was almost like a story and she’d wanted to see how it ended.
As she washed, she tried to remember the details. Recalling the dream was surprisingly easy. Most dreams started to fade the moment you woke up but this one was staying with her.
It was about a guy—a really tall guy, she thought, splashing the hot water in her face and reaching for her favorite pink grapefruit shower gel.
Normally the only man she dreamed about was her ex, Carlos, and those were mostly nightmares. Nightmares that she was still stuck in her dead-end marriage with no job, no prospects, and nothing but a life of endless childbearing and housework ahead of her. Not to mention a husband who didn’t appreciate her or think she was capable of anything else. But the man in her dreams had looked nothing like Carlos.
He had short blond hair—or at least, it was really light brown. And those eyes… She shivered. His eyes had been a pale shade of gray Frankie had never seen before. So pale they were almost white but with a solid black ring around the irises that made him look scarily intense. In fact, everything about him was intense. In her dream, he’d been barking orders at a bunch of other guys. All were tall and muscular, dressed in some kind of uniform and they shouted back in unison when he asked them questions.
Weird, Frankie thought. Like some kind of Army recruitment film or something. Except the uniform her dream guy was wearing wasn’t like anything from any branch of the Armed Forces that Frankie had ever seen. It was scarlet with accents of gold and the trousers that went with it were black with a scarlet stripe running up the sides. Tall black boots completed the outfit.
He’d been barking orders and marching up and down the line of warriors or soldiers or whatever they were and then the tall, blond man with the scary gray eyes had turned his head and…
“And he looked right at me,” Frankie whispered to herself. She shook her head, trying to get rid of the image. “Don’t be crazy, Frankie—it was only a dream,” she muttered to herself, getting out of the shower. She wrapped a towel around herself and wiped steam off the mirror. A woman with wild black hair and big brown eyes looked back at her as she reached for her toothbrush.
Frankie—who had been christened Francesca Benita Hermosa Rodriguez— came from a big, traditional Latin family. She was the fourth of seven children, three girls and four boys. Her two sisters, Alma and Carita, were married and had six kids between them. Her two older brothers, Julio and Dominic were also married and of the two younger ones, Tomas was engaged and Aurelio was dating a girl seriously—the family expected him to propose to at any time.
It was enough to make you sick.
Not that Frankie had anything against marriage and family and commitment—she had tried it herself, after all. Her whole family had expected her to marry her high school sweetheart and so that was what she had done. And then she’d spent a miserable five years cooking and cleaning up after him, putting up with him the nights he came home drunk and abusive, and trying to be happy because this was the way life was supposed to be, right?
“Wrong,” Frankie said aloud to herself. “That wasn’t me—wasn’t the life I wanted.”
She often thought that if it wasn’t for her best friend, Lacy, she never would have made it. Lacy was the only one who saw how miserable she was—and she’d been the one to encourage Frankie to take some college classes and had provided her with a steady supply of birth control for which Frankie was eternally grateful. Not that she didn’t want kids eventually, but it had only taken her a couple of months with Carlos to know she didn’t want his kids and having children would have compounded an already bad situation.
Despite being miserable, Frankie had stuck out the marriage for five long years because she didn’t want to disappoint her parents. Finally, though, she couldn’t take it anymore. When she told her family that she was filing for divorce, her extremely Catholic grandmother had fainted dramatically and her father had disowned her.
That had been hard—maybe the hardest thing she’d ever gone through. But Frankie was strong—a lot stronger than she’d given herself credit for. She made a new life for herself, going to college full time to get a degree in Women’s Studies. Eventually she hoped to get a PhD and teach but for now, she was just trying to get her Masters Degree without taking on too many student loans.
Frankie finished brushing her teeth and rinsed, taking a final look at herself in the mirror. Whoever had lived in this apartment before her must have been tall—she had to stand on her tiptoes to see more than just her face. Of course, they wouldn’t have to be very tall to be taller than her.
She was a stubby five foot four with what her friend Lacy charitably called, “a juicy caboose.” To put it bluntly—she had a big butt. Frankie often thought she looked completely unremarkable from the waist up—she had B-cup breasts that were nicely shaped and perky enough. But from the waist down, her child-bearing hips and big behind got lots of looks and some outright stares if she didn’t dress to minimize her flaws.
“Not that it’s a flaw,” Frankie told herself sternly, as she dried the body part in question and pulled on some clothes. “It’s part of me—part of my heritage.” Still, she couldn’t help feeling self-conscious about her ass whenever she went out wearing anything form fitting like yoga pants.
She finished toweling off and pulled on a plain khaki skirt and a blue blouse. The outfit would do for her morning class, as well as her shift at work later on. A glance at the clock told her she was still running late. She knew that across town, her sisters were already up, seeing their older kids off to school. And her brothers were probably at work. None of them understood her need to go back to school and change her whole existence. Her mother was still hoping she might get back together with Carlos—Frankie knew because her mom had been inviting her ex to family suppers on the weekends.
“Mira, Mom, it’s not going to happen,” she’d told her mother. “Carlos and I are never getting back together so please just stop inviting him.”
“You were so perfect together in school, mi hija.” Her mother had looked at her reproachfully. “And I know Carlos still loves you.” She had nodded at Carlos, who sat at the end of the table making sad eyes in Frankie’s direction.
Frankie had been unable to contain her surge of irritation. “What he loved was being my boss—running my life,” she muttered to her mother under her breath. “But I don’t want anyone else running my life. It’s my life—so let me live it. I want to try new things—to experience the world on my own terms and be open to anything—anything at all.”
If only she had known that her wish was soon to be granted—and not in the way that she’d imagined.
But for now, she was blissfully ignorant. She hummed as she grabbed a mango-kiwi-chia seed smoothie from the fridge she’d whipped up the night before. Frankie was a strict vegetarian—another change she’d made as soon as she got away from Carlos. She wasn’t a vegan or anything extreme—she just didn’t eat meat. She felt better and healthier and lighter somehow, even though when she went home for family dinners, her new diet earned her many concerned looks from her mother and grandmother.
“But don’t you want any puerco asado? Just try a little piece,” her mother would wheedle.
“I made your favorite chicharones,” her abuela would say. She was still deeply disapproving of Frankie’s divorced status and lit a candle for her daily in church, praying to the Blessed Virgin that her granddaughter would see sense and come back to her rightful husband.
“No thank you, mom, abuelita,” Frankie always said, giving her grandmother a kiss on the cheek. “I feel better and healthier when I don’t eat meat. But I’d love more rice, please.”
Her grandmother always shook her head but she couldn’t argue that Frankie was wasting away. Despite her vegetarian diet and regular exercise, Frankie’s J-Lo booty stuck stubbornly with her and refused to melt—which seemed really unfair. Neither of her sisters had such a big butt, even after having multiple children apiece.
Not that she needed to be like her sisters, Frankie reminded herself as she got into her ancient Honda Civic and started it up. She’d tried that for years—now it was time to embrace her own identity and get comfortable inside her own skin.
It was a short drive from her low rent apartment in the Carlton Arms complex to the USF campus. Living on campus itself was too expensive. Though she had to take loans to cover her classes and books, Frankie tried her best to pay her own living expenses. This meant living in a less than safe part of town and working a series of crappy jobs, even though students in the Masters programs were encouraged to focus exclusively on their studies.
She didn’t usually mind her apartment—it might look ugly on the outside but inside Frankie had transformed the tiny space into a neat, pretty little nest. However, the crappy job thing was beginning to get her down. If only there were enough TA positions to go around! But it seemed like every professor on campus already had all the help they needed. Which meant that Frankie was stuck doing time in retail, working at Victoria’s Secret in the University Square mall. In fact, she had a shift right after her morning class, Women in Modern Literature.
Frankie sighed when she thought of it. She was sure some of her fellow Women’s Studies students would scoff at her for working in a place that glorified the objectification and sexualization of women’s bodies. But at the time she’d taken the job, she’d been desperate to get away from Carlos and make it on her own. Victoria’s Secret was the only place that was hiring so Frankie had applied. Now she was stuck selling overpriced panties and bras—at least until she got a job teaching yoga.
Soon, she promised herself, bouncing up the stairs of the Humanities building. Soon I’ll be out of retail for good.
In fact, she’d completed her two hundred hour certification recently, but she had a final test coming up and she was trying to get in as many classes between now and then as she could, both to practice and to calm her nerves. The two hundred hour certification was enough to teach in most studios but Shelia Landrace, the owner of the Lotus Pond where Frankie took her teacher training, was very particular. She had a test that was legendary for being tough to pass. But Frankie knew she was ready. If she could only pass, Sheila had promised she could teach several beginner’s classes a week to start out.
“Focus on your breathing,” Frankie imagined herself telling her students. “Feel the breath flow in and out of you…breath is life…breathe into any tight spaces and as you exhale, rid yourself of anything that does not serve you…”
“Oh, Francesca—I was hoping to see you here this morning.”
The soft, male voice interrupted her thoughts and Frankie turned quickly, her heart pounding.
“Oh, Professor Ramlow.” She smoothed her fly-away hair nervously, wishing she’d gotten up in time to wash it. “Good morning.”
“Now, Francesca, how often do I have to tell you to call me Todd?” He smiled at her benevolently.
“Of course…Todd.” Frankie smiled at him shyly. Professor Ramlow was one of the few males teaching in the Women’s Studies department and he also happened to be very handsome—in a generic, white guy kind of way. But that was fine with Frankie—she’d had enough Latin machismo bullshit to last her a lifetime with Carlos. She was sick of male posturing—she could definitely see herself with a sensitive, enlightened, emotionally intelligent man. Even if he was white and Protestant, which would undoubtedly give her abuela another fainting fit.
Frankie sighed inwardly. Too bad, Professor Ramlow was married because there was definitely some kind of attraction between them. She had taken his course, Literature by Women of Color, and had stayed after one day to argue about a Maya Angelou poem. Ever since, he made it a point to talk to her and pay her special attention whenever he saw her.
Even though she knew he was married, Frankie couldn’t help feeling flattered by the way he singled her out. She was older than the traditional student, after all, and she wasn’t Barbie-doll pretty like most of the nineteen-year-old co-eds running around campus. Her fly-away hair and big behind were the exact opposite of the slim girls with their long, straight hair she saw all around her. Yet Professor Ramlow—Todd—seemed interested in her—seemed to respect her intellect. And after years of living with a man who only cared about her cooking and cleaning skills, it was refreshing to find someone who liked the fact that she had a brain.
“I’m so glad I caught you,” Todd said, smiling at her. “I know you’ve been looking for a TA position and something has just opened up.”
“It has?” Frankie couldn’t keep the eagerness out of her voice. “With you?” Though teaching Yoga classes would help her leave retail hell, it still wouldn’t make her enough to move into a nicer, safer place. But being a TA and teaching some classes on the side would certainly pay enough to get her out of the starving-student gutter.
Todd nodded. “Yes, with me. So I was wondering if we could have dinner tomorrow night and discuss it?”
Frankie felt her heart flutter. Stop it, she told herself sternly. It’s only a job he’s talking about and besides, he’s married! Still, it was flattering that he would come looking for her because he wanted her especially as his new TA.
“I’d love that…Todd,” she said, smiling shyly. “Where and what time?”
“Well, I was hoping maybe we could go to your place.” He shifted uneasily, his genial smile slipping just a little. “You see, Nancy—my wife—and I are, er, going through a rather messy divorce. And I don’t need to give her any more ammunition by letting myself be seen with such a beautiful woman out in public.”
“Oh, well…” Frankie could feel herself blushing. “My place isn’t in the best part of town, you know. I really can’t afford—”
“I don’t care about the location,” Todd assured her quickly. “All I’m interested in is the company.” He took Frankie’s hand and squeezed it gently, looking into her eyes. “What do you say? I can bring take-out from Lemongrass—they were just voted the best Thai restaurant in the Bay area.”
Frankie’s pulse was racing so hard she wondered if he could feel it as he held her hand.
“I think that would be great,” she said softly. “Um…should I give you my address?”
“I’d love that.” Todd brought out his cell phone and tapped it in as she recited it. Then he tucked it back in his pocket and flashed her a grin. “See you tomorrow at eight, Francesca.”
“See you then.” Frankie smiled and headed off to class. She was going to be walking in late at this point but she barely cared. A new TA position and an evening alone with the handsome Professor Ramlow—could this day get any better?
* * * * *
Commander Kerov Volx sighed with satisfaction and armed sweat off his forehead. Could his day get any better? The fighting had been particularly rough of late, but his battalion had repelled the enemy yet again and the Ministry wasn’t predicting another swarm for a week at least. Which was good. It meant he could have some time off—a few days when he didn’t have to sleep in the barracks and live on war rations.
Kerov looked around the large, cavernous holding facility with satisfaction. Everywhere males and females in black and scarlet uniforms were busy—breaking down equipment, servicing transports, cleaning and checking weapons. His people knew they had a whole solar week off but before they could leave, every piece of equipment had to be in top shape, ready for the next swarm. There was an air of suppressed excitement and a hum of contentment all around. Though the battle had been even more arduous than usual, they hadn’t lost a single soldier. It had been a good day.
“Kerov.” A hand clapped him on the back and he turned to see Jorn, the commander of another unit similar to his own.
Jorn was tall and slim with narrow shoulders, a shock of white-blond hair, and blackish-purple eyes. His build, as well as his long, angular face, betokened the fact that he was pure bred Tarsian with no Kindred DNA in his gene pool. Kerov was the opposite—his broad shoulders and heavy musculature gave away his Kindred origins as unmistakably as his pale gray eyes.
Yet, despite their differences and the fact that those with Kindred DNA weren’t always smiled upon in Tarsian society, the two males were good friends.
“Greetings,” Kerov said heartily, clapping the other male on the back in return. “How goes the battle?” It was a standard greeting but his friend laughed anyway.
“You tell me! I heard you repelled a swarm twice as large as usual and yet didn’t lose a single man. That’s good work, my friend.”
Kerov shrugged modestly. “It’s all in knowing the strengths and weaknesses of those under your command. I have a good group.”
“And they have a good Commander—which hasn’t gone without notice. Brigadier Tlox has requested your presence at the General’s Banquet at the Ministry of War tomorrow night after the review.”
“Really?” Kerov’s heart pounded a little faster though he tried to keep his face impassive. “I wonder what he wants with me?”
“He wants to promote you, of course,” Jorn said. “That’s my guess, anyway. What else would he want from the most successful Commander in the Quadrex sector?”
“I doubt that.” Kerov ran a hand through his short, dark blond hair—much darker than his friend’s white-blond shade and another giveaway as to his ancestry. “You know those in the upper echelon are all pure bred Tarsians. When was the last time anyone with Kindred genes rose above the rank of Commander?”
“That’s just holdover from the early days when the Kindred first joined our society,” Jorn objected. “Back before the need to Switch or Trade had been bred out. Everyone knows such prejudices are outdated now.”
“Some bigotry never dies,” Kerov said darkly. “Sometimes I think I’ll never live down my ancestors’ shameful proclivity for Trading bodies with their mates.”
“You will—you have,” his friend insisted. “All the old thoughts are dying as younger commanders rise to take the places of our sires and grandsires. Do you know that Brigadier Tlox is only five cycles older than you and me?”
“And a pure Tarsian with no Kindred blood to sully his pedigree,” Kerov pointed out. But secretly, he couldn’t help feeling excited. Could Jorn be right? Was he really being singled out for promotion?
“The Brigadier doesn’t care about things like ancestry and pedigree,” Jorn said, waving off his objections. “He only cares about results—and you’ve been delivering them steadily since you rose to the rank of Battalion Commander. You’ll be commanding a whole Brigade soon. And then a Regiment and before you know it, you’ll be the first Kindred bred General the Ministry of War has ever seen.”
“You have high hopes for me, I see,” Kerov said dryly. “And what about yourself?”
“Oh, I’ll come along with you—I’ll be your Chief of Staff.” Jorn grinned. “I’m going to be at the banquet tomorrow night too, you know. And rumor has it that there are two openings in the Brigade Commanders’ ranks. Next week you and I will be eating together in the Officer’s Mess hall.”
“From your lips to the Goddess’s ears,” Kerov said, smiling at his friend’s enthusiasm.
“The Kindred Goddess, you mean?” Jorn frowned. “Look, I know you’re just kidding but, uh, don’t let the Brigadier or the General hear you talking like that at the banquet. You know, the Kindred religion isn’t actually forbidden…”
“But it is frowned on. Don’t worry.” Kerov clapped him on the back. “I’m not a true believer or anything—it’s just a saying of my sire’s.”
“Well, just don’t say it at the banquet,” Jorn cautioned. “No one there is going to care if you’re Kindred as long as you don’t rub it in their face. And you know those that hold religious views—especially that old Kindred religion—aren’t considered too bright.”
“My sire is bright enough,” Kerov said a bit stiffly. “He just holds with the old ways—the Kindred ways.” Which was why he had gone against his mandatory mating assignment and married a female he loved instead of the one assigned to him. Such a thing would never be permitted now—a fact which didn’t really bother Kerov much since he was much more interested in promotion at his career than finding “true love”—that elusive emotion those with Kindred DNA seemed to think so essential.
“Of course your sire was bright—he had you, didn’t he?” Jorn grinned. “Kindred DNA be damned, you were the top of all our classes. I never would have gotten through quantum astronavigation without you.”
Kerov grinned. “Only because I drilled the formulae for each test into your thick skull over and over.”
“I thought I’d never get through that class—but look at us now—barely twenty-nine cycles old and about to rise to the exalted rank of Brigaid Commander.”
“Thirty-one,” Kerov corrected him but his friend waved his words away.
“Who’s counting? We’ll still be some of the youngest to ever achieve such a rank! Come on—I’m taking you to the y’xx hall to buy you a drink.”
Regretfully, Kerov shook his head. “I wish I could but I have my mandatory sexual encounter tonight.”
“Even better—you lucky bastard!” Jorn pounded him on the chest with a closed fist. “To get news of a promotion and have your weekly fuck-session all in one day—I must admit, I’m envious.”
“Don’t be,” Kerov said dryly. “I’m not exactly looking forward to it.”
“What? Not looking forward to sheathing your saber? Why in the Seven Hells not?” his friend demanded amiably.
Kerov shifted uncomfortably, feeling he had said too much already. Still, Jorn was looking at him for an explanation and he didn’t like to brush his friend off with a curt reply.
“The relations between myself and my state-mandated partner are not always…amicable,” he said at last.
In fact, that was a gross understatement. He found Xirnah, the female he had been matched with, to be cold and off-putting and she, in her turn, had made it abundantly clear that she resented being assigned to a male who had Kindred DNA. If she conceived a child by him, it would almost certainly have physical characteristics that were noticeably Kindred—a fate which would shame her—at least in her view.
Kerov knew she detested his broad shoulders and heavy, well developed muscles, so different from the slender build of a pure bred Tarsian but he couldn’t help being who he was. And to tell the truth, he didn’t find Xirnah especially attractive either.
It wasn’t that she was ugly—she was tall with a perfect, angular figure and a mass of straight, white-blonde hair which was always perfectly coifed. Her wide, blackish-purple eyes were fringed with white-blonde lashes and her breasts were high and shapely. Her hips were almost as narrow as her waist and her petite bottom was nearly nonexistent—another Tarsian trait that was considered especially beautiful.
But there was nothing to hold on to while they had sex—she was all angles and straight lines. Kerov couldn’t think of it as making love because it certainly wasn’t. State-mandated sexual relations with Xirnah was a mechanical affair, devoid of any warmth or affection.
When she came to his quarters for their weekly sessions, their routine was always the same. They would sit across from each other on his sensu-chairs making polite but stilted conversation as the chairs stimulated the correct parts of their anatomy.
Then, once he was appropriately tumescent and Xirnah was sufficiently lubricated, they would retire to his sleeping chamber where she would open her sex garment and bend over his sleeping platform to reveal her narrow, boney behind. Kerov would part her thin thighs to locate her tight, almost colorless slit and insert his shaft into her chilly depths.
True Tarsians had a body temperature that was a good ten to twenty degrees lower than those with Kindred blood. The result was that Kerov always felt like he was fucking an ice sculpture—his partner was quite literally frigid. Xirnah, for her part, often expressed discomfort with his body’s warmth, saying that he burned her with his crude Kindred heat. Kerov always apologized but again, how could he help being himself?
He would try to hurry the process along because he could feel Xirnah stiffen with resentment at his intrusion. Thrusting mechanically, he took only as long as was necessary to inseminate his partner exactly once. Then he would withdraw, to their mutual relief, and Xirnah would use his fresher facilities.
Though she never admitted it aloud, Kerov was certain she was washing his seed out of herself, as quickly as possible. Of course, there wasn’t much to wash away—his body would only produce a large amount of sperm if he was with a female he truly wished to bond to himself for life and Xirnah certainly didn’t fall into that category. And clearly he didn’t fall into the bound-together-for-life category for her either—she couldn’t wait to get his essence out of her.
Her eagerness to rid herself of every trace of him right after sex might have hurt Kerov if he had cared for her at all. But even after being paired with her for the last three years, he could summon no emotion other than dread when he knew it was time for their weekly state-mandated sexual encounter.
“How can relations between you not be amicable?” Jorn demanded, breaking his train of thought. “I’ve seen your partner—Xirnah, isn’t it? She’s quite a beauty. I wouldn’t mind plowing her furrow myself.”
“You shouldn’t speak so of another male’s partner,” Kerov said, glowering at him. He might not like Xirnah much himself, but he would be damned if he’d allow anyone to denigrate her. After all, it wasn’t her fault she was assigned to him and that they didn’t get along—it was pretty much the same with any partner he was assigned to and had been since he had reached sexual maturity at eighteen cycles.
“Sorry,” Jorn said unrepentantly. “I’m just saying she’s pretty—I wish I’d be assigned someone like her.”
“No doubt Xirnah would like that,” Kerov said dryly. “In fact, with your pure Tarsian blood, you’d be her ideal partner.”
Jorn shrugged philosophically. “Well then it’ll never happen—not unless there’s a foul-up of unheard of proportions at the Ministry of Matching.”
“True,” Kerov agreed. The Ministry of Matching was the government agency that assigned sexual partners. But rather than matching males and females that were most compatible together, they sought out the most mismatched pairs they could find and put them into sexual partnerships.
This was an unpleasant but necessary part of life on Tarsia Six, where it had been determined that too much interest in one’s sexual partner took away focus from an individual’s state-mandated career and responsibilities. Also, by matching people only with the opposite of their ideal, the Tarsian government had been able to breed the tendency to Switch or Trade bodies with their mates out of the Kindred population.
It was said that such a Trade was possible only between couples that were truly meant to be together—fated by the Goddess to fall in love and form a soul bond. By making sure that the males bearing Kindred DNA were matched with a female they did not love, the tendency to Switch or Trade or Jump—whatever you wanted to call it—had been all but eradicated.
“Well, I’d better go. I can’t keep Xirnah waiting and she always arrives promptly at sixteen hundred hours,” Kerov told his friend.
“I understand. Did you drive your rover?”
Kerov shook his head. “Didn’t know I’d be getting a whole solar week off so I just rode public transport.”
Jorn made a face. “Ugh—it’s a long way home on pubtrans this time of day. I’d offer you a lift but I’m on my way to celebrate.”
“Alone?” Kerov raised an eyebrow at him.
“Sure—why not? If my good friend can’t make it, I’ll have to make do with what I can find. And you never can tell—I might find a female willing to share my company for the night. I’ve been saving my credits to visit the new brothel near the Ministry of Agriculture.”
“Enjoy yourself then,” Kerov said blandly. Prostitution wasn’t forbidden by the Tarsian government—in fact, it was encouraged as a good way for over-eager males who weren’t content with their weekly mandated sexual encounter to release tension. But the prostitutes all wore masks and no talking was permitted during the encounter, lest inappropriate feelings be engendered.
Kerov had tried it once or twice but the sex workers were almost as cold as Xirnah and even more impersonal. Though at least he didn’t have to worry about impregnating any of them due to their compulsory use of contraceptives and plasti-shield barriers both inside and out. Still, he found the encounters to be like having sex with a machine and after one or two trips to the state-run brothels, he’d avoided them ever since.
“I will enjoy myself—for both of us since you’re so dreading your mandatory sex,” Jorn said, laughing.
“You don’t find it…impersonal?” Kerov asked, meaning both sex at the brothel and the state mandated encounters.
“Sure I do, but who cares?” Jorn shrugged his narrow shoulders. “Fucking is fucking, my friend. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll begin to enjoy your time with the lovely Xirnah.”
He clapped Kerov on the shoulder once more and walked off, laughing.
Kerov sighed as he watched him go. He wished he could adopt his friend’s nonchalant attitude but somehow he couldn’t manage it. His parents, who had joined before the Ministry of Matching had come to power, always seemed so fond of each other—so “in love”, for want of a better word.
Although the very idea of passionately loving one’s mate was now considered a quaint and outdated notion, it was the ideal that Kerov had been raised with. He couldn’t help remembering the loving touches and kind words his parents often exchanged and comparing them with the stilted conversation and cold, mechanical encounters he had with Xirnah. He didn’t see his parents often now—he’d had to move closer to the base and the Ministry of War, which put his off-site quarters far from their domicile. But when he did manage to get back on State Holidays, his Sire and Mother always seemed as much in love as ever.
It made Kerov feel like he had missed out on something somehow—something vital and important. As much as he tried, he couldn’t reduce sex to a purely biological function or a purely recreational one either. It ought to mean something, damn it! Ought to have some significance other than blowing off steam or producing offspring for the State. At least that was what he thought, when he let himself think about it at all.
Overhead, the last whistle blew, signifying the end of the work day and letting everyone know it was time to wrap up tasks and get back to assigned domiciles and quarters. His underlings scattered and Kerov realized he’d stalled long enough. It was time to go home and get ready for his encounter with Xirnah.
An encounter he was already beginning to dread.
* * * * *
“So he actually asked you out on a date?” Lacy leaned forward eagerly, sipping her Pumpkin Spice Latte with evident relish. She was a nurse over at University Community Hospital and since Frankie worked at the University Square Mall, down the street, they often tried to coordinate their break schedules to grab some girl time in the food court.
“Oh, no—it wasn’t a date.” Frankie brushed off the idea, though she could feel her cheeks heating at the idea.
“Of course it’s a date,” her best friend said, grinning. “I mean, he asked to come to your house and he told you he’s getting a divorce. That means he’s definitely interested.”
“He’s only interested in having me TA for him,” Frankie insisted. “Which is a good thing—it would finally get me out of Victoria’s Suck-ret.” She took a sip of her matcha green tea slush. “Although I would miss our girl time.”
“I’ll take an extra yoga class a week so we can be together—any one you teach, I’ll take,” Lacy vowed recklessly. “Even if it’s super hard-core with a ton of handstands and headstands and inversions.” Of course, since she was tall and thin, and “extra-bendy” as she put it, Lacy would probably be able to manage that kind of class—not that Frankie ever planned on teaching one.
“I’m only going to be teaching the beginner classes to start with—and that’s if I pass Sheila’s final exam.” Frankie made a face. “You’d think getting my two hundred hour certificate from the Yoga Alliance would be enough but no—not if I want to teach at the Lotus Pond.”
“But look how far you’ve come,” Lacy pointed out. “You know, it seems like just yesterday we were taking our first class. Remember? You wanted to take kick-boxing and I wanted yoga. We flipped a coin and yoga won—aren’t you glad it did?”
“That was back when I was still with Carlos,” Frankie said. “I remember telling you I was going to scream if I couldn’t let off some tension and that was when you said we needed to take an exercise class together.”
“Your ex is the one who really ought to be glad that coin toss led us to yoga,” Lacy said, taking another sip of her juice. “If you were about to become a kick-boxing master like you’re going to be a yoga master, you would have kicked his ass six ways to Sunday by now.”
“Don’t tempt me.” Frankie sighed and swirled her straw through the green matcha slush in her glass. “You know my mom has been inviting him to family dinners lately? She and my abuela are just sure if I see him often enough I’ll magically want to go back to him.”
“Ugh!” Lacy made a face. “That’s awful, Frankie—you should stop going.”
“Like hell I will.” Frankie frowned. “I’m not going to let that hijo de puta keep me away from my own family—even if half of them think I’m crazy and the other half aren’t speaking to me.”
“Is it really that bad?” Lacy squeezed her arm sympathetically. “I’ll come with you to the next one if you want—for moral support. Only you’ll have to translate for me—you know how bad my Spanish is.”
Frankie laughed. “As if I could forget! Do you think we would ever have gotten to be such good friends if Mr. Gonzalez hadn’t paired us up in tenth grade Spanish Class?”
“I like to think so,” Lacy said comfortably, taking another sip of latte—none of which would settle on her slender figure or perfect little butt, Frankie was sure. “We’re kindred spirits, after all.”
Frankie shivered. “Hey, don’t say the K word, all right? You know that since my divorce from Carlos is final I have to go register for the draft.”
“I’m surprised they reinstated it after all the trouble we had with them a while back,” Lacy remarked. “But I’m registered too and I’m not worried about it. Take it easy, Frankie—you know the chances of getting called as a Kindred bride are super slim.”
“They’d better be,” said Frankie darkly. “My abuela would have another fainting spell if she knew I was having dinner with Professor Ramlow and he’s just white and Protestant. If I ended up with one of those freaking huge alien Kindred who aren’t even human, she’d probably have a heart attack.”
“All the more reason to keep it from her. And speaking of the sexy professor, you are going to go down to that new salon, Wax Me Beautiful, we were talking about, and get yourself looking all smooth and gorgeous in case the night gets amorous.”
“I can’t afford that,” Frankie protested. “And even if I could, nothing is going to happen. Just because I had the nerve to get a divorce doesn’t mean I can shake a lifetime of being a good Catholic girl all at once.”
“Yes, you can,” Lacy protested. “You haven’t gone on a single good date since you got away from that jerk, Carlos. You may be divorced from him but you’re acting like you’re still married and keeping your wedding vows. It’s high time you got some good nookie.”
“I’m not going to—” Frankie began.
“Well, just go get waxed anyway, in case you change your mind.” Lacy finished her latte and pointed her dripping straw at Frankie. “Do it, Frankie—you’ll feel like a whole new woman, I promise. And you can take my appointment—it’s already paid for and you can just pretend to be me.”
“I can’t do that,” Frankie protested. “I can’t let you buy me such an expensive gift.”
Lacy waved her protests away. “Oh please, I got it on Groupon so it was way cheaper than it would normally be. Besides, I was just getting it done because I was hoping Doctor Sloan would ask me out.” She sighed. “He didn’t though and the weekend is officially upon us. So you might as well take the appointment—you’ll get more use out of it than I would.”
“He’ll ask you out next weekend,” Frankie said, squeezing her friend’s arm soothingly. “And if he doesn’t, he’s just an idiot who can’t see how gorgeous you are.” She finished her own drink. “And now I need to get going. I’ve only got one more hour left on my shift and then I’m out of here.
“Good for you—some of us are working a double” Lacy sighed. “Maybe I should go back with you to VS and see if I can find some sexy underwear to cheer myself up before my dinner break is over. You should get some too, you know. To go with your new wax job.”
“I’m not getting waxed down there,” Frankie protested. “That would hurt too much! I’d rather shave.”
“Shaving doesn’t get you nearly as smooth,” Lacy informed her. “And the waxing might hurt but it only takes a second. You have no idea how sexy you can feel until you have a fresh Brazilian and a new pair of naughty panties to go with it.”
“I’ll consider it,” Frankie promised, sliding off her stool and pitching her plastic cup in the trash. “But for now, I really do have to get back. I just hope Mrs. Hofstadter isn’t going to show up at the end of my shift and want to talk my ear off.”
“Is that the one who’s into all the super kinky BDSM?” Lacy asked with interest.
Frankie nodded and shivered.
“Which wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t seventy-five. I swear the things she tells me she and her hubby get up to—yuck!”
Lacy smothered a smile. “Hey, give her a break! Personally, I’m inspired by her. I think it’s amazing that a woman in her seventies is still getting busy.”
“I have no problem with her getting busy,” Frankie said. “I just don’t want to have to hear all the dirty—and I do mean dirty—details. And I don’t care that she’s seventy-five—I wouldn’t want to hear them if she was twenty-five. It’s just too much information.”
“Well just think, you’ll be out of there soon. TA-ing for the sexy professor and teaching yoga like nobody’s business. You’re going to be amazing.”
“What I’m going to be is tired.” Frankie yawned. It had been a long day and she would be glad to get home and take a hot bubble bath before crawling into bed.
Lacy yawned too. “Me too. You know, I think I’ll just head back to UCH, hon. I need to conserve my strength if I’m going to get through the second half of this double.”
“Okay—talk soon,” Frankie said, giving her a hug.
“All right and I’ll text you the details for that waxing appointment.” Lacy hugged her back. “And you better go. Believe me, you’ll be thanking me later when you want to get busy with the sexy professor.”
Frankie laughed and shook her head. “All right, all right. I’ll tell you all about the date tomorrow night after he goes.”
“Unless he stays the night.” Lacy waggled her perfectly shaped eyebrows expressively, making Frankie laugh again.
“Yeah, right—whatever. Never gonna happen. I’m not letting any man stay the night at my place.”
“You might be surprised,” Lacy said mysteriously as she left.
Frankie waved her friend’s words away and went back to her job. Luckily Mrs. Hofstadter didn’t make her usual appearance and so Frankie was able to get through the store closing routine fairly quickly. At the end of the night, before the registers closed, she even picked out a nice bra and panty set—a black lace one that minimized her butt—well, as much as it could be minimized—and a sexy bra to match. Lacy was right—who knew what might happen? She might end up with a man staying the night at her place after all…
The ride home wasn’t too long and Frankie was able to get her bubble bath and climb into bed in fairly short order. Which was perfect—she needed a good night’s sleep because she had a very busy weekend planned. Between the waxing appointment, her yoga final exam, her “date” with Professor Ramlow, and the weekly family dinner where Carlos was sure to put in an appearance, she was going to be running from sunup ‘til sundown all day Saturday and Sunday.
That’s all right though, she told herself comfortingly as she snuggled down into her worn but clean cotton sheets. I can handle this. I’m ready for anything…
Or so she thought. But then she started to dream…