Tulip stood frozen in her spot as she stared at Korom. There was a look in his eyes that she hadn’t seen before. His dark eyes looked almost black, his features set into those of a hunter, ready to attack its prey.
Feeling smaller than ever before, Tulip swallowed and took a small step back.
“If this is something you don’t want, you need to tell me now, Tulip. I will leave and never seek it from you again. But if you do want this… want me the way I want you… Then don’t be afraid. Never be afraid of me. Of what this might become.”
She shook her head, meeting his intense stare. “I’m not afraid of you, Korom. I told you that before. I’m just… I’m not exactly sure what you want from me.”
He took another small, tentative step closer, crowding her personal space. She arched her head up to look at him, unable to stop the small shiver of need that ran over her skin.
“I want you, Tulip. All of you. I have thought of you all day, dreamt of you at night… I need to feel you in my arms, to taste you. To bury myself so deep inside you that for a while, we become one. I want to fall asleep with you by my side, and wake up to the sweet scent of you beside me every morning. I want to spend hours talking with you, learning everything there is to know about you. I want to give you every piece of tech on Toria for you to take apart and investigate just so I can see you smile. … I want it all, little one.”
A deep, rosy blush burned her cheeks but Tulip forced her eyes to stay fixed on Koroms. She wanted the same thing. No one apart from her family understood her love for technology. Her obsession with how it worked. Yet in only a few short days, Korom had noticed, and he accepted it.
Not only that, but he wanted her. He wanted her as a man wants a woman. She would never admit to dreaming of him, fantasizing about him late at night while she touched herself, and doing everything she could to catch a glimpse of him whenever she could.
But to have him in her room, telling her that he wanted to be with her had Tulip squirming in her spot.
“Korom, I’m, um… I’m not very experienced in that.” More heat rose on her face at admitting such a personal secret to a man like Korom, but he needed to know what he was getting into with her.
A gentle smile spread over his face, making the intense look in his eyes fade for a moment.
“I would never hurt you, Tulip. If you need me to stop, or to slow down, I will do as you ask. As much as I crave to be with you, I am still a male of honor. I can wait as long as you need. But know that I do want this. I want you. And I won’t stop trying.”
At his words, a moment of bravery filled her veins. Gazing into his eyes, she could see the truth burning in them as he spoke. He really would wait as long as he had to. As long as she needed. The problem was, Tulip didn’t want to wait any more.
After the attack on Earth, and then the attack on the ship, she had almost died far too many times to waste a single moment. And looking at Korom, she now knew that if she wanted this to happen, it would have to be her who made the first move.
So before she could change her mind, Tulip reached up and gently pulled the towel from around her body. It slid off her damp skin, pooling at her feet. She didn’t move her eyes away from Korom’s, unable to see her own skinny frame standing naked in front of a fully clothed Korom.
Korom’s eyes drifted over her body in a painstakingly slow, thorough inspection. She could almost feel his gaze on her as it slipped from her face, down her neck, over her shoulders, before he paused on her small breasts. His eyes dilated at the sight, but he didn’t move. Lingering there for a few seconds longer, he finally moved on to her flat belly, where her ribs still stuck out a little too much for Tulip’s liking, then down to the small tuft of hair between her legs. He licked his lips, his breaths growing quicker as he took in her center, before his eyes moved down her legs and stopped on her freshly painted red toes.
A second later, he stepped back, lowered himself to the bed in front of her and gazed at her as though she were the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
“Ki amas dor romo sut tu retorma,” He breathed in a soft whisper, his eyes taking in her naked body once more.
“What does that mean?” She asked, having to force herself not to cover herself with her hands and run away.
“I gaze upon the creator’s greatest masterpiece,” He answered, finally looking up into her eyes, “I knew you were beautiful from the moment I saw you, but I never expected you to be…”
“Perfection,” He held out a hand, “Come to me, Tulip. But know that if you do, you agree to be mine and mine alone. Just as I will only ever be yours.”
Tulip had to blink to ease the sting in her eyes. No one had ever spoken to her like that before. Not only that, but the way he looked at her, the expression of awe and amazement on his face had her confidence rising with each breath.
Taking a small step forward, she said, “I don’t share, Korom. I don’t know how things work on your world, but I won’t let anyone else touch you. If you-”
Before she could finish her sentence, Korom’s mist erupted out of him, filling the room as it gently swirled around them both. To her surprise, Korom still sat on the bed, his body faded, giving Tulip the impression of looking at a ghost.
“What do you feel?” He asked, no sign of anger on his face.
She swallowed as she tore her eyes away from his to look around her at the wall of dark mist surrounding her. Reaching out a hand, she gently let her fingers run through the moving mass, smiling at the warm, soft feel of it.
“It’s warm, and soft, like water.”
She knew what she wanted to say, but held back. There was no way she could admit something like that to him. Not yet.
But Korom didn’t miss anything when it came to her, and he must have seen her hesitation, because he asked, “Tell me. Please?”
Meeting his faded eyes, Tulip swallowed and mumbled, “I feel safe. Like nothing can hurt me here.”
He stood then, moving slowly until he was right in front of her once more.
“It craves to be near you. To protect you and to watch over you. All my life, my mist has been one thing. A killer. It has never felt a need to protect, to care for and to be near another being. Until you,” He closed his eyes, tilting his head up, before he took in a long breath and met her eyes once more, “I have never felt it so at peace as it is now. So content to simply be.”
Forgetting her naked state for a moment, Tulip reached a hand once more to the mist. She let it run through her fingers and smiled. As she watched, it slowly and gently wrapped around her hand, then her arm and inched its way over her skin until her entire body was covered.
Not feeling so much as an ounce of fear, she grinned wider and met Korom’s eyes. “What’s happening?”
He smiled, “It is covering you, so you do not feel shy anymore. It can sense what you feel, far better than I can.”
“Can you feel what it feels? Can you feel my skin against it?”
He took in a ragged breath, then nodded. "Yes. I can feel the warmth of your skin, the smoothness of every inch of you. The beating of your heart as it races in your chest. I can sense the tiny drops of water still left on your skin, and I can all but taste the bitter yet slightly sweet taste of the soap you cleansed with.”
With the dark mist still wrapped around her body, Tulip moved closer to Korom, gingerly placing her hands on his chest. The moment they touched, his body beneath her palms solidified.
Korom sucked in a sharp breath as he looked down at where she touched him.
Unsure of his reaction, Tulip was about to pull her hands away, But Korom raised his own and covered her hands with his, pressing them into his chest.
With the mist surrounding her, cocooning her in a warm, soft blanket, Tulip remembered about her tiny friend. Before she could stop herself, she asked, “Did you take Wisp away from me?”
He shook his head, “No. I sensed it gone this morning and meant to ask you about it. It didn’t return to me, and I wasn’t able to find it anywhere on the ship.”
“Where would it have gone?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even know my mist could separate itself like that.”
With that, Tulips mind once again sprang with questions. What was the mist made of? How did it work? How could it travel in space, like Kurmar had? What was the range of travel? How long could he stay in that form.
“Tulip?” Korom said with a smile in his voice.
“Huh?” She asked, not yet ready for the barrage of questions to be over. She really wanted to know. To figure it out and understand it. Did it have a mind of its own? Was it controlled by Korom? Could it make decisions, or disobey his orders?
“Tulip?” He patiently said as her eyes darted from side to side, trying to file everything away for later.
Snapping out of her own mind, she glanced up, only to find Korom smiling down at her. Shit! She thought, realizing where they were and what was about to happen.
“Sorry,” She blushed, turning her face down to hide her rosy cheeks, “I got lost in my own head there for a second.”
“Never be sorry for having an incredible mind. I will gladly answer any questions you have. But first,” He placed a finger under her chin and lifted so she looked at him once more, “First I am going to kiss you.”
Without a word, Tulip nodded. She stood stock still, watching as he lowered his head, never once breaking eye contact with her.
She licked her lips, the anticipation of it almost eating a hole in her gut.
His lips paused for only a second an inch away from hers, before he bent down the rest of the way and brushed his lips over hers.
Her body exploded with desire, her heart racing and her breaths coming in and out in shallow pants.
“TULIP!” A loud shout broke through her haze, seconds before Korom’s mist reacted. It flew off her body, taking what Tulip could only assume was a defensive pose around her and Korom as it pointed razor sharp daggers at the door to her room.
Another knock sounded on the door, before Violet’s voice called out, “Tulip! I know you’re in there! Open up, I need to talk to you!”
“Seriously,” Tulip mumbled as her shoulders sagged.
“Shall I tell her to leave?” Korom asked, raising a playful brow at her.
Tulip chuckled, reaching for her robe. When she pulled it on, she turned to him and said, “I better see what she wants or she’ll never go away.”
Korom chuckled, pulling her in for one last brief kiss, before his body faded away and he shot out of her room through the vents in the ceiling. Smiling up at him as he left, another frantic knock rang out.
“I’m coming!” Tulip called, straightening her robe and marching over to the door. As soon as she opened it, her smile faded. Violet stood at her door, a worried, almost terrified look on her face. Without waiting to be invited in, Violet pushed past Tulip and entered her room, only sparing a passing glance at the discarded towel on the floor.
“Vi? What’s wrong?”
Violet met her eyes, tears welling in them as her hands twisted together in front of her.
“I need your help, Tu. Please.”
“Sit down,” Tulip said, gesturing for her baby sister to sit on the bed.
Violet raised her watery eyes to Tulip, took in a long breath, then said, “You have to swear to me you wont tell anyone. Swear it Tulip.”
Taking a seat on the chair in front of her sister, Tulip nodded. “I swear.”
“You need to mean it, Tu. You can’t tell anyone about this. Not Rose, and especially not Lilly.”
Concern began to fill Tulip. What had happened?
“Did someone hurt you, Vi? Someone on this ship? Was it Keel?”
“What? No! Why do you all have it out for Keel? He didn’t do anything to me, no one did.”
“Then what is it?”
Violet studied her sister for a moment, before she let out a ragged breath.
“I need your help with Spot.”
Tulip frowned, “Spot? What is that?”
Violet hesitated, her lips pressed together as she lowered her eyes to her lap.
“You can tell me Vi. We tell each other everything. I won’t get mad, and I won’t tell anyone else. I promise. What do you need help with and what is Spot?”
Violet met her eyes, a tear escaping her lashes. It was killing Tulip inside not knowing what had gotten Violet so riled up that she was in tears.
Tulip shifted forward, reaching out for Violet’s hands. “Tell me. I will help however I can.”
“Promise you won’t freak out?”
Oh shit, Tulip thought. Every time Violet said that to one of them, it always ended with either a trip to the doctor, a huge bill, or once even having to bail her out of jail.
“No. You can’t freak out. I swear, you have nothing to be scared of. But I’m trusting you Tulip. This is huge and I need to know I have you on my side.”
Not wanting to make a promise she might regret later, Tulip said, “I’m always on your side, Vi. No matter what.”
Violet nodded. “Okay. Get dressed. I need to show you something.”
Seeing how stressed her sister was, Tulip didn’t waste time in pulling on a pair of jeans and a shirt. Once she had her shoes on, Violet stood and led her out of the room.
They made their way to the far side of the ship, to an area Tulip had never been to before. Finally they entered a large space filled with metal crates stacked on top of each other. It had to be some kind of storage area.
“What is this, Vi?” Tulip asked, hugging herself as unease began to creep up her spine.
Violet turned to her and said, “Whatever you do, don’t scream. Torian’s have really good hearing and the last thing I need is three hundred warriors descending on us here.”
“Why would I scream?” Tulip’s unease was growing by the second, but she stayed still, trusting her baby sister. Violet may have gone through a horrific experience, but she knew deep down in her heart, that she would never deliberately hurt anyone.
Violet came to stand in front of her, reached out and took both of Tulip’s hands in hers. “Stay still, and trust me. Okay?”
All Tulip could do was nod. She had no idea what her sister was up to, but by the terrified look on her face, Tulip knew that it was important for her to trust her.
After a few long seconds, Violet tore her gaze away and glanced up at the stacks of metal crates.
“Spot. Come here baby. Come say hello.”
Tulip followed her sister’s eyes up the high stack of crates. She gasped at what she saw, barely able to hold back her petrified scream.
From the top of the tallest stack, six long, spindly black legs crawled over the edge. A thick, oil black body followed the legs, its razor sharp teeth glinting in the bright light of the space. As it moved slowly closer to them, Tulip noticed a large white spot on its belly.
Unable to move from fear, Tulip tore her eyes away from the spinner crawling closer to them to look at Violet. Her sister had a smile on her face as she gazed up at the creature with what Tulip had to assume was love.
Before she could look up again, the Spinner jumped off the crates and landed behind Violet, making Tulip jerk.
“It’s okay,” Violet rushed to say, squeezing her hands tighter, “I swear, it’s okay. Spot won’t hurt anyone. He hasn’t so far. Just… give it a second.”
“Vi… Vi, that’s a Spinner. One of those mutated things that attacked the ship.”
“I know. But he’s different.”
“How? How is it here? Why?”
Tulip kept her eyes glued to the monster behind her baby sister, her entire body trembling as every instinct inside her told her to run.
“The Spinners that attacked us on this ship hatched from the crate the leader was in.”
Tulip nodded, still not looking away at the white eyes staring back at her.
“All those that hatched were controlled by the leader. I guess Spot here was a late bloomer. I found his egg thing still in one piece the day after the leader was killed. I could see him trying to get out, but he was too weak or something. At first I wanted to squash it with my shoe. To run away and tell someone. But I heard it call to me, Tulip. I know that sounds crazy, but it cried, like a little child would. It was scared, hungry and alone. I just… I couldn’t leave it to die. Call me crazy, but I do have this weird bond with the Spinners now. And when it called out to me, I couldn’t ignore it. So I helped it out of its egg. You should have seen it, Tu. It was so cute. I know that sounds insane, I mean how can a Spinner be cute, but he was. And he listens to every word I say, no matter what. Watch,” She turned a little to look at the Spinner she adopted and said, “Spot, one leg.”
Immediately, the spinner raised five legs, balancing on just the center left leg.
“Spot, dance,” Violet said. Spot obeyed instantly, tapping each claw tipped foot on the ground in a strange hopping pattern.
“Good boy,” Violet said, “Sit nicely and wait for me, okay.”
Spot stopped dancing and eased its large body down on the ground, its legs bent up around it.
Violet turned back to Tulip with a small smile, “See. He’s really harmless. He would never hurt you, or anyone on this ship.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just do,” Violet shrugged, “It’s hard to explain, but I do.”
Tulip swallowed, trying to find her words. What the hell was Violet thinking. Finally, she asked, “So what do you need me for?”
Violet’s smile faded and her eyes once again filled with concern.
“I know you’ve been hacking the ship for a while now. You have access to things like cameras and whatever, right?”
“Great. Then I need your help with Spot.”
“In what way, Violet?”
Violet pulled in a quick breath, squared her shoulders and said, “To sneak him down to the planet with us tomorrow.”