The Truth of Valor - By Tanya Huff Page 0,1

have her slate propped up on her coffee mug, and her father would be slipping bits of bacon to the cats as soon as the early news feed caught enough of her mother’s attention.

When she finally heard footsteps approaching on the trail, she sat down, legs dangling above the water. Years of experience at putting Marines through their paces kept her from looking as though she’d ever been concerned. He was walking, not running, but he wasn’t breathing as hard as he had when they’d first landed. Craig Ryder might have been born on Canaberra, but he’d lived most of his life in space. Civilian salvage operators had little reason to go dirtside when the bulk of their salvage came from Naval battles between the Confederation and the Others—no, the Primacy now; Torin, of all people should remember that—and their markets were all on stations. Paradise hadn’t been easy on him.

Her family, on the other hand, had adored him.

But then, he could be a charming son of a bitch when he wanted to. It was one of the first things she’d noticed about him, back when the last thing on her mind had been taking him home to meet her family.

“Ace view.” He dropped to sit beside her, nudging her with a sweaty shoulder.

“Strategically important,” Torin pointed out. “Controlling the high ground gives us the edge.”

“While we sit here jawing, those ducks are probably planning a doomed assault.”

She grinned. “If they get into the air, that’ll give them the advantage.”

“Should I be worried?”

“I can take them.”

“Good.” Bracing his right arm behind him, Craig twisted around to rub his left thumb along the top of her cheeks. “Your father’s right; you’re picking up some pink.”

She wrapped her fingers around his wrist and tugged his hand down between them. “My father worries too much. Don’t you start.” Torin had inherited her mother’s brown hair and eyes, but her less than generous portion of melanin came directly from her father. Both her brothers had a significantly higher natural tolerance for UV radiation and were obnoxiously smug about it.

A barred loon called from the far end of the lake.

“Easy to see why you love it here,” Craig murmured, leaning in and kissing her softly. “And,” he added, pulling away, “easy to see why you left. This place is so fukking bucolic, I keep wanting to punch something.”

Torin leaned forward and caught his mouth with hers, fingers of her free hand threading through the long, sweaty spikes of his hair. This kiss was messy and carnal and stole away most of the ability to breathe he’d regained after his run. “Oh, thank the fukking gods,” she said after a minute, resting her forehead against his. “I was afraid all the damned pie had convinced you to stay longer.”

Blue eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. “Not a chance. If we shoot out before dawn and break a few speed limits, odds are on we can trade in our tickets and catch tomorrow’s shuttle up to the station. Sleep on the Promise tomorrow night.” The smile slipped. “You really are pinking up, Torin.”

“Then I guess I need to cool down.”

Craig’s shoulders and arms were heavily muscled enough to pull his torso out of proportion to his legs, even at 1.9 meters tall, but he didn’t have much leverage and Torin had maintained her grip on his wrist.

Also, she believed in doing what was necessary in order to win, up to and including fighting dirty. She didn’t so much throw him off the bluff as take him off with her.

The water was as cold as it looked.

“Net’s away, Captain!”

Leaning back in his command chair, Mackenzie Cho, scrapped a thumbnail over his stubble, the soft shup shup shup adding to the background noise, and listened to Huirre counting down the distance until contact.

“Twenty kilometers. Fifteen kilometers.”

“Firebreather’s Susumi engines have come on-line, Captain!” di’Berinango Dysun half turned from her station, eyes darkened to a burnt orange, hair flipping around her head in a tangerine aurora.

The three di’Taykan on the crew had been running from trouble on their home world before signing on, but given the differences in Human and Taykan aging, they were still little more than kids out looking for thrills. Dysun was a natural in the control room, though—followed orders like she’d been trained to it—and both her thytrins had skills he could use.

When Cho jerked a thumb toward Dysun’s board, she whirled back around, adding, “They must’ve seen the net.”

“Not your job to speculate,” he