Face Loran had given up on females of any species long ago. Before he joined the Wraiths, his liaisons had been short but definitely not sweet. Most women were thrilled at the chance to spend time with "The Face," imagining him as whichever character from his holos that occupied their adolescent fantasies. The fact that he was a person, not a character, escaped these enamored beings. After he joined the Wraiths, he had flirted with a few of the female pilots, but he had doubted that any of his overtures would result in a relationship.
But somehow he had managed to fall, and the results had been disastrous.
As he stood in line at the coffee shop in the MGM’s shopping court, he was again plagued by memories he had thought he had long ago put to rest. Rubbing the back of his neck, he tried to banish thoughts of Dia Passik and the heartache she had caused. After that doomed romance, he had given up on the possibility of a relationship. He would flirt with the women he encountered, but it was rare for even the most casual affair to develop. And the thought of caring about anyone after Dia’s betrayal had not occurred to him….
Until he became totally smitten with a redheaded tour guide.
Truthfully, at first glance, he hadn’t expected much from Erin. As the line moved forward, he considered their first meeting. When Wes and Hobbie had announced the change in assignment, he was sure Erin was going to faint before introductions were even finished. He had thought she was stunning, especially in that outrageously crimson gown, but never would have considered her able to live up to Ton’s nickname of "Red Leader."
But there was strength in the woman, more than she would ever give herself credit for. She has wobbling a bit, obviously enraptured by the presence of her heroes, but then she began adding her own verbal barbs to the ever-present banter between Ton and himself.
His thoughts drifted to Dia and he found himself comparing the Twe’lik and the shy redhead. Sometimes, Face thought Dia had seen him as some complex mathematical equation. The sums of his actions minus the charm and looks that had earned him the nickname of "The Face." Though at times, dazzled by the image, Erin had seen past “The Face,” treating him like a human being instead of some stereotypical hero. Not that I’m not occasionally dazzled by her. How she can she not see her own potential? You’d have to be blind not to see it.
But then, Ton hadn’t until Loran had goaded him into looking. Erin’s ability to hide herself was incredible. A Noghri would envy her ability to disappear. Somehow, despite her fiery hair and charisma, she could become a shadow, fading into a world of grays.
Another customer received a cup of caffeine as he wondered what had happened to Erin to turn her into a Wraith. Strange, but almost immediately upon meeting her, he had thought of her as a Wraith. A misfit just like the rest of the squadron but also possessing the mythical qualities of the spirit the squadron had been named for: appearing when she so desired, then fading away so that none could see her.
Or hurt her…that has to be what happened. Someone hurt her so bad that she learned to fade away. The thought that she had been so mistreated made him furious, but he knew that anger would not change the past. If it could, his life would be completely different, as would the life of every being he had ever met.
Absentmindedly, he ordered two mocha cappuccinos, wanting to find out what was so wondrous about the beverage. Yesterday, Erin had gulped hers down despite the almost scalding temperature of the coffee. Of course, the fact that he and Ton had been standing over her bed, staring at the white bunny printed across the chest of T-shirt she had worn to bed. How could we not stare? Those white ears led the eye to…
Face smiled at the girl behind the counter as the harried clerk handed him his order. He politely ignored her stuttered "thank you" as he tipped her. It seemed odd not buying something for Ton, but his Wing had been adamant about not accompanying them on the shopping trip Face had planned. When Face had questioned him, Ton simply said he needed time to create the surprise that they were planning for Erin. And if Face was keeping their tour guide busy, it would be that much easier for Phanan to accomplish the needed tasks.
On one level, the explanation made sense, on the other it sounded suspicious.
But then, after their years as partners, Face knew the Wraith occasionally needed time to brood. It was a habit Loran found unhealthy, but no amount of arguing or humor could alter Ton’s moods.
Mentioning Erin’s disappointment if they both didn’t show up on her doorstep had no effect and Face was wise enough to know when to leave a subject alone. Face knew he would enjoy his morning with Erin, but he still wished his Wing would be accompanying them.
Continued in Part Fifteen