Still damp and dripping under the tunic and breeches he’d dragged over his desperately aroused body, breathless and panting from pounding through the jungle after his frenzied best friend, Ben Nero stood on the step outside Dex’s dormitory cabin and glared at the locked door.
Dex never locked his door. They’d been coming and going from each other’s dorms day and night for three summers straight.
Sure, Dex was arrogant, aggressive, pigheaded, surly, introverted, hypercompetitive, a compulsive overachiever. The golden boy at leaders’ camp. In other words, a typical Mogadon.
Nero had hated him on sight. Until everything changed.
Since the night Dex waded into battle to defend him, Nero had been secretly crushing on the guy.
Now—this summer—their final summer when they both gained their majority and left leaders’ camp behind forever, the sexual dynamic between them had torqued so much tighter. Their unspoken chemistry had condensed into an alchemical compound so volatile it was practically pyrophoric. With Dex grown into something between a deadly predator and a tawny god, Nero knew his secret summer crush stood in acute danger of developing into a connection fathoms deeper.
And far more lethal to his guarded heart.
But given Dex’s inherited battery of hang-ups and all that sexual baggage his best friend was carting around, the state of his heart was one secret Nero fully intended to keep.
Until tonight. Cat’s out of the cave now. Of all the possible, gods-cursed times for Dex to show up for a late-night shower…
For at least the twentieth time, he cursed his own rotten timing. Wryly he admitted the inferno of heat glowing in his chest and scorching his face had less to do with exertion than sheer embarrassment.
No use pretending it didn’t happen. Dex has been pushing me away all summer. What he just saw me doing while I moaned his name will probably finish the job and end our friendship for good.
Especially with their rival planets poised on the brink of war. Nero huffed out a breath harsh with frustration.
The next time I encounter Dex Draven after summer camp will probably be in deep space at the wrong end of a solar cannon.
Grimly Nero jabbed a finger at the entry button—for the third farking time. The chime caroled away like his whole world wasn’t imploding around him. Beyond that door, his psychic senses whispered, Dex was pacing his cabin’s spartan confines, wearing a path in the silica floor.
Staring at his own locked door, heart slamming against his sternum like a meteor bombardment. If he didn’t open it…if he didn’t answer…
Nero shoved a mental barrier between them to give the guy a little privacy as a basic matter of telepath ethics. Same way he’d been doing all summer. Fighting like hell to do the decent thing and respect his best friend’s boundaries and stay out of his head.
Now he scowled at the stubborn silence but held tight to his temper.
“Dex?” He pitched his voice to carry. “Let me in. We need to talk. Anyway, you, uh, left your blaster in the shower house.”
The silence stretched between them. A silence tighter than a pressurized airlock, shredded by the shrill scream of a hunting panther. Intuition told him the critter was on the prowl, hunting for blood and savage with hunger. If the cat tracked him to Dex’s doorstep, Nero would have to defend himself. Not with Dex’s blaster, which he’d buckled around his own hips, but with the psi fire he was learning to channel as he honed his rapidly expanding arsenal of psychic powers.
Doggedly he pounded on the door. “Come on, Dex. I know you’re in there. I could feel you fulminating halfway down the path. Open up.”
“No bloody talking. I’m not in the mood.” Dex’s muffled voice sounded surly. And more than a little desperate. “For gods’ sake, Ben, it’s after midnight. Go away.”
Nero squared his shoulders and hardened his voice. “Open this door or I’ll open it for you.”
Violet sparks flared at his fingertips. Fiercely he reeled in the billowing surge of psi fire sizzling through his channels before he lost control and blew Dex’s door through the opposite wall. Tonight he wanted to talk to Dex, not fight him. And a full-out assault would only trigger all those primitive Mogadon instincts Dex was always striving to suppress.
Apparently some god with a fondness for bisexual adolescent telepaths decided to take pity on Nero’s awkward dilemma and whisper a word of reason in Dex’s ear. With a chirp, the maglock released and the door swung wide.
“Finally.” Pushing out a breath, Nero strode into the moonlit darkness. “What the hells, Dex…”
His words stuttered to a stop.
In the narrow confines of the shadowy cabin whose angles and corners he knew by heart, Dex stood silhouetted against the viewport. Wearing nothing but an insubstantial pair of sleeping trousers that clung to his supple hips and spectacular ass.
The light of Paragon’s three moons limned his broad shoulders and corded back and bulging triceps in a way that made Nero burn to sink his teeth in and just nibble his way down the guy’s body. Starlight flamed in Dex’s cropped golden hair and caressed the sun-bronzed skin Nero longed to trace with his tongue.
Nero sucked in a hit of oxygen to clear his damn head and felt his senses spin. He was already half-drunk on lotus pollen, a seductive sweetness like spicy sugar tickling the back of his throat. Now his head was reeling with the potent kick of Dex’s scent—that heady whiff of pheromones Mogadon males exuded that telegraphed aggression, territoriality, or arousal.
Nero ached to know which of those stimuli was driving Dex tonight.
Ferociously he fought back the temptation to shove aside his inconvenient ethics, peek inside Dex’s brain, and find out for himself. And screw his farking ethics and screw his best friend’s privacy.
And screw his best friend.
Screw his best friend senseless.