I want to thank my brothers for the stacks of classic sci-fi and fantasy novels that covered our childhood home. I also want to thank my mom and sister, who helped me fill the house with piles of romance novels. Without those books I would never have developed a love for sci-fi romance.
Gema nearly groaned aloud when she saw her partner for the Wilderness Planet Survivor Show. He was a PureGen Exotic, the rarest of the rare. Tall, bronzed, beautifully proportioned and muscled, with high cheekbones, a perfectly cleft chin, and dark lashes and eyebrows showcasing his rare, DNA modified lilac eyes. His hair was dark brown but even it was enhanced beyond normal hair. Caramel, cocoa and nutmeg streaks all blended together into a shiny thick mane curling to his nape. Military prisoners normally had their hair clipped short like regular military, but they always had the show contestants grown out—female viewers of the show preferred more hair on their men.
Regular humans didn’t have such exotic eyes and hair. Even among the PureGen population he was rare. Gema had never seen lilac eyes in real life. And PureGen Exotics usually came from very wealthy families who could afford the highest quality lab. He was probably super intelligent with teeth which would never turn dingy or decay and owned an immune system that would keep him healthy and strong for the next hundred years or so.
So how did he get here, a contestant from a prison?
The audience was going to love him—which put her survival as the ordinary, non-PureGen player even more at risk. Lucky for her she had friends in low places. Friends involved in gambling, who wanted to win some big money, and weren’t afraid to cheat a little. Or a lot. It gave her a small advantage.
Gema gathered her belongings and glanced over at her partner. He totally ignored her and checked their supplies against a list on his com. The transport took off in a flash, back to the deep space vessel which produced the Viewcast show somewhere in orbit above the planet.
Golden Boy glided over to her, every woman’s dream.
Even mine, she admitted to herself.
You could earn points by doing him, her wayward brain reminded her. Gema felt her cheeks turn pink. She was not getting naked with Golden Boy for the galactic audience. It was just a reaction to being with a male after three years in the women’s prison.
“I have checked all the supplies. Everything is here.”
“My name is Kellac. I think we should talk about our strategy while we are free of the cameras.”
They had one day without the swarm of cameras.
She reached under her shirt and found the sticky edge of her false stomach. With a grimace at the sting, she pulled it off.
Kellac stared at her, mouth open. He almost didn’t look great.
“What did you smuggle?”
“Oh, I was given a little gift.” She dug in the foam and pulled out a small com. “One of my cell mates had a contact who has an interest in me amassing some points.”
“That’s cheating! Gambling on the game is against the rules.”
“Ah yes, the rules.” She worked on the com. “By the rules of this game, I’m the underdog. Not PureGen, not beautiful or athletic, and I’m lame in one leg. Surviving is already going to be a challenge for me. And what’s the point of surviving but not earning any points? I’ll just end up back in prison.”
She looked up into his lilac eyes. “I don’t want to die. Three Naturals died playing the game. They had no support from the audience, and even had the audience out to get them. And giving points to the PureGen partner for betraying them.”
He frowned. “I have every intention of working as a team to keep us both alive. Those players who betrayed each other had no honor.”
“I feel the same. I won’t betray you, either.” She held up her com. “This is a solar powered, memory enhanced military issue com. It has the same casing as the ordinary com we are allowed to have. I want enough points to get to a world without a PureGen Constitution. This will help me get there.”
He squatted down next to her, eyes on the com.
“What issue? 9900?”
He was military, then.
“Better, 9904. Plus it has flora and fauna data for all the worlds and regions used by The Wilderness Planet Survivor Show.”
His eyes widened. “We can find edibles.”
“Yes, and it has a lot of wilderness survival data, also. Predators, weather patterns, housing, emergency medicine…”
He stared at her. “Do you know how to use it? I’ve been trained on the 9900.”
“I’ve been tutored. Plus, it’s keyed to my DNA, but I’m willing to share it with you. If I die, it’s useless to you.”
She went back to the foam belly and pulled out an old fashioned paper writing pad and stylus.
“We can communicate on this and burn it in the fire. As long as we shield the writing from the swarm, we’ll be able to communicate undetected.”
There was one more thing she had to tell him. Her face got hot. “I’m not having sex with you for points.”
The audience loved sexual activity and gave generous points for the same.
Kellac shrugged. “It is an easy way to amass points.”
“I don’t want to.”
He stared at her for a moment, then shrugged. “I can understand your feelings. But we might consider other ways of titillating the audience.”
Kellac observed his partner. He’d expected a PureGen woman, someone strong and athletic. This woman was small, with delicate bones, large round breasts and round hips. Not built for speed or strength. And lame. The bones of one leg were not straight.
Built for sex. Which she doesn’t want to have. He sighed. He’d been in prison for a year. Sex would have been a nice bonus.
She had long golden brown hair streaked with blond, and light hazel-brown eyes. PureGens rarely had mid-range brown hair or eyes, they usually had very dark, very light or something exotic. He wasn’t used to seeing her coloration. Her skin was creamy ivory, with golden freckles on her nose. Large, long lashed eyes, a nose that tilted up in a very non-PureGen manner, and her lips were full. While not the classic symmetrical beauty of the PureGen, she was cute, attractive in an unusual way. Her body was fascinating, too. PureGen women were thin and athletic, with smaller breasts in proportion with their frame.
Too bad about her no sex rule.
“I think we should get as far away from the landing zone area as we can. It seems there are more booby traps near the landing, on the shows I’ve studied. If we can walk all night…” His eyes skittered down to her scarred leg.
“What if we float down the river? I requisitioned a raft.”
“What river?” He’d seen the raft in the supplies.
She pointed. “See the line of trees? They’re growing along a river. I saw it from the transport.”
He turned to dig through the supplies, and found his viewer. Sure enough, there was a river, across a green savannah.
The raft was a super-polymer and tear resistant, suitable for transport, so they spread it out and loaded the supplies on it. With the oars fitted and tied with rope it became a travois they could pull over the savanna to the river.
“Nice raft,” he said.
The woman pulled along with him, though she wasn’t strong, she was willing. Good quality. Maybe it would be all right. She wasn’t athletic, but she seemed smart. So far, she seemed to have character and a desire to do her share. If she was one of his soldiers, he’d feel comfortable with giving her responsibilities, to see how she handled them.
He was impressed with her intelligence and felt a rush of relief. Some of the contestants he’d watched on past shows had been lazy, whiny and amazingly stupid. Gema wasn’t athletic, but her character would compensate. He began to feel far more optimistic about this game.
Later her cheeks were pink from exertion, so he called a rest. Instead of flopping down on the ground though, Gema bent over a plant and pulled it up by the roots. As she bent over it he saw the tops of her plump breasts.
Kellac started to sweat. It wasn’t a good sign they’d been together a couple hours and he was already obsessed with her breasts. He took a breath to gain composure. This probably had more to do with his imprisonment than anything else. And maybe she’d be more interested in him as time went by. He was generally pretty popular with the ladies.
“What are you doing with the plant?”
“I’m getting its properties into the com. Eventually it will be able to sort out what planet we’re on, and what area of what continent.” She was absorbed in rubbing the root of the plant onto a small slide which popped out of the com so she didn’t notice where his eyes roamed.
“Listen, why don’t I go on ahead and scout out a place to launch. I can handle the supplies by myself. You can take an easier pace and collect a few more specimens.”
“Really?” Gema looked at him with huge eyes, as though she was shocked. “You wouldn’t mind?”
Pleasure shot through him but he mentally shook it off. It felt good to do something nice for her… but he needed to get hold of his emotions. She was still a stranger, still an unknown quantity.
“Not at all. Might as well take advantage of our strengths. I can pull the travois by myself.”
He was soon quite a distance ahead of her, though she was still in sight.
The land was deceptive. Kellac came to a sudden halt at the sight before him. The savannah had looked flat all the way to the river but actually the land sloped steeply into a narrow valley, then sloped up another steep hillside to the river. From a distance, the crevice valley was hidden.
The valley was thick with grass, higher and greener than on the plain. A herd of four legged horned beasts fed there. Big beasts, with big horns, no doubt dangerous. He cursed.
A beast watched him. It made a low groaning noise and others raised their heads from the grass and looked at him, too. The head beast started toward him.
This is not good. He looked back at Gema who was walking slowly, her limp more pronounced. He’d left her alone and vulnerable in an unknown wilderness. Shame flooded him. He was a leader, he protected his men.
The beasts walked toward him, speeding up, and more in the herd looked up and joined in.
They are going to stampede!
He dropped the travois and ran. Maybe he could reach her, shield her…
He reached Gema and crashed into the grass with her to the thunder of pounding feet right behind. Body tense, he shut his eyes tight, waiting for the first cutting blow of a hoof, and got ready to die. Perhaps the woman under him, her head covered by his chest, would live.
The ground around them shook. Hot grassy breath snorted on his bare arms as beasts pounded past, the smell of hot hide and dung wafted past them. They charged through the grass, filling the air with the sounds of their hooves, and low moans, the swish of the grass and whipping of their long tails.
They passed so close he could reach out and touch the beasts.
But they went around, not trampling them into a bloody pulp.
Kellac opened his eyes as the last beasts ran by, then watched the entire herd run up a slope, over the crest, and out of sight.
Gema struggled under him. His body, keyed for death, now told him he was very much alive. Her soft breasts were pressed against his chest now and he made an involuntary move, rubbing his chest against her fullness and pressing his rapidly engorging cock against her leg. He buried his face in her neck. She smelled hot, salty and womanly, and he wanted to lick her damp skin, taste her.
She squirmed out from under him. They sat without speaking while their breathing calmed, though his other areas took a little longer to relax.
Then something occurred to him.
“How did we live through the stampede?”
Her soft light brown eyes dilated at his question, as though she was frightened of him.
“Maybe they just wanted to frighten us.” She shrugged, and turned her attention to her com, as if they hadn’t just narrowly avoided death. “Maybe we smelled funny to them. You know. Alien. Though they smelled just like cattle to me.”
He stood up. “How do you know the smell of cattle?”
“Before I landed on Toph I lived on a farm. As a young child.”
He thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. “Don’t think so. Don’t you think it was too weird? They split around us, as if we were surrounded by a fence.”
She stood, vigorously wiping grass off her clothes. “It happened really fast, and we don’t know those beast's habits.”
“True.” They walked to the discarded supplies, which had not been trampled.
“We were fortunate. It could have been the death of us.”
He was a little surprised at how calm she was. He felt rattled. Maybe her calm was due to her youth around farm beasts.
“Well, new rule,” Kellac said as he walked with the travois. “We stick together.”
Gema looked up at him with those odd light brown eyes. Her lashes were gold tipped.
He started to say something then stopped. She wasn’t one of his soldiers. He couldn’t count on her following his leadership. No one had appointed him commander.
“Good. We are in agreement,” he said.
This might all be more complicated than I imagined. Kellac was silent, deep in thought, for the rest of their walk to the river.
The river didn’t look very fast or deep. Gema looked cautiously into the shallow, clear water near their chosen launch site and dripped a drop of water onto the slide of her com.
“It’s clear of known contaminants,” she said. “And I don’t see any fish with sharp teeth.”
“I’m glad they chose a temperate climate instead of a tropical one,” Kellac said. “But we still need to be vigilant. We don’t know toothy fish aren’t in there waiting for a taste.” He grinned.
Kellac’s light humor was welcome after the intensity of the day’s events. After the stampede they’d had to change direction to avoid the boggy area at the base of the steep hill. They’d hiked a long distance. Gema found herself smiling back, as if she was a flirty girl. She quickly dipped her head to the com strapped to her forearm.
He was mighty attractive when he smiled, with those dimples and white teeth. She cleared her throat. “Yes. Of course, they want to showcase these areas for open colonization in a few years.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.”
“We were allowed to watch The Game at the Women’s Penitentiary. One of my cellmates once worked for the Toph Bureau of Colonization. She knew tons about the process.” She tapped the com. “She was involved in creating this com.”
“I saw several of the shows after I was cast, but we didn’t get a Viewcast in the military lock up,” Kellac said as they reloaded the supplies onto the aired up raft.
“The game uses four Seeded Planets on the Rim, but they use a new area each time.”
“I saw the jungle Viewcast with all the tropical snakes.”
Gema wrinkled her nose. “Yes, and it rained every day. They were always covered with mud.”
She wanted to ask him why he was in a military prison, but then she would feel obligated to speak about her own imprisonment, and she wasn’t eager to do so.
The river was wide and shallow. Other than avoiding the shore, it was an easy, fast way to travel away from the landing area. There were no rapids or midstream rocks.
The river stayed smooth for a couple hours and the landscape remained the same, high grass savannas with trees along the river. After a couple hours the landscape rose into rolling hills. The raft started picking up speed.
Kellac said. “Let's look for a place to land. I don't want to get into rapids on an unknown river in this light.”
The hills created dark shadows on the river now. Gema heartily agreed with him so they landed at the next small beach, a sandy area surrounded by trees with a sharp slope up to a grassy meadow beyond the tree line. The sun was low now and it would soon be twilight, so the beach was in shade. After the heat of the day, the cool was welcome.
“It will be chilly tonight,” she said. “Let’s get some firewood.” By the time they were done gathering firewood and had the small tent up and a fire, Gema could not keep the yawns away.
They ate dry packaged rations and treated water. Nerves made her feel jumpy and she noticed the tent was so small they would be squashed together.
She wasn’t sure if she feared it or anticipated it. She was attracted to him. She hoped her attraction wouldn’t become an issue. She would rein it in, he would not know.
“I'll take the first watch. We don't have any weapons. Except my stick. But the fire will help scare away any beasts. We need to keep it burning all night.” Kellac had found a long tree limb while they collected firewood, thick and supple. “It's better than nothing.”
Gema said goodnight and crawled into the small tent and covered up with her wilderness blanket. This was something she had feared, the night alone with the male competitor. Some female contestants had claimed they were raped. Chala, in the Women's Pen had taught her self-defense. Gema wasn't very skilled at it though because of her balance issue with her bad leg. Still it was better than nothing.
Kellac seemed decent, though. She didn't think she had anything to fear from him. Still, it was a relief to be alone. She just couldn't relax around him. Hopefully that would change. It couldn't be healthy to be so tense. She dozed off but kept waking, groggy and disoriented.
“Gema, you have to see this.” Kellac's voice penetrated the small tent and she scrambled out of the tent, heart pounding in near panic.
Kellac gestured to the sky. The moon had risen, a huge blue moon with traceries of green. Two smaller moons, one sliver, one bronze, were in close proximity to the larger moon.
“I thought you might enjoy to seeing this. For your records. But also because it is so beautiful.”
“Oh my. Toph had just one small moon. This is incredible.” She stared at the night sky. “This world is so lovely. Someday immigrants will move here, bring their families.”
“The moon seemed so close. I wonder if the smaller moons move,” Kellac said
She took a picture and added it to her com planet info.
“This data narrows us down to three possible planets. All have multiple moons. One of the planets wasn’t formulated by the Seeders, so it would be easy to discern. The others though, are all Seeded, so have many similarities. This world is so full of life I recognize from my homeworld, and from Toph. Both were Seeder worlds. I don’t think we are on the other one.”
“I agree. But I am less familiar with Seeder worlds. I am from New Prague, which is primarily a mining world. We live in domes, and much of the food production is done underground. It is too cold. Not a Seeder world and we have to breathe filtered air, due to poisonous spores from the flora.”
Gema shivered, both at the chill and at the sound of his inhospitable world.
They sat side by side for a while, watching the night sky.
“Where is it?”
“It is on the far edge of sector seven, near the Big Empty.”
Gema wasn't familiar with the sector arrangement of the PureGen system. “It must be very far away. My family came to Toph from a world in the Terran Alliance.”
“New Prague has Toph and Selene connections. It was settled by mining conglomerates from the PureGen worlds. New Prague also does manufacturing which would be difficult on the PureGen worlds, since the metals would have to be transported.”
His world sounded worse and worse.
“These planets for the Game are all out on the Rim. They found these all in a group, when I was young. Had to test them for safety. The Survivor Show was granted rights to broadcast from the new planets as a way to showcase them for future colonization. It will be expensive to get a colonization packet to come here.” Gema knew she would never live here. Even if she amassed tons of credit, they would be colonized by PureGens. She would have to look elsewhere for a homeland.
“I've heard of the Big Empty. A prisoner escaped the Women's Penn, and the rumor was she found transport to Yonder.”
“I've never been there, but ships stop at New Prague from there all the time. New Prague the closest stopping point.”
They watched the moons in silence until Gema gave a huge yawn.
Kellac gave a soft laugh. “Back to sleep!”
Kellac took two watches, since he could manage on less sleep than a Natural. Plus, he enjoyed the night, feeding the small fire, the scents of grasses and flowers in the field beyond the beach, the ripple of the river as it rushed by. He’d lived in a dome, but his family had money so he traveled as a child and youth. Once he joined the Allied Military he’d seen many interesting places, though the idea of settling anywhere hadn’t registered. His parents were gone and his brothers were scattered all over the galaxy, with the military. Perhaps someday he and his brothers could have homes in a place this beautiful. They had the compound on New Prague but as luxurious as his home was, it was still under a dome, with no fresh breezes or distant landscapes to appreciate. His parents owned a villa on Terra. Maybe he’d own an estate with wild lands where his brothers could hunt and fish with him, enjoy a campfire. He slept through the middle watch in the tent and then took the early morning watch. Early morning was often the hardest watch for Naturals to remain alert he knew from his command experience. So he took it to be extra vigilant.
He wanted to protect her. When the beasts had stampeded, all he could think about was saving her. And now he was taking another watch, to protect her. He thought back to his military assignments. He often had women working under his command. PureGen women, strong and athletic, smart… Gema was different. She was softer, not military. He wondered why they’d chosen her for the show. Hopefully not for the drama of seeing a weaker contestant die. But they’d done it in another season. He had a bad feeling about the producer’s motives. He would need to be vigilant.
Near sunrise the Swarm, the small flying cameras the Viewcast company used to record the show, arrived in all their buzzing, annoying glory.
Gema woke up when Kellac called from outside the tent.
“Here we go. We have company.”
She was stiff from sleeping on the ground and got out of the tent slowly. Tiny, golden metallic globes swarmed around her, colored lights flashing. “The Viewcast units found us,” she said.
There were a lot of the small flittering globes, maybe twenty for each of them, buzzing all around, with just as many floating around the periphery. Up on the Viewcast ship, the technicians cut and forwarded their movements and interactions to the happy viewers throughout the PureGen Viewcast region.
They swallowed one of the tasteless prepared meals, packed up the tent and pushed off. Even though the swarm was now with them, they had agreed to continue down river, away from the drop off site. It was just safer to get away from an area the Game Master had time to booby trap.
“What do we want in a campsite? Close to the river?” Kellac asked.
“Yes, but we want trees, too, for firewood.”
“I want to avoid the large grasslands with the beasts.”
“Aurochs,” she corrected. “They are a type of auroch, wild cattle. I entered them into the com.”
“Good. But we need to remember not to speak out loud about—” He waved at her illegal com and then at the swarm of tiny cameras in his face. “Company.”
Gema felt stupid. “I can't believe I forgot them.”
“Don’t worry about it. It'll take time to get used to them.”
“Yes. They kind of faded into the scenery for me, like insects.” She bit her lip, realizing not being aware of the cameras could lead to embarrassing situations, especially with Kellac, whose brown mane shined with vitality in the sunlight and who’s tan jaw line did not seem to need a shave. Many PureGens were created to have no body hair to remove. “Which is why I brought the...You know.” She tapped her breeches where the paper pad and stylus was hidden.
Kellac grinned. “I haven’t touched one of those since I was a little child still with a home tutor.”
“Me either, but when I was small I loved to draw pictures. I didn’t enjoy writing too much though.”
“You might not be able to read my writing.”
She laughed. “The swarm will show pictures of me throughout the galaxy, frowning at the palm of my hand.”
Around midday they found a site, a grass covered hill with a gentle slope, facing the river and the morning sunrise, with a small stream nearby. Stands of leafy trees grew down along the river and on the hills behind them, turning into conifers toward the higher reaches, where the hills began to have rocky outcrops. Gema suspected there might be mountains beyond the hills.
At the midday meal Gema searched the com for types of shelters they could build. There were several. She showed them to Kellac.
“I think we should disregard the temporary shelters,” she said.
“I agree. We want something sturdy, to keep away predators. I think the dugout is the best shelter. Only one wall to defend,” Kellac said.
Gema agreed. “We could make the front wall of sod.” They spent the afternoon planning out their shelter and then started to dig, using the raft paddles. Again they slept one at a time in the small tent, with the other keeping watch.
The next morning they received their first visit from the Game Master.
“Greetings, Contestants!” The Game Master zapped into holographic glory before them. “You are already winning fans throughout the galaxy!”
“As you know we always begin The Game with the same initial challenge. Get your housing up by this time tomorrow, and we will put a generous five hundred points into each of your Banks!”
Kellac stepped forward. “Thank you, Game Master. We will attempt to meet your challenge.”
After a few pleasantries, the Game Master disappeared.
“I doubt we can get it finished by tomorrow, but I think the extra time spent on it is well worth it.” Kellac said. “We still don’t know what type of predators live around here, and it would be best if we could sleep through a night without taking watches.”
“Yes, though the points would be nice.” Gema sighed.
“We could get a lean-to up in a day, but it wouldn’t be as safe as a dugout. I opt for safety. We have time to collect points,” Kellac said.
Part of her wanted to slap up a flimsy shelter, for the points, but she knew they had to think about safety. Easy points would have been nice to have, though.
The swarm of cameras buzzed around them constantly, Gema even sat on one. “I hope that picture doesn’t go around the galaxy,” she muttered.
Kellac thought it was hilarious and laughed so hard he fell to the ground, which drew the swarm right into his face.
They soon became adept at brushing the swarm away from their faces without thinking.
Gema worked to the point of exhaustion, but Kellac did the bulk of the digging. The dugout went back into the hill with a portion of the roof open which would have to be covered with sod piled on tree limbs.
At the end of their challenge time the Game Master arrived.
“It is time to inspect your shelter!”
Their shelter was half done, basically a hole in the hillside partially roofed with saplings. They needed to finish laying the saplings, then dig sod to spread over them. More sod would form the front wall and doorway. It would take days to get it finished.
“This is very disappointing,” the Game Master said “I’m afraid I’m going to have to go to our audience and see what they think of this effort.”
The Game Master disappeared, off to interview the masses for thoughts on the first challenge.
Gema sat down on the ground near the dugout. “I feel bad, Kellac. If I had worked harder…”
Kellac lifted one of her hands and looked at the blisters from digging all day. “You worked hard enough. Our shelter is important for survival. We need a place where we can sleep in safety, or rest if we get sick or injured.”
His simple touch on her hands made her swallow hard as a shiver of pleasure slid through her nervous system in a tingling rush. She wanted to clasp his hand tighter to her own, keep him in place, touching her.
I’m an idiot. A man starved idiot.
“It is just the first challenge. We have many weeks to amass points.”
She nodded again, unable to speak. His kindness made her throat ache with the desire to cry. She was afraid she would burst into tears, which she didn’t want to do for an audience—or him.
In some ways, kindness was as dangerous as wickedness. She didn’t want to care about him. Not in a man-woman way, which would only end in heartache. Still, she was drawn to him. Deep inside Gema knew her secret dream to of find a love like her parents had… the dream had gotten her into trouble before. It couldn’t happen with a PureGen man. She needed to remember who she was, what she was. She’d learned her life lesson, it didn’t need to be repeated.
“Let’s go wash up in the stream. The cold water will take the burn out of our hands,” Kellac said.
“Yes,” she croaked through her tight throat, and she rushed toward the water.
They splashed in the icy water, soon throwing handfuls of water at each other and laughing away the tension.
And that was just one more thing to admire about him.
They went to bed together for the first time as the sun was setting, with a fire blazing in front of the open dugout wall, the raft anchored over them for a roof. Gema was very conscience of Kellac just an arm’s length away. Her body seemed to have a mind of its own and was sensitive to every breath he took, every movement, on some type of charged alert even though she was achy everywhere and tired down to her bones. But the skin on the side of her nearest where he rested seemed to tingle, as if reaching for him.
I’m glad he is a decent man… but it would be easier if he wasn’t so perfect to look at. Bad combination… great character… handsome… PureGen…
Trouble. At least for a woman like me.
The next day they argued about the roof. Kellac thought they could manage with the raft for a roof, Gema was sure they couldn’t.
“If it storms and rains it will collapse into the dugout. And we won’t be able to fix it well in the rain.”
“But won’t the sod just get a muddy and heavy? And we could pitch the raft so rain runs off.”
“We could pitch the sod, too. And we might want the raft for some reason. So we need lots of saplings to hold the sod. The roots of the grasses will grow together and keep it strong.”
She found the small pad and drew a picture, keeping the pad inside her bag away from the swarm. Marching over to Kellac she shoved the picture into his hand and waited.
He looked at the drawing awhile. “You are correct. Your way is far more permanent. And it might wise to keep the raft intact.”
His capitulation just made her care for him more. She was doomed.