Commanding Officer Thomas

enimies to lovers

"Lieutenant Lee Mallory spends his time off duty playing video games. There isn't much else to do while stationed on the USS Nova out in deep space.

Unfortunately, a run in with his commanding officer, Jonan Thomas, strips him -- and everyone else onboard -- of their gaming privileges.

Thomas has had it in for Lee from day one, when they got off on the wrong foot. Now, banned from using the game server in the rec room, Lee sneaks online in his quarters after hours, looking to play.

That's where he meets a fellow gamer onboard who's interested in a different kind of game. As much as Lee wants to hook up, though, he can't afford to get into any more trouble.

Can Lee take command -- in the game and in the bedroom -- without further aggravating his CO?"

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Chapter 1
Commanding Officer Thomas By J.M. Snyder “You’re going down, Lieutenant!” Brenna Decker cries, her fingers furious on the game controller as, onscreen, her avatar winds up for the killing strike. But Lee Mallory isn’t ready to concede defeat just yet. “The way you say it makes it sound like you outrank me,” he mutters, gripping his own controller as he thumbs the buttons to position his avatar to make his own final hit. Brenna laughs and shakes her bangs out of her eyes. “I was sworn in first,” she reminds him. As if that counts. “So technically, I do outrank you. And I’m about to kick your ass. Do yourself a favor and give up now.” “You wish.” They’re playing Owned, a 3D fighting game where heavily armored combatants spar in a cage fight before a live audience. “Live” means online—the cheering crowd consists of other players logged into the server to watch the gameplay. Each fight lasts three rounds; the player who wins the most rounds wins the match and ten thousand ril, the game’s money, which can be used to buy bigger and better armor and weapons. After three rounds, the game resets and two players from the audience face off next. It’s an addicting game—to play and watch—and Mallory’s lost many free hours staring at the screen. His hands might ache in the morning, and he might stifle a yawn when he’s on patrol, but he’s one of the biggest and baddest players in the game. He doesn’t go by the handle Maullory for nothing. Brenna’s a good opponent, he’ll give her that. She holds her own in the cage, and usually takes down any challenger. Any challenger but him, that is. When playing, she goes by her last name, which Lee thinks is a little unoriginal, but it works. Her signature catch phrase, uttered when she’s lined up to finish off her foe, is, “I’m’ll deck you!” A kick spin aimed at her opponent’s waist, followed by three rapid bunny kicks in the solar plexus, each harder than the last, and she raises her hands in victory as her opponent hits the floor. The first time Lee saw the move, he pointed out, “You know, decking someone usually means punching them. With your fist.” “Pssh,” Brenna scoffed. “It means making them hit the deck. He’s on the floor, ain’t he? Therefore, he’s been decked.” As stunning as it is to watch Brenna deck her opponent, Lee isn’t interested in being on the receiving end of the move. This is the third round and they’re tied, one win each. The winner of this round wins the match. Lee can see Brenna’s moving into position, readying herself to launch into that deadly kick spin, and he backs up a few paces. His own killing blow requires some space, anyway—at the last minute he rushes his foe, getting in close, and hits ‘em with a volley of uppercuts, left right left right, each fist battering the midsection. When his opponent staggers back, Lee punches faster, moving up the torso, angling for the chest. The final blow is a wicked right hook under his opponent’s chin, sending the poor loser back against the cage or down onto the floor. Then Lee crows, “You got mauled!” His focus narrows to the computer screen and nothing else. The rec room onboard the starship USS Nova disappears; the roar of the crowd in his headphones drowns out the sound of soldiers’ laughter and downtime chit chat. Lee is in the zone, ready to strike, ready to wipe Brenna out. When she launches into her kickspin, he dances out of the way, and her bunny kicks connect with nothing but air. Then he closes in, ready to rumble— “Ten-hut!” Lee barely registers Brenna surging to her feet beside him. On the screen, her avatar stops like a deactivated robot, arms at the side, head down, waiting for the inevitable. “Got you now, Decker,” Lee mutters as he punches the combination of keys needed to execute his final move. Brenna nudges him with her foot. “Lee,” she whispers, urgent. “You can’t stop me now,” he tells her. In the game, his avatar begins the pummeling blows that will bring her down. Another nudge, this one almost a real kick. “Lee!” Then a shadow falls over him, and a sardonic voice drawls, “Apparently Lieutenant Mallory thinks he outranks us all.” Annoyed, Lee starts, “I’m close to winning—” Then he glances up only to find Commander Jonan Thomas glaring back at him. Suddenly the game is forgotten. Dropping his controller, Lee scrambles to his feet. “Sir, sorry, sir! I didn’t—” “Didn’t what, Lieutenant?” This close, Thomas’s pale skin looks like fine porcelain in the solar simulation light. His dark eyes are so blue, they’re almost black, and hard as obsidian as he stares down Lee. Veins stand out at his temples, and throb across the top of his shaved pate. A muscle in his jaw twitches in anger. Lee’s voice drops to a barely audible murmur. “Didn’t see you’d come in. Sir.” “Didn’t see…” Thomas growls in irritation. “I guess you also didn’t see Captain Strickland either, did you?” Lee dares to look past his commanding officer. Now he sees the ship’s captain, Aurora Strickland, the bemused look on her face a stark contrast to the thinly veiled fury on Thomas’s. Standing straighter, if that’s even possible, Lee snaps off a belated salute. “Captain. My apologies, sir.” She holds his stare a moment longer. Then, with a barely perceptible nod, she sweeps the rest of the room with her gaze. “As you were, soldiers. The commander and I are only here for a drink.” Everyone visibly relaxes, but before Lee can move, Thomas is in his face again. “Not you, sunshine,” Thomas says. “Drop and give me twenty.” Lee sighs. “But Commander—” “Make that fifty,” Thomas amends. An unconscious sigh of annoyance escapes Lee. “Sir—” “Do you want a hundred?” Thomas counters. Lee doesn’t. What he wants is to go back to his game—the highest ranking officer in the room already gave the command to relax—but he knows better than to go toe to toe with Thomas. The man’s had it in for him ever since he was assigned to Thomas’s command. For some reason Lee hasn’t been able to figure out, Thomas rides his ass harder than any other soldier in their unit. Lee’s always getting extra laps or push-ups, for relatively minor infractions. Hell, he’s just trying to play a damn game, is that too much to ask? Apparently so. Without another word Lee drops to the floor, landing on his palms and toes, and he starts to roll through the push-ups quickly. But that isn’t good enough for Thomas. “Count ‘em off,” he orders. Lee draws in a deep breath to keep from saying anything that will get him into further trouble. On the next push-up, he counts out loud. “Four.” “From one,” Thomas tells him. Jesus Christ! Lee keeps his head down so Thomas won’t see him roll his eyes. That’d probably earn him five hundred push-ups, if he isn’t careful. Through gritted teeth, he bites off, “One.” Thomas stands in front of him a moment longer, until Lee’s up to four again, then turns to join the captain at the bar. Brenna resumes her seat on the cushions beside Lee, grabbing her controller with a smirk on her face. “Guess I’ve got you now, huh, Mallory?” “Shut up,” Lee grumbles. Louder, he calls out, “Ten.” “Where were we?” Brenna asks, but it’s a rhetorical question. She arches her brows and takes her time setting up for the killing blow. “Ah yes, I remember. You’re going down.” “That’s not fair! Wait ‘til I’m done.” But Brenna laughs. “Too late. I’m’ll deck you. Oh, wait. I already did.” “Girl,” Lee warns. From across the room, Thomas hollers, “I don’t hear you counting.” Lee yells out the next number. “Twelve, sir!” “No, it isn’t. Start again.” Fuck me, Lee thinks, biting back an acrid reply. If he isn’t careful, he’ll be on the goddamn floor all night at the rate he’s going. What’d he ever do to get on the commander’s bad side?

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