Galaxy Cruise: Trial by Leisure
Caught in the ultimate tourist trap
Exiled in a bizarre galaxy, Captain Leo MacGavin is desperate to find the mythical alien technology that will send his crew home. But when his crush on the ship’s hologram causes him to follow a shady lead, the Americano Grande is trapped by a pair of all-powerful space gods.
Duty-bound to protect their planet, these sexy centurions refuse to allow passage until the crew proves they are a harmless pleasure vessel. Fortunately, all they have to do is show their passengers a good time. Unfortunately, their passengers are a delegation of pregnant aliens with a conceited leader, xenophobic attitudes, and rapidly approaching due dates.
When one of the dreamy deities puts the moves on Leo’s love interest, can he set his feelings aside to save the ship? Can the crew satisfy the moody matriarch and escape the space prison with their lives? Or are they all doomed to fail this diabolical trial by leisure?
Galaxy Cruise: Trial by Leisure is the third madcap voyage of the cruise starship WTF Americano Grande, featuring nonsensical sporting events, parasitic potatoes, and a fish playing mind games with a plant. Join the adventure today!
Release date: April 26, 2022
Print pages: 276
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Galaxy Cruise: Trial by Leisure
Marcus Alexander Hart
A strange, unknown nebula spiraled outside the augmented bridge window of the WTF Americano Grande. It was just one of countless strange, unknown nebulas the cruise starship had encountered since it had been exiled to this strange, unknown galaxy. But this strange, unknown nebula in this strange, unknown galaxy was special.
It would be the last one Captain Leo MacGavin and his crew would ever see.
Leo rose confidently from his command chair and drew a breath, his broad, powerful chest muscles pulling taut against his gleaming white uniform. He looked to his helm officer.
“How are we looking, Ms. Swoochatowski?”
The young lizard sat at attention. The stripes that etched her scaly blue skin had matured from the bright, canary yellow of youth to a mature amber. “All systems green, my dude. Ready to engage on your mark.”
She nodded at a gleaming gold apparatus beside the helm. It was roughly the size and shape of an old film projector, with three large gears mounted on thin arms across its top. Leo remembered them stuttering and grinding as the device had hurled his ship through a void of never-ending flame. But today the gaps between those cogs were filled by additional golden modules, each of their gears knitting together with perfect precision. The completed machine purred like a kitten as its wheels turned with hypnotic grace, flashing arcane patterns across their faces.
After countless millennia of legends and lore, the mythical Volatine transporter had been reassembled.
And it was time to put it to use.
Leo glanced to the other bridge stations. “Is everyone ready?”
Commander Burlock nodded from the EngTech console. Flecks of rust infested the edges of his aging prosthetic arm and cranium. “I’m ready, sir. But more importantly, you’re ready.” He stood and gave Leo a sharp salute. “It has been an honor watching you grow into that uniform, Captain MacGavin.”
Leo’s heart swelled at his mentor’s praise. To think that they had once been rivals, so long ago. He glanced to MonCom, and Kellybean’s feline tail swished as she gave him a reassuring grin.
“You truly are a force to be reckoned with, sir.”
Leo returned her smile, then raked back his graying hair and set his steely gaze out the window. “Swooch… take us home.”
The helm officer eased forward on the throttle and the transporter’s network of cogs spun, humming an otherworldly melody as arcane patterns flashed and danced across their faces. With silent grace, the bow of the cruise starship plunged into a shimmering ripple in space. It poured over the gunwales and surged across the open decks until it reached the window.
Leo closed his eyes as an ethereal chill caressed his face and pushed through his body in an invigorating wave. When he opened them, the strange, unknown nebula in the strange, unknown galaxy was gone.
And in its place was the moon of Eaglehaven.
His heart ached with joy at the sight of the beautiful blue-green marble. The last human settlement in the universe.
Leo took a tentative step toward the glass. The planet Jaynkee loomed large to the port side, with its gigantic spacedock sprawling across its atmosphere. Hundreds of ships were moored to its berths and gangways, but Leo could see only one—an enormous metal teardrop bristling with solar sails. As he laid eyes upon it, an incoming comm flashed on the window.
“We’re being hailed by the Opulera,” Kellybean reported.
“Put it through,” Leo said.
A narrow, orange face appeared on the glass. Its featureless spoon-like eyes were wide with surprise and hope.
“Oh my gosh… It can’t be!”
“It is.” Leo gave a roguish grin. “Hi, Varlowe.”
“You’re back! After all this time! I… I can’t believe you’re back!”
“Then let me convince you. In person.”
Leo nodded to Burlock. The commander pushed a slider on his console. The transporter hummed, and Varlowe gasped as her body rippled out of existence. At the same moment she appeared in an identical ripple, directly in front of Leo.
She was a vision. Chunky boots leading to slender legs, leading to a gauzy blue sundress and a bright orange apron with a square logo and the words “More saving, more doing.”
Leo drank in her every detail. The elegant blades of her cheekbones. The tiny wrinkles that manifested at the corners of her eyes. The faint scarring around the horn that had broken the day they met. She took a graceful step forward and placed both palms on his chest. He felt the warmth of her hot-burning Ba’lux physiology through his uniform, sketching the outlines of her exquisite, four-fingered hands. A smile brightened her thin lips.
“Welcome back, Leo. I’ve missed you so much.”
She closed her eyes and pushed onto her toes as she leaned in for a kiss. But instead of puckering up, she opened her mouth wide. A wad of clear mucus the size of a casaba melon formed between her pointed teeth and launched from her gaping maw, splattering across Leo’s horrified face.
Everything went dark. Suddenly he was horizontal. Leo gasped and slapped a hand on his cheek. Thick strands of transparent goo stretched between his fingers in the dim red light. Red lights. Eight red, lighted eyes glaring at him from the darkness.
“Lights!” he shrieked.
The bedside lamp clicked on, revealing a hideous, insectile face, dripping gobbets of drool from its misshapen jaw. At the sight of the enormous spider beast, pure, unconscious survival impulse threw Leo’s body out of bed and into a corner. He trembled in terror, completely unprotected except for a pair of tighty-whities that, by some small miracle, were still white.
“Gah! Dilly!” he screamed. “What the hekk is going on?”
The Dreda’s translation collar enunciated in a clear monotone. “You were dreaming, sir.”
“I know I was dreaming! Why are you in my room?”
“There is situation.”
Leo swiped his palm across his wet face and held it up for Dilly to see. Ropes of thick, sticky goo hung between his cheek and fingers. “Is it a situation where it’s appropriate to sneak up in the dark and drool on my face?”
Dilly’s sunken eyes blinked guiltily. “There is anomaly in cargo manifest.”
“So that’s a no,” Leo said. “You know how I know it’s a no? Because there is literally no situation where it’s appropriate to sneak up in the dark and drool on my face!”
“No buts!” Leo jabbed a finger at the hulking beast. “Don’t make me put your collar bell back on!”
Dilly hunched in shame. “Apologies, sir, but—”
A burst of analog static crackled by the bedside, like an ancient TV flicking between channels. In a flash, it resolved into a reedy orange woman dressed in white skinny jeans and a white t-shirt with two pink hearts on the chest. The holographic simulation of Varlowe Waylade waved her arms in panic. “Leo! They’re here!”
“Ack! Varlowe!” Leo grabbed a blanket off his bed and threw it around his mostly naked body. His cheeks burned red with humiliation. “Doesn’t anybody knock anymore? Or even use doors?”
“No time for doors! The Ahn’sahnt delegation is here!”
Leo’s sleep-deprived and adrenalin-charged brain did two full laps around the words before it could make sense of them. “What?! They’re not supposed to be here until tomorrow!”
“It is tomorrow! I mean, it’s tomorrow here.” Varlowe’s eyes pinched as she shook her head. “There was a glitch with the time dilation compensators. When we docked here at the planet Ganzvoort, ship time was a full twenty-four hours behind local time.”
Leo’s eyes widened as the words sunk in. “So it’s tomorrow here!”
“And the Grand Lamazz is already aboard!” Varlowe said impatiently. “So put some pants on!”
Leo scrambled to his wardrobe and threw open the doors. The interior was completely bare except for a few vacant hangers. “Agh! My clothes! Where are my clothes?”
Dilly raised a clawed forelimb. “It sent them to be laundered last night.”
Varlowe looked into the empty closet. “All of them?”
“No wonder I couldn’t find any pajamas!” Leo cried. “Why would you send my whole wardrobe at the same time?”
“But I need something to wear!”
“Because I’m practically naked!”
“So, if I show up like this, people will get weirded out!”
“They will not.”
“Yes, they will!”
Dilly gestured at itself. “It is naked. Are you ‘weirded out’?”
Leo considered the enormous arachnoid. “I am now!” He pinched his eyes. “Ugh. Forget it. I’ll run to the laundry and grab a uniform.”
“That’s on the opposite end of the ship from the welcome deck,” Varlowe squeaked. “You’ll never make it in time!”
Dilly’s mandibles clicked. “Respectfully, sir, it is much faster than you. It will pick up uniform and meet you at reception.”
“Thank you, Dilly, that’ll be—”
Before Leo could finish his thought, Dilly had already vaulted out the door and broken into a full, eight-limbed gallop down the passageway outside. Varlowe dashed out and turned in the other direction. “Come on, Leo! Move it!”
Faced with no other options, Leo jammed his feet into his boots and took off down the hallway after her, running at full speed. His long, skinny legs hurled him forward, unencumbered by the inconvenience of pants. His blanket trailed behind his shoulders like the cape of the most ill-conceived superhero ever.
Varlowe gasped and pointed. “There they are!”
Leo looked out the row of windows streaking by on the right side of the corridor, offering a view of the exterior sundeck below. Hospitality Chief Kellybean was there, leading a group of six huge, lumbering aliens in ceremonial garb. She was clearly trying to stall them, walking slowly and pointing out each and every amenity on the way. Leo put on a burst of speed, racing ahead of the delegation as he followed Varlowe down a staircase and out onto the open deck.
Near the bow, a mast the size of a utility pole towered from the deck. A sign stretching eight feet across and four feet high had been affixed to it at deck level, as if it were an enormous signpost. The word welcome was written in white plastic lettering on a field of hundreds of oversized blue sequins hanging on tiny hooks. Leo put up his arm, shielding his eyes from the dazzle of starlight reflecting off its face. “Agh! What’s that all about?”
“I had it custom made for this event,” Varlowe said proudly. “It’s the apex of American sign-making technology!”
“It looks like the back of a Sparkletts truck.”
“I knew you’d love it!”
Leo squinted through the glare and pushed one side of the sign. It pivoted easily around the mast at its center, turning its sequined face to a less blinding angle. In the same moment, Dilly thundered across the deck, clutching a plastic-wrapped bundle of laundry. It skidded to a stop, digging splintered gouges in the wood. “Your uniform, sir.”
“Yes! Thank you!” Leo threw away his blanket, grabbed the pouch, and tore it open. He slapped the cap on his head and wrestled himself into the jacket. “Quick, gimme the pants.”
“Yes, pants! You know, the part that goes…” Leo gestured at his underwear, down his bare legs to his boots. “Right here!”
“They are in pouch.”
“Clearly they are not!” Leo shook the empty bag. The label caught his eye. “Captain’s uniform, pouch one of two…” His face went pale. “Dilly, where’s the other pouch?”
“Other pouch?” The Dreda’s translation collar betrayed no emotion. “It did not realize there was another.”
“Gah! Dilly!” Leo snapped. “The delegation will be here any second!”
The Dreda shifted uncomfortably. “Maybe nobody will notice.”
“Not notice!” Varlowe flicked her hands at Leo’s uniform top with cotton briefs and hairy legs. “He looks like he got lost on the way to a low-rent bachelorette party!”
Leo scowled and tried to tug the bottom of his jacket over his awkward bulge. “Not helping, Varlowe!”
Kellybean came around a bulkhead, leading her group of six diplomats. Her voice was steady and professional, but strained with nervous anticipation. “And finally, here is the executive welcome deck, where we’ll be meeting with the captain. Who I’m sure is totally here and ready to give his official greeting.”
Before Leo could make a grab for his blanket, it was too late. His body seized with humiliation as the delegation of aliens waddled around the corner.
The Ahn’sahnt were like oversized, bipedal hippopotami with jet-black skin and long, pointed steer horns sprouting from the sides of their heads. Despite their intimidating stature, their faces were small and white and round, with adorable snouts and innocent eyes. The overall impression was that a deranged scientist had grafted harp seal faces onto a bunch of hairless minotaurs.
The delegation froze and stared, gape-mouthed. The hair on Leo’s bare legs stood on end as his panicked mouth chewed the air, failing to produce words. An Ahn’sahnt woman gawked at him and gasped. “My stars, it’s monstrous!”
Leo’s cheeks burned red as he covered his crotch with his hands. “I, uh… thank you?”
Kellybean gave an easy smile. “Yes, but don’t worry, it’s harmless.” She gestured over Leo’s shoulder. “This is our security chief, Lieutenant Commander Marshmallow Hug Dilly Dilly.”
“Dilly? Dilly!” Anxiety sweat beaded on Leo’s face. “Yes! Let’s all focus our attention on Dilly and nothing else!”
Kellybean’s grin wavered. “Captain, is something wrong?”
“Wrong? Are you serious?” Leo hissed. “I don’t have any…” He looked down to find himself wearing a pair of freshly ironed, crisply pleated white slacks. He sucked a gasp. “Pants!”
“Uh…” Kellybean’s whiskers twitched. “Yes you do.”
“Yes I do!” Leo’s head snapped up, his eyes wide and manic. “Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Oookay then,” Kellybean said warily. “In that case, I’d like to officially introduce you to Capacy, the Grand Lamazz of Ahn’sahn.”
A rotund, lumpy woman waddled forward, swaddled in a wrap of fine, shimmering fabric. She towered a full foot above Leo, and was nearly as wide as she was tall.
“Uh… hello there.” Leo stammered. “On behalf of the entire crew, I’m honored to welcome you and all of your people aboard the cruise starship WTF Americano Grande.”
An enormous Ahn’sahnt man stepped up behind the woman. He was a broad and thick slab of muscles wrapped in other muscles wrapped in rough-hewn iron armor. He glared at Leo and spoke in a voice like two rocks grinding together. “You will refer to her as ‘your grace’ or ‘yo mama.’”
“Sorry!” Leo squeaked. “I didn’t mean to offend… did you say ‘yo mama’?”
Heavy chains dripping with jewels swung from Capacy’s horns as she turned up her snout. “Charmed to meet you, Captain.” She raised the back of a broad, leathery hand, displaying a ring with an enormous purple gemstone. “You may kiss the Ring of Authority.”
“Oh, uh… okay. Sure.”
Leo started to step forward, but froze when his thigh poked through the front of his white pants like a hairy dolphin breaching the surface of a sea of milk. A voice hissed in his ear, “Don’t move!”
He flinched and threw a glance over his shoulder. Varlowe was behind him, pressed snugly against his back. “Agh! What the—”
“Shh! I altered the parameters of my pants.”
“You what?” Leo suddenly realized Varlowe’s holographic skinny jeans were now rendered as a pair of oversized white slacks large enough to fit around both of them.
Kellybean’s smile stayed on her lips but left her eyes. She approached Leo’s side. “What are you waiting for?” she murmured. “Get over there and kiss that…”
She sucked a breath as she spotted Varlowe tucked into the back of Leo’s trousers. The holographic girl gave her a desperate little wave. “Can’t move!” she whispered. “No pants!”
“That’s, uh…” Kellybean blinked in utter confusion. “What?!”
The Ahn’sahnt delegation began to mutter amongst themselves. The armored man grunted forcefully. “Captain. You must kiss the ring.”
Dilly’s eyes flicked from Leo and Varlowe to Capacy. “As security chief, it will kiss ring as captain’s representative.”
It gently nudged Kellybean aside as it stepped forward, loops of thick drool hanging from its fang-filled jaws. Capacy flinched. “Agh! No! Keep your slobbery mug away from me.”
The guard took a protective stance and glared at Leo. “What is this representative nonsense? You tryin’ to disrespect the Grand Lamazz, you puny little—”
“Oh, Spardo, settle down. It’s fine.” Capacy lowered her hand. “You can’t fault them for not knowing our ways. They’re just simple foreigners.” She turned to Leo. “We can forgive a few faux pas, as long as you get my people to Ahn’sahn in time for the birthing ritual.”
“Birthing?” Leo became acutely aware of large lumps protruding from the woman’s bloated body. “Oh! Are you expecting?”
Capacy looked at him as if he were an idiot. “Is it the Divine Season of Uhkoosh’mon?”
“It is,” Spardo said grimly. “And you know what that means.”
“I actually don’t.”
“It means I’m expecting,” Capacy said impatiently. “As is every other Ahn’sahnt woman.”
She gestured to the rest of her delegation. The two other women both had the same lumpy physiques, like giant leather sacks of bowling balls.
“All of you? At once? How does that…” Leo stammered. “I don’t mean to pry, but…”
Capacy waved him off. “We do not share the sacred secrets of our reproduction with outsiders.”
Spardo snuffed. “All you need to know is that we need to get our women home in time for the birthing ritual.”
“It’s critically important for the survival of our species.” Capacy agreed. “If we’re even a minute late, the results could be catastrophic for us.” Her eyes narrowed. “And for you.”
“Don’t worry,” Kellybean said. “We’ll get you to Ahn’sahn with plenty of time to spare. Right, Captain?”
“Right! What could go wrong?” Leo forced a smile as a cool breeze tickled his leg hair through his holographic non-pants. “Nothing ever goes wrong on this ship. Ever!”
“That’s reassuring, but we can’t leave these things to chance,” Capacy noted. “I must give this vessel a proper blessing to ensure safe passage.”
One of the hulking men at the back of the group set down an enormous wooden chest and opened the lid. Inside were what looked like neatly stacked, transparent croquet balls. The three males each grabbed handfuls and began passing them out.
Spardo approached the sparkling welcome sign and moved down the row of officers standing in front of it, from Leo, to Dilly, to Kellybean. As he handed over each sphere, he bowed his head reverently and repeated, “To your protection.”
As the big man returned to Capacy’s side, Varlowe gave a curious peek under Leo’s arm. “What is it?”
“I’m not sure,” Leo admitted.
The orb was made of a thin, brittle material, like a crust of ice that wasn’t cold or wet. Its sealed interior was nearly filled with clear liquid, leaving just enough room for Leo to slosh it around.
Dilly turned to Kellybean and its translation collar spoke with reduced volume. “Are you familiar with ritual?”
The feline shook her head. “The Ahn’sahnt are notoriously isolationist. This galaxy’s reference files have almost nothing on their culture.”
Leo shifted uncomfortably. “Then I guess we’re about to have a learning experience.”
The Grand Lamazz closed her eyes and held her sphere above her head. The rest of the delegation did likewise. The three crew members shared a glance, then followed suit.
“Oh mighty Sky Father,” Capacy said reverently. “We thank you for providing us with this starship, so that we may return to the mother world for our most sacred of rituals. We ask that you anoint this vessel and its crew with your divine blessing through this ceremonial breaking of the water. To your protection.”
The rest of the delegation murmured, “To your protection.”
In unison, their massive hands crushed their spheres, dropping a splash of water on each of their heads. It ran down their tiny white faces and thick necks as their beady black eyes stared expectantly at the crew.
“Do it,” Varlowe hissed. “Break the sphere!”
Leo squeezed the orb. It popped like a balloon, spilling a tiny splatter on his scalp. The water was fresh and warm and not altogether unpleasant. Dilly’s long, bladelike fingers crushed its sphere, sending a trickle sheeting off its armored exoskeleton. But Kellybean just stood there with her ball over her head, paralyzed. Capacy sneered with disapproval.
“You’re cheesing off the Grand Lamazz,” Leo whispered. “Break your sphere!”
Kellybean’s ears flicked. “I… I can’t!”
“Use your claws!” Varlowe coached.
“No, I mean…” The feline’s yellow eyes were fully dilated as she stared at the ball above her head. “It’s water.”
“Yes,” Dilly agreed. “Is harmless.”
“But I’ll get wet!” The words came out in a sharp hiss of terror. “There will be water in my fur!”
“You insult the Sky Father!” Spardo barked. “Break your water! Now!”
“It will help you.” Dilly calmly extended a forelimb and pinched Kellybean’s sphere between two fingers
“Dilly!” Leo cried. “No!”
The Dreda squeezed. Barely a cup of water splashed over Kellybean’s head, but to the Gellicle it was a biblical deluge. She leaped backwards with a mewling screech, slamming into the welcome sign behind her. As her body crashed into the left side of the sign, it pivoted on the mast at its center, thrusting the right side forward. The glittering surface passed straight through Varlowe’s holographic form and slammed into Leo’s back.
The captain yelped and flung out his arms, desperately trying to catch his balance. His gangly body whiffed through his simulated pants, leaving them behind as he sprawled toward the Grand Lamazz. She sized him up and gasped. “Captain! You’re… exposed!”
“Agh!” Leo covered his groin. “Damn it, Dilly!”
“Sorry, sir,” Dilly said. “It will fix it.”
It shoved the right side of the sign back into position. The left side dutifully pivoted forward, ramming into Kellybean. The rows of tiny hooks holding the sign’s sequins caught on her clothes as it swatted her body. With a sharp rip of fabric, Kellybean stumbled forward, but her blouse did not. Her toe claws dug into the deck as she scrambled to a stop in front of the Grand Lamazz.
Capacy gasped. “You’re also exposed!”
Kellybean threw her arms around her chest, covering her pink brassiere. “Agh!”
“What is the meaning of this indecency?” Capacy crowed.
Leo squirmed. “I can explain! This is a, uh…”
“Sign of great respect in our culture,” Varlowe said. Leo turned to see her step around the sign and approach. Her pants had returned to normal, and her smile was bold and confident. “Our crew welcomes honored guests on board by exposing their bodies as a display of openness and honesty.”
Capacy’s brow raised. “Is that so?”
“Yes, yo mama. It’s symbolic of the Waylade Tour Fleet’s commitment to transparency. This ceremony shows that the crew has nothing to hide. It’s a physical representation of our integrity and trust.” Varlowe looked to Leo and Kellybean. “Isn’t that right?”
“That’s…” Leo blinked. “Wow, that was good.”
Kellybean squeezed herself tighter, trembling from the double mortification of moisture and nakedness. “Yeah, what she said.”
Capacy glanced back at Varlowe. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Aren’t you going to expose yourself?”
Varlowe laughed. “Oh, no. I’m not an officer.”
“What about that thing?” Spardo pointed at Dilly.
“It is already naked,” Dilly noted. “Does this make you feel ‘weirded out’?”
“It does not.” Capacy tipped her head. “I’m flattered you hold us in such high esteem.”
Dilly glanced at Leo. “Told you.”
“Not the time,” Leo muttered.
Kellybean retrieved her shredded shirt from the sign and hastily slipped it on. “Okay, now that we’ve all…” She scowled and raked back her damp hair. “Honored each other, I’ll be happy to show you to your staterooms.”
“Oh, yes. That would be lovely. I’m exhausted from all of this ceremony,” Capacy said. “Come along, Spardo.”
Her muscleman fell in line behind her, and the rest of the delegation joined them. They all followed Kellybean into the ship, her blouse hanging in tatters, exposing a slender back of furry white… respect.
When they were gone, Leo let out a tense breath and grabbed his discarded blanket, wrapping it tightly around his cold, damp body in a belated attempt at modesty. “Well, that all went perfectly. Just top-to-bottom perfect in every way.”
“It is glad you are pleased,” Dilly said.
“That was sarcasm!” Leo snapped. “This whole day has been a non-stop disaster, all because of you!”
“Yes, you! First you stole all of my clothes, leaving me in my underwear. Then you failed to find my pants, causing me to be in my underwear and in a panic. Then you got Kellybean wet and hit her with a sign, leaving her in her underwear and in a panic. And let’s not forget the part where you ruined a really good dream by breaking into my room and drooling on my face!”
Dilly’s head bowed in shame. “It is sorry, sir. But it only entered your quarters to report anomaly in cargo manifest. An auto-crate was loaded but is not accounted for in any—”
“Unless that crate is full of pants, I don’t care!” Leo barked. “Just go deal with it!”
“Yes, sir.” Dilly gave a sharp salute. “It will not disappoint you again, sir.”
It dipped its head and raced off into the ship with savage determination. Leo sighed and pinched his eyes with his fingers. “Ugh. Today is the kind of day where you want to go back to bed and pretend it never happened. Except you can’t because your bed is full of spider spit and post-traumatic stress.”
“Aww, you poor thing,” Varlowe said. “Don’t worry. I’ve got just the thing to cheer you up.”
Leo’s lips threatened to form a smile. “Oh, and what’s that?”
“Meet me in the astrometrics lab and I’ll show you.” Varlowe flashed a flirty grin. “But find some pants first.”
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