After ten years of flying freighter ships from planet to planet, Val Calendula never thought she would apply for a job as a combat pilot in a mercenary outfit. But her brother has gotten himself into financial trouble, and he’s heading to a mining prison if Val can’t pay off his debts. Mercenaries don’t always live long… but they make good money while they’re alive. A few combat bonuses, and Val could earn what she needs. The problem? She might have graduated from the military flight academy, but she hasn’t fought anything more dangerous than dust bunnies on the bridge lately. To make matters worse, the man in charge of hiring pilots was her instructor back at the academy. Commander Thatcher was almost as brilliant as he was arrogant and condescending, and he never seemed to think Val was smart enough to be there. She has no idea if she’ll be able to convince him otherwise now… or if she’ll be able to stand working with him.
When Gregor Thatcher left the military, he never expected to run into any of his former acquaintances, much less the one he admired and mooned over during his two years teaching at the academy. Back then, he never told Val Calendula he cared for her, partially because officers weren’t supposed to have relations with cadets, but mostly because he didn’t know how to speak of his feelings. He might not have any trouble grasping navigational mathematics and astrodynamics, but people are more problematic. Gregor is elated that Val has entered his life again, but he’s fairly certain she hates him. Worse, he’s responsible for deciding whether she’s qualified to be a combat pilot. How can he judge fairly when his tongue tangles and idiotic words come out of his mouth whenever she’s around?
When the captain sends Val and Gregor on a mission to pick up a military advisor and deliver him to a planet at war, Val hopes she’ll have an opportunity to prove herself capable of the piloting position. Gregor hopes he’ll have the opportunity to improve Val’s opinion of him. But when the military advisor goes missing, and they’re forced to divert to a dangerous moon base, the mission turns into a fight for survival. Val may learn too late that there’s more to Gregor than that aloof exterior… and that inside is a man she could love.
Enjoyed this though not as much as the first book in the series – this felt a little smaller in scope with less at stake but more serious, missing the goofy elements of the first and adding in sexual harassment and attempted sexual assault ☹️
The hero is coded autistic / Asperger’s, and it’s uncomfortable that no one in the future is aware that autism is a thing and just makes fun of him for the way he acts and talks? The heroine assumes he’s just an arrogant asshole until she notices that he talks the same way to everyone (how did she not notice this as his student? 🤔). Her shift from thinking he’s a dick to putting the moves on him feels abrupt, with not quite enough supporting her change in perspective.
This world feels grimmer than the first, even with a smaller body count. The attempted sexual assault is not punished, in fact things take an even worse turn, so I feel like that needed to be resolved. Then again, this is a universe where an entire planet was destroyed for daring to rebel, so pretty grim.