After six months captivity, Parker Reed is thrilled to be free and offered asylum on Delroi, joining her friends Kareena and Zola. It’s not long before she realizes that could have been a huge mistake, however. She’s a woman used to being in control and she’s devoted her life to one purpose: bringing down the corrupt Tel Group.
That mission might done, but she hasn’t changed. She doesn’t play, goof off, or involve herself with men who think they should be the center of her life. Kaje Stian is a constant presence, however. He’s the exact opposite of the kind of men Parker usually dates, and he’s determined to have her. What’s a girl to do? He’s overbearing, demanding, and ultimately, irresistible.
Kaje Stian, Steward and second in command of the Clan of the Keep, gathered his warriors and hurried to meet his chief. Fatigue pounded a tattoo behind his right eye, but it would be hours yet before he could indulge in sleep. He’d spent the previous night chasing down the identities of the rebels who’d attacked the goddess temple in their embassy compound. Now that he had a complete list he set his intelligence officers the task of digging into their backgrounds.
He was still furious that the sanctity of the temple had been violated. There were only two on Delroi in active use and both fell under the protection of his clan. No male was ever allowed inside. He’d die to protect that right just like the other warriors in his clan. Except the traitors who’d joined the rebels. They’d been killed when Roarr’s and Barak’s men had entered. Kaje ground his teeth. Too bad they were dead. He would like to rip them apart limb by limb.
He took a deep, cleansing breath. He couldn’t enter his chief’s home filled with homicidal rage. There were three women inside, under Roarr’s, and by extension Kaje’s, protection. They’d been held prisoner by a rogue government group on Earth, and apparently were the targets of yesterday’s violation of the temple. There was one in particular he wanted to meet.
He nodded absently to those who greeted him on the street, swung around the corner leading to Roarr’s Saber City home, and jogged up the steps. He was nervous, a ludicrous situation to find himself in, but since he was also desperate–another foreign emotion–he wasn’t all that surprised. He paused outside the door long enough to set his sentries, shielding his face against stinging sand–gods he hated this city–and mentally reviewed his plea before stepping inside.
It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Jarek Idis, the chief’s brother and clan’s senior healer, not to mention one hell of a warrior, waited with two women in the foyer. Kaje suspected the third woman was with Roarr since she was his der’lan. She wasn’t the one Kaje sought. He was looking for Parker Reed and on her planet she was a mind healer, what they called a mental health counselor. It was not the kind of assistance a Delroi warrior would normally seek out, but Kaje was out of options.
One of his brothers’ platoons had been ambushed and left for dead by rebel forces months ago. Vidar was the only survivor. He’d healed physically, but the brother Kaje knew was gone. He’d become cold and withdrawn and was taking stupid risks that turned Kaje’s hair grey. He’d threatened Vidar into talking to the Earthling healer. Now he just had to convince her.
If what Roarr had hinted at about her ordeal was as bad as Kaje feared that might be easier said than done, however. As he considered how to proceed, Roarr and the third woman joined them. Kaje stepped forward to join the small group. Roarr stood close to his der’lan and gave Kaje a warning look. The three women moved together, forming a united front. The redhead, who was the most fragile looking, met his gaze for only a second before looking away. Which just left one more, but he was totally unprepared when her bright green eyes met his and snared him.
Parker Reed, the mind healer, was too thin and pale. It was obvious she’d been through hell, though her gaze was calm and he sensed a deep resilience in her. She needed time to recover her strength and stamina, but she was far from broken. Would that make her more or less sympathetic to his brother’s situation? Not that he could focus very hard on that question at the moment. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and she was his. The minute he looked into her eyes his world narrowed to include only her. His blood rushed hot and his body hardened in insistent demand.
Her eyes widened with a responding heat for just a moment before she hid it behind a cool dismissive gaze. That casual disregard made him want to roar out his claim and act on the primitive need that held him in its grip. It was a struggle to remember who he was, the kind of man he was. He pulled on years of training and control to do it. He was a warrior of the Keep, his mother had been a priestess of the goddess, and he was not about to claim a woman who wasn’t ready for him. But he damned sure wasn’t above charming her. Seducing her. Once he could speak again without croaking like an untried boy.
She watched him with a wary gaze, and he realized with sharp painful clarity that she found him intimidating. He wasn’t surprised exactly, but he was disappointed. And resolute. He didn’t want to see fear in her eyes when she looked at him, so he didn’t approach her yet. Roarr introduced everyone. Planning his next move, Kaje fell into a guard position as they left the house for the shuttle pad.
But during the hour and half flight to the Keep, he didn’t come up with anything feasible. His one attempt at conversation was shot down, which was probably a good thing. His instinct was to take her somewhere private, convince her to strip, and learn every inch of her body. The urge was strong, hammering in his veins, so he paid little attention as they landed and disembarked. While he’d been distracted, they’d been making plans and before he knew it he was falling into step behind Jarek to show them to their quarters. Jarek was distracting the other woman, Zola, with a description of the fortress leaving Parker all for Kaje. He wasn’t alone with her, but it was damned good start. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take long to get her right where he wanted her. He didn’t bother to hide his anticipation as he turned to her.
“I’m Kaje Stian,” he introduced himself.
“I know. Roarr said,” she reminded him. She gave him a guarded look and bit her bottom lip. He barely repressed a groan. He wanted to do that. He wanted to taste every inch of her. Kiss and nip his way over her smooth skin, learn every dip and curve and mark. A pretty blush spread up her neck to her face. She sucked in a breath and slowly released it.
“As you know, I’m Parker and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t project desires like that quite so forcefully,” she said primly.
“You’re a telepath.”
It was more a reminder to himself than a question. He’d read the mission report Falkor Trace had filed with his brother, the Saber Clan chief, Barak. She pressed her lips together and nodded once. He wanted to draw her out. He wanted to know more about her. Hell, he wanted to know everything. Would she sigh or moan or cry out when he took her? She glared at him and he tried, he honestly did, to change the direction of his thoughts. It was a lost cause.
“Come on,” he said lightly, wanting to tempt her. “Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
He could sense she shared the attraction. It was the very beginning of the forming of the mate bond, he realized. He’d just have to keep stoking the fire. Keep working at breaking down her resistance.
“Are you always this pushy?” she asked. The tart tone was in no one way a turn off.
“Oh that wasn’t pushy, darlin’.” If she was the least bit receptive he could show her pushy. She glared at him. “Projecting again?” he asked.
“Sorry,” he said, but they both knew he wasn’t repentant at all. “Let me make it up to you then. I know a nice quiet spot to watch the sun set. I’ll even feed you dinner.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Come on,” he cajoled. “It’ll be fun. Besides, our city is beautiful. It would be a shame to miss it.”
She almost cracked a smile. “I’m sure I can see it on my own or with my friends.”
He risked touching her, placing his fingers on the inside of her wrist, over a tattoo of a stylized sun that fascinated him. It was very similar to the tattoo a novice got when she ascended to apprentice status in the goddess cult. Her pulse fluttered, and he slowly moved his fingertips up and down her forearm. He marveled at the feel of her skin, soft and smooth. Her heart raced though her expression gave nothing away. She allowed the touch a moment more before pulling away and holding her arm against her stomach.
“Please don’t do that,” she whispered.
He wanted to test her, wanted to know if she avoided his touch because it hurt or because it broke down the barriers she was trying to erect between them. Since he didn’t know the details of her captivity or how her powers worked, he let it drop and changed the subject.
“So dinner is out of the question?”
She smiled as if she was grateful he was letting her off the hook and shook her head. “I’m afraid it is. I can barely make it through dinner these days without falling asleep. Watching the sunset is definitely out.”
“An early evening on your balcony then,” he said seriously, recalling why he’d sought her out. “I need your help with something.”
She arched an eyebrow. “What could I possibly help you with?”
“My brother,” he said softly, aware of the open, crowded courtyard they were passing through to get to the clan chief’s family quarters. He didn’t continue his explanation until they were in a less populated patch.
“I understand you’re a counselor.” He stumbled over the strange word, but pushed on. “I’d prefer to speak privately.”
He could tell he had her interest and her sympathy. Perhaps she’d read his mind. In any other person that would have bothered him, but she was his der’lan. He didn’t have any secrets from her. They turned into a corridor, and then another before passing the secure area that led to the Idis family’s private wing. He had to force himself to follow Jarek. Kaje wanted her in his rooms. Soon. He kept the vow to himself.
“We’ll get your prints coded for the door later,” Jarek told the women as they passed through.
Kaje already had access, but he hoped like hell he wouldn’t need it to see Parker. He had his own suite of rooms on the opposite side of the fortress, just as opulent as these, and she belonged there. He’d never had a problem with patience before. He’d served as a diplomat many times for the Overchief, Daggar Torfa, and he was an excellent negotiator. The patience that served him so well then was sadly lacking now, however.
The guest wing was empty at the moment so he assumed Lady Rona had had the best rooms made ready, and he was right. He and Parker followed Jarek down the long corridor to the very end where two suites faced each. He opened the door on the left and motioned Kaje to the opposite. He fit his palm over the access panel and the door slid away. It was habit to enter first. He was a warrior escorting a woman and no place was ever one hundred percent secure. She didn’t wait for him to clear the space though. He checked the rooms quickly and found her on the living area balcony.
It hung out over the water and the sea crashed onto the beach far below. She stood with her elbows on the railing, bent a little at the waist with her head tilted back. The wind whipped at her long curly hair. Her lips curved in a smile he was pretty sure she didn’t realize was inviting and sultry. He stood beside her, hip propped against the rail and just watched her, amazed at how contented that made him. Finally, she opened her eyes and looked him over.
“You’re still here.”
He laughed. Well, at least he knew where he stood.
“You look very at home here. Like a sea fairy,” he teased. “I couldn’t resist watching until you dove out of my grasp.”
She snorted. “Yeah right.”
“It’s true,” he insisted, reaching out to brush a fly away strand of hair away from her face. “Here you are, beautiful and enchanting. My very own fairy if I’m quick enough to catch you.”
She rolled her eyes before turning her back on him and walking inside. He followed, puzzled. He sensed her embarrassment, sensed her withdraw, and concluded she wasn’t accustomed to compliments. Wasn’t used to attention. What the hell was wrong with the men on Earth? He watched her explore the room, unsure of how to proceed. If she was any other woman, he’d charm her, seduce her. They’d both know they weren’t der’lans and treat the affair accordingly. She was the mate of his heart, however. Yes he wanted to tease her, wanted to play with her, but he suspected she would think it was just a game when actually he was deadly serious.
She stopped at the refreshment area on a far wall and swung the cooler door open.
“I don’t know what most of this stuff is,” she said.
It was as good a place to start as any. She knew nothing of his world and he was a little surprised at how eager he was to show her everything. He joined her, peered over her shoulder and reached for a bottle of gazzi. Then he found two glasses in the cabinet above the counter.
She accepted a glass while he turned back to the cooler for a selection of local fruits.
“It’s gazzi,” he said. “You would call it wine, I believe.”
“We had some on the ship on the way here.”
It was deep blue and sweet. A very common drink on Delroi. He sipped at his own then began to chop fruit and lay it on a plate. He was starving, but he doubted she was up to his idea of the midday meal. He opened the cooler to see what else was available and found a selection of precut meats. He set it on the counter too before checking out the storage cabinets and turning back with two plates. She’d taken the stool opposite his position and watched him with a bemused smile.
“By all means, make yourself at home.” Her tone was dry, just shy of sarcastic.
He flashed her grin. “I assumed it was too soon to insist you to move in with me.”
She laughed, but he could tell her amusement was feigned.
“So why do you think I can help your brother?” she asked, changing the subject.
He sighed. She sure knew how to ruin a man’s mood.
“But not your appetite,” she pointed out, obviously reading his thoughts. He chose another piece of meat and smiled at her attempt to sooth him, though he doubted she’d describe it that way. She tilted her head to one side. “It doesn’t bother you that I’m picking up some of your thoughts?”
“I don’t have any secrets to keep from you, Parker. Unless you can’t be trusted with the security information rattling around in my head?”
He knew that wasn’t true. Britt Trace had assured everyone Parker was trustworthy. Since Britt was mated to Barak Trace, the chief who ruled all of the southern clans, was a telepath, and a former assassin, he’d take her word for it.
“I wouldn’t betray you,” she said softly.