Zola Gray is a woman on a mission. After escaping a year’s imprisonment, she was grateful to take refuge on Delroi and recover from her long captivity, but she isn’t like the company she suddenly finds herself in. She was a willing member of the Tel Group until one assassination too many made her rebel. Now Tel is coming after her and her friends, and she’ll do whatever it takes to end them once and for all.

Jarek Idis was born, raised, and trained a warrior. Then he followed his true passion, healing. He knows Zola wants to confront the assassins coming after her in a misguided attempt at redemption, but he has other ideas. He’s supposed to be healing her body, but he’s going straight for her heart and soul. He sees what’s hidden under her bad ass veneer and he intends to keep the woman he knows she truly is.

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Excerpt

Zola stood in the back of one of the giant courtyards of the Keep. She wasn’t hiding, but she did her best to blend in as she watched a shuttle come in for landing. Several had arrived this week, bringing supplies and guests for the upcoming Rebirth Celebration that accompanied rededicating the goddess temple.

It should be easy to slip on one, catch a ride to Saber City, and then find a way off planet if she wanted to. Except it wasn’t. Security was freaking crazy, especially now with the celebration just four days away. Two warriors stood at the ramp checking everything that went on and came off, with a nifty little handheld device. She got the impression they were specifically watching for her. She’d already been told, gently and with great concern, that she couldn’t leave. There was a price on her head on Earth and no one could guarantee her safety outside the Keep.

She didn’t care. Her enemies were coming for her. They would find a way to her no matter what precautions Roarr Idis and his second in command, Kaje Stian, put into place. It was stupid and foolhardy to confine her to the Keep. Her time would be better spent hunting them than sitting around with her thumb up her ass, waiting. Then there was the not so small matter of her mother, who’d managed to buy herself asylum on Delroi in exchange for information. Zola had no idea what her game was but she didn’t trust her for a minute. They were meeting for the first time in over a year tomorrow. Maybe she’d get some answers then, but she wasn’t holding her breath.

“You wish to die that strongly?”

She jumped. Was her yearning to move, to act, so easy to read? She looked up at the man who’d managed to sneak up on her. Jarek Idis. Senior healer and the clan chief’s brother. He was hot as hell and a little intimidating with the tattoos stretching down the side of his face, neck and arm. They disappeared beneath his shirt collar, but she’d heard they continued all the way down his torso and leg. She’d love to see for herself.

She’d love to see more than his tats. He was tall–well over six feet–broad and muscled. She’d fueled way too many fantasies imagining what he looked like under his clothes. The rest of him wasn’t bad either. She’d never gone for pretty men and he wasn’t. His features were sharp, rugged. His hair was short, a little shaggy, and he seemed to prefer two or three days growth of beard. It was like he’d been tailor made for her.

She was so damned tempted to hop into bed with him, but though she’d often seen heated interest in his gaze, he hadn’t offered and she suspected that was for the best. She’d seen Kareena and Parker, both gone nuts for a Delroi male. Still, Jarek was a lure. He was intense and edgy and she wondered what it would be like to be the object of his focus in bed or out of it.

A slight, sexy as hell smile curved his lips. She wondered if he knew what she was thinking or if she was just that transparent. Too bad she wasn’t much of a telepath. Usually she more than made up for that with her telekinesis. She shook her head, a silent reminder to herself that he was not on her admittedly very short list of allies.

“I don’t have a death wish,” she finally responded.

“Yet, you’re still trying to figure out how to leave.”

She shrugged. “People to kill, ya know, but I’m in the wrong place.”

“You’re very bloodthirsty for a woman of your accomplishments,” he said, not bothering to hide his amusement.

She didn’t respond to the statement–not like she could deny it. She knew exactly who and what she was. As she watched, the shuttle left. She emerged from the shadows to walk inside and he fell in step beside her.

“Mother says you’re learning our language at a phenomenal speed.”

“I’m good at languages.”

“Is that why you write poetry?”

She should have known that would get around. The best covers were rooted in reality. She may have been a Tel spy and assassin for most of her life, but until they had imprisoned her she’d had a public life as a scholar and poet. He stopped her when she would have turned into the corridor to her rooms and led her in the opposite direction, to the warrior’s side of the Keep.

“You missed your last appointment,” he said, when she groaned in protest.

“I’m fine,” she said, not caring that it came out whiney.

“Then you won’t mind me checking just in case.”

His tone never changed. Calm. Unyielding. He sounded as composed as ever. She wanted to shake him up, wondered if she dragged him to a stop in the corridor and kissed him how he’d react.

“You’re going to get yourself in trouble. Be very sure you’re ready for that,” he said softly.

She held her breath for a moment. He couldn’t be that good at guessing what she was thinking. “Are you a telepath?”

He hesitated a minute before responding. “Not exactly. If you really want an explanation I’ll tell you over dinner.”

She withdrew. The last thing she needed was to be alone with Jarek Idis. Fantasies? Sure. Temptation? Sure. Reality? No fucking way. Delroi men were possessive and controlling of the women in their lives. The last thing she needed right now was to end up mated to one of them. Not with their rules. Maybe after she killed the Tel agents sent after her.

Besides, her evening was already booked. They entered the medical wing. It was late in the day and there were few people around. No one said anything as he led her to an exam room. She hopped up on the table and he leaned back against a desk, shoving his hands in his pockets as if he had a hard time keeping them to himself too.

“It’s time for you to stop running, Zola.”

Running? That was the exact opposite of what she was planning–reentering the fight. He looked her over, but there was nothing doctorly or remote about his gaze. Her heart accelerated, her body tightened, and she felt welcoming heat deep in her core. She knew if she touched herself she’d be wet. Ready. What was it about this man that revved her up so quick? She licked her lips and tried to gain back control of her body. As much as she wanted him, she knew it was a bad idea.

He didn’t ask her to put on an exam robe, thank goddess, and he was smooth and efficient when he approached. He checked her pulse and blood pressure, both were elevated. Big surprise. Then he helped her down from the table, though she didn’t need it.

“You’re my last patient. Let’s get out of here.”

“I didn’t agree to have dinner with you,” she reminded him.

“Too bad. It’s not good for your digestion to eat alone.”

He sounded so much like someone’s grandmother she burst out laughing.

“Ah,” he teased. “You do know how to laugh. I wondered.”

“Oh, shut up,” she said, still amused, but sobering fast.

He tempted her as no one ever had before. Into lowering her guard. Letting loose. If she gave into the lure, she’d probably get them both killed. Giving into the urge to relax their vigilance, to trust a little, had got her brother killed and her imprisoned. She’d never take the risk again.

“Where did you go just now?” he asked, with just an edge of demand in the question.

She shook her head, pretending to misunderstand and lighten her grim mood. Or at least not share it.

“I’m right here.” She glanced at the clock on the wall behind him. “But I’m going to be late if I don’t get moving.”

He walked with her to the door and followed her into the corridor. “Late for what?”

“Parker is getting tattooed,” she said.

Apparently it was a big deal, too. Her friend was getting Kaje Stian’s mark inked on the side of her neck. It was tradition among the Southern clans that a female mate wore the mark of the warrior who’d claimed her. Kareena already had Roarr’s. Zola hadn’t decided how she felt about that yet. On the one hand, it seemed so chauvinist. Patriarchal. But on the other, she remembered what it was like to belong so completely to something, to people. She’d never go back to Tel, but she was still struggling with not belonging anywhere. It may have been a fucked up family, but it had been hers.

“You’re doing it again,” Jarek said mildly, turning with her in the direction of the Steward’s wing where Parker now lived.

“What?”

“Withdrawing. Hiding.”

She frowned up at him, but kept walking. “Why do you care?”

He stared at her so long she didn’t expect an answer. “I’m your healer. Your well-being is my concern.”

She was damned certain that wasn’t what he wanted to say but she let it go.

“Were you invited to this too?” she asked.

“No.” He shrugged. “I’m just seeing you safely there.”

She rolled her eyes. She’d regained her strength and she could take care of herself, but he could have provided a good distraction.

“Too bad. I have a feeling Kaje wants me to look his brothers over.”

She’d already checked out Kaje’s brothers. She spent so much time with Parker how could she not? None of them intrigued her like Jarek, though.

“Is that right?” he murmured at her side and a sense of danger skittered along her senses.

Since her imprisonment and subsequent drugging for a year to block her mental abilities, her telepathy hadn’t come back full force. There was definitely enough to know he didn’t like the idea of other men around her, however. What the fuck was that about? He knew she was interested–he couldn’t have missed it–and hadn’t made a move, but he objected to someone else doing it? Before she could pursue the subject they reached the secured door to the Steward’s private wing. Jarek set his hand on the access plate and the door slid aside. Once they were through, his hand settled on the small of her back as he steered her down the hall to the door. Kaje answered when Jarek knocked. He cocked an eyebrow, but didn’t say a word as he welcomed them inside. Zola gritted her teeth at the easy acceptance of Jarek’s presence at her side.

“Excuse me,” she said to them, spotting her friend across the room. “I need to say hello to Parker.”

She didn’t wait for a response. Parker saw her coming and together they walked out onto the balcony.

“What’s wrong?” her only friend asked her when they were out of earshot.

And wasn’t that weird? Once they’d been enemies, but six months of imprisonment had made them friends. Zola shrugged a shoulder.

“I don’t know. Nothing. I’m just antsy, I think.”

“Or maybe just horny,” came a familiar voice from behind her. She turned to see Kareena join them. “Would you put my poor brother-in-law out of his misery already?”

Zola didn’t know what to say or how to respond to that. She considered Kareena an ally more than a friend. Kareena had kept that distance between them and Zola completely understood why. Because of that she hadn’t discussed Jarek with Kareena before and was damned surprised the other woman was bringing him up now. Zola understood the Delroi mate bond. She’d been observing it up close and personal in the weeks since their rescue. She didn’t understand why it seemed to make the female half insane with matchmaking schemes, though.

“Your brother-in- law is not the kind of man I want to get involved with.”

Kareena and Parker both turned to look inside the apartment where Jarek was talking to Kaje and Roarr.

“Why? What’s not to like?” Parker asked. “He’s hot. He’s smart.”

“He’s not an asshat,” Kareena interjected. “And he’s hot.”

Zola wasn’t sure if she should gape at them or laugh. For two women who seemed to notice no one other than their mates, they’d sure noticed Jarek. And why the hell not? He wasn’t just hot. He was smoking. Well over six feet, with those sexy tattoos, light brown hair, and chocolate brown, soulful eyes. He had a body that made her heart palpitate. And she couldn’t have him.

“He’s way too intense and serious. A man like that probably doesn’t do casual. Especially on this planet.”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Parker said so low it was almost a murmur.

Zola turned to look at her friend. She knew when she was being set up or maneuvered, but it sucked coming from a friend.

“I think you have a beautiful thing. Both of you. But I don’t want it. I can’t afford it.”

“We know they’re coming. We’ll be ready for them,” Parker said, going right at what worried Zola.

“I’m not so sure,” she murmured. Tel had managed to get several agents to Delroi, information her mother of all people had given up, and most of them were still at large.

Kareena and Parker looked at her so long it made her nervous.

“Have you talked to her yet?” Parker asked.

Anna Leigh Gray had traded her information and telepathy skills in exchange for asylum, she knew that much. She got the feeling it was a seriously white washed answer, too. Her mother had been on planet for three days, at the Bana stronghold with her der’lan. That had come as another shock. Zola wasn’t looking forward to the reunion, but she couldn’t avoid it any longer.

“I’m going tomorrow. I think Kaje assigned a whole damned platoon to protect me,” she said as she rolled her eyes.

She didn’t need the protection. She was capable of that on her own and the whole damned planet knew it. She and Parker had repelled, well more like obliterated, a rebel attack against them a week ago. Someone caught it on video and it went viral in minutes.

Parker grimaced. “Sorry. I can’t get him to budge on that. We’re going with you, though.”

Zola wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

“Roarr is going too, but he refuses to bring me. On account of my delicate condition, you know,” Kareena said sarcastically.

They all laughed. Kareena was pregnant, but it would be awhile before she started to show and the news hadn’t been announced.

“I’m going to see if I can change his mind,” she said with a secretive smile that made Zola wonder what she was really up to.

The other woman walked into the room and crossed to her mate, but Zola was focused on Jarek. He looked up and met her gaze. She saw desire and longing in his eyes. She didn’t even turn to look at Parker when she spoke. It hurt so badly, on a level she’d buried so deep that any kind of friendly contact would undermine her resolve and control.

“He’s not for me. He can never really be mine,” Zola said softly.