He isn’t looking for a mate, but when he finds her, he isn’t walking away.
Cassius Stian has come to Earth to take over its defenses against the galaxy’s new enemy, the Faelis Consortium. The last thing he expects on his arrival is to meet his mate.
General Talia Lowell isn’t quite sure what to do with the alien warrior who barges into her life, but since he refuses to budge from his insistence she’s his mate, she figures she might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
Cassius has other plans, however. He’s here to stay.
Lord Cassius Stian swung his bags over his shoulder, strolled down the shuttle’s ramp and crossed the training field. Normally it wouldn’t be used as a landing field, but rank had a few privileges and he didn’t want to miss his first meeting planet side. Since he’d received this assignment—command of Delroi’s armies on Earth—he’d been in the grip of anticipation, though he was hard pressed to explain why. He’d led armies before so that wasn’t it. Maybe it was just being on Earth, a world he hadn’t had the opportunity to visit yet. For the week it had taken him to get there, he’d felt like he was waiting for something to happen, a feeling that had built until it was a rush in his blood.
He entered the nondescript building that housed the Delroi’s headquarters on Earth. The lobby was a large open space with staircases on opposite ends leading to a second floor mezzanine. There was a small seating area and clan banners hung on the walls. A few warriors milled around, speaking in small groups. They nodded at him but didn’t approach, and he approached the long counter on his left.
“Lord Stian,” a young warrior greeted him. He didn’t have the tattoos of the southern clans and Cassius didn’t know him, but he wasn’t surprised to be recognized. “You can leave your things here if you’d like. They’re gathering upstairs in the conference room.”
He nodded and lifted his belongings over the counter, then jogged up the stairs and found the right room, but he didn’t get the chance to greet anyone.
“Would someone kindly explain why I got recalled to active duty and put in charge of the Alliance military if I’m not, you know, in charge?”
The woman who’d entered the room was beautiful in a cold remote way that had never interested him before. He preferred his women warm and eager. She was tall for a female, even by the standards of his people, with silvery blond hair knotted at the back of her head. He wished he could see her eyes better, but he saw enough to know she was his. She wore an Earth military uniform with insignia identifying her as a general and the little he could see of her skin was also pale, like new snow. She would bruise so, so easily and that was going to be a problem, because he didn’t want to hold back with her.
“Who says you aren’t?” Thorsen, the leader of the northern clans on Earth, asked blandly.
“That little pissant weasel you ensconced in my office,” she said sweetly enough that Cassius saw a few warriors—the mated ones at least—cringe.
“Who’s the weasel?” Cassius asked, both horrified and amused, though the gods knew, he ought to be used to Earth females by now.
She turned, her face reflecting the shock of recognition so briefly he might have imagined it, before giving him a bland but clearly dismissive look.
“You must be the new guy,” she said sarcastically. “When Laney asked me to do this she didn’t say anything about being a figurehead.”
Stormy deep blue eyes focused on him. Had he thought she was cold? He was an idiot. That gaze sucked him into a sandstorm, emotional winds lashing at him. Possession, desire, a fierce kind of tenderness. And anger, such deep frustration that this was the woman the Overchief’s sister-in-law had chosen to lead Earth’s armies against their common enemy. His der’lan, his mate, in such a dangerous position? It was unthinkable. Those beautiful eyes narrowed.
“Don’t even think about it,” she snapped.
“Think about what?”
He knew his voice was harsh but he didn’t try to soften it. The warriors in the room held themselves still and quiet, aware of the undercurrents now swirling around them, but if she was bothered she hid it well. She put her hands in her pockets and looked like she didn’t have a care in the world. Her control and poise were impressive.
“I’ve seen that expression before and I’m not interested,” she said calmly.
The door opened and another warrior entered. Audun. The pissant weasel? Despite the situation Cassius was amused. Audun was a warrior he’d have at his back any time. What had he done to set the general off?
“Oh good,” she said with heavy mockery and looked around at the others. “You’re all here now. Gentlemen, I’m not interested in being a token leader so find yourselves someone else. I have better things to do with my time.”
She strode towards the door, but paused to look over her shoulder when he spoke. “General.”
“Don’t follow me, warrior. I have no interest in what you’re selling,” she said softly, but he sensed regret, passion and curiosity hidden under her even tone.
He expected her to slam the door and was oddly disappointed when it closed with a soft snick. Fighting the temptation to go after her, knowing he should be armed with information first, he turned back to the other warriors in the room.
“What do I need to know?”
He’d read the files on the warriors that would answer directly to him on the journey here, along with reports about Delroi defenses, but hadn’t been informed an Alliance liaison had been in place for weeks until a couple of days ago. He hadn’t received a file on her and that had irritated more than intrigued him. All he’d been told was she came highly recommended by Lady Laney Torfa, the Overchief’s sister-in-law, and was a general who’d retired shortly after the Earth forces surrendered to the Delroi. Her name was Talia Lowell.
“She’s your der’lan?” Thorsen asked.
Cassius really didn’t like the caution and sympathy in Thorsen’s tone. “Why is that a problem? Lady Torfa vouched for her.”
“And if the reason she’d been recalled had been explained to her already she might be less hostile. I have no doubt of her abilities, and if Lady Torfa says she won’t betray us I accept that on faith…”
“She doesn’t trust us. She sure as hell doesn’t like us.”
“Her husband died early in the invasion,” Audun said. “To her, we may no longer be enemies but we’ll never be friends.”
“He died in the war?”
“That’s only an assumption. His cause of death isn’t listed in the files I was given. It appears the original records were scrubbed.”
Fuck. That was a problem. Could he walk away from his der’lan? The mate of his heart? Even knowing it might hurt her deep inside if he claimed her, he wasn’t sure he had that kind of strength.
“What’s your impression of her?”
“She survived the military purges here, after the army conspired against the peace. She was a part of ferreting the traitors out, actually. She’s competent and very well respected.” Audun paused. “She asked for particular people to join her command staff, some called back from retirement, some still in service. Not all of her choices make sense to me, but I’m positive every single one of them would follow her into certain death.”
It said a hell of a lot about a commander’s character to have that kind of devotion in subordinates, and he understood her anger and bitterness. He didn’t like it and he might demand something she couldn’t give, but he did understand it.
“Family?” She’d been married so it followed she might have children, and he’d be responsible for them now.
“Teenage twins. A girl and boy. They’re in an Alliance military high school but I don’t know any more about them.”
He’d have to be careful there. They’d either be cautious about a warrior entering their lives or resentful.
“She doesn’t know about the Faelis?”
Audun shook his head. “Lady Torfa and Lady Kendall said we should wait for your arrival to explain.”
He wondered why. He probably wouldn’t get an answer, but the Overchief’s mate and his sister-in-law were both former Earth soldiers and were advised by the priestesses of the goddess cult and their seers. He couldn’t discount their interference. Had one of them seen something? Seen him and his mate? Perhaps he should check in with them before he tracked down Talia.
“I need the file on her.”
“Sorry, Lord Stian, you’re not getting it,” a clear feminine voice said behind him.
He turned around to see Falkor Trace, second-in-command of the Saber clan, who ruled all the southern clans and were closely aligned with Cassius’s family and clan, the Keep. His mate Janice, another former Earth soldier, stood at his side. She was just as icy and controlled as Talia. Falkor was a friend, but Cassius didn’t know his mate well.
“Lady Trace,” he said cautiously, using her surname with the appellation to make the address formal. Falkor, who he’d known his whole life, cocked an eyebrow but didn’t comment. “If I’m going to work with General Lowell, and convince her to work with us, I will need some background.”
Not that he wanted his mate working for them but at least it would get him close to her. Janice stared at him so long he didn’t think she was going to reply. When she did he knew he was in serious trouble. “I was told not to give you any information other than her name and location. You’re supposed to navigate this on your own.”
“This is about defending the galaxy, Lady Trace. We don’t have time for delays.”
She arched an eyebrow. “You would go against Nerine’s counsel then?”
Fuck no. Nerine was a member of the goddess cult and one of the most respected and feared seers on Delroi. He clenched his jaw. He didn’t need to answer.
“I suggest you get moving then,” Janice said and handed him a piece of paper.
It was an order and he didn’t bother arguing with it, just nodded and left. The paper had what he assumed was an address. He may not have been on Earth before but his comm had excellent navigation capabilities and signing out a hover vehicle was no problem. He hadn’t found his quarters yet, and didn’t bother. Stopping at the front desk, he got a key card for the vehicle, grabbed his bags, and set out.