Today's First Chapter Friday is from my eight 1Night Stand story that I wrote as part of a special call for all authors attending the Romancing the Capital conference in 2015. In this story, the romance author is attending the conference, too, and winds up on a blind date with someone she hasn't seen for a while.
Enjoy the first chapter of HER ALIEN HERO...
Melinda Rose tossed a quarter into the gleaming-white marble fountain near the porte cochère. I wish to find my soul mate, the man I’m going to marry, in the next year. She’d waited long enough, dated men of all ages and races, but had yet to come across her forever man.
Her friends leaned forward and stared at her, Michelle bobbing her head up and down as if waiting for her to say something.
Tara bumped Melinda’s hip, almost knocking her into Michelle. “So…? What did you wish for?”
“A billion dollars.” No way would she tell them all she wanted was a guy to settle down with. According to her online friends, she reigned as queen of single women, the one who tossed men away like she held her own “guy card” and then wrote books about them the way composers wrote music about their relationships.
She could tell when a man wanted her for nothing but sex. They offered effusive compliments, and sneaked quick peeks at other women in case someone younger or skinnier came along. Often, she didn’t object to a night or two of raw, dirty sex—her stories needed some fresh inspiration—but she grew tired of the game. How long did she have to wait to locate her future husband, her very own hero? At thirty-five, she hadn’t even had a nibble on her line, not a single relationship with any promise. Yet, a couple of her friends already enjoyed life with their second and third husbands. She only asked for one.
“So you can travel the world and sleep with a man from every country?” Amber’s eyes lit up at the thought, the poor thing having lost her husband in a motorcycle accident less than a year before.
Melinda cringed inside. She didn’t want to be the friend her peers lived their fantasies vicariously through. Why couldn’t she unearth a guy to spend the rest of her life with? “Sure. I’ll definitely have to stock up on condoms before I go on that trip.” Though, if her wish came true, she could bring a man, the man, with her. She just had to stumble upon him first.
Sabrina, Tara, Michelle, and Lauren all tossed coins into the fountain. What wishes did they make? As a child, Melinda never would have guessed she’d be sharing her hopes and dreams with readers in stories. If only one of them would come true.
Melinda shrugged off her woes, ready to enjoy her first romance conference of the year. “Okay, are we all ready to check in?” Though, after driving four hours to meet her friends, some she’d never met except online, she yearned for the chance to crash on her bed for a few minutes of rest before the event began.
“Yes! Let’s get this party started!” Sabrina sashayed through the entrance of the hotel as if leading a parade.
Thank goodness she’d roomed with Lauren again. Melinda didn’t know if she could handle Sabrina’s excess energy for an entire weekend. Sure, she enjoyed the social aspects of conferences, meeting readers in person as well as other authors she’d connected with online and connecting with new ones, too, but she liked her downtime.
At the check-in desk, Lauren—her ideal roommate and closest friend in the industry—sidled up beside her. “You ready for another?”
Melinda nodded, filled with a sudden excitement. “Always.” She’d met Lauren online through another author five years earlier, and while they lived hours away from each other, Melinda tried to meet up with her at least once a year at a conference.
After presenting her credit card, Melinda received key cards, passed one to Lauren, and headed toward the conference registration table, leaving her friends with their multitude of suitcases behind. She’d left her own in the car until she took care of all the registration details—the advantage of a con so close to home. After returning the valet cart to the lobby, she walked into her room and saw Lauren already rooting through her goodie bag on the other bed. Melinda removed her shoes and hung up her coat in the closet, already half-full with her roommate’s stuff.
“Hey, have you heard of 1Night Stand?” Lauren pointed to her laptop. “It’s a dating service run by someone named Madame Eve. I hear several authors attending the conference have dates using them this weekend.”
Melinda scoffed, tucking her luggage beside her bed. “Romance authors using a dating service? Seems weird, doesn’t it?”
Lauren shrugged. “Makes sense, though. Everyone here believes in soul mates and happily-ever-afters, right? Want to sign up?”
“Wait, what?” Lauren knew the type of guy she wanted and had been there to commiserate with Melinda through all her bad experiences with matchmaking sites in the past.
“C’mon. Sign up for a 1Night Stand. It’ll be fun.”
“No.” Melinda shook her head with vigor. “No way. I’ve had enough one-night stands in my life. You know that. I don’t need or want another. Ever.” She flopped back on the bed, trying to forget the sting of rejection at being kicked out of a warm bed at three o’clock in the morning and making the walk of shame to her car, or waking up alone. Worse yet, the guy who woke up beside her and didn’t even remember her name. She was done with it all. Done.
“But this is different.” Her friend tossed the paper at her. “It’s more like a blind date. The owner of the company chooses the guy you’ll go out with. No profiles to look at and no obscene messages from creeps.”
“Sounds too good to be true, if you ask me.” She’d been burned too many times trying new ways to meet men.
“Read the testimonials. From couples still together, many of them married shortly after their date.”
Melinda rolled her eyes. “Okay, so she got a few right, but how many mismatches did this woman make along the way? How many of her clients will tell you they ended up with an asshole? I don’t want to be an Oops, I got it wrong case.”
“C’mon, Mel, take a chance. I swear, if you don’t do this, I’ll do it for you. I’ve already started filling out my own application. I’m going to do yours next.”
With a sigh, Melinda read the testimonials on Lauren’s screen then reached down to grab her laptop case. Too good to be true, maybe, but Madame Eve did have a high success rate and had set up some very high-profile couples. “Fine, I’ll do it.” Besides, if she refused, Lauren would sign her up. She noted the cost of a 1Night Stand and didn’t want to be someone’s charity case, no matter how close they were.
Filling in the never-ending online form, she told almost truths, though she may have left a few pounds off her weight. And her height may have included her high heels. When asked to describe her ideal man, she paused. In every story she wrote, her hero came from outer space, as she didn’t believe any good single men still existed on Earth. Women who already knew what they wanted in life had snatched them up in their twenties without exception. If only she’d been ready to get hitched at that age.
A sexy, hard-working man from another planet.
There! Let Madame Eve find her a man who fit her bizarre description. She tabbed to the next question before she could delete her words.
Melinda rushed through the rest of the questions and submitted her application. She glanced over at Lauren. “You done yet?”
“Yep.” Her friend bounced on the bed, releasing a high-pitched squeal. “I can’t wait to meet the guy Madame Eve sets me up with.”
“Me, too,” she lied. Though she had no doubt extraterrestrials existed somewhere in the wide expanse of the universe, they didn’t live on Earth and, therefore, could not be found for a 1Night Stand. Especially at such short notice. Her application would be rejected, leaving her worry free about another blind date. No money out of her pocket, and Lauren wouldn’t be hounding her all weekend about applying.
Melinda’s email tab blinked to show a new message. Her stomach rolled when she read the sender. She clicked over and opened an email from the owner of the matchmaking service. “I got a confirmation of receipt. Did you?”
Lauren sighed. “Yes. I thought she had arranged a date for me already, but I guess I was hoping for a lot, eh?”
“Considering she probably has several applications come in each day with all of those high-profile testimonials, I doubt we’ll hear anything until after the weekend.” Hopefully never, in her case.
While logged in, Melinda checked the rest of her inbox, deleting row after row of unimportant emails, nothing to take her mind off the numerous possible creeps she might be set up with. If, in fact, the woman found her a date. Maybe Madame Eve would set her up with a man who believed he came from another planet, one obsessed with space, the kind of guy her parents thought she wanted. They’d sweetly bought her a ticket for Fan Expo in Toronto last August, encouraging her to meet one. Epic fail. Dressed as Agent Carter, she’d had a guy claiming to be Captain America, wearing a beer case around his chest, stalk her the entire day.
In her other social media, a fan had mentioned being excited to meet her, a big squee in front with plenty of exclamation points. Such messages brightened her mood. Reader excitement fed her own and kept her muse’s ego soothed. She sent a quick reply. @LindaReads Looking forward to meeting you. I’ll be a Mad Hatter tonight. Be sure to find me. About to log off, Melinda noticed another message appear in her inbox. From Madame Eve again.
“Hey, did you receive a second confirmation?”
Lauren turned toward her, the side of her face scrunched in confusion. “No, did you?”
“I…I think so. Maybe.” Though the subjects were different. Your 1Night Stand the subject of the second said rather than Confirmation of receipt of 1Night Stand application.
“Let me see.” Lauren leaped from her bed to Melinda’s, not touching the floor on the way over.
Melinda waved her fingers over the touch pad. “There’s no way she could have found me a match already, or even read through everything I wrote. Should I click on it? I mean, what if it’s spam or a virus—I would lose all my stories.”
“Open it!” Lauren perched behind her, peering over her shoulder. “You backed up all your work before you left home, remember? Maybe Madame Eve predicted your application would come in today and is a speed reader. Who knows? Please don’t keep me waiting any longer.”
Hand vibrating from nerves, Melinda brought the pointer to the message, clicked, and read.
I’ve been waiting a great deal of time for your application. I’ve had the perfect man for you all along. You will meet him at seven tonight in room 316 for dinner and an evening filled with whatever activities you choose. I have attached his photograph so you will know who you are meeting.
Melinda’s lunch threatened to make a reappearance. This is all wrong. Her date had to be someone who believed himself an alien. No one else would match the description of her ideal man. Thank goodness she had a reason to cancel. “It’s not going to work tonight. I am having dinner with all of you, with my readers. I spent a lot of money on my Mad Hatter costume.”
Gripping her shoulder, Lauren squeezed. “Yes, I know, but you are going to skip it. No way I’m letting you pass on this opportunity. Besides, I’m sure your fans would love to read about how you met your happily-ever-after guy at a conference.” She clicked on the attachment. “Let’s see what this guy looks like.”
As the picture popped up on screen, they gasped, Melinda in pure shock.
“He’s hot.” Lauren leaned closer to the computer. “Look at those muscles. And such a strong jaw…. Wow! I’m so jealous. Can I pretend I’m you tonight?”
Melinda squinted at the screen, a headache developing in her temples. He wasn’t at all the man she’d expected to be matched up with. Not even a guy she’d expected to see again. “I know him. He’s my…. Oh God, I know him.”
Today's First Chapter Friday is from HIS ALIEN VIRGIN, the seventh story I wrote for Decadent Publishing's 1Night Stand line. While the hero and heroine have known each other for a long time, it takes an escape from a space pirate and an arranged date far from their home to get these two together. But are they meant to be?
Enjoy the beginning of HIS ALIEN VIRGIN...
Skylar shoved a shirt and a pair of pants—the only non-revealing clothes she owned—into her bag. She didn’t bother to zip it up, worried the sound of metal teeth grinding against each other would arouse her roommates. The last thing she needed to happen. They would only cause more delays. And she refused to live in the complex a moment longer. Or on the planet.
With a quiet breath, she tiptoed across the cold steel floor, weaving around the rays of light reflecting off the two moons into the dormitory.
A soft sigh echoed through the room and Skylar froze, biting her bottom lip to keep her panic from boiling over. She gazed around and noticed one of her roommates smiling, her eyes closed.
“Oh, Hay’den, you’ve come to rescue me.”
How they all wished for their heroes to come. Only, none ever did.
The girl rolled onto her side. If she opened her eyes, she’d find Skylar standing in front of her.
Please, don’t wake up. As much as she’d love to take them all with her, she didn’t have time to tell anyone of her plan. Plus, more bodies meant more noise and a greater risk of alerting her keeper of their purpose.
She glanced at the door. Her path to freedom lay only a few feet away.
After thirty seconds of no movement or sound from the other bunks, she continued her trek, daring to take the chance of being caught. Finally reaching the exit, she twisted the handle, but her sweaty palms did nothing to ease her escape. She wiped her hands on her barely there nightdress and twisted again, releasing a heavy breath at the satisfying click.
Peeking up and down the hallway, she saw no one to stop her, no one who would crush her dreams of getting off Rebed. Without a space pirate, that was. A shudder ran through her, and she swallowed down her unease. Once she got away, she no longer had to worry about the monster coming to claim her in the morning.
Time to go. Run! She dashed around a corner and down the empty corridor, toward the dark-as-space shipyard. Her heart pounded like a fist against her ribs. She’d never stolen anything in her life, but she had to leave, refused to remain in the hellhole a second longer.
She peeked outside, searching for a lookout, anyone who could stop her from reaching her destination. All clear. Though she wouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief until she’d left the atmosphere, landed on a new planet. For only then would she be free. If her brothers ever found out she’d escaped and broken her contract, they’d hunt her down, tie her up, and drag her back to Rebed—soil she never wanted to set foot on again. Yet, if she made it to the other side of the galaxy, she could blend in and never look back.
Spying her target, a star cruiser belonging to her brothers, she raced across the tarmac. After deserting her on the planet star cycles ago, Galan and Volan had finally come to visit, bringing their new wife, Danyka, to meet her. Skylar’s mother had married a blue-skinned humanoid with two sons. But when their parents died in a shuttle crash, she’d been left in the care of her teenage stepbrothers. She understood they weren’t mature enough to care for a child, but she’d been old enough to take care of herself. It hadn’t been necessary to drop her off on Rebed.
She slapped her palm on the scanner, shaking in anticipation. Please, let my print still be on file. So much time had passed since she’d flown in the vessel. Had her brothers changed the codes or erased her data once they’d abandoned her? Tapping her foot, she waited for a green light, for the door to open. Something.
She glanced behind her. Come on. Hurry!
Seconds, maybe minutes passed without a response. Sweat washed over her. She fought to catch her breath and tears stung the backs of her eyes. Please! Once the sun rose, she’d be twenty-one star cycles, legal to be presented to the disgusting creep who’d bought her contract, the exact person she wanted to escape.
A whoosh echoed to her left. With a startled jump, she stared in the direction of the sound. The door. She placed her hand over her chest. Thank the gods.
Ducking inside, she slid onto the captain’s chair. The ship now lay at her mercy. Finally, she had a chance to get off of the planet, an opportunity to live a new life. To be happy like she used to be when her parents were still alive, instead of dreading every second until her twenty-first birthday. It was time to live on her own terms, find her own love, rather than be chosen by a wealthy old space pirate with twelve arms and just as many wives. Or, maybe take a chance like her brothers—stepbrothers—and leave her fate in the hands of the mysterious Earth woman, Madame Evangeline. If Eve could find a Terran female to handle both Galan and Volan, surely she could locate a man for Skylar. Maybe someone from Earth, too. No matter, she refused to become another consort to the beast, another womb to carry his tentacle alien babies.
Skylar brushed her hands across the console. How on earth do I start this thing? Was there a key card? A special code? No one had bothered to teach her.
Damn! She slammed her palms on the dash, tears splashing onto the console. I’m never going to get away from here. Not on my own.
She gasped, panels and lights coming to life around her. A sharp buzz filled the air. Yes!
The cabin shook. The engine roared. Too loud. Someone would hear. “Please enter your destination.”
Destination? Her fingers tingled, her throat suddenly dry. Did she really want to go to Earth? She knew nothing about the planet, only what her brothers and their wife, Danyka, had told her only hours earlier. How would she live? She had few Space Service credits to spend anywhere. How would she survive when she had no one to help her?
Didn’t matter. She had to go. She swallowed the lump in her throat.
Scrolling through the tap-down menu, she located Earth. If her brothers could find happiness there, why couldn’t she? She deserved pleasure and joy as much as they did.
With a slight lift, the ship hovered above the ground. Gripping the handles of the chair, she braced for takeoff. Vibrations shook the cabin, as if a comet passed within the atmosphere. Her stomach churned.
The ship lunged forward, inertia shoving her back in her seat. She couldn’t move. But, at least, she was leaving Rebed. I’m finally free!
Today's First Chapter Friday is from JAGER, the second book in my Galactic Defenders series. Some might call the series Space Opera or Space Adventure. And each story in the series focuses on a different couple. JAGER features the relationship between Jager and Katrina. Katrina is the daughter of Bryce and Lalia from the first book in the series. Usually I don't include prologues in my stories, but I did with this one. So, I'm skipping past the prologue to bring you the first chapter, which has more action, and gives hints into the other three books in the series.
Enjoy the first chapter of JAGER...
“Three, two, one, go!” The gate buzzed open, and Jager led his squad into the Malarken forest on Kalara. Katrina, the most recent Defender graduate, took the lead, with Aram to the right, and Dhranash to the left. Silus, his Kalaren second, held center point, ready to down any Erebus the others missed. Bringing up the rear, Jager covered all their asses, prepared to save the members of his squad from every single holographic creature used to test their skills. After two Galactic years of training, fighting side-by-side, he expected them to work as a team. Yet, they didn’t. Princess Katrina was more interested in besting everyone, trying to prove she was just as skilled as her father who had recently retired from service. Only, she forgot about the rest of the squad, leaving them to fend for themselves. If he was honest, she was the least of his worries. The other members of the squad always wound up tangled in an Erebus’s tentacles or with one of the creatures over top of them, close to being killed by its poisonous saliva. And they’d served as Defenders for much longer.
Kimba, the former Galactic Alliance leader, must have hated him to assign him to the misfit group. But, no matter how much he’d argued, she refused to change her mind. The new Alliance leader, Granil, agreed with her predecessor. He was stuck with them and had to mold them into a cohesive squad. An impossible challenge.
As he weaved his way through the massive prickly trees whose canopy blocked out most of Kalara’s orange sun, Jager listened for his team. Not quiet at all. Erebus, with their lumbering bulky bodies, moved through the area with more grace. Dhranash squeaked with every step. If he stayed low enough, he wouldn’t feel the trees poking into him. And Aram sounded like a herd of rehn stampeding through the area. Jager covered his face with his hand. How many times would they have to run this drill before these lightweights learned how to cover the area properly?
A twig snapped behind him. Jager twisted around and raised his plazer, ready to shoot. Instead of their enemy ready to attack, he found Katrina, who had already downed the Erebus with just her blade.
She gave him a weak smile. “Sorry. It snapped the branch when it fell.”
Sorry? He yearned for the rest of his squad to be able to take the creatures down so quietly. And for them all to work together. He rolled his eyes and released a heavy breath. “How many?”
“This one makes five.” She took off before he could respond, the sound of her dark ponytail flapping in the air the only noise she made.
Five. That meant two or three more before the drill was over and he’d have to face Major O’Shaunessy for their score.
Ahead of him, Silus froze. A drop of black goop plopped onto his head, and the Defender screamed. Great, he’d reacted exactly as he was trained—if he wanted the Erebus to rush him. Jager pointed his plazer at the tree, aimed through the scope at the big blob perched in the branches, and fired.
A buzzer went off. They’d killed all the Erebus in this drill. Or, rather, Katrina had downed all but one, and he’d been lucky enough to find the other.
After holstering his plazer on his hip, he headed out of the forest, ready for more bad news. Maybe they’d take his squad from him. Maybe they’d punish him by assigning him to guard duty on the prison colony. He’d go mad within four Galactic years, but that had to be less stressful than trying to train the members of his squad. He’d forget all about them by the time he returned to Kalara.
When he reached the edge of the trees, he found his squad resting on a rock, panting, and looking as if they’d just survived an attack. Well, everyone except Katrina.
“How many?” he asked the group.
Dhranash shook his head.
“Didn’t see any, sir.” Aram shrugged her thick shoulders.
Silus put his head down. “None.”
“Cosmos.” He sighed and glanced around for Katrina. She never stuck with her squad during drills. Why would she now?
He spotted her leaning against the fence surrounding the forest, chatting with Jace, a Mingot, and a seventh-year Defender like him. His competition. They both had new squads and had to prove to the Alliance they were ready to go on missions. The new Zulu squad had already aided Echo on a humanitarian mission in the Tuey system. Probably because Katrina shared information about the drills with Jace so his team would perform better. Each drill was supposed to be different, but Jager couldn’t be sure. Katrina would do anything for the Defender who had helped saved her father when the Alliance had turned their back on him. How he wished he’d been sent instead.
No. He didn’t like Katrina. He didn’t like her fraternizing with Jace, the only Mingot he knew with hair. Perfect hair some Defenders swooned over. And he definitely didn’t like what the guy did with Katrina behind closed doors. Naf and Oflan could shove it up their asses if they believed him to be jealous of the other Defender. Because he wasn’t. Jace belonged to a different squad, and Jager wanted to keep his own squad focused without having to deal with the drama of relationships. Maybe if Katrina hung around with her own squad, they could work well together for a change. Some of her skill could rub off on the rest. Who was he kidding? The other three were hopeless.
Major O’Shaunessay motioned him over. “Your squad eliminated the enemy in record time.”
Jager did a double take. How had that happened? “Yes, sir.”
“I think you are ready for your first mission.” He handed Jager a com tab. “You’re going to Terra.”
Jager returned the screen. He couldn’t accept the mission, regardless of how much he looked forward to leaving the training facilities. “Based on what happened today, I don’t think that’s advisable. You know Katrina took down most of those Erebus. The rest of the squad is nowhere close to being ready.”
“I do not care what you think, young Kalaren.” The major crossed both sets of arms. “You will lead your squad on this mission.”
“Yes, sir.” And three of them likely wouldn’t survive. Even if it was an easy mission. Maybe he could leave them all there.
“Oh, and you will be missing one of your team members for the mission,” O’Shaunessy added. “Katrina will travel to Hemera before the carrier makes the jump to get to Terra.”
Great, his best squad member wouldn’t be a part of their first mission. He’d be lucky if he survived. “Yes, sir. When do we leave?”
“The shuttles will leave for the carrier in the morning. Until then, read the doc on your com tab and prepare your squad. The Terrans are still not aware of life beyond their own planet. No plazers. We have to be very careful.”
“Yes, sir.” Jager saluted the major, two fingers to the forehead then brought down in front of his face.
He headed back to the rock where his squad still looked as though they’d taken on an entire colony of Erebus. “Attention! I have some news.”
“Did you hear?” Katrina raced up and slapped him on the back. “We’ve got our first mission. We’re getting sent to Earth with Zulu and Echo squad.”
Jager clenched his fists. “Yes, we are.” He turned and glared at her. “But, you’re not. Your Royal Highness is required to attend a ball on Hemera.”
Her nostrils flared. “You lie. There is no way in Gaspra I’m going to miss out on our first mission.”
“Not my orders.” Jager raised his hands, hoping she took the challenge elsewhere. “That came straight from the top.”
“Well, get them changed. You can’t handle a mission without me. You know that.” She shifted her head to the rest of the squad. “These three are useless.”
“Hey!” Aram stood, fist raised. But Katrina had the Gersonian’s arm behind her before she had the chance to swing.
Katrina released her. “Admit it. You sound like an elephant barreling through the bush.”
Aram stared at the ground. “I don’t know what an elephant is.”
“Exactly. Which is why I need to be going to Earth. I mean, Terra.” Katrina grasped Jager’s lapels in her fists, yanking him forward. “I grew up there. I know the planet far better than any of you. I need to go on this mission.”
Jager clenched her wrists and tore her grip from him. “Don’t you ever do that again. I am your commanding officer, and you need to show respect.” A vein pulsed in his forehead. “And I will not change the orders. You need to reevaluate what you want away from the Defenders. You work on your own, without your team. And that’s not how a squad works.”
“Maybe if we had a better—”
“Enough, Princess. You will do as you’re told.” He’d had enough of her for one day. She could go cry to her boyfriend, but Jager wasn’t going to be the one to question Granil’s orders or Bryce’s demands. He would never deny that man anything, not after he’d saved his life.
Katrina marched off the shuttle, through the docking bay, and straight to Granil’s office. She refused to be taken away from her squad. She was a Defender, not a princess. And if they kept making her return to Hemera for stupid ceremonies, no one would ever show her any respect. Every single day, she had to prove herself, prove she could take down the Erebus just as well as the best Defenders. Yet, behind her back, she only heard the sneers at her royal lineage. No one was ever impressed by how many Erebus she eliminated, or how fast. And regardless what Jager said, she did work well with her squad. She took out their enemy while their leader kept the rest of the squad alive.
Why wasn’t he on her side? Did he really want to be stuck babysitting the other three? Couldn’t he see the danger he’d be in without her? If Katrina couldn’t change someone’s mind, she’d end up assigned to a new squad when she returned from Hemera, her current one having died on Earth. While the idea held some appeal, she actually preferred to be grouped with the misfits.
“Excuse me? Granil?” No matter how outraged she was, she didn’t dare speak to the leader of the Galactic Alliance the way she did Jager. Not if she wanted to remain a Defender. With all the special provisions her mother had demanded, the Alliance would just as soon be rid of her. She knew they only put up with her at Bryce’s request. He had served the Alliance longer than any other Defender, and they were still trying to make up for Kimba’s mistake in leaving his squad and others on Niesgoo to die.
“Come in.” The leader’s short tentacles waved before changing color from mauve to blue. She was calm, a promising start.
Katrina saluted as she entered the room. “I would like to talk to you regarding my absence from my squad’s mission to Terra.”
Granil pursed her lips. Her tentacles switched to orange and stood straight up, not a good time to confront a Yarwin. But, Katrina had no choice. “Proceed.” Though the woman’s lips kept moving. Had Katrina’s translation chip malfunctioned, or were there no English words for what she’d said?
Katrina leaned forward, her hands behind her. She didn’t dare sit in one of the seven empty seats around the leader unless offered. Those were reserved for planetary leaders. Not lowly Defenders. “I ask that you allow me to join them on the mission. I have proven myself time-and-time again. Plus, Terra was my home for many years. I can be an asset to the entire platoon.”
“While I don’t disagree with you, Katrina...” She stretched her jaw. “I am standing firm on your absence for this mission. Your presence has been requested on Hemera, and I must grant that request.”
“But shouldn’t it be up to me?” She wanted to pound something as she’d done when Kimba had been leader. Though, that time, she’d been fighting for her father’s life, rather than upset they were making her visit her parents.
“If people did what they wanted, the universe would be chaos. Sometimes we must do things we don’t agree with. That’s part of life.” Granil picked up a com tab from her desk. “You will go to Hemera, enjoy your graduation ceremony and whatever other celebrations they have planned for you. And then you will return to the carrier, train, and go on the next mission with your squad.”
When the leader’s attention turned to the tablet, Katrina knew she’d been dismissed. Fornax! Didn’t anyone understand the danger they were putting Delta squad in? They were already cursed by the squad’s name, Jager having been the only survivor after a mission to Hoggins where Bryce had saved his ass. And she was just starting to like that ass, too. Even though the person attached could be a pigheaded asshole sometimes.
Shuffling down the hall, she pounded the wall a few times. Nope, it did nothing to squash her anger. She wanted to beat on someone. Maybe her squad leader would be in the sparring room.
She spun around to find her best friend, only friend, Jace, holding her hand wraps out to her. “No. You’ve got to promise me you’ll protect them. Or just him, that’s okay.”
Jace grinned, the smile lighting up the sparkle in his eyes. “When are you going to scratch that itch? You’ve been craving a piece of him since you first arrived for training.”
“Never.” She grabbed the wraps from him. “Though if he calls me princess one more time, I’m going to shove one of these down his throat.”
“I’m sure you’d like to shove your tongue down his throat if given the option.”
She smacked her arm against Jace’s chest, knocking him back a step. “Keep it up and you’ll be first.”
He raised his hands in front of his face. “Okay, okay. Take it out on the simulation. I’ve programmed one for you. It’s all set.”
“Nah.” She frowned. “If I’m really heading to Hemera, I have to leave in an hour. I should call my sister and find out what’s happened since I was last there.”
“Not your parents?” He strolled alongside her toward the lift to Defender quarters.
“Are you kidding? They still haven’t accepted I actually want to be here. Or at least my mom hasn’t.” Katrina sighed, remembering her last conversation with the queen of Hemera. “I’ll get enough of her loving concern when I get there.”
“Well, come here.” Jace held his arms open, and she went into them, his hugs always able to relieve some of her tension. He kissed the top of her head. “I’ll see you when we all return. And I’ll guard that ass you like so much.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Thank you.”
In her room, Katrina dialed up her sister’s private line at the royal palace on Hemera. After the screen flickered, a young woman appeared, sitting on the bed that had once belonged to a precious little girl who’d lost both her parents in separate Erebus attacks. Queen Lalia had adopted her after ensuring the planet was safe from further attack, and Katrina had the sister she’d always dreamed of when growing up on Earth. But, the little girl was gone, a young woman with some obvious teenage angst in her place. “Gwenie, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Gwen.” She huffed and tilted her head to the side. “And I’ll give you one guess as to why.”
“Mom’s making you dress up again?” Something she hated, too; part of the reason she dreaded returning home.
Her sister picked up a bunch of material and threw it toward the screen. “It’s hideous. And all because you’re coming home. Because you’re officially a Defender now.”
“I hate to see what she has for me, then.” Probably something that covered every inch of her body, unlike the dress she’d worn at the coronation when her mother hadn’t had the time or opportunity to plan for anything.
“Take me with you, please!” Gwenodyn stuck out her bottom lip. “Scrym has less than a year before he’s eligible to enlist for Defender training. After that, I don’t know how I’m going to keep my sanity. They’ll smother me.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Katrina knew the feeling, had experienced her mother’s overbearing love when they’d still lived on Earth, and it had only been the two of them. Before she knew of the Defenders, her real father, and life on a multitude of other planets.
“Sneak me onto a ship. I don’t care. I’ll be quiet, stay squished in a cupboard somewhere.”
That’s it! Katrina could sneak off the ship to Hemera and sneak onto one going to Earth. Though not the one with her own squad. That would be too obvious. “We’ll see. I’ve gotta go.”
She switched off the screen. Her sister would have to wait. Katrina had to visit her real home first.
Jessica E. Subject is a USA Today bestselling author of Sci-Fi and Paranormal Romance.
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