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Authors: Deidre Knight

Parallel Fire

BOOK: Parallel Fire
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Dedication

To a true warrior in my life, someone whose strength inspires me daily—my sister, Pamela Harty.

 

And to a sexy man who I'd gladly be marooned with in the wilderness
any day
—my husband, Judson Knight.

 

I love you both very much!

Prologue

Every face in the meeting room was turned toward her, every leader, every lieutenant staring at Anna in cool appraisal. She sucked in a steadying breath as the meeting room doors were closed behind them, and came to attention in front of Lieutenant Nevin Daniels, giving him a crisp salute that he returned. After seventeen years as part of her king's most elite band of royal protectors, the Madjin Circle, it seemed almost impossible to believe that she was on trial before their top security advisor.

Well, it wasn't precisely a trial, not really—her king had forgiven her deception, as well as that of the other protectors who had been fighting in their king, Jared Bennett's, midst, never revealing their true identities to him. She'd hated that secretive existence, but she'd been pledged and branded as a royal protector at the tender age of twelve; that meant you obeyed your Madjin unit leader implicitly, didn't ask questions. You followed directives in order to protect your king and commander—even without his knowing, if need be.

Oh, yes, her king's advisors expected debriefing; they anticipated answers and revelations. With a glance across the table before her, she wondered how this meeting would go, with her in the proverbial hot seat. There were too many people gathered; too much pressure rode on this single moment. If only the long table weren't populated with so many of those from their top leadership.

Nevin Daniels, the highest-ranking officer in the room—the fourth within their overall command, to be exact—glanced down at an open dossier spread on the table before him, and without looking up said, “At ease, Lieutenant.”

She released a tense breath, one that she hadn't even realized she'd been holding.

“You know why you're here before us today, correct?” Daniels continued.

“Yes, sir. To describe the activities of the Madjin, and in particular my role within the Circle.”

“Very well.” He closed the folder, glancing upward. “Let's begin.”

And so it was that Anna found herself staring into the darkest, most arresting pair of Refarian eyes that she had ever seen. Eyes she'd known for much of her life; ones that belonged to a man who was her chief interrogator this day.

Lieutenant Nevin Daniels had first come to the palace back on Refaria when she was only a girl. Powerful, absolutely radiating authority and privilege, he wasn't exactly the sort who put you at ease. Because he and Anna lived in the same lodge, ate at the same table, served beside one another daily here in the Wyoming compound…well, his untouchable beauty had always left her edgy and uncomfortable.

“Lieutenant,” he started calmly, a semi-scowl on his face, “please explain the details of your initiation into the Madjin Circle.”

Nevin kept talking, but she couldn't seem to hear a word he said. And it was completely his fault, no question about it. Those ridiculously long-lashed eyes of his, the swarthy skin that contrasted exotically with the silver in his hair, the high cheekbones—the man's looks were enough to distract even the toughest of female soldiers.

Pressing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath and began. “I was tapped for the Madjin when I was a little girl. My mother and father were part of the Circle, my grandparents before them, and on back up the line.”

“A family inheritance,” Daniels noted thoughtfully.

She couldn't help but smile with pride. “Always.”

One of the under-lieutenants transcribed the interview into his handheld, working feverishly to capture her answers.

“How old, Lieutenant?” Nevin reviewed some notes on his own handheld. “I am told that six is the first age for a Madjin to enter the service?”

“It varies, sir—but we are given the brand at twelve.”

“The brand?” His left eyebrow lifted a millimeter.

“Right here.” She tapped the inside of her wrist. “It's an energized tattoo.”

“Hidden?” His voice assumed a slightly husky sound, as if her invisible Madjin emblem were something dangerous and sexy. As if the very thought of her revealing it to him were an automatic turn-on.

Yet when she looked up, he seemed perfectly composed.

I'd just love to get this guy to fall apart at my hands. To make him scream my name and show me what he's really made of
. A flush crept down her cheeks and into her neck.

For a split second, Nevin's black eyebrows quirked together. “Are you all right, Lieutenant Draekus?”

Gods, he must be able to see how I'm blushing.
She swallowed, suppressing a smile. “More than fine, sir.”

“Very well, may I see this mark of the Madjin, then?”

Her blush intensified. “See my mark?” she almost squeaked, glancing anxiously at the roomful of advisors and officers. Nevin tracked with her, noting the eight others sitting around him.

He leaned back into his chair, appraising her. His gaze lingered for a long moment on her flushed face. “That is what would be expected, would it not?”

With one more sweep about the room, she bowed her head. “It's…personal. Deeply personal.”

“But if it cannot verify your claim, then what is the point of the mark?”

She chewed on her lip, staring at the polished hardwood flooring between them. “I will show my king, but no one else.”

“You aren't willing to reveal it to me.” It was a statement of fact, edged with the slightest hint of anger. But then he lifted a hand, issued several quiet commands, and the other lieutenants and advisors at the table stood, preparing to make their exit. Nevin nodded to several of the departing officers, and only once the door had closed quietly on the two of them, did he return his gaze to hers.

“Now you will show this mark of the Madjin to me.”

She hesitated a moment, then stepped closer, placed both hands on the edge of the table that separated them, and leaned toward him. “It's my energy, sir. It's more than just a mark…it's my
energy.
Surely you understand how personal that is.”

Without meaning to, she made a small cry of frustration and embarrassment, and Daniels jolted visibly at the quiet sound. This time, the advisor's own dark cheeks reddened slightly, and he shifted in his chair. He gave a stern, considering nod. “Very well. We will arrange for a meeting with the commander.”

“Thank you, sir.” She exhaled in relief, and for a split-second their gazes locked, and she swore—damn it, it had to be—that the unflappable, stoic lieutenant smiled suggestively at her. Just a hint of the way his mouth tilted sideways, something about how his thick-lashed eyes lowered almost imperceptibly.

“One's energy can, of course, be quite personal,” he agreed, “although it depends on the individual.” His keen black eyes narrowed, danger glittering in their depths. “You strike me as a woman with a very powerful, intense…amount of it.”

Anna's mouth fell slack, the burning in her face spread to every extremity, and she stumbled a step backward. Why would Daniels have chosen this particular instance to dismantle every bit of her self-composure and pride when it came to interacting with him? Was it some sort of strategy or maneuver intended to fluster her and thereby learn Madjin secrets?

“You strike me the same way, sir,” she fired off without thinking—and only when the words were out of her mouth did she realize that she'd just flirted with her commanding officer. “I mean, I'm just saying, that…well, you have so much power. Personal power. Energy—”

“Anna, I understand.” Nevin shocked her by laughing softly, a slow rumbling sound that began deep within his chest. She had never—not once in the past six years of living in the compound with the lieutenant—heard him laugh. “I understand, and you certainly flatter a man like me, so obviously in his maturity.”

All Refarian males entered their maturity by their mid-forties, some quite a bit earlier. It was the time when they could no longer sire children—a transformation that came for the
male
Refarians, not the females—and was said to be marked by intense sexual compulsions and drives.

“Sir, you may have matured, but”—she hesitated, grasping for the right words—“you still seem perfectly virile to me.”

“Virile.” His eyes sparkled mischievously. “For a mature man, that's quite the way to put it.”

“You're still very young. Not even forty, right?”

He shot her a cocky glance. “Thirty-eight next month.”

“Then virile should be the perfect word.”

He laughed faintly. “Except, as it seems, when it comes to siring children.”

“But the rumors, sir…they all indicate that mature men are—”

He raised a confident hand, silencing her. “Please, Lieutenant Draekus.”

Oh, gods above
, she swore inwardly,
what was I thinking?
To have discussed her commanding officer's sexuality—his life change—even his potential prowess in bed? And at a moment when she should have been showing more respect than usual? Damn, she was losing it for real.

Draping his arm over the chair beside him, he regarded her for a long moment. She noticed that his breathing seemed to have increased slightly, and felt her own pulse skitter to a crazy hyper-drive tempo. “I like a soldier who speaks her mind plainly.” His moody eyes narrowed. “I have always admired this about you, Anna Draekus.”

She inclined her head. “Thank you, sir. I'm sorry, sir, if I offended you in any way. I don't know what got into me; please just forgive me for any disrespect—”

“Look at me, Anna,” he half-whispered, and she managed—somehow—to meet his gaze.

He leaned forward in his chair, his breathing slightly heavy. Suddenly, the man staring back at her seemed completely at odds with the intense, reserved one she'd been serving underneath for so long. This Nevin Daniels didn't seem unknowable or cool—he seemed as sensuous and dangerous as she'd just suggested he might be. He opened his mouth, about to say something, but then closed it, glancing away from her.

When he looked at her again, the devouring, seductive look had faded from his voice and expression—vanished like a whisper on the Wyoming wind. “Shall you enlighten us as to your role back on Refaria?” he continued, as if nothing had just transpired between the two of them. Just like that, and the interview resumed. No more flirtatious look, no more half-glimpse of the sun. Only cool, officious Lieutenant Nevin Daniels staring back at her.

And she'd be damned if she wouldn't find her way behind that rigid self-composure of his once again.

 

 

 

Nevin stared into the mirror of the athletic facility, dripping with sweat. After his interview with Lieutenant Draekus he'd been infused with so much heat and lust, he'd hit the workout area in an effort to expend at least some percentage of that roiling need. Routinely, he did everything in his power to avoid her: Ate at the opposite end of the dining table from her, passed by the recreation area if he observed her in it. Only on rare occasions were they forced to work together, and without fail he never had a word to say to the woman; he was always tied in knots, unable to find a way to tease or flirt or even speak with her. And without fail, those interactions always left him wound this tight, as if his body were a sensual volcano that only she controlled.

Of course, his first breakthrough would have happened in the meeting chamber, he thought ruefully, as he toweled off his bare chest, then his silver hair. His face was flushed from running; he'd just spent an hour and a half on the track that looped the top side of the hangar, sprinting for at least half of that time. Friday night meant that the place had been emptied, and so he'd pushed himself to the very limit, every step meant to exorcise Anna Draekus from his thoughts and body once and for all.

Nothing
ever
worked.

And she had absolutely no idea that he'd spent years near her, totally infatuated beyond reason. What an embarrassment for one of the king's highest advisors; he was hardly better than a fledgling entering his first season—and gods knew he was old enough to know better. Plenty old enough.

Disgusted with his paralyzing inaction, he'd finally resolved to make a move on her early last year—but had entered his maturity unexpectedly. That first morning, gazing at his newly silvering hair, he'd known he could never make a suitable mate, not for someone as young and vivacious as Anna. He was only thirty-seven then, entering his change far earlier than was usual for the male of their species, but she had to be a decade younger than he, at the very least. That kind of age gap—and his inability to prove a proper mate—well, it had been enough to cause him to forget any plans of taking action with Anna.

BOOK: Parallel Fire
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