Authors: Amy A. Bartol
ooks by Amy A. Bartol
The Kricket Series
Under Different Stars: Volume 1
Sea of Stars: Volume 2
Darken the Stars: Volume 3
(coming in 2015)
The Premonition Series
Inescapable: Volume 1
Intuition: Volume 2
Indebted: Volume 3
Incendiary: Volume 4
Iniquity: Volume 5
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Amy A. Bartol
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
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Cover design by MaeIDesign
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014953732
For Shelly Crane: may all the stars align for you.
the dark spaces of every residence of the Alameeda Brotherhood, the ghostly half-light of holographic projectors simultaneously flickers on. A Star of Destiny—official symbol of the Alameeda Brotherhood—appears as a three-dimensional image within the glowing confines of the projectors. The sapphire star is on the verge of going supernova. Turning in circles, its pale pink carbon dust and silver solar flares reach out with scorching color from its surface. As the transmission strengthens, silent, strobing screams of light burst forth from the image of the Star of Destiny until it speaks.
“Brothers,” the transmission begins, as a ripple of blue fire vibrates from the star, “we who comprise the strongest, bravest, and the most intelligent men in the history of our world. We stand together as a unified force of destiny. In this, our most monumental moment, we teeter upon the precipice of a new dawn: the rise of the House of Alameeda.
“Just as Black Math, the ancient plague that decimated the population of Ethar, formed the five houses of our planet known to us all as: Alameeda, Wurthem, Peney, Comantre, and Rafe, we are poised to dismantle all who oppose Alameeda’s supremacy. Like points of a star, the five clan-houses have always been diametrically opposed. This opposition is a weakness—it denies our right to rule over all inferior creatures; it makes us complicit. The time has come for Alameeda to take our place as the one true star of destiny. The Supreme Alameeda Brotherhood, rightful heirs to the kingdom of Ethar, keepers and safeguarders of the vessels of the one true race, decree that a New World Order will come to pass. It was prophesied by our race of priestesses that we are sworn to protect. The signs they have given to us are clear. The stars of fate have aligned.
“The priestess, born of two worlds and of two houses, has returned to Ethar as prophesied. Kricket Valke, the stolen daughter of our order, is a hostage in the House of Rafe. The Rafe Regent, Manus Grayson, has repeatedly ignored our attempts to negotiate for her safe return. This pretender of power has allowed for the degradation of our priestess by attaching the taint of the Hollowell name to her. His insanity has not ended there. The weakling Regent has had the audacity to think himself worthy of an Alameeda priestess, touting a false engagement to her with malicious intent to demean and deny our claim of ownership of her. He has sought to use her genetically engineered gift of precognition, a trait she inherited through our bloodline, against her creators. For this offense alone, he has earned the penalty of death.
“Last evening, the Rafe Regent’s crimes against Alameeda were met with swift and righteous justice. Our attack and infiltration of the Rafe palace in the Isle of Skye has left Manus Grayson critically wounded. We will not stop until he is dead. It is our intent to eradicate him from the face of Ethar, along with his entire house and all of his subjects. Anything short of the House of Rafe’s complete and utter annihilation is unacceptable for the grave insult they have dealt to our Supreme Brotherhood. The prophecy will be fulfilled: one House of Ethar will fall.
“The House of Rafe.
“One House will rule.
“The House of Alameeda.
“A warning will be issued to any House that harbors Kricket Valke: ‘Return her to us or you will meet the same fate as the House of Rafe. She’s our rightful property. We created her bloodline. We own her: body, mind, and soul. She is the intended consort of Kyon Ensin, Supreme Brother and heir to the seat of the Loch of Cerulean. Any failure to meet our demands will seal your agonizing fate.’
“This, Brothers, is our declaration of war.”
efore me, sunlight warms the wall-length window as it streams into Trey’s living quarters. An enormous expanse of blue sky stretches out ahead. I exhale a deep breath, assessing Rafe’s floating fortress—this Ship of Skye. Beneath the window, the levitating city hustles. Massive, glossy skyscrapers of silver alloy and glass jut upward from the base of the ship. My gaze travels with them from the two-hundred-and-some-odd floors below me until I tilt my head back and lose the edifices to the ceiling above. Hoards of skiffs, the ultrafast hovercars, bustle around the buildings on amethyst-lit tracks of air. Everyone and everything here moves at a brisk, urban pace—a sharp contrast to the Regent’s palace where I used to reside. There, sedate grace is valued over efficiency.
Several dark-winged fighters and slashing silver troop-movers cast dragon silhouettes over the arbors of grass on the open mall outside. Flying between the Ship of Skye’s tall buildings and spires, the fire-breathers push upward from the ship’s half-sphere base. White vapor trails evaporate like smoky breath in their wake while they patrol the area for any sign of an Alameeda attack. The antimissile guns, mounted strategically within the parapets of the Ship of Skye, track the fighters’ progression too, even though they’re Rafe ships. The
s from the guns vibrate the windowpane, indicating that no one here is taking anything at face value.
My stomach clenches with fear as I listen to the hum of the aircraft. The sound resembles that of the Alameeda warships that swarmed the palace last night; my hand trembles on the glass. I focus on the clouds beyond the edge of the city to calm myself. They’re so thick that if I knew how to swim I might attempt it within their depths.
As Trey paces near me, his image in the glass becomes sharper. I turn and lean my back against the window, crossing my arms over my chest. He moves in front of a white-cushioned, horseshoe-shaped divan. It’s built into the sunken, recessed level of his impressive apartment. This area, divided from the main floor by a few black marble steps, is a gathering area for entertaining. Above our heads is a glass balcony that overlooks this common area from his bedroom. It has an amazing view of the wall of glass behind me.
When Trey pauses in his pacing for a moment, the shadows from the violence of yesterday are visible in his eyes—a new world-weary look that I haven’t seen from him until now. The blind faith in his mission that was there when I first met him is absent. I’ve been the catalyst for that change. When he found me in Chicago, he was so certain that he was doing the right thing by remanding me back to Ethar, the planet and culture from which my parents hid me. He was a soldier then, one who just wanted to accomplish his mission and move on to the next thrill. Now he has doubts—I’ve caused him to worry—I’ve caused him to change.
Trey’s frown deepens as he listens to the communicator pressed to his ear. Whatever Wayra is telling him is not something he wants to hear. The frustration is clear in his tense shoulders as he resumes pacing back and forth. He’s been like this ever since my scheduled meeting with Skye Council this morning was abruptly canceled without explanation. Not long after that, Trey had received a message on his communicator. He wouldn’t show it to me, but it had him sending Jax and Wayra, my other military bodyguards, away to facilitate a meeting with Head Defense Minister Vallen, Trey’s boss. Now Wayra must have some information to report, since he’s been briefing Trey for several minutes.
Frustrated or not by Trey’s refusal to share his earlier message with me, I can hardly keep my eyes off him. My foray to the window has garnered only a brief respite from my need to track his every movement. The creases between his brows deepen. I want to reach out and smooth the furrow, then trace the lines of the thick, black tribal tattoos that run from his throat, beneath his pressed uniform, to his broad chest and over his flat-muscled abdomen. I want to rest my cheek against his chest—hear the sinfully melodic beat of his heart. Maybe if I did, it’d stop me from worrying about our uncertain future.
“Keep me informed, Wayra,” Trey barks, his lips straightening in a grim line. “The moment you know something, contact me.” He ends the communication with his thumb to its screen. Staring at nothing at all for a moment, he’s lost in thought. Then his violet-colored eyes, an almost universal Rafian trait, connect with mine. My heart stutters to a halt before taking off again at a dangerous beat, leaving me breathless.
He’s so handsome it hurts
, I think.
He relaxes a little, his hand plowing through his short, dark hair, making it less militarily precise and more sexy and unkempt. I like it like that; it makes me want to entwine my fingers in it and muss it up some more. His ruggedly attractive face loses its scowl as he studies me in the same manner that I’m studying him. A blush heats my cheeks; I’m suddenly fidgety. I tuck the long strands of my blond hair behind my ear.
“What’s going on, Trey?” I ask him in a soft murmur.
“I’m not sure.” The edginess in his tone, although subtle, is apparent to me. “I’m attempting to find out.” That’s not exactly true. He may not be sure, but he has an idea of what’s happening, and I’d bet it has something to do with the message he received earlier. I’d also bet that it’s extremely bad, whatever it is, because he’s being tight-lipped about it. I witnessed his expression in the moments after viewing the message. Gone was the sultry air with which his eyes had followed me. It has been replaced by a protective, almost possessive mien that has me worried.
I sigh. “Okay, you must have forgotten that I know when someone’s lying—it’s one of my special, freaky priestess gifts, remember—the one you love to use until it becomes inconvenient for you? You can try to throw me off, but even half-truths ring false with me. So, what do you
is happening?” I rephrase my question.
Trey gives a low, sexy growl of frustration as he approaches me with a stealthy gait. I love the way he moves—confident and in control. He stops in front of me. I have to tip my head back so I can see his face. Grasping the lapels of the black uniform jacket he gave me to wear this morning, he straightens my collar and tweaks the line of matte black buttons down my front so that I have an immaculate, military rightness to my look. He’s not even really touching me and it’s doing crazy things to my insides. No one has ever affected me like he does. “All of this would be so much easier if I could lie to you,” he states.
“It would, would it?” I ask, giving him a flirty smile, trying a different tactic with him to cajole the information from him. My finger comes up to trace the buttons of his Cavar uniform. I like him in it. When he was my bodyguard at the palace, he wore plain clothes to fit in. Dressed in a gennet’s rank, with silver pins on his collar in the shape of saers—the saber-toothed tiger that are a symbol of Rafe—he looks even more formidable than normal.
“I never want to lie to you—”
“Good, because you can’t,” I interrupt.
“But,” he goes on, “I like frightening you even less, so until I understand exactly what’s going on to explain it to you, I’d rather not discuss what little I know at the moment.”
He’s been treating me like I’m breakable ever since our arrival here last night. I’ve been trying my best to act normal, but everything from our location to our hard-fought relationship is still so new. I’d spent last night with him—talking mostly, exchanging a few kisses. He had let me cry on his shoulder; he’d wiped away my tears, keeping the memories of the massacre in the palace ballroom yesterday at bay. I’d fallen asleep in his arms.
“Is it the Alameeda? Have they done something else?” I try to be nonchalant, but the shudder that runs through me belies my words. It’s beyond my control to stop it. No matter what I claim, I’m still half in shock from last night and more than terrified of them. I stabbed Kyon. Neither he, nor they, will let that go unanswered.
“Shh.” Trey’s large hand brushes my cheek. He entwines his fingers in my hair. The warmth of his body manages to calm my fears a little, if not my racing heart—that increases by the sheer nearness of him. “I missed you, Kricket. Every second of every rotation that we were apart was torture.”
My breath catches, and I have to wait a moment before I can respond. If he’s bent on distracting me from my thoughts of the Alameeda, he’s done it. “It was the same for me,” I admit, laying my hand on his hip. My touch affects him as well. He bites his bottom lip, giving me a devouring look.
Inhaling the scent of my hair, Trey’s cheek skims mine. The sensation makes my insides come alive with desire. His soft breath falls on my ear. The deep vibration of his voice sends a wave of pleasure through me again. “I promise that it’ll be you and me from this moment forward—whatever happens.”
I fall into his embrace as if he’s my home. “Things are really bad, aren’t they? What are we going to do?”
He leans down and presses his lips to mine. It elicits a soft gasp from me. My lips part, and the ache of desire he creates with his kisses clouds my thoughts. “I know what we’re not going to do, Kricket,” his sultry voice assures me. “We’re not going to allow anyone to come between us again.”
His strong hand on my back travels down me; it glides over my bottom to the back of my thighs. Trey picks me up in his arms, continuing to kiss me as he takes me over to the cushioned divan. As he sits, I sink onto his lap. Shifting in his arms, I straddle his hips; my form-fitting black slacks slide against his thighs as I settle upon them. My hands rest around the nape of his neck. Both of Trey’s hands come up to hold my face. He gently pulls away from me to look in my eyes. “I need you to do something, Kricket,” he says.
“Anything,” I murmur, shivering when his thumb traces my bottom lip. My platinum blond hair spills over his thick forearms, blanketing them.
He keeps his tone deliberately calm as he says, “I want you to try to see the future.”
He’s never asked me to do that before
, my mind whispers. I tense. “I don’t know if I can—it just happens—you’ve seen it—”
He stops my stuttering by leaning forward and kissing me again. Uncertainty and fear fall away, replaced by desire. He ends our kiss to say against my lips, “I know that in the past you’ve had no control over what you see in the future or when you see it. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll have to take things as they come. But if you can use your gift of precognition, we might have an advantage and an opportunity to change the future if we need to.”
I pull back from him farther so I can read his eyes better. “You’re really worried.”
He doesn’t deny it; he just waits for my answer.
I chew on my bottom lip. “Okay. So—the future? Anything in particular you wanna see?” I smile and tease, “Like—” my eyes glance up at the ceiling as I think “—will I meet a tall, handsome stranger in my future?” My breath curls out of me in an icy plume of smoky air, choking off the rest of my teasing. I’m disoriented, but I don’t leave my body like I have in the past when I go to the future. This is different. My consciousness isn’t ripped from me.
With my hands cuffed behind me, I’m restrained to the high-backed seat as I gauge the man approaching me. The grim expression on his handsome face as he draws his arm back squeezes my heart in my chest, causing it to ache. The open-palm slap to my cheek from his rough hand makes my face turn away from him. Blood sprays outward through my parted lips in an array of red. If I hadn’t been in a fight before, the sting of it might’ve shocked me. I never know whether to clench my teeth or loosen my jaw when I see it coming. If I clench my teeth, I usually end up with a few loose ones. If I loosen my jaw, I run the risk of biting down on the soft, fleshy tissue inside and shredding a hole in it. The best thing to do would be to duck, but that would be counterintuitive, since I want him to hit me.
His green eyes lean near mine; his breath is warm on my rapidly swelling skin. “Does a priestess feel pain?” he asks.
Lowering my forehead, I drive it into his nose, hearing it crack as blood spurts out to spatter my cheeks and his. As I reel with dizziness and an aching skull, I try to smile when I murmur, “Yes. Do you?”
When I become lucid once more, Trey’s smile of encouragement is gone, replaced by a look of deep-seated concern. My hand reaches up to touch my throbbing cheek. I wince. With one hand on my hip, he gently squeezes my side. “Kricket, are you all right? What just happened?”
“I don’t know,” I answer. Holding my head in my hands, it aches for a second with remembered pain from a dream, and then the pain is gone.
“Did you see something? You didn’t lose consciousness, but you feel like ice.” He rubs my arms, attempting to make them warm.
Was that the future?
I wonder. “How long was I like that?”
“Twenty, maybe thirty seconds. Are you okay?”
“I’m . . . fine.” I opt for a truthful answer. I
fine right now. If I have another freaky blipisode, I won’t be; but for right this second, I’m okay. “I saw something: it was like a different film spliced into the movie of my real life, but with sound and the sensation of getting my head bashed in.” I quickly relate to him what I saw.