Authors: J.J. Lore
Artist: Sour Cherry Designs
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is
No part of this book may be
used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a
work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.
Dedicated to my favorite android, Rick
I’ll have a
scotch with you anytime.
Copyright © 2014
knew he was supposed to be impressed
by the Earth United gardens, but the elaborately manicured and cultivated
landscape failed to hold his attention. He much preferred the overgrown rambles
and near-impenetrable forests of the wild areas of his native planet, Alpha.
Despite his personal preferences, he and his bondmate, Mikel, were dancing
attendance upon a score of high-ranking Alphan officers and the living
adornments that had lured them to attend yet another dull diplomatic reception.
Guarding important people deep within the one of the most impregnable building
complexes in the galaxy was apparently the best way to make an impression with
the right people, at least according to their mentor and commanding officer
. Felix found it excruciatingly
at them, circling around like flies near a
pie,” Mikel said under his breath as he wandered past. They were patrolling the
perimeter of the garden, ostensibly to guard against any threat, but the only
movement they detected was that of groomed Alphan officers approaching the cluster
of brightly dressed human women clustered near a fountain at the center of an
intricate knot garden. It was quite a contrast, the petite females with
gleaming hair dressed in flowing, colorful garments and the large, muscular men
in their grey uniforms, ornamented sprays of rank gems along their shoulders.
Both sides watched, evaluated, and exchanged hesitant interactions with each
other. How civilized.
“Not for us, eh, Mikel?”
Felix said and
was rewarded with a sly smile from his bondmate. No, they were in accord. When it
came time for them to find their mate, they’d petition to seek her out in one
of those wild and lawless provinces that Earth seemed to have in abundance,
perhaps rescue her in some spectacular fashion, and return home to Alpha with a
woman whose beauty would inspire challenge after challenge. He wanted an
adventuresome tale to impress his grandchildren with someday.
supposed they should split up and take on opposite circuits, but he wasn’t
ready to leave his companion just yet. Their new duties had consumed much of
their time lately, and he wanted to be at Mikel’s side a bit longer. This
diplomatic posting, while not as exciting as staging raids on Xyran outposts,
was a career-maker and one both he and Mikel intended to excel at. They strode
away from the knot of fluttering women and made their way towards a section of
the grounds filled with tall, blooming shrubs.
A good place
to hide if you were seeking concealment.
needing to inform the other, Felix shifted left and Mikel went right so they
would be able to circle the clump of bushes and meet behind, verifying there
was no threat within. The shrubs loomed along his shoulder, and he peered
amongst them, alert for movement, ignoring the lush, fragrant blooms in all
shades of pink. A sudden sizzle of excitement bolted through him, unspoken
communication from his bondmate that something was amiss.
and quieting his steps, Felix continued to pace and
alert for some sign of what had captured Mikel’s intense interest. Shifting
leaves, thorny stems, shadows all conspired to confuse his eyes, but as he
rounded the far corner, he saw a shape move in a deliberate manner. Perhaps a
meter and half tall, the form resembled a person, one perhaps crouched to
lessen his height as he prepared to aim and fire on the party assembled nearby.
surging, Felix leaped into the bushes just as Mikel did the same from the other
side. The lurker collapsed under their assault, and all three of them tumbled
to the lawn in a jumble of limbs and gasping breaths. He and his bondmate
coordinated their movements and soon had the intruder immobile between them.
he took a breath, Felix managed to look over their capture. Instead of dark
armor and a belt studded with weapons, the person they’d secured was wearing a
dark green hooded dress and small red boots. No muscle bound arms strained
under their hands, but rather soft, round legs quivered in his grip. As one, he
and his bondmate realized they hadn’t captured an assassin at all, but rather
had tackled one of the human women who’d merely been inspecting the flowers.
drew his hands away, aghast that he and Mikel had made such a flagrant mistake.
The woman remained huddled on the ground, her disarranged hood obscuring her
face as she moved her shaking arms up to cover her head, drawing her legs into
a curve under her skirt as if she expected to be kicked next.
pardons, lady,” Mikel said as he sat back on his heels, staring at the woman
lying between them. Felix reached out to uncover her head so she could see they
were no threat and she flinched as he touched the soft cloth.
mean you no harm.” Felix blinked as he saw her face for the first time. A
pointed chin anchored a pale, heart-shaped face while wide green eyes stared at
him, then slanted towards Mikel as she bit at her full pink lips. His heart
skipped a beat even as he sensed Mikel’s similar reaction. She was the most
beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
she didn’t reciprocate, for she scrambled her feet in the grass and scuttled
further away from them, until her back was pressed against the rough branches
of a nearby shrub. Without thinking Felix reached out to draw her away from
what had to be a painful obstacle, and she jerked back with a rapid intake of
breath. She seemed to be terrified of them, and the absurdity of it confounded
him. As if either he or his bondmate would ever think to harm her. But she
wouldn’t know that, and she’d just been pummeled by them for the simple act of
smelling a flower.
stared at her transfixed, his golden eyes wide, and Felix knew he’d have to
speak and ease her fears.
are you injured?”
breath heaved in and out as she shook her head. Framed as she was by the lovely
blooms, Felix was reminded of some benevolent goddess lounging in her verdant
If only he could see her hair, still concealed by the
He itched to slide the fabric from her head, wanted to draw her
closer so he could study her skin, perhaps brush his fingertips against her
wrist or cheek.
apologize for our rough treatment—”
are tasked with security for this gathering and misapprehended your purpose
here among the shrubs.” Mikel cut in, and Felix stared at his normally quiet
bondmate. “What is your name? We are Mikel and Felix of the
lately transferred from forward combat service to the diplomatic corps. We hold
the rank of centurion first class, and our fitness tests are consistently in
the top five percent of our cohort.”
the end of this wordy statement, Mikel placed his hand over his heart and bowed
his head in as courtly a manner one could while crouched on a lawn. Still taken
aback by his bondmate’s expressiveness, Felix copied the gesture, anxious to
learn her name. She merely stared for a beat,
struggled to her feet, adjusting her gown and pulling her hood forward to
conceal her features. Springing up, Felix rushed to her side, his hand hovering
near her elbow as he struggled with what to do next. With a quick glance up at
him, she ducked her shoulder and stepped aside, dodging around Mikel who’d
risen to flank her. Without a word, she trotted in the direction of the party
of women who were now moving in a graceful parade toward a bright white
pavilion where light meal was to be served.
wanted to sit back down and collect his wayward thoughts, but identifying her
was a more pressing matter. Mikel was already on the move, trailing her through
the topiaries, fortunately not crowding close and startling her again. Felix
watched her disappear among the other
gown soon lost among pinks, yellows, and purples as the cluster mounted the
steps and disappeared inside the building. Before Mikel could follow along, a
band of Alphan officers high in the diplomatic mission brought up the rear,
effectively blocking out both his bondmate and him. Before they could ascend
and join the gathering, a familiar voice called out their names.