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Authors: J.J. Lore

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BOOK: Unexpected
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They
turned away from their quarry and faced Commandant Ivar, their proximate
commanding officer, who was ambling along the path, the star sapphires denoting
royal service glittering along his shoulders.

“Centurions of
Tauride
,
anything to report?”

Felix
briefly considered mentioning the portentous meeting they’d just shared, but
realized it was too new and fragile to air in front of anyone other than Mikel.
And the nameless woman.
He definitely wanted to talk
with her at length. As soon as he discovered who she was.

“No, sir.
All has been
quiet,” Felix said even as he edged toward the stairs. Someone might commandeer
her attention at any moment, and the thought of another man sharing a word with
her was like a phase bolt to his nerves.

“Excellent.
I’m here to relieve you and send you on to your next assignment,” Commandant
Offen
said as he strode past them to the base of the
stairs. “Prince
Edem
is going out in ten minutes, and
I volunteered you both to provide a personal security escort, so you have just
enough time to get to his rooms before he leaves. It’s a good opportunity to
make a favorable impression among the royal retinue.”

Felix’s
heart sank. This was the worst possible timing, but orders were orders. He
risked a glance at Mikel and saw his bondmate absolutely frowning. Expressing
any sort of reaction to a superior officer’s words was something Mikel had
never done. Felix fought the urge to scowl as well.

Ivar
didn’t appear to notice. Instead, he sketched a salute and hopped up the stairs
to enter the pavilion. Mikel hissed out a breath and stared after him.

“I
want to talk with her, Felix.”

“I
do, too. We’ll find her tomorrow at the women’s quarters.”

“How?
We don’t even
know her name. She’s probably already been dazzled by some admiral and his
bond. How could anyone resist pursuing her?” His bondmate’s longing questions
echoed Felix’s own concerns. But Prince
Edem
was
their responsibility now, and he had to trust fate that she wouldn’t fall under
the spell of another Alphan pair in the hours it would take before they could
see her again.

“Come,
let us attend to the prince’s needs and then spend the evening discovering what
we can about her, the better to be prepared to present our suit tomorrow.”

Mikel’s
eyes lit up, and he leaned closer. “So you felt it, too? She fits us, doesn’t
she?”

Felix
nodded. Utterly unexpectedly, they’d found a connection with a woman under
their very noses. As far as he was concerned, he never needed to visit Earth
again; their prize was already found.

“She
does. The timing is good. She can help us select our permanent quarters, and we
can take on management of an estate, which will please our families. With her
input, we can be sure all will be to her liking.” After returning home from
this assignment, they would be assigned to the royal service, and they needed
to find a permanent home in Alpha’s capital city soon. Just thinking of having
a place to call their own, to be joined by the woman who would complete their
bond, made Felix’s steps light as he walked to the Alphan apartments, Mikel at
his side. Soon to be living in the finest city in the galaxy, holding positions
of rank, being mentored by a powerful man like Ivar, and best of all, finding
her
. All their hopes and dreams were
coming true, sooner than they’d expected and in an amusing manner he couldn’t
wait to recount to their families.

****

Alisa
Sorrel knew she needed to leave her room. She was committed to overseeing the
care of the new vegetable garden on the grounds of the Earth United compound,
and the women and children sheltered there were looking forward to enjoying the
familiar produce of their lost homelands: tomatoes, cucumbers,
courgettes
,
aubergines
. She, like
every other inhabitant in these re-purposed halls and corridors, had been
kidnapped by alien raiders from their former homes, most of which were brutal
and dangerous places, disintegrating just like most of Earth’s governments and
climate. They hadn’t really had a home to return to, but the
Alphans
who had re-captured them out in the vast reaches of
space had insisted Earth’s governments provide some sort of
 
refuge for them. After her disturbing
encounter the day before, she was finding it difficult to locate enough courage
to open the door of her safe haven and venture out into the wide corridors and
public spaces of the settlement.

She
blamed it on the
Alphans
. Those big brutes who’d
tackled her the day before had frightened her so terribly she’d gone numb, and
then every cell in her body had vibrated. She’d fled them as quickly as she
could, but the memory of their hands on her body, the low tone of their voices,
still echoed inside. She’d spent a restless night, jerking awake every time her
dozing mind had replayed the scene. All morning as she’d tried to stick to her
routine, she’d made mistakes, dropping her mug of tea, biting her lip when she
chewed her cereal, putting her boots on the wrong feet. It was their fault,
those two hulking
Taurides
.
Bondmates,
obviously in tune with each other.
Equally muscular
and alert, clad in the midnight blue of royal security.
Amber eyes,
thick black hair, square jaws.
If you liked that sort of
thing.
Which she certainly didn’t.
With an
impatient shake of her head, she forced herself to approach her door, touch the
handle, and turn. Just as she did, there was a loud knock at her door, and she
jumped back with a squeak. Was it the bondmates, come to track her down and lay
hands upon her again?

“Who
is it?” Her voice quavered, and she hated herself for it.

“Mistress
Sorrel, it is
Mak
.” The old
Alphan’s
familiar voice broke through her frozen nerves, and she opened the door to find
the retired warrior waiting, inclining his greying head with a slight bow.

She
gave him a quick smile. He was one of her favorite
Alphans
by far, quiet, thoughtful, and absolutely vigilant when it came to keeping the
women’s quarters free of ardent visitors.

He
shook his head when she gestured for him to enter, his curving horns catching
the light. “No, mistress, it isn’t proper. I’m merely here to alert you to the
presence of visitors making formal petition to speak with you in the reception
hall.”

Formal petition?
To speak with her?
Alisa shook her head slowly, unable to
come up with anyone who would want to see her who wasn’t already in the
building. She had some friends among the refugee women here, and liked all the
children, but none of them would ask to see her in reception. They’d simply
come to her door as
Mak
had done.

“Who
would need to see me there?”

“They
say you met yesterday, at the garden reception.
Two young
stalwart centurions.”

She’d
spoken with no one in particular at that event, avoiding as much socializing as
possible and had gone merely because it was being held in a rarely opened part
of the grounds and she’d wanted to see the fabled heirloom roses for herself.
They had been wonderful and more beautiful than she’d imagined, until those …
oh no
.

“What
are their names?”

“Felix and Mikel of the
Tauride
.”
Mak
watched
her closely, alert to her mood.

She
sucked in a deep breath and told herself to calm. The men had startled her,
disturbed her to be sure, but they hadn’t harmed her and had apologized for
their hasty action. They weren’t here to grab her again. “Did they say their
purpose?”

Mak
gave a shake of his head and
narrowed his eyes. “Do you wish me to dismiss them, mistress? I will at your
request.”

He
would, Alisa knew, but there was some hesitation in his manner that stopped her
from agreeing to that course. She was a merely a visitor here, on some measure
of sufferance, and there would be no benefit from creating enemies among the
powerful
Alphans
who forced Earth’s leaders to
shelter her here rather than toss her back into a lawless camp. She was well
aware that human women were a strategic asset to the disproportionately male
Alphan population, both for population growth and the more mystical concept of
bonding. All she knew was that many of her fellow refugees had formed
attachments to Alphan men and had left the residence to start new lives on
Alpha or even more far-flung worlds. Nothing forced, but the sense that she was
a commodity remained every time she ventured out among them. Golden eyes
assessing, tactical brains plotting what she power might bring to a bonded pair
of warriors. It was exhausting to be evaluated and found wanting compared to
vivacious blondes and outgoing redheads. She rarely put herself in those
situations, but the flowers had beckoned too strongly to resist yesterday.

“No.
I will see them and conclude whatever business they think we have in common.”

Mak
smiled at her agreement, and she
walked by his side down the corridor and into the reception hall. It was a high
ceilinged room with pale grey and tan tiled walls and floors. Formerly a large
lecture hall, it now held groups of sofas and chairs and low tables scattered
about.
Mak
approached his desk, and two large men
turned at their approach, their handsome features schooled into blandness.
Despite their outward calm, a sudden wave of excitement rolled over her. Not
hers, for she was anxious and looking for an escape. No, she was picking up on
the restrained anticipation of Mikel and Felix
Tauride
,
and it was unnerving.

The
two tall men bowed their heads in synchrony as she stopped a meter away from
them, suddenly regretting her decision to see them. Both Felix and Mikel
towered over her, and their impressive physiques were apparent under the closely
tailored uniforms they wore. Wide shoulders, thick arms, massive legs, the two
Alphans
looked like they could toss a sofa back and forth
between them without strain. She felt puny and helpless in comparison, which
was an unusual sensation since she was solidly built by any standard. They
wouldn’t hurt her.
Mak
would never have brought her
to them if he’d sensed any harm might come to her.

“A
pleasure to see you again, Alisa Sorrel,” the bold one, Felix said with a
slight smile, his gaze never leaving her face. She suddenly wished she was
wearing a long robe rather than the trim trousers and tunic she preferred for
gardening.

“How
did you learn my name?”

“Through
diligent inquiry, lady,” Mikel informed her as he gestured for her to take a
seat at a nearby chair. After a quick glance at
Mak
,
who situated himself at his centrally located desk so he could observe, she
sank down into the soft leather chair to find an Alphan soon crouched at either
side, hemming her in with their muscles and heat. “We spoke with everyone we
knew who’d been in attendance yesterday and managed to piece together who you
were. As soon as duty permitted, we came to retrieve you—”

“To
see you,” Felix cut in with a glance at his bondmate.

Retrieve
her? She wasn’t anyone’s property. She cut a hard glance at Mikel, and he
blinked.

“No.”
Her denial was automatic. Why would she venture away from the quiet refuge of
the women’s quarters with these two big, muscular men she didn’t know? She
wanted to go to her garden and work. These
Alphans
were making her nerves jangle and her lungs contract.

Felix
blinked, and his black eyebrows swooped down. “No?”

Alisa
shook her head. “No, thank you.”

“But
you are ours—” Mikel nearly stood, but a loud crack from
Mak’s
desk soon had him settling back down. Alisa glanced at the older man to find
him scowling at the two bondmates as he tapped a knobbed black stick on the
desk.

Felix
took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Then what would you like to do?”

Alisa
glanced from one to the other, unsure how truthful to be. “I’d like to go to
work.”

The
two men glanced at each other, nearly identical frowns of apparent confusion
creasing their features.
“Work?
You work?”

A
spurt of impatience boiled up. “Yes. I work. I have responsibilities. I do
useful things in a timely manner.”

She
stood and brushed her hands down her sides, wishing instead she could press her
palms against the broad chests of Mikel and Felix and push them out the door
and away from her. Her brain was buzzing with some swirling urgency, impossible
to ignore. She wanted them gone, that was it. That
had
to be it. With a quick glance at
Mak
,
who was watching them with a wary eye, she stepped away from the Alphan males
who’d also risen, standing too close, making her shiver with their imposing
physicality.

BOOK: Unexpected
2.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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