Cornering Carmen - S.E. Smith - ebook
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Carmen Walker has spent the last three years of her life focusing on avenging the murder of her husband, and she’s closing in on his killer. To meet with her informant, she catches a ride on the business jet her sister is co-piloting to California, but plans change when one of the women is kidnapped when they land, and Carmen is mortally wounded. She wakes on board an alien warship heading to a distant world. Creon Reykill is credited with ending the wars between the Valdier, Curizan, and Sarafin worlds, and building a strong alliance with their former enemies. But that victory came at a cost. Creon has given up hope of ever finding his true mate, believing his soul is too dark to ever be gifted with one. That all changes when a female unlike anything he has ever seen before is brought to his world. The moment he sees her, he knows she belongs to him. His dragon will do anything to claim her, his symbiot will do anything to protect her, and he would do anything to chase the shadows from her eyes, for just her presence has brought light to his darkness. Can a dragon-shifting warrior with his own demons help heal the broken heart of a human woman who wants to give up everything—including her life—for revenge? Internationally acclaimed S.E. Smith presents a new action-packed story full of romance and adventure. Brimming with her signature humor, vivid landscapes, and beloved characters, this book is sure to be another fan favorite! Main Content: 200 (6x9) pages, 70,960 words

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Cornering Carmen

Dragon Lords of Valdier Book 5

S.E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Copyright

Synopsis

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Epilogue

Sample of Choosing Riley

Additional Books and Information

About the Author

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my husband Steve for believing in me and being proud enough of me to give me the courage to follow my dream. I would also like to give a special thank you to my sister and best friend, Linda, who not only encouraged me to write, but who also read the manuscript. Also to my other friends who believe in me: Julie, Jackie, Christel, Sally, Jolanda, Lisa, Laurelle, Debbie, and Narelle. The girls that keep me going!

And a special thanks to Paul Heitsch, David Brenin, Samantha Cook, Suzanne Elise Freeman, and PJ Ochlan—the awesome voices behind my audiobooks!

—S.E. Smith

Montana Publishing

Science Fiction Romance

CORNERING CARMEN: DRAGON LORDS OF VALDIER BOOK 5

Copyright © 2012 by Susan E. Smith

First E-Book Published December 2012

Cover Design by Melody Simmons

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the author.

All characters, places, and events in this book are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations are strictly coincidental.

Summary: Carmen is mortally wounded and wakes to find herself on board an alien warship headed for a distant world and an alien determined to make her want to give love a second chance.

ISBN: 978-1-942562-40-5

ISBN: 978-1-942562-04-7 (eBook)

Published in the United States by Montana Publishing.

{1. Science Fiction Romance – Fiction. 2. Science Fiction – Fiction. 3. Paranormal – Fiction. 4. Romance – Fiction.}

www.montanapublishinghouse.com

Synopsis

Carmen Walker has spent the last three years of her life focusing on avenging the murder of her husband, and she’s closing in on his killer. To meet with her informant, she catches a ride on the business jet her sister is co-piloting to California, but plans change when one of the women is kidnapped when they land, and Carmen is mortally wounded. She wakes on board an alien warship heading to a distant world.

Creon Reykill is credited with ending the wars between the Valdier, Curizan, and Sarafin worlds, and building a strong alliance with their former enemies. But that victory came at a cost. Creon has given up hope of ever finding his true mate, believing his soul is too dark to ever be gifted with one.

That all changes when a female unlike anything he has ever seen before is brought to his world. The moment he sees her, he knows she belongs to him. His dragon will do anything to claim her, his symbiot will do anything to protect her, and he would do anything to chase the shadows from her eyes, for just her presence has brought light to his darkness.

Can a dragon-shifting warrior with his own demons help heal the broken heart of a human woman who wants to give up everything—including her life—for revenge?

Prologue

Florencia, Colombia, three years earlier…

“Carmen, remember to watch your back,” Scott said as he brushed a kiss across her lips. He had a bad feeling about tonight. “I don’t like it. This meeting is too important for the drug cartel to ignore. If the governor of this region gets the support he needs, the cartel will lose their hold on this area.”

Carmen smiled at her husband of four years. They may have only been married for a short time, but he had been the love of her life since the first day of kindergarten when he stood up for her against another little girl who was picking on her. She wound her arms around his neck and buried her face against it, inhaling his wonderful scent.

“I will,” she whispered. “I have a good reason to be extra careful now,” she giggled.

Scott pulled back and looked down into Carmen’s glowing face. His eyes widened as her meaning sank in. His face tightened with sudden concern. He should never have accepted this last assignment. He cursed under his breath as his mind ran through everything that might happen.

“Shush.” Carmen grinned up at him. “Tonight should be easy. You and your team are covering the governor and his wife. My team will cover their son. We meet at the airport and get them all on the plane. After that, the assignment is complete, and we go home. We’ve covered every scenario,” she added as his arms wrapped around her tightly.

“When…when did you find out?” Scott asked hoarsely, moving one of his hands down to rest on Carmen’s still flat stomach.

“This morning,” she giggled again. “I had Maria get me a home pregnancy test while she was out.”

Scott wrapped his arms back around Carmen and held onto her as if she was the most precious thing in the world. She was to him. He had fallen in love with her the moment he stared into her dark brown eyes when they were both five years old.

She had been standing in the playground with her fists raised and a stubborn, fierce expression on her face. He had stood there watching as Sally Mae took a step back as Carmen advanced on her. Sally Mae had been pulling on Carmen’s pigtails, and she’d had enough of it. When one of Sally Mae’s second-grade friends pushed Carmen down, Scott had enough. He went in swinging. No one messed with the little girl with eyes the color of dark chocolate, hair the color of the sun, and the prettiest face he had ever seen.

Sally Mae and her friends had beaten him up, but it was worth it. From that day forward, he and Carmen had been inseparable. When they reached high school, he had asked her to be his girl forever, and she had agreed.

Their parents had worried at first, but finally accepted the amazingly special feelings that Carmen and Scott had for each other. Scott had promised both his parents and Carmen’s he would wait until they married before he acted on his feelings. When Carmen’s parents were killed in a car accident during their senior year of high school, it had sealed his determination to care for the girl of his dreams. They had married days after graduation and embarked on the life of adventure they had talked about for years.

Now, as Scott looked down into Carmen’s excited eyes, he wondered if he had made the right decisions. He should have called it quits six months ago. Carmen had wanted to accept this last assignment, but he should have said no. Yes, it would give them the extra money they needed to set up their own business back home, but the fear that something might happen to her flooded him with a need to protect her unlike anything he had ever felt before.

“I love you, Carmen Walker,” Scott said quietly. “Tonight is the last time. Tomorrow we go home and start a new life,” Scott murmured as he pulled back. “I don’t want you to go with the team tonight. I want you to wait for me here, where I know you will be safe.”

Carmen shook her head, laughing. “Are you getting all protective on me, Scott Michael Walker? Because if you are, let me remind you…” Carmen’s voice faded away as Scott pressed his lips against hers.

“Yes, I am. I’m also the boss of this operation in case you don’t remember,” Scott said thickly. “Stay in the car at least. The rest of the team can make sure José is safely on board the plane.”

Carmen softened when she saw the fear in Scott’s eyes. “Okay,” she agreed, lovingly running her hand over his cheek.

Later that night the teams headed out. Each team would take a different route and use several different vehicles to transport the governor of the local province in Colombia and his family to the airport. There had been increased threats against him from the local cartel group, and Scott was taking every one of them seriously. He gave strict commands to the teams to not take any risks.

Scott came up to Carmen as she was about to get into the vehicle with Governor Alvaro’s ten-year-old son, José. He pulled her to one side and pressed a hard kiss to her lips. His eyes glittered with determination as he gazed down at her.

“If there is any trouble, if you get even the slightest itch that something is wrong, you get the hell out of there,” he said grimly. “You do whatever you have to do to remain safe, Carmen. You are my life. I love you.”

Carmen smiled up into Scott’s light green eyes. “Ditto for you. I love you so much. Stay safe”—she laid a protective hand over her stomach—“for the both of us.”

Scott pressed another hard kiss on her lips before pulling away and yelling for everyone to get moving. He looked back at Carmen one last time before he moved toward the vehicle with the governor.

Carmen looked out at the darkness that surrounded the vehicle. The ride to the airport was thankfully uneventful. They had made several cutbacks before turning to come in from the north. Carmen was the only one who knew how they were approaching. Scott had made sure only the team leader of each vehicle knew the route in order to reduce the chance of a leak.

The black SUV pulled up to the gate. Marcus, one of their advance team members, opened the gate with a nod. He gave the signal that Scott and the others were already there. Scott was standing near the plane when they pulled up. Carmen slid out first, looking around. She nodded to the other two men in the car that it was clear. She smiled down at the frightened face of the little boy who had ridden in silence in the back seat.

“You will walk with me?” José asked in a small voice.

“Sí,” Carmen said gently in Spanish. “Come on, let’s get you to your parents.”

She reached her hand out and squeezed his in encouragement when he placed his smaller hand in hers. “It’s almost over,” she whispered with a wink.

His tentative smile broke her heart. A child should never have to feel this kind of fear. Scott had warned her that the cartel might target the boy in an effort to get back at the governor’s crackdown on them. Carmen would make sure they never got to him. Children were the essence of innocence and should be protected at all cost.

She was halfway to the plane when the SUV they had just exited exploded, throwing all of them to the ground. Carmen instinctively rolled her body over José and covered his head. She heard the sounds of automatic gunfire in the distance above the sound of the jet’s engines revving up.

She shook her head to clear the ringing in her ears. Carlos and Enrique were struggling to get up next to her. She forced her body up, pulling José with her. She made sure she shielded him as she pushed him toward the plane. Carlos was firing behind them at several vehicles that burst through the gates and were approaching at a high rate of speed.

Carmen saw Scott returning fire at the approaching vehicles, even as he ran toward her. Carmen gasped as she felt a bullet pierce her thigh. She collapsed with a cry. Enrique swooped in, grabbing José up and running toward the plane with Carlos covering his back. Carmen rolled, gripping her leg with one hand while she fired her semiautomatic 9mm handgun at the vehicles.

Gunfire erupted again, and Carmen jerked as one of the bullets hit her in the arm, knocking her backward onto the pavement. Her head turned when she heard other bullets hitting something else not far from her. A cry of denial ripped from her as she watched Scott’s body jerk as a series of shots cut through him. He collapsed about eight feet from her. Carmen fought through the agony searing through her body, determined to get to the man she loved. She made it to within three feet of him before a set of polished shoes stood in her line of vision.

The figure bent down, gripping her uninjured shoulder, and turned her over until she was staring straight up into the black eyes of Javier Cuello. Carmen’s eyes moved away from his cold ones, trying to find Scott. Her only thought was to get to him.

“So much beauty,” Javier said softly, brushing a strand of white-blonde hair back from Carmen’s face and turning her head toward him. “I heard about the young American security team that was protecting the governor and his family. My informants did not lie when they said the woman was of exceptional beauty,” he said, chuckling when Carmen tried to turn her head again.

Javier looked over to where Scott was lying, fighting for breath. “He means something to you, sí? The others, they do not care so much for you. They have left you all alone,” he tsked, shaking his head and running his thumb over her bottom lip. “Perhaps I should keep you as a prize.”

Carmen’s eyes glittered with fury. “Go to hell. You are a coward and a bully,” Carmen choked out hoarsely.

Javier chuckled. “A bully?” he responded, laughing out loud as he looked at his men. “I have not been called a bully since I was a child,” he said, turning to look back down at Carmen with a cold smile. “No, little American, I am not a bully. I am a cold hearted murderer.”

A sob escaped Carmen as she followed Javier as he stood up and walked over to where Scott was lying. Scott looked up at Javier before he turned his eyes to Carmen. She saw love, acceptance, and regret in his eyes.

“No!” Carmen tried to scream out. “You get away from him! You get away from him!” she sobbed out, struggling to move.

Javier nodded to one of his men to hold Carmen down as he used his foot to nudge Scott. “You do not need to worry. I will take very good care of your woman,” Javier grinned as he pulled a handgun out of his pocket. “For a very, very long time,” he added before he pulled the trigger.

Carmen’s screams pierced the night. Tears burned, but refused to fall as she watched the man who meant the world to her jerk once before remaining still. A cold enveloped her body and soul as she stared into Scott’s sightless eyes. Her fingers gripped the knife she had unsheathed at her side. Her eyes moved back to Javier, who shook his head in distaste before he slid the handgun back into his pocket.

“Now, I have taken care of the competition,” he said casually, moving to squat down next to Carmen again. “Now, you will be mine.”

“When hell freezes over,” Carmen said in an emotionless voice as she raised the knife she had clutched tightly in her fist.

She buried the knife as far as it would go in Javier’s thigh. He fell backward with a strangled curse, grabbing the knife sticking out of his leg. One of his men drew his gun and fired it into Carmen several times, while several other men pulled Javier away from her.

She smiled as she listened to the faint sounds of Javier’s screams as they moved him back to his vehicle. In the distance, she heard the sounds of sirens, but none of it mattered to her. She used the last of her strength to reach her good arm out to where Scott lay near her. She needed to touch him one last time. A sob caught in her battered body, even as the flashing lights swirled around them.

I need to touch him… one… last… time, she thought hazily as her fingers tenderly skimmed his cheek before darkness swept her away.

Chapter One

Aboard the Valdier Warship V’ager: Present Day

Carmen stood frozen on the transporter platform. A part of her wanted to rebel against leaving the alien warship she had woken up on weeks before. She was afraid that once she was off the warship, all chances of finding a way home would be gone. She looked over at her sister. She knew deep down Ariel was relieved at the strange turn of events in their lives. Ariel believed that Carmen would have to give up her thirst for revenge now.

That will never happen, Carmen thought sadly. If it is the last thing I ever do, I will return to Earth.

Carmen didn’t remember the actual moment she was brought aboard the warship. She had been dying. The man who kidnapped Abby, the artist who had been traveling with them, had pulled a knife on her. She didn’t see him pull it until it was too late. She had been distracted by the sounds of some wild animals they had spooked. Or at least, she had thought they were wild animals. Carmen wasn’t sure what category men who changed into dragons would be classified as in the scientific world. Personally, she really didn’t give a rat’s ass. Her biggest concern was to get back home.

At first, a part of her was furious that she would die before she had finished what she had promised Scott. Even as that fury washed through her, another part of her was relieved that the intense pain she had lived with for the past three years was about to end once and for all. She had given in to the sense of peace that enfolded her in its tight arms, ready to join Scott at last.

When she awoke almost a month ago in the medical unit aboard an alien warship, fury flooded her. She had cheated death again. She had spent the first week taking her rage out on the men on board the warship in the hope they would just put her out of her misery. After the first week, though, she had to reluctantly admit she had grown to like the oddball aliens. They had an off-the-wall sense of humor about them.

And, they’re good fighters, she thought, glaring at a couple of the men looking at her in a way that made her uncomfortable.

She knew they only went to the medical unit to make her feel good. She might have given them a few new bruises, but she had never really hurt any of them. Well, except for the couple of guys the first time when she was still in the medical unit. Ariel, Trisha, and she had taken them by surprise and used a couple of less than fair blows to knock them out. That was when the anger had been at its zenith. Afterward, it was almost fun when one of the warriors would come to the door of their rooms anticipating her response.

She used that time to practice and develop her skills. She learned from the men she fought, enjoying their greater strength and agility. It helped her get back into shape, made the time aboard seem to fly by, and honed her fighting skills. She figured she could use all the skills she could learn when she got back to Earth. She would need them to get to Cuello when she found him.

Carmen shook her head and focused when she heard Trelon tell the man behind the transporter to beam them down. She needed to learn all she could if she was going to escape. It was best to keep her memories where they belonged for right now, in the past. Everything lit up around her, and she felt a sense of disorientation before everything blurred.

Chapter Two

Creon Reykill was not in a good mood. In fact, he was in a really foul mood as his older brother gripped his arm, turning him in the direction of the transporter room located in one of the wings of the palace. It was the absolute last place he wanted to go.

He hated weepy females. He hated whiny, crying, clinging, fragile females. Give him a sturdy Sarafin or Curizan female any day. Not that there weren’t a few Valdier women who could compete for his attention, but at least he didn’t have to chance running into a Sarafin or Curizan female he had bedded again unless he wanted to. The Valdier females all wanted something from him, namely a high position, the comfort of the palace, and him waiting on them hand and foot.

Clarmisa was a perfect example of everything he hated about weak females. He ended up having to leave the planet before she would return to her clan. She had driven him out of his mind with her whining: the food was too cold, the rooms too small, the servants too rude. Then, she started her clinging. She was too weak to walk without him holding her hand, or she was frightened by the shadows in the corridors. He didn’t know why she had targeted him. He finally had enough the night she sneaked into his living quarters. She had broken down in a torrent of tears after he ordered her out of his rooms. She was damn lucky his symbiot hadn’t killed her. The only thing that saved her was probably its distaste of even touching her.

Creon felt his dragon shudder at the thought of touching the beautiful but empty Valdier princess. He could feel his own skin crawl as he remembered her touching his chest with her soft fingers. He had taken a long, hot shower before he packed his bags and took off again for the Sarafin star system. He had only returned a few days ago. He had been searching for information on his oldest brother Zoran’s kidnapping. He knew the Curizan weren’t behind it. He was best friends with Ha’ven, the Curizan leader.

One of his informants had mentioned a possibility that Vox, the leader of the Sarafin, might know something. Creon was friends with the huge cat-shifter. They were a wily species that were as fierce as they were cunning. He had saved the big son of a bitch during one of the battles in the Great Wars. While Vox was recovering, he and Creon had talked. They learned there was more behind the wars than they had been led to believe, but certain factions within their governments were feeding them false information. A friendship was formed, and they had worked together behind the scenes with Ha’ven to expose the plot to bring down each of their respective governments.

“I still do not understand why I need to be there,” Creon muttered to Mandra as he walked next to him. “Isn’t it bad enough I had to deal with Clarmisa sneaking into my bed? Why do I have to deal with this weak species Zoran is bringing back? Surely you can handle it?” he groaned.

Mandra glared at his youngest brother. “You owe me! After you left I had to deal with her and her father. He wanted to demand you claim her as your mate. I had to finally threaten to challenge him if he didn’t get the hell back to his clan,” he growled back. “I can deal with one whiny, weepy female, but not two. Trelon said he needed help with the two sisters. We talked yesterday about how delicate and fragile they were. As soon as we get them settled, we will have mother and the healers take over their care.”

Creon groaned silently. He hated dealing with situations like this. Give him a good fight, some undercover work, even an assassination attempt on his life, but never, ever a needy female. He sighed as he followed Mandra into the transporter room. He paused to look around, hoping the females had already arrived and by some miracle they had missed them.

He walked over to a small group of warriors he recognized from being on his brother Kelan’s warship. They must have come down earlier. He was surprised that they were still here. Usually once the warriors arrived, they disappeared to find a willing female or two.

“Welcome home,” Creon said easily. “I am surprised you are still here. I thought for sure you would have hurried to one of the pleasure houses by now,” he joked, slapping Jurden on the shoulder.

If there was one thing he excelled at, it was putting others at ease and getting information. Trelon had been tight-lipped when they had talked to him. Creon liked to deal with all the information he could get. If the females needed a healer right away, he wanted one on hand to take care of them as soon as possible.

Jurden grinned at Creon. “It is good to be back, Lord Creon. We are waiting for the human females to transport down. I keep hoping that I can be the one to capture the short-haired one. She is unbelievable!”

Creon frowned. Why would a warrior as fierce as Jurden want a weak, alien female? He listened as the men joked about being the one strong enough to capture the alien female’s heart. They laughed about how Tammit still bragged about his encounter with her.

What in the gods’ names are they talking about? Creon wondered with a shake of his head. He looked at Mandra with a confused shrug. Surely they must be talking about someone else.

There was no way they could be talking about the females from the planet his brother had landed on. He had seen and talked to Zoran’s mate. She was as gentle and delicate as his mother’s flowers. She looked like a gentle breeze would knock her over.

Creon turned to say something to Mandra when the body of his brother, Trelon, and three females appeared on the transporter platform. Creon looked on in disappointment as three small figures appeared next to Trelon. The one closest to him looked like a child. The other two females were similar in coloring, but that was about all they had in common from what he could tell with a quick glance. He started in surprise when he heard Trelon bellow out for him and Mandra to grab the females. Trelon had grabbed the smallest one up over his shoulder and taken off at a run for the door. Creon turned in time to see the female with the long white hair planting her booted foot in his brother’s face.

Creon turned to grab the female with the short hair. Yells of warning from the men behind him came too late. He reached for the female’s arm, only to feel his body leaving the ground and going airborne for a brief moment. It was only his years of training that prevented him from landing on his back. He twisted at the last minute, landing on his feet with a snarl.

The slender figure turned on him and struck out for his throat. Creon fell back a step as he moved away from the blow that would have left him gasping for air if it had landed. He felt his dragon roar out and push against his skin in a fierce battle to break free. Black scales, the color of the darkest night sky, rippled over his arms and up his neck as he fought for control.

What in the hell is the matter with you? he exploded as he ducked another blow meant to incapacitate him and spun around to circle the figure.

Mate! his dragon panted. My mate! I capture my mate.

Mate? Creon asked, confused as he felt a booted foot connect with his stomach as he lost his focus. You think this she-demon who is trying to kill us is your mate? he wheezed as he tried to suck in air as her next kick connected with his groin.

Creon blocked blow after blow, trying to keep from getting his ass kicked while trying to gain control of his dragon. The damn thing was refusing to listen to him as it fought to escape and grab the female who was moving with lightning-fast moves. He finally had enough of it and let out a loud, frustrated roar as he finally got his arms around her slender form.

He was afraid to hold her too tight in case he hurt her. That was his first mistake. She took advantage of the close proximity to inflict more damage. He felt her head connect with his left eye in a blow that brought tears to his eyes. The second mistake was thinking if he pulled her head closer she couldn’t hit him with it again. He yelled out as her small teeth clamped down on his ear in a vicious bite that had him releasing his hold. That was his third mistake. That left him vulnerable to her knee which found its way to his groin before connecting with his mouth.

Creon saw stars as he let go of the seething white-haired savage. He fell back several steps, trying to catch his breath as he put both hands on his knees to steady himself so he wouldn’t fall on his ass. He spit the blood from his busted lip out as he drew in a deep breath, willing away the pain.

Go! Why you wait? Mate get away. Chase her! Chase her! His dragon bounded around inside him.

Chase her? I’m going to strangle her! I just don’t know if I’m going to do it before or after I kill Trelon, Creon growled out, painfully straightening up.

He glared at the men trying to hide their laughter. “I think you need to explain where in the dragon’s balls my brothers got these females, and whose stupid idea was it to think they were delicate?” Creon growled out, wiping the blood from his mouth and wincing as he felt first his eye, then his ear.

“That little savage almost emasculated me!” Creon snarled when the men burst out laughing. “Not to mention nearly biting my ear off.”

Jurden grinned. “Now you know why we were waiting. Aren’t they magnificent?”

Creon felt his ear again, grimacing at the touch of blood that came away with his fingers. “Just bloody magnificent,” he replied sarcastically. He turned away from the men, snarling. “And will you bloody shut the fuck up! You are not helping my pain level at this moment.”

“My lord?” Jurden asked, confused.

Creon flashed a pained look at the men looking at him like he had lost more than a fight. “Not you.” He grimaced again, heading toward the door. “My stupid dragon thinks that she-demon is his mate,” he grumbled as the doors closed behind him.

Carmen turned in a circle. She was in some type of long corridor. Floor-to-ceiling windows reflected the brilliant light of the planet. When she had finally escaped from the man trying to grab her, all she could think about was finding a place to hide and regroup. She had run out of the room like the hounds of hell were after her. In a way, she felt like they still were. The moment that man had touched her, something inside of her reacted to him. It…frightened her. Carmen muttered a curse under her breath. This was stupid. The only feelings she had left inside her were for revenge.

She walked along the corridor until she came to another set of narrow stairs leading upward. She looked behind herself briefly to make sure no one was following her before she turned and took a tentative step forward. Soon she was moving up the stairs, staring in wonder at the ceiling murals and the carvings on the walls. She ran one hand along the white stone that glittered with tiny crystals that glowed as her hand moved over them.

Carmen rounded the corner at the top and stopped in disbelief at the magnificence of the atrium filling the top floor. The ceiling was clear glass, reaching almost thirty feet up. Plants of all sizes, shapes, and color grew in wild abandon. Carmen turned, trying to see everything at once, but there was too much to see. Glowing flowers hung down, and vines with pulsing greens, purples, and pinks wound around tall statues of dragons and other creatures Carmen had never seen before.

She walked along the narrow paths, stooping under the hanging vines, touching flowers and gasping when they suddenly closed. In the center of the atrium was a raised pool. Small fountains in the shape of birds poured water back into the pool. At the end, the huge shape of a dragon lying on his back with water pouring out of his mouth and over his belly formed a small waterfall.

Carmen walked over to stare down at her reflection in the surface of the water. Grief flooded her as she stared into eyes that used to shine with excitement. Now all she saw was bleakness and pain. She reached out her hand, splashing the surface until she couldn’t see her image any longer before she sat down on the edge of the pool. She tilted her head to look up at the ceiling, unwilling to look into her own eyes again. Through the clear glass she could make out the images of real dragons soaring overhead.

Wrapping her arms around her waist, she rocked back and forth. “Oh, Scott, I wish you could hold me again,” she whispered in a soft voice. Even as softly as she spoke, the sound seemed to echo above the sound of the water. “I’m so scared. I don’t know what to do.”

She sat for a long time, letting one plan after another flow through her mind in an attempt to figure out how she could get back home. She discarded one after another as she realized she had no idea where she was, much less how to fly a spaceship.

Her hand moved to the knife she always kept with her. It had been Scott’s hunting knife. It was the knife she was going to use to kill Cuello with when she found him. Her fingers ran over the handle before she wrapped them around it and pulled it out.

She kept the blade as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. Raising her hand up, she let the tip cut along her palm just deep enough to draw blood. She needed that small reminder that she was still alive, that she still had a chance to complete the one last task she had set for herself.

Carmen started when she heard the sound of claws rasping against stone. Rising slowly, she sheathed the knife at her waist and looked around. Plants moved to her left, so she moved to the right, trying to keep the edge of the pool between her and whatever was coming toward her. She stumbled backward when the shape of a huge, golden dragon appeared. Colors swirled through the golden body, changing as the light from above reflected on it.

“Get out of here,” Carmen said in a low, stern voice. “Go on! Get out,” she repeated.

She didn’t have the same touch with animals that her sister did. Ariel could look at a mountain lion and the damn thing would start purring and trying to be a lap cat. Carmen would look like lunch to the damn thing. She had seen similar creatures on board the warship. The men referred to them as their symbiots. They seemed to have some type of symbiotic relationship with the living creatures. All she cared about was if that thing was here, then that meant its other half might not be far away. As far as she was concerned, that spelled trouble.

“Go on. Scat!” Carmen said, beginning to feel a little nervous as the creature took another step toward her.

It raised its massive head up in the air and looked as if it was sniffing something. Carmen watched as its head lowered until it stopped at her side. She followed the golden creature’s line of sight and cursed when she saw it was focused on her hand. Blood pooled on the ends of her fingers from where she had cut her palm. Carmen clenched her fist in an effort to keep the blood from dripping, but she was too late. A small drop clung stubbornly before falling to the pristine white stone floor.

Carmen’s head jerked up as she felt the shift in the air as the creature responded to the blood. She jerked in surprise when a line of gold shot out from it, winding around her injured hand. She burst into action, fighting to break the hold on her.

The more she fought, the more gold swirled around her, encasing her in its tentacles until she was held immobile by it. She refused to cower. If this was the way she was meant to die, then so be it. Her eyes glittered fiercely for a moment before she closed them and drew a picture of Scott into her mind.

Memories of his light brown hair curling at the ends after he got out of the shower shimmered and formed. Carmen embraced the memories, pulling them to her until she was wrapped in his warmth and love again.

She remembered his dancing green eyes as he teased her out of being mad. She remembered the way he made tender love to her in front of the fireplace at the small house they had purchased in their hometown. She remembered him holding her like he would never let her go when she found out her parents had been killed in a car accident. And, she remembered the look of sheer wonder when she told him… Pain and grief filled her suddenly to the point she wondered if the creature would even have to bother with killing her. She felt like she was dying again right there.

A low keening sound escaped her as the grief became more than she could keep inside. She opened her eyes and stared into the dark, golden flames burning in the creature’s eyes. She looked at it with a silent plea for mercy.

“Please,” Carmen whispered. “Please. I don’t want to live anymore. It hurts too much. Please give me peace,” she quietly begged the creature.

Chapter Three

Morian stood back in the shadows with her fists pressed tightly to her lips. Her heart was breaking for the fragile human female. She had known the moment the young girl had entered her sanctuary. The plants reacted differently to the changes in their environment. This was the one place she retreated to when loneliness and pain took hold of her. Working with the plants and soil gave her a sense of peace when she needed it.

She missed her mate. While he had not been her true mate, she had loved him and still grieved for his passing. She had thought to join him in death at first, as this was the way of the true mates of their world, but something told her it was not her time.

When her oldest son Zoran was kidnapped, she had been frightened she would have to live through the loss of one of her children as well. Instead, his abduction had turned into a blessing from the gods and goddesses. He had discovered his true mate with a female from the distant world where he had sought refuge. In addition, it appeared the journey had blessed all her sons with their true mates, if Creon’s symbiot was any indication.

She had watched from the small office she kept up on an upper level of the atrium as Mandra’s symbiot played with the female with the long, white hair. She thought of leaving her sanctuary to meet the girl when this one appeared. Even from a distance, she had known instinctively that the girl wanted to be alone. Morian had given her that space, but she was curious about these beautiful, fragile creatures that had captured her sons’ hearts. She had sneaked down one of the many paths and followed her. Her whispered words had pulled at Morian. The girl tried to appear so tough on the outside, but inside she was hurting deeply.

Morian waited to see what Creon’s symbiot would do. If this girl was her son’s true mate, it would do everything in its power to help her. Morian bit her lip as the golden symbiot let out a low sound of anguish at the girl’s pain. Its colors shimmered in a rapidly moving mixture that reflected its distress.

The girl gasped as the sound built until it echoed through the enormous room. The golden form surrounding her shifted again until it was in the shape of a large creature with long, drooping ears. It was an unusual shape for a symbiot, one Morian had never seen before, but the girl must have recognized it. Morian watched as the slender figure fell to her knees and wrapped her arms around the shape, clinging to it, and whispering quietly.

“I’m sorry,” Carmen’s faint voice echoed soothingly. “I’m so sorry. It’s okay. I shouldn’t have asked that of you. It’s just, sometimes…” Her voice faded before she spoke again. “Sometimes the pain is too much for me to handle. Soon, though, soon everything will be all right. Once I return home, everything will be all right,” she added with a determined smile.

Morian pulled away as she sensed another change in the atrium. She looked at the young girl soothing her son’s symbiot, and a feeling of fear for the girl swept through her. Something told her it would not be a good thing for the girl to return to her world. Turning, Morian moved to stop her new visitor. She needed to warn him that all was not as it seemed.

Creon cursed under his breath again. He had been looking for the white-haired savage for the past couple of hours with no luck. He had found his brother Mandra instead—unconscious! The other she-demon had knocked him out with a planter and escaped out of one of the windows leading into the gardens. Once he was sure his brother would be all right, he had left him to deal with the other female while Creon hunted for her sibling.

I cannot believe we thought they would need a healer! Creon thought disgruntledly. What we need is a cage for them. I will throw her ass in one of the old cells under the palace for a few days and see how she likes that! Or maybe I’ll just tie her up and deliver her to Trelon so he can take her back to her world.

Creon frowned. Neither one of the ideas gave him the satisfaction he thought it might. In fact, the idea of anyone taking the female anywhere caused a fierce wave of rage to burst inside of him.

“Maybe I’ll just tie her up to my bed,”Creon muttered under his breath.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, his dragon answered hopefully. You tie. I bite. We both get mate.

Shit! Creon thought as he felt his cock swell at the image of the white-haired she-savage tied up in his bed.

The image continued to form in his mind until he had to stop and adjust the front of his pants so he could walk without it hurting. He had to admit, his body was saying a yes, yes, yes to the idea. That pissed him off even more. He didn’t have time for this. He needed to figure out what in the hell was going on and find out who was behind his brother’s kidnapping before it started another war.

Creon was still grumbling under his breath when he suddenly felt a small hand grip his arm. He jerked back out of instinct and moved to draw the weapon he always kept at his side. He frowned heavily when he saw his mother standing in the shadows, looking at him with a worried expression on her face. He opened his mouth to ask her what was wrong, but she shook her head quickly and pressed her fingers against his lips to silence him.

Creon followed her glance when she looked toward a thick set of bushes, but he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. He started again when she pulled on his arm and indicated that he was to follow her. His frown turned dark as his eyes continued to search for what had upset his mother. If there was a threat to her, he would kill whoever it was without mercy. He followed her down a path that opened up to the hidden staircase leading to her private office. They moved in silence.

Creon continued to look around carefully, trying to find the threat. He paused halfway up the stairway, searching the thick foliage for anything unusual. His eyes widened when he caught a glimpse of white hair near the center pool. He shifted slightly, letting his dragon come forward to improve his vision. Within seconds, the sharp details of the female who had attacked him in the transporter room came into focus. She was kneeling on the ground next to…

“My symbiot,” Creon growled out softly.

“Come, I need to speak with you,” Morian said, pulling on Creon’s arm. “Please. It is about the girl.”

Creon’s head swung around to glance up at his mother who was waiting impatiently for him. She was biting her lower lip and seemed very worried. Creon turned his head to stare at the slender figure again. Was something the matter with the girl? Was she injured? Had he unknowingly hurt her when he grabbed her or blocked some of her blows? He let his eyes move down over her figure, really taking a good look at her.

She’s too thin, he thought with growing concern. She looks like she hasn’t been fed properly in a long time.

There was something else about her. The way she was clinging to his symbiot confused him. He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. There was something he was missing; he just couldn’t seem to think straight. It was in her body language, the way she was holding his symbiot, the fragile look of her.