Destin's Hold - S.E. Smith - ebook
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USA Today Bestseller! Destin Parks will do whatever it takes to rebuild Chicago, even if it means working with another alien ambassador. The Councils hope Jersula 'Sula' Ikera’s logical mind and calm demeanor will resolve the upheaval caused by the previous ambassador, but no one could have anticipated Sula’s reaction to the hardheaded human male she has been assigned to work with. His ability to get under her skin and ignite a flame inside her is quite alarming, mystifying, and leaves her questioning her own sanity. Together, Destin and Sula must race to stop an alien cartel before anyone is taken off-planet, but the traffickers are not the only ones they will be fighting against – a battle is coming, bigger than anything they’ve yet seen... 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: 219 (6x9) pages, 74,923 words

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Destin’s Hold

The Alliance Book 5

S.E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Copyright

Synopsis

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

Chapter 24

Sample of The Dragon’s Treasure

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

Science Fiction Romance

Destin’s Hold: The Alliance Book 5

Copyright © 2017 by S.E. Smith

First E-Book\print Published February 2017

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 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, or organizations are strictly coincidental and not intended by the author.

Summary: A human rebel leader determined to rebuild the city he calls home must work with an alien ambassador to save the people under his protection even as a new war builds.

ISBN 978-1-942562-86-3 (paperback)

ISBN 978-1-942562-87-0 (eBook)

Published in the United States by Montana Publishing.

{1. Science Fiction Romance – Fiction. 2. Urban Fantasy – Fiction. 3. Action/Adventure – Fiction. 4. Suspense – Fiction. 5. Romance – Fiction.}

www.montanapublishinghouse.com

Synopsis

USA Today Bestseller!

Destin Parks will do whatever it takes to rebuild Chicago, even if it means working with another alien ambassador. The Councils hope Jersula 'Sula' Ikera’s logical mind and calm demeanor will resolve the upheaval caused by the previous ambassador, but no one could have anticipated Sula’s reaction to the hardheaded human male she has been assigned to work with. His ability to get under her skin and ignite a flame inside her is quite alarming, mystifying, and leaves her questioning her own sanity.

Together, Destin and Sula must race to stop an alien cartel before anyone is taken off-planet, but the traffickers are not the only ones they will be fighting against – a battle is coming, bigger than anything they’ve yet seen...

Chapter One

“No!” a low, tortured hiss escaped Destin as he fought against the paralyzing memories holding him prisoner.

He struggled to free his mind, caught between the realm of nightmares and consciousness, but couldn’t break free. After several long seconds that felt like an eternity, he jolted awake with a shudder and drew a deep breath into his starving lungs before slowly releasing it. Pushing up into a sitting position, he noticed he was tangled in the bed sheets.

Destin ran a hand over his sweat-dampened face before reaching to turn on the lamp next to the bed. It was missing. It took him a second to remember where he was and that the lighting system was still alien to him.

With a groan, he fell back against the pillows and drew in a series of deep, calming breaths, holding each one for several seconds before releasing the air in a slow, controlled rhythm. It was a meditation technique he read about years ago. He continued until he felt his pulse settle down to a normal rate.

A glance out the door told him it was still dark. He groaned and laid his arm across his eyes. He’d been up way too late last night or should he say this morning. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter the amount of sleep he got, his body was programmed to wake early.

Destin dropped his arm back to his side and stared up at the ceiling. It was smooth and undamaged. There were no patched places, no cracks, and no bare metal beams. The architects and engineers back home were slowly making progress, but home was nowhere near as nice as Rathon, the Trivator home world.

Throwing aside the twisted sheets, he rolled out of bed. The jogging pants he slept in hung low on his slender hips. He ran a hand over his flat stomach and curled his toes into the soft, plush mat under his feet before he began his daily stretching exercises.

The taut muscles in his neck, back, and shoulders bulged as he tried to work the tension out of them. He might not be as tall as his Trivator brother-in-law, but years of hard work and targeted training had made his body the perfect fighting machine. Scars crisscrossed his flesh, each one a testament to the challenges he had faced over the past seven years.

His arms rose and he stretched, enjoying the cool breeze blowing in from the open doors and caressing his bare back. He could smell the fragrant aroma from the flowers blooming in the garden just outside and the tangy scent of salt from the nearby ocean. The weather here was a balmy seventy degrees if he had to guess.

He turned toward the doors and closed his eyes, blocking out the view of the garden and its high protective walls designed to keep out the wildlife. He tilted his head and listened to the sound of waves crashing against the shore. It had been soothing last night, luring him to sleep, but now it felt relentless and violent, an echo of the adrenaline he woke up with.

Destin ran a hand down over his hard, flat abdomen again. His fingers traced a barely visible three-inch scar. It was a new one. He got it when a skittish street urchin fought to return to a building that was slowly collapsing.

Two years ago, he would have died from such a wound. He owed a huge thanks to Patch, the Trivator healer back on Earth. Patch had doctored him up, and after a few weeks of rest, Destin had been ready to travel off the planet.

He shook his head and opened his eyes. His travel through space to a distant world would have been unimaginable seven years before. It was hard to believe that Earth had received their first contact with aliens almost a decade ago. It was even harder for him to believe he was on an alien planet at the moment – at least until he looked around at the buildings and landscape. Twin moons, thick forests, flying transports, and bizarre creatures made him feel like he’d woken up in some alternate reality.

Destin turned and quietly made the bed. He grabbed a black T-shirt out of the drawer and pulled it over his head. He didn’t bother with shoes; he wouldn’t need them where he was going. Within minutes, he silently exited the house that belonged to his sister, Kali, and her Amate, Razor.

He crossed through the garden to the far gate. Punching the security code into the panel, Destin waited while the lock disengaged before he quietly slipped through. He made sure the gate was closed and the security system engaged before he turned along the path that led down to the beach. Both Razor and Kali had warned him to stay on the marked paths. He’d understood why after his arrival. From the air he’d gotten a brief glimpse of one of the wild animals that inhabited the planet. Destin was very glad the paths were secured against creatures like that.

The Trivators believed in living in harmony with the other creatures on the planet. They used only the areas they needed to live and kept large sections of green space. Most of the creatures were fairly harmless, but there were a few that were extremely dangerous – to both the Trivators and their enemies. Invaders would first face the dangers of the forests if they landed outside the protected cities.

The roads and walkways were kept safe by specially placed security markers embedded into the paths. The markers were programmed with the animals’ DNA. The embedded sensors detected when an animal approached the marked areas and a shield formed to stop the creatures from entering the path.

Destin didn’t understand all the specifics; he just knew that he didn’t want to tangle with that creature he had glimpsed from the air. The long tusks, six legs, and massive scaly body were formidable enough from a distance. He really did not want a closer look and was very happy that most travel on the planet was done by air.

The city he saw upon his arrival was magnificent. Large spiraling towers glittered with muted lights while transports moved along the ground and flew through the air. The tower on the far end spilled water from the top of the building in a dazzling waterfall into the Trivator-created reflection pond. Several of the transports disappeared under the reflection pool and reappeared on the other side. The more he saw, the more his excitement grew at the possibilities for Earth.

He paused at the top of the stone steps carved into the side of the cliff and looked out over the vast ocean. The sun wasn’t up yet, but there was enough light on the horizon to see the waves break on the outer reef. He stood still, appreciating the beauty and peacefulness of his surroundings.

Destin couldn’t remember the last time he had stopped to appreciate the beauty of anything. Death, destruction, fear, and responsibility had been his constant companion for as long as he could remember. He drew in a deep breath and released it.

No longer would that kind of destruction dominate his life. The Trivators’ first contact had plunged the Earth into a panicked chaos, but in the past two years, he began to see a change. Progress was being made to heal the wounds. For him, the most important indication that life was getting better was seeing his sister Kali’s glowing face and the living proof that there was hope for the future in his beautiful niece.

Originally, he had been reluctant to come, but Kali’s quiet plea and Tim’s, his second-in-command, assurance that the work Destin had done to restore a new Chicago would be carefully monitored by the team he had built convinced him that he needed the break. That reassurance, combined with his recent brush with death, reminded him of what was important – family. He felt like if he ever wanted a chance to see Kali again, and meet his niece, he had better rearrange his priorities. Until last night, he was convinced he had made the right decision. Now, he wasn’t so sure after hearing what happened on another alien world called Dises V.

Destin shook his head at his musings. No, even with what he knew now, he was still glad he had come to visit. Seeing Kali again and meeting Ami gave him a renewed purpose to return to Earth and fight for a better life for others.

Focusing on the stone path in front of him, he started down the stairs. He needed a good run to help clear his mind. He might as well enjoy the last few days he had here while he could. Once he returned to Earth, there was a city to rebuild and a lot of fires to put out, among other possible threats.

At the bottom, his feet sunk into the powdered, snow-white sand. He took off at a brisk pace down the long narrow beach beside the looming cliffs. For a brief moment, he was able to lose himself in the enjoyment of his surroundings and replace thoughts of his nightmares with dreams of something better – dreams of rebuilding his city and maybe, just maybe, finding someone to share it with.

An hour later, Destin walked back along the beach. Sweat soaked his shirt and he pulled it off. There was a secluded cove farther down the beach that he’d discovered on his second day on the planet. He would take a quick swim before heading back to Kali and Razor’s house.

If he was lucky, Ami would be awake and waiting for him. His fourteen-month-old niece had taken a shine to him. It might have been all the toys he brought that put the hero worship in her eyes, but Destin didn’t care. He had planned a new gift for each day of his stay. Mabel, one of the grandmotherly women that had been with the rebellion from the beginning, had suggested it.

Destin crossed the empty beach and entered a hole amidst the rocks that had been carved by centuries of wind and water. The narrow gap glistened with natural crystals found in the rocks. Lifting his hand, he ran the tips of his fingers along the rocks. The crystals lit up under his touch. He would love to take some back to Earth with him so he could study them.

His hand fell to his side when he reached the opening leading to the small cove. Out of habit, he glanced around to make sure the area was secure, then walked over to a large boulder protruding from the sand. He tossed his sweat-dampened shirt onto it and pushed his jogging pants down. He stepped out of his pants and shook the loose sand off before he placed them on the boulder next to his shirt. Afraid he might lose the medallion he wore, he slipped it over his head and slid it into the pocket of his pants. His hand ran along the waistband of the jockey shorts he wore, but he kept them on. Life had taught him to never get caught with his pants down. You never knew when you might have to fight, and doing it in the buff could be a little distracting.

Destin walked to the edge of the water and stood looking outward. The gentle waves rolled over his feet and he curled his toes into the wet sand. A smile curved his lips and he slowly walked forward until he was waist deep. Drawing in a deep breath, he dove under the incoming wave, enjoying the refreshing feel of the water as it washed the sweat from his skin and cooled his heated flesh.

His arms swept out in front of him and his legs moved in strong, powerful kicks. The water was crystal clear and he could see the ripples in the white sand along the bottom. He swam as far as he could before his lungs burned and he was forced to surface for a breath of air. He turned onto his back and floated, lost in thought. The peacefulness of the moment, combined with the beauty and freedom of just watching the clouds, pulled the last of the tension he had woken up with out of his body. For a little while, he was alone in the universe with nothing else to worry about.

Jersula Ikera stomped across the soft sand in a foul mood. The thin, dark blue silk cover she wore clung to her lithe body and floated behind her. If anyone saw her from a distance, she would look like she was floating across the powdery white crystals that made up the sandy beach.

Her long white hair was unbound and blew around her. Her icy blue eyes flashed with an uncharacteristic fire and her pale blue lips were pressed into a firm line of irritation. She had come down to the beach to escape for a while, at least until she could find her center and restore the calm mask she relied on to interact with others.

A swift glance up and down the beach showed it was deserted. Jersula – Sula to her family and her few close friends – breathed a sigh of relief. She could mull over the orders she received early this morning in private. They were distressing, but she knew she needed to release some of the anger she was feeling if she wanted to get through the day without making a mistake that could devastate her career.

“Why? Why are they sending me to that horrible place again? Wasn’t once enough? Who could I have angered so much that they would send me there again?” she muttered under her breath.

Her mind flashed to the dozens of people that could be responsible. She knew her icy reserve and sometimes blunt attitude had angered certain members of the Usoleum Council, but she was always right in her assessments! It wasn’t her fault that most of the political members of the council were sweet, confused people who couldn’t think their way out of a wormhole.

Sula glanced back at her transport to see how far she had walked along the beach. Not far; it seemed that stomping wasn’t the fastest way to travel.

The small transport glinted in the sunlight. It had been given to her when she arrived on Rathon six weeks ago. She had hoped to be appointed the new ambassador between her people and the Trivators. That hope had been brutally crushed when her new orders arrived this morning before dawn.

“No, I have to return to that horrible, war-torn excuse for a planet brimming with savages! Those uncultured, hostile, brutal beasts who were ignorant of any life forms outside of Earth until a few years ago! They haven’t even mastered space travel,” she snarled under her breath in frustration before her footsteps slowed and she blinked back tears of annoyance. “That is what they are… ignorant beasts!”

Her anger boiled when she thought of her previous visit. The last time she had been to the primitive planet called Earth, her assignment was to assess the situation left by the previous ambassador who had been killed, and it had been impossible to do anything when she had received no support from the Trivators or the humans.

At the time, she had been forced to wait two weeks before the Trivators would even allow her access to Councilor Badrick’s starship. By the time she was finally allowed to board, the previous crew had been recalled, a new crew assigned, and all of Councilor Badrick’s reports and personal files had vanished. The only things Sula had been left with were a clueless crew, a Trivator named Cutter who had regarded her with suspicion, and a human male who had dismissed her with a look of contempt during their one and only meeting! It wasn’t until much later that she had unraveled the reasons behind the Trivator and human’s animosity. Unable to blink back the tears of frustration this time, she lifted an impatient hand and brushed them away.

Sula had reported her initial findings on Badrick to the Council and her father, and within weeks of arriving on Earth, she was recalled to her home world, Usoleum. Believing she was being groomed to take over the Ambassador’s position at the Alliance Headquarters, she had worked day and night on a variety of issues, but it had all been for naught. She had discovered a hidden cache of Badrick’s files, and shortly after reporting the discovery, she was reassigned to Rathon. Here, she was to work with the Trivators to wring every bit of information possible from those files and to strengthen Usoleum’s relationship with the Trivators after the damage wrought by Badrick’s unconscionable behavior – a behavior that had mortified her family.

There were a large number of files to sift through, and in the meantime, she had adhered to her assignment to grovel at the Trivators’ feet for the past six weeks. It should have shown the Usoleum Council that she would make an excellent Ambassador to the Trivator Council here on their planet. But once again, her hopes were crushed. Sula was the only living Usoleum with experience on Earth, and she was now reassigned there to finish her original task, which was to clean up the mess Badrick left behind – almost two Earth years later! Her only hope for any kind of real success with the humans lay in parsing useful information from those files. To get even the slightest bit of trust and good will on Earth, she needed to be able to answer the question preying on everyone’s mind: where were the rest of the missing human women?

Sula still had a couple of days left on Rathon, however, and part of reassuring the Trivators and the Alliance that everything was under control included attending some ceremony between a member of Chancellor Razor’s family and a Trivator warrior. It would begin in a couple of hours, and if she was not able to gain control of her emotions before the ceremony, her career would be in even worse shape than it already was.

“This is an insult!” Sula hissed, discarding her maudlin misery in favor of the more empowering anger she had felt earlier. “If Father thinks my brothers are so much better at diplomacy than I am, then one of them should be the one to attend the ceremony, not me! When they need a problem solved, they send me in to fix it. Father knows I am more than qualified for the ambassador position. Yet he gives the position to Sirius, the progeny who is least qualified. All Sirius wants to do is chase women that he couldn’t do anything with and play at the gaming tables! He isn’t even fit to be – to be – to care for the racers in the stables, much less be the Ambassador to the Trivators,” Sula muttered with a slashing wave of her hand in the air.

Sula released a long sigh and stepped through the narrow chasm in the rocks. She gazed out at the water protected by the small cove for several seconds before she walked toward it, drawn to the soothing waves. She missed her world. It was mostly water and her people were born within its beautiful seas. They live on land, but the water is where they find solace.

Sula’s hand moved to the tie of the gown and she released it. The garment fell to the sand around her feet. Her body was covered in a form-fitting dark blue suit made for the water. She spread her fingers and the fine membranes between them spread like small webs. Stepping forward, she relished the first touch of the water against her skin. Pleasure coursed through her, cooling her fury and soothing her despair.

Her gaze scanned the water. The waves broke against the reef almost two hundred meters offshore. It would be a short swim for her, but she could do it several times before she had to return to her temporary lodging to prepare for the ceremony. Sula slowly walked forward until she was deep enough to sink down below the surface.

The two almost invisible slits along her neck opened and she drew water into her gills. The refreshing liquid filled the second set of lungs with life-giving fluid, extracting the oxygen trapped in the water into her blood when she exhaled. She loved living and working near an ocean. A shudder went through her when she thought of her next assignment. It was so far from the large oceans that covered most of Earth. There was a long, narrow lake, but it wasn’t the same. She would have to make periodic trips to the coast to satisfy her body's craving for the salty water.

And I’ll need to swim frequently to keep from killing that arrogant human male if he is still there, Sula thought. Perhaps I will be lucky and he will already be dead, and a more reasonable human will have replaced him.

Remorse swept through her at her hateful thoughts. It was so unlike her. She hated the idea of hurting anything or anyone. Her six older brothers teased her, saying that was why it was ridiculous that she would even consider becoming a member of the Alliance Council.

Sula pushed the negative thoughts away. She would lose herself in the pleasures of the ocean around her. Pushing off the bottom, her body cut through the crystal-clear liquid like a laser cutter through steel. All around her, colorful fish and plant life flourished in a world few could appreciate.

The cove was protected from the larger marine life that lived on the other side of the reef. She had researched Rathon’s oceanographic environment and decided it would be best to stay within the protected barriers that sheltered the coast line. ‘Nature’s unique fencing’ is the way Sula liked to think of it.

She was starting to feel more herself, more collected, but a wave of longing swept through her to just let go, to be wild for a few unadulterated minutes – not the frazzled, bitter release from the beach, but something… untouchable. To hell with her father’s belief that she wasn’t capable of dealing with the stress of being a leading member of the Usoleum Council or an integral part of the Alliance. She knew she could if she was given the opportunity.

Closing her eyes, she twisted until she was facing upward and allowed her body to slowly sink to the bottom. She relaxed her arms and a serene smile curved her lips. Maybe she would just forget about the ceremony and stay here all day. It wasn’t as if it really mattered if she attended. No one, especially the Trivator male and his human mate, would even miss her.

Finally, the peace that Sula had been searching for settled over her. Her body floated above the soft white sand. The light from the rising sun created shafts of glittering beams that reflected off the silver threads in her bodysuit and made them sparkle like diamonds. She was unaware of how ethereal she looked against the satin bottom of the ocean, or the fact that she wasn’t alone.

Chapter Two

Destin dove beneath the waves and began swimming toward shore. As much as he hated it, he needed to get back to the house. He had promised Ami that he would make her some mouse-shaped pancakes this morning just like he used to do for her mommy.

He swam only a short distance when he caught a glimpse of something sparkling under the water. Surfacing, he glanced around with a frown before he took a deep breath and dove back down. He blinked when he saw the body of a young woman floating along the bottom. His heart thundered in dismay. He had seen enough death in his lifetime. The beautiful woman floating serenely near the bottom was too young to face such a fate.

Kicking downward with hard, powerful strokes, he reached for her. His eyes burned from the salt water, but he refused to close them. He grabbed her arm and quickly pulled her against his hard length, then changed his grip to hold her more securely around the waist as his feet pushed off the bottom.

Her slender hands clutched his bare shoulders, and her brilliant, light blue eyes snapped open. Destin and the woman locked gazes in mutual shock. Her delicate, pale blue lips parted, and Destin was afraid she would instinctively draw in a mouthful of water. Unsure of what else to do, he covered her lips with his. The moment his lips touched hers, a wave of heat swept through him and he couldn’t help but wonder if he had captured a real, live siren.

Destin knew he should release her – or at least her lips – when they surfaced, but the fire that had ignited when he pressed his lips to hers appeared to have short-circuited that part of his brain. She was not helping his resolve, either. Her hands tightened on his shoulders, but she didn’t push him away and her soft lips trembled slightly as her breath mingled with his. It took several seconds before he finally forced his body to obey his command to stop. He reluctantly lifted his head, but still kept her firmly pressed against him.

“Are you okay?” he asked, blinking to clear his eyes of the salt water.

“I… You… Of course, I’m… You!” the woman sputtered before her eyes widened in recognition. “You aren’t supposed to be here!”

Destin’s lips curved up at the corners. “Where am I supposed to be?” he asked with a raised eyebrow, studying her face with a growing sense of dismay. “I know you…,” he started to say.

“You should be back on that horrid, barbaric world,” the woman snapped, pushing against his shoulders. “Release me!”

Recognition hit Destin hard. His arms slackened enough that the woman – Jersula Ikera – was able to pull away from him. She pushed at the water to put some space between them, her light blue eyes flashing with fire. This was a much different woman than the one he had briefly met back on Earth. This one was…. The sudden image of a siren flashed through his mind.

Trouble, he thought with a grimace, twisting around and striking out for the shore. The moment he was in shallow enough water to put his feet down, he did. He wanted to put as much distance as possible between him and the Usoleum Councilor he had met back on Earth.

He ran the back of his hand across his heated lips. He could still taste her. It was a good thing his back was to her, otherwise she would notice the physical evidence of his reaction to her. It suddenly occurred to him that she would have been aware of it when she was pressed against him.

Damn it! Well, he wasn’t going to remind her by giving her a second look. He was sure that would thrill her even more – not.

Destin muttered a string of expletives under his breath as he exited the water. He strode across the beach, passing the film of dark blue material lying against the white sand. He kept his back to her while he grabbed his jogging pants and pulled them on with stiff fingers. He ran his fingers through his soaked hair. The dark brown strands were cut into a short, military style and would dry soon enough.

Destin grabbed his T-shirt off the boulder. It was still damp from his run and he decided it wasn’t worth pulling it on. He drew in a deep, calming breath and slowly released it before turning around to make sure Jersula had made it back to shore. He would feel pretty rotten if she drowned while he was trying to hide the major hard-on he had. He could just see himself trying to explain that to Razor and the Trivator council!

A frustrated groan escaped him when he saw her emerge from the water in the form-fitting blue material that left very little to the imagination. Destin’s gaze froze on the twin peaks of her nipples pressing against the fabric, and he swallowed hard. They were hard pebbles, perfect for….

“It has been too damn long since I’ve been with a woman,” he muttered under his breath.

He forced his eyes back to her face. His lips quirked up at the corners when he saw her eyes were still shooting indignant sparks. She looked a hell of a lot different than she did when he’d first met her. He had found her fascinating then, too, which hadn’t helped his temper during their one and only meeting.

Her long silky white hair, glacier blue eyes, and unusual blue lips had made it difficult to look away. She was an ethereal ice queen. At the time, he was furious with himself for reacting like that to an alien. He had thought she must have been cast in the same mold as Badrick, but the woman angrily snatching up the silky fabric off the sand was anything but icy. He remembered her heated breaths and the softness of her lips.

She clutched the fabric in front of her and her long legs cut across the loose crystals, quickly closing the distance between them. He couldn’t help but notice that her hair was the same color as the sparkling sand. Her cheeks were a slightly darker blue than before and matched the deep color of her eyes. He would have to remember that when she was angry, her eyes changed to the color of the ocean back home.

She was breathing heavily by the time she stopped in front of him. His gaze swept over her face, noticing the strand of hair stuck to her cheek. Without thinking, he tenderly brushed it back.

“I’m glad you are alright. When I first saw you floating along the bottom, I feared you were dead,” he murmured.

Sula’s lips parted in surprise. She swallowed and lifted her hand to touch her cheek, pausing when she felt his hand hovering near it.

“Why… Why did you kiss me?” she asked softly.

Destin dropped his hand to his side and he glanced over her shoulder to the ocean behind her. In his mind, the countless faces of those he had to bury over the years superimposed over her face as she lay so still under the water. He didn’t look at her when he replied.

“I thought you had drowned. When I touched you, you opened your eyes and I saw your lips part. I was afraid that you would inhale water and choke. It was the only way I could think of to protect you,” he replied with a shrug. “Anyway, I’m glad you are okay. I apologize if I offended you. It wasn’t intentional. I’ve got to go,” he said in a stiff tone.

“I…,” Sula started to say, but her voice faded when he turned and started to walk away. “Human… Destin!”

Sula’s soft voice called out behind him before he had gone more than a few strides. Destin slowed to a stop and partially turned to look back at the alien ice queen who had captured his attention over a year ago. He waited for her to speak again. She swallowed and lifted her chin.

“Thank you,” she said. “… for trying to save me, even though it was not necessary.”

Destin bowed his head in acknowledgement and turned away. As ghosts from his past rose up to choke him, he knew he needed to put some space between them. Sula was alive, not dead like so many others he had been responsible for. Over the past year, he had worked hard on learning to control the haunting thoughts that often tried to drown him. There were too many would’ve, could’ve, should’ve moments over the last seven years that could never be changed. Dwelling on those memories did nothing but pull him into a deep abyss that threatened to suffocate him.

Sula was in no danger at all and that should be the end of it. There was no reason to keep touching her. It threw him off balance that he had this aching need to feel her lithe body against his again, regardless of whether he had a reason or not.

This reaction was much more intense than the first time he saw her. At that time, he was still reeling from everything that had happened – Colbert’s death, Kali being wounded and leaving the planet, the loss of the men who had fought beside him, and the realization that he now had what he wanted – Chicago to rebuild. That, on top of discovering how many women and young girls had been kidnapped from Earth for the Usoleum Councilor’s greed, made his physical attraction to the new Councilor too much to deal with at the time.

Destin focused on the narrow gap in the rocks in front of him. The moment he was on the other side, he broke into a fast jog. He didn’t stop until he reached the back gate to Kali and Razor’s home.

When Sula had called out to him, her gaze was focused on the maze of scars across his back. When he half turned, she noticed more on his thick arms and chest, but it was the one on his left cheek that had briefly frozen the words on her lips. Her fingers had ached to trace it. What had happened to him back on the planet he called home?

She didn’t move until he had disappeared. Glancing down, she shook out the silk cover and slipped it back on. A frown creased her brow when she saw a necklace in the sand near the boulder where Destin Parks had retrieved his clothes.

She walked over to it and picked it up. Her fingers brushed the sand from the small oval disk. Strange symbols, written in the language of the humans, were engraved on the front of it. The medallion appeared to be able to slide apart. Unsure if she should try to see what was inside or not, Sula bit her lip and looked back in the direction Destin had disappeared.

“What harm can it do?” she murmured with a shrug.

It took her a moment to figure out how to work the slide. A tiny catch held it closed. Once the catch was released, the rectangular metal piece slid open. On the side facing her was the image of a young, dark-haired little girl smiling back at her. Frowning, she turned the piece over and saw another image, this one slightly faded. It was of an older woman. She had the same dark hair and shining eyes of the little girl – and of Destin. A series of numbers were etched into the back of the medallion.

Sula knew this must be Destin’s family. She carefully closed the piece and pushed the catch back into place. The long, leather cord had a clasp at the end. Destin must have taken it off before he went for a swim.

Her gaze moved back out to the water. For a moment, she could feel his lips against hers and his strong hands on her waist. Her eyelashes fluttered down and a soft moan escaped her when she remembered his body against hers. She had never felt such a reaction to a male before and it shocked her. Especially given who he was and how he had reacted to her when they first met. It was surreal.

Sula lifted the necklace and fastened it around her neck. She had no pockets and didn’t want to take a chance of losing it. She would find out where Destin was staying and have a courier deliver it to him. She went through the gap in the rocks and retraced her earlier steps, this time at a slower pace. Her fingers trembled slightly when she lifted them to touch the medallion.

“Well, now I know that Destin Parks did not die back on his planet. What I would like to know is why he is here on Rathon,” she whispered, staring down the long beach. “And will he be staying here or returning to his world?”

A growing sense of urgency filled her the closer she got to her transport. She needed answers. It might take her a while to find them, but she was very tenacious. She wouldn’t stop until she found out what she wanted to know about a certain human male.

Chapter Three

Destin grinned when he saw Kali in a dress. This had to be a first since she was about… two years old! The brief glare she gave him showed she was well aware of his amused appraisal. He bent over and picked up Ami in his arms. She was wearing a pair of pink tights and a white dress.

“Doesn’t your mom look beautiful, Ami?” Destin asked. There was definitely a radiance about Kali that he had never seen before. “She’s as beautiful as your grandma was.”

“You don’t look so bad yourself, Destin,” Kali murmured, reaching for Ami. “I wish you could stay longer.”

Destin studied Kali’s glowing face. He had missed her. Deep down, he knew he had done the right thing when he made the deal with Razor to take Kali away from Earth. She had almost died too many times. When he discovered she was pregnant, he was especially thankful he made the choices he had. Life had not been easy over the last two years. Yes, fighting for the city was pretty much over, but there were still issues with a few renegade gangs.

“I need to return. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Maybe one day it will be different and you can come back to Earth for a visit, see all the changes,” Destin replied.

Kali’s gaze moved to the open vee of his dark green dress shirt. “Where’s your medallion?” she asked with a frown. “You never go anywhere without it.”

Destin’s lips tightened. “I misplaced it. I’ll look for it when we get back,” he said, turning when Razor came into the room.

“How is Saber doing today?” Destin asked.

“Cursing us all,” Razor replied with a grin. “I never realized how much fun a bachelor party could be.”

“What did you guys do last night?” Kali asked, setting Ami down when she started to wiggle.

“Destin showed us how to walk on walls,” Razor chuckled. “It is easier if you have not had too much to drink.”

Kali scowled and shook her head. “You’re lucky none of you broke a leg. Speaking of which, how did Saber do it with his leg?” she asked with concern.

“He did fine. It was a chance for him to test out the new brace that Taylor developed. It worked very well. I can understand why you love doing this ‘Parkour’,” Razor said, wrapping his arms around Kali. “But, it also showed me how difficult and dangerous it is.”

Kali leaned back and grinned at him. “And that is where you stop this conversation if your next sentence is going to begin with ‘I don’t want you to…’” she teased.

“I think we should do it together from now on,” Razor muttered, glancing at Destin with a rueful look. “Has she always been this stubborn?”

Destin chuckled and shook his head. “If you haven’t figured that out yet, I’m not going to say anything. It will just get me into hot water with her, too,” he quipped. “I think it is time to go. Ami, do you want a ride on Uncle Destin’s shoulders?”

“Up!” Ami cried in delight, raising her arms. “Horsey!”

“One horsey ride coming up,” Destin laughed, picking Ami up and settling her on his shoulders. He winced when she kicked him with her heels. “Ouch! She’s going to be like you, Kali. Always kicking the sh….”

“Watch your language; she’s like a parrot right now,” Kali muttered under her breath after elbowing Destin in the side.

“I can see where that might be a problem,” Destin agreed. “Last one in the transport gets to feed the monsters.”

“Monsters! I wants a monster,” Ami giggled, fluffing up Destin’s hair.

Razor and Kali laughed at the pained expression on Destin’s face. Destin held onto Ami’s legs, making sure he ducked when he went through the doorways, though each was at least twelve feet high, so there was no actual need to, and romped out to the transport. He swung her down and placed her in the childseat in the back, then strapped her in and climbed in next to her. Razor held the door open for Kali before he walked around to climb into the pilot’s seat.

Within minutes, they were lifting off from the ground. The clear bubble on the transport gave them excellent visibility all around. Once again, Destin felt excitement grow inside him at the possibilities for not just Chicago, but Earth. If more humans could see and experience what he had by traveling here, they would have such a different perspective – well, most of them would. The groups of people trying to keep them in the dark ages were dwindling each year, but he knew some people would always cling to the past.

“It is unbelievable how far advanced in technology the Trivators are compared to humans,” Destin murmured, staring out the window.

“It will be wonderful to do this on Earth,” Kali replied. “Perhaps this is a chance for humans to start over and do it right this time.”

Destin grunted. He didn’t want to burst any bubbles today. Dreams and reality were two entirely different things. He knew better than most that it took all kinds of people to make up a world, and in almost twenty-eight years, he had seen the dark side more often than he had seen the light. The murder of their mother by a gang member just for a few lousy dollars and a chance for promotion within the gang had left him and Kali orphans at a young age.

He couldn’t suppress the bittersweet thought of how different he and Kali had turned out from their mother. He clasped his hands together when he thought of the blood he carried on them. He had demons he needed to put to rest, and rebuilding Chicago into a modern, safe haven was one way he hoped to do it.

“What?” he asked, realizing that Kali had said something to him.

“I said maybe you’ll meet someone here and you’ll want to stay,” Kali teased, glancing at him over her shoulder.

“I already have. Her name is Ami,” Destin retorted, reaching over and tickling Ami when she turned to grin at him.

It wasn’t the image of Ami that came to mind, though; it was a woman with long white hair, pale blue skin, and fire in her eyes. A flash of need swept through him and he closed his eyes. It had definitely been too long since he’d been with a woman. He would have to do something about that when he returned home.

“We’re here,” Razor said. “What is this ceremony called again?”

“A wedding,” Kali replied, eagerly glancing out the window at the long garland of white flowers along the fence.

Razor gazed at Kali with an almost fearful look. “Are you going to want one of these?” he asked, returning his attention to landing the transport.

“No,” Kali whispered. “I’m happy attending them, but I wouldn’t want to have one.”

“Thank you, Goddess,” Razor muttered, shutting down the transport and opening the doors.

Destin didn’t miss the look Razor shot the other men. They had all agreed that today they wouldn’t discuss the threats that Earth faced. They had done enough of that last night at Saber’s bachelor party. While Destin had arrived almost a month earlier, Razor, Saber, Dagger, and several others that Destin had not met before had only arrived two days ago.

“It is good to see you again, Destin,” a large man with a wicked grin said.

Humor pulled at Destin’s lips. He had met Lord Ajaska Ja Kel Coradon from Kassis last night. One thing he had learned about the man in the short time he’d been in his company was to never challenge him to a drinking game. The man could hold his liquor more than everyone else in the room. He was a bear of a man. His black hair was tied back today, showcasing the long scar on his face that highlighted how dangerous he was. Destin resisted the urge to touch his own scar. It seemed that humans had a lot more in common with aliens than they would have guessed.

“A pleasure, Lord Ja Kel Coradon,” Destin replied politely.

“Just call me Ajaska,” Ajaska reminded Destin with a good-natured grin. “The other is a mouthful, or so I’ve been told.”

“I can’t believe Jesse, Jordan, Shana, and Charma did all of this so quickly,” Kali breathed out in awe. “It is gorgeous!”

“Razor, Destin,” Hunter called out in greeting, walking down the front steps of the house.

“Hunter,” Razor greeted. “Where’s Father?”

“He is practicing his walk down the aisle with Jordan,” Hunter replied with a grin. “Mother and Jesse are helping Taylor prepare for the ceremony.”

“For having only a few days to get things ready, this is unbelievable,” Kali replied, watching Destin lower Ami to the ground.

“I’ll watch her for you, Kali, if you would like to go see the other women,” Charma said, reaching for Ami’s hand. “The other kids are playing with my granddaughters in the garden.”

“Thank you, Charma,” Kali replied with a smile. “I’ll go with you. I’d love to see what they’ve done inside.”

“We’ll be in soon,” Razor promised, brushing a kiss across Kali’s lips. Kali nodded and followed Charma into the house.

The home belonged to Hunter, but his parents, Scout and Shana, often stayed here when the men were gone. Hunter, Razor, Saber, and another Trivator named Dagger made up the core group of the men in the family. While Saber and Dagger weren’t technically Razor and Hunter’s brothers, they were as close as they could get. Scout and Shana often insisted that they had adopted the two men when Hunter dragged them home one day and announced he needed more brothers to fight with if he was going to be a warrior.