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Opis ebooka Jo’s Journey - S.E. Smith

Aliens, warships, battles, and a certain alien male were not in the carefully detailed plans Jo had for her life. Manota Ja Kel Coradon is the second son of the ruling House of Kassis. He is known as the dark brother, and he lives up to his reputation. He has fought hard to protect his family and the people of Kassis, at times sacrificing parts of his soul to keep others safe, but even so, Manota was in total control of his life until one slender, feisty alien female crashes through the shields he has placed around his heart. She is fearless and stubborn, absolutely refusing to cower before him, no matter how much he growls, and he is determined to claim her as his own. There is just one little problem – she will not accept his claim unless he returns to Earth for her parents. Jo's parents won't be the only ones coming back to Kassis – so is her entire circus family! Traitors, pirates, and Mimes are just the beginning of the surprises on this journey. Manota is about to learn that the prophecy foretold centuries ago is true. His mate is just as much a warrior as he is and she comes with backup! 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: 193 (6x9) pages, 65,094 words

Opinie o ebooku Jo’s Journey - S.E. Smith

Fragment ebooka Jo’s Journey - S.E. Smith

Jo’s Journey

Lords of Kassis Book 3

S.E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Copyright

Synopsis

Characters’ Relationships:

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

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

30. A month later:

Sample of The Beast Prince

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

JO’S JOURNEY: LORDS OF KASSIS BOOK 3

Copyright © 2013 by Susan E. Smith

First E-Book Publication September 2013

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, locale or organizations is strictly coincidental.

Summary: Manota is determine to claim Jo even if it means dragging her entire circus family back to his world to do it.

ISBN: 978-1-942562-60-3 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-942562-22-1 (eBook)

Published in the United States by Montana Publishing.

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

www.montanapublishinghouse.com

Synopsis

Jo Strauss was committed to two things in her life – her family and her life as an acrobat/high-wire performer. She takes both very seriously. Her life was orderly, in control, and she was finally settling down in one place so she could spend more time with her parents instead of moving all over the world every few weeks. To celebrate her and younger sister Star’s one year anniversary away from the circus they had grown up with, she and Star were meeting River Knight, their childhood friend and sister of the heart, for a vacation in the mountains in North Carolina.

Everything goes as planned until she and her sisters are kidnapped. Now, she finds herself transported to another world. Aliens, warships, battles and a certain male were not in the carefully detailed plans she had mapped out for her life.

Manota Ja Kel Coradon is the second son of the ruling House of Kassis. He is known as the dark brother, a reputation that he lives up to. He has fought hard to protect his family and the people of Kassis, at times sacrificing parts of his soul to do so. His knowledge, skills, and development of weaponry are legendary. His skill as a warrior bring shivers of fear to his opponents who know he never gives mercy to any who stand in his way.

Manota is in total control of his world until one slender, feisty alien female crashes through the shields he has placed around his heart. She is fearless, determined and stubborn. She absolutely refuses to cower before him, no matter how much he growls! He is determined to protect her and claim her as his own but there is one little problem – she will not agree to accept his claim unless he returns for her parents.

Now, he has even bigger problems – that come in all different shapes, sizes and species! The return trip is fraught with enough dangers, but Jo and Star’s parents aren’t the only ones coming back to Kassis - so is the circus family who had gathered to help look for their missing family members.

Traitors, pirates and Mimes are just the tip of the iceberg of trouble gliding through warp speed to his home world. Manota is about to learn that the prophecy that was foretold centuries before is true. His mate is just as much of a warrior as he is and she comes with backup!

Characters’ Relationships:

Ajaska Ja Kel Coradon, father of three sons, mated to Katarina Bukov

Torak Ja Kel Coradon mated to River Knight

Jazin Ja Kel Coradon mated to Star Strauss

Manota Ja Kel Coradon mated to Jo Strauss

Alan and Tami Strauss parents of Jo and Star

Kev Mul Kar, Torak’s Captain of the Guard, mated to Jade Ryans, FBI agent

Jai t’Dubar mated to Mattie Abrams, animal trainer and handler

K’tar Sali, Manota’s Captain of the Guard (East House) and communications officer, mated to Sunny, dancer/performer

Dakar Mul Kar mated to Annie Cabot, reporter

Jarmen mated to Jane Doe

Ristéard Roald, Grand Ruler: Elpidios mated to Ricki Bailey, circus coordinator and daughter of Walter and Nema, owners of the circus

Armet De’hart, Jazin’s Captain of the Guard (West House) mated to Shannon Andrews, FBI agent

Chapter One

Manota ran through the dark gardens, focusing on the signature in the contact lens that he was wearing in his left eye. His heart beat frantically as he sprinted across the lawn; fear a bitter and unfamiliar taste in his mouth. A shadow moved to his left, coming out from behind a tall hedge. He didn’t think twice; his arm sliced out in a deadly arc. He turned his body to miss the blow of the laser sword as it swept across where his body had been just seconds before. The sword ripped a path across his shirt, drawing a thin line of blood. His own sword went much deeper as he completed his turn and shoved it through the male’s left side.

“NO!” he roared out as the lens in his eye dissolved, cutting his connection to the signature he had been tracking. “Jo….” he whispered in anguish.

Manota jerked awake, breathing heavily as the last of the dream released him from its brutal grip. He sat up in the middle of his bed, drawing in deep breaths to calm his racing heart. Running his hands through his short, sweat-dampened hair, he cursed when he noticed that they were shaking as he dropped them in his lap.

“That damn female is going to be the death of me,” he muttered under his breath.

He threw the tangled, black silk covers to the side and slid out of the huge bed, walking over to the balcony doors of his room. Motioning for them to open, Manota stepped out into the chilly early morning air. The stars still glittered in the sky. The second moon was low on the horizon, telling him that dawn would soon be upon them. The first moon had already set on the far side of the planet.

Manota leaned forward, bracing his hands on the smooth stone wall of the balcony. His eyes moved over the large center garden separating the four Royal Houses of Kassis. There was no evidence of the battle that had raged through the Houses and gardens less than a week before, at least none visible to the eye. The battle raging inside him was a totally different story.

Ever since he laid eyes on the human female who had helped rescue his brothers from certain death, he had been fighting a war within his own body and mind. His body demanded he claim what was his while his mind fought with just trying to understand the blasted female who was twisting him into knots. The feelings of uncertainty and overwhelming desire were strange to him. He was used to taking what he wanted – and he wanted the human female with an intensity that was about to drive him crazy. He had never failed in battle, never been denied, but this female continued to turn away from him with a stubbornness that defied anything he had ever met before.

He let his eyes sweep over the gardens once more before he turned to prepare for the morning. He tensed as he sensed something was out of the normal. His eyes scanned again, narrowing as he picked up a slight movement in the still darkness. He muttered a curse, wondering if by some chance the royal forces had missed one of the traitors that had attacked his family during the dinner a week ago. Surely there was no way anyone could have remained undetected for so long? Unless, …

“I’ll kill the bastard,” Manota silently swore as he returned to his room and grabbed the sheath containing the sharp blade he kept next to the bed. “Javonna must not have been the only traitor Tai Tek had hidden among the Houses.”

Dark rage fired in his gut as he returned to the balcony. The figure was moving stealthily closer to the East House. Manota ruled the Second of Kassis with an iron fist. His personal guards had been officers under him during the war with the Tearnats. It was not until the Alliance had been formed and Gril Tal Mod had taken over as leader of the Tearnats that the war ended. The huge Tearnat’s son, Trolis, along with other traitors to Kassis, had still fought to divide the Alliance and bring an end to the peace. Tai Tek, a traitorous former Kassisan council member, had struck an agreement with the Tearnat rebel in exchange for the assassination of the members of the royal house.

Trolis had captured the shuttle returning his older brother Torak, his younger brother, Jazin, ten of their warriors, and Krail Taurus, the Chancellor of the Alliance, to his brother’s warship. The Tearnat rebel leader had killed the Chancellor before imprisoning his brothers and the other men with the intention of killing them.

What no one had anticipated was the unexpected help that arrived in the form of three beautiful female warriors from another world. Those females were able to subsequently paralyze the Tearnat warship until he and Gril Tal Mod arrived with re-enforcements. There had been a fierce but short fight due to the fact that most of the warriors were trapped on the different levels of the warship.

Manota later learned the Tearnat warship had made an unexpected stop on an unknown planet called Earth where several of the warriors had taken a shuttle down to explore the possibility of additional resources for their fight. They had returned with two prisoners and one stowaway that turned out to be much more dangerous than they realized.

Manota’s mind drifted to the three unusual, but beautiful warriors. Jo Strauss, her younger sister, Star, and their friend, River Knight – the Prophesized Warriors who would unite the Houses of Kassis and defeat those trying to destroy it, according to his father. Manota moved through the shadows as he thought of the women he would give his life to protect. He moved around the corner of the balcony, keeping the dark figure in his peripheral vision. He didn’t want to take a chance of the bastard escaping.

He slowed as he neared the end of the balcony. His eyes swept up and down, trying to gauge where the figure planned to enter. His eyes narrowed on the vines covering the sides of the East House. They were thick enough to climb.

He slid the blade into the sheath he had slung over his shoulder. Moving the strap of the sheath until it crossed his bare chest, he jumped up onto the edge of the railing and gripped a handful of the vines in his hand. The figure had started climbing one of the pillars. They could only reach the roof of the East House from it. They would need to either climb down the vines or go through the access door on the roof.

The roof entrance was heavily secured, but Manota wasn’t about to take a chance. He cursed the fact that they had depended on the security system he had in place that marked unknown visitors. If the person was already authorized, then they would not show up as a threat.

Manota quickly made his way to the roof, rolling over the edge and onto one knee. His eyes scanned the pillars. He watched as the figure bent and attached a hook to the thin lines holding the pillars in place. A moment later, the figure swung off the pillar, gliding to the next one. Manota watched as the figure moved closer until he was at the last one. He stooped down and ran to the entrance leading down into the lower levels. He stood up once he was back in the shadows and waited.

He didn’t have long to wait. He watched through narrowed eyes as the figure reached out and grabbed the edge of the wall surrounding the roof. The intruder was dressed from head to toe in black. The figure jumped off the small wall before bending over and unlatching the sliding handgrip he had used on the wire.

Pulling a bag from his back, Manota’s eyes followed as the intruder slipped the device into his bag before standing and pulling a short rod similar to what the guards carried from his waist. Gripping the rod in one hand and the bag in the other, the figure sprinted toward the entrance where Manota was waiting. A dark smile curled Manota’s lips as he stepped out of the shadows, slowly drawing his sword from the sheath as the figure skidded to a startled stop.

“Now, it is time to die,” Manota said coldly. “But not before you tell me who sent you!” he growled as he swung his sword.

The figure dropped the bag he was holding and rolled to the side, pulling the short rod up in front of him. With a flick of his wrist, the rod extended several centimeters. The intruder twirled it around before bringing it up in front of him.

Manota attacked with cold calculation, not wanting the fight to end too soon. His blood was still flooded with the adrenaline from his dream, his frustration at Tai Tek’s escape, and his sexual frustrations.

No, this one will be begging for death before I am ready to grant it, he thought as he lashed out again.

The figure countered his blows time after time. Manota’s eyes narrowed as he realized that this opponent was extremely skilled in hand-to-hand combat. The intruder was using many of the counter-attacks that his guards used. There was also something very familiar with the way he moved, dodging or repelling blows that should have stopped him. In fact, the intruder was using moves and counterattacks that he had personally trained his elite guards in during the war. The thought that one of his men could be the traitor enraged him as he had handpicked each one.

He felt his muscles clench as the staff connected first with his stomach, then across his back, pushing him forward. He swirled, shifting his sword as he watched the figure slowly circle around trying to get closer to the door.

“I don’t think so,” Manota growled, striking out with a quick thrust.

The figure turned as the blade came at him, elbowing Manota in the mouth before bending in a graceful arc and pushing him away again. Manota snarled as he tasted blood where his lip split from the blow.

His eyes flamed with rage at the soft snort that escaped the dark figure as the male moved again, trying to get by him. Manota moved in closer, circling around. He struck out again, only this time when the staff came up to deflect it, he blocked the blow with his other arm. He gritted his teeth against the pain of the blow and swiped his sword across the stomach of the intruder. A loud, pain-filled hiss echoed in the early morning air. A part of Manota noted the sky was beginning to grow lighter. Soon, the dark figure in front of him would not have anywhere to hide.

It was time to end this, Manota thought as the figure fell backwards.

“Where is Tai Tek hiding?” Manota demanded as he took a menacing step toward the figure that was holding the long staff defensively in front of him. “What were you doing? Who were you meeting?”

The figure backed up toward the edge of the roof. The sun’s rays cast his face in shadows as it rose behind him. As soon as the intruder felt the back of the low wall against his legs, he flung the staff at Manota’s head, placed one hand on the low wall and rolled over the side.

Manota cursed loudly as he jerked his head to the side so he wouldn’t be hit by the flying rod. He darted forward, looking over the edge as the figure moved with ease down the side of the vine-covered wall. He caught a glimpse as the figure disappeared over the balcony that led to his rooms.

“Shit!” he growled out harshly as he sheathed his sword.

He rested his hand on the side of the low wall, tossing his leg over. He looked down and froze. His eyes glued to the perfect blood-covered outline of a hand which shone clearly in the early morning light.

His eyes darted to the long staff lying on the roof. Pulling his leg back over, he walked numbly over to where it rested. He knelt down and carefully picked up the staff, even as his stomach began to roll with a dark dread. Fresh blood dampened the long, narrow staff as well, showing evidence his blade had struck more than once. Fury built inside him as he grasped the decorative staff and rose to his feet. His eyes scanned the rooftop in the early morning light, picking up the numerous small drops of blood dotting the surface.

Twirling as fear built alongside the anger, he sprinted to the entrance to the roof. The door crashed backwards as he ripped it open. Taking the stairs three at a time, he wove his way down to the lower levels. He startled the guard on patrol who turned to confront him as he burst through the inner door.

“Call for the healer!” he ordered harshly as he ran past the man.

“Where should I tell him to meet you, my lord?” the guard asked as he hurried to catch up as they raced through the corridors.

“Lady Jo’s room,” Manota snarled out as he quickly outpaced the guard.

If he thought he had felt fear a week ago, it was nothing compared to what he was feeling right now.

Chapter Two

Jo gently closed the balcony door leading into her living quarters. She moved on silent feet across the polished marble floor, skirting the elaborate area rugs scattered around the room. She focused on getting to the bathroom off her bedroom. She nudged the door to her bedroom open with her shoulder, ignoring the smooth covers of the bed.

She breathed a sigh of relief as she ordered the door to the bathroom to close behind her. Refusing to give in to the exhaustion plaguing her, she pulled off her gloves and tossed them onto the counter next to the crystal bowl that created the sink. She reached for several small towels on the shelf next to the long mirror and laid all but one next to her gloves before she ordered the water on.

Dampening the small towel in her hand, she laid it along the edge of the bowl. Looking in the mirror, she raised a trembling hand to the black cap hiding her long mane of blond hair. Pulling it off, she studied her face for a few moments before taking a deep breath.

Now, comes the hard part, she thought tiredly as she stared at the numerous damp sections of her shirt. You can do this, Jo. Just don’t think about it.

Gritting her teeth, she couldn’t stop the hiss of pain that escaped as she slowly peeled the long-sleeved black top off. She left the black sports bra underneath it on as it was more difficult to remove. She was covered in tiny cuts, but it was the long, thin slice across her stomach that stung the most. Tears blurred her vision as the cut pulled as she twisted to pull the left sleeve the rest of the way off.

“You should have just faced the music, girly,” Jo admonished herself as she pulled the small damp towel off the bowl and pressed it to the long cut. “He would have only been pissed off at you instead of using you as a cutting board.”

Jo was smart enough to admit not telling Manota who she was hadn’t been the wisest decision she had made lately. She hadn’t been sleeping well since the battle a week ago. Hell, she hadn’t slept well since they were kidnapped over six months ago. This past week had shown Jo just how much her life had changed and how close she had come to being left alone on a strange, alien world. The turbulent feelings of guilt, fear, and her continued fight with her feelings for Manota had festered inside her until she wasn’t thinking clearly any longer.

Her thoughts drifted back to the cabin in the North Carolina mountains that she, Star, and their friend River, had rented. She and Star had arrived a couple days before and were enjoying the peace and quiet. Jo didn’t want to admit to her little sister at first that she was glad that Star had overheard the nasty conversation between her new boyfriend and some of the other cast members of the Circus to the Stars where they had been working.

Ever since they had left the circus almost two years ago to live in Orlando, Florida near their parents who had retired, Jo had felt discontented. She missed their circus family. She missed seeing the different cities. She missed every smell, sound, and feel of the circus.

Performing the same acts over and over with people who hoped you’d screw up so they could take your place wasn’t the kind of life Jo wanted. When Star came home in tears one night, Jo decided it was time to go home. Star told her that the other cast members were making fun of her small stature and the only reason that her boyfriend wanted her was for the contacts they knew.

They had quit the next night after their performance, called River to schedule their vacation time, and packed up for a three month break. Jo had also called Walter, the owner of the circus, and asked if she and Star could come back. Walter had been ecstatic about their return. Jo’s eyes burned as she remembered their conversation.

“You and Star get your asses back here where you belong,” Walter had said gruffly. “We have a three month break to give everyone a rest and fix and replace equipment. Hell, I was beginning to wonder when you and your sister were going to wake up and realize that you could never be happy in that tourist trap.”

“We wanted to be near Mom and Dad,” Jo had responded quietly.

“And how did that work out?” Walter had asked bluntly.

“They are so busy we hardly get to see them,” Jo admitted. “Between the trapeze camps they volunteer at and their photography, they are almost always on the road.”

“You girls get your asses home where they belong,” Walter said. “You know everyone misses you, not just River, but my Ricki misses you too. You three girls are about the only ones she ever opened up to.”

Jo sniffed as she thought about the beautiful daughter Walter and Nema found on the doorstep to their trailer almost twenty-four years ago. They had adopted the little girl who became their world. Ricki was a master at organization. Nema had turned most of the behind-the-scenes running of the circus over to her by the time she was eighteen. If there was an issue, problem, or anything else that needed to be handled to make the transition from city to city, country to country easier, Ricki made it happen with a few clicks of her computer or a phone call.

She and Ricki had become fast friends, having more in common with their quiet ways and their need for control over their worlds. They were less than a year apart in age and had felt like sisters since the first time they met behind Walter’s trailer shortly after Alan and Tami Strauss joined Cirque de Magik when Jo was eight.

Jo pulled the bloody towel away from the cut and tried to get an idea of how deep it was. She really didn’t want to have to go see the healer. If she was lucky, she could hide out in her rooms for a few days until the worst of it had healed.

“I can always tell Manota it’s my time of the month,” she murmured to herself with a wry smile. “Hell, at least this will help motivate me to keep my hands off him. God, I love that man so much. The thought of leaving him is tearing me apart.” Her eyes burned with unshed tears at just thinking about it and her heart felt like it was breaking in two.

Jo chuckled sardonically and shook her head. It was hard to believe that it was over six months ago since they were taken. Six months of fighting her attraction to him. Six months of guilt for wanting to forget about how her parents must be feeling about her, Star, and River’s disappearance. Each day grew more difficult to resist wanting to give in to her feelings for him and saying to hell with everything else.

She closed her eyes and thought about the events leading up to the first time she saw the huge alien that had changed her life so much.

The night had been cool and clear and it was getting close to midnight. Jo had been sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs reading while Star moved around restlessly waiting for River to arrive. Her sister finally went to heat up some water for tea in the kitchen.

She remembered hearing a noise on the front porch. Thinking that River had arrived and might need some help, she had gotten up and opened the front door. She remembered screaming as the huge creatures ripped the door off the hinges when she tried to shut it. Star heard her scream and had come running into the living room. Jo gripped the edge of the counter as she remembered yelling for Star to run. One of the creatures caught Star as she tried to escape to one of the bedrooms. Things became blurry after that. They had drugged them.

Jo opened her eyes and stared at her reflection. She rinsed the damp cloth, watching as the water turned red from the blood before clearing again. She gently began cleaning some of the other cuts.

River had arrived. She had followed them back to the shuttle and hidden aboard it when she realized she couldn’t undo the locks restraining them. They had spent weeks on board the Tearnat warship, trying to figure out how to escape.

They thought they finally had a chance when River discovered that the leader of the warship had captured other aliens. They were supposed to take them home in exchange for freeing them. Instead, they had been brought to Kassis.

Jo gingerly wiped at the cut on her stomach that continued to seep blood. She winced when she pressed a little too hard and it started to bleed a little heavier. She turned and leaned against the counter as a wave of weakness washed over her. Her head drooped and she closed her eyes, applying pressure to the wound and breathing deeply. She let her mind drift back to the Tearnat’s warship.

“We didn’t have any choice but to help them,” she whispered as she replayed the scene in her head. “Trolis was going to kill them. They were our only hope.”

Trolis had ordered the men to be killed. Instead, River, Star, and she had freed them and set their plans in motion. They had sabotaged the warship in an effort to give them time to escape in one of the shuttles.

The men had promised to take them home. Instead, another warship had arrived, this one filled with more warriors and Tearnats. Jazin Ja Kel Coradon, the youngest of the royal brothers, had finally escorted her and Star to the other warship. It was several hours later when River was found and brought aboard.

A shiver shook Jo’s slender body as she remembered meeting Manota for the first time. Jo had followed Star and Jazin to medical to see River. They had entered it only to find the huge Kassisan warrior, Torak, restraining River.

Star had immediately jumped on the man’s back while Jo had gone for one of River’s knives that she never went anywhere without. That was when a hand came out of nowhere and grabbed her wrist and pulled her against a hard, muscled body. She tried to pull away, but the hand continued squeezing her wrist with enough force that she couldn’t hold on to the knife any longer.

Only after she had dropped the knife, did the hand release her. But not before running his thumb gently over her wrist, as if he was trying to soothe the bruise he knew he must have left. That was when she turned and stared up into eyes the color of the night sky with but a single bright, silver star shining in the center.

Jo’s head jerked up and her eyes widened in surprise as the door to her bathroom suddenly slid open. She bit her lip to keep the hiss of pain from escaping at the sudden movement of her body as she tried to twist enough to conceal the cuts. It was impossible with the mirror behind her. The dark rage glittering in those same midnight color eyes burned into her as his eyes dropped to the bloody towel clenched between her fists.

A curse burst from his lips as he strode forward. Jo flinched when he reached out at first. He paused to look down at her before he gently pulled the cloth away from her stomach. Another short curse echoed in the bathroom before strong arms swept around her, lifting her with infinite care.

“Manota,” Jo began before her voice faded as a dark scowl creased his brow.

“Don’t…” Manota bit out. “We will not discuss this until after the healer has taken care of you.”

“I don’t…” she tried to say, but stopped again when she saw the muscle in his jaw pulsing. “You can’t put me on the bed! It will ruin the covers,” she protested as he started to lower her down onto the pristine covers.

“Do. Not. Say. Another. Word,” Manota bit out as he laid her down. “Shavic!”

Jo turned her head as Shavic, the healer who had saved her sister and was the healer for Torak’s warship, quietly walked into the room.

Jo glanced up at Manota as he stood back so Shavic could take his place at her side. The handsome healer set the case he was carrying on the nightstand. He opened it. Pulling an injector out, he pressed it against her neck.

Jo jerked as the cold metal touched her heated skin. The quick injection of a mild sedative widened her eyes for a moment before the combination of the drug and exhaustion overtook her. Her eyelashes fluttered futilely before they settled like twin crescents.

Shavic replaced the injector and picked up another device. He ran it over the long cut running from one side of her stomach to the other. Once the cut was sealed, he moved to the dozens of smaller ones.

“She is exhausted,” Shavic said quietly, looking briefly at Manota’s frozen features. “I have given her something that will allow her to rest for several hours. I would like to see her again later this afternoon to reassess her health.”

“Come before dinner,” Manota responded shortly.

Shavic checked Jo’s vitals before he turned to Manota with the same device he had used to heal the cuts on Jo. Manota frowned heavily as Shavic stopped in front of him and raised the device to his lip. A quick scan sealed the cut.

“Did she get you anywhere else?” Shavic asked in amusement.

“No,” Manota replied stiffly. “Just bruises.”

Shavic raised his eyebrow and waited for a moment before he nodded and turned to pack the device with the rest of his equipment. His eyes strayed to the delicate features of the human female. He noticed the pale color of her skin, which emphasized the dark shadows under her eyes. Her lips parted softly with a sigh. His eyes jerked back to the bag he held and he turned with a nod to Manota who was watching him with a narrow-eyed grimness.

“I will return later to check on her,” Shavic said quietly before leaving.

Manota watched the healer leave before turning his gaze back to the still figure lying on the bed. It was time to stake his claim. He had given the strong-headed female more than enough time to adjust. Already, his brothers had come close to losing their mates.

He watched as she sighed again in her sleep. She was still restless, even with the sedative Shavic had given her. Something was bothering her. He had noticed her increasing quietness over the past week. He thought it was worry about her sister’s injuries, but there was something else as well.

Unable to stand the sight of the dried blood on her skin, Manota slowly approached the bed. He could easily call for one of the women who remained in his House to come take care of her but he wouldn’t.

No, she is mine to care for whether she is ready to accept it or not, Manota thought as he tenderly began stripping the clothes from her slender body.

His fingers trailed along the smooth skin of her stomach where his blade had sliced through the delicate skin. Fear, an emotion he was unfamiliar with before meeting Jo, choked him. He closed his eyes briefly as he realized just how close he came to killing his own mate. He had no idea why she did not identify who she was when he confronted her.

A wry chuckle escaped him as he pulled the knife at his side out and sliced through the black top binding her breasts. Who was he trying to kid? He knew exactly why she didn’t. She was too stubborn to let him know that she had snuck out and too independent to allow him to cage her, even if it was only to keep her safe.

Manota’s breath caught at the magnificent beauty lying before him. Even with her pale skin marred with blood, he couldn’t help but notice how soft and fragile she looked. He set the knife on the nightstand and began removing his own clothing. His body was taut still from the adrenaline from their fight and the fear coursing through him when he discovered it was Jo he had almost killed.

His darkly tanned body reflected scars earned during the war that were too deep to totally erase. He knew he wasn’t handsome like his other two brothers. His face was more rugged, his features darker and harder. His eyes burned with barely suppressed control.

He felt more comfortable moving among the shadows. He fought for his family and his people with a savagery more like his ancestors from centuries long ago. He did not know what type of males Jo had back on her world and really didn’t care; she was his and he would do whatever was necessary to keep her.

Sliding his arms around her, he gently lifted her. Cradling her against his warmer body, he turned and walked back into the cleansing room. His lips curled as he remembered her insisting it was a ‘bathroom’.

He would never admit it to her, but he loved that she was not in the least intimidated by him. The females that had lived in his House before always treated him with reverence. They never argued, never demanded, never excited his blood the way Jo did.

Manota rubbed his cheek against Jo’s soft hair as he stepped into the sunken pool. He remembered the first time he had taken her to his House. He expected her to be impressed with all the females living there.

It was a sign of power for a male to have many women under their protection. He had been greeted with the honor expected of a man in his position. He was the second son of the Royal House of Kassis. He was a powerful leader in his own right.

He cradled Jo’s slumbering body closer to his as he gently washed the blood from it. He grinned when he thought of her outrage when she discovered what he was doing. She would have fought him tooth and nail if she had been conscious.

He shifted her so she was lying with her back against his chest. For just a little while, he wanted to enjoy the feel of just holding her. Yes, he was aroused, but there was something more than just his physical desire for her. He wanted – needed – the peace she gave his battered soul.

Manota leaned his head back against the side and closed his eyes as he continued to stroke her soft skin. The first time he had brought her into his House she had stood in frozen silence. At first he had thought she was stunned by the power and prestige he held. When he had introduced her to the other females and explained she would be the Lead Female as his mate, he had expected her to be pleased.

He chuckled as he brushed a kiss along her temple. Instead, she had given him a black eye before turning and walking out. His chuckle died as his eyes darkened with the memory of what happened next.

He and his brothers found the three females in the central garden. They were making plans to return to their world – had in fact demanded that they be returned. An assassination attempt almost took the life of his older brother’s mate, River, when she pushed Torak out of harm’s way.

Jo moved restlessly against Manota. He felt her breathing increase as if she was suddenly frightened. He turned her in his arms again and pulled her close.

“Shush, mi t’belle,” he murmured softly. “I will protect you.”

Jo settled back into a deeper sleep as he continued rubbing her back. He reluctantly rose out of the warm waters of the bath. Stepping in front of the dryer, he let the heated air swirl around them, drying their skin.

Once he felt sure that she was dry enough, he carried her back to the bed. He laid her down on the covers, pulling the other side back before picking her up and sliding her back under the covers. She gave a deep sigh and rolled over onto her side.

He pulled the covers on the other side back and slid in beside her. Jo rolled toward him the minute he was under the covers, snuggling close. A contented sigh escaped him as he wrapped his arms around her. Calling out a command, the blinds in the windows closed them in a cocoon of darkness.

Soon, he thought tiredly as sleep overtook him. Soon I will claim her as mine.

Chapter Three

Jo stretched, feeling suddenly very refreshed. It was a wonderful feeling after so many days of not sleeping well. She turned her head, frowning as she saw the blinds were closed. Sitting up, she was startled to discover she was nude.

“Open blinds,” she called out.

The blinds dissolved, letting in the brilliant afternoon light. Jo pushed her hair out of her eyes, blinking several times as her eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness. Her eyes swept over the room as she tried to remember how she ended up in bed.

Her eyes lowered to the covers, freezing on the spots of dried blood on the top bedspread. She frowned as the memories slowly returned. She had been out exploring the area around the four Houses. She wanted to know every square inch, every possible hiding place that someone might be able to hide in.

She had almost lost River to an assassin’s shot and her sister the night of the dinner to another. She would do everything in her power to protect them. She was the oldest, the one who had wanted to get away. It was her fault they ended up at the cabin. Star had wanted to go to the Bahamas. Jo was the one who wanted the peace of the mountains.

Pushing the covers aside, she slid out of the bed. As she turned to straighten the covers, she noticed the indent in the pillow next to hers. Jo slowly reached over and pulled the pillow toward her.