Star’s Storm - S.E. Smith - ebook
Opis

Star Strauss has always been a fighter. From the time she was born prematurely to her life on the road as a circus performer, she has never let her small stature keep her from achieving her dreams. She is one of the best aerial performers in the world. Well, Earth anyway. It turns out there is more than one inhabited world, and Star soon finds herself on a planet where every creature seems to tower over her. Jazin Ja Kel Coradon is the third son of the ruling House of Kassis. He is a fierce warrior who specializes in communication, security, and weapons systems. This knowledge has increased the effectiveness of the Kassisan defenses against a new group of rebels who threaten their very existence. His life changes when he meets a tiny creature who is unlike anything he has ever seen. She is petite, seemingly delicate, and beautiful. The problem is she is also the strongest, most stubborn female he has ever met. If he could just get her to stay in the nice, safe bubble he has created for her, his life would be so much simpler! Star isn’t the only one in danger however, and when Jazin is kidnapped, Star’s unconventional skills will come in handy. The stubborn Kassisan is about to find out that he has a partner who can stand tall with him against their enemies. Internationally acclaimed S.E. Smith presents a new action-packed story full of romance and adventure. Brimming with her signature humor, vivid scenes, and beloved characters, this book is sure to be another fan favorite! Main Content: 194 (6x9) pages, 68,696 words

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Star’s Storm

Lords of Kassis Book 2

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

15. Elpidios: Two weeks later

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Sample of Indiana Wild

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.

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

STAR’S STORM

Copyright © 2013 by Susan E. Smith

First E-Book Published January 2013

Cover Design by Dara England/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 are strictly coincidental.

Summary: Star is falling in love with one of the aliens who kidnapped her and her circus family, but what it will take to make him see her as a partner, not a delicate treasure to be kept away somewhere safe?

ISBN: 978-1-942562-59-7 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-942562-21-4 (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

Star Strauss has always been a fighter. From the time she was born prematurely to her life on the road as a circus performer, she has never let her small stature keep her from achieving her dreams. She is one of the best aerial performers in the world. Well, Earth anyway. It turns out there is more than one inhabited world, and Star soon finds herself on a planet where every creature seems to tower over her.

Jazin Ja Kel Coradon is the third son of the ruling House of Kassis. He is a fierce warrior who specializes in communication, security, and weapons systems. This knowledge has increased the effectiveness of the Kassisan defenses against a new group of rebels who threaten their very existence.

His life changes when he meets a tiny creature who is unlike anything he has ever seen. She is petite, seemingly delicate, and beautiful. The problem is she is also the strongest, most stubborn female he has ever met. If he could just get her to stay in the nice, safe bubble he has created for her, his life would be so much simpler!

Star isn’t the only one in danger however, and when Jazin is kidnapped, Star’s unconventional skills will come in handy. The stubborn Kassisan is about to find out that he has a partner who can stand tall with him against their enemies.

Chapter One

Star stared up at the glittering stars as a sense of peace settled over her. She was surprised. She thought dying would hurt, but she didn’t feel any pain at all anymore.

Her body was no longer trembling from the cold that had engulfed it only moments earlier. Now, she couldn’t feel the shivers raging through her tiny body. She could hear her sister’s tearful voice begging her to hang on. She could hear her best friend and surrogate sister, River, saying something in the background but none of it mattered any more. All that mattered was the sense of peace that was settling over her.

She stared up at the two moons in the dark sky. She frowned slightly. Why were there two of them? The Earth only had one moon. Her mind fought sluggishly to remember.

Oh yeah, Star remembered vaguely. I’m not on Earth anymore. I’m on Kassis.

The frown cleared only to be replaced with a feeling of deep sorrow as a name whispered across her mind… Jazin. The thought of leaving him caused a sharp pain to blossom inside her that had nothing to do with the injuries to her small body. A single tear escaped the corner of her eye and ran down until it fell into the soft blond hair fanning out around her.

She heard her sister’s anguished cry as darkness descended around her. Star felt her heart stutter as though it was actually breaking for the love she was leaving behind. As if from a great distance, she faintly heard Jo’s cry echo quietly through the night as her eyes slowly drifted closed.

“No! Damn it, Star!” Jo choked out as she desperately tried to stem the blood flowing from the wound to her little sister’s side. “You hang on! You are a fighter! You will not give in, damn you! You will not leave me here alone!”

“Let me take her,” a hissing voice suddenly whispered out of the darkness of the night. “She must be taken to medical immediately.”

Jo turned her head to stare at the huge creature burying its sharp claws into the stone pillar she and Star were perched on. Madas Tal Mod was the mate of the Leader of the Tearnats, a reptilian alien species that had kidnapped her and Star. Jo gazed at the creature for a moment before she glanced down at her sister’s pale, peaceful face. She looked back up at Madas with pleading eyes. Her voice, thick with tears, was barely above a whisper.

“Please, you have to help her,” Jo begged, looking into the black eyes of the creature.

“Let me take her. She will survive,” Madas Tal Mod replied in a soft hissing voice. “It is not time for the little warrior to leave our world yet.”

Jo watched helplessly as Madas gently picked up Star’s limp body and cradled it tightly against her. Madas used her powerful back legs and tail to help grip the pillar as she climbed back down it. She refused to believe the Gods would call this little warrior home to their world. There were still too many dangers that needed to be dealt with, and the strength and heart of this tiny warrior from another world was still needed.

Madas jumped that last few feet to the ground making sure she cushioned the body held in her arms. She didn’t wait to see if the other warrior followed. There wasn’t enough time. Already she could hear the little warrior’s heart struggle to beat. She moved rapidly through the dark gardens situated between the four Houses of Kassis. The battle tonight had taken quite a few lives, both enemy and allied. Madas was determined that the one in her arms would not be another.

She burst into the South House, hissing out for directions to medical. She was just about to turn when a savage roar echoed through the corridor leading from the gardens into the main hallway. Wild eyes met hers briefly before they dropped to the precious body in her arms.

“She needs help immediately,” Madas said. “Lead, I will carry her. It is best not to move her any more than necessary. I hear her heart struggling.”

Jazin stared grimly at the large Tearnat. Every fiber in him wanted to rip the small body out of her arms and into his, but he knew she was right. Forcing himself to turn away, he roared for everyone to clear a path and took off at a run for the medical unit, shouting into his link that he needed the healers to be prepared, stat. He burst through the door just a millisecond before Madas. He watched as the healers, who had been waiting, quickly instructed Madas to lower Star’s small figure onto the regenerative bed before they disappeared through another set of doors. He moved to follow them. He was stopped by Madas’ large, claw-shaped hand that was gripping his forearm tightly.

Jazin swung around, pulling his laser sword. “Let them care for her,” the soft voice hissed in compassion. “You will only be in their way. Give them time to stabilize her before you go. Give yourself time to calm, so you can be strong for her,” Madas said, looking down into Jazin’s eyes.

Jazin swallowed several times, trying to get control of his rage and fear. His eyes shifted to the doors and back to the huge Tearnat holding him. He knew she was right. He would not be of use to Star in the condition he was in. He would only get in the way. But… his eyes went back to the door.

“I cannot lose her,” he said harshly.

“It is not her time yet,” Madas said confidently. “Your little warrior has much to do still. This is simply a test by the Gods to see if she has the strength needed to face the battles still yet to come. She is strong. She will not fail such a simple challenge. Believe in her strength and you will find she is truly as much a warrior as you are. She will be a mate who can stand by your side, not in your shadow,” Madas quietly hissed out.

Jazin looked at Madas and slowly lowered his blade. “I can only pray that you are right,” he replied. “But, know this. If she survives, I will never let her be exposed to danger again. I will protect her and care for her even if I have to lock her away to do so. Never again will I let anyone hurt her. On this I swear,” Jazin declared passionately.

Madas chuckled as she watched the fierce determination settle onto Jazin Ja Kel Coradon’s face. “Be careful what you say, Lord Jazin. There are some forces in the universe you cannot control. And some of them come in very small packages.”

Chapter Two

Star relaxed further down under the covers. She was having the most wonderful dream. She was flying through the air. Her dad was watching her, coaching her, laughing excitedly as she caught the bar he had swung out for her to catch. She could feel his and her mom's arms wrap tightly around her in excitement when she landed on the platform next to them.

The dream began to change. She wasn't a little girl anymore. Walter, the manager of the circus, was introducing her, Jo, and River. She could feel the huge horse under her picking up speed as she entered the center ring. Tonight she was going to perform a new act. It was one of the most challenging she had ever done and the first time she was the star of the show.

Jo and River would back her up if she needed it, but she was confident she wouldn't have any problems. It had taken Walter to finally convince her parents that she could do this. Star was small for sixteen, barely reaching five feet in her bare feet. Even then, she towered over Walter's three and a half foot frame.

It was Walter who Star turned to when she became afraid she couldn't do something. He never gave her any sympathy. He pushed her to believe in herself and her natural talents. He made her feel as tall as any of the other performers.

The dream was changing again, pulling her away from her circus family. Colors swirled around her as if she was falling through the White Rabbit's hole only to end up in Oz. Bits and pieces of her life flashed through her mind in a kaleidoscope of images, sounds, and colors. It made her dizzy as they flitted through her mind.

Now she was at the condo she and Jo owned in Orlando. She was mad! She felt the overwhelming anger burning through her. She had heard a group of other performers, including the guy she was dating, making fun of her size. He was telling the others that he was only dating her so he could get close to some of the contacts she had in the entertainment business.

He joked that being with her was like hanging out with his kid sister. She wasn't much bigger, either! The others made snide remarks, wanting to know if he had bedded the 'baby'. He had jokingly told them he tried, but he didn't fit in the crib she slept in. She was about to give him a piece of her mind again when she was pulled away into the misty swirling colors again. She spun around, floating upward until she reached another time in her life.

Now, she was at the cabin in the mountains she had rented for her, Jo, and River. She and Jo were talking excitedly about what they were going to do once River joined them. It had been almost a year since they were able to get together with River Knight, their best friend and adopted sister.

The three of them had grown up together traveling with the circus. They had been inseparable and they missed her so much since they had stopped traveling. Life on the road had lost some of its glamor for Jo and Star after their parents retired. They still performed in a circus doing their death-defying aerial stunts, but they did it without moving around. When their parents retired to Florida, Jo and Star had stayed with the circus family they had grown up with for a couple years before joining Circus of the Stars in Orlando, Florida. Here they expanded their performances to include aerial stunts mixed with incredible special effects.

Star moved restlessly as the mists in her dream turned darker. Memories now invaded her dreams. There had been a sound on the front porch of the cabin they were renting. Star thought it was River.

A cry ripped from her throat as the dark, alien figure appeared in front of her. She struggled weakly against the hands holding her, fighting to break free, but she couldn’t get her body to do what she wanted it to do. A soothing voice filtered through before it faded as the cloak of dark mist spun its web around her until she was swept away on its dark waves.

Jazin stared up at Shavic who was injecting Star with a sedative. “What is happening? Is she in pain? Why can’t you help her?” he asked with a worried frown as he ran a soothing hand along the side of her face.

He glanced down, watching as her face relaxed as she slipped further down into a more restful sleep. It had been touch and go for the first few hours. One of the healers had even come for him to be near her side when they thought she wouldn’t make it at one point. He had clung to her hand, demanding that she obey him for once. He would not tolerate her not fighting. He refused to believe that he could lose her. She meant too much to him.

Shavic, his brother’s healer from aboard his warship, came in a short time later, ordering him back out until he had time to evaluate Star. His older brother, Torak, had called him. He trusted Shavic more than any other except the healer who had worked on River when she was injured. It was only because that healer was unavailable that he relied on Shavic. Two hours passed before Shavic tiredly walked back into the waiting room where Jazin, Ajaska, Manota, Jo, Madas, and her mate, Gril, were waiting. Torak, with River by his side, was being seen by another healer. He had also been injured during the attack that night.

Jazin almost broke down in front of everyone when Shavic told him Star would make it. She would need plenty of rest and time to rebuild her strength, but she would be fine. Manota had taken Jo back to their house, ignoring her protests that she wanted to stay with her sister. She only relented when she saw the barely controlled emotion on Jazin’s face. He vaguely remembered his father, Madas, and Gril giving him a comforting squeeze on his arm before they left him to follow Shavic back to Star’s bedside.

That had been almost an hour ago. Shavic was still monitoring Star. When she began moving restlessly in the bed and moaning, he decided it would be best if she remained sedated for a while longer to give her additional time to heal. Shavic said there had been some progress on upgrading the equipment to handle the human anatomy, but they were still learning. The biggest breakthrough had been the synthetic blood source they were able to develop that was compatible with the humans.

“Your mate has lost a lot of blood. It will take time to replenish it. I do not want to give her too much yet. I want to make sure she does not have a reaction,” Shavic said. “She is not in pain. The pain inhibitors on her temple prevent that. She is merely dreaming.”

“You are sure she will make it?” Jazin asked quietly, gazing down at Star’s pale face.

Shavic laid the injector down on the tray and looked at Jazin before turning his gaze to Star. “She will make it. She is strong and she is a fighter. She will recover,” he repeated confidently. “She will sleep for several more hours. Why don’t you get cleaned up and get some rest?”

Jazin stared defiantly at Shavic. “I won’t leave her.”

Shavic chuckled. “Use the cleansing unit here. You can rest next to her,” he said with a nod to the bed. “It opens further.”

Jazin nodded. “You will stay with her until I return?” he asked hesitantly, unwilling to leave her alone for even a minute.

“Go,” Shavic said gently. “I will stay with her. Your captain of the guard brought you a change of clothes.”

Jazin rose reluctantly, letting his fingers linger on Star’s cheek. “She is so headstrong,” he murmured. “All three of the human females are. I should have known they were up to something.”

“What do you think their world is like?” Shavic asked in wonder, staring at Star’s pale, peaceful face as she rested. “Do you think all the women there are warriors like them?”

Jazin looked at Shavic; a small smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. Now that he knew Star would make it, he felt calmer by a small measure. He thought of the video he saw of Star when she was younger. Her friend, River, had a set of video disks, and his brother, Torak, had asked him to copy them to a format that devices on their world could read. Neither he nor his brothers expected to discover what they had. The women were not warriors. They were performers who did incredible feats.

No, they were not warriors in the true sense but they were warriors when it came to protecting those they loved and cared about, Jazin thought as he watched Star’s lips part in a deep sigh. They fought with an ingenuity and skill that belied their delicate forms.

“I don’t know,” Jazin replied, momentarily frozen in the fact that he truly did not know much about his mate or her world.

Shavic shrugged. “It does not matter. They are all incredible. Go get cleaned up, Lord Jazin. I will watch over your mate until you return,” he said with a hint of compassion.

Shavic recognized that Jazin needed time to deal with what had happened. He could not blame him. If he had a mate as beautiful, fierce, and loyal as Jazin did, he would have reacted the same if anything happened to her.

Shavic sank down wearily into the chair next to the bed and studied the delicate face of the human female. Since his first encounter with them, he had been fascinated by their differences to the known species he had treated. There were over twenty star systems in the Alliance. Each star system had their own unique species, some like the Kassis and some vastly different like the Tearnats.

The human females were the first that were closely related in features to their own. He gently picked up the delicate hand laying on the edge of the bed and turned it over to study her palm. Her fingers twitched at his light touch. A wave of envy flooded him. To feel hands like these on his body, running their tips….

“I will stay with her now,” Jazin’s hard voice said from behind Shavic.

Jazin kept a tight rein on his emotions. He had taken a brief shower and changed into clean clothing as fast as he could, not wanting to be away from his mate’s side any longer than necessary. A deep fear gnawed at him that he had only dreamed that Star would be alright.

When he had returned, a dark jealousy swept through him at seeing Shavic tenderly holding Star’s hand. He had watched Shavic’s face intensely for a moment while the healer caressed it. Emotions of confusion, envy, and desire flowed across the man’s face, unhindered by the normally calm mask he wore.

Shavic gently laid Star’s hand back down before he stood, the mask of impassive calm once again on his face. “My lord,” he responded quietly before bowing and leaving the room.

Jazin watched through narrow eyes as Shavic left before turning back to his mate. He moved over to the bed and swiped his hand over the panel above it. The bed shifted, expanding until it was large enough to accommodate his larger frame.

He pulled back the covers and lowered himself onto the bed, making sure he didn’t jar it any more than necessary. He carefully lifted Star’s body so he could pull her against his long length. He marveled at their difference in size and how she fit perfectly against him. He lowered his head until his chin rested against the sweet smelling strands of her hair. Taking a deep breath, he drew in the scent of wild flowers and sunlight.

He would never get enough of her. From the first moment he saw her on the Tearnat’s warship, he knew he was lost. His eyes drifted shut as relief, mixed with exhaustion from fear and battle, washed through him. His body relaxed as Star turned into his warmth, seeking the safe haven of his arms even in her unconscious state. It had been her beautiful eyes that had first caught his attention. They spoke of love and laughter. Of hope, wonder, and curiosity. Of power and strength. Of peace and forever.

Sleep called to Jazin as he continued breathing in the calming scent of his mate. His mind drifted to the first time he saw her coming out of the darkened corridor. A tiny warrior who would touch not only his heart, but his entire world.

Colors and images swirled and solidified as his dream formed. It was as if he were an apparition reliving a moment in time. They had been on a diplomatic mission with the Krail, the current Chancellor for the Alliance. Their shuttle was on its way to intercept Torak’s warship when a rebel group of Tearnats fired upon them, taking out their engines.

Trolis, the leader of the rebel group and second son of Madas and Gril Tal Mod, had killed the chancellor and taken Jazin, Torak, and the other eight warriors prisoner. Trolis planned to kill them all, starting with Jazin. He wanted to set an example for the other members of the Alliance by eliminating two of the most powerful royals of Kassis.

Jazin remembered waking up, chained between two bars used for interrogation. Progit, a Tearnat warrior Torak had disfigured during the war, came in. Jazin buried his nose deeper into the tantalizing scent of his mate’s hair. He remembered the feel of the sharp blade as it caressed his cheek, cutting a line down it. Progit was bragging about how he was going to kill him. He was going to cut him apart, one limb at a time. Jazin had been sure it was his time to die. He had braced himself for the first blow, determined to die a warrior’s death and not give the Tearnat the pleasure of hearing him scream in agony as he was dismembered. Instead, it was Progit who collapsed at his feet…. a knife between his eyes.

Jazin moved restlessly in his sleep, drawing the body pressed against him closer. Star… He had learned her name from the dark-haired female that captured his older brother’s attention. River Knight had killed the three Tearnats in the room with several well-thrown blades.

She had approached him first to see how badly he was wounded. While she had captured his attention due to her unexpected and unusual appearance, he didn’t feel anything more than curiosity. Nothing had prepared him for his first glance at the one she called Star, though.

He remembered the feeling well. It was as if someone had punched him in the stomach. Even now, he still had the same reaction as the first time he saw her.

His lips curved as he remembered her petite figure coming to stand in front of him. She had been hesitant to touch him and had glared at him in warning to not try anything. He had been so mesmerized by her pale beauty that all he could think was she was his!

She had cleaned his wound, trying hard not to touch his skin. He, on the other hand, had craved her touch from the first moment he looked into her light blue eyes. Even then she had glowered at him defiantly. She had a stubborn tilt to her small, delicate chin and a look in her eyes that dared him to mess with her, even as she gently cleaned the blood away from his wound. He knew it wasn’t bad. It stung, but he had received worse injuries during the war. Progit had merely been teasing him with what was to come.

He had fought to reach for her, but couldn’t with his arms still shackled to the bars holding him. She had whispered quietly to him. Four simple words, but he would never forget them.

“You are safe now,” her husky voice whispered, burning into his soul as if it was lit from within.

She had disappeared shortly after that. The females had done the unthinkable. They had set Jazin, Torak, and the other warriors free and disabled the huge warship, giving his brother, Manota, a chance to overtake it.

Star had worked her way through the warship disabling the exits to the living quarter levels, trapping the Tearnats so they couldn’t fight. His heart had clenched in fear when the time passed for the females to appear in the docking bay. He had been surprised to find Manota had not traveled alone.

Gril Tal Mod, Trolis’ father and leader of the Tearnats, had come with his own warriors. He was furious, but not surprised, that his second son would disobey a direct order. Trolis had tried to kill him at one point towards the end of the war when Gril wanted peace for his species.

Trolis had escaped and built a small but impressive army of mercenaries, disgruntled warriors unhappy with the peace, and loyal supporters. He had died on the warship when he attacked Torak and Gril. Another victim of the sharp blades his new sister loved to carry.

One dream after another flowed in an endless spiral through time; Star on board his brother’s starship, her face when she appeared in the docking bay before the councilman who would later betray them, the moment when she had felt deceived by him for having his House filled with women. One memory after another floated through his mind. Even her outraged face when he threw her over his shoulder and claimed her officially as his before his people.

She had only begun to warm to him before tonight. She was afraid of something. She refused to tell him, but he could feel the hesitation whenever he held her and murmured words of need. Scene after scene filled the next several hours as he held her tightly in his arms before he drifted into the realm between the worlds of dreams and wakefulness.

Jazin jerked awake when he felt a presence entering the room. His hand moved instinctively to the laser sword next to him under the covers. His eyes moved to his Captain of the Guard as Armet came in. He frowned, shaking his head. Armet bowed and motioned that he would remain outside. Jazin glanced down at the warm figure in his arms and nodded.

He waited until Armet left before he slowly disentangled himself from the body now lying more on top of him than beside. He brushed a soft kiss over Star’s forehead before he carefully rose out of the bed and tucked the covers securely around her. He glanced at her once more before he turned to leave the room. Her face was flushed a dusty rose and a slight smile curved her lips. He wondered what she was dreaming of and could only hope it had something to do with him.

Chapter Three

“Armet,” Jazin said as he quietly closed the door behind him.

“My lord. Please forgive my intrusion,” Armet bowed respectfully. “Your brothers and father wish for you to meet with them. They expressed their regret but new information has come to their attention that they feel you should know about.”

Jazin’s mouth tightened. He glanced at the door. He had only been asleep for a few hours, but it had been enough to refresh him. Still, he was hesitant to leave his mate. His eyes moved to the door as it opened. Jo, Star’s sister, and River walked through the entrance talking quietly. They both paused, looking anxiously at him.

“Star?” Jo asked in a husky voice.

“She is sleeping peacefully and looks much better,” Jazin replied. “I would thank you to let her rest as long as possible. Shavic said it is the best thing for her at this time.”

Jo rolled her eyes. “I figured that. I was just worried she….” Jo drew in a deep breath and smiled tearfully at River who wound her arm around her waist in support. “I was just worried.”

Jazin relaxed slightly as he noted the pinched look around Jo’s mouth. He knew she loved her little sister and was very protective. That was evident the few times he had seen them together. In fact, he saw how all three were very supportive and protective of each other. His thoughts flitted to his own father and brothers and he had a deeper appreciation for his own relationship with them. He had never thought of it much before now. Thinking of his father and brothers reminded him that they were waiting for him.

“I trust you ladies to stay and watch over my mate until I can return,” Jazin said. “I am needed in a meeting. Armet will stay outside the rooms if you should need anything.”

Armet looked startled for a moment before he nodded. He had grown attached to the little female who had taken over the Third House of Kassis, also known as the West House. He had to admit it was much easier to maintain since she had come.

He would have never complained, but he and several of the warriors under his command had their hands full at times dealing with the females who used to live in the West House. Those remaining now were either mated, children, or older couples. The little female often visited each of the families to see how they were doing and if they needed anything. He was also fascinated by some of the things that she could do. He had never seen anyone move the way she did in the training room and some of the things she created were not only innovative but useful.

“I will return as soon as possible,” Jazin was saying.

He gave a sharp look to Armet. Armet nodded to show he was aware of the unspoken command: protect all three females with his life. Armet spoke quietly into his comlink and moved to stand by the door as Jazin cast one last, longing look at the door leading to the room where his mate slept.

“Protect them,” Jazin muttered under his breath as he walked out the door.

“With my life, my lord,” Armet said with a glitter of pride and respect in his eyes. “With my life.”

Star woke up in stages. The first stage, she became aware that there was light filtering into the room. The second stage, she became aware of the soft sound of voices murmuring beside her. The last stage and the most important one was she became aware that she didn’t hurt… anywhere. She flexed her toes back and forth before moving her legs. When she still didn’t feel any pain, she moved her fingers before turning her head toward the voices and opening her eyes.

Twin sets of eyes, one an unusual dark blue and the other a set of light blue like her own, stared at her with worry and love gleaming from them. Star slowly smiled before she whispered in a husky voice.

“Hi,” she murmured.

River grinned back. Jo opened her mouth, closed it, and promptly burst into tears. Star’s eyes widened as she watched her older sister’s shoulders shake as she cried. River was pressing a small towel into Jo’s hands and hugging her.

“Is she hurt?” Star asked, her voice raspy from being dry.

She struggled to sit up so she could comfort her big sister and was surprised that it wasn’t that easy to do. She finally made it into an upright position, balancing herself on her arms until her head stopped spinning.

“Wow!” Star muttered, raising a trembling hand to her head. “Head rush.”

“You dope! You shouldn’t be sitting up yet,” Jo bit out between hiccupping sobs. “You were dead almost twenty-four hours ago. You shouldn’t even be…. be…. be able to sit up.”

“Water?” Star asked with a grimace, rubbing her throat.

River reached over and picked up a small cup of water that was on the table next to the bed. She held the cup while Star took several small sips from it before she set it back down on the table. Jo’s sobs slowly became quieter until she was just drawing in deep, calming breaths. Jo wiped at her reddenedcheeks with the soft cloth that was clutched in her fist in aggravation.

When she felt like she finally had a small semblance of control back, she glared at her little sister. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again!” Jo snapped out, wiping at her still damp cheeks.

Star chuckled as she weakly collapsed back against the pillows. “It’s not like I planned to get hurt,” she said. “Jazin?” she asked fearfully.

“He’s safe,” River assured her with a smile.

“What happened?” Star asked, looking back and forth between River and Jo. “Was anyone else hurt?”

River bit her lip and looked at Jo, who nodded. “Yes,” River began quietly. “Eighteen people were killed in the banquet room. Most were women on the stage and several of the men who were sitting close to it. Thirty men who attacked us were killed. Javonna was working with them. She is dead, as well,” she said quietly.

“What about the councilman? Tai Tek?” Star asked, nervously playing with the covers.

Jo shook her head. “He escaped,” she said, her lips pressed into a tight line of frustration. “If I ever get my hands on that bastard, I’m going to barbeque his ass over an open flame.”

Star laughed at Jo’s fierce scowl. “Was anyone else hurt? Ajaska? Manota? Torak?” she asked, biting her lower lip in concern.

River reached over and gripped one of Star’s hands. “Torak was hurt when he fought one of the Tearnat’s guarding Tai Tek, but not seriously. None of the others were hurt,” she assured.

“Jazin was frantic when he saw you….,” Jo’s voice choked up again.

“We came very close to losing you, Star,” River continued. “You scared all of us, especially Jazin. He really does love you.”

Star sniffed and looked away. “He’s never said he does. He just says I’m his and I should do what he tells me to do,” she grumbled under her breath. “Fat chance that is ever going to happen.”

River giggled. “I can always lend you my knives if you need them. Once I pinned Torak to the door with them, he’s been very careful about his ‘I’m the man’ speech ever since,” she giggled.

Star’s lips turned up in a smile. She looked at her surrogate sister with a twinkle in her eye. The thought of pinning Jazin to the door brought up some interesting ideas. She just might have to take River up on her offer if he became too overbearing again.

“So how long have I been out and what has happened since everything went fuzzy on me?” Star asked tiredly. “And why in the hell do I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck?”

“It wasn’t a truck, but a laser blast to the back,” Jo snapped out. “It’s a miracle you are even moving right now. If Madas hadn’t gotten you to medical as fast as she did, you wouldn’t be here,” she gritted out as tears filled her eyes again. “Damn it! Now I’m crying again.”

Three weeks later, Star was seriously thinking about borrowing River’s knives. Jazin had ordered all the guards to make sure she was protected at all times when he couldn’t be with her. He was busy working on some ‘top secret’ defense system most of the day.

From the little bit she had been able to gather, which wasn’t much, Tai Tek was preparing for another attack. This time, he had approached another alien star system outside the Alliance’s jurisdiction. The species wasn’t well known as they kept primarily to themselves. Rumors, or intel that was coming in, stated Tai Tek had promised unlimited access to the planet’s energy crystal mines in exchange for help in defeating the Houses of Kassis.

Jazin had been working with Manota on a defense system to protect not only their planet but their warships. While Manota’s shield worked at protecting the four royal houses, Jazin’s would protect their fleet of warships during battle. In the meantime, while he was busy, he had ordered Star to rest as much as possible.

River and Jo came over daily to visit but she was not allowed to even set foot out of the West House. Hell, even the healer that saved River came to her. When she had asked why Shavic wasn’t still caring for her, Jazin’s eyes had turned a darker black and he had said that Shavic had been reassigned back to the warship.

In the meantime, she had snuck out of the house at least a dozen times, and each time, either Armet or Jazin caught her. And each and every exit she used was then either barred or a guard placed in front of it. She was really beginning to get desperate.

It was time to break out the knives, she thought with glee as the picture of Jazin stuck to the door floated through her mind.

A knock on the door roused Star from her dark, gleeful thoughts. She let out a deep sigh and hoped it was her sister and River. She knew River had to be careful right now since she was pregnant, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t help Star escape the confines of the house. She was going batty being locked up!

The knock sounded again as Star approached. “I’m coming. I’m coming. Keep your pantyhose on,” Star called out in frustration.

She opened the door and stood back in shock when she saw Madas Tal Mod standing outside the door. The huge Tearnat’s lips pulled back to reveal a set of even, but very sharp, teeth. Star’s eyebrow rose. It was probably the closest thing to a smile a Tearnat could make, she guessed.

“Hi Madas,” Star said in surprise. She glanced around to see if there was anyone else with her. “Would you like to come in?”

“That is usually what happens when someone requests entrance into a room,” Madas teased.

Star chuckled. She liked the big female Tearnat. Not just because she saved her life, but because she did have a wicked sense of humor.

“I guess you are right,” Star laughed as she opened the door further. She waited patiently as Madas entered, sniffing the air as she came through. “What brings you here? Jo and River wouldn’t have happened to send you here to rescue me, would they?” she asked hopefully.

Madas turned in an elegant circle to look darkly at Star. “You need help?” she growled out menacingly. “The Kassis lord is mistreating you?”

Star released a deep sigh and shook her head. She motioned with one hand for Madas to have a seat on the long, dark burgundy couch in the center of their living area. Star sat down on a matching chair across from her. There was a small, delicately carved crystal table between them. A refreshment tray containing hot tea, dozens of small pastries and breads, and a mixture of fresh fruit had been brought in earlier.

“Not unless being kept on a pedestal is considered mistreatment,” Star reluctantly responded. She reached over and poured Madas and herself some tea. “Would you like some pastries, bread, or fruit? They always bring me way too much. Plus, it isn’t much fun eating alone all the time.”

Madas reached over and gingerly took the small cup of hot liquid from Star. She then proceeded to load a plate full of each of the items. She always did like the food and drink on this planet. It was one of the few that reminded her of her home.

Madas grinned when she saw Star’s eyes widened at the size of the helping on her plate. “I am much larger than you, little warrior, and never turn down the delicious food available here. It reminds me of my home. My clan lives at the edge of the great mountains. We grow much of our own food there. Fruit hangs heavy from the trees that surround our village and the grasses along the snow ridges are used to make breads. We are careful of the amount of meat we eat. Gril’s clan comes from closer to the desert where there is not an abundance of such things. His clan survives primarily on the flesh of the animals that live in the region,” Madas explained.

Star looked at the huge dark green, brown, and black creature closely. She could see the beauty in the way her skin formed into soft scales. Her head was delicately curved with a series of ridges along the top that flowed down like waves of hair. Her skin was very soft and dry, not hard and wet like she had expected. She wore a long-sleeved light tan shirt with a darker brown vest over it and soft, dark brown pants tucked into mid-calf length, soft brown boots. Around each wrist was a band of what looked like gold. Her claw-like fingers were slender and the nails, while very long, were carefully manicured. Her long tail wound down along her side and the tip curled around one ankle like a cape.

“You are very beautiful,” Star murmured out loud before she blushed in embarrassment.

Madas chuckled as she leaned back. “Thank you, little warrior. It is not often that other species look beyond what they want to see. Most think of the Tearnats as a savage species with little culture or capacity for caring,” Madas said, her eyes sad for a moment. “I am just as guilty. When I first saw Gril….,” her husky, warm voice faded as a small rose color filled her face.