Tracking Trisha - S.E. Smith - ebook

Trisha Grove enjoyed her job as a pilot for Boswell International but realized something was still missing from her life—her family. She was ready to call it quits and head back home to Wyoming, where her father lives, when her last flight for Boswell ended with an unplanned trip out of this world! Trisha isn’t sure at first what is real and what isn’t, but she is determined to get back to her dad no matter what it takes. Kelan Reykill is the fourth son in the royal line of Valdier. Commander of the V’ager, one of the largest Valdier warships, he prides himself on his strict self-discipline and his ability to remain in command in any situation – that is, until he meets a stubborn human female from the primitive planet his older brother sought refuge on. Despite how frustrating she is, finding the one person he has searched for all his life is an indescribable feeling. He recognizes her immediately – his true mate. He would track her to the ends of the universe if that’s what it took, but here she is, in the last place he’d have thought to look – bringing an unimaginable amount of chaos with her! 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: 256 (6x9) pages, 92,469 words

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Tracking Trisha

Dragon Lords of Valdier Book 3

S.E. Smith






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 Choosing Riley

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Additional Books and Information

About the Author


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

TRACKING TRISHA: Dragon Lords of Valdier Book 3

Copyright © 2012 by Susan E. Smith

First E-Book Publication June 2012

Cover Design by Melody Simmons

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

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

Summary: Trisha’s last flight ended with an unplanned trip out of this world and she’s determined to get back home, despite the alien male who is far too sexy for his own good!

ISBN: 978-1-942562-38-2 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-942562-02-3 (eBook)

Published in the United States by Montana Publishing.

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


She can handle herself – even if she isn't sure what's real....

It was supposed to be the last time Trisha piloted a plane. A new life was waiting for her. Her dad was waiting for her. And then she ended up on a spaceship heading away from Earth.

Kelan Reykill is the fourth son in the royal line of Valdier. Commander of the V’ager, one of the largest Valdier warships, he prides himself on his strict self-discipline and his ability to remain in command in any situation. That is, until he meets a stubborn human female from the primitive planet his older brother sought refuge on. Now, all he can think about is how to get the female into his bed and under his control while staying in one piece.

Trisha has to admit, the giant dragon-shifting alien Kelan is distractingly sexy! But she can't lose sight of the fact that somehow, someway, she's getting back to Earth. Dragons be damned.


The large buck moved cautiously through the dense forest. It paused, looking around. A shiver passed over its tan coat, and its ears twitched back and forth trying to detect the slightest sound that was not natural to its habitat. Its large, dark brown eyes searched the nearby brush, looking for the danger it could sense but not see. Taking a tentative step forward, it suddenly whirled and jumped quickly over a log, disappearing into the surrounding forest.

A muttered curse exploded from the lips of the figure lying silently on the ground. The man slowly rose out of his hiding place, a large hunting knife in his hand. He hadn’t eaten in three days. As he stood up, brushing the leaves and branches off his shoulders and legs, a sharp impact to the center of his back threw him forward, and he lay still, knowing he had just been killed.

“Last target down,” Trisha said softly into her mic.

She calmly tucked the bow back into the harness clipped to her side and began working her way down the large tree she was in. Even as she moved, it was almost impossible to see her small form as she stayed in the shadows and covering of the branches. She jumped down the last couple of feet and moved to the man who lay prone on the damp, forest floor. Walking over to him with her pistol held tightly against her, she looked at the red stain spreading over his back.

A clean kill, she thought. Severed spine, arrow straight through the heart, no sound.

“Good job, baby girl,” a deep voice replied with pride. “That makes ten for ten. Tag target and come on in.”

Trisha grinned as she bent down and touched the target. “Tag, you’re it,” she said.

The man groaned as he turned over and looked up into the shining dark brown eyes of the girl standing over him. His only consolation was he had been the last one tagged. The bad thing was he’d been tagged by a twelve-year-old little girl. He was never going to live down the ribbing from the other guys in his squadron.

“Daddy says we can come in now,” Trisha said as she reached out a hand to help the soldier who was going through an intensive wilderness survival training program with Trisha’s dad.

“What gave me away?” The man grumbled as he slowly got to his feet again.

“Your stomach,” Trisha replied with a grin. “You should have eaten those bugs two days ago or some of the fish left over from the grizzly yesterday. They weren’t too bad.”

The man just grunted as he rotated his shoulders, trying to ease the pain where Trisha shot him with the arrow. The tips were designed with an ink pack on them so when they hit the target, it was noticeable to the instructors. The problem was it still hurt like hell. He would be sporting a softball-sized bruise for at least a week.

“How did you know about the bugs and the fish?” the man asked as he tried to look over his shoulder to see what kind of shape he would have been in if she’d shot him with a real arrow.

“Oh, about an hour after you left I found your trail. You left some really good tracks, and it wasn’t too hard to follow you. Anyway, I watched you as tried to decide if you were going to eat them,” Trisha replied as she stepped over a log. “By the way, I severed your spinal column and the arrow would have gone into your heart, killing you instantly.”

The man shook his head in wonder. What kind of father would teach his little girl how to track, hunt, and kill for fun? He heard of the father/daughter team from some of the other Navy SEALs who had gone through the training. None of them ever made it through the first time without getting killed. Very few, if any, ever made it through the second or third time. Once they made it through, the father would send them in again, only this time he would send his daughter in after them. None ever survived.

“Why didn’t you kill me earlier?” The man asked. He followed the small figure in front of him without questioning her whether she knew where they were at, much less where they were going.

“Oh, I like studying my prey to see how it thinks. Daddy says you can learn a lot about a person by studying the way they react to things that are going on around them. You did a good job once you realized I was tracking you. I liked how you used the river to try to cover your tracks,” Trisha said, turning toward a narrow animal trail.

“Thanks,” the man grumbled again.

Dante Rodriguez listened as Trisha explained all the things she noticed him doing right and pointed out some things he did wrong. He shook his head thinking it was hard to believe he was listening to a twelve-year-old. She seemed much older. She moved with an easy grace and confidence which told of her knowledge, experience, and comfort at being in her present environment.

He remembered laughing with the other nine guys in his squadron when his commanding officer told them they were going to participate in a wilderness survival camp held by Grove Wilderness Guides, a private company that worked out of Wyoming. The guys all joked that if they could survive basic training and Camp Coronado, they could survive anything. Obviously, the U. S. Navy SEALs never expected they would be up against the skills of a very talented twelve-year-old girl.

“Daddy!” Trisha squealed suddenly and took off at a run. Dante watched as her slim shape was engulfed in a hug by a huge bear of a man.

Later that night, Trisha lay on the roof outside her bedroom window. Her dad was saying good-bye to the last of their clients, and she was waiting for him in their favorite spot. Her eyes lit up as the big, muscular frame of her father crawled through the narrow opening without a sound. A moment later, he lowered his huge frame down next to her, and they both stared silently up at the night sky.

“You did real good, baby girl,” her dad said in a gruff voice. “Your mom and I are real proud of you.”

Trisha smiled as she stared up at the twinkling stars. “Which one is she on tonight?” Trisha asked softly.

Her dad pointed to a bright spot. “That one,” he replied just as quietly. “Your mom’s on that star tonight looking down on you. Can you hear her? She’s telling me what a beautiful young lady you are turning out to be and how proud she is of you.”

Trisha smiled up at the star her dad pointed out. “I’m glad. One day I’m going to fly up there and find her,” Trisha said before she turned her head to look at her dad. “And when I do, I’m going to take you with me.”

Trisha’s dad, Paul, kept his eyes focused on the star he had chosen tonight. He didn’t say anything, he couldn’t. His throat was tight from holding in the tears at the innocence in his only daughter’s promise. Since his wife died from a brain aneurysm when Trisha was a year old, it was just him and her. Every night they would lie out under the stars and pick a different one. He reached over and gently cupped Trisha’s small hand in his larger one.

“You do that, baby girl. You do that and I’ll be happy to go with you,” he finally said.

Chapter One

Trisha Grove grimaced at the faint scars marring her flat stomach. One large and a half-dozen smaller ones fanned out in different directions. She pulled the black top of her uniform down to cover them and turned away from the mirror. She pictured a nice, sturdy metal filing cabinet in her mind. Once she had a clear vision of it, she mentally put all her bad memories in it and locked it securely, throwing away the key. The damn thing always found a way to open itself up, but it was taking longer and longer for it to do so, she thought in satisfaction.

Trisha pulled out her black canvas duffle bag with the Boswell International logo on it and packed two changes of clothes, one for work and one for play. Not that she did much playing any more. Oops, she thought to herself with a self-reproving smile, forgot that one.

After packing her bag, she walked back over to the mirror and pulled her light brown hair up and braided it into a rope. Her hair was extremely curly from the top all the way to the tips. She tried cutting it short once and found out that was a huge mistake! She ended up with an Afro that would have made the comedian Carrot Top proud if her hair had been red. After that disastrous style decision, she let it grow out, thinking the weight of it would at least allow her to braid it or put it up into her current favorite style of the braided rope.

She studied her face for a moment with a sigh. She had to admit that at twenty-eight, she wasn’t half bad—at least with her clothes on. At five feet six, her slender frame was well-proportioned. She was a little big on top, but not so much that it became a problem when strapping into a cockpit. Her almost waist-length hair framed her long, narrow face. She had a straight nose and lips that were not too full but not too thin.

Her biggest asset was her dark chocolate-brown eyes. They were so dark it was hard to see her pupils most of the time. Her dad still told her they weren’t brown for nothing whenever she would give him a hard time, she thought with a grin. Her eyes darkened as she realized she was long overdue for a visit with her dad. She should have gone last month, but she was running out of excuses to give him about why she still wasn’t dating anyone.

Sorry, Daddy, I can’t give you those grandkids you’ve been wanting, the doctors say it is too dangerous. No, I’m not seeing anyone. I’ve been too busy with work. No, I haven’t heard from Peter since the divorce—and your little private conversation with him. Yes, I know there are other men out there who… Trisha slammed her mind closed. Enough! She told herself fiercely. It’s been three friggin’ years. Get over it!

Trisha pictured a deep black hole and threw all those bad memories into it, sealing it up with a huge metal lid. As an afterthought, she opened it up just enough to toss Peter into it as well before resealing it. That’s much better. Trisha chuckled.

Picking up her bag, she looked around to see if there was anything she might have missed. As she headed out to her SUV, she glanced up at the dark skies. Yeah, it seemed to fit the mood she was in. She pulled out of the parking garage under her apartment building and grinned. At least she was flying today. The weather forecast said it was scheduled to clear later this afternoon. She and her best friends, Ariel Hamm and Cara Truman, were scheduled to take an artist back across the country in an experimental business jet that was just about ready for full-scale production.

She and Ariel had been test-flying it all over the world. It was a beauty, with state of the art navigation and instrumentation. The sleek design was built for speed, and so far, it had handled a diversity of environmental conditions beautifully.

Trisha’s cellphone rang as she was pulling onto the freeway heading toward the private airfield owned by Boswell. Trisha frowned and muttered under her breath when a car nearly clipped her left bumper. Bad weather seemed to bring out the worst drivers.

Trisha pressed a button on the steering wheel connecting the call. “Hello, Ariel.”

“Hey, Trish,” Ariel said. Trisha grinned as she heard the breathlessness in Ariel’s voice. She’d bashed another alarm clock from the sound of it.

“Miss your wake-up call?” Trisha asked with a grin. They’d both slept in due to their late night in the training simulator at Boswell’s research facility last night, and Trisha wouldn’t have been surprised if Ariel had gone straight from the research lab to the no-kill kennel where she volunteered. Ariel really should have been a vet, Trisha thought as she changed lanes.

“My damn clocks are always breaking. I don’t know why I even bother buying a new one. They don’t last more than a week before they stop working,” Ariel grumbled under her breath.

“Anyway, I was looking at the weather forecast, and it looks like a go for early to mid-afternoon. I know Abby was anxious to get back home. I haven’t heard from Cara, but she should be in. I know she was in either Detroit or Philadelphia, I can’t remember which one. Anyway, you know how she is on a flight. We’ll be lucky if she doesn’t try to dismantle the damn thing at thirty thousand feet for the hell of it. Oh, and Carmen is coming too,” Ariel added quickly at the end.

Trisha bit back a chuckle. She knew Ariel would not appreciate her humor right now. Carmen was a sore point with Ariel. If the truth was known, Trisha could relate to how Carmen was feeling. Carmen had lost her husband three years ago in a traumatic way. Trisha thought Carmen was doing pretty well considering what she went through. She refocused when she heard the pause on the other end of the line and knew Ariel was waiting for her to reply.

“That’s great! I haven’t seen Carmen in a couple of months. Do you think Cara has forgiven us yet for the blind date we set her up with last week?” Trisha asked. She grinned when she heard the relief in Ariel’s voice as she changed the subject to something less stressful.

“I hope so, or we may be flapping our arms all the way to California,” Ariel said with a laugh. They had learned a valuable lesson—never set up a blind date for someone who is not only ADHD but smarter than Einstein, especially when you are drunk. The poor guy ended up having an asthma attack in the middle of the restaurant. Neither Ariel nor Trisha, who were two sheets to the wind, realized it until he finally got enough breath to ask the maître d’ for an ambulance.

“Anyway, I’m on my way and should be there in about twenty or thirty minutes,” Ariel said.

“Sounds good, I’d like to check over the controls again. I know we’ve been in the simulator a lot this week making sure we are comfortable, but I want to recheck a few things,” Trisha said.

They talked for a few more minutes before hanging up. Trisha knew she needed to make one more phone call before she flew out. She wanted to set up a time to meet with her dad so she could finally explain what she was planning to do. Pressing the pre-programmed number, she waited for his deep voice.

“Hello, baby girl,” Paul Grove said softly. “How are you doing?”

Trisha felt the smile curving her lips. She loved her dad so much. “I’m doing good, Daddy. I’m missing you.”

Paul Grove laughed. “Okay, when are you coming so we can head up into the mountains for a few days?”

“How do you know me so well?” Trisha said with a sigh.

“We’re two of kind, baby girl. Give us the outdoors with room to roam and the peace and quiet of the world around us, and we can solve all the world’s problems,” Paul Grove responded with a chuckle. “So, with those words of wisdom said, when are you coming out?”

“I’m doing a test flight to California for Boswell International. I should be back sometime tomorrow. I put in for my vacation starting on Monday. I’ll be there sometime late Monday afternoon,” Trisha said. Trisha used the word “vacation” instead of “resignation” because she didn’t want her dad to worry and didn’t have time to explain her decision. Some things were better said in person.

“Sounds good. I don’t have any clients lined up until the end of the month. I’ll keep my schedule clear. How long are you planning on staying?” Paul asked gruffly. He didn’t want to admit to how much he missed Trisha. He knew she had her own life now, but it didn’t mean he didn’t miss her.

“I’m off until the end of the month. I was thinking we could talk when I get there. I wanted to run a few things by you,” Trisha replied softly.

“Of course, baby girl. I can’t wait to see you.”

“Thanks, Daddy, I’ll give you a call before I leave on Monday. I love you,” Trisha said.

“I love you too, Trisha,” Paul Grove said. “Be safe.”

“Always!” Trisha responded lightly. She was feeling better already.

Trisha disconnected the call and focused on the rest of the drive to the airport. There were a lot of things she needed to think about. She needed to talk to Ariel. Trisha decided it was time for a change. She had given her resignation to Boswell International and was going to join her dad back at Grove Wildness Guides.

After her accident, she realized she would never make it into the space program. She would never be able to touch the stars. She hoped that staying active in a career devoted to flying would have been enough to satisfy her, but there was still something missing. She finally realized she missed her quiet nights with her dad and the freedom of exploring the woods and mountains. But what she missed the most was the sense of being a part of a family. It was time to go home.

Trisha was working inside the jet by the time Ariel got there. She could hear her and Carmen outside but decided to stay focused on what she was doing. Ariel would take care of the outside inspections. Trisha was the pilot on this flight, and Ariel was the co-pilot. They often switched back and forth.

A little while later, Trisha heard Cara’s cheerful voice in the hanger. Uh-oh, Trisha thought as she listened. Cara’s on a caffeine high! She couldn’t help but grin. Cara was so much fun. Trisha and Ariel adopted her several years ago as their surrogate little sister. Cara had been going through a difficult time with one of the engineers at Boswell, who was being a real dip-wad to her. When he showed up late one night at Cara’s apartment and started to get a little physical with her, Trisha and Ariel, who were visiting Cara at the time, ended up escorting him out none too gently. They told him in explicit detail what they would do to him if they ever saw him near her again. The jerk transferred overseas shortly afterward. Trisha chuckled as she remembered the look on his face as they walked him out.

Trisha stood up and stretched, trying to ease some of the tension in her shoulders. She decided she would see what Cara was up to before contacting the tower to see if they had permission for take-off. She’d checked the radar about an hour before, and it looked like the worst of the storm was passing through. It should be an easy take-off once they were given clearance.

Cara looked like she was just finishing up as Trisha stepped down the steps of the jet. “Hey, Trish.”

Trisha turned as she reached the bottom step and walked toward her. Trisha gave Cara a big smile. “Hey, Cara. Welcome aboard! Is this your first flight on the new Phantom Series?”

“Yeah, I’m really looking forward to putting her through the wringer,” Cara said. “Carmen coming too?”

“Yeah,” Trisha said softly watching as Ariel headed toward her sister. “Ariel got permission for Carmen to tag along. We’re heading to California to take home an artist the Boswells had commissioned to do a piece, and Carmen needed a lift,” Trisha said. She pulled Cara’s tool belt from her. It looked too heavy for Cara’s small frame, but Trisha knew better. Cara was tough as nails when she had to be. Glancing back one last time at Ariel and Carmen, she turned to head up the stairs of the jet telling Cara softly under her breath, “She’s still not doing too good.”

Forty minutes later, Trisha received permission for take-off, and they were soon airborne. The next six or seven hours would have been boring, but Trisha decided she wanted to put the new jet through its paces since they were making such a long flight. She wasn’t quite ready to tell Ariel about her plans yet. She decided to tell her on the return flight. She figured she wouldn’t have to worry about Carmen trying to kill her sister when she blew a gasket after she heard Trisha was giving up flying for a living.

Chapter Two

They landed back in Shelby, California a little after eight that night. The skies were beautiful with the stars twinkling up above. Trisha picked the brightest one and silently told her mom about her plans to return home. Trisha could have sworn it actually winked at her. Taking it as a good sign, she let the stress melt away. Trisha groaned as she stood up slowly, stretching.

One thing she wouldn’t miss about being a pilot were the cross-country and international flights where she sat for so long. She was still having problems if she was stationary for any length of time. She knew the stiffness would never go away. That was another deciding factor in her decision to resign her position at Boswell. She was just pulling her jacket off the back of her seat and was about to reach for the cabin door when Ariel put her hand on her arm stopping her.

“You know I’ll understand whatever it is you’re hiding from me, don’t you?” Ariel said softly, looking into Trisha’s eyes. “I know something’s wrong. I’ll always be there for you.”

Tears burned the back of Trisha’s eyes. She should have known Ariel would notice she wasn’t herself lately. “I know.” Trisha took a deep breath before blurting out what she had been afraid to tell her best friend.

“I’ve resigned my position at Boswell International, and I’m going home to work with my dad,” Trisha said in a rush. Her heart was pounding as she waited for Ariel’s response.

Ariel lifted an eyebrow at Trisha before she burst out laughing. “Is that all? I thought you were like, dying or something! So, when do we start?”

Trisha looked at Ariel in stunned silence. “What do you mean, when do we start? We who?”

“Me and you. I know your dad could use some help. He has called me at least once a week to get help with the paperwork ever since we left home! Remember, I was his bookkeeper before we left to join the Air Force. I’ve been doing all the major bookkeeping for the past ten-plus years,” Ariel said with a grin.

“W-what?” Trisha stuttered. “He never said a word! I had no idea he was having problems.”

“Not problems, necessarily. He has always hated doing the books. He would rather be out in the woods chasing the greenhorns. I’ve been talking to him for months about coming home, but didn’t want to leave you. I’m tired of all the traveling. Since things bombed between me and Eric, I thought it was time for a change. I asked your dad a couple of months ago if he would hire me if I came back home,” Ariel said with a relieved grin before she turned and walked out the door of the cabin.

Trisha just stood looking at her best friend’s back in stunned silence. They had grown up together in the small town of Casper Mountain, Wyoming. It had been Ariel, Carmen, and Trisha against the world. Since Trisha was an only child, having two other girls close to her age was wonderful. Ariel and Trisha were in the same grade while Carmen was a year behind them.

Ariel started working for Trisha’s dad, doing the bookkeeping between her junior and senior year of high school. Both girls took college classes online while in high school and received their associates degrees by the time they graduated.

They were both just starting their sophomore year in college when Ariel and Carmen’s parents were killed in a car crash. Trisha was sure the only thing that got Carmen through the rest of her senior year was having Trisha’s dad there, and Scott, Carmen’s high school sweetheart.

Carmen and Scott got married just days after they graduated high school. Ariel and Trisha decided to go into the Air Force since both of them wanted to get into the space program. Ariel didn’t make the cut—but Trisha had, at least, until the accident.

Trisha shook herself. She wasn’t going to go there. She had been there a thousand times, and it always ended the same. She gave a cynical chuckle. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? she thought to herself. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome? Shaking her head, she walked through the cabin and followed Ariel down the steps. She chuckled softly as she remembered hearing Cara opening the door to the jet almost before they had come to a complete stop.

Abby was looking at Cara with a somewhat hesitant look when she and Ariel walked up to them. Trisha wondered if she thought they were supposed to be tipped or something. She looked that uncomfortable. Cara, on the other hand, looked like she was trying to think up some reason not to get back in the jet. Trisha had a feeling Cara would have strapped herself to the top of it if she could have managed it. Trisha didn’t tell Cara, but both she and Ariel knew about Cara’s claustrophobia. They’d already decided to stay for the night. There was no sense in wearing them both out and stressing Cara to the point she would drive them insane.

“It’s really late for you to head out tonight. Would you like to stay at my place for the night? It’s a little ways up the mountain, but it is really beautiful. I have an extra bedroom if you don’t mind doubling up and an oversized couch that makes a great bed,” Abby said, looking nervously back and forth between the three of them.

Trisha was just about to open her mouth to agree when Cara burst out in obvious relief. It took every bit of self-discipline inside Trisha not to laugh. Ariel rolled her eyes while she tried to hide her smile.

“Sounds great to me!” Cara said excitedly. “I’d go bonkers if I had to get back in that tin can tonight. I’d love to meet your man. You said he had some brothers? Any chance of meeting them between tonight and tomorrow morning? I love meeting new guys. I’m trying to break my record of driving them off. I think the longest any have put up with me has been ten minutes.”

Trisha and Ariel laughed. “Ah, Cara, I think that Danny guy lasted twelve. What do you think, Ariel?”

“Oh, at least twelve, maybe even thirteen minutes,” Ariel added.

Trisha winced. She was the one who’d snagged Cara’s last blind date. It was not one of her shining moments. She decided to surprise Cara at dinner with a physics professor from the local university who lived across the hall from her. Cara had not been very happy with her choice. Grimacing, Trisha admitted she couldn’t really blame Cara for that. The guy treated all three of them like they were imbeciles.

Cara quickly turned the tables on him when she began her recitation of Stephen Hawking’s theory of black holes (in exquisite detail) and how relationships could be correlated to it. The poor guy ended up having an asthma attack in the middle of it.

It wouldn’t have been so bad, except Trisha was well on her way to a really good hangover and was totally oblivious to his distress. She had given her notice at Boswell that afternoon and was celebrating a little early. Imagine her surprise when Ariel hadn’t been in much better condition. Cara, being the only sober one of the group besides the physics professor, took one look at both of them and started laughing. Trisha knew, even as drunk as she was, that Cara was collecting blackmail points for future use. The last thing Trisha wanted to do was remind her of it.

“You two are nuts. You were so drunk,” Cara said, laughing, “you can’t even remember his name. It was Douglas. ‘Not Dougie.’” Cara’s perfect imitation of the outraged physics professor had Trisha and Ariel laughing so hard they had tears in their eyes.

“Oh yeah, good ol’ Dougie,” Trisha said, wiping her eyes. “How could we forget?”

Trisha looked at Abby and smiled. She knew her next words were more for Cara than for them, but she would never admit it. “Unlike some people we know, Ariel and I both need at least eight hours of sleep more than once a month to survive. We would love to take you up on both of your offers.”

Abby frowned. “Both of my offers?”

“Yeah, bed and brothers.” Trisha, Cara, and Ariel smirked.

Trisha went along with the joking about the brothers, but inside she winced. She was a lot like Carmen. She wasn’t ready for another relationship yet. Trisha snorted silently. Maybe she was more like her dad. Her dad never did find another woman to replace her mom. Her parents married very young, younger than her and Peter, but theirs was a soul match. Her parents had been married a little over four years when her mom died suddenly.

Trisha’s dad turned all his love and attention on their infant daughter. Trisha knew her dad had a few affairs over the years, but nothing that ever lasted very long. He never became serious about any of the women, no matter how much they tried to pressure him into making a commitment. She asked him once about it, but he just gave her a sad smile and said he hadn’t found another woman who lit the same spark as her mom. He told her that if he ever did find another one like her mom, he would snatch her up so fast she wouldn’t know what hit her. He and Trisha laughed and made a list of all the things he was looking for in a woman. She agreed that they had never found a woman who met all of the characteristics on his list.

Trisha realized she had been looking for that special someone, too. She thought at the time it was Peter, but she had obviously been mistaken. Trisha jerked back to what was going on around her when Carmen came up silently behind them.

“I appreciate the offer, but I think I’ll skip. I had transportation delivered earlier. I think I’ll head out as I slept most of the trip,” Carmen said quietly as she came up as if out of nowhere.

Trisha listened as Cara excitedly told Abby it wouldn’t take long for her to get her stuff. Her focus, though, was on Ariel. She was worried about her. She knew better than anyone how much Ariel worried about her younger sister.

Three years ago, neither one of them thought Carmen was even going to live. Ariel didn’t renew her commission in the Air Force so she could stay at the hospital during those first critical weeks. Between Trisha’s recovery and what happened to Carmen, Ariel’s hands had been full three years ago, Trisha thought with regret. Damn, but she needed to keep her thoughts focused. If she wasn’t careful, she would turn into a grumpy old lady.

“Okay. It’ll take us about ten minutes or so to close everything up,” Trisha said, glancing worriedly at Ariel.

Trisha turned and headed up the steps of the jet. It wouldn’t take that long to get ready. They just needed to lock the jet down and get their bags. Trisha reached up into the storage unit near the front of the cabin and pulled her and Ariel’s bags down. Gripping one in each hand, she turned to head back down the steps. She met Ariel at the bottom of the steps. Ariel secured the door to the jet before she turned back to Trisha and reached for her bag.

Handing Ariel her bag, Trisha murmured, “She’ll be alright. It just takes time.”

Ariel’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. She cleared her throat before she responded, “Yeah, but how much time? It’s been three years.”

“It’s been three years for me too, and I’m still not ready,” Trisha replied softly. “She lost someone very special to her, Ariel. Not all of us heal at the same rate. Just look at my dad. You just have to take it one day at a time and hope it will get better,” Trisha finished, looking off into the darkness with a haunted expression.

“I’m sorry,” Ariel said, pulling Trisha into a one-armed hug. “Sometimes I forget you can understand what Carmen is going through better than me. Thank you for being there for the both of us.”

“Hey, what are sisters for?” Trisha said with a grin. “Now, enough of all the sober, depressing stuff. I am sick of feeling bah humbug. Let’s concentrate on all the fun we are going to have messing with the greenhorns. I think the Navy is still sending their SEALs to my dad for training. I can’t wait to see their faces when I tag them.”

Ariel giggled at the thought. “You are so bad! You know they are going to need therapy after you mess with their heads, don’t you?”

Trisha was just about to reply when she heard a popping sound. She and Ariel had been around enough gunfire to recognize it immediately. Both of them dropped their bags and took off at a fast run toward the parking lot where they had heard it.

Trisha squeezed through the fencing first, followed closely by Ariel. Trisha breathed out a sigh of relief when she saw Cara and Carmen together. Her gaze searched frantically for Abby. She heard the sound of tires squealing and turned in time to see the taillights of a pickup truck leaving the parking area at a high speed.

“Shit, what happened?” Trisha asked.

Carmen spoke up before Cara could. Her expression was dark and deadly. Trisha could tell she was pissed. “Some asshole waylaid Abby. From the little I was able to gather, he isn’t too happy she didn’t choose him instead of this Zoran guy. He stuck her with something and has her cuffed. I’m going to follow him. Keep your line open. I might need some backup.” Carmen took off running toward a motorcycle hidden in the dark between two hangers before anyone could say anything.

“We need wheels,” Ariel muttered darkly as she watched her sister take off after the pickup truck.

“On it,” Cara said shakily before she ran across the dimly lit parking lot to Abby’s truck. Trisha watched as Cara deftly unlocked the truck and had it running in a matter of seconds.

Cara face lit up with a big grin when she saw Trisha’s raised eyebrow. “I used to have a problem with taking vehicles for a spin.”

Trisha just shook her head as Ariel jumped into the truck, scooting over to the middle so she could get in. In a hand-to-hand confrontation, Trisha was still better than Ariel. Her dad taught her how to fight, sometimes not exactly fairly. He knew if she was out in the woods alone, sometimes for days or weeks, with some of their clients, she would need to be able to defend herself in any circumstance. Some of their clients did not like to lose to a woman.

Paul Grove said it didn’t matter if you were a male or a female when it came down to fighting for your life. You either knew how to fight to live or you died. He made sure his little girl knew how to fight to live.

Trisha listened intently to the conversation between Ariel and Carmen. When Cara threw in one of her off-the-wall comments, Trisha couldn’t help but respond. Only Cara would be able to think of working on something mechanical while in a high-speed chase.

Trisha rolled her eyes when Cara commented on Abby’s truck acceleration. “Only you would be thinking about something like that while chasing down bad guys in the middle of nowhere.”

“Hey, I can work on more than one thing at a time,” Cara said right before she took a turn on two wheels instead of four.

Trisha wasn’t the only one letting out a long string of expletives she’d learned while in the Air Force. Ariel was keeping up with her pretty well while Cara just laughed. Trisha wasn’t sure she wanted to know where Cara had learned to drive like this.

Chapter Three

Kelan Reykill sat in the commander’s conference room aboard the V’ager, the Valdier warship he commanded. It was the largest and most sophisticated ship in their fleet thanks to his brother Trelon’s constant upgrades. He was studying the reports that were brought to him with a frown.

He wasn’t concerned about the reports pertaining to the planet below them. Zoran already warned them about the primitive planet he had taken refuge on. Zoran told them to come in using extreme caution as the inhabitants of the planet were unaware of other life-forms that existed outside their galaxy. Trelon already made sure they would remain undetected.

Kelan wasn’t even worried about when he, Trelon, and a few others transported down as they would be more than capable of defending themselves based on the information the reports contained about the planet’s military. They could simply transport out and be out of the solar system before the military even knew they were there.

No, what worried him was what happened to his older brother, Zoran. Kelan seethed as he read over the report on his brother’s capture and torture. He was in constant contact with his other two brothers back on Valdier. Mandra and Creon knew Zoran was captured by a group of Curizan warriors, but something just wasn’t adding up. They had been at peace with their former enemies for well over a century. It didn’t make sense.

He knew the members of the royal house of Curizan. Ha’ven, leader of the Curizans, was his brother Creon’s closest friend. Well, as close of a friend as Creon would admit to having. He knew Creon saved Ha’ven’s life during the wars, and that was one of the factors that brought it to an end.

Why would they have taken him to a remote military base that had been abandoned eons ago? Why did they want to know the secrets of the symbiotic relationship between a Valdier warrior, his dragon, and his symbiot? Others had tried in the past to gain such knowledge by trying to capture a warrior’s symbiot. Every time it ended with the captor being killed by the symbiot.

It was this knowledge that gave the leaders of Valdier the power they needed to open their planet to trade almost three hundred years ago. By then, the Three Wars between the Sarafin, the Curizan, and the Valdier were coming to a close.

Trade agreements and peace treaties were signed. In exchange for possible mates, the Valdier would trade some of their powerful crystals to the Curizan. The Sarafin were promised the first-born daughter of the King of Valdier would be mated to the first-born son of the King of the Sarafin.

Unfortunately, Kelan’s father, who wrote and negotiated that particular treaty, did not inform the Sarafin that females were few and far between for the Valdier, especially those of the royal house. The treaty was signed over a century before, and so far, the Valdier had no problems with the Sarafin. In fact, his brother Trelon was a frequent visitor to their Spaceports and did a significant amount of trading with them.

Kelan rubbed his stomach in irritation. Ever since his brother Zoran introduced them to his true mate, Abby, Kelan’s dragon had been acting up. Kelan always prided himself on his ability to deal and negotiate with his more primal half, but ever since it laid eyes on the dragon’s mark on Abby’s neck, it was a constant battle to get his dragon to calm down. He wanted to get to the planet and find his mate.

If one true mate can be found on this primitive planet, then so can another. Mine! His dragon growled in annoyance. Go, now. Find my mate.

Will you just back off! Kelan growled back in anger. We have more important things to do. Plus, there is little likelihood of finding a mate on this planet. You know how our symbiot is! It is so picky, we have never even been able to have sex with a female if it is in the same room that we are.

Kelan’s symbiot looked up at him with a low snarl and showed its teeth. It was in the shape of their huge Werecat, a creature known for gutting its prey and eating it while it was still alive. Kelan’s dragon snarled back, for all the good it did either of them.

The symbiot could tell through the bands wrapped around his upper arms what his dragon was doing, but it merely snorted before lowering its head. It knew that when it came to the final acceptance of a female as a true mate, if the symbiot did not accept the female, then the dragon would not accept it. And if the symbiot didn’t accept the female, and the dragon refused to breathe the dragon’s fire into her, Kelan knew he was totally screwed. There was no way he would ever have his true mate without all three of them accepting her.

Kelan threw the report down on the table in front of him with a growl. He didn’t have time to waste on fantasies. If he hadn’t found a female yet out of all the females he’d bedded on Valdier—and Curizan and Sarafin and a few others—his symbiot added through images with a yawn. Kelan snarled loudly at his symbiot in response.

His symbiot stood up slowly and shook before turning its head and walking out of the room. Kelan ran his hands through his hair, wishing he could get rid of his dragon as easily as that. It was tearing gouges inside him like a Werecat sharpening its claws. He needed to remain focused on the situation at hand.

Closing his eyes, he sought the calm he was renowned for having before he opened his eyes again with a steely determination glittering from them. First things first, get Zoran and Abby. Next, return to Valdier and find out what Mandra and Creon have discovered. Last, kill the bad guys. A smile curved Kelan’s lips as he found his center again. His dragon could just go take a long, cold shower until they were done.

It was dark by the time they transported down. They decided it would be better to use the cover of darkness. The darkness did not affect them. They simply let their dragon come to their aid as it could see in the dark just as well as during the day. Kelan studied the meadow where Zoran landed initially. He had to practically tie his dragon down to keep him under control. The only thing that worked so far was the threat of not leaving the warship and sending another in his place. Only then did his dragon finally calm down and behave himself. His symbiot walked around the meadow exploring in a slow, disinterested manner.

Kelan noticed a change in his symbiot lately and was concerned. He never heard of a symbiot losing its will to live, for its very essence was attached to his own, but his was spending more and more time simply lying around watching the other symbiots and their warriors. It no longer actively sought the company of the other symbiots on the warship like it did before.

He made a mental note to ask Zoran to look in the Archives of Knowledge to see if there was any reference to the symptoms his symbiot was displaying. Zoran, as ruler of the Valdier, was the only one to have access to them because they were said to explain the origins of the symbiot.

Kelan walked over to where Trelon and Zoran were. He was so deep in thought he didn’t notice the immediate change in Zoran until Trelon made a comment. Glancing at his older brother, Kelan studied his face trying to see if there was any difference in him now that he had a true mate.

“Zoran, all is well?” Trelon asked.

From the dazed expression on Zoran’s face followed by the fierce relief and joy, he would have to say yes; there was definitely a change. He had never known Zoran to be anything but stern and reserved. Now, his whole face changed as he responded to Trelon’s question.

Zoran looked at Trelon as if coming out of a daze, a huge smile on his face. “She has returned.”

Kelan grinned at Zoran. Trelon must have also noticed the same change because he was wearing a huge grin as well. Kelan fought back a chuckle as he watched Zoran’s dragon fight to come out. He wanted his mate.

He isn’t the only one who would like to see his mate, Kelan’s dragon said sarcastically. Kelan barely hid his jerk of surprise. Since when had his dragon learned how to be sarcastic? What in the hell was going on? First, his symbiot was walking around looking like he had killed its best friend. Now, his dragon was giving him lip.

Since when did he start losing so much control over the other parts of himself? He never lost control! He was known for his strict self-discipline. In fact, his ability to remain in command in any situation, no matter how difficult or dangerous, was still discussed with awe among the warriors. And he was known for his skill at handling any challenge, no matter how impossible it seemed. He proved himself time and time again before, during, and after the Three Wars.

Yes, but none of those skills have helped you find us a mate, have they? his dragon retorted angrily.

Shut up, will you? Kelan thought furiously. Just keep your focus on getting Zoran and his true mate off this planet, or so help me, I won’t let you out for a month once we get back.

It wasn’t much as far as threats went, but it was the only thing Kelan could think of to shut his dragon up for a few precious seconds of peace. Kelan’s symbiot just walked over and lay down at his feet, ignoring the conflict going on between Kelan and his dragon.

Zoran’s face creased into a smile, and he said in a relieved tone, “Soon you will meet my true mate.”

Kelan watched as his younger brother picked on Zoran. When Trelon playfully punched Kelan in the arm, wanting him to grab Zoran, Kelan just shook his head with an answering grin. It had been a long time since they had wrestled with each other.

All five brothers were very close growing up, often getting into trouble together. Their father and mother tried futilely to separate them on more than one occasion when they had been particularly mischievous. That never stopped them, though. They simply shifted and took off for the dense forests that covered their world. Kelan chuckled when he saw Trelon reaching for Zoran. Zoran suddenly became very still, frowning in concentration.

“Abby will not be returning alone. There are three females with her,” Zoran grumbled.

“Perhaps she brings our true mates to us,” Trelon teased. “I, for one, am not ready, but perhaps Kelan, Mandra, and Creon might appreciate having one. I still have much to taste before I settle for one female.”

Kelan choked out a laugh and grabbed Trelon around the neck, imagining it was his dragon’s when the damn thing roared out excitedly at the idea of meeting its potential mate. As Kelan fought to control his dragon, he couldn’t resist ribbing Trelon. “You believe yourself a bull dragon to satisfy so many females. It takes that many because none could ever put up with you for long.”

Trelon responded to Kelan’s comment, just as Kelan knew he would, by trying to take him down. Kelan may have been slightly taller and a year older than Trelon, but Trelon was definitely broader and more muscular. Kelan had just twisted to break the hold Trelon was trying to get around his neck when he heard Zoran’s roar of rage. In a flash, he shifted and called to his symbiot. Golden armor swiftly covered his arms, legs, and chest. He rose into the air, prepared for battle.

Kelan listened intently to the conversation between his two brothers. At first, he regretted sending the other warriors back to the warship. If necessary, he could call to them to return. Until he knew what the issue was, he did not want to endanger any of his men’s lives.

When Zoran explained his true mate had been attacked, he began forming strategies to get her back. It appeared there was only one male involved that they knew of. There was no need to call for additional support. One primitive male would be no match for the three skilled warriors. Kelan notified the V’ager via his symbiot to be prepared for a swift departure and to prepare medical just in case it was needed for Zoran’s mate. He was not concerned about the welfare of the male who had taken her. That one was already dead as far as Kelan was concerned.

Trisha gripped the armrest with one hand and put her other hand on the dashboard to try to keep from being tossed around. Cara was doing a great job of driving, but it was still scaring the shit out of her. Both she and Ariel were cussing up a blue streak.

When Cara made the turn onto the gravel road, Trisha began wondering if it would be a good time to start praying again. She was doing the best she could to keep the taillights of Carmen’s motorcycle in sight. Since Carmen was running dark, the only time they could see her was when she hit the brakes, which didn’t seem often enough for Trisha’s peace of mind. She must be traveling like a bat out of hell to be so far ahead of us, Trisha thought.

When the truck slid dangerously close to the trees on Trisha’s side of the truck, she didn’t say a word, but the sweat beading on her forehead was enough to show it was closer than she was comfortable with. A flashback to her own accident was enough to make her swallow down the nausea that threatened. She couldn’t lose it now. She had to keep control until this was over and Abby was safe. Focus on Abby, she kept telling herself.

Trisha could see Cara was fighting to maintain control of the pickup truck. When she didn’t see Carmen’s taillights, she became worried that Carmen might have taken a spill and was lying in the middle of the road where they couldn’t see her. If they came upon her suddenly, there would be no way to avoid hitting her.

“Do you see her?” Trisha asked anxiously, voicing her fears. “I can barely see a thing. I would hate for Carmen to wreck in the middle of the road and not see her until too late.”

“She’s fine. I think I saw some brake lights up ahead through the trees,” Ariel bit out between bumps. “God, Cara. Do you think you could hit any more ruts?”

Ariel no sooner finished her sentence when she was thrown into Trisha. Trisha couldn’t quite contain the groan that escaped her when her head hit the passenger side window hard. She knew she was going to have a nice knot on her head. The bad thing was she couldn’t even let go of her grip long enough to rub it out. Gritting her teeth together, she pushed back the pain. She had gotten pretty good at doing that, she thought with a dry sense of humor.

Trisha bit back a laugh as Cara responded to Ariel. She wasn’t about to say a word. Cara had a long memory, and Trisha didn’t want to be on her bad side. She was still waiting for the payback for the blind date. In fact, Trisha wouldn’t have been in the least bit surprised if Cara didn’t pull over and tell Ariel she could drive if she thought she could do it better.

“I’m doing the best I can. It is darker than shit out here, and I don’t think this road has ever been graded! You try driving over twenty miles an hour on it and see if you can do any better,” Cara said crossly.

Yup, Cara is pissed, Trisha thought. When she heard the sound of metal scraping, she cringed.

“I can fix that,” Cara said loudly over the screeching.

Trisha bit back a chuckle and just shook her head. Knowing Cara, she would too, and it would be even better than before. That thought had no sooner left her brain when she saw a flash of bright blue light. She turned around to see what it was just as Cara called out.

“Son of a bitch! What was that?” Cara gasped.

Ariel twisted around to try to see out the back window. “I don’t know. You didn’t hit the gas tank or anything did you?”

“Of course, she didn’t,” Trisha bit out tensely, gripping the dashboard harder, so she wouldn’t be thrown into the side window again. “That would have been us, otherwise. Just don’t give her any ideas!”

Trisha turned around in time to gasp as another flash lit up the night. Her eyes widened as she saw Carmen’s motorcycle lying on its side behind the pickup truck of the man who had kidnapped Abby. They were about twenty-five yards ahead of them.

“Holy shit! Did you see that?” Cara asked, looking up through the windshield.

Trisha’s eyes were focused on the struggle going on in the truck in front of them. She could see inside the cab as the light came on when the driver’s-side door opened. She watched as the man leaned over Abby. After a moment, he began pulling her out of the truck by her hair.

“Oh, my God. Abby!” Trisha cried out.

Trisha struggled to open the door to the truck just as it rolled to a stop behind the pickup in front of them. She ignored everything else but the need to get to Abby. She almost fell as her feet connected with the uneven surface of the gravel road. Trisha bit back a curse. She was still stiff from the flight and was having difficulty getting her muscles to work right. Biting back a cry of pain, she forced herself to move out of the way so Ariel could climb out after her.

“Where’s Carmen?” Ariel called out frantically as she slid out of the truck.

Trisha gave a cry of alarm as she watched three huge creatures surround the man who had pulled Abby out of the truck. Within seconds, more of the bright blue fire appeared and surrounded the man. Trisha watched in horror as the man was engulfed in flames, his silent screams were frozen on his face for just a moment before his body dissolved into a pile of ash.

Kelan kept Zoran in his sights as he followed him to Abby. He flew fast and silent, his huge body moving in a graceful rhythm while his keen eyesight looked down through the dark forest below for any sign of Zoran’s mate. Kelan watched as Zoran suddenly dropped down out of the sky, shifting at the last possible moment so he could land in the back of the pickup truck holding Abby.