He stood in the command center, his powerful legs braced as the
ship began its descent toward Candest. He maintained his
balance with one large hand gripping the edge of the main
console. Like his legs, his chest was bare, with well-
delineated muscles beneath golden skin. Silent and majestic, he
waited. Suddenly his head turned, and his unblinking midnight
gaze fixed unerringly upon her.
Terror jolted through Jenna, momentarily disrupting the vision.
He couldn't possibly see her. She was inside her modest
quarters in Shamara; he was on a Leor warship, still on the
outer edges of Candest's stratosphere. She gasped for breath,
her chest heaving, as she tried to dispel the vision, to break
its insidious hold on her. But like a nightmare that would not
end, the images resumed, sucking her into a clairvoyant vortex
she could not evade. . . .
He was still standing there. His face was clearly recognizable,
even though it had been more than four seasons since she'd seen
itâ€”just that one time; even though she'd never actually met any
Leors. But she knew him. He had high, bold cheekbones; a
powerful, square jaw; a prominent, wide forehead; all creating
the frame for surprisingly sensual lips, a starkly chiseled
nose, and black-hole eyes so dark, no pupils were visible. No
facial hair or eyebrows softened his harsh features; no hair of
any sort covered his gleaming head.
She'd always sensed the thoughts of those in her visions, and
his were no exception. Determination, edged by desperate need
and utter ruthlessness. Cold, logical analysis of obstacles to
be overcome and the most direct methods of doing so, without
compunction or mercy.
Again he looked directly at Jenna, and her heart battered
against her chest. A staggering energy snaked between them, a
treacherous snare. The command center faded from sight, and
everything around them ceased to exist. No ship, no Shamaraâ€”
only the two of them, in the vastness of the universe.
The vision ended abruptly, and Jenna lurched out of her chair.
She felt the inundating chill and the sick sensation in the pit
of her stomach that always followed a vision. Even with the
link severed, and even though the Leor's ship must still be
several hundred kilometers away, his powerful presence lingered
in her chamber, a brutal reminder of her future. She wanted to
run, fast and far. But she knew it was useless. She couldn't
escape him, no matter how hard she might try.
She also knew, with absolute certainty, why he was here. Just
as she knew what would happen next. Her fate was sealed. She
had foreseen it in a vision on Liron over four seasons past,
and had long ago learned the futility of trying to alter the
course of destiny. Her visions were never wrong and could not
She'd never had any other discernment of her own future, either
before or since that fateful cycle of the pink moon; the same
cycle that Ranul san Mars, the great Shielder leader, had
passed on. Not that it made any difference. Her fate had been
decreed by Spirit. She sank back into the chair, willing her
heart to stop racing and air to return to her lungs. She
couldn't let panic take hold. It would accomplish nothing.
The roar of an overhead ship drew her attention. She rose and
went outside, looking skyward. A huge, glittering black and red
warship passed overhead, dropping lower as it approached the
landing pads. The Leor had arrived.
And with him came the end of her existence. Dread clawed at
her, and Jenna pressed a trembling hand against the panel frame
to steady herself. She wanted to scream out in protest, to rage
against the forces orchestrating this cruel turn of events.
But it did no good to curse the reality, or to resist it. Her
life, as insignificant and drab as it was, had never been hers
to command. She'd always been at the mercy of her visions,
guided by the will of Spirit, or so she'd always fervently
insisted. She couldn'tâ€”wouldn'tâ€”accept the possibility that her
ability might come from dark spiritual influences. Just as she
couldn't avoid fate.
Slowly, Jenna turned and went inside. She knew what she must do
now. Since there was no way she could alter the destiny
hurtling head-on toward her, she would face her fate with
dignity and make the best she could out of her situation. She
slipped on a cape to protect against the chill of the morning,
raising the hood to avoid being recognized and shunned.
Because of her clairvoyance and her uncanny ability to predict
the future, the other Shielder colonists had always maintained
a wary distance. Superstitious, forced to expend every micron
of energy to survive, they found it simpler to avoid her than
deal with their fears.
There was nothing for her in Shamara. Nor did anyone care that
her destiny was that of mating with the leader of a barbaric
and cruel race.
Her life here, and her freedom, had just come to an end.
"We are not in the business of bartering people, Your
Lordship," Jarek san Ranul said, a hard edge to his voice. "We
have plenty of irridon to offer in return for your services."
"I don't need irridon. I need a mate." Arion, ruling Comdar of
Saura, set his drink on the conference table. He found having
to bargain for a bride almost as abhorrent as mating outside
his race. Yet he had no choice. Problems from generations of
inbreeding among the small Leor populace, along with the short
fertile cycles of Leor females, necessitated that new gene
pools be introduced.
The Komiss, the council overseeing all Leor clans, had decreed
that the leaders of each clan would take a non-Leor mate to
ensure strong, healthy future leaders, and to avoid extinction.
Producing offspring had become even more crucial with the
Controllers' increasing aggression toward the Leors.
"I'm aware of your people's problems, but I cannot condone
using human lives as a medium of exchange," san Ranul
responded. "With all due respect, Your Lordship, Shielders are
highly opposed to slavery. We have worked too hard to free
ourselves from the oppression of the Controllers to willingly
allow any of our people to be forced into such a state."
Arion was well aware of the Shielder aversion to bondage, just
as he suspected san Ranul knew Leor society had a lower caste
system consisting of slaves. While Arion believed the Shielders
were too lenient in some regards, he had nothing but respect
for the ferocity with which they'd battled, and won, their
freedom from the Controllers. He also respected Commander san
Ranul, who had rallied his people and led them through a
wormhole to this section of the galaxy and then created new
"We do not look upon our human mates as slaves," he said. "They
are accorded the same treatment our Leor females receiveâ€”that
"Yet you trade services in exchange for those mates, as if they
were commodities rather than living, sentient beings."
"Trading services for goods is what we do, Commander. I am sure
you know most of our settlements are in deserts and basically
barren. For generations, Leors have survived by bartering. We
fight in battles, transport goods, and offer protection on
trade routes and other ventures. In return, we receive whatever
we need to survive, including the means for our race to
"Comdar Arion, I do not want our differences on this matter to
drive a wedge in our working relationship," san Ranul said.
"Our initial agreement with Komissar Gunnar was the exchange of
irridon in return for transporting Shielder settlers from the
other quadrant. As I stated earlier, we have ample stores of
Feeling the chill of the meeting hall, Arion rose and strode to
the large firebox where heat stones glowed, sending out
beckoning warmth. He tossed back his cape and let the heat seep
into his skin. "My need for a viable mate is greater than the
need for irridon." He turned to face the Shielder leader. "And
your need to transport two newly uncovered Shielder settlements
from the grasp of the Controllers is also very great. It is
miraculous that they have survived this long."
"You also need irridon," san Ranul argued. "It provides the
majority of your fuel, both for your spacecraft and on your
settlements. I don't see why we can't reach an agreement that
doesn't involve the exchange ofâ€”"
"I have stated my terms. Would you place the welfare of two
entire settlements over that of one individual female?"
San Ranul hesitated, his expression frustrated. Arion knew the
good of the majority must always come first to a competent
leader, and that san Ranul was an exemplary leader and military
officer. "Take the issue to your people," Arion suggested.
"Perhaps one of your females would come willingly, for the good
San Ranul considered. "There are very few women who would meet
your requirements. The majority of our women are mated, or too
young, too old, or not virgins."
"Virginity is one requirement on which I will not compromise,"
"I'm well aware of that, Your Lordship."
"I only require one mate. Commander. Again, I suggest asking
your people. If one of your females comes forwardâ€”"
"I will do it."
The feminine voice caught Arion by surprise, and he turned
toward the entry. A slight figure stood there, shrouded in a
hooded cape. San Ranul appeared just as surprised. "What are
you saying?" he asked.
The figure took a step forward. "I am offering to go with this
Leor." Her voice was low, soft. Shock registering on his face,
san Ranul strode toward the figure. "Jenna? Is that you?"
"I don't need to ask how you knew Comdar Arion was here, butâ€”"
He gestured toward Arion. "I'm not sure you understand what the
Comdar is requesting."
Her head shifted toward Arion. "I think I do."
Intrigued, Arion moved around the Shielder leader. "Show
She hesitated, and he felt a wave of uncertainty that caught
him off guard. It took a moment to realize it was her emotion
he was feeling, another surprise. Since Shielders had natural
mind shields, Leors were unable to probe their minds and
ascertain their thoughts, as they did with other species. Even
with his mind-probing abilities, Arion had never felt another
being's emotions. Yet he was clearly sensing this female's
anxiety. It was the only logical explanation.
"You are afraid," he taunted.
"I am . . . apprehensive." Her voice remained low, but he
detected the note of resolve.
"If you believe yourself worthy to be a Leor's mate, you will
Slender hands lifted slowly to the hood and lowered it. The
first thing Arion noticed, as he always did with humans, was
the femaleâ€™s hair. It was a deep rich copper, the fiery tones
of a desert sunset. It was tucked inside her cape, so he
couldn't determine its length.
Her face was strong, angular, with a square jawline, but her
features were very feminine. Russet eyebrowsâ€”another oddity to
Leorsâ€”formed perfect arches over gray eyes that were the same
soft color as polished magnasteel. Her nose was narrow and
straight, her mouth small but curved.
She stared back while he studied her, her gaze steady and
direct; a point in her favor, as Leors insisted on eye contact,
which facilitated their ability to probe minds. She had none of
the magnificence of a Leor female, but she was pleasant enough
to look at. She wasn't very tall, her head coming only to the
top of his chest. He wondered how sturdy she was. "Take off
your cape," he ordered.
"Surely we can come up with another solution,â€ť san Ranul
She turned her head toward him, and the lights reflected off
her hair like sparks. "I know this is the solution, and so do
you. I must be the one to do this. I've foreseen it as my
San Ranul's eyes widened. "You saw this in a vision?"
"Yes. And unfortunately, all my visions come to pass."
Further intrigued, Arion asked, "You are a seer?"
The woman's gaze returned to him, and he found himself falling
into mesmerizing gray eyes, filled with the mysteries of the
ages. "I am, Your Lordship."
Divination was nothing new to Arion. Every Leor clan had at
least one shaman who was able to communicate directly with the
Goddess and offer prophecies of the future. This femaleâ€™s eyes
alone were enough to convince him she spoke the truth. "You
have foreseen a destiny with a Leor?" he persisted.
She drew a deep breath, her chest rising beneath the cape. "I
have foreseen my destiny with you, Your Lordship. Four seasons
Amazement jolted through him, along with a sense of dĂ©jĂ vu.
Actually, it was a real memory from a little over four spans
agoâ€”that of Morven telling him, "The Goddess has chosen your
mate. She will be surrounded by fire and visions."
Not that Arion had discounted it, but when a mate never
materialized, he assumed Morven must have misinterpreted the
vision. However, it was possible that this Shielder female,
with her fiery hair and seer abilities, was meant to be his
mate. Still, Arion never accepted anything at face value or
took anyone but his most trusted advisers at their word.
Treachery and betrayal were rampant in the universe.
"How do you know your fate lies with me?" he challenged. "If
you have not been around Leors, we would all look similar to
Her gaze didn't waver. "That might be the case. But how many
Leors bear the mark of a new moon on the left shoulder?"
Only Arion did. The crescent-shaped birthmark was part of his
heritage, appearing on all the males of his line, and was
accepted by his clan as proof of his right to leadership. But
the mark was on the back side of his shoulder, completely
covered by his cape. There was no way this female could have
seen it. Stronger evidence that she was the one Morven had
prophesied. "Take off your cloak," he demanded.
Her hands weren't quite steady as she untied her cloak and
shrugged it off. It fell in a pool on the floor. Fully
revealed, her hair was stunning, falling in silky waves halfway
down her back. Arion had never seen hair that color, like the
burnished glow of fire stones. But then he found all hair
fascinating, as did most of his people.
He shifted his attention to the rest of her. She was small
boned, very slender and delicate. He felt a wave of
disappointment. She must be wrong about her vision. "You are
far too frail. You would not survive the first mating."
Faint color brushed her cheeks, but she raised her chin
proudly. "I'm stronger than I look, Your Lordship."
Her persistence impressed him. She would have to be mentally
strong, as well as physically sturdy, to survive life among
Leors. He asked the most vital question, the one that would
determine if he would even consider her for a mate. "You are a
virgin? Untouched by any man?"
"I am a virgin."
"Do not lie to me about this," he warned her. "My personal
healer will examine you thoroughly to ascertain the truth of
"No man has ever touched me," she said with quiet dignity.
A startling rush of primitive, masculine possessiveness flowed
through him. He was not one to be swayed by emotion, and he did
not like the reactions this human female was spurring in him.
It must be the different gravity and atmosphere of Shamara, he
told himself, asserting his formidable will over his emotions.
"You are aware that you will leave here and live in a Leor
settlement? Your relocation will be final. You will not ever
return to Shamara."
"Yes." Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.
He pressed on, ruthlessly determined that she understand all
that would be required of her. "And are you aware that we will
be joined as mates, in every way a male and female can be
Her color deepened. "Yes, Your Lordship."
"Your sole purpose will be to bear me offspring. You will
belong to me, until death separates us."
She closed her eyes for a brief moment, and when she opened
them, all the softness was gone. Now the strength of the
magnasteel glinted there, the resolute look of a warrior about
to go into battle. "I'm fully aware of your requirements. I am
prepared to become your â€¦ mate."
She stumbled over the last word, and san Ranul stepped between
them. "Surely we can barter something else."
The female turned to him, her resolve reflected in her bearing.
"And while weâ€™re debating the issue, what will happen to those
two Shielder colonies still in the other quadrant? Where will
their help be when the Controllers find and destroy them?â€ť
He obviously had no answer. "Unfortunately, your point is well
taken.â€ť He looked at Arion. â€śYou will accept nothing else?â€ť
â€śI will not.â€ť
San Ranul nodded to the woman. â€śThen I accept your offer with
our deepest gratitude.â€ť
Arion's ultrasensitive hearing picked up the slight hitch in
her breath as she said, â€śI would like a few moments alone with
San Ranul didn't seem happy with this, but he appeared
reconciled. "All right," he said. "I'll give you some privacy.
I'll return shortly." He strode to the entry, glanced back at
Jenna, and left.
She clasped her hands together, staring at Arion. "There is one
condition I require before I make the final decision to go with
"You seek to bargain with me?"
Her white knuckles were the only outward indication of her
tension. "I only seek to ensure my own well-being and dignity."
He could not fault her for that. "You will not be mistreated,
as long as you respect and honor our laws."
"I will do my best to honor your laws. But I would like your
word that you'll never strike me, or allow anyone else to."
"Leor males do not strike their mates."
"Your word, please, that you will never hit me."
A growl rose in his throat. Had he not just told her he would
not harm her? She reached out as if to touch him. He tensed
before he could control his reaction. With rare exceptions, no
one touched him.
As if sensing his aversion, she dropped her hand. "I will be in
an alien culture, surrounded by beings that are very different
from my own people. Beings who are physically much stronger and
She paused, as if choosing her words. "Fiercer nature. I must
know that you will stand for me."
"I protect what is mine," he growled. "Never doubt it."
"You give your word?" she persisted.
He would have to make it very clear she was never to question
him in any way. But he was a master strategist and understood
they were in negotiations. Her enlightenment could come later.
"Yes. You have my word."
She exhaled slowly. "Then I will come with you."
"Only if the physical exam bears out your virginity," he
reminded her. "And your ability to bear offspring."
"It will." Her gaze was unwavering. Once again, he was struck
by the power of her eyes. "I consent to this examination, but I
want you to know that my word is also good."
"I am glad to hear it. I will not tolerate lies from anyone,
especially not my mate. Make sure you remember that." Arion
decided the sooner he could educate her in Leor ways, and what
was expected of her, the better.
"Since I have always placed a high value on the truth, I don't
expect dishonesty to be a problem, my lord," she replied.
Her dignity increased the fledgling respect he felt toward her.
He already believed his healer's examination would validate her
claim of innocence. "If we are to be mates, I would know your
full name," he said.
"Jenna dan Aron."
He inclined his head. "I am Arion, Comdar of Saura."
"Comdar Arion." she acknowledged, her voice low.
Most human females had voices that grated on him. Jenna's had a
melodic quality, with a pitch that vibrated pleasantly in the
highly attuned receptor in the top of his head. He again felt
the odd effect she seemed to have on him. He stepped closer,
picking up her scent, clean and sweet. If he could stroke his
tongue along her flesh, he would be able to ascertain every
nuance of that tantalizing scent. He could feel the natural
warmth emanating off her, a lure that called to all Leors. And
her hair . . . He wanted to touch it, feel the satiny wonder
of it between his fingersâ€”
Enough! he told himself sternly. Indulging in the senses was a
weakness, and one that would be controlled. He gestured
abruptly toward the entrance. "Then come. We will go to Lanka
now, and she will confirm whether or not your claim of
innocence is true." He stood back, indicating she was to go
So she would be his mate, he thought, watching her petite form
as he followed. Not a tall statuesque Leor female, who would be
fearless and could fight as well as any male. He had always
hoped for a mate who would be his equal, but fateâ€”and the
Komissâ€”had decreed otherwise. It appeared this fragile human
female with hair the color of fire was his destiny. At least
she was strong in spirit, and already he harbored a grudging
respect for her courage.
But she had much to learn about Leor ways, and she would have
to accept the fact that he would be her master in all things.