the Best Futuristic category for the
Romantic Times 2004 Reviewers Choice Awards.
Stars, TOP PICK****
By the time I got near the end, I was so caught up in
these characters that tears were streaming down my face . . . . Ms. Spangler
should be called the Queen of Futuristic Romances! SHADOW
FIRES is heady reading that is intoxicating to the senses.
|Go to #2 Excerpt with Lani|
|"We are not in the business
of bartering people, your Lordship," Jarek san Ranul said, a hard
edge to his voice. "We have generous amounts 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 insure strong, healthy future leaders, and to avoid extinction. Producing offspring had become even more crucial with the Controllers' increasing aggression towards 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 Captain san Ranul, who had rallied his people and led them through a wormhole to a different section of the galaxy, then headed up creating new settlements.
"We do not look upon our human mates as slaves," he said. "They are accorded the same treatment our Leor females receive—that of equals."
"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, Captain. 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 continue."
San Ranul drew a deep breath. "Comdar, I do not want our differences on this matter to drive a wedge in our working relationship. 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 irridon."
Feeling the chill of the meeting hall, Arion rose and strode to the large firebox where heat stones glowed, sending out a 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 of lives."
"I have already stated my terms. Would you place the welfare of two entire settlements over that of one individual female?"
"One life sacrificed to save many?" San Ranul walked to the firebox. He stared at Arion. "How can I place a value on any life, or determine if one life is more important than another?"
Such weakness to put so much significance on a single life. The good of the majority must always come first—a philosophy san Ranul had once lived by. Perhaps the Shielder leader had grown soft, but it was far more likely he thought he would be able to deal with another Leor. If so, he was sadly mistaken. Arion turned towards the entry. "Then I am afraid we can no longer do business."
"Wait." San Ranul followed him. "There must be some way around this impasse."
Arion slowed. It went against his nature to give anyone a second chance, or to negotiate firmly-set terms. Few people were foolish enough to consider suggesting such to a Leor. But the Shielders and the Leors had enjoyed a profitable business relationship for over three seasons, and the Komissar had a connection with them through his mate.
He faced san Ranul. "Take the issue to your people. Perhaps one of your females would come willingly, for the good of all."
San Ranul considered. "There are very few women who would meet your requirements. The majority of our women are either mated or too young, too old, or not virgins."
"That is one requirement on which I will not compromise," Arion said.
"I'm aware of that, your Lordship."
"I only require one mate, Captain. Again, I suggest asking your people. If one of your females comes forward—"
"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, face hidden in the recesses of the deep hood. Appearing just as surprised, san Ranul asked, "What did you say?"
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, but . . . " He hesitated, then gestured towards Arion. "I'm not sure you understand what the Comdar is requesting."
Her head lifted towards Arion. "I think I do."
Intrigued, Arion moved around the Shielder leader. "Show yourself."
She hesitated, and he felt a wave of uncertainty which 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 show yourself."
Slender hands lifted slowly to the hood and lowered it. The first thing he noticed, as he always did with humans, was her hair. It was a deep rich cooper, the color of 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 jaw line, but her features were very feminine. Russet brows—another oddity to Leors—formed perfect arches over deep-set gray eyes that were the same soft color of polished magnasteel. Her nose was narrow and straight, her mouth small but curved.
She stared back while he studied her, her gaze clear and direct, a point in her favor, as Leors insisted on direct eye contact, which facilitated their ability to probe minds—except with Shielders. 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.
"Wait a minute," san Ranul protested. "I'm not sure there's any need to go further. Jenna, you don't have to do this. At the very least, we should discuss the ramifications of such a decision."
She turned her head towards him, and the lights reflected off her hair like sparks of fire. "I must do this. I've foreseen it as my destiny."
San Ranul's eyes widened. "You saw this in a vision?"
"But surely not all your visions are accurate," he protested.
"Yes, Captain, they are."
Further intrigued, Arion asked, "You are a seer?"
Her gaze returned to him, and he found himself falling into mesmerizing gray eyes, filled with the mysteries of the ages. "I am, your Lordship."
Prophecy 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 woman'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 ago."
Amazement jolted through him, along with a sense of déjà vu. Actually, it was a real memory from a little over four spans ago—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 had never materialized, he'd assumed Morven must have misinterpreted what he had seen. However, it was possible this Shielder female, with her fiery hair and seer abilities, was meant to be Arion’s mate. Still, he never accepted anything at face value, or took anyone but his most trusted advisors at their word. Treachery abounded in his world.
"How do you know your fate lies with me?" he challenged. "If you have not been around Leors, we would all look similar to you."
Her gaze didn't waver. "That might be the case. But how many Leors bear the mark of a new moon on their left shoulder?"
Only Arion did. The crescent-shaped birthmark was part of his heritage, appearing in all the males in his line, and accepted by his clan as proof of his right to leadership. But the mark was on the back side of his left shoulder, completely covered by his cape. There was no way this woman could have seen it, stronger evidence that she was the one Morven had prophesied. "Take off your cloak," he grated out.
Her hands weren't quite steady as she untied the cape 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 perusal to the rest of her. Dressed in a plain brown tunic over matching leggings, 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," she said quietly.
"Do not lie to me about this," he warned her. "My personal healer will examine you thoroughly to ascertain the truth of your words."
"No man has ever touched me," she said with quiet dignity.
An 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 slip of a female was spurring in him. It must be the different gravity and atmosphere of Shamara, he told himself, asserting his triton will over his emotions. "You are aware that you will leave Shamara and live in a Leor settlement? Your relocation will be final. You will not ever return here."
"Yes." Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.
He pressed on, ruthlessly determined that she understood 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 joined?"
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 . . . mate."
She stumbled over the last word, and san Ranul stepped between them. "Jenna," he said, taking her arm. "You don't have to do this. There's no reason to bind yourself to such an agreement."
She turned toward him, her resolve reflected in her bearing. "Tell that to Spirit, Captain. And tell that to those two Shielder colonies still in the other quadrant. Where will their help be when the Controllers find them?"
San Ranul obviously had no answer for that. His hand dropped away from her arm. "Just be very sure, Jenna. I can't help you once you leave Shamara."
Arion's ultra-sensitive hearing picked up the slight hitch in her breath as she said, "I understand." Another hitch, as she turned back toward him. "I would like a few moments alone with his Lordship."
San Ranul didn’t seem happy with any of this, but he appeared to reconcile himself. "All right," he said. "I'll give you some privacy. I'll return shortly." He strode to the entry, glanced back at Jenna one last time, then left.
She clasped her hands together, her gaze on Arion. "There is one condition I require before I make the final decision to go with you."
His eyes narrowed. "You would seek to bargain with me?"
Her white knuckles were the only outward indication of her tension. "I only seek to insure 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 will 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 who are very different from my own people. Beings who are physically much stronger and have a . . ." she paused, as if choosing her words. "Fiercer nature than I have. 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.” Arion decided the sooner he could educate her in Leor ways and what was expected of her, the better. “I will not tolerate lies from anyone, especially not my mate. Make sure you remember that."
"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 quiet dignity increased the fledgling respect he felt towards 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. "And I am Arion of Saura."
"Comdar Arion," she acknowledged, her voice low.
Most human females had voices that grated on him. Hers 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 affect 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 fingers—
Enough! he told himself sternly. Indulging in the senses was a weakness, and one that would be controlled. He gestured abruptly towards 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 ahead.
So she would be his mate, he thought, watching her petite form as he followed her. 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 fate—and the Komiss—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.
|Excerpt with Lani|
|Two cycles out, all was on schedule
when Arion’s ship was hailed by an approaching Leor craft. “Comdar,
it is the Komissar’s flagship,” Erona, his communications officer,
reported. “They have transmitted the correct security codes, and
are initiating docking.”
“Inform the Komissar I will meet him at the airlock.” Arion turned and left the center, heading toward the main airlock. He wondered briefly about the nature of Gunnar’s visit, but it was not his place to question the Komissar’s purpose. All would be revealed in the proper sequence.
He strode down the wide corridor, welcoming the flow of hot air from the vents that formed a continuous network through the walls. Beneath his feet, the ship vibrated faintly, the powerful propulsion system slowing to allow it to dock with the flagship. His crew bowed respectfully as he passed. He grunted with satisfaction. All was as it should be, running in perfect order.
He reached the airlock, noting that the decompression light was on. Docking was already in progress. The panel connecting the adjoined air locks slid open, and a small figure stepped into the plexishield vestibule on Arion’s ship. Seeing the flash of blue feathers, he almost groaned aloud. She had accompanied the Komissar—again.
The mates of officers and crew members had no place on warships, unless both happened to be assigned to the same ship, which was rare. But the Komissar often insisted on traveling with his mate, a human he had met during his dealings with the Shielders. Her presence was a detriment to running a smooth space mission. And a detriment to everything Leor pride and honor stood for, in Arion’s opinion. He grimly set his expression to mask his disgust for Komissar Gunnar’s mate.
Surprise replaced disgust when the panel closed behind the blue-feathered figure. No one else was boarding? Where was the Komissar? Surely there must be some mistake. The airlock slid open and Komissar Gunnar’s mate strutted out, perched on spike heels that looked ridiculous with her blue-feathered loincloth and matching cape. Actually, the entire outfit was ludicrous. No Leor would be caught dead in feathers, much less the color blue. If that wasn’t enough, the female had blue hair and blue lips.
Her bright blue gaze homed in on Arion before he could execute a strategic retreat. “Oh, there you are, Comdar!” She sashayed toward him, carrying a blue case in one blue-tipped hand and waving the other hand. “Just the man I want to see.”
He stood stiffly, cursing Leor protocol that demanded he show courtesy to any member of the Komissar’s family. Lani stopped before him, sweeping him with an appreciative gaze that he thought was highly inappropriate. “And what a man you are,” she sighed. “All you Leor males are prime specimens. Too bad we can’t clone you and take out the arrogance.”
“What is your business here?” he growled, barely keeping himself in check.
She smiled brightly, making her blue lips look even more gaudy. Dressed in all those blue feathers, she reminded him of an obnoxious echobird. She was a small woman, shorter than Jenna, but with more curves, and very generous breasts. He’d caught his men staring at them more than once, and doled out the harshest ship assignments for that infraction.
“I’m here to discuss your future mate,” she trilled in an annoyingly high-pitched voice. “And I’m anxious to meet her and offer her my full support.”
Arion could just imagine what ideas she would put in Jenna’s head. “She’s not available right now.”
“Oh, really?” Lani’s blue eyes narrowed to slits. “And why is that?”
“She’s in sleep stasis. You’ll have to visit her after we reach Saura.” He turned and started to stride away.
“Wait just a millisecond, Arion!”
Arion? No one in their right mind addressed him without his title. He swung around to find himself chest to nose with the echobird. “I knew that would get your attention,” she said smugly. “I’m here on official business, with greetings and messages from the Komissar. I suggest we talk further in your council chamber—unless you’d like to discuss business here, in front of your men.”
Arion glared at his crew. They were standing at rigid attention, their gazes straight ahead, but he knew they were listening to every word. His breath hissed from his lungs. “All right, then. We go to my council chamber.” He whirled and stalked away, hearing the rapid clicking of her heels on the floor behind him. He couldn’t comprehend how she could even walk in the ridiculous things, much less keep up with him.
The Komissar must have been seriously incapacitated when he took this female as his mate. Arion had heard tales about total upheaval in Dukkair after Lani’s arrival there. Horrifying accounts of unrest among the Leor females; of them demanding that the laws banning sex before the merging ceremony be revoked. Sexual liberation, the females had called it.
This had been followed by further tales of more and more couples having sex without being mated, of total disregard for the laws. Without laws, and without order, there was no discipline. And without discipline, Leors could not maintain their power, or protect themselves against the Controllers. That was already getting difficult enough without anarchy.
This woman had been responsible for the problems on Dukkair. She had weakened Gunnar, clouded his reasoning, and he allowed her free rein to wreck havoc upon his planet. Poisoned by his infatuation with Lani, he should have been stripped of his rank, removed as head of his clan.
But amazingly, he had not shown any weakness at all. When the passing of Kanet necessitated that a new Komissar be chosen, Gunnar had stepped forward to enter the challenge. And he had triumphed over the other five contenders, displaying superior intellect, strength and battle skills. Unbelievable.
Arion entered the chamber with Lani right behind him, then turned to face her. “I will hear the Komissar’s messages now.”
Her blue brows arched. “You’re not going to offer me refreshments? Some homa, perhaps?”
“I do not expect our meeting to last long.” He was pushing the limits with his rudeness, but Lani always managed to enrage him.
“I don’t know about that,” she said, pulling out a chair. She slipped off her cape and laid it and her case on the conference table, before sitting in the seat and adjusting the height, lowering it substantially. She crossed her legs and settled back.
For the first time, Arion found his gaze drawn to her breasts. They were rounded, like Jenna’s were, only they were fuller and they had blue nipples— By the Goddess! What was wrong with him? He did not allow himself to think about anything that might be carnal in nature, and certainly not with this female.
“Like what you see, Comdar?” Lani asked, giving him a knowing look. “That’s good. If you have an appreciation for the female body, you’ll find more pleasure in sex.”
“I am not interested in your body,” he growled, as furious with his lapse in discipline as he was with her. “And I will not enter into the mating act for pleasure. It will be for the sole purpose of creating children.”
The echobird rolled her eyes. “So typical. You think you can control everything, every thought, every emotion, and that mating is a simple, straightforward exercise.”
“No, it isn’t. Nor is dealing with your mate. Did you ask Jenna if she wanted to be put into sleep stasis? Or did you just do it, without consideration for her feelings?”
“I made the decision, and it was done.”
“Did she do it willingly?”
He felt a twinge of remorse, a first for him, and ruthlessly shoved it away. “She did as I ordered.”
“Spirit preserve us, “she muttered. “Did it ever occur to you that if you explained the process to her, and the reasons for it, that she might have agreed, and it wouldn’t have been nearly so stressful for her?”
“What is all this concern about stress?” he demanded angrily, battling a blade of concern for Jenna. “Life is filled with hardships. Undergoing sleep stasis is a minor event.”
“It’s one event of many. You will be spending the rest of your life with this woman. Do you want it to be a battlefield? Do you want her to cringe in fear every time you approach her?”
That gave him pause. He’d never considered what mating entailed, beyond the breeding of future heirs. Leors mated for life. There was no divorce in their culture. If a mate died, they did not remarry. Once he went through the merging ceremony with Jenna, he was bound to her until death.
“As long as she respects me and honors our laws, she has nothing to fear from me,” he said stiffly.
“The same old ‘Do whatever I say, and everything will be fine.’” Lani gave an unladylike snort. “I take it she’s a virgin?”
“Oh, of course. And of course, you plan to jump her immediately after the merging ceremony and stake your claim.” With jerky motions, she dragged her case to the edge of the table.
It was none of her business. Arion was so incensed, he wanted to order her thrown into the brig, to rot until the fires of Hades consumed her, blue feathers and all. At the very least, he was ready to end this farce of a meeting and forcibly escort her off his ship.
But she was pulling several items from her case, one of them a black file embossed with the Komissar’s scarlet seal. That jolted him back to rational thinking. He was dealing with the Komissar’s mate, and he must accord her the same respect he would give the Komissar, or suffer the consequences.
“This is from Gunnar,” she said, patting the black file absently. “He said I was to give it only to you. He didn’t want the information transmitted, even over secure channels. But before you look at that, I want to give you this.”
She held out a small case. He eyed it suspiciously. “What is this?”
“A holovideo on sex.”
He recoiled as if she was trying to hand him a glowing heat stone. “I do not need it. I have been well educated on the matter.”
That was true. When they weren’t honing their battle skills, Leors received a thorough education. Even though they were highly physical beings, they also believed that knowledge was another form of power, and they pursued any and all power. Since they didn’t mate before the merging ceremony, and could not rely on experimentation to teach them, they studied the mechanics of the mating act.
“So you’ll just get on top of Jenna and do it, without any preliminaries? Practically rape her?”
That sent more outrage roaring through him. "Leor males do not rape females!"
“You big oaf!” Lani slapped the table, obviously frustrated. "It will be rape if she’s frightened, and if you don’t insure she’s ready for penetration. You’re so big, and she’s a small woman, not nearly as sturdy as a Leor female. You could hurt her if you’re not careful, and she’s not ready."
He could not believe they were having this conversation. “I will not discuss this matter with you.”
“You don’t have to.” Lani tapped the holovideo with a blue fingernail. “You can watch this, in the privacy of your personal chamber. You can do just audio, if viewing it makes you nervous.”
“I do not get nervous,” he said softly, dangerously. “Ever.”
“Whatever you say,” she returned airily. “No one even has to know you have the holovideo. It has instructions on the basics, and it also covers the finer points of lovemaking, and how to woo your mate.”
Woo his mate? Ridiculous. He was the head of the Sauran clan. He did not woo or cajole—he commanded. “I do not have to lure Jenna to me. She is already mine.”
"Oh, yeah. The male ownership thing. That really attracts women.” Lani shook her head. “I’m sure you think everything is well settled, Comdar. But your relationship with Jenna—and the mating—will proceed much more smoothly if you give her time to get used to you, and to living in a Leor settlement. That alone is a whole new experience, let me tell you. You need to show her some kindness, be gentle with her.”
He clenched his hands into fists. “Leors are not kind!” he growled. “We are not gentle. We are warriors, and we do not have time for such foolishness. Jenna agreed to mate with me, knowing what was expected of her.”
Lani placed her hands on her feathered hips. “You Leor males are so obtuse. Just like an Oderian tri-horned bull in a shop full of Calpernian crystal. I’ve heard you’re a master strategist, and that you’re one of the best there is when it comes to planning a battle. Surely you know some battles are better won with finesse than force.”
What could she possibly know about military assaults? “In battle, perhaps,” he conceded. “But I have found a direct approach is best when dealing with subordinates.”
“Subordinates?” She rolled her eyes again. “Oh, please. I know you would prefer a direct frontal approach, so to speak. Listen to me. Give Jenna some time to get used to her surroundings, and to get to know you better, before you get to the mating. It will make things easier for both of you.”
“Leors do not concern themselves with making things easy. Jenna will adapt to her new surroundings.”
“Yes, she will, in time. But until then, it will be very difficult for her. The heat will bother her.” Lani ticked off her fingers. “The food will bother her, and the slavery will really upset her—as will the public slaughtering of animals, and the executions. You can ease her adjustment by giving her time to come to terms with the differences. Don’t try to mate with her until she knows you better, and the shock of the Leor culture has worn off.”
Wait to mate with Jenna? That was the entire purpose of this exercise. “It is my duty to produce heirs,” Arion gritted out through clenched teeth. “And once the merging ceremony is completed, we must mate by the next moon alignment.”
“I know that.” She waved her hand dismissively. “But I’ve studied the astronomical data on your planet. The merging ceremony can’t be done until the Mystic Trine is fully formed, and on Saura, that’s always exactly seven standard cycles before the alignment. That allows a little time for Jenna to get used to you, and for the two of you to bond.”
Bond? He had no intention of bonding with anyone. Emotional involvement was not necessary to perform the mating act and produce heirs. All that was needed was a male and female and a quick coupling. “Bonding is not necessary,” he informed Lani. “The continuance of the line is all that matters.”
“Yeah, yeah. Here.” She shoved the holo case towards him. “Take the holovideo.”
He snatched the case from her—anything to end this ludicrous conversation.
“You might even learn something you didn’t know if you watch it.” She stood and smoothed the blue feathers. “I think you’ll be surprised at how much it will help you win friends and influence people. Not to mention seducing your mate.” She closed her blue case. “I understand an android is accompanying Jenna.”
Would this torture never end? “Jarek san Ranul gifted me with an android,” Arion replied stiffly.
“Hmmm. One of the Riordan androids?”
“He said as much.”
She beamed. “Oh, that’s very good! I read on the UDW that all the Riordan androids have ‘pleasure training’. They are experts on enjoyable sex. If you run into any problems, you can discuss them with the android.”
Discuss mating with an android? It would be a cold day in the middle of a super nova. Arion rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. He never had headaches, unless he was around a certain, blue-feathered female. “Is that all?” he asked, sending supplication to the Goddess that it was.
“For now,” she said brightly, “Feel free to contact me if I can help in any way.”
He’d blow up his ship first. “I will see you back to the airlock.”
“Don’t forget the file from Gunnar.” She picked up her case and sashayed toward the entry panel. “He’s very concerned about the situation with the Controllers.”
Gunnar was confiding in this female? Inconceivable. Arion followed her to the airlock, glaring at her slight figure the whole way. Cursed, meddling, blue-feathered female! She strutted around and disrupted routines and interfered in things that were none of her business. What did she know about Jenna anyway?
His mate-to-be appeared sturdy enough. He had made the situation, and his demands, quite clear. She knew what she was getting into. Woo her? Bond with her? Never. He was a warrior, first and foremost. All he needed, and all he expected from Jenna, was the continuation of the Sauran line. That was it.
He looked at the black file he was carrying. Right now, he could not allow any distractions. He needed to focus all his energy on the growing threat the Controllers presented. If what he suspected was indeed in the file from Gunnar, then the Leors were facing a grim scenario. Arion didn’t know if they could win an all-out war against the Controllers.