Captive of a violent warrior race, deliberately injured and set adrift to die alone in space, Shanrem De Nebral is rescued by Zen Ahbramez and the crew of the starship Brizo.
For Shanrem, raised to be nothing more than property to be sold to the highest bidder, the freedom, friendship and love he finds aboard the Brizo is more than he ever dreamed of. But even the best of dreams end, and for Shanrem there’s nothing but trouble ahead.
With the near perfection bred into him in ruins, his own people would rather see him dead than returned and the Dukati warrior who owned him wants him back. To keep Shanrem safe and sheltered within his loving embrace, Zen’s strength and resolve will be tested to the limits.
To wake was akin to a slow crawl on hands and knees through thick, cloying mud. As his mind neared a conscious state, memory presented him with remembered agony, terror and the specter of death that grasped him in its greedy clutches before merciful darkness liberated him.
The soft murmur of voices drew his nerves taut. Soul deep quivers shook him from head to toe. Sweat and chills fought for supremacy at the realization of having been sent back to that vicious, nightmarish reality. Overwhelming dread returned in a rush so fierce, it set his heart thundering at a pace that had him a hairs breadth away from blacking out. A harsh, despairing cry tore from his raw throat.
From the corner of his eye he could see someone approach and he fought to move, to flee, but his struggles were in vain. He was bound, his wrists and ankles secured to the flat, padded table on which he lay. He flinched as a shadowy figure squatted down, bringing them face to face.
“Shh, it’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid. You’re safe here,” the man softly comforted. “I’m sorry about the restraints. We didn’t know how you’d react on waking so we thought it would be better to do things this way rather than have you accidentally reopen your wounds. I’m Zen. Can you tell me your name?”
He stared wordlessly into eyes of warm tawny gold, so different from the wintry disregard of the Dukati. Realization of the absence of pain made his knotted muscles slowly relax. Whoever had taken him in, it seemed their intention was to help rather than hurt. His heartbeat slowed and he took a much needed breath.
Parting his lips, he tried to speak, but the word he managed to utter came out a barely there whisper. “Shanrem.” The effort to say it, carried on a shaky exhalation, drained what little was left of the strength he’d recovered. A blanket composed of pure exhaustion settled over him. Though he tried to keep his eyes open, his lids refused to cooperate.
“Shanrem,” the man repeated. His deep voice was soft, a soothing caress that calmed Shanrem’s frayed psyche. “I know how tired you must be. Go back to sleep. I promise you, no harm will come to you here.”
The last thing of which Shanrem was aware after hearing that solemn pledge, was the touch of gentle fingers sliding lightly over his hair.
* * *
One last time, Zen’s fingers glided through the dark silk of their wounded passenger’s hair. He eased back and sat on the edge of the treatment platform next to the one on which the young man rested.
“Shanrem,” he whispered.
Despite the bruise-like shadows under his eyes and the easing lines of anxiety that creased the space between his brows and pinched the corners of his mouth, their unexpected passenger was beautiful. When Shanrem had opened his eyes, Zen felt himself drawn into their silvery depths. Like many a star he’d seen, they held the barest hint of blue and Zen felt, given the opportunity, he would welcome the chance to stare into them while trying to unravel the secrets they held.
Under the circumstances it was an odd notion, but Zen had been taught never to dismiss his feelings out of hand. Even the strangest of musings could have merit if given enough time to fully reveal themselves.
His gaze moved from Shanrem’s face to the damage done to his back. Even after treatment and smothering in a semi-transparent layer of sluget gel, it was a sight that stirred a plethora of feelings — anguish, fear, helplessness. Zen’s hands fisted. He closed his eyes and leaned forward slightly as thoughts of the past stirred nausea in his belly and a red haze colored his thoughts.
Memories of destruction, of the bodies of friends and family left dead in the wake of a Dukati raid played across Zen’s battered consciousness. The images were debilitating, but he refused to relinquish himself to the weakness they stirred within. Instead, he called on the inner strength and calm that kept him moving forward, breathed deeply and opened his eyes to the sight of Shanrem lying so still, so brutalized, yet still alive and with the potential to put the tragedy of his captivity behind him.
Images of Zen’s missing sister and brother overlaid the young man before him and he could only pray that they had never been subjected to the cruelties Shanrem had suffered. The steps Zen had initiated in an attempt to discover their whereabouts had yet to bear fruit, but he was nowhere near ready to give up. Shanrem’s appearance, no matter how coincidental in the grand scheme of things, seemed to Zen as something of a sign. Perhaps the fragile hope to which he’d held so tightly the last two years would yet prove to be more than just a balm to assuage his own pain.
The urge to touch Shanrem once more pulled at Zen as though Shanrem had become a talisman against Zen’s deepest fears. Before he could give in to the impulse, the med bay door opened behind him, signaling Doc’s return.
“Anything happen while I was gone?” Doc asked.
“He woke for just a few seconds.” Once more Zen let his gaze rest on the young man’s face. The lines of tension had eased and peace had settled over his features. “His name is Shanrem.” So saying, Zen felt a tug, a stirring of something inevitable. He wondered if it might be fate.
Calm, controlled and dependable, Kate Steele lives a quiet life surrounded by family and pets in a century-old farm house in rural Indiana. It’s a pretty normal existence… then comes the night. Filled with werewolf howls, vampire kisses and gorgeous aliens it’s enough to make even the most stoic of beings take note and Kate is no exception. Her imagination takes wing and her keyboard catches fire as she crafts erotic tales of romance, paranormal magics and everyday people. Visit Kate at http://www.katesteele.com or send a message to Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org