A twig snapped behind me and I jumped, heightened senses inhaling musk and strawberries.
Relief and panic competed inside me. Serge was the last person I wanted to catch me this way: filthy, junked-up, vulnerable…and longing for him. Suddenly tearful, I scrambled to my feet with a grunt of effort. I fled into a staggering run, tripping and stumbling over a tangle of roots in the muck. I didn’t dare look back.
“What?” I heard him quip. “No warm welcome like: ‘It’s so good to see you Serge, I missed you so much.’” Then after a pause of huffing breaths, he added in exasperation, “Rhea! Wait up!”
“Why are you following me?” I threw a withering look over my shoulder at him. He’d gone back to being a human, those ugly lumi pants recklessly low-riding his hips and revealing taut abdomen muscles and the alluring curve of his pelvis. I noticed with some satisfaction that he was having a hard time negotiating the underwater root tangle as well.
“What do you think?” he answered in a sarcastic tone.
“I don’t need your help!”
“That’s a matter of opinion. You’re hurt and you’re crying—”
“You’re the one making me cry.” I glared at him. I hadn’t noticed I was crying. “This is all your fault. I never cried before I met you.”
He barked out an exasperated laugh then added, “That’s because I woke up your senses. I made you alive.”
“You made me miserable!”
“Alive and miserable, then,” he conceded. “Let me help you.” He broke into a sprint, splashing in awkward steps.
“I told you, I don’t need help from a lying scoundrel,” I huffed and threw myself into a frenzied lopsided gallop to keep ahead of him. “I don’t need help from a God-damned Vos, Nihilist, anti-Nihilist, spy, thief—whatever you are!” I tripped and fell. Serge was bending over me, pulling me up, even as I struggled to get free. My chest heaved. Black bog juice dripped off my face. I turned to face him and caught his intoxicating smell: a cottonwood forest in spring cut by musk and a hint of strawberry. It overwhelmed my senses and made me dizzy with desire. I stared up into his face and longed to fling my arms around him and kiss him. I bit out, “I’m perfectly fine on my own.”
“Oh, you are, are you?” he retorted. “In case you didn’t notice, I saved your scrawny flat butt.” His face was close to mine, eyes blazing and breathing hard.
“Where were you the rest of the time? Sun tanning in the penthouse suite? Get off me!” I twitched my face from his and pushed away. I didn’t like how he’d described my butt.
“It took me over a month just to get in,” he huffed out, clinging to me and fighting off my struggles. “By then you were already running the place. I was stunned. I’m amazed at your talents, particularly in escaping. Frankly, Rhea, I didn’t expect you to be in any shape to do anything—”
“Well, thanks for the encouraging thoughts and incredible faith in my abilities,” I said tartly. “I had a little help from several friends and none of them was you.” I thrashed out furiously to get free. “I didn’t ask for your help back there. I could have managed, damn you!”
“You ungrateful little witch!” he growled, pinning my arms in a forceful embrace. He glared at me. “You’re too jagging proud to admit that you need my help.”
Lips snarling, I jerked out of his grasp but slipped in the wet sod with a shriek and took him down with me. We fell with a splat, black oily mud oozing over both of us. He scrambled on top of me, straddling my hips, and pinned my flailing arms with his hands.
For a hesitant moment I inhaled his heady aroma and felt myself tumbling dangerously into his tempest eyes. He held my gaze and I drew in a shuddering breath. So much passed between us in that gaze and for a moment we were staring at each other like the time when we’d first made love. It was an exquisite moment of infinite devotion, wonder and tenderness. And mutual surrender. And I felt as though I’d loved him and trusted him all my life—
Desperate, I shifted with a shrill grunt into a massive Venik, realizing too late that my clothes tore to shreds off of me. I struck out. Within a heartbeat, Serge matched my form, lumi-pants ripping off, and countered. I tried an Azorian. He matched. A Khonsus—he was already one! I finally returned to my human form and Serge followed suit, barking out a laugh and breathing hard like me. His dark eyes grew large. We were both naked.
“Good try,” he panted with a rough laugh. He glanced down my body before locking eyes with mine. “Just look at you…You’ve chopped off your beautiful hair. The drugs have wasted your skin, done something to your eyes…But you’re still so…”
I dreaded what he saw and met his thunderstorm gaze with my own vulnerable gaze. I knew I was a spectacle: wet and bedraggled hair plastered over my face in tangles of mud—yet I returned him a plaintive thirsty look…How I’d missed those eyes.
They blazed into mine. “…so beautiful,” he finished in a hoarse voice. Then he slammed his mouth against mine in a crushing embrace. Like a spring released I yielded and we kissed. I flung my arms around him, clasping his neck and pulling him close, feeling the hard heat of his response. I savoured his body stirring over mine as I rocked my hips up against him. His lips flamed over my face, defining every feature, and I trembled at the tantalizing rasp of his whiskers. His hands mauled my body with uncontrollable ardour. I was all his…except—
“No!” I slithered out from beneath him and kicked out. He barked out a yelp. I scrambled to my wavering feet, slipping, and stuttered out in a shaky voice, “I won’t let you take advantage of me.”
“Advantage!” he exclaimed and rubbed his thigh. “You want it too, damn it. You were kissing back.”
When Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke investigates the genocide of an entire spiritual sect, she collides not only with dark intrigue but with her own tarnished past. Her quest for justice catapults Rhea into the heart of a universal struggle across alien landscapes of cruel beauty and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.