The Demon of Synar

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The Demon of Synar Book One of the FORCED TO SERVE Series by Donna McDonald Copyright 2012 by Donna McDonald Cover by LFD Designs for Authors Edited by Toby Minton License Notes This edition is available free of charge from Although you do not have to pay for this digital copy, the book nevertheless remains protected by international Copyright law and must not be offered for sale in digital or printed form. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is coincidental. This book contains content that may not be suitable for young readers 17 and under. About this book When the original story grew too large, I decided to put the content containing the back- story and the first chapters that dealt with the plot into a short Book One. This book lays the groundwork for the series and will hopefully interest you enough to buy the others. Book Two is twice as long and more along the lines of what I envision for the rest of the series. I started the Forced To Serve series as a group of paranormal/fantasy/scifi romances, but the stories have ended up being enjoyably complex for me. I loved writing about the inner struggle my characters are having as they try to be authentic. I loved writing about the battle of good and evil going on inside them all the time. These stories are a little bit of everything as most good science fiction is for readers who love it. I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it. Donna McDonaldCharacter guide When you are writing, and especially when you’re world building in a paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction story, you develop very intimate relationships with the characters you create and how they sound in your head. Okay yes, I hear voices, and yes, sometimes they do tell me to do things. Usually, it’s along the lines of “either you write this scene this way or I’m going to play it like a movie in your head until you do”. Most of my characters are alpha to some degree. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get a happy ending out of them sometimes. In this book, I decided to let the reader into my head to hear the voices I heard a little. So I’m including a list of the main characters along with a pronunciation guide. Not that you have to call the characters these names in your head when you’re reading—feel free to change them if it pleases you—but I thought you might like to “see” my spin. Captain Liam Synar (pronounced Lee-um Suh-nar) SPECIES: Norblade AGE: 268 Intuitive/ Demon master/Ship Captain Peace Keeper Ania Looren (pronounced Uh-ni-uh Loo-ren) SPECIES: Pleiadian AGE: 918 Enlightened spiritual being/Warrior/Demon possessed Lieutenant Dorian Zade (pronounced Door-ee-an Zayd) SPECIES: Half Siren/Half Greggor AGE: 623 Empath/Intuitive/Warrior/Spiritual Counselor Commander Gwen Jet (pronounced Gwin Jet) SPECIES: Half Earthling/Half Thelorian AGE: 35 Strong-minded warrior/Passionate female/First Mate Chiang of Greggor (pronounced Chee-ang of Greg-gor) SPECIES: Greggor AGE: 142 Empath/Intuitive/Physically powerful/Healer Malachi, Demon of Synar (pronounced Mal-uh-ki) SPECIES: Demon Mist AGE: Over 1000 (he is not saying how much) Created demon/ Loves to control/Can possess any creature Unlimited power but bound by the Creators of All (name of supreme deities)Prologue Two years ago…. “I was nervous the first time I bound myself to a female as well,” Dorian said, watching his best friend and current captain pace the room. “What makes you think I’m nervous?” Synar asked, pausing to give his friend a strange look. Dorian laughed at Synar and his blank expression. “What still shocks me is that Ania Looren passed up dignitaries, presidents, other ambassadors, and more warriors than I can count to tumble into your bed like a love stricken Earthling. I’m in awe of you turning out to be the one male in her entire life that she couldn’t refuse.” “If you think I’m going to be indiscreet and brag about my bonding time with Ania, you are mistaken my friend,” Synar said, grinning at Dorian’s guilty look. “Being a Siren, my vows are especially hard to endure, Liam. Today the most celibate planet in the Alliance is tuned into your mating vibrations, as am I. As your best friend, the least you can do is let me live vicariously through you once in a while,” Dorian teased. “I know you were her first breach.” “Yes I was, but I’m still not telling you details. That won’t be happening. The first time is a private matter and a special sharing. Find your own female and start living again,” Synar ordered. “I want peace, not another mate. It hasn’t even been a century since I lost the last one. I know not all creatures live as long as Sirens, but a century doesn’t feel all that long when you are grieving,” Dorian said, narrowing his eyes as his friend picked up speed. “Liam—you’re going to wear out your footwear if you keep that up.” “I don’t know what’s wrong with me—can’t seem to stand still. I’m truly not nervous taking Ania as a formal mate, just impatient to get the public ceremony over,” Synar said. “My intuition is sending out massive warning signals, but I can’t tell if they are real or just a reaction to the events of this day. I don’t want to be an embarrassment to her in front of her family, so I haven’t said anything. I have a couple crew members observing the ceremony and looking for problems. They haven’t found anything yet.” “Why are we even doing this ceremony anyway? I distinctly remember Ania saying it wasn’t necessary for her sake. She said you were too anxious to wait until after and that you had filed the legal mating forms before ever leaving the ship,” Dorian teased. “You and she belong to each other now in all the important ways. What will this ceremony accomplish?” “Ania is a high-level Peace Alliance ambassador. You don’t just throw one of those over your shoulder and run off to your quarters with her,” Synar answered. “This ceremony is for her family. They’ve waited a long time for their only child to take a mate. My mother declined to come, which was just as well since she hasn’t spoken to me since my father died. I think my mother has more trouble believing Conor killed him than I do.” Dorian could hear the pain in Liam’s voice without even looking at his energy. “Is your brother still exiled?” he asked quietly. “Yes,” Synar said flatly. “And it will stay that way for at least the next century of his life. Mother will just have to deal with it and be glad that at least Conor isn’t dead.”“Have you told Ania about your family and your inheritance?” Dorian asked. “No,” Synar answered, adjusting the cuffs on his uniform jacket. “I asked Malachi to block her from knowing for now. Once Jonas is gone, the demon is going into the amulet until I can figure out the proper person to rule him.” Skipping over the advice he wanted to offer Liam about the dangers of keeping such a large secret from the person closest to his spirit, Dorian instead focused on the main issue he saw as a problem. “How can you be so sure that you are not the proper person?” Synar looked and held Dorian’s gaze until he was sure his friend saw the truth in him. “No one in my family is worthy to rule the demon any longer—certainly not Conor or me.” “I can tell you sincerely believe that, but I think you are more suitable than you realize,” Dorian said quietly. He glanced at the timekeeper on the wall of the room they were in and saw it was time for them to go. “Enough of this morbid conversation,” Dorian said briskly. “This is a day to celebrate. There will plenty of time for you to mourn your errors later when you realize how much taking a mate is going to complicate your life.” Synar snorted, refusing to laugh at Dorian’s teasing. “Your words offer me no comfort. Tell me why we are friends again?” “Because I haven’t had children and having a much younger friend is the closest I intend to get for a while,” Dorian said. “I like your blind spots about your life and find them mostly entertaining. Plus I know you have no idea who you are mating today. You see only a very small part of the female who waits for you at the altar. It’s going to be interesting to witness your shocked reaction when you find out the rest.” “Enlighten me then,” Synar demanded on a laugh. “That’s what friends are supposed to do about each other’s females.” “I am an unusual friend. I consider that Ania’s task, not mine,” Dorian said with a knowing smile. “I have told both of you that I refuse to mediate your mating relationship. I confess it is amazing to watch two of the most intuitive beings I’ve ever met completely ignore their intuition about each other.” “Maybe Ania and I know all we need to know about each other,” Synar said firmly, smiling as he looked across the room at the female standing near the altar, who turned and smiled at him. He was attracted to Ania’s beauty, but also to something indefinable in her spirit that he sensed. All the challenges of their mating faded when he acknowledged that pull to be near her. He’d never felt it with any other female. With Dorian following, Synar walked to stand at Ania’s side, feeling the respectful silence of the congregation descend around the two of them like a cloak. Defying convention on her planet, Synar held out a hand to her, smiling as Ania placed hers in his without even glancing at anyone else. On a planet where all touching was considered something to do behind closed doors, her easy acceptance of his touch was more significant to him than any ceremony could be. Synar glanced at Dorian standing taller than anyone else in the assembly and his first mate, Jonas, standing by Dorian’s side. He nodded his head to both of them that he was ready. Then Synar formally inclined his head to the entire assembly, then to the officiate, and finally to the female facing him and smiling as she held his gaze. “Ania Looren, before this congregation of friends and family I openly declare my sincere desire to be your mate for the rest of my life. All that I am and will ever be, I give into your power this day. Do you accept my offer and pledge?” Synar asked. “Aye, Liam Synar. I accept your offer and pledge. All that I am and ever will be, I give into your power this day as well. Let us be declared as mates,” Ania said, pleased that her voice was as confident and sure as Liam’s. “Let it be declared that this couple is mated,” the officiate said loudly. “Joined by the will of the creators,” the congregation said, the sound of their common support rolling up the walls of the room and filling every fraction of space with its energy. Then the celebratory music began, the vibration of it swelling. Synar turned his head slightly and watched Jonas fall to the floor with stunned disbelief, a large hole blasted through him, his life force leaving rapidly. “Malachi, come forth and stop those that seek to do harm,” Synar called urgently, watching the mist hover over Jonas as Dorian and two other crew members scrambled to find those responsible. Hearing Synar call out to someone, Ania instinctively turned to the crowd and saw a weapon flash. Without stopping to think, she stepped in front of her new mate and felt a searing fire in her back. “Liam,” Ania called in alarm. “No,” Synar called out in shock, clutching her falling form in his arms. “Malachi— kill them all but one.” It will be done as you command, Malachi sent. Synar sank to the floor clutching Ania’s weakening body. “What have you done? Why did you step in front of me? That blast was not meant for you.” “Take care for your life,” Ania said. “I believe I am returning to the creators. Do not mourn me long. I have long planned for this day.” “No—this will not be, must not be,” Synar denied, looking around the room that was mostly vacant now except for the dead and dying bodies lying scattered across the floor. When the mist appeared above him, hovering and waiting, Synar looked up in numbed surprise. The attackers are all dead except the one being restrained by your Lieutenant Zade, though even that one is starting to wish he were dead. Let Zade finish him for you, Liam. You and I have a bigger problem to attend to because Jonas is no more, Malachi sent. Synar looked at the male cowering by Dorian and at the carnage on the floor. Are any of the Pleiadians who tried to stop them still alive, he asked? One or two linger, but not for long, Malachi reported. Go into the largest one for now, but do nothing else until I command you, Synar said. Do not reanimate him. As you wish, Malachi said, heading for the best body he saw, glad that Liam was letting him choose his host this time. Jonas had been Synar’s choice and not his, though Malachi admitted to himself that he had grown quite fond of the easy going male host. Being in Jonas had been like taking a holiday because the Greggor male loved nothing better than bonding with females and making music. Before Jonas, Liam’s father Bogdan had put him into an uneducated, giant stump of a male who was forever stumbling over things and getting so drunk he was unable to perform even the most menial tasks. Malachi didn’t even want to think about that host body and what it had done. Synar lay Ania’s mostly unconscious form down on the floor and stood to walk over to the cowering male. His uniform was covered in Ania’s life force. The killer glared defiantly at him, but Synar also saw fear in his eyes. If there hadn’t been any, Synar would have made sure to put some there. “Did my brother Conor send you to kill me?” Synar demanded. “I warn you your death means nothing to me now, so you might as well try to redeem yourself before the creators receive you.” “Yes—Conor sent us. He wants you and the demon. He said to capture you alive, but kill everyone else that got in our way. The stun was meant only to wound, not to kill you,” he said. “If my mate dies, you will die. If she lives, you will take a message back to my brother that killing Malachi’s host bodies won’t gain him anything. Your inept group left plenty more bodies for him to inhabit,” Synar looked at Dorian. “Will you take this coward away and send medical help to look after Ania?” “Indeed,” Dorian said, grabbing the male by his arm and dragging him out of the room. Synar went back to his mate. “Ania, can you hear me?” “I feel the cold of dying, Liam. I don’t know why I did not intuitively see this coming. I guess all I could think about today was you,” Ania said, trying to reassure him with a smile, but her eyes closed and the blackness she drifted in claimed her once more. “Malachi, come out and do no harm,” Synar called, his voice heavy, the pressure inside him to scream at fate barely restrained. He couldn’t let Ania die when he had the power to stop it from happening. He just couldn’t. “Damn me if you must—I don’t care,” Synar said, sending the words to the creators of all. He looked then at the demon mist floating in front of him. “Malachi, Demon of Synar—enter this female’s body and lend her your life. She is your new host.” You can’t mean to put me in a female, Liam. Malachi’s vibrations wavered as he protested the gender with both disdain—and shock. “You will go into the host body I have chosen and do all I ask. You will repair her body and take no more from her than what is necessary for your survival. She is never to know you inhabit her. She is to remain just as she is,” Synar said, making himself put intent behind the words. “As I command, you will obey.” This is a mistake Liam, Malachi chastised. I am to be put into warriors, used to fell armies, used to vanquish legions of evil. Why do you dishonor the sacred contract? There is no redemption for me in this enlightened female. “It’s either go into Ania Looren or into the amulet, demon. If Ania dies, I will lock you away and drop the amulet into the volcanoes on Terris so that you will never be found again by any creature,” Synar said sincerely. “You can truly spend eternity in a fiery pit like many spiritual beings fear doing. Your spirit will not die, but you will never live in a host again either.” Malachi hovered, flexed, and finally acquiesced. His tie to Liam Synar and his family exceeded his power to deny his current master. Cursing the creators of all once more, he resigned himself to a dreary existence in a female for a while. Malachi pulled his mist form together more tightly. I hear and will do all that you command, he vowed, disappearing quickly into the body of the female while Synar turned his head away until it was done. Moments later, Ania’s eyes fluttered open and Synar let out a ragged breath of relief that he hadn’t been too late to save what was left of her. “Ania—are you still with me? Help is on the way.” “What happened?” she asked. “We were attacked by an enemy. The weapon was fortunately not set to kill instantly,” Synar said. “You are severely wounded, but I believe you will survive.” “Is everyone safe now?” Ania asked. “Yes—but I fear this is not the end of it. I must leave you and go seek those that did this to make sure they will not do so again,” Synar said sadly. “You will be safe with your family. I will come back for you when I am done.” “We just mated, Liam. Take me with you. I’ll heal on the ship,” Ania demanded. “I can’t put a high-level Peace Alliance ambassador at so much risk,” Synar said, stroking her cheek, wanting nothing more than to do just as she demanded. “Heal while I am gone. Let your family care for you. Serve your planet until I return.” Synar bent to brush her lips with his. “I know you don’t like kissing, but I need to reassure myself that you live.” “I must be getting used to it,” Ania said, struggling to return the pressure of his mouth. “I didn’t mind that kiss at all.” “Help is coming shortly. Let them repair your body. You will be weak for a while, but soon this will be nothing more than a bad memory,” Synar said. When she didn’t answer, Synar realized that she had fallen into the healing sleep of the demon. Malachi was already working on her. Now Synar had other things to do to make Malachi’s efforts count. Dorian came back shortly and found Synar and Ania still on the floor. “Help is on its way. They were afraid to come back inside. How is she?” Ignoring Dorian’s concerned question, Synar raised his gaze to his friend’s face. “We are taking the bodies of Jonas and the Pleiadian male Malachi went into earlier with us. Put both on the shuttle and take them to the ship before you come back for me. I will explain later. I will register the body we are stealing as host to my demon now. Then we are going to release the killer we captured and send him back to warn Conor that I’m going to be actively searching for him. If we check, I bet we discover Conor is no longer confined to the planet he was exiled to,” Synar said stiffly. “Is the Pleiadian male joining our crew once the demon reanimates him?” Dorian said, the words distasteful, but the truth often was. “No—the Pleiadian male will not be reanimated,” Synar said quietly. “The body is a ruse to fool Conor. I have given Malachi a more noble assignment.” Dorian looked at Ania’s body then, seeing the energy signature but not wanting to believe it. “She was dying, Liam. Ania was prepared for that. Why did you stop her death? Do you know how much she would disapprove of what you have done?” “Ania might have been ready for her death, but I wasn’t,” Synar said tightly. “It is done and I will not be changing it. I chose to tell you only because I need your help.”Dorian saw Ania’s lashes flutter open at the same moment he heard help finally running in to their aid. “Dorian—I forget sometimes how tall you are. It’s like looking at a mountain to see you from the floor. This sure hasn’t happened in a very long time,” Ania teased. Despite his beliefs and his sense of foreboding about what Liam had done, Dorian smiled at his teacher and friend with great relief. She remained herself so far. He hoped that would always be true. “I have never forgotten a single moment of my training at your hands,” Dorian said, smiling down at her. Ania laughed, but it hurt to do so. Then she felt her eyes closing again. With a tired sigh, she entered the blackness calling to her. Several healers rushed to them, and Synar slipped out of their way. He stood and looked up at Dorian. “Well?” “I will help you,” Dorian said at last, thinking that he didn’t want Ania to die either. No matter how much the demon clashed with his beliefs, her death didn’t feel destined in that moment either. “May the creators forgive us both.” “Pray all you want for forgiveness, but I don’t need any,” Synar said firmly. “I have no regrets.” “Let’s hope that remains true,” Dorian said. “You go with Ania and see to her. I will take care of the rest.” Synar nodded and followed the medical transport bed out of the building. After they were gone, Dorian walked over to the dead Pleiadian Liam had indicated, lifting him easily despite the dead male’s bulk. He cringed knowing his uniform would be ruined after this and need to be replaced. He didn’t want to even think about how messed up his energy was going to be. Why had he promised to go along with something he knew Ania would be appalled to know was happening? Yes, he would have missed her if she had passed on, but all creatures returned to the source eventually. Dorian couldn’t remember ever being so torn by an ethical decision before. Knowing his own motivations eluded him. Liam’s actions had a reason, but his were just as illogical. Unlike Liam, Dorian was sure he was going to live to regret his agreement to the deceit. He just hoped Liam was right about it deceiving his brother as well as his mate. Evidently Conor Synar was more than Liam’s brother. They had learned today he also a formidable enemy. Dorian doubted Liam would ever underestimate his brother again because the price for doing so even once had been extremely high. As he focused on the task of moving the bodies, Dorian realized it would take him a second trip back to collect the body of the first mate, Commander Jonas Tangier. Though Dorian was next in line and a logical choice to serve as first mate, he didn’t want the responsibility of leading. Instead, Dorian much preferred serving as spiritual counselor and remaining third in the command chain. As spiritual counselor, he gave energy readings, cleared chakras, and helped crew members make decisions that would most greatly benefit them. Part of his gift was the ability to see a person’s most likely future, but when he tried to use his intuitive abilities to see what the future held for them now after their actions today, nothing would show itself to him. At his age and advancement in his skills, Dorian knew there were only two reasons the future ever got blocked from his sight. One was when he had done something wrong and was being punished by the creators, which usually took the form of his gifts waning for a period of time. The other was because the creators of all didn’t want him to be cognizant of their plans. As Dorian finished what he had committed to do, he pondered which one was most relevant to the current situation.Chapter 1 The two men sat across the table from each other both frowning over their next mission. It was bringing up an old argument they had both been avoiding for over a year now. Dorian clamped his jaw tight and glared. “What other choice is there? Stop being resistant to your destiny and set a course for Pleiades. You have to go tell the investigating counsel the whole truth,” he said, glaring at Liam Synar who was looking at the com station with murder in his eyes. “You know you can’t let Ania be punished for something out of her control. Besides which, your demon might kill more people because of her.” “Malachi is not my demon, and don’t you think I realize the risks?” Synar asked stiffly. “I fear my brother was behind the recent attack on her and her parents. When Conor discovers the group he sent has been killed, he’ll know Malachi is nearby. I just wish I could rescue Ania without her planet announcing she’s a demon host to every other bloody planet in the Alliance. The Pleiadians believe in making things public. The day after I go there, Conor is going to know exactly where Malachi resides.” Dorian nodded. “How can you face conflict after conflict on planets full of creatures who kill without thought and yet hesitate over this? Do you really fear your brother that much?” he asked. “Yes, because no matter how much time has passed, my death is still his goal. More I fear what Conor would do if he actually gains control of Malachi. I can’t let that happen,” Synar said. “I’m caught between the past and the present, and I curse my father every day for that fact.” Using his Siren intuition that he’d spent centuries perfecting, Dorian scanned his friend’s energy and saw that fear of his treacherous sibling was not Liam’s largest concern. The worst thing Liam feared at the moment was facing the wrong he had done to his mate for the past two years. “Are you also worried about seeing Ania again after all this time?” Dorian asked, bringing up the touchy subject in the gentlest manner he could. Synar took a moment and then answered with a question of his own. “Did you know Jonas before he hosted Malachi?” Dorian shook his head slowly. “Just barely. Why?” “Jonas dreamed of having a family and was trying to convince his favorite bonding female to formally mate him. When I put Malachi into Jonas to save his life, the female severed her relationship with him almost immediately. She said there was something different about Jonas and she couldn’t bring herself to bond with him anymore,” Synar said sadly. “I never felt that aversion with Ania, but I also never bonded with her before I left. She wasn’t healed enough. In our last discussion, she accused me of no longer wanting her. I let her believe it.” “I still say that all your concerns would have fixed themselves over time if you’d just taken her with us. Do you really still think the answer was to abandon her completely?” Dorian asked. “Regretting the past will not change what I did,” Liam said, frowning. “Yes that is true Liam, but avoiding it won’t make it go away either,” Dorian said. Dorian hoped the familiarity of hearing his first name would help the message get through his friend’s strong mind. Honor and duty had stifled Liam’s personal growth.“I didn’t abandon her,” Synar said, the question bitter on his tongue even after all this time. “I believed if I left Conor would chase me and leave her alone. It’s mostly worked for the last two years. That proves I was right to leave her and the demon where they were both safe from Conor.” “Maybe from your perspective your plan worked. What do you think the cost has been to your mate?” Dorian asked. “What do you think Ania feels about it?” “Do you think I did this randomly? Without thought to the pain for us both? Well, I didn’t. I knew it would hurt us.” Synar drummed his fingers on the table. “Though I haven’t finished the third training book, I can tell you there’s nothing about demons being hosted in mates in the first two books of training. My father would be sorely disappointed in the demon master I’ve turned out to be. Yet I would do the same again to save Ania’s life. The decision is as horrendous to me now as it was when I made it, yet I would repeat it. I’ve all but gone mad dwelling on it.” “I’ve known Ania a lot longer than you have, Liam. Her spirit is resilient and truer than any creature I have ever known. She bears the mark of the creators inside her. I believe she remains much more than a demon host body. In fact, she is a more complex being than you ever took the time to discover, which is why you underestimate her. You have always been blinded from seeing the whole person by focusing only on the physical desire you feel for her,” Dorian said. “It was never the physical, Dorian. She was always small and fragile looking, and the lack of heat in her was vexing to me. I had to always be careful when we bonded. So no, it was not the physical. It was the spirit inside her, the way she had of seeing and dealing with things. I’ve always liked older females who were very settled in themselves,” Synar said. “Ania is unique. She can’t be replaced. It’s why I haven’t dissolved our mating agreement.” Dorian’s spirit leapt to know that Liam Synar still had a great affection for his teacher and friend. Though he hadn’t been the catalyst for their meeting, he had counseled Ania to give his friend a chance. He had teased Liam in the beginning, but Dorian had seen they were meant for each other in a way few mated couples ever were. It was not the kind of gift from the creators that anyone should set aside—for any length of time. “Indeed—unique is a good word for Ania Looren. She deserves more than you have given her, Liam. Don’t make me choose between the two of you again. I will choose very differently next time,” Dorian warned. Synar nodded as Dorian stood and walked to the door. “As a celibate Siren, you are a male quite adept at avoiding his own destiny. How can you claim to know so much about mine? Are you ever going to claim your own mate, Dorian? I’m not the only one who’s been avoiding things for two years,” Synar reminded him. “Have I killed the other males in her life yet? No I have not. I know precisely what I am rejecting, and yet I would not stand in the way of her finding happiness with other males. Can you say the same? What if Ania Looren one day finds another male who will not walk away from her in times of trouble?” Dorian asked, shrugging as he walked out of the room. Synar frowned at his friend’s back. It had honestly never occurred to him that his Pleiadian mate might one day replace him. He assumed Ania’s fidelity was bred into her in a similar way as his. His body didn’t even long for another female. In fact, his desire was dormant until he thought of her. Now Dorian’s words made him wonder if hosting Malachi could have changed Ania’s nature. Had she perhaps already found someone else? Synar rose from the conference table and headed to his room to study the books of training again. His mind was now filled with dark thoughts about the only female that he’d ever wanted badly enough to bind her to him.Chapter 2 “So what’s the plan, Synar? Are we slowing them down or just killing them outright?” Gwen asked calmly, rolling the power pack on her weapon until the charge indicator turned green. “I don’t expect any problems, but if there are some, we just need to stop them temporarily. Some of them hold high offices in the Peace Alliance. These is not a population who would kill us without strong provocation,” Synar answered, adjusting all three of his weapons to the same setting. After two years of helping rescue high-level Peace Alliance officials from their sticky planetary situations, Commander Gwen Jet had already known what her captain’s answer would be from the stance of his body. Gwen was merely entertaining herself with forcing her non-communicative leader into polite conversation while she adjusted her weapons. “You haven’t said much about this mission. Who are we saving today?” Gwen asked, keeping her voice as light as possible as she adjusted her other weapons. In the two years she had served as Captain Liam Synar’s first mate, Gwen had never seen him so anxious for a recovery to get started. Nor had Gwen personally seen the Norblade warrior’s eyes glowing gold like a tiger’s until now either, even though the rest of the crew often reminisced about a past when Synar’s eyes were that color every day. When Synar continued to ignore her question about the prisoner’s identity though, Gwen stopped her preparations. “Captain, if I’m going to die today, I’d at least like to know why,” she said dryly. “Is the female Pleiadian someone special?” “You will not die today, Commander Jet,” Synar said with laugh at his first mate’s dramatics. “Though Ambassador Looren’s detainers might not be so lucky. They should never have placed her in a situation where she is being threatened in any way.” Gwen could hear how much it mattered to him in his voice. It only made the situation stranger and her more curious. “You know the hostage personally?” she asked, figuring if true it might explain the strange vibes rolling off Synar. Though she kept her human side on a tight rein in most ways, the natural curiosity in that part of her ruled her thoughts and tongue, making her question nearly everything. She had an insatiable desire to know the “why” of circumstances involving her. All those years of living with her mother on Earth had done that to her. But even if the Earthling side of her hadn’t been curious, her Thelorian side could see Synar’s apprehension manifesting in his jagged energy waves. To say his nervousness alarmed her was putting it mildly. The normally stoic, unemotional male was suddenly vibrating with all kinds of emotions today. “Yes, I know the hostage personally,” Synar reluctantly admitted, stopping his preparations to meet the probing gaze of his second in command but keeping his face as expressionless as he could make it. “In human terms, Ambassador Looren is my wife.” “Wife,” Gwen exclaimed, fumbling with the news as she completed her weapon assembly. “That’s quite a revelation, Synar. You have a life mate that doesn’t travel with you? Nothing in the service contract bars her from coming along, or at least mine didn’t contain any anti-mate clauses.”“There are good reasons Ambassador Looren does not travel with me,” Synar said flatly, turning away to make sure Gwen knew he was not willing to elaborate. “I suppose that explains why you don’t indulge in recreational relationships like the rest of us,” Gwen grumbled softly, not really realizing she had spoken her thoughts aloud until Synar glared at her rudeness. “Sorry. My apologies, Captain. It’s none of my business, but I’ve always wondered why you kept to yourself so much.” “How very human of you to assume all that from my revelation, Commander. Now if you’re satisfied with the explanation of risk for our mission, could we leave?” Synar asked coldly, walking away without waiting for her reply or acknowledging her comment about his personal choices. “Sure. I’m ready when you are. You know I’ve always got your back,” Gwen said, purposely using the Earth slang she knew Synar hated to hear from crew members. Gwen admitted to herself that she was trying to goad him into opening up a little more. Synar had just revealed that he had a secret wife. It made her wonder what else she didn’t know about him. “Commander, make a note to remind me to schedule language protocol classes when we return,” Synar said, grinning at her over his shoulder as he stormed away. Gwen bent her head and hid her smile. The spoken English language had survived many millennia on Earth and found its way out into the universe as other planets were settled with humans and human hybrids. Since there were humans routinely now on most every ship in every galaxy, it was often the common work language, though Gwen conceded that many sentient beings hated using it. Even time was counted in Earth measurements among the crew, though the ship’s computer also logged time in the standard increments of the planet that programmed it. Synar always spoke English to her despite the fact Gwen was quite fluent in his Norblade tongue. But ultimately the joke was on him because she enjoyed his insistence to use it. He always sounded like a stuffy academy professor. This was true even though Gwen knew Synar watched current Earth movies for entertainment. What they did for him, she could never decide, but they rarely failed to improve his mood. Gwen actually envied Synar his ability to use vids to relax. Standard entertainment was not relaxing for her. Instead, she preferred enlisting one of the friendly and mostly human ship engineers for a few hours of rolling around in her bed. Her blood boiled with a restlessness that had never found an outlet that appeased her spirit for long. Her father was similarly plagued and dealt with it by continuously working. It was one of the main reasons her parents had chosen to separate shortly after her birth. Gwen handled her restlessness by keeping her service contracts short and moving on to another ship after three years. Honestly, she didn’t know how Synar could get by without some physical relief now and again. Both he and one other crew member lived like they had taken spiritual vows of purity or something. Gwen figured she would have gone completely mad in the last two years if she had tried to live like that. Only one year left and she was already anxious to move on. Finding out Synar had a secret wife was a shocker, but it provided a solid reason for him never having asked her or the other single female on the ship for bonding. She would have refused Synar on principal of course. She didn’t bond with her commanding officers. But that didn’t mean she hadn’t noticed that Synar was a fine male of his species, and one that looked to be fully capable of satisfying even the pickiest of females. Walking several steps behind her captain to literally cover his back, Gwen had a great view of just how prime he was. She shook her head to clear it of carnal thoughts, and when her vision cleared she saw energy spikes shooting out of Synar, reaching out like tentacles. That might explain her sudden awareness of Synar as a male even more than the realization that he had a serious bonding relationship. Her thoughts cleared when they walked into the shuttle docking area where three other crew members waited for them, including the blazingly attractive but also celibate Lieutenant Dorian Zade. His height and breadth exceeded everyone else’s aboard ship. The male was stunningly attractive with his light brown skin, black hair to his shoulders, and the bluest eyes she had ever seen on any planet or off. When it was necessary for him to fight, Zade was also as fierce a warrior as Gwen had ever seen in her career, which now spanned five rescue ships in fifteen years. But she had learned the hard way over the last two years of her service that if you talked to the beautiful male, you had to be prepared for an argument. It still made no sense to her that such a contrary person could serve as the ship’s spiritual counselor. Nor did it make any sense someone as attractive as Zade would opt to live such a barren existence. Though the latter probably explained the root cause of his perpetual bad mood where she was concerned. Truthfully, she would never have touched Synar because he outranked her, but in her first year onboard she would have been glad to roll with Zade. In fact, for a time she’d been obsessed with the urge for him. Zade had refused her for reasons he still declined to explain, and it still occasionally smarted when she remembered how intensely she had desired him. Now she kept her distance, dealt with Zade when she had to, and accepted the fact that the male in question just had no interest in bonding at all. Which was just as well, Gwen conceded, because her stomach had a tendency to do strange things when Lieutenant Zade looked directly at her. Not to mention the energy vibrations coming off him scared her Thelorian side as well as her Earthling one. That kind of persistent gut awareness was nothing but a distraction in her opinion, and Gwen did not want any part of it. She had seen many female warriors like herself ruined by allowing a controlling male with too much physical power over them into their lives. Such a bonding commitment ended careers like hers. She pulled her attention away from thoughts of Zade and heard Synar lecturing the mission crew. “Do not fire at anyone unless ordered to do so by me,” Synar said tightly, looking at each of them. “And do not under any circumstances attempt to touch the hostage. You must leave that only to me. Ambassador Looren is exceedingly dangerous. If ordered, you will take cover until I tell you to come out. Do not attempt to assist me.” “Wait,” Gwen said, grabbing Synar’s arm as he started to board. She was sure she had misunderstood his order. “Captain, I don’t think I heard you correctly. If something bad happens, you just want us to run and hide?” “Yes, that’s exactly what I want you to do, Commander Jet. It’s what you must do to survive this encounter,” Synar said flatly. “Ambassador Looren is a demon host. If she is threatened, the demon will protect her at all costs. I happen to know that the demon she carries is not discriminating of friends and foes. He will kill and drain the energy from anyone near her when he attacks.” “Say that again. She’s a what?” Gwen asked, shocked, following Synar to her seat across from him and trying not to look at Lieutenant Zade taking the seat next to her. “I thought demon hosts were a myth.” Synar fastened himself into the seat. “No. Neither are demon masters, though there are not many uses for them since the Peace Alliance came into being.” “You’re telling me there’s a demon master we have to worry about as well as a demon in the hostage we’re rescuing?” Gwen asked, curious and concerned all at once. She tried to reign in her curiosity by reminding herself the situation was also dangerous to them all. “The demon master is among our crew. And before you ask, yes I have been aware of the fact,” Synar said quickly, seeing Gwen’s increased shock at his answer. Gwen narrowed her eyes at him. Rumor was that demons and masters were so powerful as a unit that their combined thoughts could become reality instantly. Legends said the two of them working together could wipe out a military force of thousands without engaging in any normal combat. Gwen’s eyes perused each crew member, and she made herself look at her attractive seatmate long and hard, even though staring that long at Zade made her want to sigh like a lovesick teenager, something she had never been—thank God. Eventually, her gaze returned to Synar when she couldn’t figure it out. “Thelorian energy reading failing you on this one, Commander?” Synar challenged. “No worries. You’ll find out which one of us it is soon enough.” Gwen snorted at his demeaning statements about her skills. Even if it was the closest to teasing her Synar had ever come, his words were still dripping with sarcasm. She decided to see if her captain could take teasing as well as he evidently could dish it out today. “The only person’s energy that is strange today is yours, Synar,” Gwen challenged back, narrowing her eyes on his face as her gaze met his resistant one. “Since the hostage is your wife, why aren’t you more worried?” To her astonishment, Synar laughed at her. Really laughed. She could only stare at how attractive he was without the stoicism it had taken her almost two years to get used to. What the Helios was wrong with her today? She couldn’t get her mind off sex. “Why are you mocking me, Synar?” Gwen demanded, pushing away her awareness of him as a male. “Better yet, why are you smiling at me so strangely?” “It would take me days to explain my amusement well enough to satisfy your doubting human mind. Since we do not have days to spend, you will just have to learn as we go,” Synar said firmly, leaning back in his seat. “Now I need silence to prepare myself. Ease up, Gwen, you’ll figure this all out soon.” When he said silence, Gwen knew it meant Synar would be praying or meditating or whatever the ritual was the Norblades all did before a confrontation. She leaned back and watched her captain roll a second set of dark eyelids down and zone out. That act was just freaking weird no matter how many times she watched Synar do it. Just as well that he closed his second set of eyelids, Gwen decided, frowning at Synar. Her captain was looking more and more like a damn Earth tiger, and it continued to bother her. Even his normal eyes were creeping her out today. Her own apprehension was far more worrisome and interesting to her than some hypothetical demon master, which could still be no more than a joke at her expense. What concerned her about his lack of real answers was that Captain Synar seemed to be preparing for more than just a simple extraction of a high-ranking hostage from a mostly peaceful situation on the officer’s home planet. It was her business to understand the risks, minimize them, and make sure one of the two of them returned to the keep order on the ship. So far she had made damn sure Synar always returned. She had no intention of letting anything change that record, not a demon or a demon master. Her thoughts were chaotic and troubled, and then she felt intense waves of body heat followed by a giant wave of calm floating over her tight muscles. She fought back the huge sigh that wanted to be released, refusing to look at the origin of those pleasant sensations. Spiritual counselor my ass, Gwen thought, clamping down on her body’s reaction to Zade. “You are wise to be concerned, Gwen. Life is going to change for all of us today,” Dorian said softly, leaning down from his much larger height to whisper into Gwen’s ear. “And I suppose you know exactly what’s going on?” Gwen complained bitterly, unable to keep the resentment from her voice or from squirming in her seat as she felt another wave of relaxation go through her. Sirens emitted calming vibrations naturally, but that didn’t mean she had to appreciate the fact. “I was with Captain Synar when he and Ambassador Looren were mated. And I was there when she was brutally attacked and almost killed. What happened after was destiny, but Liam does not yet accept it. Today he must stand and face his worst fears,” Dorian explained in a whisper. “He will need you to be strong for the sake of the crew.” She sat up straighter in her seat, fuming quietly at Dorian Zade’s lack of respect for her position. He rarely used her title to address her. Instead, he always used her personal name. While from time to time Gwen admittedly wanted nothing more than to hear Zade calling her name over and over, she just wanted to be riding him to bliss when he did it, not sitting through one of his patronizing lectures about his perception of her duty. “There are good reasons I was assigned to be first mate instead of you, Lieutenant,” she said coldly, refusing, as she always did, to call him by his personal name. Dorian inclined his head at her defense of her role, his expression revealing nothing of what he thought about her statement. “Indeed there were good reasons. I do not disagree. It is precisely for those good reasons that I stepped aside to let it happen,” he replied easily. Gwen snorted in derision at the complete lack of humility in his words. “Two years and you’re still singing that same old tired song. Get over yourself, Zade. I got the promotion fairly, and I deserved it.” Seeing no further words would reach her mind while Gwen remained determined to resist all new knowledge, Dorian merely turned back in his seat to wait for their arrival at the planet. It irritated him that he’d once again felt overwhelmingly compelled to try to help Gwen today, and worse, obligated to do so when he saw Liam unable to confess the truth of the situation to her. Dorian was sorely tempted to tell her the truth even though it would be extremely disloyal to Synar.He conceded that Gwen deserved to feel her resentment for Liam’s lack of disclosure. After all, she could well be the person Liam would have to leave in charge of the ship and crew if things went awry. Not preparing her for that inevitability was a bad leadership decision in his opinion. And Liam rarely made bad ones. But helping the crew and Liam hadn’t been his only motivation for helping Gwen, and that was Dorian’s real problem. No—he had been utterly compelled to warn Gwen personally that she was in for a big shock today. The human female was way too young and disrespectful of change to fear the magnitude of what could happen in this instance. There ought to be a law against any being who wasn’t at least one century old serving on a ship, Dorian thought, allowing himself to feel the bitterness festering in his spirit about it all. Maybe he was just getting old and starting to worry too much about the wrong things. He had seen it happen, even to his species who sometimes lived for several millennia. At his advanced age of six hundred and twenty-three years, even Liam’s age of just over two and half centuries seemed much younger to him most of the time. In fact, the longer he served on this ship, the more Dorian was of a mind to quit and go into retreat on his home planet. Maybe a century spent in quiet reflection would end his present torment, which unfortunately involved the first mate, Gwen Shenu Jet. At barely thirty-five years old, Gwen was like an infant to most everyone on the ship, though admittedly a fierce one. She was also the least experienced crew member. Even the males Gwen bedded on a regular basis to relieve her physical needs were all at least a century old, though Dorian doubted she’d ever asked any of them about it. Not that her bonding habits were his concern. Her passions were as shallow and fleeting as her anger was when ignited. And if her wiggling was any indication, she had virtually no control over her nervous energy even though she was half Thelorian. It was the Earthling side of her that always won in every behavior conflict, just like it was that same side of her that created the curvy body he couldn’t keep from admiring, despite his meditations to prevent his interest. Shades of Kellnor, Dorian swore, realizing where his distracting thoughts had gone. It was difficult to remain neutral while Gwen shifted restlessly in her seat, brushing her extremities against his over and over. The female was nothing but a temptation to his peace of mind. How he could possibly want such a one dimensional creature was beyond his understanding. Her single-minded focus on her job role kept her personal growth stunted worse than Synar’s did. Would she be capable of understanding that if he told her? Of course not, Dorian thought, answering his own question. Her lack of respect for her spiritual life was why he had never acted on his vicious physical need for her. Who needed the kind of responsibility she would require? He certainly didn’t. And how she loved reminding him that she was the captain’s first mate. Hadn’t he been the one who told Liam to choose someone other than him? Maybe she was the first mate, but only in the Earth definition of such things, Dorian decided, allowing himself to feel anger about it at last. In his many centuries of working alongside them, Dorian had observed that all full humans and most hybrid ones were every bit as arrogant as Gwen Jet. Those who spent

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