Rystani Warrior 3
ISBN-13: 978-1611943429
Publisher: Belle Bridge Books
Pub. Date: August 2013 (07-31-13)


"Mama. Don't leave me," Dr. Alara Calladar sat beside the pallet she'd made for her mother in her bombed and caved-in laboratory and gently held her hand. "Please don't go."

"I have . . . no choice." Her mother opened her eyes and the cloudy haze of pain that had been there for days suddenly cleared. She gripped Alara's hand with fierce strength. "You must go on without me."

"I can't. Stay." Alara's throat tightened but tears spilled over her cheeks. She might be a woman fully grown, she might be the most educated woman scientist on Endeki, but she still needed her mother. But her mother had closed her eyes again, leaving Alara trapped in the cave in. Alone.

What the krek had happened to cause the blast in their home above them? She still didn't know.

Four days ago, she and her mother had entered Alara's underground laboratory to check her latest experiments. While her mother wasn't a scientist, she'd been a teacher and she often helped Alara clean the lab, answer calls and pay bills, but mostly she encouraged her independence.

They'd been chatting about a play they both wanted to see when with no warning, the basement floor had shuddered like a quake. Only Endeki didn't have quakes or seismic tremors like so many other Federation worlds. Instinctively, mother and daughter stumbled toward one another. Fell. Part of the roof caved. Dirt and powder rained down, sending up clouds of dust, but they'd remained unhurt.

In the darkness, Alara had crawled to her toppled desk, found an emergency light and discovered that huge beams blocked the stairs and their exit.

Digging out from beneath the debris proved an impossible task. They'd been trapped down here for days, with limited emergency lights, no food and only a few mouthfuls to drink. But it was air that was in short supply.

Yet, even suffocating would have been better than watching her mother die cell by cell, listening to her draw each tortured breath. Due to the unusual connection between Endekian husbands and wives, her mother had instantly known that her husband, who had been in the house above, had died in the blast. And her father's death had set off a physiological chain reaction in her mother's cells. Alara could describe the process in scientific terms. But her knowledge couldn't prevent the inevitable—her mother's death.

Alara couldn't imagine what her mother must be feeling. Although the marriage had been terrible for years, her mother must have once loved her father. As for Alara's own feelings, she could only rage at her father for putting her mother through hell while he'd been alive. If his demise wouldn't soon cause the death of Alara's precious mother, she wouldn't have minded his passing. She doubted she'd ever forgive his many cruelties to wife and daughter.

While her mother had always tried to protect Alara, and her impending death was no different. She'd kept the truth from Alara for two entire days, suffering in silence, bravely enduring the agony of every organ and tissue failing, until she could no longer conceal her pain.

To lose the woman who had brought her into the world hurt so much that Alara didn't know how she would go on without her—if she survived the cave in. That all of Alara's education, all her science couldn't stop her mother's biological reactions made her feel helpless, trapped by biology she hated.

"Did you hear that?" her mother's eyes opened again.

Drawn from her grief, Alara listened and smoothed back her mother's hair and tried to make her voice cheerful. "Rescue workers are coming. They'll get us out."

Despite what had to be immense pain, her mother offered a weak smile. "Knowing you will live, I can die . . . with peace."

"No, Mother, please. We'll heal you."

"It's not possible for me." Her mother licked her dry lips and spoke with more strength than she had in days. "But you . . . you must continue your research . . . so other women won't die for no reason."

Alara could barely speak through her sorrow. "I can't do it without you."

"Promise . . . me . . . that you'll never forget . . . that you'll never give up . . ."

Alara choked on the words. "I promise."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter One

She needed a man. But she sure as Krek didn't want one.

Dr. Alara Bazelle Calladar shoved aside her test samples and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Success had once again eluded her. And success meant freedom from the Endekian biology that drove the females of her species to have sex—whether they wanted to or not—or face a painful death. She'd hoped to find a remedy soon, but she wasn't going to succeed today, not in time to prevent her own elevated hormone levels from driving her away from work and into the arms of a man, any man, to satisfy her biological compulsions. Instead she was left with no answers and too many blasted urges.

Just once, she longed to give in to frustration and smash something. But the only items at hand were the DNA maturation receptacles that housed her experiments, materials too precious to sacrifice in a fit of temper.

"Alara," her assistant and good friend, Maki, interrupted her thoughts, the voice echoing through the com system. "You have a visitor."

"I'm busy." Busy was code for putting off whoever was interrupting her work until another day, a day when she wasn't so frazzled. Under normal circumstances, her research was difficult, but during the beginnings of Boktai, Alara's elevated hormone levels made unclouded reasoning as elusive as a Denvovian sandworm who'd grown wings. As if in anticipation of mating, her pathways that transmitted reflexes to the brain had fully engaged. Due to increased blood flow to her tissues, her lips already tingled, her breasts were tender.

"He's . . . insistent."

"He?" Alara snapped her head up from the array of test samples, too few showing any sign of promise. Science required patience and normally she had plenty. But with her metabolic rate rising with the onset of Boktai, just the mention of a man caused her heart beat to escalate, her patience to dwindle.

"Oh, he's one hundred and ten percent male," Maki practically purred, and Alara imagined how the man would preen at Maki's compliment. He'd no doubt entered the reception area, puffed up with the confidence of a blowfish, certain he was wanted and worthy of female attention. Very likely, he wasn't. Endekian men treated their women no better than their favorite canine, and they would never change—not until women no longer had to offer up their bodies to them on a regular basis to stay alive. While it took a lot of male muscles to impress Maki, she still wouldn't have interrupted unless she believed the man important.

Alara swore under her breath, annoyed that in her current metabolic state she would react to a male just like every other Endekian woman whose hormonal system demanded sex. After inhaling male scent and male pheromones, she'd find him irresistible—even if he turned out to have no more charm than a sand flee, no more brain cells than a slime slug, no more sense of humor than a Terran terrorist. In the early phase of Boktai, her enhanced senses would enflame, deepening her desires, quickening her yearning until she transformed into a rintha—an undiscriminating female who required sex with every needy cell in her body.

Alara welcomed the temptation of a male in her lab and in her life as much as she'd welcome bitebugs burrowing into her suit. Both were irritating, painful—but a fact of life. She had no use for men—not until caught deep in the clutches of Boktai.. In fact, the few rare males who deigned to enter her laboratory were often those who sought to discourage her from continuing her work.

Two days ago Lurk, a diminutive functionary of the Endekian leader, Drik, had barged past Maki, flashing his government badge. Lurk had pasted on a fake fatherly demeanor, peered at one of her samples and reached out to bring it closer. "Getting anywhere?"

She slapped his hand aside. "I've discovered an amoeba with a brain the size of yours."

Lurk shrugged. "It's not the size of my brain that interests most women."

Meting out insults was a waste of time when he wasn't smart enough to understand them. Snapping off the vidscreen, she gave Lurk her full attention. "Why has our esteemed leader sent you here, again?"

"A position has opened with the government. Would you like to be the first female Federation liaison?"

"Is the offer a bribe?"

"More like a gift." Lurk's sly smile wasn't the least bit subtle.

No doubt Drik wanted to close her lab. Endekian men were quite content with the status quo, but she would never give up her work. Her research to free Endekian women from the curse of their genetics was turning out to be extraordinarily complex and laborious. But all her effort would be worthwhile if she ever succeeded in putting women's hearts and minds, instead of their physiology, in charge of when they had sex. She raised her brow. "A gift without conditions?"

"There are always conditions."

She clenched her hands and fisted them to rest on her hips. "Drik can take his conditions and cram them where the stars don't shine."

Lurk scowled, his ugly yellow eyes glinting with venom. "When your popularity with the masses wanes, Drik will bring you down."

"Until then, get out of my lab and let me work."

"Your reputation as a war heroine won't protect you forever." After firing his parting shot, he'd finally left.

Some heroine she was. While everyone else had died during the Terran terrorists' bombing of her city, her presence within an underground laboratory had saved her life along with her mother's. But due to a preposterous calamity of nature, Endekian physiology tied a wife's death to her husband's. After the Terran bomb had killed her father, her mother had suffered a slow, painful death.

Alara had gone on . . . alone.

She had raged, mourned and buried both mother and father. And then she'd repressed her grief in work. As the sole survivor in her family, she'd studied harder and become more determined than ever to unravel the secrets of Endekian physiology. She wanted women to be free of the curse of Boktai and the Terran terrorists' attack had given her the status and means to follow her dream.

She could never have foreseen the results of her survival, that the government would choose her as the symbol to rally the masses against the Terrans. Alara had used her new-found celebrity to prevent the government from closing her lab. However, as the anger against the Terran attack that had killed so many abated, she'd become less useful to the government and had fallen out of favor. With the current unpopularity of her work, she wouldn't be surprised if the current visitor was here to close her lab.

"Alara." Maki's voice dropped to a whisper. "He's bristling with attitude."

"Tell him I'm busy."

"I already tried." Maki's tone conveyed vexation. "He refuses to make an appointment."

"Use your imagination. Get rid of him."

"I'd be perfectly willing to take him home for the night."

"Then do it."

Maki breathed out a delicate sigh. "I tried. But he wants you. He said he's willing to wait as long as it takes."

"Oh, for the holy structure of atoms." Alara shoved back from the table. "He can wait out front all through the dark hours. I'm leaving through my personal entrance."

Alara picked up the disk to start her flitter and headed out the back of the facility. She intended to go home, soak in a hot bath and take care of her growing arousal. Self-gratification was only a temporary solution for her cravings, one that would work for a short time and only if no males were present. Experience told her she couldn't hold out much longer and that within a day, two at most, she would lose control of her psi and her will, forcing her to seek out a male partner.

With a quick retina scan, Alara unlocked her back door and stepped outside into the balmy dusk. Automatically she used her psi on her suit, the type worn by every Federation citizen, to shield her from the cloying humidity. Anxious to be on her way, she didn't pause to take in the city lights beyond her building but headed straight for her flitter, climbed in, inserted the disk and revved the engine.

"You were leaving without speaking to me." A deep male voice, filled with vitality and a hint of humor, arrowed from the back seat and struck her full blown, causing her to jerk in surprise.

She held her breath, refusing to allow his scent into her lungs, but just the sound of his husky male tone kindled inevitable biological reactions. Her nostrils flared, automatically seeking his provocative scent. Her heart's alpha rhythm escalated. Her pulse between her thighs quickened. Blood rushed to her sensitive breasts and the suit cupping her skin seemed inadequate when her flesh suddenly yearned for male hands to caress her, seduce her, satisfy her.

However, she was not yet so far into Boktai that her brain had abdicated completely to the demands of her body. She still maintained enough control to remain clothed, but thinking was becoming more difficult. But she must . . . think. The man had anticipated her escape out the back of the facility and had followed her. He had some nerve. "This is my flitter. Get out."

"Not until we have a conversation," he countered, his don't-think-about-avoiding-me-again tone deep, determined, yet almost teasing.

Conversation? Ah, the combination of her needy cells plus the rumble of his voice must be clouding her thoughts. He was not here to mate. He was probably here to speak to her about the laboratory and her work. Aware that her long-ignored bodily needs would react to the sight of him, she refused to turn around. The moment the receptors in her eyes detected his male shape, her enzymes would elevate her hormones to the next level. In her worsening condition, he could be as ugly as a slime-covered Osarian, yet if she stayed in his presence long enough, her will to resist wouldn't matter—she'd still find him as handsome as her mother had found her father, and lust would ignite her synaptic reflexes.

She spoke through gritted teeth. "Make an appointment with my secretary."

"I don't have time to delay. Neither do you."

"Exactly. We agree. I don't have time." Totally irritated by how much she yearned to climb into the flitter's cozy back seat and rip off his clothes, she practically growled, "Go away."

"Are you always so friendly?" His voice revealed more curiosity than sarcasm.

"Are you always so annoying?" she countered and took in a breath. Clean, musky male scent wafted to her nostrils, down-shifted into her lungs and revved her olfactory nerves into third gear. By the mother lode. Why did his aroma have to remind her of sweet grasses and summer rain? Surely no other Endekian male had ever smelled so incredibly delicious and she fought the primitive urge to look at him.

She tried not to savor his wondrous scent and distracted herself with analysis. There was something unusual about him. Something she couldn't quite pinpoint. Her mind tumbled and then settled. He didn't smell like an Endekian because . . . he wasn't Endekian.

At any other time, she might have been more wary. And despite his seductive scent, she held in a sigh of infatuation, fought off the fantasy of his breath fanning her ear, his hands roaming over her body, his mouth skimming a trail of heat down her neck. And all the while her hunger to see him was building.

"Who are you?" Unable to remain cautious, she turned around. And he smiled at her—a charming you-can't-resist-my-charm smile that would have taken her breath away—if sheer surprise hadn't already done so. He was one giant of a man, one fantastic male specimen who was so damn appealing, he'd haunt her dreams—even if they never spoke again. As if the cooling in her suit failed, sweat dotted her brow and her muscles tensed.

At the sight of bronze male skin molded over a powerful physique, her respiration increased. She salivated as every zymogen granule flooded with enzymes. With his black hair clipped short to reveal a very male neck that was supported by cords of muscle, her gaze skimmed from his bold nose to his lush mouth to his dazzling cheekbones. But it was his compelling violet eyes, the color of precious nebula flame gemstones, that sought her out with male interest and which almost did in her rioting nerves.

Only his focused expression stopped her inclination to move closer. He wasn't gloating with the usual male I-know-you-can't-resist-me arrogance. He actually appeared to be trying not to alarm her. Although he held still, he dominated the air around her, saturating her oxygen with his masculinity. "I am Xander from Mystique."

"You're a Rystani warrior," she accused him, managing despite her attraction to keep her tone antagonistic, but barely. The war between Rystan and Endeki hadn't been over for very long. Her people still ruled his world and peace between the Endekians and Rystani remained uneasy. Xander shouldn't be here. And she suspected only the most dire of circumstances could have caused him to seek her out.

Krek. Although Xander might be twice as dangerous as an Endekian mercenary, she couldn't ignore that he was one gorgeous hunk of a man. Even if she hadn't been entering the early stage of Boktai, Xander would still dazzle the eyes and overrun the senses. But the moment his arresting eyes caught hers, he oozed a charm that went beyond the physical, as if he were trying to connect with her on a deeper level. However, dealing with him now, in her vulnerable condition, had her beta rhythms oscillating and her mind wandering.

She stared at him, unable to move away. Her stomach fluttered with excitement and her hands began to shake. Images of this bronzed-fleshed Rystani warrior making love consumed her. Xander's hands in her hair, on her breasts, holding her close. His eye-pleasing muscles plastered against her aching flesh. Alara took little satisfaction that she hadn't yet reached out to touch him. How could she when she was so quickly losing control?

He spoke as if he had no inkling of what his presence was doing to her. "After your soldiers invaded my homeworld, those of us who survived emigrated to Mystique." His tone was calm, his eyes direct. Despite the clamoring-for-attention thrill that she couldn't subdue, she shivered under his intense expression. But perhaps she was reading more into his demeanor than was there, coloring it with her own past.

She couldn't imagine this Rystani warrior had any use for Endekians. Her people had appropriated his world fourteen Federation years ago and the rightness of their actions, the political reasons for war, had no bearing on the suffering they'd caused. Many Rystani had died in the invasion as had countless Endekian males. Her own brother had not come back from the war. When one lost loved ones, no reason was good enough to fill the emptiness, stop the pain, ease the sleepless nights. She ignored the sympathy and compassion that urged her to touch him and give comfort. Doing so would set her on an irrevocable path. A path that might satisfy her every sexual whim—and yet contradictorily bathe her in revulsion. It was bad enough to mate with an Endekian when neither participant had feelings for one another, but to mate with a man who had every reason to hate her people would be abhorrent.

She turned off the flitter, opened the door and exited her vehicle, hoping the fresh air would blow away his scent. But of course the wind currents didn't cooperate. When Xander unfolded his big frame from the vehicle, he was much larger than she'd imagined, more appealing than her best dreams. Inside the flitter, she'd only viewed his upper half, but his wonderfully flat stomach, sexy narrow hips and long legs with muscular thighs made him more intimidating, more domineering, more deliciously male. If the battle for his world had come down to hand-to-hand fighting, if all the Rystani men were this large, his people would never have lost. Luckily for Endeki, they'd had superior technology and fire power.

Too bad there was nothing superior about her situation right now. As his provocative scent swirled and eddied around her, her senses revolted. Her eyes told her that the man before her was a prize. Her nostrils agreed that his scent was thrilling and exciting and caused her heart to skip a beat. And her need to mate warred with her resolve to escape before she succumbed to her rampaging hormones.

Barely restraining a curse of frustration, she trembled, all too aware that Rystani warriors had a fierce reputation for stubbornness. He wouldn't leave until he'd said what he'd come to say. She should have felt fear. She didn't. She should have felt relief that he wasn't one of Drik's flunkies here to shut down her facility. She didn't. With the tension gathering inside her like thunderclouds before a storm, she realized that the sooner they had their conversation, the sooner she could depart. His pursuit had shown that he wouldn't allow anything less.

"So why are you here?" she asked, deepening her voice to compensate for the breathy teasing tone that her physiology so urged her to emit instead.

"I need your help." He spoke simply, appealing to her curiosity.

Yet, her mind was losing the battle for control and the only way she wanted to help was to find a private place. She imagined shadowy lighting, mellow music, hot sex and his mouth and hands skillfully roaming over her flesh. With fierce determination she shut down her fantasies. "What kind of help?"

He shot her another one of his charming grins. "Could we go somewhere more—"

"I'm not going anywhere with you." No matter how perfect his smile, no matter how strong her hormones, no matter how badly her cells wept for satiation, she could not have sex with an offworlder. She was already at odds with her government. Taking a Rystani into her bed might be seen as a traitorous act.

He chuckled, his tone so warm and inviting that she barely restrained a gasp of delight. At her imagination ran toward fantasies, she forced herself to listen while she tried not to stare at his full mouth, tried not to wonder how his lips, skimming past her earlobe, over her nape and shoulder would feel.

He leaned forward onto the balls of his feet, his eyes locking on hers. "Is it true that you need merely look at a person to read his DNA?"

She shrugged and folded her arms beneath her aching breasts, hoping the light was too dim for him to see her hardening nipples. Why was he interested in her peculiar ability, one she found useful, although her skill mattered little to the non-scientific community? "So what if I don't need a microscope to read DNA?"

He ignored her sarcasm. "It is said you can spot a flaw in the double helix chain at thirty paces."

She'd be willing to bet her last batch of test samples that Xander had never seen the inside of a lab, never mind looked through a microscope. He appeared to have spent his entire life outdoors, exercising and eating and growing muscles over his well-shaped bones.

Ah, what she wouldn't give to run her palms over his firm body. Besides, his intensity intrigued her and although she put her impression down to Boktai, she suspected under other circumstances, he might still fascinate her. She'd noted a keen intelligence in his eyes, a glimmer of humor in their depths, even as his voice carried overtones of charm. Yet despite the intensity of her attraction to him, the offworlder's interest in her skill kept her wary.

While chromosome combinations wouldn't reveal his motivation or his purpose for seeking her out, she had never before had the opportunity to examine Rystani DNA in a living male. She eyed him, wishing the light was better so she could read his DNA. However, at the moment, scientific examination would do her no good. She'd have to rely on her instincts and her chaotic senses.

"Why are you curious about my work?" she asked. "I have no interest in your work. My interest is . . . in you."

Bloody Stars. Endekian men didn't speak with such directness. Then again, they didn't have to. They simply waited for a woman to choose and took their pleasure. Conversation was rarely part of the arrangement, so Alara found his bold declaration of interest in her odd, yet exhilarating.

Reminding herself that her brain couldn't possibly be functioning on all neurons, she eyed the big warrior with renewed caution. "What do you want?"

"I'd like you to accompany me on a mission." He softened his tone to a tempting and compelling coax that increased her interest.

Yet, she was not about to give up her work, or leave her friends and her home, but she'd satisfy her curiosity. "What mission?"

He shot her an engaging, come-with-me glance that promised excitement. "I'm seeking the Perceptive Ones."

Despite his charisma, she snorted. "The Perceptive Ones haven't inhabited this galaxy in eons. They are a myth."

"Maybe not." His lips curled into an adventurous grin that revealed he didn't take insult at her words.

"We aren't certain they ever existed, never mind that they still live. You have no more hopes of finding the Perceptive Ones than a bacteria has of understanding its origins."

"Have you no faith, Doctor?" He gestured to her body. "You wear a suit that was manufactured by machines the Perceptive Ones left behind." His voice turned earnest and eager, and she suspected he was younger than she'd first thought. "They existed, all right. And according to ancient records, out near the rim is a system named Lapau, colonized by a humanoid race called the Lapautee."

"I've never heard of them."

"Not much is known about the Lapautee." Xander's eyes danced with the call of adventure. "However, legend suggests their planet may be an outpost for a protector, a Perceptive One. I'm hoping that since their machines lasted through the millennia, perhaps they did as well."

She didn't know if he was insane or on a grand quest. Either way, she couldn't help him. "I'm sorry. I must decline. I have my own work."

"This is important."

"And my work is not?" She arched a brow, daring him to insult her research because she was female and her purpose inconsequential to him.

But he didn't and her respect for him escalated. Clearly he believed in his mission, and she admired anyone who had that kind of enthusiasm for their work. His every word vibrated with his fervor. "My mission to find the Perceptive Ones is necessary to saving the lives of billions."

She narrowed her brows, unswayed by his earnestness. "Then I wish good fortune to be on your side." She turned away to dismiss him.

He clamped a hand on her shoulder and electricity shot straight to her core. She restrained a gasp at the unexpected pleasure ripped through her. The Rystani warrior's hand was gentle, strong and warm—warm enough to fire her flesh. Ruthlessly, she clenched her jaw and tamped down on her need.

His voice hardened. "You will at least do me the courtesy of hearing me out."

Like she had a choice with his big hand on her? She forced herself to shrug it off, and no doubt sensing she would listen, he allowed her to free herself. He couldn't know that his touch had set off a storm of need so great that her ears roared. He was speaking, but at first she couldn't think beyond the rushing sensation that threatened her composure. But finally she regrouped.

"The Perceptive Ones are believed to have been responsible for seeding life in our galaxy with DNA."

"That legend likely has no more substance than our esteemed leader, Drik." She took deep breaths and as her chest rose and fell, she gave him credit, his gaze didn't once drop below her neck.

"My mission is go to Lapau in search of the Perceptive Ones and a pure strain of DNA."

"A pure strain? Why not use the alien time machine to go back and retrieve—"

"The Federation Council won't permit time travel unless we can prove with absolute certainty that we won't contaminate Earth's entire time line."

"Earth?" The blood drained from her face, leaving her light-headed. She'd thought he was trying to help his own people, not the despicable race that had killed everyone she held close to her heart.

He continued, obviously unaware of her past or he would never have sought her help. "Terrans have polluted Earth and their DNA's damaged. Soon they will be dying by the millions. To save them, I'm looking for a pure strain of Terran DNA, without it . . . they will all die."

He sounded just like a good soldier—all earnest and optimistic—like her brother had been before he'd gone off to war. Groaning, she leaned against the flitter, raised her hands to her pounding temples, trying to think past the sorrow, past the river of passion bubbling through her veins. Just the mention of Terrans had likely activated her fervor. Anger could trigger lust, the strong sentiment setting off signals, one emotion feeding the other.

"I'm not helping you save cursed Terrans. I hope they all die, and if they do, I'd dance a celebration to the Goddess if I could rid the Universe of every last one of them."

"Why do you hate Terrans?" He actually sounded puzzled.

She had no problem setting him straight. "Terrans launched the bomb that killed my parents, my friends and coworkers. Terrans destroyed my life. We should never have accepted them into the Federation and I won't so much as examine one bacterium to save their savage race."

"Not all Terrans are warlike—"

"You don't need me," she argued. "Any scientist with a microscope can do what I do."

He shook his head. "We may not have the opportunity to examine each species in a laboratory. You can walk on their worlds and merely look—"

"That is where you are wrong. Even if I wanted to help, and make no mistake, I don't, Endekian females are not permitted to leave our homeworld."

As if the law had been made to prevent him from carrying out his mission, a muscle jumped in his neck, a grimace tightened his lips. "Why not?"

She would not reveal her shame. She refused to tell him that their men didn't want their women to approach offworlders for life-giving sex. Selfish to the core, their men kept that pleasure for themselves. Still, she didn't lie, either. "It's the law."

Anger flickered in his eyes, whether it was for her inability to leave her homeworld or frustration that she couldn't accompany him, she couldn't discern. But all that male heat spiked her hormones another notch, flaying her with endorphins. Krek. Forget the scientific explanations. She was ready to pounce. On him.

She had to get away before she did something really stupid, like leaning into his chest, wrapping her hands around his neck, pulling his lips down to meet hers and finding out if the Rystani tasted as good as he looked. Or like rubbing her skin against his. Like grinding her pelvis against his sexy hips.

Reminding herself he was a stranger, a Rystani warrior and forbidden to her, reminding herself that contact with him would ruin everything she'd dedicated her life to, would only keep her at bay for so long. Starving cells demanded regeneration. She needed sex so badly she shook.

And damn him, she needed him to be out of sight so her gaze couldn't dwell on what he concealed beneath his plain black suit that molded to his frame with a precision that seared the image into her brain, branding her with flaming heat. Moisture beaded on her upper lip and seeped between her thighs.

But she would not yield to her need.

She couldn't have an offworlder—especially one who was a friend to Terrans.

She wouldn't succumb.

She'd remain strong.

Opening the flitter door, she eased inside, sensing he would not break the law to pursue her. Yet, even as she escaped his presence, his last words rang in her ears like a whispered promise. "Laws can be changed. We are not done, you and I."