The Prime Chronicles, Book 3
Tooh 2 Resort
“Our leave is canceled.” Iolyn Caradoc strode toward his brothers, Wulf and Huw, and their mates, plus Joen Dakkin and his mate Lia, as they lounged around the resort pool. Tor Maren, the Prime ambassador to the Galactic Alliance, barely kept pace with him. “The Galanti needs to leave space dock as soon as possible,” Iolyn said. “I’ve recalled the crew.”
“What happened?” Wulf had his arm around Mel’s shoulder as if he anticipated an attack.
Huw did the same with Nadia.
Iolyn sat, picked up Wulf’s whiskey and finished it in one gulp, then picked up Huw’s and did the same. He knew he was putting off battle vibes, but he couldn’t help it. He’d never felt such fear before and wasn’t handling it well.
Tor, who was like a second father to him and his brothers, sat and told the hovering waiter, “Gliesian white wine for me and the ladies. Whiskey for the men.” The waiter hurried off. “Since Iolyn is attempting to get drunk, I’ll relay what has happened.”
Iolyn snarled, grabbed Joen’s almost-empty glass and tossed it back.
“I received word from Admiral Nelson at Alliance Command that Dr. Brianna Martin has been threatened…a man stalking her attempted to kidnap her,” Tor said. “She managed to escape and put a call out to the Alliance to rescue her.”
“That’s terrible. Of course we’ll go get her and ensure she arrives at Cejuru Prime safely,” Wulf said. “But why is Iolyn attempting to get drunk?”
Tor sighed and shook his head. “Dr. Martin is a Lost One. And she is…”
“My mate!” Iolyn pounded his fist on the table. “She sent an image of her marking to the Alliance and Prime Commands, asking that her mate be found and told. She asked, if possible, that he come and get her.” He stood and paced angrily around the table. “I’m clear across the fucking galaxy while my mate had to fight off an attack.” He threw his head back and roared the Caradoc battle cry to the skies.
Huw and Wulf rounded the table and held onto him until he quit shouting. Diew, he was in full-blown batel rabia, the Prime battle rage, and would experience lesser stages of it until he had Brianna in his arms.
Nadia joined them and placed her hand on Iolyn’s shoulder. “How can we help?”
Mel also joined the huddle, lending her support. Their combined presence calmed him a bit. He wasn’t alone in this; his brothers and their mates would see him through the horrible hours until he could be with his gemate, the mate fate and the One had chosen for him.
Tor, Joen, and Lia used their bodies to ward off the curious glances of the understandably shaken bystanders. The Caradoc battle cry had turned many an enemy’s bowels to water.
“We get to Brianna as quickly as possible,” Iolyn growled.
* * * *
36 Standard Hours earlier
Galactic Alliance Astrobiological Research Lab
Planet Oz, Tau Ceti system
Dr. Brianna Martin eyed her target and took careful aim. She nailed the male figure right between the eyes.
“Yay! See if you can beat that, my friend.” Bria happy-danced her way toward the life-sized, pseudo-reptilian male anatomy chart and pulled her scalpel from the kill zone in the frontal lobe. “Did I forget to mention I was med school scalpel-throwing champion three years in a row? Looks like you get to buy dinner.”
There was no response from her research assistant Cheri Stafford. Instead she heard a gasp and the sound of Cheri moving quickly away from their impromptu contest venue.
Primordial instincts Bria rarely had to rely upon in the medical world went on alert, sharpening her empathic abilities. Something dangerous headed their way. It smelled like a hot, fierce wind off a desert. She tasted the dustiness of it on her tongue and felt it flaying her skin. She hurried toward her friend, who stood in the entrance to the lab. “Cheri? What’s wrong?”
“Red alert!” Her friend growled the words as she made a move to cut off whoever approached.
Bria peered around her friend and saw her nemesis, Jotak M’tali.
Jotak, the chief of security for the research facility, strode down the long corridor in his ruler-of-the-planet, owner-of-all-he-surveyed mode.
“Really? Now? Doesn’t that…that…” freaking, scary, creep-a-zoid “…man understand the meaning of the word no?” As in never, no way, no how, ever in the infinite future of possibilities.
Cheri paused outside the doorway and threw a commiserating grimace over her shoulder. “I’ll venture a guess and say not. He hasn’t seen you yet. So hide. I’ll get rid of the slime-sucking bottom-feeder. He won’t get a chance to touch you again.”
“No!” Bria grabbed the arm of her loyal and well-meaning friend, the sister Bria had never had because she’d been adopted into a family with six boys. She pulled Cheri back and whispered, “He can smell me. He knows I’m here. Go…get help. Preferably someone who isn’t susceptible to his Dornian hypnotic abilities.”
“But…but…he hurt you last time.” Cheri’s eyes filled with angry tears. “And no one did anything about it.”
The incident Cheri referred to had occurred about a standard week ago. Jotak, tired of her holding him at arm’s length, had become more aggressive in his pursuit. He’d cornered her in the research facility’s storeroom, forced a kiss on her…then attempted to rape her.
Bria shuddered and swallowed hard against the sickness threatening to erupt. She still bore bruises and claw marks from his rough handling. If a janitor hadn’t happened by, Jotak would’ve succeeded in assaulting her. Her rudimentary self-defense skills hadn’t even made a dent against Jotak’s superior strength and training.
The janitor had backed her story when she’d filed the complaint with local authorities, but then the poor man had gone missing. Using his mesmeric abilities, Jotak had persuaded the local law officers that the alleged attack had been a mere lovers' tiff. Her bruises were ignored.
So, until she had security footage of an attack or eyewitnesses who couldn’t be persuaded to say otherwise—or she was severely injured enough for medical treatment—no one would believe the Chief of Security was stalking and threatening her.
“If he smells you, he smells both of us,” Cheri hissed as she reversed Bria’s grip and held onto Bria’s arm. “Come with me. We can both get away.”
“No, he’ll hunt us down.” And he’d hurt Cheri, because he had no use for her. “Dornians love nothing more than to chase prey.” And to kill them. Killing and hiding a body were as easy for a Dornian as putting on clothing in the morning. “It’s me he wants.”
And he wouldn’t kill Bria. He wanted to breed with her.
Not. Gonna. Happen.
Bria gave her friend an urgent shove. “Go out the back. Now.” Her friend hesitated. “Cheri, please go…and hurry! Bring back help.”
Cheri cast one last angry, fear-filled glance at the six-and-a-half-foot pseudo-reptilian stalking toward the lab and then ran out the back exit.
Bria turned and blocked the lab’s main entrance, giving Cheri extra time to make her escape. Realizing she still held a scalpel, she placed the hand holding the lethally sharp instrument alongside her leg. If he got too close, she knew just where to cut him, to force him to take the time and energy to heal himself as his kind did. She might’ve been raised by pacifists on a communal farming planet and was, by choice, a healer, but she believed in self-defense.
“Brianna! What is-s-s this-s-s-s I hear?” His low voice carried down the hallway as he decreased the space between them. His voice had an eerie, sibilant hiss due to his genetics and made the hairs on her body stand on end. She shivered and tried to ignore the primitive response of prey. “You will not leave Oz. This-s-s-s I will not permit.”
Jotak had no rights over her, no matter what he thought in his screwed up, alpha-dominant, narcissistic brain. She’d made the point clear many times…and would again and again until he processed the truth—she’d never be with him.
“Good afternoon to you, too, Jotak.” Despite her vow to remain calm and in control, her voice trembled from fear and all the adrenaline speeding through her system.
Of course, her subtly sarcastic reprimand on his lack of manners swept over his head like a solar wind.
“Explain, woman.” Jotak loomed over her in full alpha-male-intimidation mode with his fists on his hips and a frown on his practically lipless mouth. Some women might find his six-foot six-inch muscular body, pale green skin, dark-green, almost-black hair, and golden eyes attractive in an exotic way.
Bria found him irritating and very, very menacing.
“We had this discussion almost s-s-six weeks ago. We agreed you were not going to Cejuru Prime.”
Jotak spoke the name of the home planet of the Prime race, a recent addition to the Galactic Alliance, as if it produced a foul taste in his mouth. His Dornian race, a nomadic people that ran con games and hired out as mercenaries to the highest bidder, was a distant cousin to the Antareans, the Prime’s archenemy for millennia. The antipathy must have been bred into their pseudo-reptilian genes.
While choosing to work within the structure of the Galactic Alliance had made Jotak an outlier within his race, he was no less criminal or less dangerous. The Dornian heritage which made him a good con man and warrior were lousy for just about everything else, including his current job providing security for a bunch of brainiac research scientists.
Whoever had hired and then promoted the man should be shot.
“You said I wasn’t going,” Bria pointed out with a calmness she didn’t feel. The raw energy coming off the large and powerful male frame had her hominid primitive brain urging her to run—and another little used and more violent part of her congenital makeup urged her to fight.
For the moment, she chose a higher brain response and attempted to reason with him. If that tack didn’t work, she’d use the scalpel on a vital artery and then run like hell.
“If you recall, I didn’t agree.” Slowly, she moved sideways, further away from his body, toward the rear exit of the lab. Just in case diplomacy didn’t work.
During a normal encounter, Jotak had absolutely zero respect for personal space, but his current maneuver of crowding her was aimed at bullying her into submitting to his will.
Bria wouldn’t succumb, but that didn’t mean she didn’t feel threatened…because she did. She’d had up close and personal experience with how quickly Jotak went from a simmering anger to a roiling rage.
For now, Jotak mirrored her movements, stalking her like the predator he was, while closing any gap she created. Then he stopped. His head swept from side to side as his split-tongue tasted the air. His slitted yellow eyes flared. He’d noted Cheri’s lingering scent.
Thank the One, her friend was long gone, out of Jotak’s reach.
“Someone is-s-s here?” He pinned her with his basilisk stare.
It didn’t work on her.
“We’re alone.” Bria placed her workstation between her and the large male. “Now, say what you have to say and then go. I have work to do before I can leave for the day.”
He flicked his tongue, quickly tasting the air once more, and then emitted an almost orgasmic guttural sound. His body seemed to grow another inch in height and breadth. His thin lips twisted upward. If she were brave enough to look, she knew she’d find evidence of his arousal. He was feeding on the smell of her fear, and like the apex predator he was, he liked it.
Why had she ever thought she could be “just friends” with this man? She must’ve been nuts.
“If you wish to leave Oz, Brianna, I will take you wherever you wish to go. We can join my parent’s space caravan.”
“I am leaving Oz to do my job. I have no desire to wander the universe—”
She left “with you” unsaid.
“Wrong ans-s-swer,” he hissed.
Her gut told her an attack was imminent. How long had it been since Cheri left? Five standard minutes or less? It seemed like hours.
Hurry, hurry, hurry.
Bria held her ground and watched Jotak pace back and forth, his movements sinuous and a lure to the unwary. His hungry stare never left her as he moved ever closer to her position, closer to when she’d have to use the weapon in her hand.
“You can’t mesmerize me,” she reminded him. “You tried when you attempted to rape me.”
“Yes-s-s-s. You got away…and I caught you.” He laughed. “That was fun. Run, little Brianna. Go ahead. I will catch you. Make you mine. No one will believe your stories. The local law officers are susceptible to my stare.”
And he was right, damn him.
Bria gripped her scalpel even more tightly. Looked as if she wouldn’t be able to avoid injuring the slime-sucking bastard.
Cut off his head and end the problem forever.
This primal, more bloodthirsty part of her had only awakened recently—right after she’d discovered and accepted she was a mated Prime female. A gemate. A Lost One. And a battle-mate.
Bria didn’t know the first thing on how to be a battle-mate. And even if she did, she didn’t think she could kill any creature, even Jotak. Injure to defend? Maybe. Kill? No. She was a doctor. She’d also been raised by her adoptive parents’ people to seek peaceful resolutions to conflict.
Nurture, in this instance, would trump Nature.
“Brianna…” Jotak growled, “you are mine. I have claimed you. I will not let you leave me.”
She held her weaponless hand in front of her, palm up, in the universal body language of pleading. “Jotak, please. I’m not yours. I haven’t agreed. I’ll be leaving with my team when the Galanti comes to pick us up.”
“No!” Jotak lunged and ripped her microscope from its locked-down position on the metal work station and threw the heavy scope against the wall as if it weighed nothing.
She gasped and jumped backwards. Then he ripped apart her station to get to her. Frozen in place from shock, she barely avoided being hit by debris. His next move was a blur.
Before she could even think about running, he grabbed her arms and shook her. “You are mine.”
She couldn’t move…couldn’t scream and could barely breathe as her mind flashed back to the last time he’d put his hands on her. The room spun around her and spots floated across her vision. As she began to fall into an infinitely dark pit, a surge of energy built within her.
Then the violence-hungry part of her screamed: Use the scalpel. Cut him. Now.
Yet she couldn’t make herself do it.
“Tell me you belong to me.” His fingers dug into her arms so cruelly his sharp nails drew blood.
The pain ramped up her body’s fight-or-flight response. But she couldn’t flee.
She had to fight.
Hormones poured into her bloodstream. Her heart beat fast and loud in her ears. All her senses became hyper-alert—and her body felt stronger as it prepared to fight.
After which, she’d run like hell for the safest place she could find.
With his eyes slitted like a snake’s and his tongue flicking over her face like a small, slippery whip, he roared and shook her until she swore she could hear her bones rattling. “Say it!”
“Enough!” she screamed, shocking him, shocking her.
Then, with every bit of anger-fueled strength she could muster, she kneed him in the balls.
Jotak howled and released his hold on her to cup himself.
Her arms freed, she slashed the main artery to his brain, letting loose a spurting fountain of putrid green blood. And even while Jotak cursed and promised to make her regret her actions, he began to heal.
Bria ran out of the lab as fast as her shaky legs could handle. She’d seen enough pseudo-reptilians heal to know it wouldn’t take him long to come after her. She sprinted down the corridor. Her heart threatened to beat its way out of her chest. Her breathing was harsh and raspy, and she was close to hyperventilating.
When she ran into Cheri and two strangers dressed in Alliance military uniforms, she went limp with relief. The soldiers had the light blue skin of Volusians. Volusians were impervious to pseudo-reptilian mesmerism and toxins, thank the One.
“Are you okay?” Cheri placed an arm around Bria’s waist and provided much-needed support as Bria’s legs threatened to give out. “What did the bastard do to you?”
Before Bria could catch her breath to reassure her friend she was fine, the Volusians growled and placed their very large muscular bodies between the two women and a furious Jotak who sped toward them.
“Dr. Martin,” one of the Volusians spoke in a low, terse voice, “tell us. Did the split-tongued bastard harm you?”
Leaning against Cheri, Bria rasped out, “No.”
Her friend snorted. “You said that the last time. But I saw the bruises he gave you. This time, your shirt is shredded. You have claw marks on your arms. You’re bleeding. That’s called being harmed.”
The soldier who asked the question nodded his approval of Cheri’s words. “Dr. Martin, did he inject any toxins? If so, we must act quickly. My blood is an antidote.”
“No…he grabbed and shook me—and yelled. I’m fine. Really.”
Cheri didn’t look as if she believed Bria’s words. Neither did the Volusians.
“He scared me. I kneed him in the balls and followed up by using my scalpel,” she held up the bloody instrument still clutched in her shaky right hand, “to cut his main brain artery. Then I got away.”
The soldiers grunted. The sound was one of approval. Glad someone approved. She wasn’t sure she did. Violence went against everything she’d ever been taught.
But pacifism will not keep me—or my warrior-gemat—alive.
She understood things would be different in the future. And she was willing to learn how to defend herself and her unknown mate. But, bless the One, she hoped fighting wouldn’t be a routine activity.
Bria couldn’t imagine feeling as she did now too often. She was extremely wobbly from the flood of stress hormones. She wanted to throw up and lie down with the covers pulled over her head—at the same time. She had a feeling her gemat wouldn’t be pleased with a notably wussy battle-mate.
“Cursed Volusians!” Jotak’s roaring bounced off the titanium walls of the narrow corridor. The ringing sound added to her pounding headache. “Stand down. This does not concern you.”
Jotak stopped about a meter away from the two Volusians and glowered at them. His hands were up, and his claws dripped a yellow-tinged, viscous neurotoxin. “That is-s-s an order.”
Bria and Cheri held onto each other. Who was holding whom up at this point was a toss up. They both shook so hard it was amazing the floors weren’t vibrating.
If Jotak scratched Cheri, she’d be paralyzed, at a minimum, or dead if a large enough amount got into her bloodstream—even with an antidote available.
Bria didn’t have a clue what might or might not happen if Jotak’s toxin entered her bloodstream. The Prime had been isolationists until recently. The only things she knew about the peculiarities of their—her—anatomy and physiology were what she’d gleaned from working with Dr. Lia Morgan-Dakkin of the Alliance Starship Galanti, and those tests had been centered on reproductive biology.
She still hadn’t gotten over the mind-numbing shock of finding out she was Prime and not Terran. It had been less than two standard months since that discovery, and she was still coming to terms with the truth. She had a huge learning curve to surmount concerning her true biology.
“Brianna!” Jotak’s shout reverberated through her very bones. Cheri made a tiny squeaking noise and held onto Bria harder. Bria wasn’t ashamed to admit she held back just as hard. “Pay attention, woman.”
Her demented stalker swept a sneering, slitted glare over the two Volusians who’d drawn their battle-blades to defend her and Cheri. “I s-s-said stand down.”
The lead soldier shook his head. “We will not.” He thrust his blade forward. “You won’t heal if I behead you. I suggest you stand down.”
“You threaten me? I am your s-s-superior officer. I am in charge of all security personnel in this laboratory facility.”
The two Volusians laughed. “You are not in charge of us. We are Alliance Military and were assigned by Alliance Command to protect Dr. Martin and her team. Your assault of Dr. Martin will be reported to our superiors—who are also your superiors. Now go, my blade wishes to taste Dornian blood.”
“Report me. The Alliance will do nothing.” Jotak hissed and glared at the Volusians, then fixed his angry gaze on Bria.
If looks could kill, well—
“We will discuss-s-s this-s-s issue…later…over dinner. I expect you to be more receptive to my wishes by then. I will pick you up at 1800 hours. Do not make me s-s-search for you, mehina.”
What the hell? He expected her to…the man was as dense as the granite that made up Oz. And like hell she was his woman. Well, he’d be forced to come look for her, because she didn’t plan to be anywhere near her apartment at 1800 hours.
Since the reply she wanted to give his outrageous demands would only escalate the tense situation, she said nothing, merely inclined her head as he stalked past them. She didn’t want the injury—or death—of Cheri and the two soldiers on her conscience.
Once Jotak was out of sight and hearing, she turned to the two men who’d stood for her and Cheri. “I’d avoid him for the next few days if I were you. He won’t like that you came to my defense. And just why were you—I’m sorry I don’t know your names—assigned to my team?”
“I am V’niko. My comrade is A’nan. The Alliance has heard rumors of threats against you and your team by the Prime rebel faction, Pure Blood,” V’niko said as the four of them walked back to the lab. “And be assured, we are not afraid of Jotak M’tali. We will report this incident to the proper authorities in the Alliance Command. You ladies will need to make statements tomorrow at the Alliance Military offices.”
V’niko stood in the doorway of the lab and frowned when he spotted the broken microscope and her destroyed workstation. “You are not strong enough to have created such destruction. We will record the scene and the bloody marks on your arm to document M’tali’s attack.”
“Do what you need to do,” Bria said. “But as Jotak said, nothing will come of it. He’ll use his mesmerism abilities to make the problem go away. Then he’ll kill you and hide the bodies. I suspect he’s already killed one witness, an Obam male janitor who was also not susceptible to his hypnotic powers.”
V’niko smiled, and it wasn’t a nice one. “A’nan and I are not easy to kill. Plus the reports will also go to Tooh 10 to our superiors. M’tali is not as powerful as he thinks he is. You and your people will be safe in our care until the Galanti arrives to take over.”
“You have to sleep sometime,” Cheri pointed out.
“Yes, which is why you will be moved to a hotel and registered under assumed names. A’nan and I will take turns guarding you there…and here as you do your work.” V’niko gestured to the lab. “Do you have anything else you need to work on tonight? Or, shall we escort you to your residences to pack enough clothing to get you through the next few nights?”
“The Galanti will arrive that soon?” Bria frowned. “I was told maybe another three standard weeks before they could make it. The crew is supposed to be on leave after a mission.”
A’nan answered, “Three weeks is still the Galanti’s estimated arrival time. If we can’t get M’tali relieved of his post and transferred to Tooh 10 to appear before a tribunal for his assault on you, we will guard you as long as necessary.”
“Mere words aren’t adequate to express my gratitude.” Bria managed to conjure up a smile for the two men.
“You were very brave to stand up to him and fight, Dr. Martin,” V’niko said. “But let A’nan and I do the fighting in the future.”
“I’m so all over that sentiment.” Bria’s breathing hitched. “I couldn’t…couldn’t stand him touching me again.” She wrapped her arms around her middle and hugged herself. She was so cold she thought she’d shiver apart. “I can’t ever let him get me alone again. Ever.”
Because, today, she’d tipped her hand and made a grievous error—she’d fought back. In the past, she’d escaped his attentions through guile, quick thinking, and just plain dumb luck. In this attack, she’d demonstrated she wasn’t a timid plains hopper, had proven she could physically hurt him.
Jotak wouldn’t underestimate her again.
“Maybe you shouldn’t come into the lab at all. The team and I, with V’niko’s and A’nan’s protection, can continue to run experiments and get things packed up for the trip to Cejuru Prime. Find a good hiding place,” Cheri urged. “If we need input, telecommute. Stay out of Jotak’s sight. Once on Cejuru Prime, you’ll be out of his reach forever and have other protection.”
The other protection Cheri referred to was Bria’s gemat. Only Cheri knew Bria was Prime. She’d confided in her friend when she’d first become aware what her marking meant. She then had Cheri rerun all the tests on Bria’s DNA and document the gemate marking. The results had been too important to be tainted by Bria’s self-interest.
Before Bria revealed to anyone else about being a Lost One, she wanted to attempt to locate and meet her gemat—if he was even alive. She’d seen enough newsfeeds on Melina Dmitros-Caradoc’s story to know another Lost One appearing would be big news. She was also aware she would immediately become a target for enemies of the Prime. Although it sounded as if the Pure Blood terrorists had already focused on her because of her research.
She touched the area above her right ovary where her marking lay. It was silly, but she sensed the quiescent mark was impatiently waiting for the perfect neurochemical signature of her gemat to awaken it fully, just as real danger had roused what she suspected was her battle-mate nature.
Growing up on a communal farm on the planet Gliese 581C, she’d always known the marking made her different. Unique. Special. She just hadn’t realized how much.
Now that she did, she was eager to learn about her birth parents’ heritage, anxious to meet her gemat and come together with him. Then and only then, she’d be where she truly belonged.