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by Becca Dale
Category: Erotica/Erotic Science Fiction/Science Fiction
Description: Since the last of the great wars, nuclear fallout and global warming have bred fear and suspicion among earth's inhabitants, but they have also bred a new kind of human, which has the rest of the species terrified of annihilation. Prejudice, fear and hatred have ruled Adarkan's entire life. They are the reason for her birth and overcoming them is her destiny. She does not have time for love or lust, but when her father's arrogant Beta opens the door to passion, he teaches her the value of a stolen moment and destroys her objectivity. How can she convince both talon and humans to see her as a neutral party in the battle for peace when her body, mind, and heart cry for her talon mate? As a warrior, Gralak understands the importance of duty and dedication to a cause. As second in command, he trains soldiers to focus on their obligations above all else. These rules guide his life until he meets a lone female who teases his mind and body and makes him questions his dedication to anything except her. Can he protect his love from physical danger and a life of loneliness, or will his own aspirations to become Alpha damn him to an equally cheerless fate?
eBook Publisher: Phaze, 2008
eBookwise Release Date: September 2008
19 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [186 KB]
Reading time: 116-163 min.
"Gralak! Lord Rakar commands you come."
The king's youngest page stood at the edge of the practice field as if afraid to journey among the soldiers as they trained. The boy looked fragile and pale in contrast to the warriors. Gralak wondered if Rakar ever let the child see the sun. Impatient with the king and his high-handed ways, Gralak waved to acknowledge he had heard the command. His martial arts student took advantage of the distraction and drove a knee hard into his master's stomach, making Gralak grunt.
With an irritated flick of his wrist, Gralak threw the younger soldier across the yard. "You did well to attack when my guard fell, Blavark, but you forgot the most important lesson. Strength outdoes cunning alone; only in obtaining both can you defeat me. Don't forget again."
Ignoring the whimpers from the beaten subordinate and the hoots from the other trainees, Gralak paused at the well to wash his face and chest. With his wet hands he slicked back his shoulder-length hair and dusted off his pants before opening the heavy door to Rakar's den.
"You sent for me, my lord?"
Hand on his dagger, Rakar stared out the far window, his muscular back tense. The king's rigid stance did not bode well, and Gralak searched the sparsely furnished room for unseen threats.
"You took long."
Rakar's deep voice rumbled in irritation and Gralak relaxed. The king's problem obviously came from within his walls and not some unseen force.
"I apologize, my lord. I was with a student."
Without further comment, Rakar lowered the window blind and settled behind his desk before he gestured toward another chair. Gralak sat down and automatically dropped his shoulders forward as he placed his elbows on his knees in passive position. If the old king were troubled, he would not aggravate him more.
"I hear you show well as a leader, boy. Are you looking to my position?"
Gralak chuckled benignly. "Someday. For now I'm content to learn from you, my lord."
The king snorted. "You are arrogant to covet my throne."
Gralak chuckled again. "Like you, I take what I desire and earn my right to keep it."
Rakar leaned back in his chair with his shoulders stiff and his battle-scarred hands relaxed on the armrests. Despite his graying temples, he still exuded the power of an Alpha warrior. When Gralak did not drop his eyes as he should have, Rakar smiled. "You and I are more alike than you know, boy, but you'll not have my place. Soon I'll step aside for one who will open doors to peace."
Gralak growled low in his throat. "Humans lack honor. Greed drives them to take our lands and murder our families, yet you speak of peace?"
Rakar leaned forward to fiddle with a pen on his desk before he met Gralak's eyes. "Peace will be achieved through my son."
Startled, Gralak stood swiftly and the momentum shoved his chair across the room where it toppled to the stone floor with a resounding clatter. "Your son? With what female have you mated? Though they circle like hyenas at a kill, you rebuff them all."
"Dare you judge me?" Rakar snarled as he leaped across his desk and lashed out. His great claws slashed Gralak's cheek.
The shallow cuts stung little, but for such a blow Gralak would have opened the throat of any save the Alpha. Instead he dropped his head and stepped back as protocol demanded. "I overstepped, my lord. Forgive me."
Rakar remained rigid a moment, then relaxed. "Accepted, boy. Now lower yourself; your height barks disrespect."
Grabbing a chair, Gralak sat, but he did not apologize, nor did he wipe away the blood that trickled down his neck. The scent of it reminded him to practice patience when he gained the throne.
His hands clenched behind his back, Rakar prowled from desk to window and back. "Are you loyal, Gralak?"
"If I trusted you with the future, would you protect it?"
"I aspire to the throne, my lord, but I'll not wrest it from you until your choices no longer reflect the people's well-being. You have my word."
With a nod, Rakar leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. "Good, then I give you my son to train."
Gralak expected to see a child enter the room at the king's command, but the door remained closed. "Where am I to find this boy, my lord?"
"In Gant with his mother; fetch them both."
"But Gant is a human village."
"He bleeds human and talon alike."
Such blasphemous words destroyed Gralak's resolve to pacify the king. The idea of a breed having grown to adulthood revolted him. "You mated with a woman?"
Red swirled in Rakar's eyes and his fangs gleamed in the low light filtering through the window blinds. "Only a leader who understands both worlds can end the clash."
Gralak rose, uncaring if he insulted the Alpha. "No one will accept him, Rakar. How can you believe otherwise?"
"They will because I demand it."
"And the humans? How will you convince them?"
"The boy's mother will bring her father and other leaders to the table, and Adarkan shall sway them to peace."
"A child raised in the human way, what prevents him from destroying us?"
"My son will side with talon over human if necessary."
"Forgive me, my lord, can you guarantee such a thing?"
"Yark has taught him our ways."
Images of a traitor in their midst tightened Gralak's stomach. "You sent a castrated omega to instruct the child? He will think us all weak."
"I would not risk another."
Gralak wanted to know more, but the closed expression on the Alpha's face concluded the discussion. Rising, he bowed his head respectfully before turning to the door. "I'll bring the boy, and we shall see if he is talon or man."
"Gralak," the king waited until Gralak faced him before he continued, "my son has an independent streak that may cause trouble. Take a discipline rod with you."
Gralak shook his head. "I've no need of one, my lord. I dislike their use."
"I'm not asking you to break the boy's spirit, but he can't jeopardize his purpose. If his will demands it, use the rod. I will not abide an undisciplined soldier."
"As you command, my lord." Gralak strode from the room into the bright sunlight, but a dark dread welled in his heart. The road to peace would prove treacherous at best, but a path laid by a breed could jeopardize the talons' very existence. * * * *
Adarkan laughed as she slipped in the cooking oil she had thrown at her teacher's nasty head. Catching herself on the newel post, she scampered up the stairs as Yark snarled and raged below. The old talon would not dare enter the private quarters, no matter the provocation. Still laughing, Adarkan flung open the door to her mother's chamber and flopped upon the feather bed. "Can you hear him still, Mother?"
Kylean rose from her desk and closed the door so their voices would not carry below. "Yes, and you should show more respect, child."
"Respect for a talon? I doubt it."
"You mock yourself, darling."
Adarkan sat up with a scowl. "I'm no more talon than you are, Mother. You caught the beast's unholy seed; I merely reflect its presence."
Adarkan waited for a rebuttal, but for once it didn't come. Instead Kylean walked across the room to sit on the bed. Her shoulders drooped wearily, adding years to her thirty-eight. "I've been weak in raising you, Kan. I should have sent you to your father long ago."
"You could not do that to me." Scooting across the bed, Adarkan knelt behind Kylean and lightly scratched her back with partially sheathed claws. The soothing action drew the tension from her mother's shoulders. "I've learned the language, the proper social behavior, and even acquired a taste for the food, but I cannot live with him, Mother. My father left us alone to suffer ridicule and hatred as a castoff and a bastard. Once the public knows my heritage, they will ostracize me no matter where I dwell. Here I have you. There I would have no one."
Her mother turned on the bed and captured Adarkan's hands in her own. Worry marred her beautiful complexion and curved her shoulders. "We lived apart from your grandparents by my choice, Adarkan. I did not want you to develop a fondness for human ways. Do not blame your father for our isolation."
"That does not change the way others see us."
Kylean sighed, "Ease your judgment of him, Kan. He comes tomorrow and you must go."
Adarkan jerked her hands away and leaped from the bed. "No! You cannot expect me to! For God's sake, Mother, he knows his own child so little he thinks me a boy."
Tears welled in her mother's pale blue eyes. "I would selfishly keep you always, Kan, but I can't. Your father chose me to bear his child, an honor I joyously accepted. Now you must live up to your birth. There can be no other life for you. I'm sorry."
As Adarkan fled to her private chamber, tears streamed down her cheeks. She impatiently wiped away the signs of weakness. "I will not leave with him. I am not talon. I'm human."
Her chest tightened at the words so often whispered in the dark of her room. Images of talon youth taunted in the streets and gang beaten for the shape of their faces flooded her mind. Though few would guess mixed blood ran through her veins, she could not allow anyone close. Once her father arrived, the deception would end.
The years of pretending weighed on her spirit as she pulled a framed photograph from the bottom dresser drawer and sank to the floor. Her fingers trembled when she touched the faded picture. The image of Rakar emphasized his strong jaw and forehead, his black hair and eyes, and the smile he reserved only for her.
"Why did you leave me?"
Tears flowed down her cheeks as she thought of the years spent apart, years she had kept her claws sheathed to reveal only small humanlike nails and her smile tempered to hide her fangs. She looked for similarities between them. Her black hair and changing eyes were the only outward signs of his blood. Her fair skin bore no telltale markings and her brow lay flat and even instead of protruding with a talon's distinctive center ridge. She possessed her father's acute sense of smell, physical strength, and his temper, which showed when her amber eyes flamed to orange, but for the most part, her talon attributes remained hidden.
"I wouldn't have shamed you, Father."
She leaned her head back against the wall in an effort to slow her accelerated heartbeat as fear of the unknown pressed down. Her height and strength had convinced her human neighbors that she was a boy, but she could not hide her sex from her father for long now that she had come of age. Once her birth became public, neither human nor talon would accept her. The churches would demand her exile or death, and if her father cast her out, she would have no one and nowhere.
With a sigh, she wondered if she could even pass for an uncommitted female roving in the night hours. She stood less than six foot rather than the average of six and a half, and her skin was not the dark chestnut of the clan. She threw her father's photo on the bed and turned toward her dresser. Stripping her shirt over her head and stepping from her jeans, she stared at herself in the mirror. Her waist had the sharp indent of a talon and her legs were muscular and lean from years of working with Yark. She even had the small pert breasts of her father's people, a fact which had helped preserve her identity as a boy, but her facial features revealed her human genetics. Self-pity tugged at her as she ran a hand down her slender frame. "No wonder Mother hid me as a boy. I'm too insignificant to be a talon female and too much to be simply a woman."
A lonesome talon melody drifted through her window and pulled her from her self-absorption. Pushing the sash aside, she listened as the old creature who lived on the riverbank sang of lost love. The pain in the loner's words echoed her worries, and she called back to him, offering the comfort of another being in the darkness. As her cry died away, another answered.
Startled, Adarkan leaned out the window. She did not recognize the compassionate voice.
He had come.
Anticipation quivered through her body. She closed the window and braced herself against it. Tomorrow she would meet her father. Not as the child who had climbed upon his lap, but as an adult anxious for his respect no matter what she told her mother. Then it hit her; she could force him to recognize his own flesh.
Grabbing a thin red throw from the bed, she wrapped it around her waist in the fashion of a single female and belted it tightly. The fabric opened from heel to hip as she walked, and her bare chest gave her pause, but she must appear before him as an ordinary stranger. She quickly unbraided her black hair and brushed it until it shown blue in the lamplight, then pulled it forward to hide her nakedness. At a glance, she'd pass completely as talon, and the darkness would minimize her differences.
Adarkan stepped onto the window sill and dropped two stories to the ground. With a fortifying breath, she set off toward the unknown voice.