The Kodiak's Mate, Shifters Match 2 will release with @EvernightPub on July 21st
Ares, Gods need love too book 1 will release with Vinvatar Publishing on July 19th
She looked at her mother and frowned. She couldn’t have heard the woman correctly. Paisley wasn’t a militant; she wasn’t a protector. For the love of all the saints, she was a teacher for young children.
The marshal looked at Paisley with a frown, then sighed. “Because you are about the one and only person that I will trust to be around him right now, and since you know where the safe house is I will leave you to take him. It’s too dangerous right now for him to remain on his ship with Fintan.”
“Wait, you mean, The General?” There was awe in Paisley’s voice and she knew it but she had seen what the man had gone through for his mate. He was the only reason that Paisley believed in love once more. It was the reason why, with her mother’s help, she’d broken the arranged marriage and begun to live for herself and not for what she should do.
“He’ll be arriving soon with several guards. You are all going to the bunker. The guards will take the outer shelter, and you and Markus will take the inner sanctuary.”
The inner sanctuary was a place that none could enter if they weren’t of the Ralston family. It literally took living blood and a tie to the blood and heartbeat of a Ralston to keep the air actually on in that sanctuary. It would be either a haven or a tomb depending on if people knew it or not.
“And what about you, Mother? You’ve kept a low profile while they sorted out the issues that were evidently in your offices.”
“This is very true and it’s past time for me to get back to what it is that I do. Besides, this way I know that you will be safe as will Markus.”
“You could always go into the shelter with him instead of me,” Paisley pointed out.
“No, because they would use you to get to me. You are my one weakness, Paisley.”
Paisley moved and gave her mother a hug. “There are not many that know of me, Mother. You’d probably be safe, you know, and so would I.”
“No, there is too much to be done.”
“No buts, Paisley. This is an order. You are to keep him safe.”
Paisley bowed her head and nodded. “As you say. Just remember I don’t know how to fight.”
“You don’t, but he does.” Her mother gave her another hug, then pushed her toward where the family bunker was. It was something that no one and nothing could get into. Even if the world exploded, the bunker would eject into space and hook up with a waiting ship that would become their own private spaceship. It had been designed with the ultimate of protections in mind. Her great-grandfather had designed it and it had kept her mother safe when this war began to truly heat up as it had in the last several months.
“I trust you,” Paisley told her mother. She took a deep breath and smiled. “I’ll go pack.”
“Your things are already in the bunker. I had my assistant go to your home and empty your closets and drawers, and I personally put everything into the bunker. It’s fully stocked with food for the two of you for as long as you might need to be in there as well as the machines to recreate foods if you wanted or needed it. I doubt that much time will be needed, but just in case.”
“A career military man,” Paisley mused. “And how does he feel about having to hide?” she asked with a knowing grin. She knew the type.
“About like what you think he’s feeling,” the marshal stated with a laugh. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Fin had to tranquilize him to bring him in. Now, go.”
And just like that Paisley was summarily assigned a duty that she had no business taking care of. She wasn’t a fighter and never had been. She was soft, short, and more than a little pudgy. Paisley was not anything that anyone really would ever look a second time at.
“No, not happening.”
His commanding officer gave him a look that would have made Markus squirm when he’d first stepped on board the cruiser. Now it only had him digging his heels in further. “You know that it is not even an option, Markus. For your safety, and for the future of both our races, we need to make sure you remain alive until the general public is made aware of everything.”
He hated when Fintan Daykin made complete sense. The man already thought too highly of his logic for his own good.
Yes, Markus was important, but to his thinking, he was no more important than any other Craegin. Or Imarian, if he wanted to get technical. He was, after all, a byproduct from both races, although the Imarian in his blood was definitely diluted.
Growling under his breath about his stubborn commander, Markus shoved a hand through his short, dark mahogany hair and paced around the office. Fintan held his tongue for once, a blessing and a curse all at the same time.
Markus wouldn’t be in this situation where he was being ordered by not only Fintan but by the marshal of the Craegin people to go into hiding for his safety if not for a wedding most Craegin and Imarian people did not know occurred.
If not for the fact the entire crew aboard the cruiser he was currently on would also be in danger, he wouldn’t even consider leaving. But he could not willingly and knowingly put others in danger because he was stubborn. Yes, he was stubborn, but he was not stupid. And while it grated severely on his nerves to admit it, Fintan and the marshal were correct. Not only were there factions on the Craegin home world who wanted him dead and buried where no one could dig him up, but there was the entire ruling body of Imara to take into account. They likely had spies in place on his home world and moon outposts, hoping to get a shot at him.
Markus stopped near the vid monitor in Fintan’s office, which showed the view from space of the outpost planet they were currently orbiting. Most folks down there didn’t have a clue about the ticking time bomb floating in space above their heads. The wars that were held in the ships in space sometimes pelted down upon the heads of those on the planets below, something they tried hard not to allow happen. Never had he hated knowing about his heritage more than he did right then.
“Fine, I’ll go. But I don’t need a watcher. I am more than capable of taking care of myself. You and I both know that. And it is much easier to deal with anyone that may get wind of my location if I am alone. Having someone either interfering or uselessly getting in the way will only get me killed.”
“It’s not my call, and it’s definitely not yours. You will have a watcher, but I’ve been assured by the marshal that this individual will follow your orders to the letter unless they are a direct threat to your own life. I cannot, nor would I, change that.” Fintan pushed up from his chair to come stand by his side. “I know that your heritage weighs heavily on you. I wish I could carry the burden with you, my friend. But I will do whatever is necessary to keep you alive. Once the general public of Craegin and Imara know about you, and your lineage, then you can step from the shadows and into the light.”
Snorting at his words, Markus shot a look over his shoulder to the other man. “That was rather poetic, Fin. Love has changed you more than even I realized. Although I don’t know if this new streak you are showing is for the better.”
“Shut up,” Fin muttered.
Amusement coursed through him for a moment. He knew Fintan was doing it on purpose, and that made Markus appreciate the man’s friendship all the more. But the knowledge that he, Markus Rothschild, was the only living heir to the crowns of both Craegin and Imara… The reason he was the only living heir was tragic, according to many. His parents had both been killed while on a tramp headed for a fundraiser event on a Craegin moon base. They and nine others including the pilots died instantly. Markus had not been with them like he normally would have, because he’d come down with a cold and had been too ill to travel.
The official report was a rogue micro-meteor shower had compromised the tramp’s hull. While it had been a cold comfort to him at only ten summers old at the time, he had at least known the reason why they would never be coming home again. There had been closure. Now that he knew about his lineage he had to wonder if perhaps someone had taken them out. But that didn’t really work, either, because he was still alive. Why kill his parents but leave him breathing?
It was only one of many questions that haunted him since he had been told he was descended from royalty. The royalty, if he wanted to get technical. Shaking his head mentally to get back on topic, he turned partially to look at Fintan without straining. “Basically, you are telling me I’m stuck with the marshal’s chosen watcher.”
Fin nodded. “Whoever it is will probably be nothing more than a large, silent shadow that lurks in the background while you try to keep from going insane with boredom.”
Right, there was that issue, too. “What exactly am I supposed to do during this unwanted hiatus from my career path? I don’t mind the idea of a couple days of downtime to relax and rest, but being stuck somewhere indefinitely is less appealing.”
“I’m sure we can find something for you to do. You might even be able to finish all those reports I know you have been ignoring.”
Markus plastered on his best innocent face and blinked at his commanding officer. “Reports? Whatever do you mean, General? I always do my reports promptly.”
Fintan’s eyebrows climbed up his forehead at that bold-faced lie. “Right. Do them all up. Wherever you are going will likely have the capability of secure transmissions, so you can send them all back here and I will sign off on them before submitting them. Sadie can make sure there are no electronic tags on any of those files that could potentially lead back to your location.”
Sadie, Colonel Bracken Kauller’s wife and family friend to the Daykins, was a genius with anything electronic. Her doctorate in AI and destroyer programming spoke for itself, but her skills were known across the quadrants even if people did not know her name. “I will make sure all the reports are completed. I make no promises on when I will get them done, though. It will depend on wherever you and the marshal are planning to stash me and this watcher you are saddling me with. My first priority will be security since that is why I am leaving the safety of a Craegin destroyer.”
“You cannot guilt me, Markus. I do this not only for your own good but for the good of two races. All of the Craegins and Imarians need you.”
“No, you’re right.” Damn but he felt like a kid being chastised right then. “I’m sorry. This situation is not our making, but it is our responsibility to see it righted. You and the marshal believe this is the best course to take, so I will bow to your wishes and let you handle it. But swear to me one thing, Fintan.”
“What is it?”
“Be expedient handling all this. Be careful, but do not dally. I am not now nor have I ever been one to sit idly by while my friends take the risks pointed toward me.” Markus had always preferred to face whatever came at him head-on, which made having to step aside and allow others to handle things grate on his nerves.
“I’ll do all I can to make sure we all come out of this alive and in a better position. Now go pack your bag and get your reports. The tramp will be here soon to take you to the cargo vessel that will shuttle you to your destination. I know it will not be the most comfortable ride, but no one would ever expect it.”
A few more words were exchanged before Markus left Fintan to his own duties. Heading to his quarters, he mulled everything he knew over in his head yet again. Before he ever got near the symbolic throne he was to take, he was going to drive himself crazy. And that did not even take into account whatever nightmare of a watcher he was being saddled with. He was definitely not looking forward to meeting whoever it might be.
Paisley marched back and forth in front of the door that hid her from her mother’s offices. From there they would take a hidden tunnel that would lead to another hidden area that would then lead them to the tramp that would take them via underground tunnels to her family’s hidden shelter. It was a long trip with many loops and turns. It would be just her and this Markus man—the royal heir—along the way. Her mother’s guards that were going to be on the outer rim of the panic room had become ill and with as suspicious as it had been, and the length of time it would take new guards to be vetted, they decided no guards.
Granted because of this shift her mother had filled the tramp with enough weapons to start their own war, if Paisley knew how to use one, that was.
She paced in the darkness and paused when she heard voices. She heard her mother’s voice coming closer. When the door opened, Paisley was shocked to see a huge man standing behind her mother. He was gorgeous.
Her mouth was suddenly dry and when she went to swallow she coughed. The reflexive action had her eyes watering. “Holy smokes,” was all she said, her gaze on the man, who’d moved to stand beside her mom. “Hi?” Okay, she was smarter than this.
He grinned, and her mother shook her head slightly before turning to look up at the man. “Lieutenant Colonel Markus Rothschild, I’d like you to meet my daughter, Paisley Ralston. Paisley here will be showing you to the location of the bunker where you’ll be staying. There are supplies and everything you could want down there even if this goes longer than expected, Colonel. Try not to kill each other.”
Confusion was the first emotion to roll over his face, then a dawning realization, before a mask fell down. She knew that mask. Her mother had one she used when dealing with politicians or speaking to the media. “This was definitely not what the general told me.”
The marshal hid a smirk behind her hand while scratching what Paisley knew to be a nonexistent itch on her nose. “No, I’m quite sure that Fintan left out all the details. He was highly amused by my plan to keep you tucked away safe, and we both know he has a twisted sense of humor when he decides to show it.”
“To say the least, Marshal.” Paisley was pretty sure he muttered something about keelhauling the general but she might have been mistaken since her Old Craegin was a little rusty.
“Well, good luck,” her mother said cheerfully. “Paisley, do close your mouth, dear. No one needs to see your tonsils.”
Paisley waited until her mother’s back was turned and stuck her tongue out. Childish, she knew, but for the love of all that was holy why and how did she get stuck with this man who was so beautiful it made her teeth ache?
“That’s impolite dear. Oh, and make sure that he understands why he needs to keep you alive as well?” her mother called over her shoulder after practically shoving Markus into the small room with Paisley.
She noticed just how hard all over Markus Rothschild was when his arms automatically wrapped around her body. “Uhm. Hold on?” she said, then pressed her forehead to his chest when she felt the bottom give way under them and the trip to their pseudo-home for the next while began.
It wasn’t until they made it to the tramp that she let go of him and spoke. “There were supposed to be guards on the outer layers of the panic housing but they suspiciously became ill. Because of that, Mother added more weapons, food, medical supplies and so on to the facility we will be staying at,” she said as they got on board. She slid into the pilot’s seat. “Thankfully this thing has autopilot, because I can’t fly. I also can’t shoot. You should know that now. I’m…” She felt her face heating. Gosh bless it, why? “I’m a teacher for the young, ages two to five. I don’t do war, much to my mother’s horror.”
Settling into the co-pilot’s seat to her right, he gave her a look. “Don’t apologize for not participating in the war or anything to do with it. You have a much more important position than all the military combined. You are helping to mold and to instruct our most precious assets, our young. They are lucky to have someone who has no such ties. I pray this war is finally done with so not a one ever has to be required to put on a uniform before they are old enough to make the decision themselves. No child should ever have to learn how to field strip a weapon or kill another being before puberty.”
She looked at him in horror and found herself reaching out. Her hand closed over his and she gave it a squeeze. “I’m so sorry, Lieutenant Colonel, no one should ever have that life. No one should ever have to hide, either, but here we are. At least the travel to the protective facility won’t take long,” she continued. “Once we’re inside, I will tell you a few secrets, ones I don’t dare voice aloud here or my mother might hear them,” she teased him, well, tried to tease him, as she fired up the engines and put in the coordinates for their destination.
“You don’t need to apologize to me for anything. I may not have chosen this life had I had the option, but I’ve done well for myself. Unlike many, I didn’t have parents to argue against me going into the academy at an early age. While they were alive, they kept me out because I was their only son, but without them around the choice fell to the state. Since I was healthy and a male, the natural choice was the academy.” He gave a shrug and leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest. “I did well and made something of myself. My parents may not have chosen it for me, but I think they would be proud. Or I hope they would be.”
“Well, you have my mother’s admiration, which is rare. Believe me,” she grumbled. “Your commanding officer thinks very highly of you as well.” And he hadn’t blinked or pushed her away when he’d been shoved into the small shelter room with her. She was also impressed that he hadn’t made a sound when the floor let go. Or pushed her away from him when she all but clung to him like a spider monkey.
“This is hardly the first time I’ve had an unusual set of circumstances sprung upon me. Nor will it be the last, I’m sure.”
“Well, this is a first for me. Normally, I’m perfectly happy being the plump, fluffy wallflower with a book on my data pad.” Paisley had no delusions when it came to her looks, at all. She was far larger than a Craegin woman should be in the hips, waist, boobs, and butt but she didn’t care. She embraced her womanly curves and was happy she wasn’t all stickly and tall and manly.
Markus turned to look at her, not merely his head, but his entire body. “I don’t know about the wallflower part, but I do not see anything wrong with how you are built. You are as a woman should be built. And any man who says otherwise needs to have his head examined.”
Paisley looked at him and grinned. “I think that’s the single nicest thing that any man has ever said to me. And please, call me Paisley? Since we are going to be in the bunker together you might as well call me by my given name, right?”
“Only if you call me Markus, Paisley.” Oh, but she liked how he said her name. His voice had a little growl to the deepness that had her toes curling within the confines of her shoes. “Where exactly is this bunker you mentioned? I’ve been told very little about what is going on.”
“Markus.” She liked his name, and she said it with a smile. “There is good, and there is bad.” She winced as she spoke and they banked at the same time, landing in the bay they needed to secure. “The good is that even if the planet is laid to waste, we’ll survive. The bad, you have to keep me alive to remain alive as well.” She saw his sharp look and shrugged. “I’ll tell you more once we’ve locked down the bay. Will you help me?”
“You don’t even need to ask. Do we need to move the crates in the back out now, or can they wait? I only ask since you know this place and I don’t. If we’re locking the bay down, does that mean we aren’t coming back out here at any point until we depart?”
“No, we won’t be coming back until it’s time to take you back to the surface. As you can see, we are deep inside of the planet. The tramp is something that my father designed to get us here through lava tubes. We’ll grab the hover mover and move everything inside. Once we’re in the elevator, there is no going back. Are you sure you want to be stuck alone with me for however long this might take?”
Leaning toward her slightly, he nodded. “Fintan had me believing I would have some behemoth lurking around every corner during my stay. Believe me, Paisley, you are the much better option to that. I would gladly be locked up with you for the rest of time.” Pushing to his feet, he looked into the back. “If you’ll grab the mover, I’ll get the crates in a position we can quickly slide them out and onto it.”
She simply stood there and looked at him. No one had ever said that they would gladly be in her presence for any amount of time, let alone the rest of time. “You confuse and intrigue me, Markus. I like that about you. A lot,” she told him with a grin and grabbed the mover so that they could start to transfer more weaponry and food staples into the bunker.
Markus grinned. “I’m not that interesting, Paisley. But I’d like to get to know you. And I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time for all that once we’re settled in and you have broken to me how bad my prison is to be.”
She snickered. “Oh, Markus, my dear sweet man. It’s not a prison. Anything but. The last time I was down here there were five bedrooms and seven full bathrooms. There’s a spa that is connected to the hot springs on our planet, and there’s also a gym as well as a shooting room or whatever it’s called.” She shrugged. “With the little things that pop up and you shoot at them?”
He nodded. “A shooting gallery. As to the construction, no matter how gilded the cage might be, it is still a cage.” He pulled two crates out and set them onto the mover. Then he moved the third and the fourth with a grunt. “Any idea what’s in these? That last one felt like it might have a building in it.”
“Weapons, lots of weapons. I’m assuming that those are for you.” She took the handle of the mover and added, “And some foodstuff. I think the general also sent your clothing and favorite weapons? I didn’t know that there was such a thing.” When she saw the last crate was loaded, she asked, “Will you close the hatch and key in code A-one-eight-B-six? That will lock it down fully so that we don’t have to worry about it and then once we’re in the elevator, we will lock down the whole bay so that it's secure, too.”
He gave her a nod and turned to grab a bag, the same one he’d had with him when she’d met him, then locked the tramp down. Following her to the elevator, he let her get the mover inside before joining her. Markus put a hand on the mover to hold it in place while she turned the hover mode off. There was no way she wanted it still in that mode while they were moving in the elevator; it would be a great way to get squashed.
She looked at him and took a breath. “Remember I said you had to keep me alive? I meant it.” She placed her hand on the scanner and heard the computer key up. “Paisley Alana Ralston, highest security settings available. Lockdown, an undetermined amount of time. One other being, Markus Rothschild. Confirm?” When she heard the confirmation, she winced at the needle that poked into her hand.
“Blood confirmed as Paisley Alana Ralston. Welcome.”
“Sorry, but you’re stuck with me now. I hope that’s going to be okay.”
“I already told you that I have no problem being locked in with you, Paisley. That creepy AI voice is not all that comforting, though. And you mentioned you were going to explain something when you had us sealed in?”
“Yes, we are now sealed in. Basically, the facility will stay on full active and protective mode for as long as I’m alive. If my vitals should ever falter, the facility would close down and all air would be removed. It’s a safety measure, I guess?” She didn’t think it was, but who was she?
“By all that is holy, that is scary.” He muttered a few choice words under his breath, only half of which she understood. “At least I know now what your mother meant about keeping you breathing for my own safety.”
“You know, I’m impressed. So far you’ve accepted everything thrown your way without blinking.”
“So have you. It really was not fair to put you in such a position.”
She shrugged and smiled up at him. “I’m finding it’s not such a hardship.” Which was true. She felt drawn to this man, wanted to reach out and touch him again and wanted to be able to simply see him smile again. “I think I’m going to have to thank my mother for putting me in this situation.”
“I’ll thank her, too, right after I have strong words with her about putting you in any type of danger. Unacceptable no matter how you look at it to place a civilian into a situation that we all know could blow up at any point. Especially her one and only child.” Shaking his head, he looked down at her with eyes that were pale blue outlined in dark gray. Pretty eyes, and a rather stunning contrast to the dark hair. If not for the dimple in his right cheek, his entire face would be harsh with those cool-colored eyes. “Do I have something on my face? Paisley, you are staring, little one,” he said in amusement.
“I…” Words failed her. There was such an intense draw to him, such a pull, that it ate at her insides. She was aching to be closer to him and she had never felt that before. Ever. “We’re here.” Thank heavens, saved by the ding of the lift’s bell. “Let’s get this stuff moved into storage and I’ll show you around. There are many screens around that you can watch television on, if you want. No communications out, though, sorry. We can receive, just not send.”
“Well, there goes Fintan’s master plan.” At her look, he chuckled. “He sent all the reports I have not yet managed to get around to completing. I was supposed to finish them all, forward them to him for sign off and for a friend to wipe the data trail before he submitted them. It also means I don’t have to do them immediately, which is good. The military has way too many and yet they still insist we fill each and every single one of them out.”
“You are going to be bored silly before you know it,” she told him with a grin. “I’m serious. It’s not exactly lots of fun to be down here but I promise I will do whatever I can to help your stay be a good one. I like you, Markus, and don’t want you to regret being here with me.”
“It will be fine,” he assured her. “If boredom does kick in badly enough, I might force myself to do a few at a time. I think we’ll be able to keep one another entertained for the most part, though. Like I said, I’m looking forward to learning more about you.”
Her whole body shivered when he said that the way that he did. She found herself licking her lips and moving so that she was just a bit closer to him.
Once the hover mover was settled in next to a wall and turned off, Markus pulled the heaviest crate off to poke through it while Paisley stood to the side watching. She’d been correct about what was in it, weapons of all shapes and sizes. She didn’t know exactly what he was doing with them but assumed everything was okay when he shut the lid with a satisfied look on his face.
Bag in hand, he stood up and waved her out of the storage room.
“So, where am I sleeping?”
“Come along, I’ll give you a tour.” Together they walked through the massive space. The rooms were large even by standards above ground but underground they were cavernous. The colors were soft, calming tones that tended to change depending on the room. The dining room had a soft red color while the kitchen had muted yellows and greens to counter the stark silver of the appliances. The halls were a neutral shade of white and the living room was a darker color green. She told him about the shelter and showed him where the panic areas were along with the codes to get everything to work, such as the disposal unit and replicator unit. She stopped at a pair of doors and took a breath before telling him, “These are the only bedrooms this close to each other. You can take right or left. I didn’t want to be too far from you, so as long as you are okay with sleeping next door to me?” She wanted to be as close to him as she could get and that was truly weird and she damn well knew it. Just the thought of him being far from her made her ill, and it had nothing to do with her keeping him safe.
Markus stuck his head through a door before pulling back to look at her. He went to look into the other room but returned to the first one. “This one works for me. All that color in the other room would give me nothing but nightmares. Let me grab my bag and then I’ll shower.”
His smile did funny things to her insides as he came back toward her, shouldering his bag. “Is it sonic, or is it water?”
“Water or sonic. The bunker has its own water source.” She watched him as he undid the buttons of his jacket. “There’s a continuous flow of hot water, too, thanks to the springs.” She looked up at him and saw him watching her. There was something in that gaze that had her stomach flipping, her body tightening. She bit her lower lip in reaction to seeing him just undoing a couple of buttons of his jacket.
“Excellent,” he said, shrugging out of his jacket and beginning to unpack. “Then it will be water. It’s been too long since I’ve enjoyed one. We have a weekly allotment on the destroyer but I rarely use mine. It’s quicker and more efficient to use the sonic feature to give me more time to sleep when I have that opportunity.”
“I couldn’t imagine being onboard a starship and not having access to something as simple as water.” She moved just a step closer to him, reaching automatically for the jacket he was setting down before she even realized what she was doing. Her fingers brushed against his and she froze.
She heard the indrawn breath from the man, and his hand closed over hers. The sensations that moved from her fingertips made their way to her heart and soul, making her lick her lips. She watched as his gaze moved to her lips, as if he wanted to devour her where she stood.
She shook herself out of the trance she seemed to be in when she’d touched him. “Uh, I’ll just hang this up for you…” she stammered, quickly pulling her hand back. She walked out of the room rattled but smiling. She was happy, and that was truly something she hadn’t expected. She had thought she was going to hate this duty but she loved it so far.