Saturday, October 28, 2006

My Favorite Earthling (instalment #3)

Readers may remember that Sue's last chapter ended with the gorgous tycoon and weekend National guard pilot (call sign Prince) sitting in the pilot's chair of the crashed alien spacecraft, wondering if he'd been detected.

copyright Susan Grant 2006

MARCH 2007
ISBN 0373771924; HQN books

This uncorrected excerpt may contain errors and other text not found in the final printed novel and is not for sale. Please don’t share the text with anyone without first receiving permission from the author to do so.

Chapter Three

Keira, Queen of Sakka swung her plasma sword at an imaginary opponent, working through a series of choreographed moves designed to hone and strengthen the body and bring focus to the mind. Her long thick hair whipped around her shoulders with every slice of the heavy sword in her gymnasium deep within the largest palace in the galaxy. To her left and right massive columns soared to the ceiling, the space between them open to various chambers—a meeting room, her bathing hall, an entertainment alcove where she could take visitors and or watch troubadours perform. She took little interest in the rest of the palace, but this was her sanctuary and she’d had it decorated it in every color opposite the reality outside the thick castle walls: a world of ice and towering glaciers, a land of white, ice-blue, and steely gray, where it snowed almost all year round except for a fleeting summer.

Sometimes she wished she could wall herself off from the rest of the palace in much the same way.

The captain of the Palace Guard, the hulking eunuch Tibor Frix, stepped through the door. She’d known him almost her entire life. Not once had she ever seen him look anything other than as he did now: immaculate in a flawless uniform and gleaming boots. He snapped his fist over his chest and dipped his head in a bow. “The visitors have arrived, my queen.”

“Send them in.” Gripping the heavy plasma sword in a two hands, Keira whirled on Prime Minister Rissallen and the individuals who had accompanied him: the commander of the Coalition army, several unhappy looking officers, and the highest ranking members of parliament. The usual cronies.

Tibor Frix stepped out of the way, his hooded eyes ever-watchful as the prime minister stepped forward and crossed his arms at the wrist over his chest, bowing low.

She took a moment to catch her breath. “Rise.”

“I’m afraid I have disturbing news, Your Highness.”

“Speak in terms I can use, Kellen.” Rissallen’s lips twitched. He hated when she called him by his given name. “‘Disturbing’ means nothing to me.” She held her sword up to the cold winter light filtering through the skylight and admired the sparkle of tourmalian. Then she sliced her sword through the air. It made a humming noise as it arced in a half-circle. The green glow of plasma reflected in the men’s nervous eyes. Simultaneously, they took a step back. Except Supreme Commander Neppal, who regarded her as if she were a useless figurehead.

Wasn’t she? After all, these men came to her only under the most unusual circumstances—and never to ask her advice. They fed her the information as if worried they’d upset or...disturb her...and had done so ever since she took the throne as a child, thrust into the role after her entire family died in a tragic accident.

But even though they often kept her ignorant of their silly facts, she frightened them, and she liked that. As long as she inspired fear, she maintained her power over them. If they ever lost their fear of her...

Don’t think of that. You’re strong, a warrior. Keira stabbed and parried an imaginary opponent, finishing with a vicious lunge at the Supreme Commander’s heart.

Neppal didn’t even flinch. She moved forward until the pointed tip of the blade made a hissing sound as it pressed ever so lightly into the officer’s gaudy, beribboned uniform. Pinned over his heart were medals and commendations that he’d probably earned but, regardless, his condescending attitude irritated her.

Her mouth tipped in a smirk as she withdrew the blade and noticed the fleck of charred fabric around the tiny tear. That is for thinking you are better than me, you arrogant bastard. But she said coquettishly, “Oh! I must be more careful. You’ll be visiting your tailor later, won’t you?” She dusted a hand over the officer’s broad chest. “I’m sure it can be repaired.”

Dark brows lowered over angry eyes but Neppal knew better than to stare her down. A second later he turned his eyes to the floor. Good boy.

“Taye!” Keira snapped her fingers to summon her favorite attendant. The slender, baby-faced eunuch took the sword and replaced it with a scented towel which she used to blot perspiration from her face. It had been a brutal workout. Her skin gleamed, her muscles trembled. She’d worked her body to the limit, and gods, it felt good. She wanted nothing less than total control over her body, and so she pushed it, sculpting it, emulating the warrior queens of the distant past when being a queen probably meant something. Meant something more than being a gorgeous creature bred to produce princes and princesses. An heir factory: that’s what she was to them. A breeder. All because she was the last of her line, and they wanted more. If it wasn’t a sin, the Coalition would have cloned the holy Sakkaran bloodlines by now to be done with her. Her pedigree was probably the only reason she was still alive. As the last surviving member of her family, the Coalition needed her—needed her because her ancestors were gods to trillions of religious citizens and no one wanted to risk taking that away and destabilizing the Coalition, especially when murderous Drakken hoard was breathing down their necks.

But that’s why she had generals around. It was their job to play war games with ships and guns, not hers.

Keira tossed the towel over her shoulder. Taye rushed to retrieve it. The men followed her through an arched doorway to an expansive polished crystal table. Sheets of gold trapped inside the crystal reminded her of autumn leaves kicked up in the wind. Fall was a short season on this world, like every other season that wasn’t winter. In fact, she’d missed autumn this year completely. First there had been summer, then, oops, fall had sped by before she’d next had a chance to step outdoors.

Blink, and the seasons other than winter were gone. Now it was too frigid to venture past the palace doors. The cold of this world had long ago seeped into her heart. Maybe it was why she cared less and less about venturing outside. Or perhaps having to be accompanied everywhere by Tibor Frix and his merry band of eunuch guards had taken the enjoyment out of it. They were present at all times, except when she had to relieve herself, and only because she’d protested.

She was the last of her line. What did she expect?

Her smart-chair floated away from the table, and folded around her comfortably when she sat in it. The officials waited until she was seated before they did so. Goddesses first. “Sit, gentlemen, please.”

She threw a longing gaze at the door to her private chambers. Steam floated out of the room as the attendants prepared her post-workout bath. She should be soaking in cloud-bell scented water, not putting up with these insufferable men who wanted to talk about the most boring subjects imaginable.

“Your Highness, the news we bring you today is troubling,” Neppal said, dragging her glare away from the irksome prime minister. The supreme commander was the leader of the entire army with an ego to match. Good thing it was never proposed that she take Neppal as her mate. What a disaster that would have been. “There is a new and serious threat to the Coalition. I have confirmed reports of an encounter between a planetary acquisition force and a rogue planet at the edges of civilized space. The intelligence minister in fact was working on this when he met his tragic fate. The world is known as Earth, and they appear to maintain a substantial battle fleet. We cannot as yet determine the types of vessels, nor the technological level, but we have teams working on it.”

Tibor Frix interrupted. “Is the palace at risk?” The sharpness in his tone caught Keira’s attention. He rarely spoke up, but his eyes were focused like lasers on the commander.

“Absolutely not. Their fleet formed a defensive barrier, preventing the acquisition force from landing, but made no move to attack. We are still the larger power by far, but they are respectable in their own right. That we didn’t know about them before is the issue that disturbs me. Where do their loyalties lie? This we must determine.”

“But they’re nothing but a frontier world,” Keira exclaimed. “Country bumpkins. Yet you act as if they have the power to swing the balance of power in the galaxy.”

“They do.” The warning in the commander’s dark eyes made her shiver. “If they were to align themselves with the Drakken.”

Keira went very still. She refused to admit to fear, and she’d rather die than do so, but the mere thought of Lord-General Rakkuu bringing his army to the palace gates stabbed fear deep into her heart. Not only would he want to conquer her Coalition worlds, he want to conquer her. He was growing old, but he had a son nearing adulthood, she’d heard. It was said the boy would likely grow up to be worse than his sire.

“No more talk of the Hoard,” she commanded. “Earth will join us. You will find a way to make it so.”

“I’ve called an emergency session of parliament,” Rissallen. “In light of this threat to our national security, it would reflect well if you attended.”

“Attend...” He wanted her to go into that chamber? Keira fought a wave of dizziness. The thought of the cavernous room, the noise of many voices... Her head spinning in confusion, the grief choking her, the fear. She could not. It would be all too reminiscent of when she was summoned before a full session of parliament the day she learned of her family’s fate. She’d felt so small, so frightened. Helpless. She’d never again set foot in those chambers.

She tossed her hair and sniffed in disdain. “I have no patience for politics. Send me summary.” Which she’d have Tibor summarize even further, while her attendants gave her a post-bath massage or painted her toenails. Every government communiqué was condensed by Tibor. He was invaluable. Without him she might actually have to pay attention to what was going on. “You are dismissed.”

The visitors bowed low, mumbling the usual respects, and left.

Only Tibor remained behind, silent, ever-watchful. “What?” she demanded when he continued to ponder her. She couldn’t tell if there was censure in his scrutiny or pity. If he didn’t agree with her aversion to politics, so be it. She wasn’t going to change for him—or for anybody. She had her reasons for doing things, and they were private. She had no desire to share her inner thoughts with anyone, especially a man.

She shoved away from the table and stood, sending the chair spinning. It collided with a display shelf and sent a priceless vase crashing to the ground. What did it matter? Everything was priceless around here. They’d find another trinket in the museums. Unlike people, objects could always be replaced. “Taye,” she yelled.

The boyish eunuch scurried forward. “How may I serve, My Queen?”

“Bring me my daggers.”

The eunuch returned with a set of ancient throwing knives. She snatched the box and stormed into her private chambers. The only way she could ease her apprehension was to work with weaponry.

A breath exited as she hurled a dagger at a padded wall. She selected another. The knife went hissing through the air. It landed in the same spot as the first, shattering the ivory hilt. Another replaceable object, she thought, hefting another dagger.

Keira kept burying daggers in the wall until she’d exhausted her supply—and herself. Muscles trembling, she raised her arm to throw the last knife when the communication screen taking up half of one wall distracted her attention.

The screen was illuminated, signaling in incoming visual.

Damn politicians. What more could they possibly want to bore her with? Furious at the annoyance, the invasion of privacy she whirled on the screen. “Display message!” The visual came to life.

She stormed forward. “I thought I made it clear that I’m not interested in—”

The sight of the gorgeous man slouched in the cockpit of a fighter craft brought her up short. Their shocked eye contact was instant and intense, and for one dizzying moment, the room around her faded away, the sounds becoming muffled. In those few beats of her heart, she didn’t know what to say or think.

Swiftly, the trespasser’s shock slipped into curiosity and a dark, amused, flicker of male appreciation which made her acutely aware of how form-fitting her workout wear was when damp. In his gaze, she felt naked, a sensation that was unexpectedly, breathlessly, and infuriatingly arousing. “How dare you?” How dare he what? She didn’t have any idea, but she felt utterly...invaded. By the gods. “Identify yourself immediately!”

Keira gripped the dagger and strode forward to confront the trespasser, intending to make her displeasure perfectly clear.


  1. Anonymous7:20 PM EDT

    Aw, man. No fair. You stopped right at the brink of confrontation. You stinker, you! Of course you know this means I'm hooked. (and as if you didn't know that already)

  2. Anonymous11:51 AM EST

    yeah. what David said. (smirk)

    More, Sue, more!!!