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Home / Stormy Night Publications Newsletter / Controlled: A Sci-Fi Alien Romance by Ivy Barrett – Serialization (Part Two)

Controlled: A Sci-Fi Alien Romance by Ivy Barrett – Serialization (Part Two)

Did you miss Chapters 1-2? You can find them here.

Chapter Three

“Is it done?” Azar asked as Draven and Noratu stepped into his cabin.

“It’s done,” Draven assured him, feeling surprisingly conflicted about the outcome. “Flora’s power is undeniable, but her spirit is incredibly strong. It will take many weeks to break her completely.” They walked across the cabin and joined the general in the living area. Azar sat in one of the chairs, so Draven and Noratu sat on the sofa facing him.

It was hard to look at Azar while images of his daughter were still so clearly, and erotically, etched in his mind. Her lovely face was flushed, green eyes luminous with passion and pleasure as he slid in and out of her mouth. Her full breasts bounced and swayed, the nipples deep pink from his firm pinches while he fucked her soft, wet pussy. And her ass. The nicely rounded cheeks turned the most amazing shade of pink as he spanked her. Soon she would submit to his flogger or a strap. She would accept whatever he deemed necessary to tame her wild spirit.

Sinking deeper into the vivid memories, he saw her flat on her belly. Her legs were open wide, pussy dripping with his and Noratu’s cum. Draven parted her ass cheeks and positioned himself against her puckered hole. No one had ever possessed her there. He was the first to breach the opening, the first to feel her tight muscles stretch around his cock. She screamed with painful pleasure as he drove deeper. He’d sensed her fear but also her need to be dominated and the pleasure she found in being so roughly used. She was his mate, their mate. Of course, she would revel in surrender. He just hadn’t expected her to adapt this quickly. Her wild auburn hair spilled over her face and pooled on the bed as he claimed that tight virgin hole. She came over and over, her pleasure intensifying his.

“She submitted to everything we did.” Noratu pointed out. “Why do you expect her to rebel again?”

The question annoyed Draven, clearing his mind of the sensual images. Noratu had been handed every advantage in life: wealth, power, privilege. He had no concept of struggle, had never known true uncertainty. “She has just been ripped from the only life she has known and told that her mother and grandmother lied to her about everything. Her shock and vulnerability worked to our advantage. Once she has accepted her new situation, her spirit will resurface and the real training will begin.”

“You are the best controller I have ever mentored,” Azar told Draven. “If anyone can deal with her, it is you and Noratu.”

“I appreciate your confidence, sir.”

Each member of a power triad had learned their skills from someone who was older, yet similarly empowered. Conduits were mentored by other conduits and so on. It allowed the apprentices to benefiting from decades of experience. Before his retirement, Azar had been the most acclaimed controller at the Citadel. Then his conduit abandoned her triad and fled to another planet. Azar had been humiliated and discredited. The war had allowed him to rebuild his military career, but he had never participated in a power triad again.

Draven, who had been one of Azar’s many apprentices, had contacted Azar in private and asked that they continue his training. The board of governors at the Citadel had not been pleased, but they did not penalize Draven for remaining loyal to his mentor. They’d assigned him an official mentor, however, so Draven learned from two experienced controllers and his skills had been enhanced because of it.

Azar had rewarded Draven’s loyalty by designating him as Flora’s controller when he negotiated the final contract with Noratu’s parents. At first, the Skores balked at the choice. Draven was not elite and a close family friend wanted their son to participate in Noratu’s triad. Azar suggested the young males meet and that Noratu be allowed to decide which controller he preferred. Most controllers were cold and intensely autocratic. Draven could be surprisingly warm and engaging when he chose to be. Noratu liked Draven immediately and admitted that he desperately wanted to escape his parents’ authority, so Noratu talked his parents into accepting Draven as well as the contract for Flora. Noratu and Draven had been working together for the past ten years.

“I know her training will need to be accelerated,” Noratu nudged the conversation onward. It was awkward discussing the details of a female’s claiming with her father. “How long do we have before the shipyard is operational?”

“According to my contact, two or three months at the most,” Azar told them.

The Torretetians were building a massive manufacturing facility on the largest of the planet’s three moons. More precisely, the Pyronese had been hired by the Torretians to build the facility. Over ninety percent of Torret was covered in water, so building anything was a challenge. Their economy was simple. They harvested the bountiful minerals found on the ocean floor and used their wealth to buy anything they needed.

Pyron, on the other hand, had the opposite problem. Their planet was small and overcrowded so its natural resources were all but depleted. The Pyronese had a long history of manufacturing and millions of skilled laborers, so they quickly realized that their most profitable export was their work force.

“Are you sure you can trust your contact?” Draven asked. This conversation was important, but his mind was still on Flora. Her introduction to Altorian ways had been intense and rushed. He didn’t want to leave her alone for long. Once the endorphins left her system, she was likely to lash out.

“This particular contact consistently provides incredibly accurate information,” Azar insisted. “I consider anything he passes on actionable.”

Draven nodded. Azar’s contact had also reported that once the shipyard was up and running it would be highly mechanized and capable of producing a midsized warship in a matter of weeks. A fighter would take three or four days. It was an advantage that they could not allow their enemies to achieve. The Torretians had started this war, but the Altorians were doing everything they could to end it.

And soon they would have a weapon capable of obliterating the shipyard without risking any unintended damage. The moon was peppered with outposts and commercial complexes. A traditional explosion would likely result in collateral damage. It also risked knocking the moon out of its current orbit. Triads wielding Altorian Flame would destroy the shipyard while leaving everything around it unharmed. One of the benefits of magical weapons was the accuracy with which they could strike.

Part of Draven didn’t care if they made Torret uninhabitable. Emperor Jevara was a ruthless dictator who deserved everything he was about to get. But the Torretian people had no say in what their leader did. Shifting the moon, even to a minor degree, would have a devastating effect on Torret. Because of the planet’s unusual climate, its ecosystems were incredibly fragile.

“Have any of your spies spotted Emperor Jevara?” Noratu wanted to know. “I prefer to know where that bastard is at all times.”

“Dealing with civil unrest is nothing new for Jevara. His father was one of the least popular emperors in Torretian history and Jevara is even worse,” Azar commented. “Troops were dispatched to deal with the current rebellion. I don’t expect Jevara to emerge until the uprising blows itself out.”

“Is that likely to happen?” Draven pressed. “The new rebel leader is gaining popularity every day.”

“Popularity doesn’t mean much as long as Jevara controls the military,” Azar insisted.

“Maybe we should negotiate an alliance with the rebels.” Noratu shrugged. “Installing a new leader might be easier than fighting a war.”

“Regime changes are never as simple as they sound,” Draven cautioned.

Azar’s tone took on an impatient sharpness. “One of my first deployments was in support of a hostile takeover on Pyron. It took six years of bloody conflict, with heavy casualties on both sides, for the allied forces to install the new leader. Eight months later the entire planet had devolved into anarchy. In my opinion, if it doesn’t concern Altor directly, we should not be involved.”

Noratu nodded. “I understand your position, but many situations are not that well defined.”

Draven’s gaze shifted to his mentor. Azar might be retired, but he still did not appreciate being contradicted. Draven scrambled for a way to keep the argument from escalating, but Azar simply changed the subject.

“I’ve made arrangements for Iris to be detained at the Westbrook Security Complex,” Azar explained after a tense pause. “We need to keep her close and make damn sure she doesn’t leave the planet. Iris is our best hope of ensuring Flora’s continued cooperation.”

The casual statement caught Draven by surprise. Flora had been told that her grandmother would be released if she submitted to him and Noratu. Clearly, the general had no intention of keeping his promise. Fortunately for his newly bonded mate, Draven took vows very seriously. “Flora’s behavior is our problem now. We will make arrangements for her grandmother.”

Their gazes locked and Azar’s jaw clenched. “Iris cannot accompany you to the Citadel. I think it is unwise to leave her unattended.”

“We will send her to my estate,” Noratu decided. “It is fully staffed, so she can be watched continuously.”

Azar’s hostile expression communicated more than his words. “Flora is your mate now, so that is your choice. But I think Iris requires a more secure location.”

An odd catch in the general’s tone made Draven ask, “Have the charges against Iris been dropped or do we need to see to that as well? Noratu’s mother knows all of the judges. She can easily take care of that detail for us.”

After an obvious struggle, Azar smoothed out his expression and concealed his anger. “There is no need to bother Chief Justice Skore. I will have the charges dropped as soon as you head back to your cabin.”

“Good.” Draven stood up, more than ready to return to their mate. “I will update you once Flora has learned to control the flow of energy. Hopefully, that will happen before the shipyard goes online.”

“Who did the governors assign as Flora’s mentor?”

Azar wasn’t going to like this. Nadis Korla had rejected him and joined another power triad. Autumn had enabled Azar to achieve more success than anyone thought possible, but he still resented Nadis for the personal insult. As a result, the two triads became bitter rivals. “I requested the best.” Draven said, knowing Azar would deduce the rest.

“Nadis is not the best. She is simply the most well-known. Is Leronda available?”

“I believe her current assignment took her off world. She is not expected back for several weeks,” Noratu said with a knowing smile. He didn’t like Azar and an occasional muttered ‘sir’ was as close as he came to pretending otherwise. Draven was bound to Azar by a long and complicated history. Noratu had no such ties.

“The governors seemed set on Nadis,” Draven reiterated. He was pleased by the outcome, but knew better than to reveal the fact. “It really wasn’t our choice.”

Azar made a face. “They have always favored that triad.”

The general did not wear jealousy well. “I will send you regular updates.” Draven hurried Noratu out of the cabin before the general could think of something else they needed to discuss.

“It has been thirty years.” Noratu dropped his voice to just above a whisper as they walked along the gallery. “He really needs to get over it.”

Draven agreed, but his only response was a distracted nod. His attention had shifted to the other side of the ship. “Even if Flora’s behavior is exemplary, which is highly unlikely, we need more than two months to prepare.”

“If she is not ready in time to destroy the shipyard, the governors will assign it to another triad. This war has been raging for almost two decades. There will be plenty of battles left for us.”

It was a valid point, but Draven was thinking of more than the shipyard. “Flora is no ordinary conduit and we both know it. Her abilities must be encouraged, not forced.”

Noratu paused and faced him. “That is all the more reason for us to take our time.”

Draven nodded. They had made substantial progress in a very short time. Still, he was concerned that the emotional backlash would be even more significant. “Her submissive nature has been awakened, but she will fight against it. She was raised in a culture that celebrates individuality and independence. Surrendering control might never feel natural to her.”

“She is Altorian,” Noratu objected. “It already feels natural to submit. It is only when she thinks about how her body is reacting that she struggles. It is her mindset that must adjust, not her physiology.” They lapsed into thoughtful silence as they started walking again. “I don’t agree with Azar’s approach, but using Iris could be beneficial.”

Draven tensed, not sure he liked where this was heading. “Explain.”

“Flora is obviously attached to her grandmother and the females she believed to be her sisters. Rather than threatening them as Azar did, we can offer access to them as a reward for good behavior.”

It was a sound strategy, but it still bothered Draven. He wanted Flora to submit willingly, to offer them control because it pleased them and thereby pleased her. “Let’s see how she reacts to the Citadel. Such tactics might not be necessary.”

Noratu smiled at him. “I’ve always found the dichotomy fascinating.”

“Which dichotomy is that?” They’d reached his cabin, but Draven waited for Noratu’s answer before triggering the door.

“You’re the strictest controller I’ve ever met, yet you’re also hopelessly romantic.”

Draven shook his head and motioned toward the door. “Our mate is curled up in my bed. I am hopeless no longer.”

Chapter Four

Cylex Mora straightened his uniform top and squared his shoulders. He stood in the Grand Vestibule of Mercelon Palace impatiently waiting for his audience with Emperor Jevara. Cylex was a frequent visitor to the palace, so the splendor had lost its impact. The primary colors were ivory and gold, but touches of burgundy and brown softened the garishness. An elaborate battle scene had been painted on the dramatically domed ceiling and an army of servants worked to keep the marble floors gleaming.

The curved outer walls, with their floor-to-ceiling windows, highlighted the fact that the palace, like most of Torret, was entirely underwater. Lights shone out into the endless ocean, illuminating fish and marine creatures as they swam by. Torretians, at least those native to the planet, often felt uncomfortable in wide open spaces. The oceans were life. They provided food, powered the cities, and contained the minerals that were mined in order to buy all the things not found in this underwater world.

“Agent Mora,” a young male in the elaborate palace livery called out. “The emperor will see you now.”

Cylex tensed as he walked toward the twin stairways sweeping up to the receiving level. After years of covert operations behind enemy lines, very few people were capable of intimidating him. Emperor Jevara just happened to be one of them. Cylex had known Jevara since childhood. Usually, such familiarity made people more comfortable with each other. But Cylex’s survival depended on stealth and anonymity. Not only did Jevara know who Cylex was, the emperor also knew all the secrets buried in his past.

Jevara and Cylex first met at a prestigious military academy. Jevara’s father insisted that he receive military training as well as scholastic studies so the academy was the clear choice. The academy prided itself in the rigorousness of its physical and academic programs. Cylex attended via an academic scholarship and his background and world view were very different from his ultra-rich classmates. Despite what most considered disadvantages, Cylex graduated top of his class and immediately began building upon the skills he had learned. Jevara’s father died two years later, and Jevara had been sole ruler of Torret ever since. Cylex didn’t considered Jevara a close friend and knew better than to trust him, but there were advantages to having a common history with a planetary leader.

Following the herald up the staircase on the right, Cylex organized his thoughts and prepared for the conversation. Cylex had instigated this meeting so he would control what was said, at least as the exchange began.

The throne room, or Presence Chamber, echoed the gilt and ivory décor of the outer room. However, it felt small and claustrophobic after the spectacle of the immersive ocean view. The throne sat upon a dais and Jevara was seated on the throne. Long and narrow, his face was framed by waves of golden-blond hair. Both the color and the arrangement were created by his stylist and reflected his frivolous life. His garments were surprisingly simple, but ostentatious jewelry adorned most of his fingers, his ears, neck, and of course his head. Did he think people would forget he was the emperor if he failed to wear a crown?

After the expected bows and ceremonial greetings, the emperor asked, “Have you been following these ridiculous riots? Hard-working people do not have time to march through the streets and shout obscenities. Perhaps I will raise taxes again. That should get these troublemakers back to work.”

Crippling taxes were one of the reasons that desperate workers had taken to the streets. Laidon Feran was a strong and compelling leader. Cylex was smart enough to keep his opinions to himself, but he was a silent supporter of the rebellion. Jevara had always been self-serving and cruel. All of the conflict he was facing now could have been prevented. “I have been off world for the past few weeks.”

Jevara stared at him for a moment, eyes narrowing. Then he shrugged and moved on. “I was surprised by your request for an audience. You tend to avoid court intrigue.”

“This was too important to trust to ordinary means of communications, Your Imperial Majesty.” He looked pointedly at the four guards flanking the entrances. “I prefer to speak with you alone. If you will permit it, of course.” Obligation motivated his shows of deference rather than respect. Jevara had been taught from early childhood that he had been chosen by the Supreme Being to rule the planet. He was arrogant and capricious, his decisions based on emotion. Cylex was a firm believer in meritocracy.

Jevara dismissed the guards with a wave of his hand. Then he surprised Cylex further by stepping down from the dais and approaching him. “What is this about?”

“You asked that I investigate the rumors that Azar Turin has located the missing conduits.” Stories had been circulating for decades about a group of females, led by Azar Turin’s mate, who fled Altor and were living on some distant planet to avoid using their abilities. The accounts varied wildly. Some claimed that the number of females was five or six. Others insisted that several hundred had disappeared in a mass protest against the Citadel.

“I was barely a teen when this protest was supposed to have happened, so I don’t remember what actually took place.” Jevara rotated the ring on the middle finger of his right hand. He indulged in the impulse whenever he was deep in thought or feeling anxious. “My mother insisted that the stories were true, but my father dismissed them as nonsense. What were you able to learn? Is there an untapped well of mystic energy on some faraway planet?”

“Azar located his daughter and two other conduits, so there is some validity to the stories.”

“Really?” Jevara spun the ring faster, his blue-green gaze filling with interest. “Is the daughter contracted or will there be an auction?”

“She was contracted at fifteen as is their custom,” Cylex stressed. Jevara would have liked nothing better than to have Azar’s daughter under his control. The war with Altor was about territory and power, as most wars were, but there was also an element of cat and mouse between Jevara and Azar. They both considered themselves brilliant strategists and took pride in outsmarting their advisories. Jevara had no mystic aptitude, but he could have sponsored a controller or a source with the right loyalties thus gaining control of his enemy’s offspring. Cylex was relieved to report, “Azar took his daughter’s mates with him during the rescue. Most likely she was claimed before they left the other star system.”

“And where was this star system? Do you have any idea how many conduits remain on the planet?”

Cylex had anticipated these questions, but secretly hoped that the emperor would be so fixated on the daughter that the other possibilities would escape his notice. Power triads had been severely misused, even abused, on Torret. Emperor Jevara was the primary reason that Torretian applications were always rejected. Cylex should know. He had applied to the Citadel three times. His aptitude scores were exceptionally high and still he had been turned down each time.

Pushing aside his resentment, he reluctantly reported what he’d learned. He was Jevara’s top covert agent, but that could change in an instant if the emperor learned that Cylex had lied or was holding out on him. “I left a recon ship in the area. Two of Azar’s teams are still there as well. Obviously, he is not convinced that he found all the wayward females.”

“We need to find the others before Azar does.”

The emperor’s reaction was telling. He seemed more concerned with beating Azar to the prize than controlling the wayward conduits. “It is my intention to find them,” Cylex assured him. “The investigators I left on Earth are excellent. They will learn the truth.”

“Well done.” Jevara nodded thoughtfully then turned and walked back to the dais.

Cylex was surprised by the compliment. Jevara’s words of praise were few and far between. “How would you like me to proceed?”

“Let your investigators do their job,” Jevara said firmly. “I have need of you here.”

Acknowledging the statement with a nod, Cylex asked, “What can I do for you, Emperor Jevara?” Cylex preferred to stay as far away from the capital as possible. Unfortunately, he served at the pleasure of the crown.

“Has anyone at the Citadel ever seen you?”

Cylex tensed. With his aptitude for magic, it had been inevitable that he be called upon to spy on the Citadel. That was why he had been so determined to be accepted into the Power Triad Program. If he became a source, it would free him from Jevara’s authority. The Citadel was a politically neutral city-state and members of the program had diplomatic immunity. They were bound by the laws of the Citadel and only the Citadel.

“As you are aware, the Citadel rejects all applications from Torret,” Cylex stated mechanically. “Images are not submitted with the applications. They claim it helps them be objective. Still, it is possible they will recognize my name.”

Jevara rolled his eyes as he slumped back in the throne. “Why create this illusion of objectivity when they have every intention of rejecting anyone from Torret? How is that fair?”

Cylex didn’t bother answering. Jevara knew damn well that his actions had resulted in the moratorium. Jevara had chosen to include the Citadel in his war with Altor even though the two were separate. Altorians had founded the Citadel, but the space station had always been considered an autonomous entity.

After a long tense silence, Jevara continued with his explanation. “I want you to use your mother’s name and apply again. Do not conceal the fact that your father was Torretian, but insist that your upbringing is Altorian.”

It wasn’t far from the truth. He had lived on Altor until he was thirteen. “I am not sure it will matter. I am still the son of a Torretian general. Chances are high that they will reject me again.”

The casual comment snapped Jevara’s gaze back to Cylex’s. “How many times have you applied?”

“Twice,” he lied. Jevara knew he was too stubborn to only try once but three times made him appear disloyal.

“Then we’ll create a fictitious name for you and you can begin with aptitude testing. Once they see your scores, they will insist on you applying.” His head bobbed as he stared at some point beyond Cylex. “This will work even better.”

“And if they accept me?” He let a hint of challenge ripple through his tone. It was highly unlikely that Citadel leadership would approve anyone with Torretian blood. “Is there something specific you want to know or am I just to observe everything that goes on there?”

“First and foremost, I want to know about the new conduits. How many are there? Have all of them been claimed? What is their first target likely to be?”

That all made perfect sense, but it was also information he could obtain without risking a false identity. He generally just agreed with anything Jevara told him, then did whatever he thought best. Feeling particularly defensive, he risked objecting. “I do not need to pose as a trainee for that. What else do you need to know?”

“Your perceptiveness is annoying. This is not about information. I want you to secure a power triad for the Torret Empire,” he stated passionately. “The prohibition against me is unfair. The Citadel is not and has never been neutral.”

It was a valid point. The magic that created power triads flowed from Altorian mystics. Five of the seven governors were Altorian, and the board of governors assigned each new power triad to a planet. They claimed to be objective, to want peace, not power. Most of their actions supported the claim, but punishing all Torretians for the behavior of the emperor was unfair.

“I will do my very best.” Cylex’s vow was sincere, but he had no idea what he would do with the power if he managed to succeed in his mission.

Flora awoke suddenly. One moment she drifted in peaceful oblivion and the next she was completely aware. She sat up, held the sheet over her naked breasts, and looked around. Noratu sprawled in a chair nearby but Draven was nowhere in sight.

The night before, or had it only been a few hours, teased the periphery of her mind. She didn’t want to remember all the wicked things Noratu and Draven had done to her or how enthusiastically she’d responded. Her other sexual experiences were so tame, so incredibly vanilla compared to what she’d done in this cabin. She would love to blame it on them, to claim that she had been ravished or at least seduced. But that wasn’t accurate. They had been aggressive, encouraging her to surrender control, but ultimately it had been her choice every step of the way.

So why had she chosen to surrender to two strangers? She had never done anything like that before. It wasn’t like her to be impulsive. She had short- and long-term goals. She made lists for everything. Spontaneity did not exist in her well-ordered life.

Your existence on Earth was a lie, her inner voice reminded. Draven and Noratu are the only ones who have been completely honest with you.

Her gaze drifted over to Noratu and her pulse quickened. With his exotic coloring and sculpted features, he was clearly humanoid, but no one would confuse him with a human. His movements were graceful, yet strong. His power was inherent and effortless.

As if sensing her scrutiny, Noratu blinked several times then looked at her. “How do you feel?”

She paused, ascertaining the answer to his question. Her entire body was sore. Muscles she didn’t know she possessed felt tight and her openings felt overused. “I feel like I’ve been fucked multiple times by two aggressive aliens. Can’t imagine why.” She softened the complaint with a faint smile.

“A nice long shower will help with that.” He stood up and approached the bed, then held out his hand expectantly.

“How long have I been asleep?” He’d already seen and touched every millimeter of her body, so modesty was pointless. Still, she tugged the sheet free of the bed and wrapped it around her body.

He lowered his arm as he answered her question. “Four hours. We are nearly there.”

“Where is ‘there’? What’s our destination?”

“The Citadel,” he casually informed her. “It is time for your training to begin.”

Unsure how to react to the news, she simply nodded.

“Do you want that shower or not?”

More than ready for a shower, she scooted off the side of the bed, taking the sheet with her. He led her into the connecting bathroom and showed her how to activate the shower and the compartment containing clean towels.

“Most of the systems on the ship accept voice commands, but you’ll need a language upload. The computer doesn’t speak English.”

“What does a language upload involve? Is that how you and Draven learned to speak English?”

“That is how Altorians learn most things. The procedure is simple and safe. It has been in use for several decades now.”

“Has it ever been used on a huma—never mind.” She sighed. She might have spent most of her life on Earth, but her physiology was Altorian. Advanced technology required a much longer conversation, but that conversation would be more enjoyable once her body no longer ached and she wasn’t reeking of sex. “Will I be allowed to dress once I’m clean?” She wasn’t even sure where her clothes had ended up.

“Your human garments have been recycled, but we will provide you with something appropriate for the Citadel.”

“We’re going there directly.” She wasn’t sure why the idea alarmed her, but her heart was suddenly racing and her mouth went dry. “I thought we’d have some time alone before my training began.”

His golden gaze moved over her face, assessing her. “I didn’t realize you wanted more time alone with us.”

Not yet ready to discuss her feelings, she asked, “Is there some sort of instructor or do you and Draven train me?” She shivered. Many would consider what they had been doing since leaving Earth a form of training. She didn’t even know enough about the coming situation to ask intelligent questions.

“We will be nearby, but conduits are mentored by older, experienced conduits. We will share meals and spend each evening together, but your days will be focused on learning to control your abilities.”

Her only response was a nod. She was ready for a few moments alone.

He reached into a compartment to the left of the sink and withdrew a jar of cream like the one they had used on her earlier. “Apply this after you have showered. It will ease the ache.”

She nodded again, but didn’t drop the sheet until he left the bathroom. The hot water felt amazing on her tired muscles. The cream felt even better. She refused to think about all the places that required soothing or the activities that had resulted in the tenderness. Instead, she focused on the changes she sensed in herself. She didn’t understand the power they had unleashed, but she could feel it. Like a gathering storm, energy churned at the edges of her mind, potent and restless.

Feeling a bit more prepared to face the next challenge, she finger-combed her hair, wrapped the towel around her body and walked out into the bedroom. Noratu had placed a folded garment on the corner of the bed. On top of the garment was a grooming utensil. One side was obviously a brush, but the other had strange curving protrusions. She dragged the brush through her damp hair, then mustered the courage and turned it over. The other side worked incredibly well to detangle her long hair. She worked the thick mass into a simple braid then turned her attention to the clothing Naruto had left for her.

She picked up the folded garment and shook it out. It was a calf-length dress of forest green. The banded waist tied in the back and short fluttery sleeves gave the simple style a feminine flair. He’d provided slip-on sandals but nothing resembling underwear. If the Citadel was a training center, why did she need to go around half naked?

She dressed and moved closer to the room divider. There was no door, just an open space between the partition and the adjacent wall. She couldn’t see through the divider, but she heard nothing indicating that Noratu was still in the cabin. Steadying herself with a deep breath, she leaned out and peeked into the living room. Noratu sat in one of the strange, armless chairs. Three-dimensional images hovered over his legs. He manipulated some while others simply scrolled by in a continual flow of symbols she didn’t understand. There was no visible projector, no device nearby. How were the images being formed?

Her gaze drifted back to his face, finding him much more interesting than Altorian technology. His skin had lost the metallic sheen that had developed while they had sex. He was still more golden than any human, but she found his appearance intriguing. His multicolored hair reminded her of autumn leaves. No, flames. All the colors found in fire were trapped within the strands of his hair.

The link they had created when they claimed her was still active. She could sense Noratu and Draven. Their energy flowed in a continuous loop, melding and mixing with hers. Occasionally, a stray emotion would register in her mind. She wasn’t sure if they were intentionally shielding their thoughts and feelings or if they were simply calm right now.

“Feel better?” he asked without looking up.

Embarrassed to be caught spying on him, she cleared her throat and moved out from behind the partition. “Much better, thank you.”

He finished whatever he was doing then deactivated the display. “We should arrive within the hour.”

Feeling awkward and restless, she crossed the cabin and sat down facing him. “Do you and Draven live at the Citadel or will we be commuting from Altor?”

“Draven and I own property on Altor, but our triad will be issued an apartment at the Citadel until you complete your training.”

“And what do you guys do when you’re not at the Citadel?” She was anxious to learn more about them. If this power triad worked out, they would spend the rest of their lives together. The thought startled her. She had known these males less than a day. How could she even think about forever?

“Draven owns a private security company,” Noratu told her. “He also assesses each male applicant, determining which are worthy of a mentor and which do not possess adequate natural talent. President Zevon would love for Draven to become a fulltime trainer, but his security company requires too much of his time.”

“President Zevon?”

“He is head of the board of governors, the governing body in charge of the Citadel.”

She figured that’s what he meant, but wasn’t taking anything for granted. “And you? How do you spend your time?”

His head tilted and his brows lowered. He seemed concerned by her interest. Was it unusual on Altor to want to know about a sexual partner’s life? Maybe her curiosity was considered extremely rude. She was about to ask him if she had overstepped when he answered her question.

“My family has diverse interests, but I am most actively involved in our technology companies.”

Multiple companies with diverse interests? Just how rich was Noratu’s family? She’d never been impressed by wealth before, but then she had never actually known anyone who was rich.

She shook away the distraction and focused on the male who claimed to be her mate, or one of her mates. She wanted to know about Noratu, not his family. “Did you want to be part of a triad or was it expected of you?”

“I applied to the Citadel because I was curious about my abilities and I knew it would annoy my parents. Isn’t that what every sixteen-year-old wants?”

“It certainly is on Earth. How did your parents take it when the Citadel accepted you?”

His gaze settled on her face, his expression open and friendly. “My parents love me and eventually supported my decision, but it took years before they understood that I have a mind and a will of my own.”

“Do you have siblings?” She was trying to picture his family, what life had been like in the Skore household.

“I have three younger sisters. I am the only son.”

She paused, unsure how to broach Altorian gender expectations without insulting him. Did the stern domination only take place in the bedroom or were females expected to be submissive in every area of life? She was almost afraid to ask. Surrendering control during sex was one thing. Bowing to the will of her mates in every area of life would be a much harder adjustment. She had serious doubts that she could ever accept such a passive role. Independence was too ingrained in her basic personality.

Choosing her words carefully, she asked, “Are your sisters allowed to participate in the family businesses or do they prefer a more domestic role?”

He flashed a charming smile then grew serious. “The operative word there is ‘prefer.’ Altorian females are encouraged to pursue whatever life path they find most fulfilling. Two of my sisters focus on running their households and rearing their children. My youngest is an investment banker and sits on the board of three of our corporations. It is likely she will eventually have children, but right now that is not her focus.”

Flora was pleased by his answer, but it surprised her. “Is sexual submission also a choice?”

“Of course.” One corner of his mouth lifted in a sexy half-grin. “It just happens to be the choice of nearly every female on Altor.”

That was easy to believe. Submission ran counter to many human mores, but it felt natural to Flora. Her body responded to Noratu and Draven as if they had been lovers for years. She immediately understood what had been missing in her other sexual experiences. And thinking about it now was making her body ache.

She tromped down her building desire and refocused on the conversation. “Have you ever been in a serious relationship?”

“I saw one female exclusively for several years, but neither of us considered the relationship serious. It was comfortable, casual, and ended by mutual agreement.”

Part of her was relieved by his honesty, yet she also found the lack of commitment troubling. “Why didn’t your feelings deepen for her?”

“She was not my mate.” He paused, waiting for the implication to sink in. “I knew Draven and I would eventually find you so there was a very good reason not to commit to anyone else.”

She dragged her gaze away from his handsome face. She could sense his sincerity and knew he meant every word. It was just so new and surreal. Human relationships didn’t come with this sort of certainty. She found it hard to believe.

“What were you like as a teen?” he prompted, likely feeling the sudden rise in her anxiety.

Her smile was tentative at first, but it spread as she thought of her own adolescence. “I dyed my hair green and refused to speak for several months. It drove my mother crazy.”

“I can picture you as a rebellious teen.” His smile was even brighter than hers. “Hostile glares and slamming doors, that side of your personality still flashes through when Draven makes you angry.”

“Draven doesn’t make me angry near as fast as Azar. I can’t believe my mother stayed with him long enough to give birth to me.”

Noratu’s smile vanished just as fast as it had formed. “I agree with you, but be careful what you say around Draven.”

The warning confused her. She hadn’t realized there was any connection between Azar and her mates, other than her. “Draven is friends with that manipulative bastard?”

“It’s a long story, but Azar is the closest thing to a father Draven has ever known.”

“Then I feel sorry for Draven. Azar is a world-class asshole.” When Noratu didn’t respond, she sighed. “Why is Draven’s opinion of Azar so different from ours? Does Azar have a softer, gentler side?”

“If he does, I’ve never seen it,” Noratu admitted. “Azar was one of Draven’s mentors. He counseled Draven through some really dark times. If you want the details, you’ll have to ask Draven. It’s not my story to tell.”

The stipulation was disappointing, but she accepted it with a nod. “Can you tell me about this war? My mother didn’t agree with it. In fact, keeping me out of it was the primary reason she left Altor.” Flora shook her head, fighting off a fresh wave of emotions. She couldn’t even imagine how different her life would have been if they had never fled to Earth. “Disagreeing with the war might have been the only true thing she ever said to me.”

“How much do you know about our star system?”

The main door to the cabin slid open and Draven walked in, looking powerful and commanding. His night-black gaze gravitated toward Flora. “Good. You are ready to depart. We will arrive in approximately twenty minutes.”

She acknowledged the information with a nod, then turned back to Noratu. “My grandmother tried to explain the conflict, but Azar only gave her ten minutes. She said there are four inhabited worlds and Altor is at war with Torrin or Torris. Something like that.”

“Torret,” Draven supplied as he moved closer to where they sat. He remained standing, but rested his hands on the tall back of one of the chairs. “Altor and Torret have always been rivals.”

“The competitiveness was friendly for the most part until both planets achieved the ability to travel through space,” Noratu continued the explanation. “For the first few years both societies were content to explore their side of the star system.”

“But exploration turned to colonization and then there was nothing friendly about the rivalry.” Draven’s posture remained casual, but the formality in his tone made it sound as if he were lecturing a class of students. “The Torretians raced us to every planet or inhabitable moon. They disputed every claim and sabotaged our efforts in countless ways.”

“The star system wasn’t big enough for all that ambition?” She shook her head. Apparently, humanoids were the same everywhere. “Are the planets overpopulated? Are the natural resources running out?” She paused to see if either of the males would offer a defense. When it became obvious that they couldn’t, she went on. “Why can’t people be content with what they have? Or, here’s a novel idea, why can’t we work toward making things better for those who have even less than we do?”

Noratu smiled at her, but Draven seemed annoyed. “You object to ambition, to expanding the reach of a society’s influence?”

“It depends. Were any of the planets or moons you colonized already inhabited?” Living in Alaska had taught her to value indigenous people. She tried to be respectful of other cultures, even those she did not understand.

“Of course not,” Draven objected. “That is called conquest, not colonization.”

She had no objection with that conclusion, so she asked, “Was there a specific event that started the war or did hostilities just escalate?” Nothing she’d heard so far was unusual. She wasn’t fond of war, but she was also realistic enough to admit that some leaders had no interest in negotiations.

Without explaining his actions, Draven walked across the room and transformed one of the walls into a massive display. He navigated through several views of what appeared to be external cameras until he found what he wanted. “The Citadel is old and extremely expensive to maintain.” He motioned toward the structure framed on the center of the display.

It looked like something from a big budget science fiction film. Suspended in space, the Citadel was shaped like her grandmother’s favorite Christmas ornament. That couldn’t be a coincidence. It had three wide, rotating rings in the middle. The top formed a dramatic spiral, and the bottom had one final ring that was much smaller than the others. Lights all over the structure accented windows and the landing bays lining the bottom ring. They were still a good distance away, but they were clearly heading for the structure.

“Rather than spending an inordinate amount of money on a major renovation,” Draven continued, “the governors asked permission to purchase a large section of one of our newly colonized moons. Building from the foundation up was cheaper and gave them more flexibility than trying to continue on at this location.”

Flora nodded, but she wasn’t sure what this had to do with the war.

Draven left the display active as he recounted the events. “The Torretians attacked the moon, killing four thousand and sixty-two Altorians. They leveled every building and scorched one third of the moon’s surface. The new Citadel was also destroyed. We lost twenty-nine mentors and their apprentices. Six conduits were among the dead. The complex had been open for three weeks. We do not have the funds to start over, at least not in a similar location.”

That certainly required retaliation, but did it justify war? How many lives had been lost in the ensuing years? How many cities destroyed?

Draven crossed his arms over his chest as his eyes narrowed. “I can feel your disapproval, mate. Would you have me believe your precious humans would not retaliate against an unprovoked slaughter?”

“Of course they would. Any society would. But wars are hard to end and the casualties quickly accumulate. What will it take to end this war with the Torretians? When will they have been punished enough for the lives they took on that moon?”

“It will take power triads,” Draven insisted. “It will take others like you and me.”

“Prefect Yites has been trying to negotiate a cease fire for nearly two years,” Noratu added. “Emperor Jevara will not even sit down with him.”

“Altor has elected officials while Torret has a hereditary ruler?” She wanted to make sure she wasn’t misconstruing the implication of the titles.

Noratu nodded. “It has been so for at least three hundred years.”

This was likely where the problem began. Absolute rulers seldom played well with others, and elected officials had to balance their own impulses with the will of the people. “Have all the Torretian emperors been as bad as Jevara?”

“His father was much worse,” Draven told her. “Jevara was in his late teens when his father died. We all hoped that he would be more reasonable.”

“When you are told from birth that every person on the planet was created to serve you, it doesn’t make for a very balanced perspective,” Noratu said.

“Torretians believe, or at least their rulers believe, that the emperor is the Supreme Being made manifest in flesh.”

Flora looked at Draven as if he’d lost his mind. “Some of our primitive cultures believed that sort of thing. It’s hard to understand how a culture capable of space travel would tolerate such nonsense.”

“The punishment for speaking negatively about the emperor is death. Those sorts of rules are why rebellions continually spring up on the planet. Unfortunately, Jevara squelches them just as fast.” Draven looked beyond her for a moment then his gaze shifted back to her face. “We have been cleared to dock. I need to return to the command deck.”

She glanced at the wall. The Citadel filled the entire display now, revealing more details. She could see people standing at the windows and walking around inside the rooms. Several other ships were docked and one departed as she stared at the display. The age of the complex was also more apparent. There were numerous patches to the structure and divergent colored metals indicated where sections had been replaced.

“Will I be able to see my grandmother before we get off the ship?” She looked at Noratu hopefully.

“I’ll insist you be allowed to say goodbye.”

“Thank you.” She hesitated to push her luck, but she would never be able to concentrate on developing her skills until she knew her grandmother was safe. “What will happen to her now? Azar promised to release her. Does she have somewhere to go?”

“I’ve made arrangements for her at my estate. Your father wanted to keep her in protective custody, but I insisted on this instead.”

An estate sounded more comfortable than a detention center, but a cage was still a cage. “Is she your prisoner or your guest?”

“She is my guest, with some restrictions.” He smiled as he added the stipulation. “We need to make sure she is finished causing trouble.”

“Can you keep Azar away from her? I do not trust him at all.”

He ambled over to the sofa and held out his hand. “Does that mean you trust me?”

“Of all the males in my life at the moment, I trust you the most.”

“That’s a start, I suppose.”

She would give him more if she could, but he’d asked for honesty. “What is going to happen to my sisters?”

“They are being returned to their families.” Before she could point out that their ‘families’ were complete strangers to them, he added, “I will monitor both situations to make sure they are being treated respectfully.”

Being treated lovingly would have been better than respectfully, but she would take what she could get. “And may I say goodbye to them as well?”

“Of course.” He pulled her to her feet and motioned toward the door.

Chapter Five

The next three weeks passed in a blur for Flora. As Noratu promised, she had been allowed to see her family members briefly before leaving the ship. Her feelings about her grandmother were still conflicted, so their conversation had been strained. Iris asked what they made her do in exchange for dropping the charges against her. Flora refused to answer and Iris had been ushered away. Seeing her sisters had been less awkward, but even more rushed. Flora hugged them, assured them that she was okay, and then they’d boarded separate shuttles. Flora hadn’t seen them since.

Arriving at the Citadel had been exciting. Flora had never seen a spaceship dock before. The interior, however, was a disappointment. With long, narrow corridors and shabby furnishings, the complex was not at all what she’d expected. Wanting her to have some time to adjust, her mates took her to their apartment where they spent a quiet evening together.

The following morning, Draven escorted her to a lower level for her first training session. She’d pictured a gymnasium or a dojo. Instead, her mentor waited in a comfortable lounge. With silver-blonde hair and pastel-blue eyes, Nadis was unassuming, almost serene. She was soft-spoken and patient. Flora liked her immediately.

The days passed quickly as they worked on breathing exercises, visualizations, and meditation techniques. Today they stood at the far end of the lounge away from the chairs and tables. Adorned in a simple dress of forest green that was designed for comfort rather than attractiveness, Flora was practicing a challenging visualization. She had been at the Citadel ten days and Nadis had taught her how to calm her mind and control her instincts. Despite Flora’s newfound discipline, every time she closed her eyes this morning, images from the night before inundated her senses. Draven had been particularly aggressive and Noratu had been determined to drive her crazy. The combination had been intoxicating and exhausting. It was making it harder than usual for her to stay on task.

“Concentrate.” Warning sharpened Nadis’ tone.

“I’m trying,” she snapped, frustrated with herself.

“Remain respectful or your behavior will be reported to your mates.”

Flora took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A summary was transmitted to Draven and Noratu at the end of each training session. Flora’s fondness for profanity had earned her several spankings. Good reports were rewarded with pleasure while bad reports earned various forms of discipline. Last night’s report detailed a combination of good and bad behavior, which led to the marathon sexcapade that was distracting her now.

“I apologize.” Flora softened her tone and lowered her gaze. “I will try harder.”

“I try not to intrude while the soul bond is still solidifying, but this will make more sense if I guide you.”

Flora tensed and looked up. “Will you be able to see the images in my mind?” She couldn’t seem to banish the memories no matter how hard she tried. After using a strap on her backside, Draven had ordered her to lie flat on her back and open her legs. She’d expected him to kneel between her thighs and take advantage of the slickness the harsh spanking created, but he’d had something different in mind. He straddled her head and pinned her arms to the mattress while he fucked her mouth. She could still feel his long, hard cock sliding across her tongue and pushing well into her throat. As if that wasn’t dominating enough, Noratu lay between her thighs and used his mouth to cruelly arouse her. He brought her to the brink of orgasm again and again but never let her come. That was where the night began, but it had gone on for hours. By the time they let her sleep, all three of her openings were filled with cum and her entire body ached from their aggressive attentions.

A shiver dropped down Flora’s spine and her pussy clenched. She still found the thought of utter submission confusing, but her body reveled in it. The more aggressive her mates were, the harder she came and the more contented she felt afterward. “Can you guide me without seeing into my mind?”

Nadis smiled, her pale blue eyes shimmering. “I belong to a power triad also. I have two mates, just like you. There is no reason for your embarrassment. Now, lower your mental shields.”

Flora had learned how to shield her mind on the first day. Now sharing her thoughts and emotions was optional. The intimacy was wonderful, but there were times that she appreciated the privacy. She focused inward and found the psychic barrier protecting her mind and decreased the density. This was a courtesy. She had sensed Nadis’ power several times before. There was no doubt she could easily force her way through Flora’s shields. Asking permission was an example of her character. The more Flora interacted with her mentor, the more she liked her.

A moment later a concentrated stream of energy rolled into her mind. Flora gasped. The filament was compact and controlled, but Flora could feel the ocean of energy from which it flowed.

“Your mind naturally associates these sensations with water, so use those images,” Nadis suggested. “Locate your own energy. Separate it from mine.”

It took Flora several minutes and a few tries, but she found the tiny rivulet that was her newly released energy. It was little more than a ribbon of water running through a grassy meadow. She sighed, frustrated by the unimpressive nature of her gift.

Nadis chuckled, gently touching her arm. “That is not your gift, Flora. Follow the trickle. Let it lead you back to the source of your power.”

Intrigued, yet anxious, Flora walked along the grass, following the ribbon of water until it became a swift moving stream. The terrain gradually changed as well, the meadow giving way to forested hills. She hiked up one hill and down into a valley. The valley narrowed and deepened, the hills becoming steep, rocky cliffs.

“What do you hear?” Nadis prompted. “Use all of your senses. What do you smell, taste, and feel?”

Nadis was right. Flora had been completely focused on visual clues. She opened her mind to other inputs and gasped. “I can hear water rushing. No, it’s more than that.” She walked faster and the sound grew louder. The stream was much wider now. With a distinct current and visible rapids, the stream became a river. “I hear a waterfall.”

“Can you feel the sun on your skin? Is the air cool or muggy?”

“Cool, almost cold,” Flora told her as she jogged along the riverbank. “The air is fresh and crisp as if it’s about to rain.”

Flora rounded a bend and stared up at a waterfall at least one hundred feet above her head. It was not that wide, but water gushed over the cliff wall and tumbled down along the rocky wall to the pool below. The force of the water was breathtaking but she wasn’t sure why this image appeared in her mind.

“Keep going,” Nadis urged. “You must find the water’s source.”

She was searching for the source of her power. Noratu’s face suddenly appeared in the back of her mind. It didn’t disrupt the visualization, but it made her pause within it. Noratu was her source. She was a conduit through which his energy flowed.

“How do I get up there?” She motioned toward the top of the cliff.

Nadis’ image smiled, patient amusement shimmering in her eyes. “You are being too literal. None of this is real. Jump up there or float. Give your image wings so you can fly. You control this world, because you created it.”

Feeling foolish, Flora held her arms out to the side and smoothly levitated until she could see above the cliff face. To help remind herself that this was a visualization, she remained in midair as she looked around the upper level. Beyond the cliff stretched a massive body of water. Nothing seemed to contain it. There were no banks, no hills, no shoreline. Stretching out as far as her eyes could see, the ocean or lake filled the horizon. This was the source of her power, the energy that would fuel her abilities.

“Where are you, Flora? Do you understand what you are seeing?”

Humbled and a little afraid, she wasn’t able to speak for a moment. “This is Noratu. I am the river, or more like the river banks. His energy flows through me and together we will use this to—” Flora opened her eyes and looked at her mentor. The visualization dissipated and the lounge came back in focus. “Why do I keep seeing water? I thought Altorian energy manifested as fire.”

“It is a very good question,” Nadis agreed. “I do not have the answer, but your grandmother might. Autumn never mentioned having a Torretian relative, but she might not have known.”

Two things caught Flora’s attention simultaneously. “This doesn’t prove I had a Torretian relative. Maybe I just like water. How well did you know my mother?”

Nadis did not seem insulted by Flora’s defensiveness. “Your mother and I trained together with the same mentor.”

The casual statement unleashed a storm of questions. There was so much Flora didn’t know about her mother’s early life. “Azar said something about my mother being captured in a raid. Did you grow up knowing you were a conduit, or were you hidden like my mother?”

“I was hidden from the Citadel, but my community was not as secretive as the one where Autumn grew up.” Nadis motioned toward the sitting area across the room from where they stood. They sat facing each other then Nadis expounded, “My mother believed that information was power, so she told me what I was and what the Citadel leaders wanted from me. My mother refused to participate in war, but I was allowed to choose my own life path.”

Flora tensed as an unexpected surge of resentment rippled through her being. She hadn’t been given a choice by either of her parents. Her mother took her to Earth and raised her as a human. Worse, she had been robbed of her abilities. Her grandmother had been pressuring her to find a human husband, so it was obvious that Iris had no intention of telling her anything. And then the contract her father negotiated had resulted in her current situation. No one had allowed her to have input into her ‘life path.’ Well, Draven and Noratu had given her choices but her father’s threat against her grandmother had pressured her to cooperate.

Refocusing on the present, Flora released a sigh. The beginning of this journey had been rocky, but she no longer felt coerced. She wanted to learn more about her abilities. She had yet to decide how she would allow her abilities to be used. First, she needed to learn how to control them.

“Did you choose to come here or were you captured in a raid?” Flora was pretty sure she knew the answer. She just wanted Nadis to confirm her suspicion.

“I chose this life. I was born with an amazing gift. I think it is selfish to squander it.”

Flora wasn’t sure how she felt, so she returned to the original subject. “Why do you think I have a Torretian relative?”

“My controller is half Torretian,” Nadis told her. “I am well acquainted with Torretian energy.”

“But doesn’t my energy come from Noratu?” Flora shook her head, confused by the complexities.

“Each member of a power triad has mystic energy. Without it we would be unable to manipulate magic. I sensed the anomaly the first time I touched your mind, so I don’t believe it is coming from Noratu.”

She nodded, but the intricacies of her abilities were not as interesting as understanding her mother’s past. “Do you know why my mother agreed to bond with Azar? They seem like such an unlikely couple.”

“Azar is only half of the equation,” Nadis reminded. “Autumn’s source was wonderful. His name was Otal and he was as likeable as Azar is abrasive.”

This was the first time she had spoken with anyone who knew the truth about her parents. Well, obviously her grandmother knew but Flora had spent a whopping ten minutes alone with Iris since they left Earth. “How did they meet?”

“To understand all the events regarding your mother, you need to understand your grandmother.”

Flora shifted on the padded bench trying to find a more comfortable position. Apparently, this was going to be a longer conversation than she’d anticipated. “Iris was on Earth with Mom, so it’s pretty obvious that she agreed with running away.”

Nadis nodded. “Iris grew up during the Great Upheaval. Her parents insisted that she remain at the Citadel, but she was not subtle about her allegiance. The mates her parents chose for her were powerful and controlling.”

“Is that a bad thing? Draven is very controlling, but he knows when and how to use it.”

Nadis responded with a one-shouldered shrug. “Iris’ source was nearly as domineering as her controller. Her parents knew she would defy them at every turn and thought they would be the only team strong enough to keep her in line.”

“It made her more rebellious?” Flora guessed. That is likely how she would have reacted if Draven’s stern discipline weren’t tempered with deep devotion.

“There were other factors as well.” Nadis sighed, obviously reluctant to share whatever came next. “Iris’ mates thought children might settle her down so they bred her relentlessly. She gave birth four times in five years and each infant was female, which was extraordinary. It made her incredibly valuable.”

Flora’s mind locked on the first revelation so she didn’t react to the second. “Four? I thought my grandmother had three daughters. And each gave birth to a daughter: Raina, Aspen, and me.”

“The fourth daughter died suddenly. It was a senseless accident, easily prevented. She was only five or six at the time. Everyone was shocked and horrified.”

Flora’s chest tightened and her heart ached. No parent should outlive their child. The resulting loss must have been deep and consuming. “I had no idea. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

“Needless to say, it affected both Iris and Autumn deeply. Iris became combative and defiant. Nothing her mates did curtailed her behavior. About a year after the tragedy, she vanished, taking her daughters with her.”

Flora didn’t doubt what Nadis was saying, but her information could not be firsthand. She was too young to have witnessed most of it. “How do you know all of this? Aren’t you about my mother’s age?”

“My mother and Iris were friends. In fact, at one time they were best friends. Watching what the Citadel did to Iris was one of the reasons my mother joined a refugee community.”

“You chose to return,” Flora prompted. “When and why did my mother come back?”

Nadis’ voice grew distant and tense as if she were bothered by what she was explaining. “It was the job of un-bonded controllers to find the refugee camps. Your mother was ‘recovered’ during one of their raids.”

Flora shuddered, imagining the fear and helplessness her mother must have felt. “Was Iris forced to return as well?”

“Iris was banished, refused access to her daughters, and publicly humiliated. She spent years appealing the decision, but none of her strategies worked.”

Disbelief widened Flora’s eyes and she shook her head. “No wonder she hates this place so much. I would too.”

After a reflective pause, Nadis returned to the original topic. “Autumn was angry and despondent when she was dragged back to the Citadel. Otal befriended her, tried to help her see that her life would be more than training and fighting. She responded to him, learned to trust him so it seemed natural that they become a triad.”

“If Otal was kind and compassionate, why would he accept Azar as his controller?”

“Personalities are taken into consideration when triads form, but compatibility is even more important. The triad must be capable of operating as a unit. Their strengths must complement each other. Because Otal was so easygoing, he required a strict controller to create balance.”

“You keep referring to him in the past tense,” Flora pointed out. “Is Otal dead?”

Nadis nodded, her expression solemn. “There was so much tragedy in Autumn’s life, so much conflict. It made her zealous and incredibly stubborn. She always followed her convictions, which is admirable. But she seldom thought about how her actions would affect others. She did what she thought was right. Consequences be damned.”

That implied that her mother was responsible for Otal’s death. Flora started to object, to insist that her mother had only done what she must to keep three innocent girls safe. But Autumn’s decision to bind their abilities and leave them ignorant of their origins was a pretty good indication that Nadis’ criticism was warranted. Because of Autumn’s refusal to compromise, Flora had been completely unprepared when her past collided with her present.

After a long pause, Flora asked, “What happened to Otal?”

“He was crushed by her departure. He was deeply in love with her and couldn’t believe that she chose to abandon her mates.”

“If they were in love, why didn’t he go with her?”

Nadis shifted on the sofa, looking slightly uncomfortable. “He disagreed with her decision to leave. Otal was determined to keep the triad together. The only way he would have agreed to go was if she’d convinced Azar to go too.”

“If he refused to go with her, how can you blame what happened on Mom?”

“She had no right to take their child off world.” Nadis’ tone grew cold and bitter. Clearly, she had chosen sides long ago. “If she found the system intolerable, she should have worked to change it.”

Their child? I thought Azar was my father?” The detail was irrelevant to the tragedy, but she needed to understand. The concept of a triad was still so alien to her.

“Biological fathers are identified to establish a medical history and help manage the gene pool. You are Azar’s biological offspring, but children belong to the triad. Triads are family units. They share equally in the responsibilities of rearing the offspring.”

“Considering Autumn’s past, my fathers had to know she might run. Why didn’t they do more to protect me?” Her anger with her mother and grandmother didn’t keep Flora from feeling defensive. “It seems to me that there is plenty of blame to go around.”

Nadis’ expression hardened and her gaze iced over. “Your mother severed the soul bond so she could conceal her destination. The result was excruciating and dangerous for her mates. A team of healers worked for days to save their lives and their sanity.”

“Service to the Citadel should not be mandatory,” Flora countered. She didn’t agree with what her mother had done, but she understood her motivation. “We should be allowed to say when and how our abilities are used.”

“Our abilities are not naturally occurring,” Nadis reminded firmly. “We were engineered, bred to be weapons. It is the purpose for our existence.”

That was an entirely different subject and Flora wasn’t finished with this debate. “How did Otal die?”

Nadis took a deep breath, regaining her composure. “Azar and Otal had been abandoned by their conduit, so they were banished from the Citadel. They were humiliated and ridiculed, shunned by society. It made Azar angry. He was determined to find Autumn so he could recover you. Otal was not that strong. He never recovered from the forced separation or the humiliation that followed. He grew progressively more depressed until he took his own life. That was three years after your mother departed.”

Shocked and conflicted, Flora debated what to say. It was hard to defend her mother when Autumn’s actions had resulted in such dire consequences. Still, her mother believed she was protecting Flora and the other girls. Autumn’s motives had been pure even if her perspective had been myopic.

“Enough about the past,” Nadis said after a tense pause. “The past cannot be changed, but we can work to reverse your neglect.”

Neglect? She certainly didn’t consider herself neglected.

“Your training has been neglected,” Nadis clarified, apparently reading Flora’s expression. “Most conduits begin training at twenty. By twenty-five they are fully integrated into their triads and have completed several missions.”

Now she was depressed. Nadis needed to work on her motivational speeches. “If I’m five years behind already, how will I ever catch up?”

“Your mother was one of the most powerful conduits ever born. Your fathers were unusually powerful as well. We are hoping that you will master the basic skills quickly. We would like you to participate in an upcoming mission, but I’m not sure the goal is realistic.”

“What is the mission? What will I be expected to do? If I’m ready for action, of course.” Would they want her to kill? The Torretian emperor sounded like he deserved what he was getting, but what about ordinary Torretians?

“The Torretians are constructing a large manufacturing facility. It will allow them to build warships even faster than we can. The problem is they have placed it in a well-developed section of one of their moons. Ordinary explosives would damage the surrounding complexes. It could also shift the orbit of the moon, which would in turn cause catastrophic changes to the planet.”

“How would a power triad help?”

“It will take several triads working together, but Altorian fire is not ordinary fire. The triads would control it every step of the way.”

Flora understood that she was imbued with magic. She’d seen it, felt it even, yet there had been no tangible evidence of this mystic fire. With the brief exception of Noratu’s demonstration. “Can fire even burn in space? How can the laws of physics not apply to magic?”

“The laws of physics, as you know them, apply to Earth. Our technology, not to mention the ability to manipulate mystic energy, established an entirely different set of rules.” She smiled as she pushed to her feet. “Shall we begin?”

Begin? What had they been doing for the past ten days?

Nadis led Flora back to the open end of the lounge. “Take a moment to center your mind. Try not to close your eyes unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

This stipulation had been added a couple of days ago. In the beginning Nadis encouraged her to close her eyes to help tune everything else out. But she wouldn’t be able to fight with her eyes closed.

With her eyes still open, Flora stared at a spot on the opposite wall and let her mind go blank. The sounds around her diminished. The room seemed to still, but it remained in focus.

“Good,” Nadis praised in a soft, un-intrusive voice. “Raise your hand, palm up, and picture a small flame.”

Flora positioned her hand where she could see it and focused on the center of her palm.

“See the shape, the light, the flicker.”

Gradually, the image formed. First, she saw it in her mind, then she pictured it on the palm of her hand.

“Now feel the heat, the tingling of energy. Bring the image into reality.”

Without conscious thought, Flora obeyed the directive. Her eyes widened as the flame sputtered to life, but she redoubled her efforts and maintained the manifestation.

“Excellent. Slowly feed energy into the flame, increase the heat and the size. Let it encompass your fingers.”

“My skin already feels hot. I don’t want to burn myself.” As she voiced the concerns, the tiny flame blinked out and she released a sigh of frustration.

“The flame is as much a part of you as your hand,” Nadis insisted. “It cannot harm you.”

For the next three hours, Flora manifested the Altorian fire. A single flame became a ball of combustible energy that swirled around her fingers. The following day, they moved into a cavernous training room that Flora had never seen before. Partitioned lanes lined the back wall. They reminded her of a shooting range, only the people here were throwing fireballs and streams of energy rather than firing bullets. The rest of the floor space was padded. Triads were practicing and being instructed in various forms of hand-to-hand combat.

“If I can throw fireballs, why do I need to know how to kick and punch?” Flora asked as they crossed the room, heading for one of the protective lanes.

“It is best to be prepared for any threat,” Nadis told her. “It also increases your strength and endurance, which makes you a more effective conduit.”

By the end of the third week, Flora was accessing Noratu’s energy and channeling it through her body with effortless ease. She could instantaneously incinerate anything she aimed at, or singe a tiny target without harming the things around it. The skills came so naturally that it was hard to believe that she had not been manifesting Altorian fire her entire life.

“You have progressed just as rapidly as we hoped you would.” Nadis’ smile seemed a bit sad. “This is where my expertise ends. I sense other abilities in you. They will need to be developed in the coming months. You will work with mentors who specialize in specific abilities. Your mates are already fully trained operatives, which is unusual. They will teach you how to integrate the triad. I am available for questions any time night or day, but I doubt that you will need me.”

Flora gave her a spontaneous hug and was relieved when Nadis hugged her back. “Thank you for making this so pleasant. I was worried that all the mentors were like my father.”

Nadis’ smile broadened. “All the controller mentors are.” She paused, looking as if she were debating what else to say. “Both of your mates have good hearts. I know Draven can be harsh, but he is one of the good ones. Trust them. They will not lead you astray.”

Encouraged by the thought, Flora returned to the apartment she shared with her mates. With two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room, and compact kitchen, the elegant space was more than adequate for the needs of three people. Especially when the three people generally slept in one bed.

The males had yet to return, so Flora decided to comm her grandmother. It was a privilege she’d earned with good behavior. It took Iris a few minutes to respond, but when she did she activated video as well as audio. Flora loved being able to see Iris, to know for a fact that she was being well treated.

Iris smiled at Flora, her dark eyes warm. “We spoke yesterday. Did you miss me already?”

“Do you have something better to do?” Flora challenged, but returned her grandmother’s smile.

“How is training going?”

“The first phase is finished,” she said proudly. “Nadis just cut me loose.”

“Really? That was fast.” Iris’ gaze narrowed as she stared at Flora. “Are you confident in the skills she taught you?”

“I think so. I know I have a lot still to learn, but basic manipulation has become instantaneous.”

“I’m impressed. Nadis must be one heck of a mentor.”

Flora was impressed with Nadis’ patient instruction, but she suspected that her rapid progress had more to do with her lineage. Never one to beat around the bush, she simply asked, “Which one of your mates was Torretian?”

Iris’ brows arched, but she didn’t deny it. “Why do you ask?”

“You know why.” Allowing her frustration to show, she said, “Every time I think I’ve discovered all your secrets, I find out about something else that you and Mom kept from me. Answer the question.”

“He was my source,” Iris admitted. “Your biological grandfather.”

“Then I am one fourth Torretian?”

“We had your DNA tested. Azar will never admit it but he has Torretian relatives too. Forty-eight percent of your genetic makeup originated on Torret.”

She wasn’t surprised by the revelation. She just wasn’t sure if it changed anything. “What does that mean for me?”

“You could be capable of power exchange. It is an extremely rare and coveted ability. I tried for years but was unable to master it. Your mother was able to do it within days. When she saw the results of your DNA analysis, she was terrified that your abilities would surpass even hers. It was one of the reasons we were so determined to protect you. Your mother was ruthlessly pursued because of her abilities. You would have been too if we hadn’t left.”

Flora nodded, but wasn’t sure what else to say. On the surface, it seemed like Flora’s mother and grandmother selflessly risked their lives to protect their descendants. But Flora also knew about the deep emotional wounds that led to their decision. “What about Raina and Aspen? Did you have their DNA tested too?”

“Your percentage was the highest, but all three of you were in the forties.”

“Do you know what’s happening with them?” Noratu had said they were sent back to their families, but that was the last she had heard.

“I spoke with Raina this morning, but Cara’s parents have refused all of my comms. I was informed that she has reverted to her birth name, so you should try to stop thinking of her as Aspen. She is Cara now.”

Flora wasn’t sure how she felt about that. But it was Asp—Cara’s choice so she would try to abide by her wishes. “How is Raina?”

“Depressed and angry. Her parents are trying to find her the best mates, but she doesn’t really want to bond with anyone. Sound familiar? We raised you as free-thinking humans. It’s hard to adjust to Altorian expectations after knowing that sort of freedom.”

Ironically, freedom was not what she missed when she thought about her life on Earth. She missed the majestic scenery in Alaska. She missed simplicity and peace. But her human life had been routine, often boring, and utterly without purpose. “I’m adjusting faster than I expected. Noratu and Draven are a lot less horrible than I thought they would be.”

“A lot less horrible?” Iris laughed. “That is not very high praise.”

Her mind circled back to the mysterious ability. “What does it do? Why do so many people want it?”

“Power exchange?” When Flora just nodded, Iris explained. “It transforms one type of mystic energy into another. Your mother would take Torretian energy and manifest it as fire instead of water.”

“I can barely manifest fire right now. I need to practice my basic skills before I attempt a power exchange.”

“Fair enough.” Iris gazed off into the distance for a moment. “I better let you go. We’re supposed to limit these calls to ten minutes. I don’t want you to lose the privilege. I enjoy speaking with you.”

“Me too.” She sighed, wishing she could talk to her sisters too. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Noratu stood back from the line of applicants, silently analyzing their potential. Draven paced in front of them, his expression grim and unreadable. They were in a small training room generally used for sparring or private instruction. The rigidity of the floor could be adjusted according to the activity. At present, the surface was inflexible because they wanted the applicants alert and determined. They had passed the first two levels of the long and arduous admissions process. They had many more to go.

Activating his empathic receptors, Noratu allowed emotions to flood his mind. It was disorienting for a moment, but years of practice had taught him how to control his gift. He could assess the general mood of the group or focus on one particular emotion. The only thing his training had not prepared him for was the overwhelming distraction of being part of a power triad.

Draven was faultlessly disciplined. His mind was meticulously shielded unless he chose to share his thoughts and emotions. Flora, on the other hand, was wild and spontaneous. Her thoughts had become more ordered in the past few weeks, but her emotions still flared without warning and she frequently fixated on sex. Noratu was thrilled by her passionate nature, but sensing her desire, her smoldering arousal made it damn hard to concentrate on anything else.

The past three weeks had been remarkable, yet challenging. Flora was everything he’d hoped for in a mate. She was smart, compassionate, resilient, and daring. She was also volatile and incredibly stubborn. Her Altorian instincts continually clashed with the ideals she had learned on Earth. She wanted to surrender control, needed to be dominated to fully enjoy mating, yet her independent nature made her rebellious and quick to anger.

Draven strictly enforced the rules, so Flora frequently had a reddened bottom before they overwhelmed her with pleasure. Noratu scanned her mind as they mated and she always reveled in their mastery, but afterwards she was often withdrawn.

Wanting their mate to be truly happy, they balanced their sexual demands with affection and humor. They ate most of their meals together, laughing and talking for hours, all three anxious to learn everything they could about the others. At first Flora seemed wary of their attempts at romance, especially when Draven participated. It was ironic, because nearly all of it had been Draven’s idea.

They had fallen into a comfortable routine the last few days. He wasn’t foolish enough to believe she would never rebel again, but her behavior had been far more Altorian than human lately. Her primary training was nearly finished and they were anxious to start functioning as a power triad for the first time.

Noratu had sensed an anomaly in her energy the first time he’d touched her mind. He’d attributed it to her unique upbringing, but as her thoughts and emotions became more disciplined, the nature of the anomaly became obvious. Flora had Torretian blood, nearly as much as Altorian. So Noratu gave the information to an investigator without identifying the subject. The investigator’s report arrived a few hours ago. Their mate was roughly forty percent Torretian, which meant it was illegal for her to be a conduit. Noratu wasn’t sure what to do with what he’d learned. Controllers were notoriously black and white, so he wasn’t even sure he could tell Draven.

Reluctantly, Noratu pushed thoughts of Flora to the back of his mind and concentrated on the task at hand. They were a gateway to the next phase of testing. The president of the Citadel depended on Draven’s instincts and Noratu’s empathic abilities to weed out those who performed well on paper but had character flaws that would create trouble if they were approved.

Draven stalked one way and then the other, scowling and harassing the applicants at random. It was his job to intimidate and provoke emotional reactions. Citadel statutes forbid entering anyone’s mind without their permission. The only exception was the interrogation of violent criminals. However, nothing precluded them from assessing emotions projected beyond a person’s mental shields.

“Aptitude means nothing to me,” Draven growled. The band attached to his forearm projected a holo-image of the applicants’ assessment scores. Less than one percent of all applicants made it this far, but another half would quit or be dismissed before training began. “One in three Altorians is born with some form of magic. We are looking for the very best of the very best.” He stopped in front of a tall, red-haired male. “Your assessment scores are impressive, but you dropped out of college. I think you will quit as soon as this becomes challenging.”

“No, sir,” the youth insisted, his back straightening. “I want this badly.”

“Everyone here wants it. Why should I choose you?” he challenged.

“I have dreamed of this since I was a child,” the redhead told him. “I do not mean that figuratively. I started having dreams about being part of a triad before I even knew what a triad was.”

Draven moved farther down the row as he scrolled through the bios. He and Noratu had studied the information at length before this meeting, but this was more dramatic. He stopped in front of a sandy-haired male who appeared slightly older than the rest. “You pair-bonded with a female and produced two children, but the relationship failed. Why the fuck would we trust you with a conduit? They are precious and extremely rare.”

A deep flush crawled up the applicant’s neck as he pressed his lips together. Anger pulsed off him in staccato beats. “My former partner was not my mate. That is why we separated.”

“Yet you impregnated her twice. Was that wise if you knew you would leave her?”

The applicant just glared at Draven. Defiance was never a good choice with a controller.

Noratu thought Draven would move on, but he had another question. “Where are your offspring now?”

The applicant’s throat worked as he struggled for composure. “They live with their mother, but I support them financially and spend as much time with them as I can.”

Anger was understandable. Draven was antagonizing the male. What bothered Noratu was the longing he sensed as the applicant thought of the mother of his children. He is still in love with his life partner. Dismiss him.

“I cannot work with you.” Draven swept his arm toward the door. “Go back to the mother of your children.” The applicant stormed from the room as Draven continued his leisurely trek. “Anyone who cannot offer themselves completely to their conduit is of no use to me. Triads are integrated body, soul, and spirit. Without a committed relationship the fire will not flow.”

A blond near the far end of the line was fidgeting like a child that desperately needed to piss. We have a wiggler. Focus on the short blond near the end.

Draven walked toward the male in question. “You are hiding something,” he said simply. “Will you lower your shields and allow my partner to scan your mind?”

The blond shook his head. “I will tell you everything but not in front of the others.”

“There is no need for you to say a word,” Draven countered. “Lower your shields. As soon as Noratu determines that you are not a threat to us, we will move on.”

The applicant’s features hardened and his chin shot up. Petulant defiance flashed in his eyes. “I know for a fact my scores were the highest. That means I’m the most powerful person on this entire planet. You’ll take me and we both know it. So why play these stupid games?”

“You are dismissed.”

“Wait. What? You can’t dismiss me. I demand to speak with President Zev—”

Two guards rushed forward and dragged the protesting asshole from the room. The rest of the applicants looked on in shock and disbelief. All except one. Near the middle of the line a tall male with wavy dark hair and light blue eyes watched Draven closely. The applicant’s gaze was every bit as assessing as Draven’s, his expression just as cold. It was almost as if this male thought he was evaluating Draven and not the other way around.

“No one is guaranteed a position at the Citadel,” Draven warned. “And character is just as important as power. We understand the need for privacy. However, triads are permanently bound with their source and conduit. They also combine with other triads. If you do not want others flowing through your mind, for any reason, leave now. You are wasting my time.”

Two of the applicants chose to leave, but everyone else looked more determined than ever to be chosen.

Noratu increased his empathic sensitivity and shifted his attention back toward the male in the center of the line. His ice-blue gaze collided with Noratu’s. Had the applicant noticed his interest or sensed his abilities?

The only one I’m not sure about is the one with the pale blue eyes, he told Draven. Don’t dismiss him. I think we should question him once the others have left.


Then to the applicants, Draven said, “Return to the large training room. If we have questions, we will come find you.”

“Does this mean we are accepted?” one of the applicants asked excitedly.

“Testing generally lasts three days,” Draven told him. “You have a long way to go.” As they filed out, Draven motioned the tall applicant over to where he stood.

Noratu moved up beside Draven, no longer pretending to be an observer. “What is your name?” he asked the applicant.

“Cylex Bekar,” he supplied. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, hinting at time spent in the military.

“Cylex is a Torretian name, yet Bekar is Altorian. Which do you consider yourself?” Draven’s face was expressionless, his tone cool without sounding accusatory.

“My mother was Altorian. She was seduced by a Torretian soldier more than twice her age. By the time she realized she was pregnant, he had moved on.”

Noratu sensed bitterness and grief, but not dishonesty.

“Have you always lived on Altor?” Draven persisted.

“I lived with my mother until she passed beyond. My only other relative was my grandfather. He had never accepted me, so he scrounged together the funds to send me to my father. I was never asked if I wanted to go.”

It sounded a bit rehearsed to Noratu, but that wasn’t really surprising. Cylex was probably asked about the contradiction every time he introduced himself. “How old where you when you lost your mother?”


Noratu nodded. Cylex answered each question without hesitation and his emotional responses were appropriate. He was either a practiced liar or he was telling the truth.

“Did your father admit you were his?” Draven asked. “Many would simply deny it.”

“I have his features, especially his eyes. One look at me and he knew the claim was true. He reluctantly took me in, but I was never welcomed.”

Without bothering to switch to mind-speak, Draven asked, “Is he telling the truth?”

“His emotions support his story, but his shields are unusually strong.” He looked at Cylex. “Where did you receive your training? What are your abilities?”

“I have never worked with a mentor. For the most part, I am self-taught.”

Draven’s brows arched skeptically. “You taught yourself how to shield your mind?”

“I did not say that. My mother possessed an abundance of raw talent. She had barely mastered basic skills when she was withdrawn from the Citadel.”

“She was part of the mass protest,” Noratu realized.

Cylex nodded. “Not by choice, but yes. If she had not been taught to fear the Citadel, she could have been extraordinary.”

“Who taught her to fear us?” Draven asked, though the answer was obvious.

“My grandmother.”

“Why do you want to be part of something your relatives mistrust?” Noratu still wasn’t sure what to make of Cylex, but he sensed power in him, a lot of untapped power.

“I am tired of war,” he admitted, and the weariness in his gaze made the statement believable. “I have seen too many bleed and die. If I possess abilities that could bring about peace, I am very interested in developing them.”

Not surprisingly, that piqued Draven’s interest. “Where did you serve? When and why were you discharged?”

“I started with the Two-Five-Two Militia, but transferred to air support for the Pelax Three Offensive. My contract expired eleven months ago. I was thinking about reenlisting, but decided to try this first.”

Draven nodded. What do you think?

I’ll be less concerned once we’ve verified what he just told us.

Draven glanced at him. Should I dismiss him?

It was obvious that he didn’t want to. Clearly, this unusual applicant had just found a common ground with the meanest controller at the Citadel.

Noratu activated a holo-display with a flick of his wrist and brought up Cylex’s assessment. Not only did he qualify as a source, he was also a borderline controller. His aptitude scores are exceptional. Let’s see how he does with the other challenges.

“Anyone with Torretian blood is supposed to be dismissed,” Draven warned Cylex. “Your story intrigues us but if anything you’ve said is inaccurate or exaggerated, it will not matter how much we like you.”

“I understand, sir.”

“Return to the main training room,” Draven instructed.

Noratu waited until Cylex departed to ask, “Can you use your contacts to verify his service? The background teams are supposed to check out all the information listed on their applications, but sometimes they don’t dig deep enough.”

“I will make sure his service record is legitimate,” Draven assured him.

“Good. I’ll see if I can locate the grandfather. You can often learn more from a person’s enemy than their ally.”

A shout was followed by a crash, and then muffled voices drew their attention toward the hallway.

“…fucking way I will… not going to… Why isn’t everyone…”

Noratu looked at Draven and they both tensed. “Did that sound like Flora to you?”

“She’s been so good for the past few days.” Draven sighed.

They jogged across the room together, but the corridor appeared to be empty.

“I said get your filthy hands off her!”

That was definitely Flora.

They ran in the direction of the irate voice. Two turns brought them to the scene.

Flora faced off with two guards who were escorting a woman in ankle and wrist restraints. The other woman was crying, and Flora had an impressive fireball in each hand. “Let her go or I’ll incinerate you both!”

The guards looked at each other in confusion but said nothing.

“What’s the problem, mate?” Draven asked, his voice firm and authoritative.

Flora tensed, but didn’t shift her focus from the guards. Her hands continued to manifest Altorian fire. “These idiots are under the mistaken idea that they are going to auction off my sister. Tell them to turn her loose right now.”

Noratu looked at the woman in restraints. “Is this Luna Borak or Cara Slanar?”

“Everyone keeps calling me Luna,” the sobbing female provided. “But my name is Raina and I will answer to nothing else.”

Clearly, the female’s training had yet to begin. She was as wild as Flora had been when they brought her aboard Draven’s ship.

“Who authorized the auction?” Draven asked.

Flora spun around and turned her wrath on Draven. “You knew about this?” One of the fireballs sputtered out, but she held her other arm bent and raised as if she would hurl the energy at her controller. “Auctioning females is acceptable on Altor? What the hell is wrong with you people?”

Draven effortlessly reached across their link and pulled the mystic energy out of her entire body, ensuring she didn’t manifest another fireball.

Flora gasped, looking at her hand in confusion.

Moving so close that he towered over their indignant mate, Draven spoke in a quiet yet inflexible tone. “This is your only warning. Regain control of your emotions right now or there will be consequences.”

“Fuck you, asshole,” she shot back, eyes blazing defiance. “Order those jerks to release my sister or the only consequence will be your blue balls.”

Draven’s eyes widened. “Are you threatening me?”

“That’s a promise, not a threat.”

Noratu shook his head. She knew better than this. Challenging Draven was never a good idea, but doing so in public left him no choice but to punish her severely. And threatening anyone in the Citadel with Altorian fire wasn’t just misbehavior, it was a crime.

Draven wrapped his hand around her upper arm as he looked at the guards. “When is the auction scheduled to take place?”

“Nine a.m. two days from now,” one of them supplied.

Draven nodded. “Take Raina to a holding cell. I apologize for the behavior of my mate. Her outburst shall be addressed as soon as we reach our quarters.”

That’s all until next week’s installment! If you’re aching to finish right now, though, just click below and buy the book!

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