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Authors: Rebecca York

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BOOK: Hero's Welcome
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“By the way they’re moving. They can’t see where to put their feet. But they have weapons. A lot of weapons.”

He swore under his breath, snapping into combat mode, his training taking over. The intruders weren’t walking up to the front door. They were approaching by stealth, at night. Probably they were deserters, desperate men who wouldn’t take prisoners.

“I guess they aren’t here to beg food rations,” he said aloud.

“What are we going to do?” she asked, the question coming out in a thin gasp, and he knew she was remembering what the soldiers had done to her.

“Make them wish they’d sneaked up on someone else.”

“What if you can’t?”

His hand closed over her wrist, feeling the blood thundering in her veins. “I will
not
let them get anywhere near you,” he swore.

She sat still as a statue. He watched her rigid features and knew her terror might swallow her whole.

“Kasi, trust me to keep you safe.”

At first he wondered if she were capable even of hearing his words. Then her shoulders straightened, and she raised her face to his. He saw the effort she was making to push away the terror and knew she was doing it for him as much as for herself.

Turning, she looked toward the intruders, then spoke with a detached, steely calm. “They have night viewers. But they haven’t spotted us.”

“Good.” He gave her hand a quick squeeze. “Kasi, you’re going to have to get my leg. And the laser pistol on the bed stand. I’ll meet you in the computer room.”

She nodded, darted into the building. Grabbing the crutch, he followed as fast as he could.

In the nerve center of the house, he scanned the alarms. Nothing. The intruders were too far away. They might have been there for days, watching, planning their move. If he got Kasi and himself out of this alive, he’d have to booby trap the hills.

If.

Bringing his mind back to the crisis, he activated the long-range scanners. He was rewarded by three sensor readings on the view screen. Three Dorre men, as she’d said, and they were moving this way.

Kasi came in with the prosthesis. It hurt to put the damned thing on so soon after he’d taken it off, but he ignored the pain, grateful that he could walk almost normally.

He kept his eye on the scanner. The raiding party had stopped. They must know he’d armed a protective ring around the house and the fields. Did they have torpedo launchers?

“I need them closer,” he muttered.

“I know how to do that,” she said with the same quiet calm that she’d summoned on the patio.

His head jerked toward her. “No!”

Ignoring the protest, she went on. “I can go outside—pretend I’m trespassing on the property. They’ll jump at the chance to get their hands on me.”

He stared at her, astonished. “Don’t even think about it!”

“Do you have a better idea?” she asked, her voice remarkably steady.

He tried to think of one. Spenserville might send help. But he couldn’t count on that—or on reinforcements coming in time. He looked in the weapons locker again. He had his own portable torpedo launchers. Not the most desirable of weapons, particularly since he’d bought them when he was almost out of money. He’d settled for the older models that the high command had taken out of service. Too bad he hadn’t had a chance to test them.

Cursing under his breath, he thought about the tricky procedure for setting them up. He’d have to do it outside where the explosive gases couldn’t collect. If he used a light, the intruders would see what he was doing. If he tried to work in the dark, he could blow himself up.

He raised his gaze to Kasi’s. “I can’t risk a light. If I tell you what to do, could you set up a torpedo launcher?”

She managed a little nod.

He pulled out the heavy case, opened it, and showed her the parts that had to fit together. Then he closed the carrier again and hoisted it to his shoulder. Outside, he picked a patch of ground partly screened by bushes.

He didn’t tell her the danger of an accidental explosion. Instead, he explained each step while she fitted the parts together, her white fingers moving in the moonlight as she fit the launcher into the tripod and went through the check sequence. Holding his breath, he lifted a missile from the case and helped her guide it into the tube. Then he attached the computer cable. With a silent prayer, he pressed the activation button.

For heartbeats, nothing happened, and he thought it had all been for nothing. Then the screen flickered to life. As he tuned the probe, the same three blips he’d seen earlier came into focus.

A hissing noise overhead was followed by an explosion to the right. The slat-eaters were using rockets. Less sophisticated than computer-guided torpedoes—but just as lethal when they hit their target.

Kasi screamed as dirt and plant debris flew through the air. Link pushed her to the ground and worked the controls, adjusting the targeting. There was no time for fine-tuning, he realized as another explosion took off the roof above his left shoulder. All he could do was press the launch button and watch as the torpedo streaked into the sky.

The explosion was a lot more powerful than the previous two. The ground shook, and the night itself seemed to explode. Then, suddenly, everything went silent. He raised his head and looked at the targeting screen. Where the three blips had been there was only a concave depression— a crater twenty meters across.

It was over. The intruders were dead, and he’d killed them. His own people. At least he’d been spared from having to look into their eyes.

Beside him, Kasi whimpered, and when she raised her head, he saw blood seeping from a long gash on her temple.

“Damn the bastards!” he exclaimed, quickly moving to assess the extent of her injury.

“I’m all right,” she told him, then slumped against his shoulder in a dead faint.

He managed to lift her, managed to carry her into the house without the leg giving way. His bed was the closest place he could lay her. Turning on the light, he examined the wound. It looked as if she’d been hit by a flying chunk of the building. Quickly he soaked a towel in water and cleaned the blood away—and sighed in relief when he saw that the cut wasn’t deep. While he was dabbing on an antibacterial, her eyelids flickered open. She seemed confused for a moment. Then her beautiful green eyes focused on him.

“Did we stop them?” she whispered.

He nodded, captured by her gaze. “Yes. I thought I was through with killing, but. . . .” He drew a ragged breath. “Kasi, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”

“We did what we had to,” she answered, her gaze steady as it met his.

He had thought he knew her strength, but he realized he’d only scratched the surface. “You have more courage than half the men in my patrol.”

She gave a little shrug. “I wanted us to be the ones who survived.”

His throat ached as he found her hand and clasped it. “Yes. Us.”

Her fingers tightened on his. “Stay with me.”

“Here? In my bed?”

She tried to nod and winced. “Yes.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.” This time the answer was stronger.

He turned off all but the small light in the corner and unstrapped the plastic leg before easing onto the bed. He planned to stay awake in case she needed him, but he was too exhausted to manage it.

When his eyes opened again, he could see a faint glow in the western sky. Kasi was awake.

“How are you?” he asked softly.

“Better,” she said, her gaze fixed on the wall across the room. When she offered no more, he lay beside her in the big bed, listening to the thumping of his heart.

After a long time, she began to speak in a barely audible voice. “At first, I was afraid to tell you what happened to me. I was afraid you wouldn’t want me here, in your home, if you knew.”

“I hope, by now, you’ve figured out you were wrong.” He turned toward her, his urgent gaze catching hers, holding. “I want you. For my wife. If you’ll have me.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. “Your wife?”

He nodded, but when he spoke, he couldn’t quite keep the anxiety out of his voice. “Will you? Would you marry a Dorre?”

“Link . . .” She smiled. “I would follow you to the end of the world.” With a laugh, she added, “I
did
follow you to the end of the world. But what if . . . if I can’t . . .”

The question went unfinished, but he knew what she was asking.

“I want to know you’re mine,” he assured her. “On any terms I can get you.”

“Oh, Link.”

“Say yes.”

He saw her even white teeth clamp her bottom lip.

“Say yes,” he urged again. “We’ll worry about the rest later.”

“I can’t . . . not until . . .” She swallowed audibly. “I want to . . . to love you. Your body joined with mine.”

The words might be halting, but the look in her eyes told him she would only surrender on her own terms.

“I need to do everything—give you everything,” she continued. “And I want to do it now.”

“We will. But we don’t have to do it
all
today,” he answered, wishing she didn’t have to push herself—or him.

“What are you afraid of ?” she suddenly asked, and he knew she had read the hesitation in his expression.

He managed a rough laugh. “Not much, except that I haven’t been with a woman since . . . the leg. It could make things a little awkward.”

“Oh,” she answered in a breathy whisper, and he knew that his doubts gave her a measure of confidence. Good. Score another one for the damned stump.

He turned toward her, gently stroking his knuckle across her lips, looking into her trusting but anxious face. “You’re sure you want to do this?”

“Don’t you?”

“Only if you make me a promise—that you’ll tell me if I do anything that frightens you.”

“I promise.”

He kissed her tenderly, then drew back and deliberately began to open the fasteners down the front of her tunic, watching her face, ready to call a halt.

She said nothing, but he saw the edge of panic in her eyes.

“Does it worry you when I reach for you, with my hands?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll show you how much pleasure I can give you with just my mouth.”

Dipping his head, he kissed her neck, then the slender ridges of her collar bone, before edging toward the tops of her breasts.

Delicately he pushed the fabric of the tunic apart with his face, his kisses gliding over the soft warmth of her breasts until he captured one distended nipple between his lips.

She made a strangled sound, and her hands came up to cradle his head and hold him to her as he took his pleasure and gave it back to her in kind.

He kept the pace easy, demanding nothing of her. Between kisses, he talked to her quietly, ardently, as he stoked the fires of her arousal— first with his lips and then with only the lightest of fingertip strokes.

Her body was long and lithe and so beautiful. He could barely breathe as he watched arousal bring a warm flush to her pale skin.

Aroused or not, when his hand drifted over the soft curve of her abdomen, downward to the triangle of fiery hair that covered her mound, she stiffened.

“Okay?”

Her face was tense.

“It’s all right. We can stop any time you want,” he promised, his words denying the clamoring of his body.

“I’m scared, but I don’t want to stop.”

“Good. Because I’m just going to touch you,” he murmured. “Just my hand, stroking you, making you feel good.”

“Yes . . . I already feel . . .”

“How?”

“Like a kriver flying too close to the sun.”

“I promise, I’m not going to let you get burned.”

“I know.” Still, the breath hissed out of her, and she squeezed her eyes shut as his fingers slid downward, parting her silky folds and stroking her soft, sensitive flesh.

She was hot and wet to his touch, and he made a low sound of appreciation as he dipped one finger into her, moving his hand to give her maximum pleasure.

“That’s good. So good,” she gasped.

“Yes, love. Yes.”

She was panting, rocking against him, and he whispered low, encouraging words while he pushed her higher, closer to climax, until all at once he felt her body go tense and ripples of sensation beat against his hand as she cried out his name.

He cradled her against him, feeling the aftershocks flicker through her. Gently he tipped her head up so that he could brush his lips against hers, seeing the wonder in her eyes.

“I didn’t think I could let you get that close to me,” she whispered.

“But you did. And it was . . .”

“A trip to the center of the sun—and back.”

He smiled down at her, glad that she had given him her trust. Yet it was impossible to completely hide the tension still gripping him.

She drew back, studying his face. Then, in a rush, she slid her hand down and found his erection. When she moved her palm against him, he couldn’t hold back a shuddering gasp.

“We need to do something about this thing that’s had me so worried,” she whispered.

He gave a short laugh. “If you keep your hand there, it’ll take care of itself.”

She raised her head and searched his eyes. “Is that what you want?”

He thought about lying. Instead, he shook his head. “Not if I have a choice.”

“Then what should I do?”

“Nothing complicated. Just let me kiss and touch you some more.”

“But . . . I think I’m having most of the fun.”

He chuckled. “I guess you don’t know what a man in love considers fun.” Leaning down, he nuzzled his lips against her breast. “The thing I want most,” he breathed against her skin, “is to give you as much pleasure as I can, because my pleasure is tied to yours.”

“Then we’ll fly to the sun together,” she whispered, her heartfelt tone making his throat ache.

Gently, he pulled the tunic off her shoulders, freed her arms from the sleeves.

“So beautiful,” he breathed, as he looked down at her slender body before kissing her bare shoulders and working his way slowly down her body.

He kindled her need once more with his lips and hands. And when he knew he would die if he didn’t feel her silky skin pressed to his, he dragged off his pants and eased her on top of him, his hands on her back, moving her against him as he rained kisses over her face. She was wet and slick for him again, and she made tiny noises in her throat as she moved against the swollen length of him.

BOOK: Hero's Welcome
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