DELROI WARRIOR 2
Vidar Stian can’t come to terms with his past, and finding two mates he’s driven to protect, no matter the danger, isn’t helping. Especially when they refuse to be protected.
Somehow Marek Naveen has to convince them to give a relationship a chance because there’s no way he’s letting either one of them go.
She was on an alien planet. Even after two weeks, the bizarreness of that gave Angie a jolt. When Janice offered her and her daughter, Tessa a ride off Earth, she’d thought about it for about half a second before accepting. She’d been putting another plan in place but this expedited matters. A part of her felt guilty for abandoning what was left of her team. God, all the years she’d spent with those people to come to such an abrupt end? It was jarring. Surreal. But they understand she had to protect her kid first, and they were going underground too, in their own ways. She prayed they’d be okay.
Oddly enough, she’d come in search of the kind of refuge that could only be found with family. The tribe, as they called it, was large, full of siblings, aunts and uncles, third, fourth, fifth cousins, and on and on. They kept close on an old internet message board one of her great grandparents had set up. Or was it one more great? Anyway, the family sprawled across the Earth. It was hard to be a loner if you were part of the Marks tribe. She’d always thought it was the best secret society on the planet. Secret society in quotey fingers, of course. Nothing like her former military team which really was secret. There were important similarities, however. The tribe never betrayed each other and always supported each other. No matter where she’d gone on Earth she’d always found a cousin in the region she was visiting that was willing to meet for a leisurely lunch or drag her out to crawl the clubs after dinner.
So it wasn’t so odd to find yet another relative on Delroi, was it?
And, thank god, this one she knew better than most. Though in their family being close to someone never mattered. You were part of the tribe or not, and they always protected their own. We, she reminded herself. It was why she’d come to Delroi, though the friend who’d brought her hadn’t known that at the time. Well, Angie hadn’t thought Janice had. They’d known each other few years, most of the Earthling women on Delroi had strangely enough, but Angie had always used her married name and to her knowledge Kendall had never said anything about their relationship. But the names of all the Earth refugees had been run through Delroi channels before they’d boarded the ship.
Kendall hadn’t told her friends they were cousins, and Janice had been a little chagrined at the way she’d found out. In her and her cousin’s defense, they hadn’t seen much of each other over the last decade. When Angie’s assignments brought her into Kendall’s vicinity, they got together. That’s how she’d met the others at first, back at the beginning, though at one point or the other she’d also eventually worked with them on a peripheral level at least. They knew her as a spy, a special assignments soldier. They didn’t really know what she did.
Anyway the most secret part of her life, things she kept even from most of her closest friends and relatives, wouldn’t show up in a background check, but Angie should have realized her being a member of the quietly influential tribe would be noted. She’d used her real name after all. It wasn’t a secret, she just didn’t announce it. She hadn’t been able to use one of her established aliases since Janice knew her as Angie. It would have raised too many questions she couldn’t answer if she’d asked Janice to use another name.
Besides it was better to give Kendall warning she was coming. Angie had talked to her cousin briefly when she boarded the ship but this was the first time since her arrival they’d actually meet in person. She had no idea what to expect. Logically, with a member of the family, one would expect welcome or at least assistance in disappearing if that’s what was necessary. They could have done that for her and her daughter on Earth. Hell, she’d been arranging it but it had been taking time she wasn’t positive she had, and she much preferred to deal in certainties.
Tel had come snooping around her daughter, and like an idiot her guard was down. At the time, Angie had been undergoing treatment for brain tumors, a consequence of overusing her abilities for years. The medications were only effective if she didn’t strain her brain using those abilities. She hadn’t scanned before opening the door, and the telepath on the other side was skilled at erasing memories. A stupid mistake that could have cost her dearly. A stupider excuse.
After the encounter she’d briefly considered Tel in the deaths of her teammates, but discounted the possibility. They could have easily killed her that day, and it had been a serious mistake to not to. She’d had run-ins with Tel before. They had to have known she’d stash Tessa somewhere safe–with one of the tribe out of the country–and then go after them. She’d hoped Janice might be able to help unravel who had come exactly, but that was a bust. It hadn’t mattered. She was the best tracker on the planet and they were a threat she’d have no problems eliminating.
She didn’t have any doubts about her ability to deal with what was left of those rogue telepaths and telekinetics. It was the other enemy that worried her, the one she hadn’t been able to identify yet. No one here needed to know that, though. No one here needed to know she and Tessa were there because of her past. Not even her cousin. It was safer that way and Tel made a damned handy excuse.
So she’d taken Janice’s offer to flee and prayed the Alliance’s most secret files stayed that way. Kendall was a worry that had been nagging at her, however. Her cousin had something going here that she might want, or even need, a low profile for. She didn’t often work for Intelligence but sometimes… And really, why else was she on Delroi? Married to their warrior Overchief no less. No, she might not appreciate Angie showing up with Tessa, despite being nothing but friendly on the comm.
Angie heard a faint chime somewhere behind her. She was on the balcony of the suite she and Tessa had been given in the Keep where they’d just arrived for some big celebration, listening to the crash of the sea far beneath her and trying to settle her mind. Then she heard her daughter’s friendly chatter. Angie went inside to find her cousin and one of those massive Delroi warriors that were everywhere she looked, but this one seemed to be more than the others. More presence. More command. Well, he would make an impression, wouldn’t he? He was the Overchief of the warrior clans. Kendall was his wife, or mate as they said here, and damned if she didn’t look for all the world like none of that was an act. Huh. Angie didn’t want to think too much about that. Dangerous business this mating shit of theirs, and her logical, level-headed cousin falling prey to it? That was just wrong. Angie would be happy to avoid it.
Then Kendall grinned at her and Angie shelved those thoughts for later. Either she successfully hid her disquiet or Kendall ignored it. Angie never could really tell with her.
“Hey, cuz,” Kendall said. “Long time no see.”
Then their arms were around each other and Angie took her first steady breath in months. Kendall had that effect on people, probably from being a healer before anything else.
“I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome,” she whispered when Kendall stepped back. She got a censuring look for her doubt.
“We’re family,” Kendall reminded her.
And her expression said that not even their drifting apart in the last few years would alter their tight teenage years, a drift Angie’s work had made necessary and she’d never been able to explain. This time she grinned, remembering much more carefree days.
“We had fun, didn’t we?”
Kendall laughed. “We were a couple of wannabe rebels.”
She snorted. “In our dreams.”
No matter how unstable the world had been when they were teenagers, no matter how much some coveted their abilities–like Tel–they’d been part of a privileged few who were relatively safe. They knew it, and they’d been raised to be aware of it. Protect the family, the tribe, always, but never forget so many were so much worse off. Her and Kendall’s teenage rebellions had been pretty damned mild but wild in comparison to most of their cousins. Theirs was a family where responsibility, where duty, was taken very seriously. Even the fuck ups didn’t screw with that. But if you knew you were a threat, a danger, you got yourself hidden and they helped in any way they could. So she was on Delroi, and because of who they were Kendall would help her. Probably.
“I really am sorry to bring this to your doorstep,” she said softly. Her cousin just shrugged one shoulder, curled up one side of her mouth in a half smile, and squeezed Angie’s hand.
“The tribe comes first.”
“Always,” Angie answered in their unofficial motto.
Kendall turned to the warrior. “This is my mate, Daggar Torfa. Babe, this is my cousin Angie Crews and her daughter Tessa.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said. Babe? This couldn’t be a job. “Y’all sit down. Want something to drink?”
“Rumor has it, Janice brought a few cases of diet cola back with her.”
Angie grinned. “I think Falkor thought she’d lost her mind, and I’m pretty sure she set up some kind of standing order with every Trace ship that visits Earth to bring more. Britt was damned near delirious. She said you weren’t sharing your stash.”
“She did not!” Kendall exclaimed and then laughed.
“Oh yes she did.”
“Did you manage to get any from her?”
She opened the cooler door so Kendall could see inside. “I brought my own,” she drawled.
She got one for her and her cousin. Daggar opted for water, and they all sat down in the sitting area. Tessa had been unusually silent and finally spoke up once the adults had settled.
“Can I look around now, Mom? I want to see the pool and fountain Kareena told us about.”
Her first instinct was a firm no. Delroi was new to them and it hadn’t escaped her notice how carefully guarded women and children were here. It rankled, but she didn’t want to create problems for herself by breaking a local taboo. Tessa, on the other hand, was used to a lot more freedom. At least until Tel had showed up and they’d left Earth pretty quickly after that. Angie hesitated long enough answering that her daughter held up clasped hands in a pleading gesture complete with a pitiful expression. Daggar grinned and stood.
“I’ll take her and you two can have a few minutes alone before you join the rest of us.”
Angie let her shields drop enough to get a measure of him. She could taste a mind, and once done never forgot it. He was calm, controlled, steady with no stray thoughts leaking. She nodded and Tessa was off like a shot.
Kendall popped the lid on the cola, took a long drink, and sighed. “I love the man desperately, but I hope for its sake, this baby is not a girl.”
She stared. “You’re pregnant? So this is–.”
She cut herself off before real got tacked on the end of that sentence. Kendall gave her a wry smile. “You’re the professional spy, not me. Are you here on a job?”
She snorted. “No. I haven’t worked for the Alliance since the peace treaty. I didn’t even go back when the Delroi invaded except for a couple short recon trips.”
Kendall studied her, probably weighing the truth of her words. Angie didn’t blame her.
“Congratulations on the baby,” she said when her cousin remained silent and thoughtful. She hadn’t heard that on the family grapevine back home.
“We haven’t announced it yet. Just a few people know.”
“I won’t say anything.”
Kendall flashed a smile. “I know.” She paused and tilted her head to the side. “You could have found shelter with the family on Earth.”
“I figured I should put as much distance between us and Tel as possible.”
“According to the report I got, Tel was destroyed.”
“For how long?”
“Good point. We’ll go back to that in a minute.” She paused for another sip. “What would you have done if our healers couldn’t get rid of your tumors?”
What was that in Kendall’s voice? Judgement? Disapproval? Well, she didn’t have kids yet, and she didn’t have Tel panting after her daughter, either. Or a more dangerous, mysterious enemy. Angie had thought this out, and she’d talked to Janice before they left Earth.
“The doctors on Earth were treating them. They said I had a few years before things got critical, if they ever did.” A small misdirection. The doctors had believed that, but Angie knew better. “Janice promised to take care of Tessa if that happened. They’re close.”
“You asked Janice to train Tessa when you could have done it yourself?” It was an invitation to explain.
“I did.” Could she explain it without sounding like a mercenary bitch? She had to try. “When Janice came home she needed a…focus. And I figured it would be good for Tessa too, not to mention the added protection. I don’t think either one of us expected Tessa to really ever be in danger, but there it is. And now Janice and Tessa are connected. Janice will hide her and take care of her if it ever comes to that.”
“The tribe would have done that,” Kendall drawled dangerously. Angie had to head off that disapproval.
“Yes, but that’s a known connection, Kendall. And not only is Tel a continued threat, I have plenty of enemies of my own.”
“Ah, there it is,” Kendall said, satisfied. “I don’t believe for a minute Tel, or what remains of it, concerns you. What’s really going on?”
She should have seen that coming. Kendall had always been brilliant and she had access to excellent intelligence.
“What do you know?” she countered softly. If it had been noticed she needed to know. Kendall shook her head.
“The short answer is my team has been dying. Six out of ten at time we left Earth.” She shrugged. “Officially we were an ECF team, but we were on a black list. No one should have been able to come up with all our names much less link us together.”
“Were their deaths suspicious in any way?”
“No,” she said shortly. Decided to elaborate. “Two in a car accident, together, in a snow storm. One killed in action after signing on as a mercenary. Another a freak accident while remodeling his house. One accidentally ingested peanuts, the one thing he knew would kill him. And the last was shot in a mugging in Capital City.”
Angie wasn’t buying that for a minute. She and Jill had been in touch, had shared the same suspicions. Unfortunately, if she’d found out who had been picking them off, she kept it to herself. Or someone else got to it first. Angie had been through her house, her car, her online files, everyplace she could think to look for a message. There was nothing. Her cousin remained silent a long time.
“I want y’all to come home with me, but it might be better to keep a bit of separation. Daggar has enemies too,” she said dryly. “He’s planning to order all the clans to send a representative to the city. Since we’re keeping our relationship quiet you’ll stay with the Trace clan and come with Sergei. Have you met Kayna Idis yet?”
She shook her head. “We just got here.”
“It’s not widely known, but she’s an empath. She’ll be opening the goddess temple in the palace complex.”
An empath, like Tessa. Angie wondered if she’d be willing to take on a student. Even if she wasn’t, Angie would like to meet her. She got the feeling a priestess would be a valuable friend to have in this strange place, though from what she’d learned they had little sway in the northern clans. Still, they seemed to be the only Delroi women with any real power. Not that Angie had met many Delroi women. She spent most of her time with Janice or Britt.
“Okay. The healer in Saber City wants to do a couple more treatments, so Tessa and I might be a few days behind the others.”
“That works.” Kendall stood and smiled. “It is so good to see you again, Ang.”
Damn, it was. Even better was having a friend and ally close to hand. “It really is,” she said simply.
She didn’t need to explain.