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Born of Betrayal
By Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2015 Sherrilyn Kenyon
All rights reserved.
It was all-out war.
Prime Commander Galene Batur stared at the report of the League attack on an Andarion outpost where almost two hundred civilians had been mercilessly slaughtered.
And for what?
Human vanity? How she hated their inferior species. Humans had never brought her anything but utter misery. Now they had brought her a whole new bloody war that would cost the lives of countless Andarions. Cost her the lives of her loyal soldiers who would be forced to protect their repugnant species.
How she wished she could bomb the entire human race into oblivion.
She looked over her shoulder at her lieutenant commander's call. Dressed in the standard red and black Andarion command uniform, Talyn wasn't just her second-in-command and adjutant, he was the only male she'd ever trust at her back.
At twenty-nine, he stood head and shoulders above her, and most everyone else. Muscular and unbelievably handsome, he wore his long black hair in typical Andarion warrior fashion — tiny braids that were held away from his face by a red band. Her only complaint with him was the well-trimmed moustache and goatee he'd started wearing lately. It was a current fashion trend she didn't care for. At all. But he thought it made him look more masculine and sexy.
As if he needed help in either of those departments.
Still, his presence caused her heart to soften. It took everything she had not to reach out and cup his beloved cheek and kiss it tenderly. But he wouldn't approve of such open affection before the rest of their troops.
Her Talyn was always prim and proper. Always circumspect. Respectful.
Talyn saluted her. "I have an urgent message for you from the royal house."
Galene forced herself not to wince. It must be the tadara wanting information she had yet to gather about the attack.
Sighing that she didn't have more to offer, she headed for the secured line. She placed the link in her ear before she opened the channel.
Instead of Tadara Cairistiona eton Anatole, it was Tahrs Nykyrian who showed on her monitor. Unlike his fraternal twin brother who'd been removed from succession, Nykyrian appeared human with his white-blond hair and green eyes. The only part of him that betrayed his Andarion roots was his set of fangs ... along with his height and military prowess. While she might not appreciate his human half, she definitely respected his exemplary war record and battle skills.
She gave him a curt bow. "Your Highness, to what do I owe this honor?"
"I know you're busy, Commander, and I hate to take your attention away from our troops for even a second, but I have serious business to discuss with you. The Alliance has decided that we need a single military leader we can trust to oversee our joint forces and armies as we fight against The League. Your name was the first one to come to our minds, and we are all in agreement. We'd like to offer the position to you."
Stunned, she stared at him, amazed by the offer. "I'm honored, Highness."
"If you need time to think it over ..."
Was he serious? Who in their right mind would turn this down? This was a dream appointment anyone would kill to possess. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Galene would command the single largest military movement in the entire history of their United System of Planets.
"No, Highness. I would love to lead Alliance forces. I only have one concern. I know that part of our forces are Phrixian and Caronese." Misogynistic troops and armies that would balk heavily at taking orders from a female commander.
"You'll be assigned a male adjutant for handling them ... a well-respected Tavali commander. Likewise, you'll be responsible for dealing with the Qillaq directly, since they won't take orders from a male."
That was certainly true.
It was rare for any army to be as integrated with both sexes as the Andarions were. Male or female didn't matter. Only competence and lethal skill did.
"When would you like for me to start?" she asked.
"Immediately. The Tavali are on their way to you right now with a transport and your new adjutant. The two of you will be flown to their northernmost base, where The League has been making their heaviest strikes. All we'll need is for you to name your successor for the Andarion armada, until the war is over."
Galene gestured to Talyn. "We will see it done."
Nykyrian inclined his head to her. "Welcome aboard, Commander. May the gods smile upon you. Always."
"Thank you, Your Highness. I promise, I will do you, your mother, and Andaria proud."
"I know you will." He cut the transmission.
Galene stared at the blank screen as she considered this latest twist of fate.
Wow. She, the daughter her parents had callously thrown out from their house when she was just a girl, was going to lead their combined forces in the war against The League. If they won, she'd be eternally famous. Revered and renowned. A celebrated war hero equal to the beloved War Hauks who'd once saved their race from conquest and slavery.
If they lost, she'd be executed for treason.
One hell of a gamble. But then, as the Andarion armada's prime commander she'd die if they lost, anyway. At least as their military leader, it would all be in her hands, and if they failed, she alone would be to blame.
Thrilled and a little scared, she turned toward Talyn.
His beautiful white eyes glowed with loving pride. "Congratulations, Commander."
She smiled at him. "I shall name you the new prime commander of the armada."
He shook his head. "I will go with you to The Tavali."
"No ... you belong here."
"I belong at your back, Commander. Protecting you. Always."
"Mom," he stressed the word, making her realize that she'd dropped their strict military behavior first, by using his given name. "I will not stay here while you interact with others who could betray you. You will need a support staff you know is loyal to you and above reproach. Now more than ever. If you think for one moment that I will stay behind while you risk your life for all of us, you don't know me at all." His gaze burned into hers. "You go. I go."
She wanted to beat him. But how could she? "You are ever my pride."
"And you are ever my cherished mother."
Smiling, she pulled his head down so that she could press her cheek to his. "I love you, mi tana."
"I love you, too."
She fisted her hand in his hair. "I should order you to stay."
"Only if you wish to see me court-martialed."
She tugged at his hair. "Don't tempt me, scamp." Releasing him, she stepped away with a frown. "Call Commander Ilkin. We can promote him."
"Yes, ma'am. And I'll personally assemble an Andarion security detail for you."
Galene rolled her eyes at his paranoia — as if she couldn't protect herself. She would argue that with him, too, but he was far more stubborn than she was when it came to such things. Years of fighting his steel will had taught her that.
"See it done quickly."
He saluted her. "Yes, ma'am."
Her heart swelling with love and pride, Galene watched him leave to carry out his orders. In all the universe, he was the only family she had. The only family she needed.
You should have been a surgeon, Talyn. It was what she'd drilled into him from the cradle. But her ever-defiant boy had refused, and followed her into the military as soon as he graduated primary school.
Evil little booger. Stubborn and headstrong ...
Just like his father.
No one could ever tell him what to do. The gods knew she had tried. Many times.
Now he would follow her into war. It was the last thing she'd ever wanted for Talyn. But there was no way to keep him out of it. The time had come for all of them to choose a side.
At least this way I can keep an eye on him.
And she would tear apart anyone who threatened her baby.
Sighing, Galene took a moment to look around the Andarion command center that had been her home since Cairistiona had overthrown her own mother and assumed the throne. Talyn had been here, at her side, almost the entire time she'd led their armada. It would be weird to adjust to a new army. A new way of doing things.
But she was nothing if not adaptable.
Okay, not really. She hated change passionately. But she liked to lie to herself about her inflexible flexibility.
Still, a whole new chapter was about to begin for both her and Talyn. She didn't know what it would hold, but she couldn't wait to see where it led her.
Good wind blows to all ill things.
A chill went down her spine as she remembered her father's old saying. She only prayed that this time, he was wrong.CHAPTER 2
Fain felt his stomach shrink with dread as they dropped tether and called for the Andarion contingency they were here to pick up.
I fucking hate you, Jayne. This was why he didn't have friends. Why he didn't want them. Because they invariably did shit like this to him.
His brother, Dancer, and Dancer's friend Jayne thought it was funny to volunteer him to be the adjutant for a female who hated his guts with the fire of a million suns.
The last time he'd seen Galene Batur, she'd shoved his ass into a public arena with all his business hanging out, and had locked the door behind him. Something he'd been beaten for, and not just by his parents who'd been horrified by the indecent display.
He couldn't wait to see what Galene would do to him this time.
Probably shoot me.
If he was lucky.
If he was really lucky, it wouldn't be in his balls.
Sighing irritably, he stood up to get it over with. There was no need in delaying the inevitable. He might be a lot of things, but a coward had never been one of them.
And it wasn't like he hadn't been shot before. At least this time he had on battle armor. As long as she didn't shoot him in the head or groin, he would survive the encounter.
Dignity ... might be a problem. They were oh for seven on that one.
He hesitated by the door and pulled down a helmet so that he could add an extra layer of protection between his groin and whatever might go flying at a part of his anatomy he'd like to preserve. Though, to be honest, he wasn't sure why at this point. Not like he had many chances to use it anymore.
Don't go there.
Chayden clapped him on the back. "You all right, Hauk? You look like you're about to hurl."
Fain cut a glare toward his friend. Hurl? No ...
Fain's little brother came out of the holding area to stand next to him. "I'm with Chay. You look a little green, drey."
Fain dodged Dancer's hand as his brother reached to touch his forehead, and barely resisted the urge to slap him. "I know you were just a kid when I ran off with Omira. But do you remember the fact that I was pledged to an Andarion female before I married her?"
Dancer's jaw dropped. "No. I have no memory of that at all. Who were you pledged to?"
Fain faced the ramp that was lowering in front of them. "Prime Commander Galene Batur."
Dancer's curses rang in his ears as Fain headed down the ramp toward the one female he was sure would gut him on the spot. As he scanned the gathered Andarion soldiers, he kept the helmet carefully positioned.
Just in case.
His gaze went straight to her, as if it was drawn there by magic. Damn, was the first thought that went through his head. As with all Andarion females, Galene had been a gorgeous teen. But the adult warrior waiting on them had to be one of the sexiest, most beautiful of her kind. Because Andarions aged much slower than their human counterparts, she didn't appear any older than thirty.
Tall, lithe, and exquisite, she was dressed in a standard red and black Andarion battlesuit. One that hugged a body made to be privately worshiped by hours of leisurely naked activities.
He sucked his breath in sharply as an involuntary image went through his mind of her wrapping those long legs around him. He hadn't been this attracted to a female in a long time. Not since the last time he'd seen her.
Every part of him was alert and panting.
And he was twice as glad now for the helmet at his crotch. I should have worn looser pants. God help him if he had to sit down with a hard-on this fierce. That pain alone might kill him.
Something much easier said than done.
What the hell had I been thinking or drinking when I walked away from that?
Young and stupid didn't quite cover it. But then, there'd been extenuating circumstances that had forced his hand. Things that had made staying with her completely out of the question. Maybe I should have fought harder to stay.
Yeah, right. It hadn't been that simple.
A fight, he could have won. What they held over his head had been totally out of his control and beyond his young abilities to stop.
She looked up and met his gaze. His throat went dry as his body hardened even more and he remembered the way she used to look at him.
Like he was her cherished hero.
And I fucked her over. Badly.
Yeah, he'd earned the hell that had been his life. How he wished things could have been different. Especially between the two of them. While he'd been enamored of Omira, it was nothing compared to what he'd felt for Galene when they were kids. This was his first and only real love.
The one who'd gotten away and had haunted him every minute of his life.
His one true regret.
The worst decisions in life are always the ones we make out of fear. He hated to admit how right his father had been whenever the old bastard had quoted that. But life had shown him just how wise his father was.
At first, her gaze swept past him, to the other Tavali trailing in his wake. She had no idea who he was.
Not until he pulled his Tavali mask down and exposed his face.
* * *
Galene was impressed by the military formation and discipline of the Tavali crew — something she'd never expected from outlaw pirates who were as famed for their blatant disregard of rules and social conventions as they were for their savagery. While they each wore different uniforms and styles of battlesuits, they conducted themselves like any disciplined army.
She'd been told that they had their own set of laws they strictly adhered to, but she hadn't believed it.
This was impressive. And the one leading them was a huge, massive warrior. One equal in size to Talyn, which was quite a feat for any species. Tall and broad-shouldered with braided hair laced with bleached blond stripes, he was even more muscular than an average Andarion male.
And that swagger ...
It was masculine and mouthwatering. Confident. She had no idea of his species, but whatever it was, he did credit to it.
That was her thought until he stopped and stood with all of his weight on his left leg. She almost smiled at a commanding stance that was identical to one Talyn preferred, especially whenever he was uncomfortable with his surroundings.
The Tavali's gaze held hers hostage as he slowly reached up with one hand to lower the black and red mask that concealed his war-painted face.
Andarion. That explained his white eyes.
Just as she was sucking her breath in, in appreciation of his rugged handsomeness, recognition slammed into her. Yes, he was older and now sported three days' growth of his beard, but she knew that proud jawline. Knew those perfect, gorgeous features and caramel skin that had once set her on fire.
Actually, they still did. Only instead of lust, they filled her with raw, unmitigated rage.
Reacting on pure instinct, she pulled her blaster out and fired. The shot landed straight in his chest where his missing heart should have been.
Total chaos erupted as he fell to the ground and the other Tavali pulled their blasters out and took aim. As did the Andarion soldiers with her.
Throwing himself in front of her, Talyn pulled the weapon from her hand. He and the ten Andarions he'd chosen as her personal guard formed a wall between her and the others.
"Medic!" a human Tavali called out in Andarion.
"Arrest them!" a Sentella soldier demanded.
Galene looked past Talyn's shoulder to see Dancer Hauk, Fain's younger brother, calling out for the soldiers to secure her and her team.
Talyn moved in closer, to protect her.
"No!" She grabbed her son's arm to keep him from doing something even more rash than her stupidity. "Stand down!"
Excerpted from Born of Betrayal by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Copyright © 2015 Sherrilyn Kenyon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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