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By Kate Douglas
Aphrodisia BooksCopyright © 2012 Kate Douglas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIf she'd had her human body—the one she loved with the violet eyes and long dark hair—Zianne would have wept. This one could only feel sorrow—not physically express it. She'd left Mac only moments ago—a few minutes for her and almost twenty years for him. It had been such a simple thing to make her nightly slip through time, passing from twentieth-century Earth and returning to the Gar's craft in its stationary orbit behind the twenty-first-century moon.
How had they discovered her absence?
She'd been so careful. Her fellow Nyrians had covered for her, yet somehow the Gar—their captors—knew. The Nyrian elders had warned her as soon as she materialized within the ship. They'd explained that her soulstone was locked away; that the Gar waited, ready to entrap her, should she come to claim it.
Once they knew which one of their captives had been stealing away and visiting Earth, they intended to make an example of her. She would die a very public and painful death, her energy slowly, painfully leached away until nothing was left.
Until even her soulstone crumbled into dust.
It was too soon. She and Mac were close, but she hadn't had time to teach him enough. The technology he was beginning to develop in Earth's year nineteen hundred and ninety-two was much too primitive. He'd had twenty years, but still, he couldn't possibly have learned enough to create the sophisticated equipment with the kind of power they needed to free Zianne and the few survivors of her race.
But she had no choice. She'd been away from her soulstone for twelve full hours. If she returned to the past, she'd use up what energy she had left. Her only hope—her people's only hope—was that somehow, some way, MacArthur Dugan had pushed Earth's technology far enough, fast enough, to have everything ready by now—now being twenty years later for Mac.
Had he loved her enough? Had he believed in her enough to embrace her goal as if it were his own? Did he still love her? It had been mere minutes for Zianne since Mac last held her in his arms, since he'd made love to her, but it had been twenty long years for her beloved Mac. Would he even remember her?
And if he remembered, would he forgive her for abandoning him without warning? At least she had hinted to him this might happen, that her absence might be discovered before their work was done. She'd worried that the truth might turn him away, but instead it had pulled him closer. He hadn't shied away from the truth at all—instead, he'd embraced her.
Embraced her cause.
He'd already guessed she wasn't human, that she was an alien being, so it wasn't a terrible leap to explain the rest, that she was one of the last few members of a dying race, a creature of pure energy given form through the power of his mind.
Most precisely, his amazing sexual fantasies, images so strong and true that they had given her a glorious body and so many wonderful human abilities.
He'd loved her then. She had to believe he still loved her. She had entrusted the entire future of her people to one brilliant man. A man she had fallen in love with despite the differences between them.
She would not give up hope. Her people could not abandon hope. With that prayer in mind, Zianne slipped into the engine room where her fellow captives surged and glowed, powering the Gar's vast starship with their sentient energy. Pausing near the heart of the ship, she sent her thoughts out to the ones who labored for their unrelenting masters.
I am returning to Earth. Mac may not have had enough time or enough knowledge to build the antennae and receivers for us. If he can't help us within the next couple of days, my energy will cease and I will die, but before I'm gone, I'll do my best to convince him to keep trying. I am certain he will do everything he can to save all of you. He's a good man. A loving man, but he's only human. He can only do so much.
She heard Nattoch's measured tones, the Nyrian elder who had trusted her to find a way to free them from bondage.
Dear Goddess ... she hoped she had not failed.
Go with Nyria's blessings, child, and go with what soul energy we can share. You have done all you can and yet you continue to forge ahead. If you fail, your soul will return to our goddess. If you succeed, you will have saved these poor remnants of a once proud civilization. Our love goes with you. Our hopes and our dreams and what little strength you can carry. Now quickly, before you are discovered. Find your human, and bring us to our new home. Our refuge on Earth.
She might not be able to weep in this form, but her sorrow was every bit as real, her fear as profound. She felt it then, a powerful burst of energy as her fellow Nyrians fed her with what they could from their own souls. Shivering with the sensual wave of power flowing across her body, she took them into her, took their love and their generosity, and along with that, their hopes and dreams.
With a final glance at the few remaining members of her kind, Zianne slipped through the molecular structure of the ship into the endless darkness of space.
She searched for the one mind strong enough to call her.
Searched for him now, in the present.
It took longer than she'd expected. He was changed. Older now. Weary. So weary and alone, and yet he thought of her. Still loved her, longed for her, and dreamed of her.
With hope driving her onward, Zianne linked her energy to his, and followed the patterns that would take her back to Earth. Back to an Earth twenty years older than the one she'd left this morning.
Back to MacArthur Dugan. An older, more jaded, more cynical Mac Dugan, who, with Nyria's blessing, might hold the power and the knowledge to give her people their last shot at a future.
Rodie Bishop paused in the open doorway to the large conference room, hesitating as she might not have done just a few months ago. She forced her active mind to still, to expand and experience. The room was big and sterile and almost empty—a typical corporate meeting room designed to hold hundreds, not a mere handful. She'd been here for five prior meetings over the past two months. Those other times the room had overflowed with people, had been filled with a different energy.
This time, the occupants were changed, the mood altered, and so she used this new sense she had that occasionally allowed her to check things out on a different level. A more intimate level. Casting her thoughts forward, she studied the room and the few souls in it as she worked up the courage to go inside.
Stupid, really, the way she'd become such a damned coward almost overnight, but a violent assault on her way home from work had really done a number on her—that along with the world's worst breakup. Of course, that had been so bad it was almost funny.
Maybe someday she'd actually be able to laugh, though she couldn't see it all as bad. Not when the combination of crap had somehow kick-started this weird thing in her head. A new ability that allowed her to sense danger, to pick up on the various kinds of energy swirling about.
She'd always been a perceptive sort, but now? Now she took perception to an entirely new level that was beyond exciting. She just wished there was someone she could tell about it, but who the hell would believe her? Most of her acquaintances already thought she was nuts.
Casting her thoughts wide, she felt nothing that raised any concerns. She took a deep breath, focused on one of the empty seats, and stepped into the room.
So weird that there were only three others here, especially since the room was big enough to seat so many more. Though the gatherings had grown smaller each time, she'd still expected it to be more crowded. It was, after all, the final meeting. Tonight they'd find out who had been selected.
There was a young man in the third row, but he looked half asleep, slouched down low in the uncomfortable-looking chair with his long legs stretched out in front. His shaggy dark hair had fallen over his forehead so she couldn't really tell what he looked like, but the way his worn, paint-stained Levi's molded to his long legs and well-defined package caught her interest.
At least she was thankful the bastard who roughed her up only wanted her backpack and laptop. She wasn't sure how she'd feel if the attack had screwed up her appreciation for sex.
No, that was functioning as well as ever, thank goodness, in spite of the assault that happened shortly after that little incident with the ex-boyfriend. If catching him in her own bed with both a woman and another man hadn't screwed up her libido, she figured nothing would.
And it was almost worth it for the satisfaction she'd gained from running all three of them out of her apartment, so terrified of her Taser they'd escaped the place stark naked.
If only her neighbor hadn't caught the entire thing on his mobile phone. Unfortunately, that was the sort of video just crying out for mass distribution on the Internet, but the best part was, he'd focused on her naked ex-boyfriend, the woman, and the other guy. Rodie'd been little more than a mass of swirling dark hair and the zapping buzz of the Taser gun.
Yep. She bit back a smile. Some bad things were worth going viral, if only for the joy of revenge. She grinned for the first time today, and took another appraising look at the cute dude. Opened her senses to him. Nothing on the mental level beyond a soft buzz. Maybe he was napping, but she didn't really care. On second glance, he looked young—hardly out of his teens.
Jailbait wasn't on the menu.
Her gaze slid over to a really cute white girl in the front row. She had long brown hair—board straight—a perfect little nose and a big smile. Another kid. She looked too damned perky, as far as Rodie was concerned, but there was always one in every crowd.
Of course, now that she'd hit thirty, Rodie figured everyone looked younger than she did.
The only other person already here, another guy, sat in the very back row. Dark hair, long legs, and something about him that was so blatantly carnal she caught herself sliding her tongue over first her upper lip, then the lower. Hell, there was no reason for it—he was just sitting there with his back to her, but damn!
He'd turned his chair and had it tilted back on two legs with his feet planted firmly on the wall. Cords from his earbuds disappeared over his shoulders. It looked like he was listening to his iPod while playing with his phone.
Now this was a guy who made sense, even if her reaction to him didn't. He was here, but controlling his own space. She liked that. Forcing herself to look away, Rodie shoved her hands into her back pockets, sauntered into the room, and took a seat on the far side, fifth row back, so she could watch the door.
This couldn't be everyone. When they'd started the selection process, there'd been over a thousand applicants, originally meeting in three separate groups. Even though a lot of them had been dropped, there'd still been almost two hundred people the last time they'd met. Where the hell were they?
As Rodie scrunched into her chair, a tall, slim black girl, much darker than Rodie, paused in the doorway, looked around, and then stepped into the room. She practically oozed class, and Rodie bet the chick's snazzy little handbag alone probably had set her back a good six hundred bucks. She walked with long, purposeful strides and took a seat toward the back, on the side opposite the guy with his feet on the wall.
It appeared they were all staking out their territory.
Opening her senses, she realized the buzz of energy in the room felt charged—more like there were dozens of people here rather than just the five of them.
Rodie checked her watch. Four minutes after seven. Where the hell was everyone else?
A new guy strode into the room. No hesitation there. Rodie sat up and watched him. This one acted like he owned the place with his tousled dark blond hair almost artfully disarranged and bright blue eyes darting from one person to another as he checked everyone out. Another gorgeous guy? Damn ... did the men get picked for their looks? He caught her watching him and flashed a bright grin, walked across the room, and sat a couple of seats away.
He leaned close and whispered, "Where is everyone? I'm never early, so ..."
Rodie laughed. "I was just wondering the same thing."
At that moment, an older man stepped into the room and the energy sizzled. Rodie's breath caught in her throat. This guy actually did own the place. It was him—MacArthur Dugan—in the flesh. And oh, mama, but it was mighty fine-looking flesh. She flashed a grin at the guy next to her and straightened in her seat, eyes forward.
She'd heard so much about Dugan that she felt like she knew him, but she'd never actually seen the man in person. The prior meetings had all been run by other people within his company, but she'd followed media reports of Dugan for years. He was considered a god in the industry, his every move fodder for the evening news. In media clips he was usually at an opening of some play or speaking in front of Congress or doing something that required a suit and tie.
Sometimes he had a beautiful woman on his arm; other times he traveled with a well-known, openly gay news anchor. Nils something-or-other. Tall guy, blond hair. Also gorgeous. No one knew if the two had something going, if Dugan was gay or straight, but as hot as the dude was, as much money as he had, did it really matter?
It appeared he was alone tonight, and he'd discarded the suit and tie for a more relaxed look. Holy crap, but the dude even looked hot in worn jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt.
The guy even had tats. A big stylized cross of some kind spread from his right shoulder almost down to his elbow. He was definitely better-looking than on TV, with that thick, dark-blond hair and absolutely brilliant blue eyes. Rodie knew he was in his mid-forties, but he didn't look more than about thirty or so. Probably all that money. Any guy rich as Mac Dugan had access to whatever it took to look hot.
He bounded up the four stairs to the stage, walked across to the podium, and glanced around the room. Then he frowned. "This won't do at all," he said. He crooked his finger overhead and pointed toward the door. "Follow me."
Rodie glanced at the guy beside her, shrugged, grabbed her backpack, and stood. Like a bunch of mismatched sheep, the six of them followed him through the door. Dugan waited just outside. "Break room's this way. It's a more intimate setting for what we need to discuss."
No one said a word, but they all followed him down the broad hallway into a smaller room with black granite counters, coffee machines, soft drink dispensers, and a tray of donuts that had probably been fresh sometime this morning. A large oak table with matching chairs all around dominated the space in the center.
Dugan took one of the chairs. The rest of them each found a seat around the oval-shaped table. Rodie glanced to either side of her. The smiley guy who'd been next to her in the first room was on her left; the one who'd had his feet planted on the wall sat on her right.
Good god, but she was surrounded by pheromones. At least earbud dude had removed the buds, turned off his iPod, and stashed his phone. Everyone appeared totally relaxed, but Rodie could feel the buzz, as if their curiosity was cranked up on high. She toned down her sensory abilities, thankful she'd at least learned how to do that much.
In the beginning, when this new ability of hers first appeared, picking up on everyone's mood had almost driven her off the deep end. She was still learning how to work it, how to make it work for her, not against her. She forced herself to relax, glanced at Dugan, and waited. He smiled at her and then planted both his hands on the table.
"This is better," he said. "I'm MacArthur Dugan, and you six are the only ones to make the cut out of over a thousand original applicants. I appreciate your willingness to hang on through what has to have been a frustrating and seemingly interminable selection procedure, but all those questions and tests were essential to my project. It's my hope that you'll decide to stick with it once you hear the details."
Wow. Rodie took a new look at the others and wondered what the six of them had that the other thousand-plus didn't.
Excerpted from DREAM BOUND by Kate Douglas Copyright © 2012 by Kate Douglas. Excerpted by permission of Aphrodisia Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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