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Daggar Torfa, Overchief of the Warrior Caste of the planet Delroi, wouldn't say he was hiding. He stood in the shadows on the observation deck in the Royal Palace keeping watch over his sister in law, Laney. A job that should have belonged to his brother, but the responsibility fell on Daggar while Alrik was away looking into rumors of rebellion. Laney didn't know he was there and he didn't feel the need to clue her in. She'd overreacted already to their vigilance in watching over her, something that was unavoidable since she carried the heir.
As he watched, the shuttle landed in the bay and its ramp lowered. The baby was due in just a few weeks, two months at most, and his growth in his mother's womb was really starting to be obvious. Laney waddled across the tarmac of the landing bay to greet its disembarking passengers. He grinned. Not that he'd ever tell her she was waddling. He valued his skin too much.
If he felt the slightest pang of envy, he rationalized it was natural and forced it away. What red-blooded Delroi warrior didn't want to see his der'lan, the mate of his heart, heavy with his child? Unfortunately he had neither mate nor impending fatherhood to look forward to.
The number of females born on Delroi dwindled every year, a fact which had prompted them to invade Earth after his scientists assured him the Delroi would find mates there. The invasion of and subsequent treaty with the other planet had, in large part, been successful. The other planet was recovering from its long years of war with the help of the Delroi people. The trade was a bonus, but the real triumph was the number of mated pairs returning to Delroi in the last fewmonths. The women of Earth may save his planet after all. Not that things were going particularly smoothly. The grumbling on Earth had died down to be replaced by complaints on Delroi--that the process wasn't fast enough, that the Warrior caste benefited unequally.
To appease the people of Earth, the process of merging their peoples was cautious going. His detractors claimed it was too slow, purposefully dawdling, and the selection process to rotate to their colonies on Earth was weighted in favor of Daggar's allies. At the same time, very few people had been brought from Earth to Delroi and most of them were male.
But among today's arriving Earth contingent were two single women and he lurked in the shadows, watching with a small seed of hope. He felt different, as if his life would soon take another direction. He'd felt the same when his scientists came to him with the discovery of Earth. Somehow he knew his mate was going to step off this shuttle. Or maybe it was just a desperate wish. Foolish hope. He wanted what his brother had, even if he prayed his own mate would be more manageable.
Finally, people began to disembark. There were several men, from Earth and Delroi, a few women escorted by warriors and finally the two women Laney was waiting for. The first was petite, pretty with long black hair. His gaze dismissed her and zeroed in on the other one. He was overcome by a surge of lust so intense he almost hit his knees. This one, his soul cried out.
She spoke to the other woman as they walked down the ramp and he drank her in with a groan. Blonde, tall, curvy. She was dressed in no nonsense slacks and blouse and walked with a military bearing he couldn't deny. This was Laney's friend, the Army doctor who'd come to help deliver the first Delroi-Earth child, a suspicion confirmed when she reached the other woman and embraced her. Alrik would get a good laugh at his expense given how much Daggar had teased him over the past few months about not being able to control his independent, former-soldier mate. Instinct told him this one wouldn't be very obedient either. Would she at least privately be sub to his dom? He hoped so.
He abandoned his plan to stay hidden and went to the stairs, taking them two at a time down. When he reached the landing bay floor, he paused and took a deep breath. He needed more of a plan in mind than stalking over and pulling her into the closest empty room. Something told him she'd cause a scene if he tried.
It was Laney's laughter, her obvious pleasure in being reunited with her friends that spurred him into movement. But it was the other one, the blonde doctor, who arrested his attention. Her pinned-up hair was a pale, almost silvery blonde. She was taller than her friends, only a couple inches shorter than six feet. But her height in no way hid her curves, the soft voluptuously feminine body designed to drive a man crazy. To drive him crazy.
Her features were not the soft loveliness of her brunette companion or the striking sharpness of Laney's beauty. Her forehead was too high, her nose too straight to be considered a classic beauty. She was stunning all the same, with a calm regal air and an appraising startling green gaze that flared with heat when she met his eyes. To his disappointment she quickly suppressed it and he wondered what it would take to get it back, to make her lose control. He'd find out, and soon.
Laney met his gaze, arching one eyebrow and shifting her gaze back and forth, as if acknowledging the connection that sparked between him and her friend. How could she miss it? He couldn't peel his eyes off the woman.
"Daggar." She inclined her head. "I didn't think we'd see you until dinner."
"I had a free minute. Thought I'd stop by to be introduced to your friend," he said, reminding her without asking for an introduction.
He didn't want to appear overeager. Hell, who was he kidding? Laney smiled and there was a mischievous gleam in her eyes. She knew precisely what he was thinking. That was the problem with Laney, he and Alrik had both discovered. She always seemed to know exactly what they were up to.
"Of course," she gestured to the short brunette. "Britt Anderson. Daggar Torfa, Overchief of Delroi and my brother-in-law."
With a reserved smile the woman extended her hand and grasped his long enough to be polite while he gave Laney a disapproving frown. She hid a laugh with a cough.
"Britt is a wonderful painter. I think she's making this a working vacation. And," she said, turning to indicate the doctor. "This is Dr. Kendall Marks, another old friend who's come to deliver the baby."
When he clasped her hand, awareness surged between them and he had to force himself to release her. His surging cock protested the action, but she wrenched her arm back to her side as if shocked. Her eyes were suspicious and her expression became guarded.
"So, what do people call you?" she asked.
"My lord, usually." He grinned. "But since you're a friend of Laney's, I'm sure we will be friends too. Call me Daggar."
"Daggar seems too ... informal."
What had she meant to say? Familiar? Intimate? He knew when he heard his name on her lips it would be both familiar and intimate. He was surprised how much he wanted to hear her use it, surprised at how much he yearned for her approval, because he sensed she would withhold the use of his name until she decided how she felt about him, until she didn't find him lacking.
It rankled a little that she didn't immediately fall at his feet, but it also pleased him that she was a cautious woman. If she weren't she could have easily been married to some human man by now. The idea of her being with another man, of belonging to another, filled him with fury. He tried to control it, push it away. She was free, so might have wasn't important. He wasn't so successful at keeping the anger out of his eyes though and when he pinned her under his gaze, she flinched and stepped back half a step. He needed to get away, get a grip on his wild emotions.
Bowing low, he took his leave, promising to see them at dinner. He needed to see to their room assignments, make sure she was in one that was easily accessible from the tunnel hidden in his. He had the perfect room in mind. It overlooked the gardens in the family wing and had a bed big enough for his large frame. The four posters would be perfect for securing her. His cock expanded at the thought. If he could get a grip on himself before dinner, it wouldn't be so hard to arrange another meeting. He knew Laney planned on giving the women a short tour and had a good idea what her final destination would be.
From the shadows, another man watched the unfolding scene between the three human women and Daggar Torfa with dismay. Barak Trace, Commander of Intelligence, hadn't planned on watching the disembarkment, hadn't wanted to be here at all, but with Alrik in the Southern Provinces checking up on the usual rebels he'd had no choice. It was easy enough to take time out to observe, easy enough to monitor the arrival of just one passenger. But the traveler, her background, and what he suddenly, achingly realized she meant to him were not so simple to handle.
They ran checks on all humans requesting to visit Delroi of course, and usually those reports were straightforward and easily verified. When Britt Anderson's application went through his office, he didn't think much of it. She wanted to travel with a friend that turned out to be a friend of Laney Torfa, General Alrik's mate. Such requests were not unusual and a small handful of human women had made their way to Delroi in such a fashion. But Lady Torfa was not an average female, even for Earth. Neither were her friends as it turned out.
Many people wouldn't have been apprehensive, but he'd made a career as a spy, and before that spent his childhood wary, cynical and untrusting. So when Britt Anderson's background check came back, he scanned it quickly. Then read it carefully. She was a famous painter on Earth, true. She had showings and sales going back two decades. A child prodigy. But there were curious holes in her past. Months or years at a time where she seemed to completely disappear. It alerted him, made him anxious and suspicious.
Luckily, in the last few months he'd cultivated contacts inside the Earth Alliance and was able to get her records. He went through all his lower level contacts before one with a high security clearance found the information he was after. She was a talented and valuable spy, her files indicating she was on inactive duty. It was only his perseverance, his sixth sense screaming at him this woman was not who she claimed that made him take it that far.
He and Alrik had argued over it for weeks before Alrik made the decision to let her come. He rationalized the Earthlings only wanted more in depth information. Information they were unsure of coming from Lady Torfa. Barak was not so sure, but he knew his place, understood his position in the chain of command. He could advise, was often heeded, but the final call would never be his. So with Alrik gone, he'd come here to witness this inauspicious occasion. The arrival of the first spy from Earth.
The problem was--and he admitted his problems were legion at this point--the woman could not be ignored. She was his and he did not have time for the complication she presented. Nor did he have the heart to send her home. If he was in a better mood or a humorous kind of man, he might have found it funny. Ironic even. The Delroi master spy's der'lan was, well, a spy. Who said the gods didn't have a sense of humor?
He watched Daggar take her hand in his, felt the growl rise in his throat. Daggar released her quickly and she glanced around, her eyes searching the shadows. He felt the weird flare of energy he'd learned to associate with psychics using their power. There was no way she could see him, but she'd sensed his regard and his displeasure at her touching another man. He moved farther back, pressing his spine into the wall behind him, and took deep meditative breaths. He must remain in control, but his job was suddenly complicated beyond anything he'd ever experienced. Ferret out the rebel plot, protect Lady Torfa, the doctor who'd come to visit her and belonged to his Lord if Daggar's reaction to her was anything to judge by, and the other. Britt. His own der'lan, though he couldn't afford to claim her right now. Could he ever?
He'd managed to infiltrate the rebel force, but if they discovered what he was, who he was, anyone and everyone that meant anything to him would be considered fair game. He'd protect her at all costs, which meant he must stay away from her. He felt a stabbing in the vicinity of his heart and his Delroi genetics came roaring to the forefront, demanding he go after her, claim her, rut with her. Gritting his teeth, he didn't move. He was better than biology. Smarter than biology. DNA be damned. He'd keep her safe whatever way he had too.