Read an Excerpt
The jungle was humid and no wind blew through the Temple as Dr. Elise Fleming packed her equipment into her shoulder bag. She didn't want to leave, but her boss insisted the archeological dig go in shifts. Five days on and five days back at the colony.
And Elise knew Dr. Carstairs was correct. The drug Synthetic Endorphin Xstasy or S.E.X. bubbled in her blood. Its effects would force her to masturbate before the day was gone and before she reached the hub of Asberek, the Causeway.
She shouldered her bag and grinned at her newly arrived colleagues. "How was the ride down?"
Dr. Mosley wiped his brow. "Those ATHV's are too slow. I wish we could shuttle our way out here."
The All Terrain Hover Vehicles were the best means of travel in the jungle, but it still took eight hours to get back the colony. Elise made sympathetic noises and showed the two men her progress at the site. As they settled in to work, she headed for the entrance.
Elise waved goodbye to them and strode into the Temple courtyard. She wished she could shut off her brain. At Dr. Mosley's mention of the word "shuttle" unwanted memories filtered to the forefront of her thoughts and wouldn't go away.
Don't think about it. Or him.
She sighed as she climbed into the ATHV for her trip back to the Causeway. The rest of her team had gone back earlier and it would be a pleasure to have some time alone.
An explosion from the Temple sent stones flying everywhere.
They pelted the ATHV and Elise dove for the floor of the vehicle as several rocks smashed the plastic windows.
Pebbles still dripped from the sky as debris scattered on the ground. Elise scrambled outand raced to the Temple entrance. Stones blocked it but she climbed through a small space between them enough to see the damage.
Two human figures were smashed and broken on the Temple floor, their blood seeping into the stone.
On a shuttle to the starship The Zenith, Elise tried to relax. After the last twenty-four hours of insanity, she was glad to get away from Asberek and the colony and everything. Why she had to have an emergency meeting with the general right now was beyond her. Twenty-four hours ago, two of her colleagues had been killed in a rigged explosion that collapsed part of the underground maze beneath the Temple. Dead.
All she wanted to do was keep working, keep digging at the mysterious Temple on Asberek. It was the only way to make the death of her friends mean something. Instead, she was on a damn shuttle to meet with a bunch of military drones. She hadn't even showered. The dust from the explosion still drifted from her hair when she ran her hand through it. The sight of those two twisted bodies was burned in her brain. Now, instead of some Virtual Fantasy Room time and a nice hot shower, she had been ordered to attend some high muckety muck meeting about the destruction of the Temple.
As she disembarked from the shuttle a well-armed soldier snapped to attention and escorted her down a series of confusing corridors to a nondescript conference room with a plastic table and plush chairs.
Seven people sat around the table. She was slightly relieved when she saw Dr. Jenia Carstairs and Paul Lestrano filling two of the seats.
Six months ago, her fellow scientist, with the help of the Tribunal soldier, Paul Lestrano, and herself, had averted an interstellar war between the Ang and the Dormrela. They revealed the desperate Ang plot to continue their species with the use of human DNA. Dr. Carstairs' discovery that human beings were the distant genetic ancestors of both the Ang and the Dormrela led to a tentative peace between the three civilizations.
All of that was in jeopardy.
The damage to the Temple and the death of two Earth scientists would lead to interstellar conflict unless Elise could discover the secrets there. She was convinced that peace between the races could be achieved if she could translate the writings she'd found there.
The General sat at the head of the table with Captain Jake Tarune at his left. She knew very little about the Captain, but enough to trust him. Another woman sat at the Captain's right, her dark hair complemented the gold colored eyes that were focused on Elise's face. Sashina Matins and Troy Lider were there as well. Elise had gotten to know them on that harrowing trip to the Temple when the Ang plot had to be stopped. Sashina's long, curly hair was up in a tight bun and Troy's dark gaze was serious.
This meeting wasn't going to be a pleasant one.
Introductions were made and Elise discovered the woman beside Captain Tarune was the famous Daniella Pearce, who'd stopped Donny Pasquel from destroying the Asberek colony.
Don't think about him.
The General commanded their attention. "We have a situation and Earth Central issued orders to deal with it." The old man's voice sounded resigned. "Captain, would you please give us your report?"
Tarune turned his gaze to a holo crystal of the Temple that appeared in the center of the table. "The Dormrela have lodged a formal complaint with Earth Central about the dig here at the Temple." Tarune glanced at Elise. "Dr. Fleming, please understand that I had no part in gathering the following information."
Elise tensed. This couldn't be good.
"Earth Central tapped your email and discovered the threats you received." Tarune's gaze was intense. "Why didn't you inform us immediately?"
"I saw no reason to. The threats were vague," she said defensively. It was easy to see she should have, but that was hindsight. "I received several threats in the last five years, most of them from fringe groups who are against colonization. I didn't see that these were any different."
"But they were."
Elise's stomach dropped. Could she have prevented the deaths of her friends?
"I have reason to believe the threats are not connected to the explosion," Jenia spoke up.
"Your evidence?" The General barked at Jenia and Elise noted Paul glared at the man and took Jenia's hand in solidarity.
"Those were not explosives I've ever seen on Earth." She passed out several vid cards and inserted one to the vid viewer on the table. Several symbols popped up. "The chemical composition is nothing humans make or use. I'd say this was an alien job."
Elise sighed in relief.
"The fact remains that Dr. Fleming is a target. It's clear they were trying to kill her," the General interjected. "We have received a direct order to assign someone to protect her. A Tribunal Elite soldier has been chosen to be her bodyguard."
"Not Paul," Jenia protested. "He's retired."
"No, not Paul," Tarune commented and pressed a button. "Will you come in now, Lieutenant?"
The door whooshed open and the air left Elise's lungs as she glimpsed who was going to be her guard.
Why did this have to happen now? Dr. Elise Fleming shot a glance at her new constant companion, who stood in the shadows. Donny Pasquel. Her brush made a quiet swish sound as she brushed away centuries of dirt from her precious artifacts. No one else knew this temple better than she did. No one knew more about the Dormrelian culture or the now extinct Asberekian population than she did.
And someone didn't want her to uncover the secrets that lay in the temple's ruins.
Six months ago, this temple had been off limits to any of the scientists stationed on Asberek. It was an order given by a man later revealed as a murderer. Even after all this time, Dr. Philo Riggo's reasons for killing three people in the colony on Asberek were shrouded in mystery. Controlled by the Ang, an alien race from a planet in the same system as Asberek, Dr. Riggo manipulated the findings on the planet to suit some Ang purpose no one had yet unraveled.
She shot another covert glance in his direction and found him staring at her. Heat flooded her body, a feeling she was familiar with. After all, you can't have wild, rough sex with someone and not react when they stare at you.
It had only been once, but that was enough.
The drug in the planet's atmosphere caused the collision between them. Synthetic Endorphin Xstasy was lethal when too much collected in the human body and, though the name had been a joke, the only way to get rid of it wasn't funny. Constant masturbation and use of the Virtual Fantasy Rooms were the most commonly used tools to keep the drug at manageable levels. Actual intercourse was even better.
In the forests of Asberek six months earlier, far from a Virtual Fantasy Room, she and Donny found themselves waiting for a shuttle together, alone. Both of them needed relief from the effects of the planet's atmosphere.
What had happened was inevitable, but for Elise, very embarrassing.
They crouched in the vegetation near the coordinates of the shuttle landing. They'd left Dr. Carstairs and Paul Lestrano to deal with the Ang and escaped with evidence that the Dormrela and the Ang both played a part in the destruction of the Asberekian society and the peril that faced the human colony newly settled there.
Donny still wore the remnants of the injections of Dormrelian DNA that he'd been tricked into taking. The scales appeared in random places and Elise tried to resist the urge to stroke them and see if they were as hard as they looked.
He turned his head and his piercing blue eyes pinned her. "Go ahead."
She frowned. Did he read minds? "Go ahead and what?"
"Go ahead and touch them. You've been staring at them for twenty minutes." He smirked. She held his gaze. What sort of man could hold up under what he'd gone through? Since he was twelve years old, he'd been deceived by an advanced alien race and given injections he knew nothing about that suppressed his higher brain function, his moral center. The devastating truth of the things he'd done under the influence of the Dormrelian ambassador must eat at him.
There was no softness in the man. He was hard inside and out. But that was part of his appeal for Elise. She didn't want soft. She didn't want the tender caresses most women seemed to crave.
With a hesitant hand she reached out and ran her fingers along the ridge of one of the scales. When he shuddered, her gaze shot to his face. His hard features were lined with intense desire. His eyes closed as she stroked down his arm to the next scale near his elbow and back up to his bicep.
His eyes flew open and his gaze met hers. What happened next was a blur of movement. He leapt at her with a growl and she met his attack with open arms. In a heartbeat, their clothes were flung left and right and he loomed over her, naked, glorious. His blond hair was skewed and his chiseled body flexed along hers. She groaned and rubbed her skin against his. The ridges of the scale remnants bit her flesh and scraped her skin. The sensation of his hard body pressed into hers was intoxicating.
Without a word, he gripped her wrists in one large hand and slammed them over her head. With his other hand, he pinched her clit in a rhythmic pull. The pain and the pleasure sent her into an instant reeling orgasm. She cried out when he bit her neck and marked her. Her hips sought his cock and angled to find completion. His hand, trapped between them, continued to torture her, not with gentle caresses, which would have left her cold, but with slaps and pinches that made her wet and needy.
Finally, he thrust his penis inside her, rough, hard, fast. She met him slide for slide, thrust for thrust. When the force of his ejaculation careened into her waiting channel, she slammed into one of the longest and most intense orgasms she'd ever had.
She floated back to reality to find Donny staring at her. Then, in an abrupt move, he released her hands and flung away from her. He never said another word but dressed in absolute silence. The whole thing had taken maybe ten minutes.
In an instant, she felt ashamed. It was clear he'd been disgusted by her response and only fucked her because he needed to. From now on, she'd stick to the damn VFRs.
Of course, Earth Central knew nothing of this when they'd assigned him to guard her. The Virtual Fantasy Rooms, designed to deal with the hazards of space travel and adapted to provide relief from S.E.X., became her refuge.
The fact that she often chose to use a hologram of Donny as her fantasy lover seemed innocent. But now, he was here, in the flesh. The reality of his presence emphasized the emptiness of the VFR hologram.
"How much longer will you be, Dr. Fleming?" he asked her, his voice deep and hard, like the rest of him.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm almost done for the day."
"Good. We should head back to the Causeway before sundown." Nothing in his stance or his tone revealed how he'd once touched her, driven her to madness.
As she stood, she wiped dust off her coveralls. Small grains of dirt drifted from her dark, spiky hair. She ran a quick hand through the strands and shook her head to dislodge the dust.
The other diggers had left the day before with a contingent of soldiers, but Elise had insisted on staying. Even after the threats. Even after the deaths. Something was here. Something that explained what really happened all those years ago on this planet.
Something the Ang and the Dormrela both wanted to keep a dark secret.
What could be worse than the ethnic cleansing of an entire population? The fact that the Dormrela accidentally poisoned the Asberekians was out in the open, as was the fact that the Ang caused the ultimate extinction of the human-like culture here. But there were questions.
The Ang destroyed the Asberek population and had not explained why. "Failed genetics" seemed a weak and dishonest excuse. Elise was determined to find the answers.
"Are you ready?" Donny's voice broke into her thoughts.
She nodded and took one last glance around. The dark, grey stone with the now familiar side-by-side circles of Dormrelian origin was covered with green moss and damp streaks. Dust covered everything from the collapse of the ceiling when Dr. Riggo had tried to kill Paul Lestrano and Jenia Carstairs, and the explosion the week before that damaged the floor.
Elise sighed. It was going to be a long time before they uncovered the secrets of the temple. She turned abruptly and stooped to pick up her pack with all her tools and equipment. Only to find a large hand gripped the handle first.
As Donny slipped the pack's strap over her shoulder, she ignored the jump in her own pulse and kept her gaze averted from his face. Her desire must be so annoying to him.
She walked out into the sunlight as it dimmed into evening. The cool breeze reminded her that they still had an eight hour drive ahead of them. Five days back at the complex would be relaxing. Without a VFR at the temple site, most of the scientists were on their own as far as fighting the affects of S.E.X.
It was difficult to remember to breathe when Donny loomed behind her. Eight hours and she'd be able to fantasize about him in private without his ever disturbing presence. She shot a glance at him, and he stared at her with an inscrutable expression. How she wished she could read his mind. What did he think when he looked at her that way? Did he think about the sexual collision that haunted her? Probably not.
She broke eye contact and strode over to the ATHV. She placed her pack in the back and slipped into the passenger seat. Donny didn't say a word as he started up the engine and headed down the rough track that led back to the Causeway.
An hour later she had to tell him to stop. She wasn't stupid. The chemical raged through her body, and the last time she'd let it get out of control, Dr. Carstairs had to shoot her up with a suppressant. She didn't want that again.
"Pull over." She gripped the side of her door. "I have to stop." She had to be beet red as he shot a dark look at her.
"Fine." He veered to the side and she hopped into the bushes, her bag over her shoulder. She was going to need her little vibrating friend.
Or maybe she wouldn't. On stealthy feet, she crept back to the vehicle. Donny had stepped to the left of the road and had dropped his pants.
With a deep hunger, she watched as his hand gripped his cock and stroked it back and forth. As silent as possible, she unbuttoned her coveralls and thrust her hand down her panties. She touched her clit in rhythm with his fingers and her breath caught as heat licked along her veins. She bit her lip to keep from groaning out loud as he growled low. His strokes increased in strength and speed as Elise thrust two fingers in her pussy. She squirmed and arched as the tension in his muscles etched lines in his face. His fingers circled the head of his penis faster and faster, and she slid her fingers inside her pussy at the same rate until she splintered and bit back a cry of pleasure. The sight of his cum exploding from his cock only made her hotter, needier.
He leaned one hand on the tree in front of him, and she desperately tried to catch her breath. With unsteady hands, she fumbled with her coverall buttons and that familiar shame washed over her. What was it about the drug and Donny that made her so twisted, so deviant? Her legs shook as she staggered back to the vehicle, satiated and frustrated at the same time.
She was in her seat, calm and collected when he returned.
He barely glanced her way as he started the engine and careened onto the track. After a few miles of silence, he spoke.
"Do you want me to have Earth Central send someone else to protect you?" Donny's abrupt question startled her.
She stared at him. "No. Why do you ask?"
"You seem ... uncomfortable with me," he answered. Again, she couldn't read his body language or his expression. It was frustrating.
She improvised. "I'm not used to having someone around that much." The truth was too embarrassing. How do you say that you want your personal Tribunal soldier to fuck you senseless? Or that you love to watch him masturbate? Maybe there was a vid card for that. She smirked at the thought.
"What are you thinking?" he demanded. His piercing blue eyes narrowed.
Her eyebrows shot up. "I was thinking there should be a vid card for everything." She evaded his question.
His abrupt halt of the vehicle almost made her fly into the windshield. "That does not answer my question." He glared at her.
Suddenly, she was angry. Angry at him for staying distant from her. Angry at herself for wanting him. Angry at the planet for being filled with a chemical that forced her to have feelings she didn't want. "I don't have to answer your fucking questions," she spat.
His cold smile made her skin freeze. A trickle of fear slid down her spine. For good reason. His hand shot out and gripped her arm in a hard vise. "Yes, you do. I'm not here to be someone's little puppet. Tell me what's going on, or I'll beat it out of you."
Why didn't those words fill her with fear and disgust? Why did she have a vision of being bruised and spanked by his large, calloused hands? Why was she wet from the thought of what he might do to her? She bit her lip.
His gaze immediately went to her mouth, and she gasped. He studied her face in a heated glance, and the silence between them was taut and filled with heavy desire. A small sound escaped her throat and seemed to unleash a wildness in him.
Like a whirlwind, he caught her to him and slammed his lips onto hers. Possession, danger, violence lay just beneath the surface of that kiss. Her senses spun and her mind splintered. God, how she needed him. The chemistry between them was instant and explosive. His tongue thrust in her mouth with insistent pressure and she responded with a moan.
His hands switched to her head, and he drove his fingers into her hair until her scalp tingled. With a twist, he angled her mouth until he could dominate her, drive her insane. Reason deserted her, and she just felt.
With a curse, he shoved her away from him, and she flew back against the vehicle door. His breath panted like a jet engine, and she didn't think she could breathe at all. He didn't look at her and clenched his hands on the steering wheel. "I'll tell Earth Central to reassign someone to you." He bit the words out.
If he'd taken a knife and twisted it in her gut, it would have hurt less than those few words. She stared out the passenger window at the gathering dark outside and thought how the nighttime had become a comfort to her. No one could see you in the dark. And it suited her loneliness.
Why was she surprised? She was a freak of nature. What had Dr. Riggo called her that one time? Oh right. Goth Barbie. At the time, she thought he'd just meant to insult her because she chose to pierce her nose and had black, spiky hair. But now, she thought he meant her personality. Perky, but suicidal. Friendly, but lonely. A walking contradiction. Why the hell would any man want to take that on?
Tears pricked her eyelids, but she forced them back. No way she'd let Donny see her cry. It was going to be a long eight hour drive.
It was going to be a fucking long eight hours. Donny kept his gaze forward and scowled at the track. He needed to get away from the little witch. The smell of her arousal drove him insane, and he got a whiff of it when he returned from jacking off to visions of her. Again. She was temptation with a nose ring. She was smart, strong and sexy. A dangerous combination in an assignment. Especially the first assignment he'd been given since being reinstated in the Tribunal.
Why couldn't they have assigned Paul Lestrano to the job? Just because the asshole resigned didn't mean they couldn't convince him to do it. It didn't help that Donny had once given in and touched her, fucked her. She was a dream come true.
And he couldn't have that dream.
He was an ex-criminal, a freak, who had been injected with God knew what since he was twelve years old. All his life had been a lie told by an alien named Kliro. Even now, as the drugs Kliro manipulated him with were gone from his human body, he still felt the Dormrela lay beneath the skin. It shifted and growled to be released. Dr. Carstairs told him the side effects from the Dormrelian DNA being bonded to his human DNA might include personality relapses.
Six months of therapy, both physical and emotional, left him battered and jaded. And now he was assigned to a woman he was drawn to. It wasn't just her sexy piercings and defiant expression. It wasn't the way she filled out a pair of coveralls. All those things just made him want to fuck her. It was the innocence mixed with decadence, the smile versus the snappy comebacks. She was a fantasy for a man like him. Beneath the surface, she longed to be taken, twisted, and controlled. And he wanted to be the man to do it.
But she was a scientist, a specialist, and fucking smart. What the hell would she have to do with a guy who spent all his life learning to kill? Especially a guy who was responsible for the murder of four women and the near destruction of the Asberek colony. Guilt still swamped him over the things he'd done. Sure, he'd been controlled by the Dormrelian injections, but part of him believed if he'd been a good guy, the Dormrela DNA couldn't have made him do those things.
His therapist was still working with him on that. What right did he have to think about any woman like Elise Fleming?
The only relief he had from the chemical Synthetic Endorphin Xcstasy was the raucous trips to the Virtual Fantasy Room where he exorcised his demons. At the temple, he'd relied on frequent masturbation.
He was damaged. He had to leave Elise alone, even as her scent swirled around him and he couldn't resist a sidelong glance to her profile every once and a while. Their silence filled the vehicle, and he chose not to break it. Better to keep quiet and let her think. She'd realize sleeping with him would be a huge mistake. A mistake he'd love to make, but not at her expense.
A smirk lifted his lips. A soft thought for a hardened killer.
"Something funny, Tribunal?" Elise glared at him.
He wiped the smile from his face. "Not a thing, Doctor."
They reached the Causeway Center as daybreak started a new day. Elise tumbled out of the vehicle and didn't give him a backwards glance as she grabbed her bag. She didn't even glance at him as she headed for her quarters.
Thoughtfully, he followed her and made sure she made it to her door. He could have insisted on checking her room to make sure there was nothing to kill her. But he didn't trust himself. In her quarters, he might have jumped her, and nothing would stop him from tasting the honey he knew she carried for him.
With impatient fingers, he used his hand held vid phone to send a message to his superiors at Earth Central. Reassignment. Immediately.
It didn't surprise him when his phone jangled five minutes later.
Most contact on a vid phone included a visual of the person, but his superior kept his face digitally jammed on the screen and Donny was pretty sure the voice was manipulated too.
"No reassignment," the voice told him.
"She doesn't trust me," Donny lied. Trust was not the issue. His uncontrollable lust was the problem.
"It doesn't matter. You're the best person for the job."
"Why? You could get Lestrano to guard her. He knows as much about the situation as I do."
"Kliro has escaped."
Donny's stomach dropped. The Dormrelian Ambassador was dangerous and he always had a plan. Donny ought to know. Kliro had used him, manipulated him and drugged him for twenty years. Nothing was off limits to the alien. He'd used Donny for every dirty, ugly act--including murder. He'd suppressed Donny's neural development in an attempt to aim him like a weapon. And it had worked.
When Donny was dying, the man threw him away like garbage.
He closed his eyes. Rage, guilt, and pain washed through his body. His superior waited several minutes before he went on. "Earth Central, the Ang delegates, and the Dormrela delegates all believe Kliro will come to Asberek. If he isn't there already."
Donny sighed. "What does this have to do with Doctor Fleming?"
"Kliro wants the Peace Agreement we've reached with the Ang and the Dormrela to end. He wants war."
"And Doctor Fleming?" Donny pressed.
"The Ang say she'll find something, and it's something important."
"Fuck the Ang."
"I'm not sure that's anatomically possible. Doctor Fleming doesn't have to trust you. She just has to stay alive."
"Fine. Just make an official note that I've protested," Donny said bitterly.
"Of course. I'll put this recording in the file," the man told him, and Donny knew he was lying. There'd be no evidence to show this call ever happened. He shook his head and ended the call. It had been pointless.
He set up an uncomfortable chair outside her door and plopped down. When she came out, he'd be ready for whatever she threw at him. His eyes drifted closed, and he smiled. She certainly wasn't boring. That was his last thought as he fell into a light sleep.