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By Catherine Spangler
Copyright © 2004
All right reserved.
He stood on the bridge of the massive spacecraft, his powerful
legs braced as the ship began its descent toward Candest. He
maintained his balance with one large hand lightly gripping
the edge of the main console. Like his legs, his chest was
bare, with well-delineated muscles rippling beneath golden
skin. Silent and majestic, he waited. Suddenly his head
turned, and his unblinking midnight gaze fixed unerringly upon
Terror jolted through Jenna, momentarily disrupting the
vision. He couldn't possibly see her. She was inside her
modest quarters in Shamara; he was on a Leor warship, still on
the outer edges of Candest's stratosphere. She gasped for
breath, her chest heaving, as she tried to dispel the vision,
to break its insidious hold on her. But like a nightmare that
would not end, the images resumed, sucking her into a
clairvoyant vortex she could not evade....
He still stood there. His face was clearly recognizable, even
though it had been more than four seasons since she'd seen
it-just that one time; even though she'd never actually met
any Leors. But she knew him. He had high, bold cheekbones; a
powerful, square jaw; a prominent, wide forehead; all creating
the frame for surprisingly sensual lips, a starkly-chiseled
nose, and black-hole eyes so dark,no pupils were visible. No
facial hair or eyebrows softened his chilling visage, no hair
of any sort covered his gleaming head.
She'd always sensed the thoughts of those in her visions and
his were no exception....
Determination, edged by desperate need and utter ruthlessness.
Cold, logical analysis of obstacles to be overcome and the
most direct methods of doing so, without compunction or mercy.
Again he looked directly at Jenna, and her heart battered
against her chest. A staggering energy snaked between them, a
treacherous snare. The command bridge faded from sight, and
everything around them ceased to exist. No ship, no
Shamara-only the two of them, in the vastness of the
The vision ended abruptly, and Jenna lurched out of her chair.
She wanted to run, fast and far. But she knew it was useless.
She felt the inundating chill and the sick sensation in the
pit of her stomach that always followed on the heels of a
vision. Even with the link severed, and even though the Leor's
ship must still be several hundred kilometers away, his
powerful presence lingered in her chamber, a cruel taunt of
her future. She couldn't escape him, no matter how hard she
She knew, with absolute certainty, why he was here. Just as
she knew what would happen next. Her fate was sealed. She had
foreseen it in a vision on Liron over four seasons past, and
had long ago learned the futility of trying to alter the
course of destiny. Her visions were never wrong and could not
She'd never had any other discernment of her own future,
either before or since that fateful cycle of the pink moon,
the same cycle that Ranul san Mars, the great Shielder leader,
had passed on. Not that it made any difference. Her fate had
been decreed by Spirit. She sank back into the chair, willing
her heart to stop racing and the air to return to her lungs.
She couldn't let panic take hold. It would accomplish nothing.
The roar of an overhead ship drew her attention. She rose and
went to the entry. Stepping outside, she looked skyward. A
huge, glittering black and red warship passed overhead,
dropping lower as it approached the landing pads. The Leor had
And with him came the end of her existence. Dread clawed at
her, and she pressed a trembling hand against the panel frame
to steady herself. She wanted to scream out in protest, to
rage against the forces orchestrating this cruel turn of
But it did no good to curse the reality, or to resist it. Her
life, as insignificant and drab as it was, had never been hers
to command. She'd always been at the mercy of her visions,
guided by the will of Spirit, or so she'd always fervently
insisted. She couldn't-wouldn't-accept the possibility that
her ability might come from the dark side of the universal
forces. Just as she couldn't avoid fate. Slowly, Jenna turned
and went inside. She knew what she must do now. Since there
was no way she could alter the destiny hurtling head-on toward
her, she would face her fate with dignity and make the best
she could out of her situation. She slipped on a cape to
protect against the chill of the morning, raising the hood to
avoid being recognized and thus shunned.
Because of her clairvoyance and her uncanny ability to predict
the future, the other Shielder colonists had always maintained
a wary distance. Superstitious, forced to expend every micron
of energy to survive, they had found it simpler to avoid her
than deal with their fears.
There was nothing for her in Shamara. Nor did anyone care that
her destiny was that of mating with the leader of a barbaric
and cruel race.
Her life here, and her freedom, had just come to an end.
* * *
"We are not in the business of bartering people, Your
Lordship," Jarek san Ranul said, a hard edge to his voice. "We
have plenty of irridon to offer in return for your services."
"I don't need irridon. I need a mate." Arion, ruling Comdar of
Saura, set his drink on the conference table. He found having
to bargain for a bride almost as abhorrent as mating outside
his race. Yet he had no choice.
Problems from generations of inbreeding among the small Leor
populace, along with the short fertile cycles of Leor females,
necessitated that new gene pools be introduced. The Komiss,
the council overseeing all Leor clans, had decreed that the
leaders of each clan would take a non-Leor mate to insure
strong, healthy future leaders, and to avoid extinction.
Producing offspring had become even more crucial with the
Controllers' increasing aggression towards the Leors.
"I'm aware of your people's problems, but I cannot condone
using human lives as a medium of exchange," san Ranul
responded. "With all due respect, Your Lordship, Shielders are
highly opposed to slavery. We have worked too hard to free
ourselves from the oppression of the Controllers to willingly
allow any of our people to be forced into such a state."
Arion was well aware of the Shielder aversion to bondage, just
as he suspected san Ranul knew Leor society had a lower caste
system consisting of slaves. While Arion believed the
Shielders were too lenient in some regards, he had nothing but
respect for the ferocity with which they'd battled, and won,
their freedom from the Controllers. He also respected Captain
san Ranul, who had rallied his people and led them through a
wormhole to a different section of the galaxy, then headed up
creating new settlements.
"We do not look upon our human mates as slaves," he said.
"They are accorded the same treatment our Leor females
receive-that of equals."
"Yet you trade services in exchange for those mates, as if
they were commodities rather than living, sentient beings."
"Trading services for goods is what we do, Captain. I am sure
you know most of our settlements are in deserts and basically
barren. For generations, Leors have survived by bartering. We
fight in battles, transport goods, and offer protection on
trade routes and other ventures. In return, we receive
whatever we need to survive, including the means for our race
San Ranul drew a deep breath. "Comdar Arion, I do not want our
differences on this matter to drive a wedge in our working
relationship. Our initial agreement with Komissar Gunnar was
the exchange of irridon in return for transporting Shielder
settlers from the other quadrant. As I stated earlier, we have
ample stores of irridon."
Feeling the chill of the meeting hall, Arion rose and strode
to the large firebox where heat stones glowed, sending out a
beckoning warmth. He tossed back his cape and let the heat
seep into his skin. "My need for a viable mate is greater than
the need for irridon." He turned to face the Shielder leader.
"And your need to transport two newly uncovered Shielder
settlements from the grasp of the Controllers is also very
great. It is miraculous that they have survived this long."
"You also need irridon," san Ranul argued. "It provides the
majority of your fuel, both for your spacecraft and on your
settlements. I don't see why we can't reach an agreement that
doesn't involve the exchange of lives."
"I have stated my terms. Would you place the welfare of two
entire settlements over that of one individual female?"
"One life sacrificed to save many?" San Ranul walked to the
firebox. He stared at Arion. "How can I place a value on any
life, or determine if one life is more important than
another?" Such weakness to put so much significance on a
single life. The good of the majority must always come first-a
philosophy san Ranul had once lived by. Perhaps the Shielder
leader had grown soft, but it was far more likely he thought
he'd be able to deal with another Leor. If so, he was
mistaken. Arion turned towards the entry. "Then I am afraid we
cannot do business."
"Wait." San Ranul followed him. "There must be some way around
Arion slowed. It went against his nature to give anyone a
second chance, or to negotiate his terms. Few people were
foolish enough to consider suggesting such to a Leor. But the
Shielders and the Leors had enjoyed a profitable business
relationship for over four seasons, and the Komissar had a
connection with them through his mate.
He turned to face san Ranul. "Take the issue to your people.
Perhaps one of your females would come willingly, for the good
San Ranul considered. "There are very few women who would meet
your requirements. The majority of our women are mated, or too
young, too old, or not virgins."
"Virginity is one requirement on which I will not compromise,"
"I'm well aware of that, Your Lordship."
"I only require one mate, Captain. Again, I suggest asking
your people. If one of your females comes forward-"
"I will do it."
The feminine voice caught Arion by surprise, and he turned
toward the entry. A slight figure stood there, shrouded in a
hooded cape. San Ranul appeared just as surprised. "What did
you say?" he asked.
The figure took a step forward. "I am offering to go with this
Leor." Her voice was low, soft.
Shock registering on his face, san Ranul strode toward the
figure. "Jenna? Is that you?"
"I don't need to ask how you knew Comdar Arion was here, but ..."
He hesitated, then gestured toward Arion. "I'm not sure
you understand what the Comdar is requesting."
Her head shifted toward Arion. "I think I do."
Intrigued, Arion moved around the Shielder leader. "Show
She hesitated, and he felt a wave of uncertainty which caught
him off guard. It took a moment to realize it was her emotion
he was feeling, another surprise. Since Shielders had natural
mind shields, Leors were unable to probe their minds and
ascertain their thoughts, as they did with other species. Even
with his mind-probing abilities, Arion had never felt another
being's emotions. Yet he was clearly sensing this female's
anxiety. It was the only logical explanation.
"You are afraid," he taunted.
"I am ... apprehensive." Her voice remained low, but he
detected the note of resolve.
"If you believe yourself worthy to be a Leor's mate, you will
Slender hands lifted slowly to the hood and lowered it. The
first thing he noticed, as he always did with humans, was her
hair. It was a deep rich copper, the color of the fiery tones
of a desert sunset. It was tucked inside her cape, so he
couldn't determine its length.
Her face was strong, angular, with a square jaw line, but her
features were very feminine. Russet brows-another oddity to
Leors-formed perfect arches over deep-set gray eyes that were
the same soft color as polished magnasteel. Her nose was
narrow and straight, her mouth small but curved.
She stared back while he studied her, her gaze clear and
direct, a point in her favor, as Leors insisted on direct eye
contact, which facilitated their ability to probe minds-except
with Shielders. She had none of the magnificence of a Leor
female, but she was pleasant enough to look at. She wasn't
very tall, her head coming only to the top of his chest. He
wondered how sturdy she was. "Take off your cape," he ordered.
"Wait," san Ranul protested. "I'm not sure there's any need to
go further. Jenna, you don't have to do this. At the very
least, we should discuss the ramifications of such a
She turned her head toward him, and the lights reflected off
her hair like sparks of fire. "I must do this. I've foreseen
it as my destiny."
San Ranul's eyes widened. "You saw this in a vision?"
"But surely not all your visions are accurate," he protested.
"Unfortunately, Captain, they are."
Further intrigued, Arion asked, "You are a seer?"
Her gaze returned to him, and he found himself falling into
mesmerizing gray eyes, filled with the mysteries of the ages.
"I am, Your Lordship."
Prophecy was nothing new to Arion. Every Leor clan had at
least one shaman who was able to communicate directly with the
Goddess and offer prophecies of the future. This woman's eyes
alone were enough to convince him she spoke the truth. "You
have foreseen a destiny with a Leor?" he persisted.
She drew a deep breath, her chest rising beneath the cape. "I
have foreseen my destiny with you, Your Lordship. Four seasons
Amazement jolted through him, along with a sense of déjà vu.
Actually, it was a real memory from a little over four spans
ago-that of Morven telling him, "The Goddess has chosen your
mate. She will be surrounded by fire and visions." Not that
Arion had discounted it, but when a mate had never
materialized, he assumed Morven must have misinterpreted the
vision. However, it was possible this Shielder female, with
her fiery hair and seer abilities, was meant to be Arion's
mate. Still, he never accepted anything at face value or took
anyone but his most trusted advisors at their word. Treachery
abounded in his world.] "How do you know your fate lies with
me?" he challenged. "If you have not been around Leors, we
would all look similar to you."
Her gaze didn't waver. "That might be the case. But how many
Leors bear the mark of a new moon on their left shoulder?"
Only Arion did. The crescent-shaped birthmark was part of his
heritage, appearing in all the males in his line, and accepted
by his clan as proof of his right to leadership. But the mark
was on the back side of his shoulder, completely covered by
his cape. There was no way this woman could have seen it.
Stronger evidence that she was the one Morven had prophesied.
"Take off your cloak," Arion grated out.
Her hands weren't quite steady as she untied the cape and
shrugged it off. It fell in a pool on the floor. Fully
revealed, her hair was stunning, falling in silky waves
halfway down her back. Arion had never seen hair that color,
like the burnished glow of fire stones. But then he found all
hair fascinating, as did most of his people.
He shifted his perusal to the rest of her. She was small
boned, very slender and delicate. He felt a wave of
disappointment. She must be wrong about her vision. "You are
far too frail. You would not survive the first mating."
Faint color brushed her cheeks, but she raised her chin
proudly. "I'm stronger than I look, Your Lordship."
Her persistence impressed him. She would have to be mentally
strong, as well as physically sturdy, to survive life among
Leors. He asked the most vital question, the one that would
determine if he would even consider her for a mate. "You are a
virgin? Untouched by any man?"
"I am a virgin," she said quietly.
"Do not lie to me about this," he warned her. "My personal
healer will examine you thoroughly to ascertain the truth of
"No man has ever touched me," she said with quiet dignity.
A startling rush of primitive, masculine possessiveness flowed
through him. He was not one to be swayed by emotion, and he
did not like the reactions this slip of a female was spurring
in him. It must be the different gravity and atmosphere of
Shamara, he told himself, asserting his triton will over his
emotions. "You are aware that you will leave Shamara and live
in a Leor settlement? Your relocation will be final. You will
not ever return here."
"Yes." Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.
He pressed on, ruthlessly determined that she understood all
that would be required of her. "And are you aware that we will
be joined as mates ... in every way a male and female can be
Her color deepened. "Yes, Your Lordship."
"You will belong to me, until death separates us."
Excerpted from Shadow Fires
by Catherine Spangler
Copyright © 2004 by Catherine Spangler.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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