It’s out! You can pick up the sixth installment of the Clans of Kalquor series right now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. The print version will be available within the week. Need another sneak peek first? Back cover blurb and Chapter 1 follows. By the way, the pre-proofed first chapter of Clan Beginnings: To Clan and Conquer is at the end of the book.
Imdiko Conyod’s clanmates Dramok Erybet and Nobek Sletran are home from the war. However, he no longer knows these men. Changed by the horrors they’ve seen and done, they are very different people. How can he allow them to clan the traumatized Earther Rachel Hicks, whom he’s come to love so deeply? And how can he not clan her when she’s the only thing right in his life?
Erybet and Sletran keep secret the truth of the terrible crime they committed on the Earther colony of New Bethlehem. The damaged clan tries to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives with Rachel, a woman as passionate as any three men could wish for. But the murders of other Earther women mean Erybet and Sletran must face the monstrous act they thought they left behind. Someone calling himself the Beast of New Bethlehem is murdering Earther women … and the killer may be closer to the clan’s beloved Rachel than anyone suspects.
Mild BDSM, including spanking, anal play/intercourse, bondage, Dom/sub play, forced seduction, multiple sexual partners (m/f/m/m) and homoerotic situations (m/m).
Rachel’s vision was filled with the pleasing image of Dr. Conyod as he leaned close to her. He was a complicated man and the number of expressions his face held at once bore that out: confidence, pleading, hopefulness, patience, and determination.
His words, spoken in her language of English, were accented but pronounced perfectly. “You can do it, Ray-Ray. Just one word. Say ‘hello.’”
How she wanted to say that one simple yet impossible word for Conyod. If she could get past the clot of terror in her throat, just enough to squeak out that damnable ‘hello’, his blue-purple, cat-slitted eyes would light up. She’d be rewarded with a rare smile that made his rugged, chiseled features go from merely attractive to heart-stopping handsome. The tension in his jaw would ease. He might even laugh; a great prize for accomplishing the long-awaited goal.
Boy, she had it bad for her psychologist. What had started as a comical schoolgirl crush on the Kalquorian Imdiko had erupted into an almost obsessive love. Rachel Hicks was in her early thirties, too old to swoon over her heroes, too battered by experience to believe in fairy tale romance. Yet hearing his step as he entered her hospital room never failed to make her pulse quicken. As unrequited love went, this was Grade-A passion.
That Rachel couldn’t give Conyod what they both wanted so much tore her up inside. And not just because she’d fallen for the man coaxing her to speak. Not being able to talk when a physical disability no longer existed was a source of shame. Once upon a time, she’d been a strong, confident woman. A force to be reckoned with. Hell, she’d dared to take on Earth’s fanatical regime. Okay, maybe not the whole regime, but she had fought her way into a women’s prison with the group she’d led. They'd been determined to make the tyrannized general population see the atrocities that were going on there. To make them get up off their frightened, complacent asses and rise up against a government that employed torture and execution to keep its citizens in line.
To the bunch of idealistic twenty-somethings she led, it had seemed like a good plan at the time. But Rachel had only been a courier in real life, with no military training. Heck, she hadn’t even been a Girl Scout. And though her group had taken over the prison and held it for almost a whole day, in the end she’d been the only one left alive. The broadcasts they’d sent out, showing vids of the of infected wounds never treated on those still living, of the endless scars and bent limbs of badly healed breaks, of bodies stacked like cordwood in the morgue, and of the endless lines of graves marked only by the prisoners’ numbers and not their names ... those had never gone out. All transmissions and communications had been blocked by a government well versed in utter control. The revolution Rachel had dreamed of since she was a child did not come to pass.
Even if she’d known in advance her strike against the prison would fail, Rachel might have gone for it anyway. To her warrior soul, raising a fist against an insurmountable obstacle was better than slinking through life like a beaten dog. In hindsight, she would have changed just one thing. She wouldn’t have chanced the lives of so many others. Like her Marcus.
She swallowed hard, trying to get the lump clogging her throat down so she could give Conyod that stupid word that wouldn’t come. Her fists twisted in her lap, wrinkling the soft white hospital gown that showed so brilliantly against her mahogany skin. None of her remaining scars showed when she wore the simple, sleeveless sheath. Almost all the marks of her torture were gone, thanks to a brilliant team of surgeons who’d erased them. It was too bad Conyod couldn’t wield a scalpel that would excise the scars from her soul as easily.
Rachel looked into his grape-hued eyes, trying to soak in the strength he projected towards her. His wavy, black hair tumbled forward as he leaned in, close enough that she could have stolen a kiss if she’d wanted.
Well, she wanted, all right. But it would hardly be proper, and Conyod would no doubt be horrified if she dared. That he had oceans of compassion, she did not doubt. But sympathy and a drive to heal the wounded didn’t translate into lust for a broken down Earther who couldn’t even say ‘hello’.
He tossed his waist-length waves back with a quick jerk of his head. “Relax, Ray-Ray,” he coached her. “The more tense you get, the harder it is. Calm yourself and try.”
His hands moved to her shoulders, and Rachel wallowed in their warmth as he kneaded the stiff muscles. Heaven and earth, she loved it when he touched her. His hands were square and solid with strength. She closed her eyes to concentrate on the sensation, though it was surely a sin to shut Conyod’s face out. Made herself take a couple of deep breaths. Opened her eyes to his slight encouraging smile and opened her mouth.
The word was right there, flashing neon-bright in her head. It traveled down, moving towards her mouth. Coming, coming, almost there. Then it ran into the roadblock of knotted tightness that refused to budge. It was right there, and she couldn’t get it out! Tears of frustration spilled down her cheeks.
Conyod stopped rubbing her shoulders to cup his palms around her heart-shaped face. His thumbs gently erased the wetness from her skin. “Hush, sweet girl. It was a good try. Take a moment and breathe.”
Still only infinite patience and kindness on his face. No disgust. No disappointment. No wonder she had the hots for Conyod. Rachel smiled a trembling apology for yet another failure on her part.
He smiled back, and her breath caught. Damn the man, he was just too handsome when he did that. As he sat back in the big seating cushion opposite hers to make notes on his handheld computer, Rachel had the opportunity to look him over. And yes sir, she took every opportunity offered when it came to eyeballing the delightful topography of Imdiko Conyod.
The alien was remarkably similar to her own species. Kalquorians looked like large, muscled versions of Earthers, with a few differences. For one thing, there were those catlike eyes. A longer torso. Fangs that imparted a kind of intoxicant to their bitten victims.
Another important difference had Rachel darting a glance at Conyod’s crotch. Kalquorian men had two penises, a larger one up front and smaller one behind it. Rachel had once had the very delightful opportunity to experience a man so endowed. The Kalquorian who had rescued her from the bowels of the prison she’d been incarcerated in had been a pure joy despite his inexperience with women. She couldn’t help but wonder how the older, more knowledgeable Conyod would feel inside her.
Yeah. She had it real bad for her doctor.
Like all the Kalquorians she’d seen, Conyod’s skin was the mocha with cream shade she associated with Earthers of Middle Eastern descent. His hair was so black the waves had blue highlights. His rugged face was delicious to the eyes. Not to mention a muscular body the loose-fitting tunic and trousers he wore couldn’t hide.
Rachel was getting wet and she forced herself to look away. She’d heard Kalquorians possessed a keen sense of smell, better than an Earth bloodhound. She certainly didn’t need to humiliate herself by letting Conyod know he aroused her to distraction. One of her worst fears was that she’d do something that would make the gorgeous Imdiko reassign her to another doctor. And while she liked most of the psychiatric staff in Kalquor’s largest hospital, none of them were Conyod.
She made herself look around her room. It was small, but comfortable. She had her thick sleeping mat in one corner, the softest surface she thought she’d ever slept upon. She made it up tidily every day though the orderlies were perfectly happy to do it for her. The room was softly lit, but she knew the illumination was more than bright enough for Conyod. Kalquorians could see in the dark, it seemed. Rachel envied the aliens that ability. Too many times she’d wakened in the middle of the night, certain she was still in the bowels of the prison, alone and frightened. Stubborn pride had kept her from sleeping with the lights on, so she’d spent many a sweat-soaked night peering blindly about until one of the night orderlies, keeping careful watch on monitor vids, came to check on her and give her a sedative.
Restful cream-colored walls and dark blue carpeting kept her room from looking too institutional despite the spartan decor . Her only furnishings beside the sleeping mat and Conyod’s Kalquorian-sized seating cushion consisted of a low table to take her meals at and another seat cushion, which she sat on now. Two vids provided pictures of pretty outdoor scenes, giving the illusion Rachel was looking out of windows. She had the options of viewing landscapes of any number of worlds. She kept the vid settings on random, and the view changed about ten times a day. Right now, one vid showed her the rolling hills of Joshada. The other depicted a Kalquorian mountain range which Conyod had commented on when he’d entered the room.
“That reminds me of my childhood home,” he’d said. As complex as ever, his expression had registered both sadness and pleasure.
How badly she’d wanted to ask why Conyod had such mixed feelings about his past. Not for the first time, she wondered how a man dedicated to healing the pain of others seemed to find no relief from the conflicts he himself bore. She was sure something preyed on the psychologist’s mind. He wore sadness like an almost visible cloak.
Rachel knew the feeling well.
Her doctor’s voice brought her back from her contemplation of the mountains that reminded him of home. “What do you want more than anything, Ray-Ray?”
She turned to look at him. His eyes were big, bigger than most Kalquorians she’d seen. The vibrant blue-purple orbs almost seemed to glow against his dark skin. She swallowed hard, the lump in her throat having nothing to do with the blockade against her speech. What did she want? Boy, she would love to give him an earful on that.
Conyod nodded in encouragement. “If it’s something I can get, I will. Then all you have to do to claim your prize is say just one word. Any word.”
Love. I want to say love. Because every time I look at you now, that’s what my heart screams. It might be just infatuation, but damn it, it feels like the real thing.
He leaned close to her, his gaze avid. “There is something you want. I can see that. Tell me.” He nodded at her handheld computer sitting on the floor next to her cushion. She used it to communicate with the staff, since her stubborn throat refused to open up.
Damn it, she didn’t want to type. She wanted to talk. But fear of what she might say, the secrets she might tell, kept it all bottled up. Back on Earth, she’d been beaten and tortured for information. She’d kept the words inside, only screaming as hideous pain was inflicted on her poor body. I’ll never, ever tell you anything had been her internal mantra for all those terrible months. And now she couldn’t tell anyone anything at all.
She wanted to make Conyod proud. And he’d said she could say any word. Perhaps a word her now-dead torturers wouldn’t understand?
Rachel opened her mouth. She thought of a new word, saw its brightness in her head. Watched it travel down, down, closer to her mouth, approaching where the blockage always appeared just in time to keep her silent. Closer still, the passage still open, almost there…
“Retig,” she said.
The word was little more than a breath, with just enough grating undertone straining through to make it audible. It had been years since she’d spoken, and the weakness of her surgically healed vocal chords was obvious. But she’d said a word. Damn the bastards who had shut her up, she’d talked.
Conyod's mouth dropped open. He blinked. Then pure, unadulterated delight suffused his face, making him smile broader than Rachel had ever seen him smile. Her heart thumped painfully to see how he transformed with unguarded happiness.
He laughed hard, and the deep, rolling sound of it filled the room. Rachel had always wanted to hear Conyod laugh. It was a beautiful sound. His eyes were bright, as if they'd filled with tears. He reached for her as if to gather her in an embrace. Apparently he remembered himself just in time and settled for clapping.
Boy, she wished he'd hugged her instead.
She'd said hello after all. She'd said it in Kalquorian, but she'd done it. And he was so pleased with her. She smiled at his undisguised delight.
Finally Conyod was able to speak. “Excellent, Ray-Ray!” He nodded at her handheld. “I saw on the reports you were studying my language, but I never thought to have you speak it instead of your own. Well done!”
Rachel ducked her head, a little embarrassed to be praised so highly for uttering one word. But she knew it was a huge breakthrough. She kept her eyes on Conyod, enjoying the sight of him smiling so broadly.
He picked up his handheld and tapped its surface in short, quick bursts. “It’s safe to speak Kalquorian because so few Earthers understand, isn’t it?”
She nodded. As always, he’d seen right to the root of the issue. The man’s intuition made him a very good psychologist, at least in her opinion.
Conyod chuckled and put his handheld down again. His steady gaze enveloped her in warmth. “Wonderful! I’m so proud of you. Now … I believe I owe you a reward? What is it you want?”
Rachel deserved a reward all right. And suddenly she decided she would claim it rather than ask for it. It was the only way to ensure she’d get what she wanted.
In one smooth motion, as if she’d not left Earth with nearly a dozen badly healed broken bones, Rachel shifted from a cross-legged sitting position up onto her knees. She grabbed her startled therapist’s face between both hands, leaned forward, and closed her lips over his.
His lips were as soft as she’d imagined. In his shock, Conyod’s mouth opened to gasp, and Rachel brazenly took advantage of the opportunity. She flicked her tongue inside his mouth, tasting him.
She’d forgotten how raspy the Kalquorians’ tongues were, how like raw silk the texture of that flesh was. He tasted of sweet spice, and she uttered a weak groan.
Conyod’s arms, as strong as she’d dreamed, wrapped around her, pulling her up against his broad chest. She felt the strength of his muscled body and rubbed against him as desire, denied over almost a year while being his patient, overtook her.
Conyod growled a little, and his tongue invaded her mouth in a passionate kiss. Rachel’s insides melted to pool into her panties; hot, wet need. She climbed onto Conyod to rub her sex against his with wanton desperation.
He suddenly gasped and pulled his face from hers while simultaneously pushing her away. She whimpered and strained against his hands. Her heart thudded painfully.
Conyod slowly shook his head. “Rachel, this isn’t appropriate. I’m your doctor.”
Rachel detected a scent she’d smelled before and glanced down at his groin. The crotch of his pants was tight around an obvious erection. Her gaze met his again, and she arched an eyebrow at him.
He reddened. “I didn’t say I didn’t enjoy it. But it’s wrong for me to act on this. I cannot take advantage of my patient.”
Rachel blew out a frustrated breath. She could see his point and appreciate the awkward position she was putting him in. Still, he looked so damned good and felt twice as wonderful.
She leaned back, putting the distance he needed between them. Smiling ruefully, she settled back on her seating cushion and picked up her handheld to type.
Let’s see what you think of this, my gorgeous, ethical doctor, she thought as she wrote what she wanted to say:
You and Dr. Govi said my fear of speech was the only thing keeping me here. That once I spoke, I could be released. Would you like me to fire you as my psychologist right now so we can explore this?
Not that she meant a word of it. No doubt a man like Conyod already had a woman. Maybe his clan even had a Matara, a lifelong female mate. She’d never asked because she didn’t want to know he was unattainable. But now that she’d spoken, the clock was ticking on the time she had left as his patient. It was better to know now rather than later just how unavailable he was.
Even if he is without a mate, he’d never want me. Not broken, scarred, and ugly Rachel Hicks. He could definitely do better.
She was willing to settle for one glorious round of lovemaking. With the memory of being in Conyod’s arms to sustain her, she’d at least have that to treasure for the rest of her life.
She handed him her handheld, noting how it trembled the least little bit in his grip. He read it and gave her his patented Rachel-you’re-being-naughty-and-you’re-not-getting-away-with-it frown. He could be so paternal sometimes.
“You know there’s more to being cured than getting you to say one word,” he chastised.
She took the handheld back from him. Rachel decided it was time to go for broke and to give Conyod his chance to put an end to her dreams and her desires. To deny her the love she ached for him to return. Once he did that, she could start to plan for a productive, Conyod-less life, as empty as it would be.
She typed, I’m a grown woman who knows my own mind. I’ve had men, one of whom was Kalquorian. I want you. If you feel nothing for me beyond your professional compassion, tell me now.
Conyod read the message, and his eyebrows shot up. Rachel was just surprising him all over the place today. If she wasn’t so certain this session would end with her heart broken, she’d enjoy it.
Instead of telling her it could never be between them, Conyod said, “I wasn’t aware you’d been intimate with one of us. Were you coerced? We’re not allowed—”
Oh for heaven’s sake. Rachel leaned forward and put her hand to his mouth to shut him up. His breath was warm on her palm, and the thought of how his mouth had felt on hers made her insides clench. He watched her face and waited. She took her handheld back from him and sat back down. Typed another message.
I was very much the seducer, my rescuer’s first woman. You asked what I wanted in exchange for a word. I will tell you exactly.
She watched him read it, and when he looked up at her questioningly, she opened her mouth.
It’s not English. The words are Kalquorian. Say them.
“Imdiko Conyod.” A strengthless croak that came from her straining throat.
He heard it nonetheless, and his large, beautiful eyes shut with feeling. She couldn’t tell if it was because he was disgusted with her answer or enthrallment because he’d cured her inability to speak.
Handheld again, because she only knew a few words of his language. If you don’t want me too, say so. It will hurt, but I can take it. I’ve lived through worse.
He read it. Then Conyod lifted his gaze to hers. She braced herself.
“I do want you.”
The entire world stopped in that instant. I didn’t hear that right. My wishful thinking made me hear something I wanted to. There is no way this man could care for me beyond doing his job.
But he was nodding slowly, his shoulders lifting as if a huge weight had been released. “I have almost from the moment you got here. From the second I laid eyes on your beautiful face and saw the strength behind the agony in your eyes — and now, hearing my name come from your lips—”
Conyod stopped, as if overcome. His hands covered his face, but not before Rachel saw the mix of despair, hope, and longing on his expression.
He sat that way for a few seconds, and she let him. She had no clue what to say or what to do. She simply waited for him. All the while, her thoughts yammered, He wants me! He wants me!
But something was wrong with the situation, something beyond the sacred doctor-patient issue. When Conyod emerged from behind his hands, his words bore that out.
He looked at Rachel and gave her the saddest, most heartrending smile she’d ever seen. “You are the only good thing I’ve known for a long time. But Ray-Ray, things are complicated right now with my clan. This … I need to think about this.”
He’d said clan, but not a word about a Matara. Rachel couldn’t help but allow a flicker of hope.
It was obvious Conyod wasn’t going to let himself be overcome by desire at this time, but Rachel could live with that. She would settle for a token of affection.
I’m sorry if I came on too strong, but I have very intense feelings for you. I know it’s not proper, but I really, really need you hold me.
As soon as he’d finished reading that, she added, “Krewet?” Please?
Conyod looked at her, his expression that of a man who felt as lost and frightened as a child alone in the woods. He took a deep breath and held his arms out to her.
Rachel went to him, sitting in the cradle of his crossed legs. His arms curled around her, surrounding her in warmth and protection. Rachel burrowed her face against his chest and sighed. His cheek pressed against the short cap of curls on top of her head and rubbed back and forth against the softness.
Rachel sighed again. She almost felt safe. She thought she could shelter in Conyod’s arms forever.
* * * *
Dramok Erybet fumed, though he kept his expression still as he walked down the well-lit hallway of the hospital’s Matara psychiatric wing. Damn Conyod. Of all times for his Imdiko to work late, he had to pick this evening. Which led to another thought; was Conyod being difficult on purpose? Just to get back at Erybet for his silence, a silence he was under orders to keep?
The clan’s Nobek strode silently at Erybet’s side, his soft-soled feet making no sound even as Erybet stomped echoingly, the one betrayal of his anger. Sletran’s face was as stoic as the Dramok kept his. But Sletran rarely looked any other way these days. Even when the strong-featured Nobek had been caught hacking his hair off with a knife, driving Conyod into near hysterics, the look on his face had been pure indifference. Erybet had no doubt that the Nobek’s impromptu haircut was a sign of a growing storm of self-destructiveness. But the chilling lack of discernible emotion from his clanmate kept anyone from knowing when Sletran would perform an act of self-inflicted harm or when he’d pull one of his many disappearances.
In contrast to Erybet’s finer, almost pretty features, Sletran’s face was made of broad planes, strongly cut bone, somehow balanced with shockingly sensual lips. The Nobek was handsome in an almost brutal way. And his hair was growing out again, now nearly chin-length. However strained his emotional state may be, Sletran was a striking man, one that made the Mataras stop and stare. Well-muscled without being ponderous, he would no doubt impress the Earther woman they were meeting tonight.
If he would come out of his funk long enough to try. And if Conyod didn’t fuck everything up by making them late for their date.
It was their third attempt to attract a female mate. A third hope for Erybet that having a woman to devote themselves to, to protect, to care for, would at last fix his broken clan.
He could understand Sletran’s difficulty in reaching out. The man was still in shock from the war. No, not the war; that was not where his clanmate’s difficulties had sprung. True, the fighting had been terrible while they were in the thick of it. But it was what came after, when Earth had fallen and all that was left to do was clean up the aftermath. That was when hell had truly begun.
Conyod, however, was simply being stubborn. He refused to see that with his clanmates bound to secrecy by their superiors, the answer was a new start. A fresh start a Matara could bring. Yet he kept dragging his feet when it came to attracting one, even though their chances were beginning to fade.
It was pure chance for any clan to come up on the lottery, the system that allowed them the opportunity to add a childbearer to their group. Kalquorian women were rare; fertile ones of childbearing age almost nonexistent. Few Earther women from the nearly annihilated race were willing to choose Kalquorians over their own kind. It took a lot of luck to get to impress one. And the lottery only allowed a clan five chances to do so before the opportunity passed them by.
If his Imdiko would just cooperate!
The sound of sobbing distracted Erybet from his angry thoughts. An orderly escorting a young, crying woman came down the hall, heading in their direction. The medic had an arm around the Matara’s thin, shaking shoulders and he whispered gently to her as they walked. Her gaze was locked on Erybet and Sletran, and she began to resist coming closer to them.
Erybet realized he had clenched his fists at his sides, showing his upset over his ruminations. He quickly released the tension in his body and slowed his progress, approaching the pair carefully. He gave his gentlest smile to the poor little blonde, whose black-hollowed eyes gave her frightened face the visage of a skull.
He didn’t often visit Conyod at his work. Seeing the damaged Mataras from Earth, the ones who’d endured so much trauma that they couldn’t join the lottery or be sent to the scattered Earther colonies, was hard. Looking into haunted eyes of such fragile creatures made him hurt.
Better than seeing them ripped apart physically, his mind whispered. Like the ones at New Bethlehem after you gave the order…
Erybet’s mind skittered from the memory. He would not think about that. Would not.
Now the young woman was trying to hide behind the orderly. He continued to whisper gently to her, but she wanted nowhere near the unfamiliar Kalquorians. The orderly smiled apologetically at Erybet and Sletran, shrugging a little. “It’s all right, Matara. No one wants to hurt you.”
Erybet glanced at Sletran. His Nobek had emerged from his emotionless state to look stricken. Erybet hoped it was only because seeing a crying woman was so awful, and not because Sletran was remembering New Bethlehem too.
Not daring to look at his clanmate for too long lest Sletran take the attention the wrong way, Erybet stepped close, but not too close, to the orderly and his patient. Sletran stayed by his side. They bowed deeply to the frightened Matara.
Taking his cue from the orderly’s whispering, Erybet very quietly said, “Good evening, Matara. Please accept my apologies if our appearance frightens you. I hope you have a pleasant night.”
For a wonder, Sletran also spoke. His voice was soothing in its deep tones. “I too apologize for having upset you, Matara. We will be on our way and distress you no more.”
She abruptly stopped crying, her eyes wide and wondering as she looked at them. The orderly chuckled. “See? There’s no one to be afraid of here.”
He nodded to Erybet and Sletran, ushering the woman past them. She cast nervous but much calmer looks at them over her shoulder as she went.
Erybet and Sletran continued on their way. The Dramok had wanted to ask if the orderly had seen Conyod, but the woman’s obvious fear had kept him from doing so. Fortunately, he saw another orderly escorting a hover cart down the hall, stopping at each patient’s room to access the closed doors and drop off a meal.
They drew abreast of the broadshouldered Imdiko. Erybet kept his voice low, not sure how well sound carried from the hall to the patients’ rooms. “Excuse me, but I’m looking for Dr. Conyod. He’s not in his office and I need to see him right away.”
The orderly jerked his head back in the direction from which they’d come. “He’s probably in Matara Rachel’s room. He usually checks in with her one last time before leaving for the night. Room 786, right over there.”
Erybet nodded. “Thank you. Come on, Sletran. Let’s round up our Imdiko and see if we can salvage this night.”
As they headed back, Erybet went back to seething at his unthinking clanmate. For making us late to have dinner with a potential Matara, this Matara Rachel had better be in a bad way.
Immediate horror followed the thought. He did not want any female to be suffering. The Earther women had endured enough from all that had happened to them. Most of them had been on Earth when the nuclear blasts had happened, making the planet uninhabitable. Before that, they’d been second class citizens among their own kind, kept subservient because of a religion that saw them as inherently sinful.
And women on the colonies hadn’t fared much better, had they? Erybet’s stomach curled in on itself as he remembered body parts scattered around a blackened blast site.
He had returned to Kalquor, but Erybet knew he would never truly escape New Bethlehem.
Yet another headache pulsed behind Erybet’s eyes as he and Sletran neared the room where Conyod might be hiding, once more avoiding them as long as he possibly could.
* * * *
Rachel had managed to move Conyod from cuddling to kissing. Knowing he had feelings for her, she was eager to press her advantage.
Now that she had him going, there was nothing tentative about her doctor’s embrace. He held her close, his mouth firm, even demanding, as he tasted her. His tongue stroked hers, and she moaned in his mouth. The delicious way he kissed her had her senses rioting. Maybe she was wrong for insisting he break the rules, but damn it, she needed this. She grew needier by the second.
Rachel moved against Conyod, passion insistent. He made a sound deep in his throat, something very much like a growl. Despite their intelligence, she knew the Kalquorians possessed a primal core, and that suited her fine. The threat of feral reaction excited her.
As Rachel readied to make her next move, a knock sounded at the door. Conyod tore his mouth from hers with a gasp. He looked at her and laughed shakily.
“Your dinner has arrived, I suppose.”
Conyod stood, holding her in his arms. He set her on her feet. Rachel fought not to pout like a three-year old. But damn it, she’d been enjoying him so much!
Conyod went to the door, his face still flushed. “Enter,” he commanded, and it slid open. His jaw dropped in shock as he looked into the hall. “My Dramok, my Nobek. What are you doing here?”
A low, angry voice answered him. “I could ask the same of you. We have an appointment in five minutes, an important one. Why have you not come home?”
Conyod shot a glance at Rachel and swallowed. She stared. He looked absolutely miserable now. “I – I guess I fell behind on my rounds. My father Vel stopped by for a visit today, so I’m playing catch-up.”
Rachel had to see the clanmates who had put that expression on Conyod’s face. She stepped to his side and stared at the two men outside her room.
They couldn’t have been a more dissimilar pair physically. The slightly taller and more muscular of the two shouldn’t have been handsome, not with that heavy brow, wide forehead, and strong jaw. Each individual feature was simply too rough and unrefined for attractiveness. Well, except for his lips. His lips were plump, sensual things that made Rachel not want to kiss so much as nibble. Somehow the entire package worked for him. He was striking, worth a long, slow look.
He also wore his hair much shorter than any Kalquorian man she’d seen. As he looked back at her, his set expression shifted to something dark. Was it pain? Anger? Probably both since Rachel had seen the look on her own face. Suddenly she knew something else: he’d cut off his own hair in a self-destructive rage, much as she had done to hers over and over. She’d finally quit attacking her curls after all cutting implements had been removed from her room, but her hair had been kept shorn close to her skull at her insistence. She told herself it was because the look suited her and shied away from any other reasons.
Looking at this man, she knew better. For whatever reason, he had wanted to punish himself. Just as she had. Just as she sometimes still did.
It was hard to look away from the amazing, distressing sight of this man to look at the other. After only a few moments, Rachel managed. The second man, though not quite as tall as his companion, still had at least six inches on Conyod. His features were much more delicate than those of either of his clanmates. He was almost pretty but somehow managed blatant masculinity at the same time. His sculpted jaw was strong, his cheekbones well-formed, his nose as straight as an arrow. The grim set of his mouth was the only negative note on a gorgeous face framed by long, wavy hair. His build was the slenderest of the three, but there was no denying the aura of command that surrounded him. This one would be Conyod’s Dramok, Rachel decided.
The two men bowed deeply to her, their gazes never leaving her face. The pretty Kalquorian spoke, his voice the same as the one she’d heard speak to Conyod. At least the anger had disappeared. “Hello, Matara.”
They straightened, and the other man also spoke up, a smile hinting at those delicious lips but not quite bursting forth. “No wonder you spend so much time at work, Conyod.”
His voice was deliciously deep, and Rachel shivered. A stray fantasy of hearing him order her to disrobe and lie down before him made her lick her lips. Good heavens, she was horny.
The Nobek’s statement took some of the angst from Conyod’s expression. “Matara Rachel, these are my clanmates. Dramok Erybet and Nobek Sletran.”
The men bowed again. Rise, my subjects, Rachel thought and couldn’t help but smile. Respectful gentlemen. How nice.
“Retig,” she rasped. The magic word that had gotten her in Conyod’s arms. Her favorite word in the universe right now.
Erybet gave her a surprised but delighted smile. “You speak Kalquorian?”
Rachel showed him how little by holding her hand up and indicating with a bare inch between her thumb and index finger. That elicited chuckles from all the men, even the Nobek. Erybet and Conyod looked at him with surprise.
Conyod wiped the wide-eyed expression from his face. He asked her, “May I explain?”
If he trusted them, she could too. She nodded her assent.
With pride, but for her accomplishment and not his own, Conyod told the other men, “Rachel has had a huge breakthrough, just minutes ago in fact. Her vocal chords were badly damaged when she was brought to Kalquor, which surgery corrected. However, the trauma she endured after being interrogated on Earth by authorities left her psychologically incapable of speaking. She’s found a way around that by learning to say a few words in Kalquorian.”
Erybet’s brows drew together. “A fascinating solution to what I am sure has been a great obstacle. I’m very sorry to hear of your trials, Matara.”
He sounded sincere, not at all as if he was delivering an expected statement. Rachel warmed under his compassionate regard.
Sletran thrilled her with that deep voice again. “You were incarcerated? Tortured?”
Rachel nodded and typed on her handheld, which she’d thankfully brought with her. I attempted to lead an insurrection against the worst women’s prison in the North American bloc. It didn’t go so well.
He read her words with Erybet leaning close so he too could see the handheld. Sletran nodded at her. Though he couldn’t possibly be impressed with her cataclysmic failure, his tone was warm and approving. “Very brave of you.”
“Indeed.” Erybet considered her and seemed about to say something else when something on his belt beeped. He scowled at no one in particular. “My apologies, Matara Rachel. I hate to do this because I want to know more, but we do have an appointment.” He smiled an apology to her. “Hopefully, Conyod will tell us more of your story, with your permission.”
Conyod didn’t move as his clanmates stepped back and waited for him. With obvious reluctance, he told her, “We have a meeting with a Matara tonight. Our clan was randomly picked for the honor by the lottery.”
Rachel’s heart dropped. His clan was actively pursuing a Matara?
Gee Conyod, it would have been nice if you’d mentioned that before I wallowed all over you.
His obvious discomfort didn’t keep his gaze from meeting hers. He looked hard at her, as if trying to communicate something. Rachel thought she understood. He didn’t want another woman. He wanted her.
But the other two men had better options than a broken down, scarred, and mute female. And two votes versus one would leave her out in the cold. Or did clanning a Matara require a unanimous decision?
She’d have a lot of questions for Conyod at their next session. For now, she had to let him go to his … oh, she hated to think it … date. She managed a tight smile and nodded.
With rapid-fire typing, she told them all, I hope you have a pleasant evening. Good luck to your clan.
Erybet smiled and answered for them all. “Thank you, Matara.” He gave his Imdiko a sharp look. “Conyod?”
“Of course. Good night, Rachel. I look forward to further developments tomorrow.” With a last look, he followed his clanmates, leaving her behind.
The dinner cart arrived at her room just then. Rachel gave the orderly a wan smile as she accepted her platter and walked inside with a meal she had no appetite for. She sat down at her small table and ate anyway, knowing not eating wouldn’t sit well with the psychiatric staff.
Rachel chewed slowly, not tasting any of the ronka meat and gusasp that she’d normally enjoy. Conyod wants me, she told herself over and over. But the words weren’t the celebration they should have been.
Rachel knew better than to fool herself. There was a chance she and Conyod were done before they’d even properly begun, what with two other men in the equation. Plus, they were interviewing likely Mataras. Crap.
She liked to think she wasn’t petty. Perhaps they’d meet a woman who would be a good match of all three of them. Someone who would make a wonderful mate for Conyod, maybe erase that undercurrent of sadness from his soul. But even though she knew it was childish, Rachel couldn’t help but wish that one of the men would accidentally dump a bowl of soup on their date’s lap tonight.