~ NEW ~ EXCERPT BELOW ~
Journey through the stars in the follow-up to Tal-Amun as his alpha second-in-command Jin-Bennu finds love in the most unlikely place.
When psychic commander Jin-Bennu flies out on a secret mission, his cover is that he's returning home for R&R. He doesn't expect to find a gorgeous human researcher stowing away on his personal ship.
Veryn has orders of her own to follow and plans for a romantic weekend. Instead, she'll find the flight of her life. And a battle to win a certain Lexar's heart...
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Bennu arrived at the crack of dawn—rather, the hour that would be dawn if they were planetside and not sailing through space bound for the Lexar home world. Solar schedules aboard all Nova Force vessels—even those assigned to the UNE—closely resembled the planet of their origin with dedicated sunlight hours. Corridors of the Exemplar and its many decorative windows would steadily glow with the shades of a pink and golden sunrise for the next half hour.
When Veryn first came aboard the ship, she spent many a morning admiring the phony view from the medical bay’s windows as digital colors converged and brightened with a realistic landscape from Aaru. Those rolling green hills dusted by lavender and pink had been glorious beneath a pink-streaked sunrise.
Now, she slept in and often missed that magical moment.
It wasn’t the same.
She wanted to see the real thing.
“Veryn?” Isis spoke in a gentle voice. “What message shall I relay to Jin-Bennu?”
“Tell him it’s too early for wedding outfit discussions, Isis.”
“I shall deliver your response.” The pale blue-green light dimmed and went dormant for only what seemed like a few seconds before it flashed again, in time with the synthetic voice’s speech pattern. “Jin-Bennu says it is the hour for training and you have already given your word to be his student.”
“Shall I relay that?”
“No!” Veryn threw back the bedcovers and stormed to the door, tearing down the robe hung beside it and swaddling herself in silk. She did not tend to sleep nude aboard any vessel but had found the Exemplar to be exceedingly secure and safe. Here, she did not need to be on constant guard.
At her command, the door slid open to reveal Bennu in sparring gear, a wrap around his hips so low the indentation of his hips drew her gaze like the magnetic pull of a planet keeping its moons in orbit. From there, her attention slowly traveled upward, ascending the glorious trail leading to the navel, scanning over chiseled abs, and finally reaching a chest just above her face level.
Bennu towered above her, a bare-chested giant in warrior’s garb holding two bladeless hilts. “I told you the sixth bell.”
“I thought you meant evening.”
He chuckled. “No. That would be the eighteenth hour.”
It occurred to Veryn that she could very well decline and shut the door in his face, and he could do nothing about it. She was no Lexar, nor officially a member of the Royal Navy; otherwise, he may have had justification for ordering her about.
Curiosity bloomed and took the lead, however, prompting her to sigh. She stared up at him, past the massive chest and into a handsome face studying her with expectation.
“Give me a moment to dress.” Then Veryn shut the door on him.
It took longer to select her workout attire than it did to don the two-piece outfit. A sports bra in breathable black-and-burgundy mesh crisscrossed straps over her ribs and sent a triple set of straps over her shoulders to cross between both blades. Translucent black mesh panels revealed peeks of her hips and spiraled over each thigh.
It was, all in all, a very sexy athletic two-piece that revealed much of her skin while simultaneously covering her. Veryn considered it a compromise between the skimpy loincloths preferred by Lexar women when grappling and exercising. They had no qualms about revealing as much of their bodies as possible.
The moment she stepped into the corridor, Bennu’s gaze slid over her with unabashed interest, rousing an unexpected sense of triumph in her.
At what, though? At capturing the fleeting notice of an almost nine-foot-tall alien warrior who could crush her with psionic force if he caught her unaware and unprepared for his assault?
Forget crushing me with psionic force. He could crush me with his hands and I’d never stand a chance.
She wondered if her own psychic gifts could ever be as powerful as the awe-inspiring force of a Lexar who trained for decades to manipulate space and energy, or if he’d shatter her willpower with the brute force of a sledgehammer striking glass.
“Are you going to humiliate me in the gymnasium?”
“I wouldn’t do that. While there is no shame to an honorable defeat during a spar, we will practice in the officers’ sparring chamber.”
“Privacy,” Bennu replied over one muscular shoulder while striding toward the entrance to a prohibited area of the deck.
Veryn cocked a brow and followed. The low, resonant tone of an alert chimed when Veryn approached, flashing red letters in Lexar. “We need privacy for a spar?”
“I prefer to teach these techniques without an audience until I understand the measure of another warrior’s gift,” he explained. “If my fellow Lexar are present, you’ll be distracted.”
Isis scanned Bennu’s biometrics, the sweep of pale turquoise light verifying his identity. At last, the red symbols above the door transitioned to a serene green hue, and the reinforced steel slid open to reveal a corridor decorated in Lexarian reliefs of their giant warriors engaged in battle against various unfamiliar foes. Veryn studied the grotesque faces of alien species she’d never seen or read about in history, and she imagined few humans were allowed to tread beyond that door.
Who are they? she wanted to inquire.
“Will you get in trouble for allowing me here?” she asked instead.
“No.” He chuckled. “We won’t travel far, and you won’t be privileged to any classified information. Our destination is just ahead.”
Bennu took her into a circular chamber surrounded by multiple rows of stadium seating in the imitation of a smaller indoor coliseum. She stared in awe at the racks of weapons waiting beside them at the entrance, stacked near an assortment of brown leather cuirasses and giant-sized scaled armor in gold and silver, many sporting ornamentations in vivid blue and red. Veryn saw similar during a viewing of an Ancient Egyptian historical movie.
“None of those will fit me.”
Bennu’s sudden laugh made her stomach flutter. She realized it wasn’t a sound she heard often.
“What’s so funny?”
He offered the smaller hilt. “You won’t need any armor today, Veryn. We’ll be using practical holophase hilts. The light particle technology is designed to mute psionic force. This means the strikes may sting somewhat, but they won’t inflict injuries or lasting damage upon you.”
“Oh.” She turned the glossy, black hilt over a few times and smoothed her finger over the activation button. A smooth jet of light emerged and took form in the shape of a curved blade while Bennu fiddled with a console nearby. His own weapon appeared massive by comparison.
“Why is mine so much smaller than yours?” The device appeared similar to the phase swords she trained with during the intense weeks of grueling academy time for the Royal Navy officers chosen for Her Majesty’s secret agent corps. When she touched it, energy bent around her fingers but resisted her crossing the light pattern completely. It stung, snapping her skin like a rubber band with rhythmic pulses that grew increasingly disconcerting.
“Mine is intended for adult use. You hold one intended for a child.”
Bennu grinned. “A teenager among our people, I should say. You and Nia are exceptionally tall women for humans.”
“We are, I suppose. Tallulah has many tall people.”
“But you are not of Tallulah. You are Albionian.”
It startled her that he knew that, though she supposed it wasn’t a difficult guess to make from her accent. There are at least a dozen other English-speaking British colonies with my accent. I’d be a fool to assume he didn’t look me up in the system.
In fact, it wasn’t too much of a leap to assume Amun and Bennu, as well as their top officers, had scoured every inch of available data about the researchers rescued from Killandor 2 over a year ago.
“We will begin with the khopesh,” he said. “There are no limitations. I will show restraint without using the full extent of my physical strength, but I have no objections to you using all tools to your advantage.”
The reach on his weapon may as well have spanned a million miles. Veryn stared at him dubiously. “Is that the only self-limitation you’ll apply.”
Bennu’s wicked smile provided the answer before he replied, “Yes.”
“But it’s impossible for me to have a chance against you, when you’re—”
“No,” Veryn said, aiming a sweet smile up at him in return. “Psionic is what I intended to say. I don’t have a chance against you if a reduction in physical strength is your only limitation. Even without psionics, your reach is enormous, you weigh too much to move, and your weapon is almost as long as my body. You could hold me back with a psionic barrier and never have to fight.”“Far from it. There are ways to defeat even one such as me in battle. That is why we are here and why I’ve given you this particular training weapon. Here, you will learn to battle a psionic Lexar. Until the day you best me in battle or leave this ship, you are to be my student.”