By Stephannie Beman
Kairos didn’t come to the Sharli compound looking for a woman, he just wants to do his job and go home. Only he’s been duped by Synol, his family’s patriarch, and Mar’kos, who seem to think that he needs a woman in his life. Not bloody likely. The last woman to enter his life extracts a hefty price from him every year. But they’ve made sure he can’t refuse this woman by placing her life in his hands, either he keeps her or she dies.
The Sharli have one purpose to the people of Gatlantis: ensure their survival. Most Sharli enter the compound as babes and are trained in the arts of seduction. But Mhairi is like no other Sharli. She wasn’t given to the compound, but taken by force. She wasn’t bred into submissiveness, but taught to protect what is hers. She is a fighter by nature and her instincts tell her that Kairos’ lethal arms is where she belongs. There’s only one problem: Damia.
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Keeping Mhairi Excerpt by Stephannie Beman
The short range shuttle, class P2S, short for Space to Planet, left the docking bay of Space Station Gatlantis-1 and maneuvered away from the bulking piece of junk and toward the surface of the dead planet. Nessor, an ancient city discovered by archeologists, was one of the newest editions to Gatlantis, a bubble of green nestled in a valley on the red surface. The shuttle circled the domed city, slowing in speed and banking left.
Kairos took the time to memorize the layout of the dome. Trees grew around the edge of the dome, providing air to the inhabitants. The city lay to the east, meadows and farm land to the north, center, and south, and the compound to the west. There was only the one exit, the large, dull grey building housing protruding out of the side of the dome that housed the landing pad.
He hated domed cities, especially ones residing on planets with poisoned atmospheres. Gatlantis was incapable of supporting life, prolonged exposure to the outside with its low quality air lead to asphyxiation. Not the most pleasant way to die. And not the way Kairos planned to go. Although it would probably be more pleasant then the way he was bound to die.
Sighing, he glanced around the shuttle. As transport vehicles went, this was a luxury model, meant for the high class of people inside. It could of comfortable accommodate thirty people, but only twelve and himself were headed for Nessor. Of the seven men and five women, he’d brought four men and two women. Spoiled brats without a care in the world who were about to be given a gift they didn’t deserve, nor would they appreciate.
If it wasn’t for them, Kairos never would have been on Gatlantis-1 and Lord Mar’kos, head of the Sharli Project, would have never broken protocol and summoned him to this damned place. He would be at his home on lush Junvo, tending to the business of his ranch, and pretending the outside world didn’t exist as he counted down the days to Damia’s visit.
Instead, Synol had demanded he take the sniveling children of the Tyger Clan nobility, travel with them millions of miles and six very long days away from home, and drop them off on Gatlantis so they could retrieve their Council approved slaves. A sordid, old practice that he wished they would abolish. Although with the money and power involved, it would never happen.
So the better question was why did Synol think now was a good time for him to travel from Junvo to Gatlantis? In a few more weeks Damia’s visit would be over and he would have recovered sufficiently for the trip. As it was, he was cutting it close and endangering the agreement between Damia and Synol.
“We’re almost there,” one of the noble women commented.
“About bloody time, my ass will ache for a month after this,” Zekdor said from beside Kairos, earning him a glare from Aldro that could have melted metal.
Kairos exchanged a grin with the youngest of the three brothers he’d brought to Gatlantis-1, and mimicked the country brogue. “Someday ya’ll have to return Synol’s favor.”
Zekdor laughed, flipping a lock of sandy hair out his eyes. He looked like a younger version his father, the late Lord Urdar, minus the unruly sandy hair he received from his mother. “Aye.”
“Why do you insist on speaking to that hybrid whelp, Zek?” Aldro asked. His slurred speech evident of overindulgence of the local alcohol, which Kairos knew from experience, was potent enough to knock out the heaviest of drinkers. “Why are you even here, bastard? You can’t afford a Sharli.”
Zekdor shook his head and released a long suffering sigh. “Because unlike the rest of us, Aldro, Mar’kos summoned him to Nessor.”
Kairos touched his half-brother’s arm and shook his head. “Leave it alone, Zek. Nothing he says means anything to me.”
Which was a lie. He adored every one of his half-brothers and clung to the hope that Aldro and Jahn would one day accept him and realize that he didn’t want their place in the Clan as Zekdor and Synol had long ago. Until that time, every word spoke hit a cord in his heart. Every word reminded him again that he didn’t belong to their world. That he was the bastard son of a lord and a peasant woman, and because of that he was fashioned into a killing machine, trained to protect and defend his brothers against all threats to their safety.
Kairos returned to his contemplation of the world outside the shuttle, not wanting to think anymore upon his job as Protectorate of the Tyger Clan. He forced his muscles to relax and tried to convince himself to enjoy the impromptu vacation. He never knew when he would get another. Not that Gatlantis was his idea of a vacation destination.
Why anyone would want to come to this world or even stay was a mystery to him. The domes were probably nice enough, but the thought of inches of clear material being the only thing between him and all the red sand and deadly air, ruined the enjoyment. He shouldn’t have left the station.
In all the years he’d ferried the sons and daughters of his clan to this place, he’d never seen the planet, except from space. Now he was about to enter a forbidden city on the most heavily guarded planet in the Alliance.
Watching the approaching dome city, the meal and alcohol he’d consumed rode like heavy stones in his belly. No one came to Nessor except those with the wealth for direct trading with Mar’kos or by command of the Council. He had neither.
The shuttle glided into the bay and they touched solid ground. The engines revved down. The bay doors grinding close behind them, shaking the shuttle and sounding horrible.
One of the pilots exited the cockpit. He looked at the passengers, his face impassive, but his eyes shone with disgust. “Please disembark from the shuttle. Your host has provided conveyances to the Sharli compound.” He opened the sealed door. “Your luggage will be delivered to the compound within the hour. We’ll be back to retrieve you in a week.”
Kairos unbuckled his restraints and rose with the others. Grabbing his ratty bag from beneath the seat, he followed some of the richest members of the Planetary Alliance from the shuttle. He ignored the glances thrown his way, very aware of how out of place he was among them. If Mar’kos hadn’t demanded his presence in Nessor he would have waited at Gatlantis-1 for his passengers’ return to Junvo. However, there was no refusing Mar’kos’ summons. Not if one wished to survive.
Kairos waited in the cold bay for the others to board the carriage class transport and wished there was another means of travel to the Sharli compound. Nearing the transport, he could hear Aldro’s loud voice protesting the indignity of traveling with a hybrid bastard and that there was no way they could all fit inside. The carriage could fit fifty people comfortably and there was half that many people.
Knowing there was no way in hell he could ride with the others and not hit Aldro, he handed his bag to the worker removing baggage from the shuttle before facing the carriage driver. “I’ll walk.”
The driver’s eyebrows rose. “Really?”
He wasn’t sure if it was his simple clothes that screamed he didn’t belong in the same circles as the others and probably shouldn’t be here, or the fact that he’d offered to walk that elicited such a reaction. She probably thought he was the hired help. He definitely looked the part.
Zekdor hesitated in the door of the transport, looking between the driver and Kairos.
Grinning, Kairos nodded, pointing in the direction of the compound. “Really.”
She nodded. “But, Sir, Lord Mar’kos is awaiting your arrival…”
“I think he’ll understand my delay.”
Zekdor sighed. “Lucky cat. I’d trade Emperor’s ransom to walk instead of being trapped inside.”
“Zek!” Aldro shouted. “Get in here, you’re letting in all the cold.”
They both knew Zekdor coming with Kairos would be bad. Aldro would see it as a betrayal and make both their lives even worse. Zekdor signed and disappeared into the gloomy interior. The door closed behind him.
Kairos nodded to the woman and headed across the landing pad to the double doors too small to be the transports’ entrance to the dome. Before he got close enough to touch them, a door opened and two men in military uniforms stepped out, armed and ready for a fight.
“This dome is restricted to—”
Kairos pulled the disk from his vest pocket and handed it to the guard who spoke. Only a fool would attempt to pass the guards without clearance. It was an automatic death sentence. “I was summoned by Lord Mar’kos to the Sharli Compound. You can call to verify my appointment. I’ll wait.”
The guard took the disk and headed for the office. Kairos stepped back, giving the nervous guard plenty of room. Idiots with guns always made him uncomfortable. They shot first and asked questions later, although this man was more likely to shoot himself than Kairos.
Seconds later the guard returned and handed the disk back. “Your business in the compound is legitimate. Lord Mar’kos is waiting your arrival. Would you like an escort?”
“No. I’d like to walk.”
The man nodded and opened the door for Kairos. Kairos headed out of the building and stepped into a world he’d only read about in books. Giant trees towered above his head, blotting out the sky and chilling him beneath their shadow.
Walking along the ill-kept, winding narrow road through an ancient forest, he breathed a sigh of relief when the light around him lightened and the trees opened into a sweeping valley. Long-haired goats, wooly sheep, and horned cattle grazed peacefully on lush green pasture unaware that one day they would grace someone’s plate.
A small river meandered through the valley, a shinning blue ribbon among the green, and beside it was a strip of brown road. Large fenced off orchards and gardens provided the inhabitants of Nessor with most of their food.
At the heart of the dome, lay Nessor city. Towering building of glass and metal glistened in the sunlight, housing the array of attendants and guards who ran the small city and provided for the compound a short distance away. The thought of residing in one of the building made Kairos nauseous. He preferred structures under three stories tall. There was a better chance at surviving if it collapsed.
The compound was different from the other buildings. The gray stone monstrosity, left over from the first inhabitants of Gatlantis and greatly improved upon in the century since the Planetary Alliance had taken residence, rested on the knoll of a gentle slope. Circling the fortress was an assortment of smaller dwellings that cascaded down the incline and stopping at a thick wall.
In this day and age of peace, it all seemed the paranoid overindulgence of an eccentric people, yet the fading scorch marks streaking across the stone proved it was a requirement of life for those who lived inside. Unlike the raids of Kairos’ childhood, when clans fought for livestock and land, what lay inside the walls of the compound, hidden from sight and protected by the Council, was worth killing for. At least for some.
Nessor housed the Universe’s rarest and most sought after commerce. The Sharli. Sons and daughters of Gatlantis, genetic aberrations hated and nearly eradicated from their world, and saved by the interference of the Planetary Alliance. A gesture, not born of some benevolent desire to stop the genocide, but so the Council could control and harness the unique abilities of the Sharli.
Genetic testing was required at birth and the children found to be Sharli were handed over to the Council and sent directly to the Compound for training without question or protest. All part of the payment for services rendered. In turn, the Alliance sold the Sharli to the highest bidder.
They were said to be the finest courtesan and deadliest bodyguards in the known Universe, and only the richest and most powerful men and women of the Planetary Alliance could own one. The truth was the Sharli were given to loyal supporters of the Council in the hope that they could breed across species and create a new race under the control of the Council. Not that the Council of the Planetary Alliance needed any more power. They were already too strong, trapped in the old ways, and used their powers in ways that disgusted Kairos. But it really didn’t matter since there was few recorded Sharli who’d been capable of impregnating a woman or being impregnated by a man and carrying the child to full term. The low birth rate made the Council’s plans obsolete.
Kairos sighed. He hated politics. And he hated Gatlantaen politics more. They made his head hurt and his hand ache to use his knife he’d left on his ship to cut down the ignorant bastards who dictated laws to benefit their own greed instead of aiding the people they swore to protect with their very lives. His life included.
Turning his attention to the road ahead, Kairos travelled over the ill-maintained road at a ground-eating lope. Hopefully, he’d reach the compound before nightfall and he’d be able to speak with Mar’kos. Then he could return to Gatlantis-1 and drink himself into a stupor until this Sharli business Synol insisted Kairos perform was at an end and he could escort the noble pain in the asses back home. He had his own business to attend to, which didn’t include high nobles. Just a Baktro and a lot of pain.
Mhairi didn’t like the lab, or the disgusting man who ran it.
Housed on the third floor of the compound, the once elegant rooms had long since been transformed into a pristine, sterile examination room painted a sickly shade of pale blue that smelled of antiseptics and fear. The once rich chairs and benches along the wall closest to the door had been stripped of their comfortable cushions and painted icy white to match the tables and cabinets which were filled to bursting with herbs, medicines, and equipment.
As awful as the lab was, the man who poked, prodded, tested, and provided treatment was worse. While young and handsome, he was a repulsive man whose sole pleasure in life seemed to be in the examination of the female population.
Mhairi glided to a stop against the far facing wall and waited silently and serenely with the other seven Sharli. No one sat in the chairs provided. They all hoped they wouldn’t be there that long.
He straightened at the sink, smoothing his white lab coat, and brushed his hand through his thick, curly hair. Squinting at the seven Sharli, he grunted, shoved his wiry glasses higher on his nose, and waved them toward the examination chair. They knew the drill.
Nyala’s red robe slid from her slender shoulders and the doctor’s eyes glazed with lust. She walked across the room and climbed into the silver chair that Mar’kos had insisted be positioned in the center of the room after the old doctor was replaced for misconduct, and placed her white feet on the two appendages sticking out from the chair. Her chastity piercing was unlocked and removed, leaving her vulnerable and open to the doctor’s lecherous gaze.
Mhairi wasn’t sure what was worse, knowing but not seeing what the others went through in that chair or having the chance to watch the doctor check her vitals before he taking his sweet time fondling her breasts, kneading her belly, and probing her pussy with his long fingers. She’d seen him accomplish the same exam in one-fourth the time.
The examination was part of their six month medical routine. Since they were to be presented to their potential masters, they’d all be certified clean of diseases and for the women that their hymens were intact. This entire, idiotic procedure was ridiculous. No one had defiled a Sharli in a hundred and eighty years. The old doctor had almost broken that record last month with one of the young girls.
Rumor was the nurse has stopped him by injecting a sedative to his system and Mar’kos made sure he was never tempted by another woman by removing his hands, eyes, and cock sack. She doubted the rumor was true. She didn’t doubted Mar’kos could perform such violence on another, he was more than capable of executing such deeds without regret, but that the mouse of a nurse had sedated the doctor. She’d probably called for the orderlies to help her.
“Next,” the doctor called ten minutes later.
Nyala slid off the table, her cool demeanor never breaking. She slipped into her robe held by a nurse with black hair and too much make-up hiding the beautiful lines of her young face, probably to safeguard her against the doctor’s unwanted advances. Nyala moved toward the opposite door to wait, ignoring the chair.
A Sharli male stepped forward, dropped his green robe, and sat in the chair. The doctor’s desire faded as he tested the man’s vitals, quickly probed the carefully sculpted musculature of his chest and abdomen, and removed the chastity piercing to fondle his cock and sack, before locking it and giving him an injection. The whole process only took a few minutes.
The man slid off the chair and into the robe handed him. The nurse tried to keep her eyes from revolving over the gorgeous male specimen with his bronzed skin and muscled body. Not that he would mind the nurse looking.
Modesty wasn’t a term most Sharli understood. Nakedness and sex was a major part of their existence, which made keeping them from having sex extra difficult. The Council’s response to the problem was stricter punishments and genital piercings for both males and females, making intercourse impossible and reiterating that their bodies didn’t belong to them. Those Sharli who were caught having sex before their contract was bought, ended up in the breeding barns. As for those that dared to defile a Sharli, the sentence was death.
Mhairi glanced toward Rhia to her left, her heart twisting with a measure of fear and pity. There was no way one of them could help Rhia. Her distant gaze, fixed on the wall across the room, and her stiff stance would betray her. She looked drugged, only she wasn’t. The girl’s mind had finally broken under the strain. Rhia might be here physically, but mental she was gone.
She wasn’t any different than many of the others who retreated into the safety of their minds to escape the horror of slavery. And it was happening more often.
Not every Sharli was meant for this life. Not that the Council cared. All they wanted was the proceeds from the contracts. Life didn’t matter to them as long as they were paid. Those Sharli, like Rhia, who were different, who couldn’t live the life of a courtesan and killer and remain sane, were disposed of like diseased animals. The only way to be free was for the Sharli to break the power of the Council, an impossible task. So they would continue to pay because their parents survived the destruction of Gatlantis.
Mhairi stepped forward, drawing the doctor’s gaze. Her lips curled into a seductive smile filled with promise. She slowly slid the blood red robe from her shoulders, the silk slithering softly over her hairless, smooth skin, and pooled on the floor at her feet. He appraised her curvy form, lust twinkling in his eyes.
She glided toward him, putting the full force of her training into play, drawing his attention away from Rhia. She hoped the others would understand and do what they could to help the girl.
The door behind her opened and she glanced over her shoulder at the male caretakers who guided four more Sharli into the room. His eyes perused her, darkening with desire.
They might be slaves to the whims of powerful monsters, but the Sharli weren’t powerless. They had the best training in the Universe. They were good at adapting. And the animal mind was too easily swayed by a naked body.
“Mar’kos says to stop playing with the girls, or he’ll chop your hands off and burn out your eyes,” the caretaker growled at the doctor, giving Mhairi a pointed glance.
The doctor paled.
The threat wasn’t an idle one. Mar’kos wasn’t known for his patience or tolerance of fools. While he wasn’t above killing someone, he preferred creative punishments. Maim someone and everyone who saw him would know he crossed the wrong person.
She grinned at the caretaker and waved.
His eyes narrowed. “There are buyers waiting. He wants them certified and out in thirty minutes.”
The door closed, leaving the doctor with eleven women. Six Sharli in ruby robes, two in sapphire, one in emerald, and the last in a robe of onyx. The sexual tastes of Mar’kos’ buyers must have quite the range to warrant the varied gathering of Sharli.
“You heard him, girl. Hurry up!”
Mhairi turned on the man, her fangs bursting through her gums and piercing her bottom lip. The surge of emotions humming through her blood, beating at the serene walls protecting her, demanding he pay for his disrespect. She bit back the hiss of anger more out of surprise than fear. She couldn’t lose control. Not here. Not now. She was so close to her goal.
Forcing her feet to move forward, she sat in the chair, and tolerated the indignity of his cold, probing fingers and too hard touch. Hatred flushed through her system. She could end it here. All she had to do was lean over, wrap her hands around his neck, and squeeze until his vertebrae snapped and crackled like little twigs. His bulging baby blue eyes would glaze over with death and his gasping mouth would forever be silent. She could kill him now and save generations from his touch.
Regardless of Mar’kos’ threat, he still took longer than he needed to do the certification. He made notations on the tablet, pressed his finger to the pad to verify, and motioned for her to get off the chair. “Next.”
Blinking away thoughts of his death, she leapt off the chair and stooped to pick up her robe. She needed to focus. Killing the doctor, while satisfying, would accomplish nothing but her death. And she wasn’t ready to die, not for him.
Slipping her arms into the sleeves, she met the nurse’s questioning gaze and hesitated. The woman stared at Mhairi with a mixture of alarm and fear in her large eyes. Her wide mouth hung slightly open. The far too observant nurse knew or had seen something.
A thrill of panic thrummed through her. Had she seen the violence in her eyes? Had she given herself away in some small way?
She waited for the nurse to say or do something, anything. But she didn’t. She merely stared at Mhairi.
Mhairi closed her robe and tied the belt with trembling hands. She smoothed her hands over the wrinkles and composed her face into a serene mask. She was treading on dangerous ground. One wrong word from the nurse could end her.
She winked at the nurse and pointedly looked at Rhia, reminding her of her duty before sauntering over to the others. The nurse helped Rhia into her robe and Tina took her place in the chair. Mhairi exchanged looks with Nyala and laughed.
Not the practiced, light laugh they’d been forced to rehearse, but a true laugh. The sound was startling in the quiet room. She liked the unexpected newness of it and she wanted to try it again. However, the expression on the faces of everyone in the room told her it was a bad idea.
The other Sharli, minus Nyala and Rhia, stared at her with a bland form of distain. Rhia had awoken from her daze and smiled at her, as if they shared a secret no other in the room did. Nyala’s brow was creased with worry. The doctor glared at her as if she’d ruined his entire day. And the nurse gaped at her.
The door behind Mhairi opened. Every eye turned to the man Mhairi had seen a handful of times, but knew well. Mar’kos. Lord and manager of the compound.
Mar’kos’ sharp eyes scanned the occupants. “What happened?” he demanded.
“She laughed,” the nurse said, pointing an accusing finger at Mhairi.
The urge to stick her tongue out at the woman, like she’d seen children not of Sharli descent do, was almost overpowering. “Tattle-tale,” she murmured under her breath, unable to remain silent.
Mar’kos focused on her, his icy blue eyes boring a hole into her soul. “Is that all?”
“Yes,” she lied, before anyone else could say anything. She wasn’t going to tell him about the other strange emotions. Like hatred and wanting to kill the doctor.
His eyes narrowed and fear turned her body to ice. She couldn’t hide the truth from him. No one could.
Mar’kos knew the Sharli. He knew them better than any living creature. Better then they knew themselves. It was one reason he was in charge. The other was because he was ruthless.
His eyes rested on the doctor. “Are the others ready?”
The doctor’s throat constricted noticeably. “No-not y-yet. She’s-she’s disease free and intact.”
“I suggest you finish your examinations quickly, doctor, or I will find a new physician to care for them.”
Mar’kos focused on her again. He pointed one very long finger at her. “You. With me.”
He turned and walked through the door without a backward glance. Mhairi stared after him, the perverse temptation to defy his command worming its way into her mind. Would he come back for her? Or would he send guards to get her?
Would he make her pay for her lie?
No wonder Sharli were born without emotions. The sheer range of irrational temptations, absurd desires, and illogical cravings during the course of an hour was an exercise in stupidity. She couldn’t imagine a lifetime of this chaos. It was enough to make one crazy.
Self-preservation and years of training overrode her sudden curiosity and she smiled weakly at her tranquil roommates before walking out the door. She had to hurry to catch up to Mar’kos. Walking a short distance behind him as was proper, she waited for the question that never came.
He pulled a vial of clear liquid out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Drink this,” he demanded without glancing her way.
She took the vial from his hand and stared at it, not wanting to drink its contents, but knowing she didn’t really have a choice. “What is it?”
He grunted. “Stop being difficult and just drink it, Mhairi.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, pulled the stopper, and downed the contents, choked on the sickeningly sweet liquid sliding down her throat. This was worse than the red drink they’d given her when she’d first shown a proficiency in the arts of seduction, sex play, and weapons.
A fire crackled in the ancient hearth, of course, it wasn’t a real fire. The resources of Gatlantis couldn’t support such waste and there were laws against polluting the quality of air. Taxing the system meant heavy fines.
Not being real didn’t mean that the fire looked any less genuine or produced less warmth. The heat radiated into the dark, opulent room, warming every corner.
Kairos thought it was a little too much, but knew it had everything to do with presentation. This entire compound was all about the presentation. It was meant to put buyers at ease, show the wealth of the owner, and give the sense of old money. This place made his skin crawl. It hid a terrible truth and Kairos would not be drawn in by the lie.
The agony and despair behind these walls seeped into every rock, screaming for release. This was a house of slaves. Prisoners waiting for their masters to purchase them like animals. And he wanted nothing to do with it.
He’d arrived at the compound last night, accepted the room offered him, declined the use of the compound’s resident courtesans, and asked to see Mar’kos. He’d been told that he was busy with his guests and that there was a suit ready for him if he would like to join the others. Kairos declined. The sooner he could leave, the better he would feel.
This morning a servant arrived with his meal, Mar’kos would see him. The woman had led him to this room, explaining that Lord Mar’kos was preparing the Sharli for sale. Minus any unforeseeable problems, he would be with Kairos directly. That had been an hour ago.
Since entering this tastefully decorated room, Kairos had picked out the recording devices, hidden entrance, escape routes, and a sprayer that could release a foam in case of a fire or a knock out toxin if things got out of hand. After checking out the extensive library of books against the North Wall, he’d finally taken a place against the defensible south wall so he could keep an eye on both doors on the west and east walls.
Shifting uncomfortably, he silently cursed the guard who’d thoroughly searched him for weapons at the station and found them all, including the Obrilim stone knife. He could really use its comforting weight right now. While he didn’t expect trouble, Kairos felt naked without his weapons. Synol had once teased him that he looked like a warrior going to war even at home. Kairos had told him he liked to be prepared for a fight. If only Synol had known how many weapons he carried that couldn’t be seen or detected.
The truth was, every day he was alive, was a battle in survival. His mother’s legacy to him. And now he was weaponless in a place he didn’t know, waiting upon a man who’d taught him everything he needed to know about killing. He doubted anyone knew of his travel plans, and it seemed unlikely that he would be attacked in one of the most secure city in the Planetary Alliance, but one never knew what Khaos would bring. Like an invite to Nessor from one of the most dangerous men, for who knew what reason.
This wasn’t Kairos’ first visit to Gatlantis, he knew the rules. No one except those granted permission to have a Sharli were allowed within the Compound. He hadn’t petition the Council for a Sharli and he never would. He didn’t want a woman. He didn’t need the added responsibility or the headache. He’d already been chained to a woman who couldn’t handle his life or his past. In his five hundred years of life he’d met very few women who could share his life and they weren’t for him.
Which left an extremely short list of other reasons he was here that included: Mar’kos feeling nostalgic and Mar’kos had a job for him. The first seemed unlikely and the second could have been asked over a secure line.
An hour turned into two and Kairos was getting the sneaking suspicion that something was very wrong. For the last hundred years Synol paid him to escort a few nobles of the Tyger Clan to Gatlantis twice a year. In all that time he’d never been allowed on the planet surface. He handed his charges over to Mar’kos and remained in the safety of his ship drinking himself into unconscious. In a week, a messenger would arrive to tell him when his charges would be ready to depart. He’d be waiting for the nobles and their Sharli outside the landing bay on the station and get settled in their estate rooms before loading their luggage. They’d be heading home within the day.
Never in all that time had Synol asked him to go during this time of the year for the third time. His agreement with Damia forbade it. Never had he been allowed within the domain of the Sharli. Mar’kos was most adamant that his slaves would not be tainted by a lowly person who neither deserved nor could afford to buy one.
The door opened and Mar’kos entered with Aldro, Jahn, Zekdor, and two other men in tow. There was a level of forced gaiety between the brothers that couldn’t quite hide the tension and their distrust of each other. Mar’kos cast him an apologetic glance before serving the men Blood Wine from a crystal decanter he pulled out of the cooling unit and small snacks from a platter.
Mar’kos turned toward him with a glass and Kairos shook his head. He wouldn’t touch the stuff. He couldn’t see how anyone except a blood drinker could. There was more blood in Blood Wine then wine and it turned his stomach.
Aldro followed Mar’kos’ gesture and stiffened. “What is he doing here?” he demanded, not even speaking to Kairos, an obvious insult.
Kairos ignored it. It wasn’t the first in five hundred years and he doubted it would be the last. Instead he raised a questioning brow toward Mar’kos wanting to know the same and wondering if Mar’kos would answer truthfully.
Mar’kos indulgent smile grated on Kairos’ nerves and directed his answer to Aldro. “I have business with your brother—”
“Half!” Aldro protested.
Mar’kos smile turned brittle. “I have business with the son of Urdar—”
“It was never proven,” Jahn added.
Zekdor snorted. “Synol had a blood test done.”
The idea shocked Kairos. And it was definitely news to Aldro and Jahn.
When had Synol had his blood tested? Where did he get a sample? And why had he? Kairos was nothing to Synol but a bastard son of the late Clan Lord that Synol had been forced to deal with upon Urdar’s death. Although Synol seemed less put out or dismayed by the duty.
“As much as it pains you two to acknowledge, Kairos is Urdar’s son,” Zekdor spoke up, thought his eyes never strayed from the red liquid swirling around his crystal goblet. “He’s our brother.”
Aldro glared at Zekdor. “Half!”
Zekdor glanced up from his untouched glass and grinned at Aldro. “I, for one, think he’s the best addition to the family. So sip your Blood Wine and let Mar’kos finish what he was saying!”
Kairos blinked. Where had that come from? Zekdor was quiet, academic, and well known for staying out of fights. The glares on Aldro’s and Jahn’s faces said Zekdor was in for a fight later. Zekdor returned the look with one that stated he would welcome the fight. Kairos would have to keep an eye on the youngster while he was in Nessor.
“As I was saying, I have business with Kairos, which I’d hoped to have concluded before now. However, I was detained.” Mar’kos threw a pointed glare at Jahn. He cocked his head and touched the communicator in his ear, nodding at what the person told him. “The women I’ve chosen for you are almost finished with their preparations.” His gaze rested on Kairos, a strange light in his cold eyes. “Our business will have to wait until after. I would like you to remain here until I can speak with you.”
As much as it sounded like a request, Kairos wasn’t fooled. Mar’kos was telling him he would stay until their business was concluded.
Grinding his teeth in frustration, he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. He’d stay. He didn’t have to like it, but he would stay until Mar’kos let him go.
Aldro launched into an long speech over how Kairos being there was against the rules, how his presence was unneeded and unwanted, and how a complaint would be lodged with the Council over this infraction. Kairos shoved aside the urge to tell him to shut up, he didn’t want to be here and the fact that he was here made him uncomfortable. He wisely remained silent and let Mar’kos take care of it.
Mar’kos cocked his head, listening to the small voice in his ear, and excused himself in the middle of Aldro’s dialogue. The door had barely shut behind him before Aldro and Jahn launched into a conversation about the demise of the noble bloodline because of treacherous hybrid scum.
Kairos stifled the urge to rip into them. It wasn’t easy. His Tyger craved a good fight. Not that it would receive it from Aldro or Jahn. They were too weak and would never lead the Tyger Clan if anything happened to Synol. It would be up to Zekdor or Kairos, and he wanted nothing to do with power or politics.
As long as Synol or Zekdor ruled, he would be loyal to Clan. However, if Aldro or Jahn ever came to power, he wouldn’t hesitate to disappear. The Universe was vast and there were plenty of planets to hide on.
Kairos shifted, flexing his adrenaline pumped muscles. His control over his Tyger lessening as the seconds ticked away. Every moment he came closer to losing his power over the beast, like a child before his first change. He wasn’t child who lost control at every insult thrown his way. He was a hardened, discipline warrior whose taunt, aching muscles warned him that if he didn’t get out of this room now he was liable to leap across the room and tear out Aldro’s throat.
The west door opened and Mar’kos strode into the room followed by a Sharli woman in a ruby robe. She glided into the room, graceful as a long legged Lidra, and closed the door behind her. She stilled, her glazed gaze roaming the faces around her.
She appeared no different than countless other Sharli Kairos had seen over the years: young, serene, lacking in scent and expression, and devoid of color. The younger they were the more they reminded him of walking corpses, and not the parasitic, blood sucking kind.
“Gentlemen, anyone for a refill?” Mar’kos asked, breaking the spell the Sharli had cast over them.
Kairos jerked his glance to Mar’kos although he never let the woman out of his line of view. She folded her hands inside her sleeves, bowed her head slightly, and kept her eyes downcast in a way that screamed submissiveness, and yet Kairos had the impression that she was aware of everyone in the room and wouldn’t hesitate to leap into action at the slightest provocation.
Had Mar’kos brought a warrior trained Sharli into their midst? And if so, why?
Zekdor raised his full glass. “I’m good.”
Aldro lifted his nearly empty crystal wine glass. “I’d like another.”
Jahn licked his lips, his eyes swinging toward the Sharli beside the door, roaming over her body. “How about a taste from her while we wait?”
Kairos grimaced. How anyone could drink the concoction of red wine and the beneficial blood of a certain species was puzzling and gross. That Jahn would even suggest that they bleed the woman for that blood sickened and angered him.
A minute movement to his left snapped Kairos’ attention to the woman and put him on high alert. While her posture hadn’t changed, her entire stance spoke of lethal grace and the glint in her eyes of possible violence. Kairos had the feeling if anyone even tried to drink her blood she’d harm them, maybe even kill them.
Aggression in a Sharli? Unheard of, and odd. He kind of liked it. Meant she wasn’t as cold and serene as she appeared. There was passion in her. He was curious to know what other emotions she would display today.
“Sorry, gentlemen,” Mar’kos said. “She’s meant for another and I don’t think he’d be pleased to share what is his.”
Despite the friendly smile on his face, Mar’kos’ eyes were cold and a hint of annoyance had entered his voice. In all the years Kairos had known him, he’d never showed an emotion he didn’t want to. He was too skilled at deception to make such small mistakes. Something was amiss.
Was the woman meant for one of his half-brothers? Gods, he hoped not. She’d probably kill Jahn or Aldro. Zekdor was too sensitive a soul to handle her. He didn’t really know the others. Maybe her master was to come later to collect her
Mar’kos pointed in Kairos’ general direction. “You, go stand over there.”
Her head jerked up and fire flashed in her eyes. Clenching her jaw, she bowed her head in acquiesce and moved swiftly in Kairos’ direction, skirting past the other men and stopping at his side. A good distance from him, but too close to make him comfortable.
Mar’kos watched her go with a questioning gaze, as if he wasn’t sure of what to make of her behavior. Kairos wasn’t sure what to make of her either. Defiance in a young Sharli, and even in some of the older ones, was unheard of, something bred out of their genetic line. Though from what he saw of Kaedra, Mar’kos’ Sharli, it wasn’t always so.
Originally Published June 2013
Copyright by Stephannie Beman
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