Hayley held her grandfather’s hand as he lay with his head propped on a pillow. She was frightened – not that he would die. Death was inevitable for everyone, but no surprise at ninety-five. It was one thing to die of old age in a comfortable bed. It would be quite another to be executed by the Sentinels.
Perhaps execution would have been fair punishment for the original Fontalo scientists from Planet Oriel - the ones who conducted the experiments that left Sentinels trapped in bodies that looked half human and half animal - but at the time of the executions, only one of the original Spaceship Lyra crew was still alive, and he was eighty-five years old. Her grandfather, Sam, had arrived on the Lyra as a young naïve maintenance engineer years after the experiments began. Ten years ago there had been less than a dozen Oriel descendantsworking in the lab. Most of them, including her parents, had been born on the Lyra or Planet Arcane.
No one had been conducting human experiments on Arcane since the Lyra left, over sixty years ago. The executions took place a mere ten years ago - the senseless slaughter of innocent people. Only two people had escaped - soon to be only one. If the Sentinels discovered their location, there would be no one left. What she had done might reveal their hiding place, but she had to do something.
The Sentinel leader wasn't seeking justice when he ordered the executions. What he wanted was revenge for his stillborn son. Hayley had felt compassion for Oribe and his wife when their baby was born too deformed to live. Everyone did, but he didn’t want their compassion. No, what Oribe wanted was assurance that no more experiments would be conducted. He refused to believe the work that the Oriel scientists had been doing in their lab had nothing to do with creating beings. Maybe he would have believed them if they had surrendered the Fontalo records, but that wouldn't resolve his problem. In fact, if Fontalo ever returned, there might be something in the records that could help the Sentinels.
Ten years ago, Hayley and her grandfather had been searching for herbs near the base of the mountains when Renit and Atz, two Arcane Primaz natives, had warned them about an expected raid on the lab. The Sentinels had never entered the lab and she didn't care if they took the records. The readers hadn't been functional for years, and she didn't believe Fontalo would ever return. Grandfather was concerned that they would seize and destroy the records. He wanted to get them out of the lab and hide them somewhere else. Atz offered to go get them. The Sentinels had never been hostile toward the Primaz, so Hayley and her grandfather had stayed with Renit while her brother jogged off to save the records.
When Atz returned with the records, he was visibly shaken and the information he gave them had put Hayley in a catatonic state for days. Even now it was so painful that she refused to think about it. Renit and Atz had lost a brother, but she had lost an entire family.
Renit and Atz, had taken the two fugitives to a secret valley in the desert where they built an underground shelter. There they hid the records and spent the last ten years hiding. In that time Hayley and her Grandfather had often thought about surrendering the records. What good were they? It was possible that no one had a machine that could read them. Each time they decided it was unlikely that Oribe would spare their lives even if they voluntarily surrendered the records. In any case, if they surrendered them, the others would have died in vain. It was small consolation, but Oribe had not achieved his goal either.
She shuddered at the memory and pushed it from her mind again. Ten years wasn’t enough to dull the pain, but it was enough to cultivate a burning hatred for Oribe.
Grandfather opened his eyes and turned his head to look at her. He misread the pain in her eyes.
“I have lived a long and good life. I know it’s my time, but I don’t like leaving you alone.”
She forced a smile. “I won’t be alone. Renit and Atz are here.”
He closed his eyes and grunted. “But you may never hear another human voice.”
True. It would be a silent existence if she didn't talk to herself. The Primaz were non-verbal. They had no larynx. They didn't need one to communicate with each other. They communicated telepathically. Since the scientists couldn't do that, they had taught them sign language. Fontalo had experimented with an artificial larynx but it had never been successful. Even with the artificial larynx, they could make noises, but still couldn’t talk. The only people left on Arcane who could talk, aside from Hayley and her grandfather, were the Sentinels. But then, grandpa didn’t consider the Sentinels to be human – not after the executions.
The Primaz were intelligent – maybe more so than the Sentinels or even the scientists. At least they were smart enough not to explore other planets because they had destroyed their own. They were gentle, caring people who lived a simple life. They were stunningly beautiful people, each and every one of them, but they were utterly docile. They wouldn’t lift a finger to defend themselves, much less anyone else.
Hayley pushed the memories from her mind again. She could do nothing about the past, but she had taken steps to do something about the future. Papa wouldn’t approve, but she was feeling desperate. She was in her early forties already. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life living like this.
She sighed. “I activated the distress signal this morning.”
Sam’s eyes flew open wide. “The Sentinels will find us!”
“I worked on the transmitter, altering the signal. I don’t think the sentinels have the technology to pick up on it. She made a face. “Unfortunately, a spaceship might not be able to decipher it either – if there are any within range. I boosted the output so that the signal reaches deeper into space.” She shrugged. “In any case, I’d rather die than continue to live this way.”
He studied her face a moment. “I can understand why you feel there is no hope, but there is a future. You must not give up.”
She had given up long ago – when they abandoned everything she loved to the Sentinels in Hirina. There was nothing left for her on Arcane; the planet of her birth.
Sam continued to watch her. “What about Renit and Atz?”
Renit and Atz didn’t need them to survive. In fact, their odds of survival would probably multiply if they were on their own. Had they learned nothing from their brother’s death? Certainly they had done nothing to prevent or avenge it. Guilt or a feeling of obligation may have been their motivation for saving her and her grandfather, but Hayley never understood why the two stayed to help them instead of rejoining their own people in the mountains.
“The Sentinels have nothing against the Primaz. They have a symbiotic relationship.”
Grandfather groaned. “Truly in the biological sense – the Sentinels are parasitic to the Primaz.”
It was true that the Sentinels used the Primaz, but they also assisted them. The Primaz were not slaves. They lived in the homes of Sentinels and worked for them. In return, they were given food, clothing and a nice place to sleep. They could, and often did, leave without notice and return as suddenly. The rare birth of a Primaz infant was celebrated by the Sentinels and their children were welcome to stay with the adults. Hayley despised Oribe, but most of the Sentinels were good people.
“Renit and Atz will probably go back to their people in the mountains. If not, they will adapt, as they have.”
He scowled at her. “If it hadn’t been for them leading us here when the Sentinels started executing the scientists, we’d be dead too.”
She wasn’t going to get into that discussion again. Her feelings had not changed over the years. Neither the Sentinels nor the Primaz had the gumption to stand up to Oribe for themselves, much less anyone else. Yes, if it hadn’t been for the Primaz, they would have been dead. Maybe it would have been better that way.
She sighed again. “Whatever happens to them, it won’t be as bad as being caught here with us – or continuing to live in isolation from their people.”
He closed his eyes, a half smile on his shriveled lips. “They aren’t isolated from their people. I see them slip out and meet others at times.” The corners of his lips turned down and his brows lowered over sunken eye sockets. “Sentinels!” His voice was weak, but there was no mistaking the disdain. “They treat the Primaz like livestock.”
“I don’t think they mind. They aren’t exactly full of ambition.”
His eyes opened again and his haunted gaze searched hers. “What choice did they have? The Sentinels took their homes. They had no way to fight us or the Sentinels. Even we couldn’t defeat the Sentinels after they took our weapons.”
“The Primaz chose not to fight the scientists,” she corrected gently. “When the scientists first arrived, the Primaz outnumbered them.”
“They didn’t know how to fight.” He leaned his head back on the pillow. “We finally found people who were neither aggressive nor territorial and what did we do to them?”
“We didn’t do anything to them. The Fontalo scientists contaminated the Sentinels with animal genes – then, when their experiments failed, they cast them aside as culls.”
“The Sentinels hate us,” he reminded her.
She didn’t need to be reminded of Oribe's hatred, and hate was probably a strong term for how the other Sentinel's felt - especially now. Still, she could understand the plight of the Sentinels.
“They distrust us. Why wouldn’t they? To them, we are the ones responsible for the fact that they are doomed to a couple hundred years in bodies that mutate with every generation. A baby might be born with a tail or fur. Their lips might be cleft like a goat or they might have eyes like a cat. It’s bad enough what the scientists did to them, but can you imagine how you would feel if your future children were still paying the price?”
He let out a long weary breath. “I know.” He was silent for a long time. “I wonder how the mascots of Purlieu worked out – if any of them are still alive.”
The Sentinels were Fontalo’s first attempt at altering humans with animal genes. The purpose of the Sentinels was to protect and serve the new colonists of planet Purlieu. They were slaves created in a Petri dish using eggs donated by the scientists. The Sentinels were uncooperative, though. They had no instinct to protect. Instead they had the instinct to dominate – like their human counterparts. She couldn’t blame the Sentinels for hating the original scientists. Even she felt nothing but disdain for them. All her hatred centered on one person – Oribe.
It had been said that the Mascots were as much a success as the Sentinels had been a failure. Even her grandfather had never seen them. If they could read the records, the information about them might be there. All the information available had been handed down through generations.
Grandfather still believed Fontalo might return. At this point, Hayley wasn’t sure they should keep the records – or turn them over to Fontalo, for that matter. What Fontalo had done was immoral – and what kind of planet was Oriel that its people would condone that kind of experimentation? Did they even know about the experiments – or the scientists that were abandoned on Arcane?
Hayley had never seen a spaceship. She was over forty years old and she had never married. She had spent the last ten years hiding in an underground shelter with her grandfather and two Primaz natives, afraid to even send a distress signal. With the help of Renit and Atz, they had coaxed meager amounts of food from a hidden canyon in the middle of a harsh desert. The Primaz were excellent hunters. How they found animals in this God forsaken country was a mystery to her. They had been loyal, asking nothing in return.
The Primaz were farmers, and the best land for farming lay beyond the villages of the Sentinels - on the flat plains where the beasts roamed. Even the Primaz avoided that area. The Primaz had built huge walls to keep the beasts away from their valley. That was why the Sentinels decided to live there. Over a period of about fifty years, they had gradually taken over the valley. They didn’t force the Primaz to leave. They simply built lavish homes next to the simple homes of the Primaz. Eventually, they removed the aging buildings so that they could plant more crops and moved the Primaz in with them. The way the Sentinels saw it, they were helping the Primaz. Over the years, some of the Primaz had taken their few belongings and disappeared into the mountains, but most of them continued to live with the Sentinels – or at least that was the case ten years ago. Atz occasionally returned with items from Hirina, like pillows and clothing, but never information.
The scientists had decided that the beasts in the plains were similar to some extinct animals of Oriel. Some of them stood as tall as a two story building. The scientists wanted to preserve them. Unfortunately, humans were on their diets. The Primaz could sense their presence and avoid them, but the scientists and Sentinels didn't have that ability.
It had occurred to Hayley that the distress signal she had created might bring unwanted visitors. For her, life couldn’t get much worse, but it could be worse for the Primaz and the Sentinels. If the Lyra returned, the experiments might start all over again. Would they want the records, or would they want to destroy them and any other evidence – like the one person left who knew of their existence.
She had gone over the possibilities thousands of times, but it was impossible to know what she would do until the time came. Maybe it never would. Maybe she would die in this desolate canyon years from now and no one would ever find the records – or her body.
She found the idea of living forty more years like this depressing. Maybe she should simply carry the records back to the Sentinels and surrender herself to their mercy. That decision could wait for a year. If there was no response to the signal by then, there probably never would be. She could live another year on her own – maybe.
Zeid considered the latest information Atz had conveyed about Hayley and Sam. He felt the most compassion for Hayley. No one should have to go through what she had, and the Primaz had done little to prevent the tragedy. It had happened so unexpectedly and suddenly that they were unable to get all the scientists out of Hirina in time. Only two had survived – and now one of them would soon be gone.
The scientists had such short lives, especially compared to the Sentinels. Sam had reached the end of his time, but his granddaughter was only half way through her expected years.
It had been pointless for the Sentinels to terminate the scientists. The few remaining had nothing to do with creation of the Sentinels. With the scientists and laboratory gone, who would produce fuel and do maintenance on their aging airships? Even after ten years, he was still shocked by the senseless carnage that day. Oribe had a terrible temper, but Zeid never would have believed he would do something so destructive to his people. For the most part, Oribe had been a good leader. His distrust of the scientists was understandable - even his desire to destroy the records - but not lives.
It had started after the birth, and death, of the Sentinel leader’s infant son. Oribe’s yowl still gave Zeid nightmares. Like Oribe, the yowl was more animal than human. Oribe and his wife, Marni, had wanted a child for years and they were delighted when Marni finally conceived. The infant was born nine months later, so deformed that it didn’t survive.
Zeid understood the desire for children. The Primaz had a lifespan of nearly two centuries, but the women rarely conceived. There might be twenty years between children. It wasn't until the arrival of the scientists from Oriel that they discovered it wasn't like that on other planets. Imagine having a life span of under a hundred years and having a child every year for decades. No wonder they were searching for other planets.
Zeid's great grandfather had been a young man when the scientists arrived. It was with the aid of the scientists that Zeid's mother was able to conceive four times and each time she delivered a healthy baby twelve months later. At first they thought the scientists were a godsend - and then they learned about the experiments.
Zeid's family had left Hirina with a group and lived in the mountains. Later, some moved back to Hirina, where the living was easier. That contact was fatal for some. Many died of diseases the scientists brought with them - diseases for which the Primaz had no natural resistance.
Zeid was the youngest of the four children. When his father died and the other three moved back to Hirina, Zeid became the new leader. Zeid’s siblings, Renit and Atz, had helped Hayley and Sam escape. The Primaz owed them that much. Zeid wanted to bring the two refugees to the village, but the others were afraid Oribe would kill everyone. Their fears were based on fact. When his brother, Vito, tried to protect the scientists, the Sentinel troops killed him. Zeid admired Renit and Atz for their courage and dedication in helping Hayley and Sam escape, and their continued loyalty as they protected the two in the desert. He felt their loyalty was misplaced, but he admired them, all the same. If Oribe found them with the two, Zeid would lose two more siblings.
The Sentinels now occupied the land that the Primaz had developed. It had been the Primaz, not the Sentinels who had built a wall of stone and earth at the entrance of the valley to keep the beasts out and they had dug extensive irrigation ditches for their crops. It had taken over a decade to complete it all. They didn’t have that much time now.
Hunting had depleted much of the game in the area of their camp, so the hunters had to range further from their village. Sometimes they even ventured into the open areas where the beasts lived. Unlike the Sentinels, the Primaz were able to detect the beasts before the beasts were aware of their presence. That wasn't much of an advantage in the open areas. There was no place to hide. The best the Primaz could do was to avoid them. The beasts could outrun them and they were too big to fight with any hope of winning. Even the percussion weapons of the Sentinels couldn't penetrate their thick skin.
Zeid’s band now faced two major problems; Sentinel rule or starvation. For many, the answer was to live with the Sentinels. Living with the Sentinels could only result in dependency. The Sentinels would never recognize the Primaz as equals and there was no point in a conflict with them when there was so much land available elsewhere.
That was the mood at first, but as the game was depleted in the mountains, Hirina and the Sentinels began to look more attractive. It had been years since they had seen Primaz from other areas on Arcane. Many groups traded with the Primaz in Hirina until the scientists arrived. Gradually they stopped coming to Hirina. No one knew what had happened to them. Perhaps they, too, died of diseases brought by the scientists – and now, according to Atz, Hayley had sent a signal that might bring more.
Donte stood beside Commander Elimu’s chair as he maneuvered the Lyra into her old position near the other spaceships. The Moeder, Baigh and Azar had their solar fans completely expanded. It would take at least twenty minutes to retract their solar fans in case of an emergency. What were they thinking? Only the Elw had a partial expansion, and that ship was separated from the others. He would have to talk to the spaceship commanders about that when they met.
The other thing that surprised him was the presence of another ship – the Taurus. On Planet Opus, he thought nothing of the coming and going of Oriel spaceships. It was logical that they would stop at Purlieu on their way, as it was the last outpost before Opus, but the Taurus was a medical research ship. Why had Dr. Oriana docked at Purlieu?
Purlieu was a dark sphere outlined by daylight on the other side of the planet. The Lyra had changed from the time sector of planet Opus to Purlieu the night before. They had arrived late enough that welcoming a shuttle at the airfield would be an inconvenience. Most of the troops had retired for the night anyway.
Elimu leaned back and released a sigh of contentment. “Isn’t it beautiful? It has been a long three years.”
Donte placed a hand on his shoulder. “I appreciate the fact that you stayed to help us. You have certainly earned your freedom.”
Elimu’s mahogany features wrinkled into a smile. “You make it sound like I was a captive. I’ve enjoyed working for you, Monomi, but I’m happy to be home.”
Donte nodded. “It will be difficult to find someone with your experience.”
Elimu stood. “I’m sure you will find someone. Being part of the Lyra crew is now considered to be an elite position. You will have many applicants. ” He stretched. “I’d better get some sleep.”
Donte looked at the screen one last time and turned away. “Rianne will be wondering what’s keeping me up so late.”
Elimu’s brows lifted as if he’d like to say something, but he remained silent as they walked out of the control room. There they went in separate directions.
As Supreme Commander, Donte had the privilege of traveling with his mate. Other than his father and Akira, only a few couples were on the ship and they were all members of the Premier Infantry.
Donte was hesitant to change long-standing spaceship rules. He didn’t like the idea of showing preference, but the Lyra was different. It might spend years too far away for a short leave to Purlieu. The troops on the other spaceships had regular leave to visit Purlieu throughout their three year service.
He watched his feet come down on the shiny hard surface of the floor. The artificial gravity was different, but then, so was the gravity on each planet they visited. It didn’t take long to adjust to that part. It was much more difficult adjusting to the different cultures.
Almost four years ago he had been the Ruler of Bergen Colony on Purlieu. He and his mate had raised four children in the Groot Thuis. He had visited and even lived in other colonies on Purlieu, but Planet Oriel was nothing like Purlieu. Compared to Purlieu, the planet of Oriel was chaotic. People were always in a hurry and obsessed with personal ownership of everything. They had a monetary system that appeared to make slaves of most and a legal system that made criminals of the rest.
He had been on Opus before the colonists arrived from Oriel three years ago. He had suggested trams and equines for transportation, but the ships brought in vehicles that could travel on any kind of terrain. By the time the Lyra left, the vehicles were already tearing up the country and the colonists were searching for fuel to run them. There were those who wanted to keep the planet pristine, but putting a monetary value on everything created different priorities. He was glad to leave the planet before he had to witness the destruction. Why did people go to another planet only to make it exactly like the one they were so eager to leave behind?
The Lyra was a research and rescue ship and Opus no longer required its assistance. He was looking forward to a few months of recuperation on Purlieu before their next project – whatever that might be. Hopefully it would be a planet not yet corrupted by humans. He had always believed that humans could govern the planet of Purlieu as well as Mascots could. After three years on Opus, he was beginning to wonder. Maybe the genetic alteration using animal genes was an improvement in that area.
On Purlieu, he had grown accustomed to being surrounded by people and emotions. He had even learned to distinguish one presence from another, and separate who was feeling what. Fortunately, he had also learned to shut them out. He wasn’t sure if that was always a good thing. His ability to sense the presence of animals and know their intent was why the leaders on Purlieu created his current position. It had been particularly useful on Opus in the beginning. Even now he could feel the presence of the other spaceships and sense the unity. It felt good to detect that again.
When he first joined the Opus expedition, and still now to some extent, the team had been ignorant of the special skills mascots had. It was a bit ironic since it had been Fontalo, a company on Oriel, who had created the Mascots.
There had been Mascots on Purlieu since it was colonized, hundreds of years ago. For generations the colonists had known the specific capabilities of the Mascots and even now turned to them for guidance and protection. On Opus, the colonists were distrustful of the Mascots, probably mostly because they didn’t understand their abilities or their instinct to protect the colonists. They seemed to always be questioning what the Mascots expected to benefit from assisting them. Donte was looking forward to traveling from one colony to another on Purlieu where his presence would be accepted without explanation. He was there to help them and they knew it.
As he approached the dining area, he became aware of a single presence – his father – actually his grandfather, but they had decided not to reveal the discovery the Oriel scientists had made. Quade had raised him and for forty years they had both believed he was Donte’s father, not Kenyon. The only other person who was entitled to the information was Kenyon, and Donte suspected he had known all along. As far as anyone on Purlieu knew, Kenyon was his brother.
Donte paused at the door. Quade was troubled about something and Donte had an idea what it was. Rianne had waited this long, she wouldn’t mind waiting a little longer.
Quade was at a table leaning back in a chair, staring absently at the ceiling. Donte spoke as he stepped through the door. “You’re up late. Aren’t you concerned that Akira will be waiting for you?”
Quade sat up and smiled. “I could say the same about you.”
Donte lifted his brows as he pulled out a chair opposite Quade. “I certainly hope Akira isn’t waiting for me.”
Quade gave him a wry smile. “It wouldn’t disappoint you as much as it would me.”
Donte laughed and sat down. Quade and Akira had been mates for about thirty years and he had never met two people who got along better than they did. His father had been both a doctor and the president of Libertad colony when he met Akira. He was no longer president, but he was still a doctor. In fact, he was in charge of the Lyra’s research department. That might be what was troubling him.
“Dad, we would all miss you and I couldn’t hope to replace the quality of your work, but if you and Akira want to stay on Purlieu when the Lyra leaves again, I understand.”
Quade studied him for a few minutes before responding. “That’s comforting to know.” He picked up his cup and stared at the liquid. “How is this working out for you and Rianne?”
Donte shrugged. “She says she wants to stay on the Lyra.”
His gaze lifted to Donte’s. “Because she likes the work or because she wants to be with you?”
“She says she likes the work. She wants a uniform.”
Quade lifted a brow. “Does that bother you?”
“Only because I didn’t anticipate it.” He grimaced. “I’m doing it to her again – taking her for granted.”
Quade methodically placed his cup on the table and leaned back, resting one ankle on his knee. His gaze drifted away in thought as he spoke.
“I suppose it’s natural to think of them first in the role of a lover.”
Donte remained silent. He had thought of Rianne in many roles – a mother, a friend, a mate…. Still, he didn’t think his father was talking about Rianne at the moment.
Quade sighed deeply. “Rianne has been the representative for Bosvrouwen for almost as long as Akira has been a nurse. Perhaps the problem is that we only see them in those roles.”
His use of the word we threw Donte off for a moment. What other role did Quade think Akira wanted to fill besides a nurse and a mate? Did Akira want to remain on the Lyra, but Quade didn’t? Did Akira want a promotion?
Donte was so distracted that it took him a moment to apply what his father had said to his relationship with Rianne. Rianne had been Bosvrouwen’s representative for almost as long as Akira had been a nurse. Rianne had served as representative for the Lyra on Opus without recognition. She had never complained, because that wasn’t like Rianne. She didn’t do it for the recognition.
Donte rested his elbows on the table and leaned his forehead against his palms. “Of course. How could I be so blind?”
He lowered his hands and looked at Quade. “I’ve been thinking of the Lyra as any other Purlieu spaceship, but it isn’t. During our mission on Opus, the Lyra represented Purlieu. We'll often be weeks, months or years away from Purlieu. The Lyra needs an official representative.
Quade nodded agreement, but his expression was still distant. Quade had provided the direction required to resolve Donte’s problem, but he was still struggling with his own.
“I’m sorry. I made this all about me. What is it that Akira wants?”
Quade shook his head. “I wish I knew. All I can get out of her is that she wants to be with me.”
He could understand Quade’s frustration. He had heard those words enough times from Rianne. He thought it was because she felt guilty about leaving him once and didn’t want him to think she was unhappy. Maybe there was another reason.
“I suppose that is her highest priority.”
Quade nodded. “Probably, but we could be together doing many things.”
“Yes. Is it possible that she doesn’t have a preference and is waiting for you to indicate yours?”
Quade considered his words for a minute before responding. His smile was wry. “It’s even possible that we’re each waiting for the other to state a preference.” He slid his chair back and stood. “I’d better join her now before she gets the idea I don’t want her around.”
Donte laughed and stood. “Good idea. If I don’t show up pretty soon, Rianne is going to come looking for me.”
Rianne couldn’t focus on the book in her lap. It wasn’t unusual for Donte to get wrapped up in something and arrive at their chamber long after the evening meal. It wasn’t the preoccupation with his work that bothered her as much as the feeling that she was being excluded. When he was the Ruler of Bergen he was often gone on business, but she had enough at the Groot Thuis to keep her mind occupied. After the children left home, being the representative for Bosvrouwen had given her an anchor. On Opus, she was often with Donte, either exploring or otherwise assisting with the colonization. Now she was nothing more than his mate.
Actually, she was now his wife. A member of clergy on Opus had impressed Donte to the extent that he had adopted one of their customs – marriage. He had proposed to her in the custom of Oriel and she had accepted. His respect for the customs of others was one of the many things she adored about Donte. He never looked down on anyone. He was the kindest and most tolerant man she had ever known – had been from the time she met him when he was only a boy of twelve. He was sixty-three now, two years younger than she was, and he hadn’t changed. She had left him once for six miserable months when she thought he wanted a change. She had promised him she would never leave again without discussing how she felt. She wasn’t considering leaving him, but it had reached the point that she needed to have a discussion with him. She wasn’t content to merely follow him everywhere. She wanted to feel like she was contributing in some way.
A light step outside their chamber door announced that Donte had arrived. Her pulse increased, as it always did when she anticipated seeing him. She glanced up from the book as Donte entered the chamber with a guilty smile on his face.
“I’m sorry I didn’t join you during the evening meal.”
She closed the book and stood. “I’m sure you were excited about docking the ship.”
He nodded as he crossed the room and took her in his arms, his gaze taking in the book. “I interrupted your story.”
She tossed the book in her chair and circled his neck with her arms. “It wasn’t nearly as entertaining as you.”
He chuckled softly as he pulled her close and kissed her lips.
Donte was the love of her life, but she wasn't his. She had loved him since she was sixteen, but he had loved another. Donte’s first choice had resulted in two children, but they and their mother had been murdered. Donte went to another colony to avenge their death and nearly died there. When he returned, six years and another relationship later, he finally looked at her as something other than the representative of Bosvrouwen. Better late than never - better second best and still in his life. That was what she kept telling herself, but she wanted to be first in his life.
Donte was an incredibly handsome man. Everyone thought so. He was tall and lean with a perfect build, but of course that wasn’t what made her fall in love with him. He was also the most ethical person she had ever met. Donte was gentle, loving and brave - he was fiercely protective. It was all of those traits that made everyone love and trust him. To her, there was even more to Donte. He was the perfect companion – most of the time.
She leaned into his kiss, enjoying the warmth of his full lips and the feel of his hands on her hips. She wanted to continue, but there was a more pressing need at the moment. She pulled back.
“Did you eat anything this evening?”
He shrugged. “No, but…”
“Well neither have I. I was waiting for you.”
Dark brows lifted above twinkling blue eyes. “Oops?”
She smiled. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
He looked uncertain. “I hate to make them fix something special…”
She touched his lips with a finger, silencing his habitual concern that he was a burden on someone. “What about me?” She grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the door, giving him a mischievous smile. “You wouldn’t want me to spend the rest of the evening in a grouchy mood because I was hungry, would you?”
His gaze traveled over her figure appreciatively. He grinned. “No, that wasn’t how I planned to spend the rest of the evening.”
He opened the door for her and they walked down the silent hallway. Only the second shift would be up and about at this hour, and that included the dining area. Meals were cooked twice a day, but there was constantly food available – maybe not hot, but good food all the same.
Donte smiled down at her. “I’m looking forward to restocking the Lyra with food from Purlieu.”
She nodded but said nothing. Opus had insisted on providing food for the Lyra in return for their assistance. Purlieu used the barter system, so food for work was an acceptable method of payment. The food itself wasn’t so different, but more the way it was preserved – generally with sugar or salt.
She looked up at Donte. “What kept you so late this time?”
He sighed. “I know the crew can dock without my assistance, but…I guess I wanted visual confirmation that we were home.”
Yes, they were home, but for how long? She was excited about seeing their children again – and anxious about seeing others. When she left Purlieu three years ago she was notorious as the woman who had betrayed Donte. Had they forgiven her the way he had?