Commander Nadia Petrovich, Science Officer of the Alliance Starship Galanti, has a problem, which has nothing to do with science. Her problem is Commander Huw Caradoc, the Galanti’s Chief Engineer. She and the stubborn Prime male have a growing connection he refuses to acknowledge—a bond that could drive him mad.
They are connected psychically and the bond grows stronger every day. If Nadia didn’t know it was impossible, she would suspect they were mating in the Prime tradition—a biological imperative that locates and marks a Prime’s optimum mate. But she isn’t Prime, as Huw tells her and anybody who’ll listen.
Nadia’s emotional anguish couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Prime and Galactic Alliance merger is finally under way, and the all-male Prime crews are learning how to work with female Alliance crew members. The Antareans threaten the outer arms of the Milky Way, and Prime rebels wreak havoc on the Prime home planet and elsewhere.
Despite the conflict surrounding them, Nadia and Huw will not be able to avoid their fate or their growing love. Prime selection will make the decision for them whether the timing is right or not.
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Sunrise, Cejuru Tarn
Galactic Alliance Commander Nadia Petrovich, recently appointed science officer of the Starship Galanti, scanned the flat plain upon which the Prime Military had built their fortifications. She hunted for movement, for anything out of place, to clue her into the enemy’s position.
The “enemy” in this instance was the Prime Elite squadron that had been selected to challenge the battle-readiness of Gold Squadron and its newly merged Prime and Alliance soldiers. The real reason for the joint exercise was to test whether Prime soldiers could work effectively with the female soldiers of Gold, which was why Nadia was in charge of this particular session and her equal-in-rank Prime counterpart, Commander Aeron Ard, was not.
Nadia took in a deep breath of the thin, cool morning air, appreciating the fact Tarn had enough oxygen in its atmosphere that they could do away with head-to-toe survival gear. Then something in the air made her stiffen. She looked around and saw nothing to cause the uncomfortable feeling. Her skin prickled and the fine hairs on the nape of her neck stood on end. Her pulse increased as adrenaline flooded her bloodstream. Her body’s fight-or-flight response had kicked in big time—but over what?
Something wasn’t right on Tarn. This feeling of impending danger had been there in one way or another since her Gold Squad team had been dropped off on the planetoid two standard hours earlier. She’d written the feeling off as nerves for the upcoming training session, but now, with her scouting partner alongside, it forced its way to the forefront of her mind.
For the second time in as many minutes, she swept her gaze over the flat, dry land toward the octagon-shaped compound built of the gray limestone found on the planet. It was built for optimal defense with three of its sides abutting the foothills of Tarn’s main mountain range and the other five facing the stark, flat plains of what was once an ancient sea. The compound’s perimeter was fully lit, but the military facility inside looked abandoned. Her empathic senses told her that was a lie.
The buildings teemed with the emotional auras of sentient beings—a chaotic cloud of emotions that created the anxiety she felt.
But where were the perimeter guards? Where were the Prime scouts who should have been scouring the land and gaining intel on her team for the war games? Was this part of the Prime squad’s plan?
For over the last standard half hour, she and her scouting partner, Commander Joen Dakkin, Communications Officer for the Galanti, had made their way from the mountain cave system where their team had secured a base of operations. They’d seen no one. Something was very wrong, and her heart rate elevated another notch or two.
“It’s been too easy,” she muttered. “Do they think we’re stupid? That we’ll just waltz in because it looks abandoned?”
“If it makes you feel any better, Aeron agrees. It’s wrong. All wrong. Has been since we landed without anyone attempting to score points on us.” Joen’s voice was flat, emotionless.
Nadia glanced at him and instinctively used her empathic ability to test his mood. He was boiling mad under the calm demeanor, a volcano ready to erupt at a moment’s notice.
“Shit. I knew something wasn’t right.” Mentally, she kicked her own ass for not going with her gut. “Our landing wasn’t challenged. When we secured the cave system as our headquarters, Aeron seemed happy, but as we set up base operations he grew more and more concerned. I should’ve confronted him then.”
She’d treated Aeron with titty fingers since she’d been given command of the op. She hadn’t wanted to challenge him overly much, since that might damage his stupid Prime male machismo. All the Alliance female soldiers had been tiptoeing around the Prime males—and the Prime males, around the women. It had been like watching a nature video of skittish she-cats and a bunch of alpha-cats scenting each other out, testing each other’s limits.
Both races still had a long way to go before they understood the other. But then, this training session and others like it had been arranged for that very reason.
Lesson learned—next time her gut told her to challenge the big Prime male, she would.
Since Aeron wasn’t here, she only had the Prime male next to her to obtain the information she needed. Her sense of dread was increasing exponentially now—something bad was coming down. “What do you think is going on?”
Joen scowled and shook his head. “Not sure. But something’s awry. Our empathic feelings are connected to our fellow Prime during battle situations—and that would include the Prime stationed here. Aeron and I sensed nothing on landing. No excitement or anticipation of the war games to be played out. We should’ve sensed something.”
And wasn’t that odd? She sensed all sorts of emotions, so many she had a hard time singling out any other than Joen’s. But unlike the Prime, Nadia’s empathic abilities worked with all sentient beings—and there were sentient beings out there. She just didn’t see them—yet.
Joen stared at the empty plain. The only thing visible out there was scrubby foliage and dust devils as the heat of the early morning sun met the chilled air of the night. He turned to look at her. His eyes glowed with the intense emotions roiling within him. “Aeron chalked the lack of emotional readings, other than our own Prime team members, up to the fact no other Prime were nearby when we landed and set up base camp.”
He scowled and rubbed a hand over his dark, close-cut hair. “But that read wrong also. Any Prime soldier worthy of the name would have, at the very least, established perimeter alarms on the cave system we chose and had spotters in the mountains.”
The caves had turned out to be a storage area for excess supplies and munitions for the military facility and would’ve been a coup for any invading force.
“Plus, why didn’t our opponents challenge our predawn landing?” Joen frowned. “They knew we were coming sooner or later. Prime are always vigilant.”
“We’re on the same page. I had the same thoughts and feelings.” Nadia clenched her jaw. “And there are other intelligent beings on this planetoid—and the emotions I’m picking up aren’t particularly friendly. Call me overcautious, but we need to send our scouting teams back to base, regroup, and figure this out. It smells like a clusterfuck in the making.”
“That’s not overly cautious. It’s a very wise call.” Joen’s golden eyes darkened with his concern. “You’ll find Aeron has arrived at the same conclusions.”
Nadia didn’t particularly care if Aeron had or not. This was her op, her responsibility. If something bad happened, it was on her. There were too many science, engineering, and medical personnel and officers on this particular operation, crew members who normally didn’t get exposed to battle situations. This training was supposed to be not only a test of the newly merged crews, but also a refresher training for skills some hadn’t used since basic training. She refused to risk her people. The situation was feeling more and more explosive.
Nadia switched her com unit to team-wide communications. “All team members are ordered back to base. Code Foxtrot-Uniform-Bravo-Alpha-Romeo. Proceed with caution. Commander Nadia out.”
If it wasn’t FUBAR yet, it soon would be. Her gut was doing backflips at the increasing sense of danger.
“Ard, here. Logistics officer is in total agreement.” Aeron sounded grim. “My teams are securing base camp. Suggest switching to alternate Com Code Tango-Tango-Two-Four.”
“Agreed. All team members switch to Com Code Tango-Tango-Two-Four.” Nadia sighed with relief. Aeron was thinking along the same line—regroup and defense. Maybe, between the two of them, they could figure out what was wrong.
“Let’s pull back, Joen.”
Nadia rose to a crouch behind the boulder where they’d taken shelter. They’d gotten as close to the Prime facility as they could and were about thirty meters away from a side entrance to one of the buildings that did not back up to the foothills. She hadn’t been overly concerned about being seen since their uniform jackets and pants changed colors to blend with the desert and mountainous landscapes surrounding the military facility. Even the laser target sensor vests, which registered the low impulse laser fire for war gaming, had the same ability to merge into the background.
Between their camo and the large rocks scattered on the flat land from some past tectonic activity, she and Joen should be able to retreat as easily as they’d infiltrated. Once they made it into the foothills and the thick forests that grew there and up onto the mountains, they would be home free.
Empathic senses blaring and movement on their right had Nadia tackling Joen to the ground as a stream of laser fire streaked across where his torso had been. If Joen had been hit, it would have registered on his vest as a kill shot.
Instead, the stream hit her arm, and she hissed in pain. The searing burn of a fully powered laser blast shot up and down her dominant arm. Her eyes watered as she inhaled the smell of her burnt flesh and jacket sleeve. Her nerve endings screamed. She called upon every iota of her warrior forebears’ strength to stay alert and aware and not succumb to the bowel-burning pain.
One hundred Gold Squad members relied on her command decisions, and no laser burn would stop her. Only death could do that—and she didn’t intend to meet death today.
“Live fire! Live fire! Code Red. Code Red,” she screamed into her com unit as she shoved Joen behind a boulder.
After Monette Michaels obtained her law degree, she worked in a small general practice attempting in her own way to right wrongs and fight the good fight. Little did she realize that all those clients, opposing counsel, and the problems she handled would jumpstart the need to write fiction. First, romantic suspense, then adding paranormal, then adding a sexier side (as Rae Morgan).
Monette is married to her college sweetheart and has one son and a cat. The cat is the boss.