Sana doesn’t want to work with Karni. He is obnoxious, and pushy, yet there’s something about him that makes her blood tingle.
Karni doesn’t trust Sana, she kept information from them and as second in command of the compound he found that unforgivable. Now he’s saddled with her because she’s the only one who can detect Marlick, a shapeshifter from Krenon.
How was he going to spend long lonely nights with her and fight the growing attraction blossoming between them?
Sana stood in front of Tye’s desk, feeling her heart sink in her chest. His request was preposterous.
“No!” Well, that came out a little too forcefully, but Tye needed to know she was serious. There was no way she would do as he asked. Star told her to hold her ground, and that was what she planned on doing.
“Come on, Doctor.” Tye stood behind his sleek metal desk. Resting his palms against the shiny surface, he leaned forward and looked at her. “Marlick escaped months ago, and this is the first lead we’ve had on him. His shape-shifting abilities keep him well hidden. Only you know how to tell my race from everyone else. Only you know what to look for.”
“I understand that, Tye, but not with Karni.” She had already gone on one trip with the man and it still amazed her they made it back alive. They came very close to killing each other.
“Why not?” He crossed his arms over his chest and gave her a lopsided smile.
“Because he’s stubborn and rude,” Sana blurted out the words. Not what she wanted to say, but Tye didn’t need to think Karni could get under her skin. She didn’t want to think about how her heart raced just being near Karni. She wasn’t sure if it was fear, and she refused to take the chance it could be anything else. “Send me with anyone else.”
Tye shook his head. He stepped around his desk and leaned his hip against it. “He’s my second and the best man for the job. Sorry, Doctor. I need both of you to make this trip.”
“So you’re going to make me go, even though I don’t want to?” She thought about stomping her feet but thought better of it. Temper tantrums wouldn’t help her cause.
“Yes. I’ll make it an order if I have to.”
She nodded once, turned on her heel, and practically dashed out the door. This mission was not what she wanted. She knew she could fight it, but Tye was their leader and no matter what she did, somehow she’d be talked into it anyway.
The corridor had a few people in it, but she didn’t pay any attention as she moved quickly down the hall. Her mind whirled over what spending time with Karni could do to her.
“You don’t look very happy.”
Sana felt her heart skip a beat. She never did like people sneaking up on her. She centered herself before she stopped and turned toward the voice.
“Star.” She gave her a bright smile. “I’m fine.”
“Uh-huh.” Star stared into her eyes for a moment. “You get that look every time Karni walks into the room. Tye has asked you to travel with him again, hasn’t he?”
“You know me too well.” Her shoulders slumped. “He wants me to travel with him to see if we can find Marlick.”
“His escape has bothered Tye,” Star stated. “He felt he should have expected Marlick to shift and when he turned himself into a small bug and escaped. That upset Tye. He’s obsessed. That’s why he needs you to go.”
“I know. But, to have to travel with Karni?” She shivered. “The last mission was enough.”
“So what will you do?” Star never said much, but she always made Sana think.
“As he asks.” Sana dipped her head at the silence. “He is our commander. I will do what he needs me to do.”
“That doesn’t sound like you, unless of course you want to spend time with Karni.” Star started to walk away, leaving Sana standing and staring at her back.
“Of course not,” she said a little too forcefully before she ran a few steps to catch up with Star. “He’s pushy and nosy. He makes me shiver.”
“I know. It’s wondering why he makes you shiver that has me thinking.” Star rested her hand on Sana’s arm. “And I don’t think it’s because of his obnoxious personality. He does something to you, doesn’t he?”
“Of course not.” She walked faster, leaving Star behind. Her mind reeled. No. Star’s comment was way off base. Her feelings for Karni were nothing more than loathing and she refused to see it any other way.
* * * *
Star sat at her desk in the biolab, wondering if she should speak to Tye about the doctor’s dislike of Karni. He didn’t always take people’s feelings into consideration when he wanted something. It wasn’t her place to interfere with Tye’s command, but Sana was her closest friend and Tye would know she’d have her friend’s best interest in her mind.
Her com beeped. Hitting the button on her desk, she saw the face of her true heart.
“No,” she smiled. “But I was just thinking about you.”
“I like it when you think of me so strongly I can feel it.” He gave her a sultry smile. “Did you want something special? I can disappear for a while.”
“You do set the rules,” she laughed. He had only one thing in mind when he saw her, and it gave her such a thrill. “But I wanted to ask you about the doctor. You sure she’s the right choice?”
“I see you spoke to her.” His eyes sparkled as he spoke.
“You laughing at me?” She loved to hear his voice.
“Of course not, but I do know you.” He winked at her. “Very well.”
There went that one track mind again. “She questions the reason why you need her. I thought I’d check to be sure.”
“My heart, it is imperative she goes.” She could hear the confidence in his voice. “Karni is a good man, but he’d go plowing in without asking questions. Sana will stop him and make him think before he acts. I know they argue, but she’s good for him.”
“Are you matchmaking?” She wouldn’t be surprised if he said yes. He had mellowed since they had been together.
“That’s your job.” His honeyed voice filtered through the room. “I’m thinking as a commander.”
She arched a brow but kept quiet. Teasing him didn’t do any good. He’d only tease back. “So, when do they leave?”
“The next rise.”
Star nodded. She didn’t have a lot of time to convince the doctor to go along peacefully. Sana might have said she’d do her duty, but she’d fight every inch of the way. She’d make the mission miserable for her and Karni if she did that. Karni might kill her if she pushed too much.
It didn’t matter. Sana would go along even if she had to sit on her to get her to see it would be better. “Then I’m sure you have plans you need to explain to Karni before they leave.”
“I still have time for you.”
“I know you do.” She hesitated for a moment. No. She needed to talk to Sana. “Maybe later?”
He sighed. “Okay, but you do owe me.”
“I promise to repay my dept to you the next time I see you.”
He arched his brow. “Really? I can’t wait.”
She hoped he wouldn’t come chasing after her. She had a job to do and when he got something in his head, he didn’t care what her plans might be. He also wouldn’t understand why she had to convince Sana to do her job. He always believed everyone should do their duty no matter what.
“You going to talk to the doctor?” He knew her too well.
“If that’s okay with you.” She gave him her best smile.
“Of course.” He smiled back. “I might expect perfection from everyone, but I’m not stupid. Go work your magic. I need them to work together.”
That was why she loved him so much. She gave him another bright smile.
“Yes, sir.” After disconnecting with him, she stood and headed to the medlab.
Sana had her head bent over a microscope, jotting down notes. Not wanting to frighten her, Star cleared her throat.
“Star?” Sana didn’t seem to be surprised. She didn’t even look up from her work. “What brings you here? Did the commander ask you to talk me into going along peacefully?”
Star laughed. “Can you blame him? The thought of you going while burning with hatred for Karni sends chills down my back. You wield it far too well. All we can imagine is him dying from the daggers you’d throw at him from your eyes.”
The doctor chuckled. “I’m not that bad.”
“Yes, you are.” Star rested a hip against a desk. A habit she picked up from her mate. “Tye wants you to go because he knows you’ll have the level head and keep Karni in check. You can’t repeat this, but I thought you should know how important you are to the mission.”
“He told me. I don’t buy it.” She moved from the microscope to her computer.
“Then I’m going to beg you as a friend.”
“Why?” She looked at Star.
“Because Marlick is my brother, and I’m afraid Karni would kill him before he brought him back.”
* * * *
Karni stood in front of Tye’s desk, wishing he would stop talking. He spouted on about how important this mission was and what he wanted him to do. Yet he wanted that woman to travel with him. Somehow he had to convince Tye that she’d be a hindrance, if he would ever shut up.
Tye leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “You have that look on your face.”
“What look?” Damn, he wasn’t masking his expressions.
“The one that says ‘please shut up so I can convince you you’re wrong.’” Tye stood. “The doctor is going with you and if you can’t work with her, I’ll send someone else with her.”
“She’s more important than me?” Karni fought to keep his arms at his side. He wanted to jam his hands on his hips.
“She knows how to look for my people, how to find the DNA.” He walked over to the large window in his office and stared out. “Sana also proved her worth when she traveled with you to the palace to get information from Star’s parents.”
“That woman also kept information from us. We didn’t know she had been one of the palace slaves. I don’t trust her.”
“Doesn’t matter. She’s going with you.” He turned back to look at Karni. “Unless you wish to stay behind.”
“No, sir.” Karni gave the appropriate bow, turned on his heel, and headed out. He fumed. This wasn’t right.
His office doors closed behind him, sealing the rest of the complex out. With a quick jab, he smashed his hand against the wall. It felt good, good enough to do it over and over, bloodying his knuckles.
* * * *
The next rise Karni watched as the doctor, Star, and Tye walked toward him. He wasn’t looking forward to this mission but he could control the doctor, make her see his way, one way or another.
Her face looked a little paler than normal. Good. She wasn’t looking forward to this, either.
“You have everything together?” Tye asked.
“Yes.” His voice was curt.
“Good.” Tye turned to the doctor. “Remember what Star told you.”
Star turned to look at him. Her features showed trepidation. Karni wondered what Star said that caused that look.
Tye winked. “Being the commander has its good points.”
Star hugged the doctor. “I’m going to miss you. Be safe.”
The doctor hugged her back. “I will.”
Karni sighed. Sappy goodbyes worked on his nerves. “Can we go?”
“What? No kiss?” Star gave him a serious look.
Was she kidding? Tye would have his hide if he even thought about it. Instead of responding, he ducked his head.
Tye laughed. “You have my permission to say goodbye to my mate, Karni.”
This was not the same man. Star had changed him in so many ways. He never laughed before Star. He was angrier, more focused on revenge. Now he didn’t seem to care, but Karni knew that wasn’t true. They wouldn’t be going after Marlick. “Yes, sir.”
Star shook her head. “Protect her, Karni. Bring her home safe. No crazy stunts. Just find out where my brother went and come back.”
“I still can’t believe how he escaped,” commented Sana.
“She knows this, too?” Karni felt anger flood his senses. He was responsible for everyone’s safety yet was kept out of the loop too much.
“How can she not?” asked Tye. “If she didn’t know how he shapeshifted, how would she know how to look for him?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Karni. The man turned into a small bug and flew out. He could be anything. You think you could find him without knowing how to look for a shapeshifter?”
“No, sir.” He shouldered his pack. “Time to go.”
“One more thing. As you are traveling, you’re going to need a cover.” He handed Sana some small machines. “This should help.”
* * * *
Sana gave Star one more hug before grabbing her pack and following Karni. His sparkling personality was going to be the death of her. “You going to slow down any?”
“If you can’t keep up, you could go back.”
“You are far too nice.” She ran a few meters so she could walk at his side. “Being a prodar works for you, doesn’t it?”
He spun on her. “I know you don’t want to be here anymore than I want you here. You can save the cute chatter and just get the job done.” He then set a brisk pace for her to keep.
Oh yeah, she loved the way he talked to her all the time. Like she was some sort of raseri. Not very flattering. It didn’t matter to her anyway. Instead of racing to keep up, she followed at a walk she could tolerate. Make him slow down.
She could see him glance back at her from time to time. Anger and something else etched on his face. What was he thinking?
As they continued, she found herself watching him walk. His strong legs pumped as he pushed himself. She liked the way he moved. Strong, confident. Like a man who knew what he wanted and went after it.
A slight breeze brushed her body, causing her hair to flow across her face. The slight caress sent her mind in the wrong direction. Instead of having the brutish man stomping ahead of her, she saw a man who found her fascinating. The angry glances he kept throwing her changed to sultry ones. The rising rays reflected in his golden hair. A color she hadn’t noticed in the artificial illumination of the compound. His hair always had a darker tone inside, but now it had beautiful highlights glistening in the brightening light. It flowed around his head as he moved. So soft looking. She wanted to run her fingers through it to see just how soft it was.
Sana stopped dead in her tracks. This man was mean to her. He didn’t trust her. How could she even think of him as a possible mate?
“Mate? I am crazier than a juntoc.” She started to walk again, not worrying about catching up. “He’s not for me.”
“Who’s not for you?” his deep voice reverberated through her.
She jumped a foot or two. When did he stop? How much had he heard? Great Monala, this couldn’t be good. “Nothing.”
“Fine.” He started walking again. “You need to keep up. I’m not waiting all day for you to make it to our destination.”
“We have a destination?” She followed him.
“His last known location?” He sounded frustrated with her.
“Which no one has told me.” Her thoughts of him as some sort of lover faded fast. It was replaced with irritation.
“You didn’t need to know.”
“And if we got separated?” She grabbed his arm.
“Then you would head back to the compound.” He shrugged her hand off his arm.
“Where I belong,” Sana added. If only he knew how fast he’d be called back to the compound. “How would you find him without me? Do you know how to read any of my equipment?”
He stopped and glared at her.
“Thought not. That’s why you ended up backtracking here. You can’t complete this mission without me.”
“Doctor, I don’t need you, just your ability. You’re only here because Tye requested it.” He started to walk again. “Just stay out of my way and do your job.”
She stared at his retreating back, thinking of ways to kill him. A quick death would be too good. It had to be slow, painful and humiliating. Following him, she came up with ways to do it. If they were back at the compound, she could give him something in his food or drink to kill him slowly while turning his skin purple. He hated purple. Refused to wear any color close to it.
He turned to study her face. “What are you grinning at?”
“Nothing.” She gave him a brighter smile. Maybe she’d put him in a purple gown once he was too weak to fight and parade him up and down the corridors.
“You’re plotting something.”
She wanted to laugh. She knew he had no special abilities but he sure was a good judge of character. Should she tell him the truth? “Why? You feeling a little guilty?”
“Of course not.” He straightened his spin and marched away.
Sana must have hit a soft spot. She shouldered her pack again as she continued behind him. What a prodar.