Jessica Coulter Smith

Bringing you Happily-Ever-Afters and Knights on White Horses

Cherished

 

 

 

 

After an accident, Lucie has spent the past two years nearly blind and dependent on her owner, Cael. But things are changing for Lucie and the other slaves. As part of an agreement for a chance at a new life, Cael has given up his rights to Lucie and now she finds herself faced with a ship full of Tarnan males who want only one thing – a mate. 

Prince Drexyl of Tourmalane is intent on collecting the bounty on the four Keshpan males on board the Lynten 12. What he doesn’t expect is to come face to face with his destined mate – a woman he’d thought didn’t exist. Having come from a world where women are extinct, Drexyl is completely enthralled with the tiny human female, and willing to do anything to keep her by his side. Even take on an entire ship of Tarnans by himself.

Lucie and Drexyl may be drawn to each other from the very first, but the Tarnans aren’t going to give her up without a fight. Will it come to an all out war between the races, or will the two lovers find another way to be together?

Changeling Press, Amazon, B&N

 

 

EXCERPT

Lucie sat in the gathering room aboard the Lynten 12 with more than just a touch of trepidation. She and eight other women had been brought on board by their four Keshpan owners and had been released into the care of the Tarnans. Lucie  supposed it was better than remaining on Keshpa, where she was a slave. Although, she hadn’t had a hard life like the other women. Their owners had used them as sex slaves. It wasn’t uncommon for Keshpan males to own two or more slaves, her owner included. But Lucie was different.

Cael had stepped forward to claim her on a bright sunny day in Keshpa at the auction house. It was an open building; the suns had been shining overhead. And then all hell had broken loose. A warring race, the Mayntoks had bombed the auction house. A few slaves had been kidnapped during the attack, and several Keshpan warriors had died. Lucie’s life had been spared, but she was forever changed. The brilliant light and intense heat from the blast had burned her retinas and she was now nearly blind. Thanks to several surgical procedures, she could still see some colors and could make out shapes, but that was all.

It was because of her handicap that Cael had never touched her. At least, she’d assumed that was his reasoning. He’d continued with his purchase, more than likely out of pity, but he’d reached for her  intimately. He’d come to visit her in her quarters, had actually spent quite a bit of time with her every day, but he’d never stolen a kiss, never tried to hold her hand or make a move. He’d treated her as a good friend and nothing more. She couldn’t complain, she supposed. He could’ve forced himself on her and she would’ve been powerless to stop him. But with two other slaves, he didn’t really need her to assuage his lust.

Lucie hadn’t really made many friends since coming aboard the Lynten 12. Ariana made it a point to speak with her each day, and two other women were somewhat friendly, but mostly she was ignored. She wasn’t sure if it was because they didn’t know how to interact with her or if they just didn’t like her for some reason. Cael still spent time with her, which made the Tarnans grumble. Apparently, the Keshpans had agreed that they would give up their slave women in exchange for life on Tarnan. Lucie didn’t really understand what was going on, and the unknown made her nervous, but she had to trust that Cael would take care of her. What else could she do?

One of the Tarnans had spoken to her on several occasions, but they all scared her a little. They were huge compared to the Keshpans, and the Keshpans weren’t small by any means. If she had to guess, she’d say the Tarnans were at least six and a half feet tall, if not taller. Of course, the Tarnans had been very nice to everyone, even going so far as to make sure the women had food to eat from their own planet. But that didn’t allay Lucie’s fears. If Cael was no longer allowed to own her, what was to become of her? She wasn’t mate material like the others were, she wouldn’t be able to take care of a home, or a mate for that matter. And what if there were children? How could she watch over them and keep them safe if she couldn’t see them?

Cael had taken her to the local physician on Keshpa many times, but Tyre had been unable to bring her eyesight back completely.  At first, she’d been completely blind, so at least she’d improved. But no matter how many laser treatments she had, or solutions she used to wash out her eyes, her vision just wouldn’t come back. It was determined that she would never see again, not any more than she could already, that is. It had been a hard pill to swallow, knowing that her life would never be the same, but she’d had Cael to care for her. Now that was being taken away and she would be left on her own.

Someone large came and sat beside her. From the long, dark hair, she guessed it was Ghel, one of the warriors who spoke to her often. He’d spoken to her on several occasions and had been very welcoming, even if his size was intimidating. She knew he would never harm her, or any other woman, as women were considered precious to Tarnans.

The plate she’d pushed away half an hour ago slid closer to her.

“You should eat,” Ghel said.

“I find that I’m not hungry when I can’t tell what it is I’m eating.”

“And how did you eat before this?” he asked.

She looked down at her hands, which were twisting in her lap. “Cael would come and help me. I can feed myself, if I know what I’m eating and where everything is on the plate. But when Rebecca brought my plate to me, she just dropped it off and moved on.”

Ghel snorted. “She’s jealous. Ignore her.”

“Of what? A woman who can’t see?”

“Of your beauty,” he answered softly. “Has it been so long that you’ve been without your sight that you don’t remember how beautiful you are?”

Lucie felt her cheeks warm. “I’m sure the other women are just as beautiful, if not more so. There’s nothing special about me.”

A large, rough hand took hers. “I think you’re special.”

“What’s to become of me, Ghel?” she asked. “Cael has taken care of me for nearly two years now. I’ve undergone every treatment the Keshpan physician could think of to cure my eyesight and still I can’t see. How am I supposed to survive on your world?”

“You can’t stay with Cael, Lucie. The Keshpans agreed to give up their slaves when we accepted them on board the Lynten 12 and agreed to take them to Tarnan to start new lives. When we reach Tarnan, you’ll go your separate ways, and if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll stay away from you.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. “I’ll be lost without him.”

Ghel squeezed her fingers. “Then let me guide you. You have to know I’m interested in you. For that matter, so are Zayne and Bynt. Just say the word and any one of us could be yours.”

“Mine?”

“We would do anything for you.”

“Ghel, I would be a burden to you, or anyone who claimed me. Maybe… maybe I could stay with one of the women.”

He moved closer, until their thighs were brushing against each other. “The women are going to pair off with warriors, Lucie. There’s no one for you to stay with. Your only hope is to find a warrior to protect you. Please understand, you would be cherished and taken care of. Any warrior would be proud to call you his own.”

“I don’t know any of you well enough to choose someone.”

“Then take the time to get to know us. We would love to spend time with you.”

Lucie wasn’t sure what to say. He seemed earnest, truly wanting her attention. She still didn’t understand why he’d choose her over the other available women. Perhaps she was prettier than she remembered. It had been two years since she’d seen her face in a mirror. Even if she put her nose right up against it, she still couldn’t see clearly. Only well enough to tell the overall shape her face, the length and color of her hair and that her eyes were blue.

“I’ll leave you to think things over,” Ghel said as he rose. “Just remember, any of us would consider ourselves lucky to have you by our sides. If you want help with something, just ask. Don’t sit here and not eat, not when you have so many people willing to assist you.”

“All right,” she said softly.

“You have mashed potatoes at the top of the plate, chicken to the right and carrots at the bottom. It looks like they gave you water to drink.”

“Thank you, Ghel.”

“You’re welcome.”

She could hear the smile in his voice and wished she could see it for herself. What did he look like? His voice was deep and rich. Was he handsome? She’d heard the other women talking. The women outnumbered the Tarnans on board and one or two had mentioned Ghel’s name before. All of the Tarnans had been mentioned at one point or another, as potential mates, but some of the women wanted to wait until they landed on Tarnan to have more options. She couldn’t really blame them. They would, after all, have nearly the entire planet to choose from. If the attentions of the men on board were anything to go by, the women would be adored and worshiped when they reached Tarnan.

Lucie had little doubt it would go to some of their heads, like Rebecca’s. That was one spiteful woman. She had no idea what she’d done to deserve Rebecca’s ire, but she seemed to have it. The woman had been mean to her from the moment they’d met. She knew Rebecca hadn’t belonged to Cael, so it couldn’t be jealousy. She’d been one of Arko’s slaves. Lucie had met all of Cael’s brothers, and had to say that she liked Bane the best. He and Ariana had been pleasant to her, always asking if she needed anything and stopping to speak to her if they saw her sitting here or in the halls. Not that she wandered much.

Slowly, she began feeding herself, her food long cold. Her appetite wasn’t what it once was and she barely finished half the plate before she shoved it away again. As she sat, left on her own, she remembered bits and pieces of her life before she’d been captured on Earth. Her family hadn’t wanted much to do with her, but she’d had friends. No serious commitments as far as boyfriends went, but that’s the way she’d wanted it. She’d thought she had her whole life before her, plenty of time to settle down. Now she wished she’d done things differently.

Lucie was tired of feeling lonely, and even worse, helpless. Maybe Cael had coddled her too much. She could walk from one room to another, as long as she knew the layout of the place, but she was mostly useless. She could barely feed herself, wouldn’t be able to get dressed if her clothes weren’t organized a certain way for her. Her hair was usually mess because she could brush it, but couldn’t style it. There were no rubber bands to make a braid, and she wasn’t coordinated enough to tie a leather thong, not without being to see it clearly.

More than once, she’d wished that she’d died in that blast. She was no use to anyone, and while she’d been content as Cael’s slave, she hadn’t been happy. Secretly, she wanted someone to sweep her off her feet, see her for who she was and not see a blind woman. She knew her personality had changed some with her affliction, but deep down she hadn’t changed much. She was more dependent on people now, more than she liked, but she still liked to laugh and shop. Lucie would give anything to be able to read again! If she were on Earth, at least she’d have been able to listen to audio books.

A vibration shook the ship and she braced herself. Her heart skipped in her chest and she listened intently, trying to figure out what was going on. A woman cried out near her and she heard the Tarnans racing down the hall. Had they been hit by something?

Deciding the best place for her right then was probably her quarters, she got up and felt her way down the hall. She could still hear the men, but they sounded several halls away, probably near the ship’s docking station, an area she passed frequently. Had someone boarded them? A shiver raked her body. She only hoped they were friendly.

Lucie inched her way down the hall, pausing when she saw someone large looming ahead of her. The clothing was wrong for a Tarnan. His hair was dark, like a Tarnan’s, but skin held a bluish color. Not a dark blue, a medium steel blue. His clothes were black and from the creak she heard, she assumed it was leather. She was close enough to tell his eyes were a light, silvery color. From the tales she’d heard while on the transport ship to Keshpa, she knew who stood in front of her. A Tourmalane warrior.

She froze, not knowing what to do. She couldn’t very well run from him, and even if she tried he would probably catch her. Had the Tourmalanes overtaken the ship? She’d heard they weren’t necessarily a violent people, but their warriors were feared throughout the galaxies. Lucie stared at him, feeling like a trapped mouse, waiting to be the cat’s dinner.

He moved closer and she felt a shudder rake her body. The heat emanating from him surrounded her, his scent teasing her nose. It reminded her of the piney woods in her Georgia home back on Earth. It was a clean, sweet scent that had her breathing deeper, wanting to take him into her lungs and hold him there. It had been a long time since she’d smelled something that reminded her of home, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to let go of it, even if she was scared half to death right then.

Her body defied the logic of her mind, which was shouting for her to back away, to run. Lifting a hand toward him, she brushed her fingers over his torso, feeling the smooth leather of his vest beneath her fingertips. He seemed to be studying her, as if not quite sure what to make of her. Or maybe he was just afraid of frightening her. Slowly, he reached for her, his large hands settling on her waist. The press of his palms against her seared her, making her heat from the inside out. Liquid heat pooled low in her belly and she let out a startled gasp. She’d never had such an intense response to someone before, especially a stranger she couldn’t even see.

“You’re not frightened of me?” he asked, his voice low and gravelly. It smoothed over her like warm honey, leaving goose bumps in its wake.

“I’m terrified,” she admitted.

His grip tightened on her waist, then he lifted a hand to her cheek, caressing her. “So soft.”

Lucie heard the sounds of fighting not far away and wondered how this Tourmalane had slipped past the Tarnans. He hadn’t done anything to harm her, just arouse her. She wasn’t even sure that was intentional, just her traitorous body responding to someone it shouldn’t.

He leaned down, his nose tracing her cheek before he pressed his lips to hers. It was the first time she’d been kissed in years, and exceeded all of her dreams. His lips were soft and gentle against hers, a contrast the large hardened warrior standing before her. They moved with sensuous grace against her lips, coaxing her to join him. Of their own volition, her hands lifted and she placed her palms on either side of his face as she kissed him back.

It felt like a hundred butterflies had taken flight in her stomach and were now swirling their way through her body, all of her senses coming alive. The rasp of his whiskers against her fingers, the scrape of that stubble against her skin as he kissed her, it sent a thrill racing through her. It sounded like war was being waged around them, and yet he cocooned her in his arms, his body lightly pressing against her curves.

All too soon, he pulled away, spinning to face a group of men who had entered the hall. Tarnans. He reached behind him to wrap an arm around her waist, dragging her up against his body, as if he were shielding her from the group. Surely he didn’t think they would harm her? Placing her palms against his back, she felt his muscles tense and strain.

“Let the woman go!”

She recognized the voice as belonging to Bynt. The Tourmalane hadn’t done anything to hurt her. They wouldn’t injure him, would they? The thought of the powerful warrior in front of her getting hurt had her clenching her fists in his vest.

“I claim this woman as my own,” her warrior declared.