Authors: C.J. Barry
Tags: #romance, #futuristic, #futuristic romance, #science fiction romance, #sfr
by C.J. Barry
Copyright © 2002 by New
2012 by C.J.
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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Cover design copyright ©
2012 by Lani Diane Rich
C. J. Barry, Syracuse, NY
This book is dedicated to Lani Diane Rich—my
friend, my Briggs Myers mirror opposite, and a damn fine writer.
God stuck us together for a reason, and for that, I am eternally
It was a scream that woke her. In sleepy
confusion, Cidra sat up in bed and blinked into the darkness of her
bedroom. All lights were dead on the control panel by the door.
Another scream—her mother’s. Never in all
her fifteen years had Cidra heard such a terrifying sound. The last
remnants of sleep disappeared with the unmistakable crackle of
laser gunfire from the far end of the house. Chains of panic
squeezed at her throat. Heart pounding, she swung her feet to the
floor and crossed the dark room to her closed door. Her hand was on
the opener when another barrage of laser blasts and the shouts of
strangers rang out, this time much closer.
She hit the alarm on the control panel to
warn the rest of her family, initiating a drill her military father
insisted they all learn in case of emergency.
As footsteps thundered through her beloved
home amid crashing doors and shattering windows, she stared at the
lifeless alarm. No power. No alarm.
The smell of smoke finally jerked her out of
dazed horror. She dropped to her knees and with trembling hands
pried open one of the floor panels that concealed a small opening.
Intruders moved down the hall outside her door.
Without looking back, she dropped into the
pitch black void of the secret tunnel that ran under her house.
Once in the tunnel, she closed the tile door over her head and
locked it down. It was then she remembered her light stick. In her
bedroom. But the mistake was quickly forgotten with the vibrations
of footsteps overhead.
? These people who were destroying her
Silent tears burned a trail down her face as
she listened to the pillaging above. There would be nothing left of
her room, her home. She knew that. But it could be worse. She only
hoped her parents and brothers had already escaped ahead of her
through their own hidden floor panels.
In absolute and unrelenting darkness, the
tunnel lay empty and quiet but for her own ragged breathing.
Stagnant air filled the low, narrow passageway. The dirt floor was
cold and alien beneath her bare feet.
Placing a hand against each wall for
guidance, she began a blind journey toward the safe house as her
father had instructed, fingers groping for what she could not see.
The tunnel seemed so much longer than she remembered in their
practice runs, endless and terrifying. Something scurried by her
foot. Her heartbeat became unbearably loud in her ears. With each
small step forward, she fought back the paralyzing grip of utter
An abrupt incline signaled the end of the
tunnel. With whole-hearted relief, Cidra felt around for the door
latch and stumbled through the doorway into the deserted old
Avion’s giant moon cast a ghostly glow
through silent rooms as Cidra searched for her parents and her
younger brothers. Empty. She must be the first one. Exhausted, she
slumped down a wall to the floor facing the tunnel’s door. They
would be here any minute. She wrapped the filthy nightgown around
her legs and waited for her family to arrive.
A gentle hand shook her awake. Cidra
squinted at a familiar face bathed in brilliant daylight. Slowly,
blue eyes and white hair came into focus.
Syrus,” she said, her
The old man gave her a weak smile.
She stared at him, wondering why her
father’s old friend was here with her, why she had slept against a
wall, why her eyes burned. Reality invaded in a sickening rush.
She looked frantically around the room.
“Where are they?”
The old man worked his mouth for a few
seconds before he finally spoke. “They didn’t make it. I’m
Tears rimmed Syrus’ eyes as he took her hand
in his. “There’s serious trouble, love. You had better come with
TEN YEARS LATER
Cidra leaned on her shovel and gazed out
over the Lake of Ares.
Riotous colors skimmed across the water,
compliments of the exotic birds for which her home planet of Avion
was renowned. Late day sunlight kissed the top of each gentle wave,
casting brilliance to the kaleidoscope flashes of wings and
plumage. Sweeping branches of ancient Bani trees hung low over
rocky shores where spindly-legged waders strutted and preened.
A sad, fleeting smile touched her lips.
It was a perfect day.
A good day to bury Syrus Almazan.
Cidra looked down at the open grave and
fought back another wave of tears. He had been more than her
friend. He had opened his home, guaranteed her safety, and become
the family she desperately needed. The tears that stung her eyes
burned no less for him than they had for her family, murdered long
Cidra took a deep breath and immersed
herself in the songs and whistles resonating through the lush
forest until the painful flood of emotion passed.
The moment broken by a nearby groan, she
glanced over at her dear friend Barrios, clearly exerting himself
far more than he had in recent history. His flushed face dripped
with perspiration under a ring of silver hair that circled his head
like a crown. Barrios wore his superb culinary skills shamelessly,
quite rotund and determined to stay that way sustained by four
solid meals a day.
She pushed aside the stark reality that she
was completely alone now but for him. Lucky for her, he also
happened to be her best friend. As she smiled warmly at him, he
grunted hard and looked as if he too, might expire on the spot.
, she definitely
As she was about to return to the grim task
at hand, the first tingle of forewarning welled up within her.
Laying trust to it, she let it envelop her, turning her senses up
to full volume. Slowly, she turned her head toward the single,
well-concealed path from Syrus’ cottage.
. No one knew of this little clearing
except a few, close friends. Very few. Very close.
Cidra gripped her shovel across her body
with both hands. She was painfully aware they were trapped. They
would not be able to see the uninvited party until he was upon
them, and there was no time, no place to hide. Her blood pumped
faster, her breathing quickened to match it. A hasty glance at
Barrios told her he was totally unaware of her tension or of any
She rolled her eyes to the stars.
coming,” she whispered as loudly as she dared.
The older man stopped mid-throw and looked
up toward the footpath.
Cidra cursed silently for coming down here
unarmed. Well, who expected trouble during a burial?
With a slight shudder, she realized this
would be the first challenge to her Kin-sha prowess. As only a
Kin-sha master could, Syrus had taught her the ancient warrior
skill of hand-to-hand combat, weapons use, and the quiet, dignified
philosophy that was Kin-sha. His gift to her. Her own personal
The flash of excitement faded to dismay with
the sheer power the intruder exhibited as he slashed down the
narrow path, closing fast. Cidra frowned. Apparently, he wasn’t
worried about making his presence known.
He was either a clumsy friend or a very
Every fiber of her being stood on high
alert. The dense foliage parted and a large man crashed through. He
was tall and lean, moving with the confidence of a dangerous
predator. Her mind quickly registered broad shoulders, slim hips,
and simmering, effortless power. Short, dark hair framed a handsome
face and the piercing eyes of a hunter. He wore a white shirt and
snug-fitting tan pants tucked into well-worn brown boots.
The laser pistol hanging off one hip and a
short plasma blade strapped comfortably to the other thigh made it
clear this was a man prepared for anything. Furthermore, he looked
neither clumsy nor friendly—a bad sign in a potentially dangerous
She could defend herself, but she wasn’t
sure about protecting Barrios, too. No less a Kin-sha warrior than
Syrus, Barrios believed with his heart far more than he practiced
with his body. In no way could he be considered in peak form.
If this intruder wasn’t a friend, they were
The man stopped long enough to survey the
scene before him, frowned and walked toward Cidra, moving with long
strides. She noticed him glance at the shovel in her hands and
wisely come to a halt outside striking distance.
I guess I’m too late to
meet with Syrus.” The voice was deep and smooth.
At once, a pair of silver gray eyes locked
onto hers with enough intensity to shake her to the bone. A prickly
shiver started in her scalp and raced down her back. His eyes
narrowed, looking deep into hers. The world around her slid away.
The sensation was distinctly uncomfortable and unwelcome.
Cidra took a deep breath. “Who are you?”
Grey Stone. A friend of
Syrus’. He called me two days ago and asked me to come to Avion. I
got here as soon as I could, but obviously not soon enough,” he
muttered, dropping his gaze to the fresh grave.
Cidra looked him over suspiciously. So, he
was a friend with very bad timing or a lying enemy disappointed he
had been beaten to the punch.
He died last night in his
sleep.” She hoped the man would be satisfied with that and
Unfortunately, the man didn’t budge and all
it did was prompt the vision of Syrus lying peacefully in his bed
with the morning light filtering through his window. She shook off
the morbid image. It was not the way she wanted to remember her
dear friend and mentor.
Besides, at this point she had a bigger
problem and he was eyeing her like his next meal.
Barrios finally stepped forward and
stretched out a hand to Grey. “I’m Barrios, caretaker of Syrus’
home and part-time grave digger,” he acknowledged ruefully. “I’ve
heard Syrus mention you a few times. You’re an interstellar
treasure hunter, right? Sounds adventurous.” Barrios flashed a
Grey returned the customary handshake. “You
could say that, but it’s not quite as exciting as you might think.
Mostly a lot of tedious research and traveling around in
He turned his sights back on her with
unsettling deliberation. “You must be Cidra. Just as Syrus
described you. Without the shovel, of course. Is that a new Kin-sha
weapon these days? I’ve been away for a while.” A wry smile spread
across his face. It was both devastating and distracting. Just what
Not amused, Cidra answered, “Actually, it
is. I could give you a graphic demonstration, if you’d like.”
Plenty of time for that
later.” He threw out coolly, locking his steely gaze on her. “I’m
supposed to take you with me.”
What?” She took a quick
step back and shot Barrios an accusing look. He gave a helpless
Narrowing her eyes at Grey, she demanded,
“What are you talking about?”
I made a promise to Syrus
that I would take you on as part of my crew.” He watched her
intently. “I take it he didn’t mention it.”
No, he didn’t,” Cidra shot
back. Panic and anger surged through her. It was a toss up as to
who she was more furious at: Syrus for taking charge of her life
and bringing this unnerving stranger all the way out here, or this
overconfident man who so casually decreed her future. Her knuckles
turned white on the shovel. Lucky for Syrus, he was already
Enemy it is