Mentally scarred from her years as prisoner to the off-world Haarb, Lady Sophillia Glorianna DeLorion, found healing, purpose and familial love with Verdantia’s desert-dwelling Oshtesh.
Then her beloved brother asks Sophi to leave her desert sanctuary, to exercise her unique genetic birthright and join with a hardened warrior in sexual rites that would return prosperity and comfort to the people of the war-ravaged planet. She resolves to try, but Sophi doubts she can be a fit sexual partner for any man – even one whose passionate green eyes make her remember what it is to desire.
Commander of the Queen’s Royal Guard, Eric DeStroia had grown up watching the corrosive, soul-killing effects of arranged, aristocratic marriage. He would rather remain alone than be joined to a woman he didn’t love – or who didn’t love him.
In post-war Verdantia, any woman is a rarity. An aristocratic woman bearing a unique genetic marker complementing his is beyond price. So, when Segundo DeLorion of the Second Tetriarch suggests their joining, Eric reconsiders, consoling himself with visions of sheltering a wounded dove under his mighty arm. Instead, He discovers a fierce falcon that refuses to stoop to his lure.
In the aftermath of their resounding defeat, the Haarb leader, Krakoll, plotted a return to Verdantia to exact retribution. His yearsof painstaking plans bore fruit. The time is ripe for return and his first objective is the recapture of Lady Sophillia Glorianna DeLorion. She had been unreachable until she went to the Oshtesh. Now, only Eric DeStroia stands in his way.
By order of Mother Lyre, Sophi bathed and dressed in her finest clothing. Her blond hair hung in soft waves to her waist over a sheer, finely woven white blouse. A short turquoise vest, heavy with embroidery and precious stones, barely covered her breasts. Its color enhanced her glorious blue eyes—made even larger by a dark outline of kohl. Sheer white pantaloons cuffed at her slender ankles softly outlined her long limbs. Finely worked leather sandals replaced her hide-skin boots. A heavy girdle of beaten gold links and tassels wrapped her slender hips and hung low onto her thighs, chiming musically as she moved.
Her appearance created its normal response. Men stopped in their tracks and rudely gaped. I loathe their appraising stares. She considered her face and form a liability. She had not labored to produce her beauty. Her appearance was not a skill she had mastered from days and months of unceasing repetition. It drew unwanted attention of sort she most feared.
Cool respite surrounded her as she entered the gathering hall. The thick, hollow tile walls tempered the blaze of sun and heat. A tall fountain playing in a central pool sent soft, cool droplets into the air. Columns of light speared into the large room from transparent panels high overhead.
The buzz of conversation halted abruptly at her presence, then regained volume. Sighing, longing for her sisters-in-arms who treated her with the respect she had earned, she crossed the hall to Primus G’hed and his wife. They spoke with a tall, well-built man dressed in worn battle leathers. He held himself with an air of quiet competence and command, as if at ease with his ability to meet any challenge. He could only be Commander Eric DeStroia. Mother Lyre, you did not tell me how handsome the commander is. With her height, Sophi normally looked men in the eye, but she needed to tilt her head upward to meet his green-eyed gaze. His closely cropped, russet hair was disordered, as if hands had been run through it repeatedly. He was in distinct need of a shave.
His green eyes flicked over her, appraised her, then returned to Primus G’hed. She straightened in surprise at his lack of reaction to her beauty.How nice. She moved to stand casually to the right of Mother Lyre.
“Commander Eric DeStroia.” Primus G’hed indicated Sophi. “Flight Leader Sophillia DeLorion.”
The commander bowed. “It is a privilege, Lady DeLorion. The Segundo failed to tell me of your status among the Oshtesh. Flight Leader. It is a military designation?”
What a pleasant surprise. The first words out of his mouth are not about my appearance.
“Yes, Eric. Sophi leads an elite squad of women archers. We call them flights. Each flight has six archers and a leader.” Mother Lyre spoke proudly. “The flights choose their commanders. The title of Flight Leader is a singular honor.”
DeStroia shifted his attention back to her. “I regret I take you away from their comradeship, Lady DeLorion.”
Before Sophi could respond, Mother Lyre spoke again. “You won’t. Sophi’s flight rides with you to Sylvan Mintoth.” A small, knowing smile played across her lips. “It is my condition for her return. As only sister to Doral DeLorion, Segundo Signore of the Tetriarch, Lady Sophillia needs her own guard—those whose loyalty is only to her.”
At Sophi’s surprised utterance, Mother Lyre, stroked her cheek tenderly. “We thought it would comfort you to have your sisters around you. We send you away, but you take a small part of Sh’r Un Kree with you.” She laughed softly. “Truly, I don’t think we could have made them stay.”
Sophi let her eyes speak for her. The Primus and his wife smiled at each other in satisfaction.
An expression on Commander DeStroia’s handsome face came and went rapidly. Is that surprise or dismay? I envy his easy composure. Mine has been hard won.
The commander smiled pleasantly. “I welcome the addition of your flight, Lady DeLorion. Warriors with intimate knowledge of the desert wastelands are a valuable asset. I would like to start back tomorrow at dusk. We travel by night through the desert wastelands. Yesterday, since the distance left to travel was so short, we rode during daylight as we could complete the trip before the full heat of the day, but that is not my preference.”
Sophi returned his direct gaze. She found it shamefully easy to look at him and for the first time in recent memory felt stirrings of purely feminine response to this handsome man.
“I should attend my men and horses,” Eric said. “Tomorrow, then, Primus, Mistress, my Lady.” With a small bow, he took his leave.
Sophi turned to Mother Lyre and Primus G’hed. “I love you. I already miss you--and I will be back.”