Shielder Series, Book Five
Available for PreOrder May 13!
Jenna dan Aron, a Shielder, lives a solitary existence, shunned by her people because she has visions and can see the future. She’s even foreseen her own destiny: to be a human offering, a mate for a savage Leor warlord. When two Shielder colonies need to be rescued, the Leors who are their only hope demand a bride for their leader in return. Knowing she can’t deny fate, Jenna steps forward.
The Leors are a hybrid race and only part human. Arion of Saura finds mating outside his race abhorrent, but he has no choice, as his kind faces extinction. His life is ruled by hard logic and physical prowess, with no room for softness or emotion. Bound to him, Jenna faces a life of barbarism with a mate who seems more beast than man. In the relentless heat of the wild Sauran desert, Jenna and Arion wage a battle of wills, until they discover that the heart is mightier than any weapon—and that love can forge shadow and fire together.
He stood in the command center, his powerful legs braced as the ship began its descent toward Candest. He maintained his balance with one large hand gripping the edge of the main console. Like his legs, his chest was bare, with well-delineated muscles beneath golden skin. Silent and majestic, he waited. Suddenly his head turned, and his unblinking midnight gaze fixed unerringly upon her.
Terror jolted through Jenna, momentarily disrupting the vision. He couldn’t possibly see her. She was inside her modest quarters in Shamara; he was on a Leor warship, still on the outer edges of Candest’s stratosphere. She gasped for breath, her chest heaving, as she tried to dispel the vision, to break its insidious hold on her. But like a nightmare that would not end, the images resumed, sucking her into a clairvoyant vortex she could not evade. . . .
He was still standing there. His face was clearly recognizable, even though it had been more than four seasons since she’d seen it—just that one time; even though she’d never actually met any Leors. But she knew him. He had high, bold cheekbones; a powerful, square jaw; a prominent, wide forehead; all creating the frame for surprisingly sensual lips, a starkly chiseled nose, and black-hole eyes so dark, no pupils were visible. No facial hair or eyebrows softened his harsh features; no hair of any sort covered his gleaming head.
She’d always sensed the thoughts of those in her visions, and his were no exception. Determination, edged by desperate need and utter ruthlessness. Cold, logical analysis of obstacles to be overcome and the most direct methods of doing so, without compunction or mercy.
Again he looked directly at Jenna, and her heart battered against her chest. A staggering energy snaked between them, a treacherous snare. The command center faded from sight, and everything around them ceased to exist. No ship, no Shamara—only the two of them, in the vastness of the universe.
The vision ended abruptly, and Jenna lurched out of her chair. She felt the inundating chill and the sick sensation in the pit of her stomach that always followed a vision. Even with the link severed, and even though the Leor’s ship must still be several hundred kilometers away, his powerful presence lingered in her chamber, a brutal reminder of her future. She wanted to run, fast and far. But she knew it was useless. She couldn’t escape him, no matter how hard she might try.
She also knew, with absolute certainty, why he was here. Just as she knew what would happen next. Her fate was sealed. She had foreseen it in a vision on Liron over four seasons past, and had long ago learned the futility of trying to alter the course of destiny. Her visions were never wrong and could not be changed.
She’d never had any other discernment of her own future, either before or since that fateful cycle of the pink moon; the same cycle that Ranul san Mars, the great Shielder leader, had passed on. Not that it made any difference. Her fate had been decreed by Spirit. She sank back into the chair, willing her heart to stop racing and air to return to her lungs. She couldn’t let panic take hold. It would accomplish nothing.
The roar of an overhead ship drew her attention. She rose and went outside, looking skyward. A huge, glittering black and red warship passed overhead, dropping lower as it approached the landing pads. The Leor had arrived.
And with him came the end of her existence. Dread clawed at her, and Jenna pressed a trembling hand against the panel frame to steady herself. She wanted to scream out in protest, to rage against the forces orchestrating this cruel turn of events.
But it did no good to curse the reality, or to resist it. Her life, as insignificant and drab as it was, had never been hers to command. She’d always been at the mercy of her visions, guided by the will of Spirit, or so she’d always fervently insisted. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—accept the possibility that her ability might come from dark spiritual influences. Just as she couldn’t avoid fate.
Slowly, Jenna turned and went inside. She knew what she must do now. Since there was no way she could alter the destiny hurtling head-on toward her, she would face her fate with dignity and make the best she could out of her situation. She slipped on a cape to protect against the chill of the morning, raising the hood to avoid being recognized and shunned.
Because of her clairvoyance and her uncanny ability to predict the future, the other Shielder colonists had always maintained a wary distance. Superstitious, forced to expend every micron of energy to survive, they found it simpler to avoid her than deal with their fears.
There was nothing for her in Shamara. Nor did anyone care that her destiny was that of mating with the leader of a barbaric and cruel race.
Her life here, and her freedom, had just come to an end.
* * *
“We are not in the business of bartering people, Your Lordship,” Jarek san Ranul said, a hard edge to his voice. “We have plenty of irridon to offer in return for your services.”
“I don’t need irridon. I need a mate.” Arion, ruling Comdar of Saura, set his drink on the conference table. He found having to bargain for a bride almost as abhorrent as mating outside his race. Yet he had no choice.Problems from generations of inbreeding among the small Leor populace, along with the short fertile cycles of Leor females, necessitated that new gene pools be introduced.
The Komiss, the council overseeing all Leor clans, had decreed that the leaders of each clan would take a non-Leor mate to ensure strong, healthy future leaders, and to avoid extinction. Producing offspring had become even more crucial with the Controllers’ increasing aggression toward the Leors.
“I’m aware of your people’s problems, but I cannot condone using human lives as a medium of exchange,” san Ranul responded. “With all due respect, Your Lordship, Shielders are highly opposed to slavery. We have worked too hard to free ourselves from the oppression of the Controllers to willingly allow any of our people to be forced into such a state.”
Arion was well aware of the Shielder aversion to bondage, just as he suspected san Ranul knew Leor society had a lower caste system consisting of slaves. While Arion believed the Shielders were too lenient in some regards, he had nothing but respect for the ferocity with which they’d battled, and won, their freedom from the Controllers. He also respected Commander san Ranul, who had rallied his people and led them through a wormhole to this section of the galaxy and then created new settlements.
“We do not look upon our human mates as slaves,” he said. “They are accorded the same treatment our Leor females receive—that of equals.”
“Yet you trade services in exchange for those mates, as if they were commodities rather than living, sentient beings.”
“Trading services for goods is what we do, Commander. I am sure you know most of our settlements are in deserts and basically barren. For generations, Leors have survived by bartering. We fight in battles, transport goods, and offer protection on trade routes and other ventures. In return, we receive whatever we need to survive, including the means for our race to continue.”
“Comdar Arion, I do not want our differences on this matter to drive a wedge in our working relationship,” san Ranul said. “Our initial agreement with Komissar Gunnar was the exchange of irridon in return for transporting Shielder settlers from the other quadrant. As I stated earlier, we have ample stores of irridon.”
Feeling the chill of the meeting hall, Arion rose and strode to the large firebox where heat stones glowed, sending out beckoning warmth. He tossed back his cape and let the heat seep into his skin. “My need for a viable mate is greater than the need for irridon.” He turned to face the Shielder leader. “And your need to transport two newly uncovered Shielder settlements from the grasp of the Controllers is also very great. It is miraculous that they have survived this long.”
“You also need irridon,” san Ranul argued. “It provides the majority of your fuel, both for your spacecraft and on your settlements. I don’t see why we can’t reach an agreement that doesn’t involve the exchange of—”
“I have stated my terms. Would you place the welfare of two entire settlements over that of one individual female?”
San Ranul hesitated, his expression frustrated. Arion knew the good of the majority must always come first to a competent leader, and that san Ranul was an exemplary leader and military officer. “Take the issue to your people,” Arion suggested. “Perhaps one of your females would come willingly, for the good of all.”
San Ranul considered. “There are very few women who would meet your requirements. The majority of our women are mated, or too young, too old, or not virgins.”
“Virginity is one requirement on which I will not compromise,” Arion said.
“I’m well aware of that, Your Lordship.”
“I only require one mate. Commander. Again, I suggest asking your people. If one of your females comes forward—”
“I will do it.”
The feminine voice caught Arion by surprise, and he turned toward the entry. A slight figure stood there, shrouded in a hooded cape. San Ranul appeared just as surprised. “What are you saying?” he asked.
The figure took a step forward. “I am offering to go with this Leor.” Her voice was low, soft. Shock registering on his face, san Ranul strode toward the figure. “Jenna? Is that you?”
“I don’t need to ask how you knew Comdar Arion was here, but—” He gestured toward Arion. “I’m not sure you understand what the Comdar is requesting.”
Her head shifted toward Arion. “I think I do.”
Intrigued, Arion moved around the Shielder leader. “Show yourself.”
She hesitated, and he felt a wave of uncertainty that caught him off guard. It took a moment to realize it was her emotion he was feeling, another surprise. Since Shielders had natural mind shields, Leors were unable to probe their minds and ascertain their thoughts, as they did with other species. Even with his mind-probing abilities, Arion had never felt another being’s emotions. Yet he was clearly sensing this female’s anxiety. It was the only logical explanation.
“You are afraid,” he taunted.
“I am . . . apprehensive.” Her voice remained low, but he detected the note of resolve.
“If you believe yourself worthy to be a Leor’s mate, you will show yourself.”
Slender hands lifted slowly to the hood and lowered it. The first thing Arion noticed, as he always did with humans, was the female’s hair. It was a deep rich copper, the fiery tones of a desert sunset. It was tucked inside her cape, so he couldn’t determine its length.
Her face was strong, angular, with a square jawline, but her features were very feminine. Russet eyebrows—another oddity to Leors—formed perfect arches over gray eyes that were the same soft color as polished magnasteel. Her nose was narrow and straight, her mouth small but curved.
She stared back while he studied her, her gaze steady and direct; a point in her favor, as Leors insisted on eye contact, which facilitated their ability to probe minds. She had none of the magnificence of a Leor female, but she was pleasant enough to look at. She wasn’t very tall, her head coming only to the top of his chest. He wondered how sturdy she was. “Take off your cape,” he ordered.
“Surely we can come up with another solution,” san Ranul protested.
She turned her head toward him, and the lights reflected off her hair like sparks. “I know this is the solution, and so do you. I must be the one to do this. I’ve foreseen it as my destiny.”
San Ranul’s eyes widened. “You saw this in a vision?”
“Yes. And unfortunately, all my visions come to pass.”
Further intrigued, Arion asked, “You are a seer?”
The woman’s gaze returned to him, and he found himself falling into mesmerizing gray eyes, filled with the mysteries of the ages. “I am, Your Lordship.”
Divination was nothing new to Arion. Every Leor clan had at least one shaman who was able to communicate directly with the Goddess and offer prophecies of the future. This female’s eyes alone were enough to convince him she spoke the truth. “You have foreseen a destiny with a Leor?” he persisted.
She drew a deep breath, her chest rising beneath the cape. “I have foreseen my destiny with you, Your Lordship. Four seasons ago.”
Amazement jolted through him, along with a sense of déjà vu. Actually, it was a real memory from a little over four spans ago—that of Morven telling him, “The Goddess has chosen your mate. She will be surrounded by fire and visions.”
Not that Arion had discounted it, but when a mate never materialized, he assumed Morven must have misinterpreted the vision. However, it was possible that this Shielder female, with her fiery hair and seer abilities, was meant to be his mate. Still, Arion never accepted anything at face value or took anyone but his most trusted advisers at their word. Treachery and betrayal were rampant in the universe.
“How do you know your fate lies with me?” he challenged. “If you have not been around Leors, we would all look similar to you.”
Her gaze didn’t waver. “That might be the case. But how many Leors bear the mark of a new moon on the left shoulder?”
Only Arion did. The crescent-shaped birthmark was part of his heritage, appearing on all the males of his line, and was accepted by his clan as proof of his right to leadership. But the mark was on the back side of his shoulder, completely covered by his cape. There was no way this female could have seen it. Stronger evidence that she was the one Morven had prophesied. “Take off your cloak,” he demanded.
Her hands weren’t quite steady as she untied her cloak and shrugged it off. It fell in a pool on the floor. Fully revealed, her hair was stunning, falling in silky waves halfway down her back. Arion had never seen hair that color, like the burnished glow of fire stones. But then he found all hair fascinating, as did most of his people.
He shifted his attention to the rest of her. She was small boned, very slender and delicate. He felt a wave of disappointment. She must be wrong about her vision. “You are far too frail. You would not survive the first mating.”
Faint color brushed her cheeks, but she raised her chin proudly. “I’m stronger than I look, Your Lordship.”
Her persistence impressed him. She would have to be mentally strong, as well as physically sturdy, to survive life among Leors. He asked the most vital question, the one that would determine if he would even consider her for a mate. “You are a virgin? Untouched by any man?”
“I am a virgin.”
“Do not lie to me about this,” he warned her. “My personal healer will examine you thoroughly to ascertain the truth of your words.”
“No man has ever touched me,” she said with quiet dignity.
A startling rush of primitive, masculine possessiveness flowed through him. He was not one to be swayed by emotion, and he did not like the reactions this human female was spurring in him. It must be the different gravity and atmosphere of Shamara, he told himself, asserting his formidable will over his emotions. “You are aware that you will leave here and live in a Leor settlement? Your relocation will be final. You will not ever return to Shamara.”
“Yes.” Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.
He pressed on, ruthlessly determined that she understand all that would be required of her. “And are you aware that we will be joined as mates, in every way a male and female can be joined?”
Her color deepened. “Yes, Your Lordship.”
“Your sole purpose will be to bear me offspring. You will belong to me, until death separates us.”
She closed her eyes for a brief moment, and when she opened them, all the softness was gone. Now the strength of the magnasteel glinted there, the resolute look of a warrior about to go into battle. “I’m fully aware of your requirements. I am prepared to become your … mate.”
She stumbled over the last word, and san Ranul stepped between them. “Surely we can barter something else.”
The female turned to him, her resolve reflected in her bearing. “And while we’re debating the issue, what will happen to those two Shielder colonies still in the other quadrant? Where will their help be when the Controllers find and destroy them?”
He obviously had no answer. “Unfortunately, your point is well taken.” He looked at Arion. “You will accept nothing else?”
“I will not.”
San Ranul nodded to the woman. “Then I accept your offer with our deepest gratitude.”
Arion’s ultrasensitive hearing picked up the slight hitch in her breath as she said, “I would like a few moments alone with His Lordship.”
San Ranul didn’t seem happy with this, but he appeared reconciled. “All right,” he said. “I’ll give you some privacy. I’ll return shortly.” He strode to the entry, glanced back at Jenna, and left.
She clasped her hands together, staring at Arion. “There is one condition I require before I make the final decision to go with you.”
“You seek to bargain with me?”
Her white knuckles were the only outward indication of her tension. “I only seek to ensure my own well-being and dignity.”
He could not fault her for that. “You will not be mistreated, as long as you respect and honor our laws.”
“I will do my best to honor your laws. But I would like your word that you’ll never strike me, or allow anyone else to.”
“Leor males do not strike their mates.”
“Your word, please, that you will never hit me.”
A growl rose in his throat. Had he not just told her he would not harm her? She reached out as if to touch him. He tensed before he could control his reaction. With rare exceptions, no one touched him.
As if sensing his aversion, she dropped her hand. “I will be in an alien culture, surrounded by beings that are very different from my own people. Beings who are physically much stronger and have a—”
She paused, as if choosing her words. “Fiercer nature. I must know that you will stand for me.”
“I protect what is mine,” he growled. “Never doubt it.”
“You give your word?” she persisted.
He would have to make it very clear she was never to question him in any way. But he was a master strategist and understood they were in negotiations. Her enlightenment could come later. “Yes. You have my word.”
She exhaled slowly. “Then I will come with you.”
“Only if the physical exam bears out your virginity,” he reminded her. “And your ability to bear offspring.”
“It will.” Her gaze was unwavering. Once again, he was struck by the power of her eyes. “I consent to this examination, but I want you to know that my word is also good.”
“I am glad to hear it. I will not tolerate lies from anyone, especially not my mate. Make sure you remember that.” Arion decided the sooner he could educate her in Leor ways, and what was expected of her, the better.
“Since I have always placed a high value on the truth, I don’t expect dishonesty to be a problem, my lord,” she replied.
Her dignity increased the fledgling respect he felt toward her. He already believed his healer’s examination would validate her claim of innocence. “If we are to be mates, I would know your full name,” he said.
“Jenna dan Aron.”
He inclined his head. “I am Arion, Comdar of Saura.”
“Comdar Arion.” she acknowledged, her voice low.
Most human females had voices that grated on him. Jenna’s had a melodic quality, with a pitch that vibrated pleasantly in the highly attuned receptor in the top of his head. He again felt the odd effect she seemed to have on him. He stepped closer, picking up her scent, clean and sweet. If he could stroke his tongue along her flesh, he would be able to ascertain every nuance of that tantalizing scent. He could feel the natural warmth emanating off her, a lure that called to all Leors. And her hair . . . He wanted to touch it, feel the satiny wonder of it between his fingers—
Enough! he told himself sternly. Indulging in the senses was a weakness, and one that would be controlled. He gestured abruptly toward the entrance. “Then come. We will go to Lanka now, and she will confirm whether or not your claim of innocence is true.” He stood back, indicating she was to go ahead.
So she would be his mate, he thought, watching her petite form as he followed. Not a tall statuesque Leor female, who would be fearless and could fight as well as any male. He had always hoped for a mate who would be his equal, but fate—and the Komiss—had decreed otherwise. It appeared this fragile human female with hair the color of fire was his destiny. At least she was strong in spirit, and already he harbored a grudging respect for her courage.
But she had much to learn about Leor ways, and she would have to accept the fact that he would be her master in all things.
* * * * *
*4-1/2 Stars, TOP PICK* “Catherine Spangler broke new ground when her first book Shielder was published. Her creative and innovative world building makes for an unrivaled adventurous read. Highly recommended!” ~ Kathy Boswell, Romantic Times Book Club Magazine
“SHADOW FIRES is without a doubt Catherine Spangler’s best novel yet . . . . Ms. Spangler shines, her talent wonderfully evident as she takes us on a journey across galaxies, cultures, and brings us to a perfect understanding of her characters, their motivation, and their very personalities. I am looking forward to future novels by one of romances brightest stars.” ~ Michelle Houston, Sensual Romance Reviews
By the time I got near the end, I was so caught up in these characters that tears were streaming down my face . . . . Ms. Spangler should be called the Queen of Futuristic Romances! SHADOW FIRES is heady reading that is intoxicating to the senses.” ~ Suzanne Coleburn, Reader to Reader Reviews
“With finesse and grace, Catherine pulls us into the intimacy of the Leor rituals, the surprising spirituality that Jenna can readily accept, and the danger that exists for them all. She also gives us a deep look into Leor society . . . . A definite must buy for your futuristic keeper shelf.” ~ Rosemarie Brungard, Romance at Heart
“Spangler’s descriptive and sensual writing draws the reader into the characters and gives the strong emotions of SHADOW FIRES real emotional impact. Fans of the Shielder series will welcome this addition, and anyone who enjoys futuristic romance will want to add Spangler to their favorite author list.”~ Rob Preece, BooksForABuck.com
“This story of politics and relationships will keep you reading until the last page. With an engaging mix of science and mysticism, Catherine Spangler has created a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ love story that lifts SHADOW FIRES into a ‘must read’ for fantasy fans.” ~ Cy Korte, eBOOKISLE.com
“Jenna and Arion are fascinating characters drawn in the rich emotional colors Ms. Spangler does so well. SHADOW FIRES will be added to my keeper shelf, right next to the other volumes of this wonderful series!” ~ Nicole Keeton, Old Book Barn Gazette