sand. Their sides bellowed in and out with their breathing. Any further, and they would have dropped in exhaustion. She knew just how they felt. Oh, she was so
weak, weak, weak
. “Fine, then,”
she shouted against the winds, her own hair blowing stinging tangles back in her face. She sank to
her knees in the gritty sand and flicked her hand at him. “Just go on without me.” Refusing to let
him see her angry humiliation, she tipped her head and sucked deep breaths in and out.
But the warlord didn’t comment. He just waited, and after a moment, she looked up to see him
gazing at her with his stoic patience. His thoughts were impossible to read, and his fierce beauty took away what little of her breath remained. Her face flamed anew. Now, he must surely think of her as a spoiled child
a child he had helped raise, no less. Under his silent regard, she drew in more
shallow pants of air and swallowed against a dry throat. She wasn’t an idiot—
she knew she caused the delay with her frailties. Their carefree pleasure ride, one that she had gotten him to grant in the heat of day only because it was her naming celebration, had turned into a devastating race against death
—her parents’ deaths, if they didn’t reach them soon.
And her twenty-second birth celebration
have been a day for gaiety, even romance. She had waited so long for Vadyn to notice her as a woman, and now, another opportunity was ruined.
Once again, the warlord’s shared mind
connection to her mother had interrupted Cayla’s plans. But
waves of shame washed over her at her selfish thoughts. She grabbed a deeper breath and coughed against lungs that still protested. A hitch in her side stole the rest of her air, and a rock seemed lodged tight against her breast bone. But she felt the urgent need for haste more than her discomfort. How long had they struggled to even reach this spot? She shaded her eyes with her hand
and checked the suns’ positions. By her calculations, almost two marks ago, Vadyn had gone rigid in
linked message from her mother, Elizabeth. She and Logan, Cayla’s father, fought against
overwhelming odds in an oasis far ahead. Thoughts of just what they faced jacked her heart rate again.
How had the Slytreen gotten through Kasara’s planetary shields? Better yet, why did they attack
a peaceful couple having a picnic? For years, the marauding Slytreen outlaws had eluded Vadyn and the A
lliance forces. Now they had surfaced right under the warlord’s nose. She jerked a quick glance
at him. Not far from her, he strode back and forth across the sands with fierce impatience. She saw the rage that flowed from his corded muscles as plain as the billowing silks that draped his body and the fists he knotted at his sides. He must hate this delay, knowing what her parents were facing. He had said that at least one trio of Xeetag, a vicious reptilian race, but also members of the Alliance of Free Wor
lds, was helping in the Slytreen’s ambush. But why would they be attacking an ally?
For once the damned mind-connection between her mother and the warlord of Kasara was
proving useful. She resented it most times, but now wasn’t one of them. Right now, fear
choked her throat better than the ever-present sand. If Vadyn was this worried, she had every reason to be
terrified. But she trusted him. He was Kasara’s ruler as well as supreme warlord. He would save her
parents. She heaved a deep breath and found the tight band across her chest had slightly eased. Perhaps sometime in the near future
when they were safe
she could still attract his attention.
Yeah, right, perhaps
when Drakien pigs fle
w. She tried standing, but her booted toe caught on her
robe’s hem. She
tripped and jerked on the neck of the garment, bobbing her head.
Oh, great, yet another graceful move.
Heat warmed her face again. She quickly stepped free of her hem but still felt like such an awkward fool.
Thankfully, Vadyn didn’t appear to notice. All
his narrow-eyed attention was focused on the dunes that loomed in the distance. His second eyelids were half-closed against the wind-blown grit,
and he took no notice of anything; all his attention centered internally. She knew she shouldn’t
resent the connection between him and her mother, but she no longer thought of him as her adopted Kasar uncle. She had fallen in love with the warlord the moment she realized the real differences between males and females. And since then, she had dreamed of them being together