If Sūnder Alārd had been born female he would have been cherished for being Faeborn—born with magick—and his birth celebrated. Instead, the L'fÿn insisted on his death. Only his Panthrÿn father's desperate escape saved him. With most Chándariāns uneasy in his presence due to whispers that he is doomed to become a darksoul, and unlikely to find a mate because of it, Sunder has nevertheless carved out an honorable existence as a warrior and commander. Now bodyguard and chaperone for the Chándariān prince, Sūnder attends the annual mating festival on Earth with his charge. He can't help but be fascinated by Gabriel St. Baptista, the tongue-tied nurse he meets after the prince's accident.
When he was sixteen, Gabe came home to discover his parents had headed out into space, leaving him behind. Gabe never recovered from the unexpected desertion and keeps everyone at arm's length to avoid being abandoned again. However, after meeting Sūnder, Gabe finds himself unable to resist the bond between them and breaks all of his carefully crafted rules to spend time with the Chándariān—regardless of the fact that Sūnder will soon leave Earth. Scared by how fast he is falling for Sūnder, Gabe just hopes his heart won't be too broken when Sūnder leaves.
Neither expects the deceit and treachery stalking them, and when Gabe saves Sūnder's life, it sets off a chain of events that could either tear Gabe and Sūnder apart—or give them both exactly what they want.
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The bark of the tree he hid behind exploded. Valiant flinched, hunching his shoulders to shield his fragile burden. Splinters lodged in his exposed skin, thankfully leaving the babe unharmed. His energy flagged, but if he pushed himself a little harder, he could reach the field where the rest of his knights awaited with the gliders. Panting heavily, he pushed off the tree and ran as fast as he could. If not for the fragile treasure in his arms, Valiant would have taken to the trees where, as a Panthrÿn, he'd make better time. Not that speed mattered. The Jade Forest belonged to the L'fÿns, and they were far more familiar with these woods than he. Instead, he relied on his battle-honed reflexes to keep him ahead of his persistent pursuers.READ MORE
He ducked and spun left, the next stunner blast missed him as his keen hearing saved him once again. Had his bodyguards all fallen to the L'fÿns of Nellá? He heard people following him, but couldn't risk stopping to verify whether the pursuers were his Panthrÿn knights or L'fÿn. The babe he clutched to his chest had been silent since Valiant had picked him up. Had the newborn died, making his precipitous escape through the Jade Forest unnecessary?
Valiant could hardly believe he ran from his wife and her people. L'fÿns were a peaceful race, the arranged marriage between his family and the L'fÿns of Nellá an age-old tradition that had begun with a peace treaty centuries ago. Valiant hadn't fallen in love with Tālia, but he'd been fond of her and valued her friendship. That she became pregnant within the first season of their nuptials had been a sign from the Gods. On the eve of the birth, they'd left the capital of Wūxbury and traveled to Tālia's homeland so the babe would be born near the forest, as was L'fÿn tradition.
All had gone well, or so Valiant had thought—he'd been pacing anxiously in the hallway—until the child was born and wails of sorrow were raised within Tālia's chamber. Her attendants burst from the enclosed room, jostling him in their haste to leave. Certain the newborn had passed through the veil—for what else could cause such a commotion?—he rushed into the birthing chamber… to discover the boy alive, whole, seemingly hale, and… on the floor? Alarmed, Valiant bent to pick up the child.
"No, Valiant, don't touch it," Tālia choked out, her hand held up beseechingly. Grief ravaged her delicate features, her cheeks painted with silver tears as she lay in the bed, propped up on a mound of lavishly embroidered pillows. Her cornsilk hair was bound high on her head, the loose tendrils plastered to her sweat-slick coral skin attesting to the strain of childbirth.
Ignoring her plea, Valiant lifted the babe, cradling him carefully in his arms as he fought the anger he felt at his son's treatment. The boy's unusual gaze caught and held his. His brilliant, royal blue eyes were each red-ringed, the vibrant crimson color matching that of his already thick mane. Like both his Panthrÿn and L'fÿn parents, the child was smooth-skinned, but darker than Valiant had expected, considering his mother. Some called L'fÿns "The Golden" because their skin tones were vibrant coral hues and their hair some shade of white, gold, or bronze, although a small portion of the L'fÿn population—Dròw—were between a dark gray and deepest black in color. Other than the child's skin tone, pointed ears, and the slightly tilted angle of his L'fÿn-shaped eyes, the babe's more prominent features were all Panthrÿn. The retractable claws, rosettes on his torso, ridges down the bridge of his nose, and long tail all favored Valiant's side of the family.
The inherent power of an alpha emanated from his son, which pleased Valiant mightily, but he also felt something else within the boy, something unexpected. Surprised, he glanced at Tālia, stating proudly, "He has magick."
Tālia cried harder.
"I don't understand." Valiant sensed nothing wrong with the babe, so why were Tālia and her household filled with such sorrow? "Why do you weep so? He is a beautiful child who shall clearly grow into a powerful male."
"He is Faeborn." Tālia's voice broke, and she stifled a sob.
Tālia had spoken glowingly of the treasured Faeborn children, coddled and spoiled, given everything they wanted. For an L'fÿn Dròw to be called Faeborn, magick must rest within them at birth. Instead of being born with an L'fÿn's light-colored hair, Faeborn were crowned by brilliant hues found only in nature. These children grew to become healers, druids, or rangers, occupations of great importance because they were the only ones other L'fÿns trusted to broker peace and settle disputes. How was their son's magick not wondrous?
"This is an incredible thing," Valiant argued. "How can you be upset at such good fortune?"
Tālia shook her head, her copper eyes glistening with unshed tears. "He is a Dròw male. Faeborn should only be female, never male. Faeborn males crave violence, blood, and war. He—It is an abomination. Father shall fetch the High Druid. She will deal with it."
Her words shocked him to the core. How could he not have known Faeborn males were shunned so cruelly? Panthrÿns were a warrior people, and it could be said that they, too, craved battle and bloodshed. Fighting was what they did, who they were. Yet despite their battle-ready natures, Panthrÿn didn't conquer or kill blindly. In fact, they were one of the few races trusted to police the galaxy. The disgust in Tālia's voice as she described their child wounded him, lighting a flame of anger that burned through his veins.
Did she not realize her words, her condemnation of his son, pushed him dangerously close to the edge of savagery? Valiant gritted his teeth, breathing deeply to keep from lashing out with claw or word. When he spoke, he attempted to infuse his voice with calm, but feared his fury still bled through.
"How can you say that a tendency to violence is wrong when you married a Chándariān knight? Our battle prowess is unequaled. How can you consider murdering a child for carrying the qualities of his sire?"
Yes, Valiant had heard Dròw males possessed more alpha attributes than the rest of the L'fÿn race, but he didn't understand why Tālia was so distraught. He didn't know any Dròw males himself, as they kept to themselves and often suffered from wanderlust, roaming the galaxy as if searching for something, but… "If we Panthrÿn can harness our aggressive tendencies, surely Faeborn males could too, if given similar training."
Panthrÿn bodyguards crowded into the room through the double doors Valiant had left wide open in his haste, their growls of displeasure evidence they'd overheard Valiant's argument with Tālia.
Tālia paled. "No, Valiant, please, you don't understand. Faeborn females are touched by magick at birth, and so are in tune with all life. But when a Dròw male is born with the gift, it is warped. The magick within the male becomes corrupted, tainted. No good comes from any male born with magick. Please, walk away and allow my father to handle this. Nothing you say can change the fate the creature was born to, the fate its very nature demands." Tālia moved slowly across the bed and attempted to stand, only to collapse on the mattress, moaning in pain.
Valiant glanced back down at the babe. Tālia's attendants hadn't deemed him worthy enough to clean properly before they rushed from the room. Valiant's own skin mimicked the deepest shadows, and the babe could have inherited the dusky-gray skin from him. However, regardless of the presence of magick, Valiant still saw no reason for infanticide.
"Have you forgotten that he is of my blood? I get a say in our child's fate whether you like it or not, Tālia." Disregarding Tālia's pleas to leave the child be, he swaddled the babe as his mother had taught him. Resettled in his arms, the boy watched him intently with those unusual eyes. Valiant couldn't help but think his son's mane was the color of freshly spilled blood. He forced the thought away, refusing to allow Tālia's superstitions to infect him.
She made a distraught, fearful noise when he moved to the doorway with his son.
Valiant refused to meet her gaze, for that was a symbol of respect and she lacked the honor he'd once thought she possessed. Although he hadn't loved her, he had believed they were friends. He'd never imagined she would be capable of murdering her own child.COLLAPSE