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Title: Doryan
Contributors: Kate Rudolph & Starr Huntress
Series: Mated to the Alien #9
Release Date: 3/11/20
Genre: Science Fiction Romance

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She’s investigating a murder… and the main suspect is her fated mate!

Amy is determined to land a private investigating job with the Detyen Legion… but she didn’t think she’d be solving a murder. All signs point to Doryan, a golden alien who’s hiding a big secret, but Amy is convinced he didn’t do it. Proving that could be deadly.

Doryan has been hiding away from the Legion for months, certain that he’ll be executed if they find him. He’s one of the soulless: a warrior who sacrificed his ability to feel emotion in exchange for a longer life. And once the soulless outlive their use, the Legion must retire them. But when he’s around Amy, long dead feelings rise to the surface. It should be impossible, but Amy is his denya, and he’ll do anything to seize his second chance.

But if they can’t find the real killer, their bond will be broken before it ever gets a chance to form, and when bodies begin to pile up Doryan’s life is not the only one in danger.

Read Doryan for fated mates, a heart-meltingly broken hero, a smart and savvy heroine and adventures that are out of this world!

Doryan is the ninth book in the Mated to the Alien series about a race of aliens doomed to die if they don’t meet their fated mates. The series can be read in any order and there are no cliffhangers!


Chapter One

Chapter One

A dim streetlight filtered in through the window as Doryan opened the door to his current lodgings. After six months he should have been thinking of it as home, but there was too much wrapped up in that term for him to get his head around.

Lodgings. Quarters. That he could handle. Anything more had long been out of the question.

He shut the door as quietly as he could to avoid waking anyone up, then slipped his shoes off and stashed them in their place before padding silently across the open living room towards the stairs.

He would have made it, too, if it weren’t for the bag full of something heavy that he stumbled over. No matter how many years of training he had, he didn’t suddenly have perfect night vision. He let out a grunt as pain climbed up from his naked toes and stabbed into the rest of his foot. Two deep breaths and it was gone, but the damage was done.

A figure jumped up from where she’d been sleeping on the couch, the whites of her eyes clear even in the dim light, her expression wild and body tense.

“It’s me, Manda,” Doryan said quietly.

Her ragged breaths were as loud as blaster shots, but they calmed after a few moments. “You were out late. Again.” It wasn’t exactly an accusation, but it was more than an observation.

And it was another reason Doryan should have changed lodgings months ago. Manda had needed them when they were stranded together, bound into slavery and desperate to survive. But even though they’d been free and on Earth for months, she still clung.

Another man might have offered her comfort. Might have become some sort of adopted older brother to the teenager who so clearly needed family. But Doryan didn’t have the capacity. He’d sacrificed it more than half a decade before to fight a war, only to be abandoned when he was no longer convenient.

“I was out late,” he confirmed. “You should be asleep in your room.” But it didn’t take emotions to understand why she wasn’t.

“I had another nightmare,” she said.

“That isn’t surprising. After what you experienced, nightmares are common. Have you talked with someone about seeing a counselor?” If she’d been part of the Detyen Legion she wouldn’t have had a choice, but she was a sixteen year old human. There was no superior officer to command it, not even a parent.

“You’re impossible to talk to,” she said, but something soft laced her words. “Why were you out so late?”

“You should go to sleep,” Doryan insisted. He didn’t have an answer for her and she didn’t need one anyway. And instead of staying to chat he continued on his way towards the stairs.

Walking through the kitchen he saw Dekon sitting at the counter, drumming his fingers against the hard surface. Dekon NaZade was the twin brother of one of the people who had rescued him and Manda six months ago. Though they were identical in looks, Dekon was said to be the more cheerful of the two. That was the rumor, at least; Doryan had never seen the evidence. Then again, he was very bad at reading emotion.

All soulless were.

It was a blessing and a curse. Detyens like Doryan, and like Dekon, were doomed to die at the age of thirty if they didn’t find their mates. Dekon had years yet before he’d be forced to pay the Denya Price. Doryan’s time had come and gone.

“You shouldn’t dismiss her concerns like that,” Dekon told him. “She cares about you. We all do.”

Doryan wasn’t sure how to answer. Why did they care? He wasn’t family. Sure he’d helped them in a time of need, but it had been his only way to ensure he got out of a nasty situation. Any debt between them had been repaid.

“She needs to learn not to rely on me,” he said. “We’re no longer in danger.”

Dekon’s jaw tensed and he took a deep breath, but he didn’t try and talk sense into Doryan. Sense. That was what they called it when they couldn’t understand his points. But all he had was logic now.

“Is there any news of her family?” he asked. The NaZades and their mates had been searching for information for six months, but Manda’s parents had left Earth sometime after her abduction in an effort to search for her. No one knew where they were.

“Vita spoke to a friend who might have information. We should know more in a week or so.” There was something Doryan couldn’t identify in Deke’s voice, but that wasn’t unusual and he dismissed the thought almost immediately. “Oh,” Deke stopped him before he could continue upstairs. “Captain NaPyrsee called again. He demanded that you return his call by the end of the day tomorrow or he’ll have officers here to retrieve you by Friday morning. He sounds like an asshole.”

He is. It was on the tip of his tongue to make the reply, but Doryan snatched it back in time. Soulless didn’t talk like that. And he could be wrong. NaPyrsee had his reasons.

“I’ll call him in the morning,” he said. It was long overdue. Doryan should have reported back to the Detyen Legion as soon as his wounds healed upon his arrival on Earth. Waiting a week or so for the bruises and stiffness from his brutal treatment to fade was one thing.

Six months was desertion.

But Doryan knew the most likely response to his return to the Legion. Retirement. Death. And though desires were anathema to his kind, he wanted to live. Something about the months of his detainment in space had changed him, had ripped open something that was supposed to be gone until nascent tendrils of the impossible seemed to be growing.

He didn’t feel. He couldn’t. It was an even greater death sentence than he’d face if he returned. And it could be a sign of deterioration, a deterioration that could harm the people who’d taken him in and treated him like one of their own.

It could harm Manda.

“I’ll call him in the morning,” he repeated before retreating up the stairs.

He didn’t want to die, but perhaps it would be better for the world if he did.

***

Amy Dalisay looked at the past due amount on the bill in her hands and then scowled at her accounting software. They’d have enough to pay it… if the last two clients would pay their damn invoices! She tossed the bill on her desk and leaned back, staring up at the ceiling and letting her dark hair hang down.

Damn clients wouldn’t be so stingy about payments if she waved her blaster in their faces.

“You can’t shoot our clients,” said Kyla York, her best friend and business partner.

“Not even a little?” Amy asked, already knowing the answer.

Kyla just rolled her eyes. She sat at her own desk scrolling through news articles on her holo tablet and not paying any mind to Amy’s fidgeting. She was used to it after so many years.

Amy looked back at the accounting software and tried moving around a few numbers. If they put off paying the power company they might be able to eke out a little more time. She glanced up at the overhead light and let the feel of the air conditioning blow over her.

No. That wouldn’t work.

Half a dozen years in business and now they were months away from folding. How had it come to this? Sure, PI work wasn’t necessarily flashy. And, yeah, tracking cheating spouses and other liars didn’t exactly bring in a ton of credits, but it had been enough.

Until now.

Two months away from closing their doors. Two invoices shy of bill payments. Not even Amy’s meager savings would keep them afloat for long. She’d used that up two years ago the last time things had gotten tight.

If she couldn’t use her blaster, maybe the damn clients would respond to her fists.

“You can’t punch them either,” Kyla muttered.

Amy glared. They knew each other too well. That’s what you got when you went into business with your best friend. “Between the two of them they owe us thousands! That’s rent and bills and your damn paycheck. You sure I can’t rough ‘em up?”

“And they’ll pay.” Kyla swiped the holo display to the side so she was looking directly at Amy. “Eventually. They always pay… eventually. Remember who said we should consider firing them as clients?” Her eyebrows drew up, making her eyes comically big.

“And these two clients brought us our last six referrals,” Amy countered, though she wasn’t sure how she was now defending them. “If they don’t pay within a week I’m going down to their offices and giving them a piece of my mind.”

“As long as it’s your mind and not your fists, I don’t care.” Kyla turned back to her news reports and then hummed. “Now here’s what we should do.”

“What?” Amy peered over at the holo but couldn’t figure out what Kyla was looking at from across the room.

“Humans, on the whole, have been disappointing clients, wouldn’t you agree?” She grinned.

Amy shrugged. “Are you suggesting we work for cats?”

Kyla laughed. “Aliens.”

“Aliens?”

“Aliens.” She waved at the display until it expanded enough for Amy to read. Detyen Legion Enters into Treaty with United Sol Forces.

The Detyen Legion. Everyone knew about them now. It was hard to ignore when hundreds of aliens showed up on Earth out of nowhere and then helped defend it… from a threat they’d brought with them. Or not. Reports varied as to whether or not the Detyens had caused the latest threat. Amy had spent an entire week worrying about it, but it had been more than a year, closer to two, since the Detyens arrived and she had bigger problems to deal with.

Like her bills.

“Why do you think they’d pay?” she asked. The alien population on Earth was relatively small. The Detyen Legion had probably doubled it or more when they arrived. They now represented the largest alien presence on Earth, and even though most of them were based in D.C., same as Amy and Kyla, Amy had never met one.

“Why do you think they wouldn’t?” Kyla shot back.

Amy just glared at her own screen. “Okay, no reason to think they wouldn’t yet. But how do you suggest we pitch ourselves? And what do they even need a pair of PIs for? Lots of cheating spouses in their ranks? Do they even care?”

“We can handle more than cheating spouses.” Kyla crossed her arms and glared. “You know I’ve been wanting to expand for awhile. Broken relationship cases are making me doubt that love can last beyond the first bloom of lust.”

“Ky—”

Kyla just shook her head. “Whatever. What do you say?” She scrolled further. “Look here.” She flicked her wrist until a picture hovered over them of two Detyen men and two human women standing in front of a heavily wooded area that kind of looked like a summer camp. “This article says a new Detyen settlement is opening in upstate New York and they’re inviting people to come check it out. Tickets are available for a weekend getaway. And it’s cheap.”

“Is this somehow connected to the Legion?” It was one thing to work for a large organization and quite another to work for two random guys.

“Uh…” Kyla’s face scrunched up as she scanned the article. “Not… exactly? But there’s a chance they show up, right? And it couldn’t hurt to get our foot in the door.”

Could it? What really were the chances of anyone from the Detyen Legion being there? Amy couldn’t know. Neither could Kyla. “Shoot me that article?” she asked. Kyla nodded and a second later it appeared on Amy’s tablet. She scanned through, looking for anything that would give her a hint of the plan’s worthiness.

Aha!

“Look at the last paragraph. An official from the Legion said they are fully on board with the settlement and officers will be attending the grand opening. This really might be a good idea.” She looked up at Kyla, grinning.

Kyla glared. “I have them from time to time.”

Amy stuck her tongue out. And then she got serious. “But this is next week and we can’t both leave the office. What if we get walk ins? Can’t exactly turn down any paying gigs.”

“Then only one of us goes. I’d be happy to.”

“So would I.” A few days out of the city? Sounded like paradise.

“Flip for it?” Kyla suggested.

Amy nodded. Kyla got out a big coin and Amy reached into her own pocket, fingers tightening over a slim device. Kyla tossed the coin in the air and Amy pulled out her mini blaster. “Heads,” she yelled as she shot.

Kyla cursed at her and rushed the smoking coin. Both sides had been obliterated. “I win!” Amy smiled.

Kyla rolled her eyes. “That’s cheating. You suck.” But they both knew Amy was going. Kyla could cheat next time. “I’ll make you a reservation,” Kyla muttered.

Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Doryan put the comm call off until after breakfast. That much stalling was easy enough. Captain NaPyrsee wouldn’t want to be woken by Doryan’s call, after all. But once all the dishes were washed and put away Doryan couldn’t come up with any more excuses.

He made the call in the privacy of his room, not sure what he’d be ordered to do, but certain that his companions didn’t need to hear it. In a matter of minutes he was answered by the captain’s assistant and patched through to his direct line.

NaPyrsee’s age would have surprised people in the human military, but the Denya Price had a way of accelerating things. The captain was a year or two shy of thirty, but the stress of his job had aged him so he looked closer to Doryan’s age, with lines around his eyes and a permanent scowl.

“NaVayn,” NaPyrsee greeted, sneering out the word. “I’ve been trying to contact you for weeks.”

Doryan didn’t respond, and since he hadn’t asked a question NaPyrsee wouldn’t expect him to.

“Your absence has been noted in your file and you will be evaluated upon your return. I require your presence at the new Detyen settlement. I will forward details of your assignment.”

The Detyen settlement? He’d seen a report about the place but hadn’t thought much of it. But why would the captain want him to meet there? It was hundreds of kilometers from the Detyen Legion offices and there wouldn’t be many, or possibly any, officers there. No one would be qualified to evaluate him. And if NaPyrsee wanted to retire him quietly, there were better options.

But the soulless didn’t ask questions. They weren’t supposed to do much independent thinking. It was better for everyone that way, or at least that was what the Detyen Legion taught. In the past few months Doryan had gotten used to asking questions. But falling back on old habits was simple enough. And he could not disobey a direct order.

“I will be there, sir,” he confirmed.

“See that you are.” NaPyrsee disconnected the call without another word, leaving Doryan to wonder if something strange was going on or if he was merely incapable of understanding the emotional undercurrents of the command. Maybe he would ask Deke.

He didn’t immediately report his imminent departure to the NaZades. They would be disappointed, he was certain, and by delaying he could, perhaps, spare them some of that pain. It was another sign that his condition might be deteriorating. He shouldn’t be capable of concern, and yet here he was.

When dinner rolled around, Doryan had decided to tell the family. But before he could open his mouth, Deke jumped in to talk, practically vibrating out of his seat. Deke, Manda, Doryan, Shayn, Naomi, Vita, and Brax were all huddled around the dining room table and eating pizza, a dish that had become a family favorite after Manda had requested it one night. They didn’t gather for dinner every night, and even when they did Doryan often made himself scarce, but this could be his last night with them and he would not miss it.

“We’re ready for launch!” Deke finally announced, grinning broadly.

Manda was mirroring his enthusiasm while everyone else just looked at him questioningly.

“What?” Braxtyn, his twin brother, finally asked around a mouthful of cheese. His denya, Vita, elbowed him, and Doryan thought he heard a muttered manners.

“The settlement!” Deke declared. “Announcements have gone out and tickets are on sale. It’s taken them years to get it ready, but now we are.”

The Detyen settlement. For some reason Doryan had forgotten that Dekon had been working on the very same place he was due to report to in a few days. Since Doryan and Manda had arrived, Dekon had spent several weeks in New York working on getting the settlement set up, and then he’d spent even more time traveling to spend news of the place. He’d thrown his heart into it, or so Brax said, and from the dawning smiles around the room, his family was happy to see it succeed.

“We’re having a preview for a few days before the grand opening next week and you’re all on the guest list. Can you make it?” He looked at his older brother with big eyes. Even Doryan could read the hopeful emotions he was exuding.

“Of course,” said Shayn. “We’d be happy to come.”

“I’ve been ordered to report to the settlement,” Doryan interrupted. He didn’t know what possessed him to do it, but it seemed like the right moment. They were talking about it, at least. “Captain NaPyrsee wants to speak with me. I’ll most likely return to the Legion once we’ve met.”

“Or you’ll be retired,” Vita muttered.

Manda sucked in a breath and looked at him like he’d betrayed her. Doryan didn’t know what to say. It was true. Death was a likely outcome from the upcoming meeting. Soulless Detyens didn’t have long lifespans, and his was already longer than most. He’d once told everyone just what his future might entail, and no one had been happy about it.

But there was nothing he could do about that.

“That is a possibility,” he agreed, “but I’ll be evaluated before the Legion makes any decisions.”

Manda pushed up from the table and Deke called after her to stop, but she didn’t listen. No one seemed to know what to do next, so Doryan quietly finished his food before excusing himself. He found Manda sitting in her room, the door cracked open a slice as if she knew he’d find her.

“You’re going to die,” she said when he stepped in.

“Everything dies,” he replied. What was he supposed to say?

Manda pulled in a deep, shuddering breath and her eyes shined with unshed tears. “How can you just say that?”

Doryan lowered himself onto the little stool beside the door. This wasn’t a conversation to be had standing up. “I’m different than Shayn and Brax and Deke.”

“Duh.” The eye roll must have hurt.

Whether Manda wanted to hear this or not, Doryan had to get it out. He was determined to make her understand. “I made a choice a long time ago, one that extended my life long beyond what I should have been allowed. And now I might be at the end of my time. If that is the case, you need to prepare yourself.”

“The end of your time?” Manda narrowed her eyes. “You’re old, but you’re not old old.”

“When you have a minute, ask about the denya price.” He didn’t have the capacity to explain it to her.

“You are coming back,” Manda said, like her determination could make it so. “We are going to find my parents and then you’re going to meet them and keep being the weirdo who keeps me safe, got it?”

His heart would have clenched if it could have, and Doryan didn’t know how to respond. So he just nodded and sat silently while Manda told him about the future he couldn’t have.

***

Her impression that the Detyen settlement was a summer camp continued when Amy stepped out of her rented vehicle and onto the gravel of the parking lot. There were wooden cabins smattered along the tree line and the whole placed smelled green.

It was nice.

A change of pace. But she was going to be screaming to get back to the city if she was stuck here for too long. She’d never been a country girl.

A door slammed and a man’s voice carried across the handful of spaces separating them. “Let’s get this over with so we can go home. I don’t see why we need to spend the weekend here. I was supposed to be hosting that barbecue.” He seemed to be around Amy’s age with sun-kissed skin and hair starting to go gray at the temples. Human. And another city dweller, given his suit and his aversion to the camp.

“Peter, you’re more than welcome to leave after the photo-op, but I’m going to enjoy my weekend.” The woman was a little younger, with long blonde hair falling down in waves and a perfectly made up face.

Politicians. Living in D.C. she could smell them from a mile away.

And when Peter spotted her all of the frustration melted from his face, replaced by a calculated smile. “Good afternoon, lovely day,” he said, projecting happiness.

Not just a politician, a campaigning politician.

“That it is,” Amy agreed.

“Peter Marino,” he offered, “and my wife, Linda.” He nodded towards the blonde, who was now all smiles as well.

“Amy,” she offered. She pointed up the path. “I’m meeting someone. Hope you have a good weekend.” She hurried away from her car, forgetting to even grab her overnight bag. Oh well, she’d get it when there wasn’t a risk of being pulled into a conversation about road repairs or whatever Peter might pitch as why he needed her vote.

She didn’t actually have a meeting, but Peter and Linda didn’t know that, and she did need to get a feel for the place. She sucked in deep breaths of fresh air until she was practically drunk on it. She never noticed how polluted the city was until she was outside of it. Not that it was bad, but here it was just clean.

Something squelched under her foot and she could feel mud soaking through the cloth of her shoes.

Ew. Okay, not clean. Just a different kind of dirty.

“Are you okay?” a man with greenish-blue skin and dark marks peeking out of his black shirt asked. Some of the skin of his neck was discolored and scars climbed up his face. One of the Detyens she’d heard so much about. “We had a bit of rain last week and there’s plenty of mud to go around.”

Amy eased her foot out of the mud and was happy that she didn’t leave the shoe behind. “Nothing a towel won’t fix.”

He pulled one seemingly from nowhere and offered it.

“Thanks.” Amy wiped off as best she could and then looked at the mess of the towel and back to the Detyen. “Um…”

“It’s okay,” he responded and grabbed the dirty cloth. “I’m Reikal. Welcome to the settlement.”

“Amy. I was expecting to see more people.” It was beautiful outside, even with the mud, but she didn’t see anyone.

Reikal shrugged and looked around. “We’ve had workers in and out for the last few weeks trying to get this place ready. I expect by next week we’ll have plenty of visitors. And already I know a few of the homesteads are spoken for.”

“By Detyens?”

He nodded. “I think there might be one or two with human denyai.”

“Denyai?” She’d never heard that word before and her subdermal translator didn’t seem to know it.

“Fated mates,” he corrected. “Sorry, what brings you here?” He didn’t seem standoffish, but perhaps Amy was a bit of an oddity.

“Curiosity,” she admitted. She kept the desire for clients to herself.

“Penny can answer a lot of your questions. She’s up in the central lodge sorting out some details.” He pointed to a large building at the head of the path. “Should be unlocked, you can’t miss it.”

Amy thanked him and took off for the lodge. When she got there she expected a Detyen, so she was surprised to find a smiling human who looked right at home. “Welcome! I’m Penny. Can I get you checked in? Nicole’s supposed to be minding the desk but she’s disappeared.”

A statement like that might have disturbed Amy, but judging by Penny’s attitude, Nicole had a habit of not minding the desk.

Amy gave her the reservation info and Penny pulled it up before handing over a key. “Your cabin is just off the east path. It’s great, I kind of wanted us to take that one for ourselves, but we’ve got the house, so you’re in luck.”

“Us?” Amy asked.

Penny shook her head. “Sorry, my mind is all over the place today. My mate and I. And my sisters. This is our place.”

Mate. Okay, that made sense. Though the idea of a mate was strange and did something weird to Amy’s stomach if she thought about it too long. But it would be kind of nice to have a perfect match, handpicked by fate.

Before Amy and Penny could talk anymore boots tromped against the wood outside and the door flew open. Two Detyen men in uniforms walked in. Both stood straight as statues and one of them scowled hard enough that Amy was concerned his face would freeze that way. He gave her a once over before dismissing her and turning to Penny.

“I have a reservation under NaPyrsee. Captain. Of the Detyen Legion. This is my lieutenant, NaMasee.” He added the identifiers as if they would gain him perks.

This was who Amy was supposed to try and work for? He had at least one, if not a dozen, sticks up his ass and she got the idea he wasn’t too keen on humans. Not to mention the fact that he was a bit young to be a captain. She had to have nearly a decade on him. Then again, maybe Detyens aged differently than humans.

Well, nothing ventured. Amy sucked in a breath to speak but the man next to the captain stepped up and blocked her path.

“We were told Krayter NaMoren was in charge,” said NaPyrsee. His eyes flicked up and down, taking in Penny as if she might magically transform into the Detyen he expected.

“Krayter is my mate, we run this place together. His brother, Kayleb, is also involved along with his denya, Tessa.” There was no emotion in Penny’s tone, and Amy wished her luck. She’d try her hand with getting Detyen attention later.

Amy left the lodge. Now would be a good time to retrieve her bag and check out her room. She’d just made it back to her vehicle when a large van pulled in and parked on the other side of the lot. Four Detyen men, two human women, and a teenage girl all piled out. Three of the Detyens were teal, though lighter in color than Reikal, but it was the fourth that caught her eye. Burnished gold and practically glowing in the sun, with dark hair that looked soft even from all the way across the lot.

Her mouth watered and she wanted to close the distance between them and introduce herself. Hell, she wanted to climb him like a tree.

She closed her eyes and shook her head. What the hell? All that talk of mates and human/Detyen pairings had clearly gone to her head. She’d never been an alien groupie, but looking at the gold one she could see the appeal.

He looked across the way and their gazes locked. Amy was frozen in place. Would he walk over to her? Should she go to him? Was his skin as warm as it looked? Could she kiss him without introducing herself? Then he looked away and the spell was broken.

Damn.

Did Detyens have some sort of super power that made humans go all lusty? Her skin tingled and she pressed her legs together, just imaging what it might feel like to be touched by that guy.

Okay, she was going crazy.

She tugged her bag out of the trunk and spared a look over at the gold guy one last time, but he and his group were already making their way up the central path and he didn’t look back.

 

Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Doryan looked for Captain NaPyrsee when he and the NaZades arrived at the settlement. Instead he found Lieutenant NaMasee, who informed him that the captain was busy. Doryan didn’t ask anything else and the Lieutenant didn’t give him any orders.

He joined the NaZades and Manda in the cabin they’d been assigned and saw that his things had been placed in one of the rooms. Deke somehow snuck in and flopped down on the bed. “All done with the captain?” he asked.

“He was busy.” Doryan opened his bag and began transferring his clothes to the small closet. He didn’t know how long he’d be staying, but that was no reason to let things get wrinkled.

“Then come join us for lunch,” Deke insisted.

“I shouldn’t.” He should have never let the NaZades get so close to him in the first place, but now that he was most likely hours away from rejoining the Legion or retirement he needed to pull away.

“Don’t make me send Vita after you, I’m pretty sure she has a collection of handcuffs and I do not want to consider their other purposes.” He shuddered.

Vita had once been a bounty hunter, but she’d spent the last several months on Earth with her newly discovered mate. Doryan didn’t know if she and Brax had plans to return to the stars, it wasn’t his place to ask. But having seen Vita in action he didn’t doubt her prowess.

“Lead the way,” he said. There was no use fighting when Deke got an idea in his head. And soulless didn’t fight… not outside of battle.

Lunch, it turned out, was not a simple family affair. Instead, the seven of them made their way to one of the larger cabins which was set up to serve a variety of food. It wasn’t crowded, despite the prime hour, and Doryan made note of his surroundings: two humans sitting together at a table near the corner, a mixed group of aliens and humans with two girls as young as Manda in the center of the room, a handful of Detyens sitting close enough to talk but eating silently, and another table full of humans looking at the Detyens like they might start something.

No immediate threats, and the captain and lieutenant were nowhere to be seen.

Food was laid out along a table and they helped themselves. Doryan chose what looked to be the most nutritious with the least amount of flavor. The soulless were discouraged from eating flavorful food lest it trigger latent and dangerous emotions. He could go through the entire of handbook of rules that governed soulless existence: no flavorful food, no strong textures, avoid sexual stimulus, it was all there and all intended to make it so that the soulless didn’t fall into dangerous habits that led to fixation.

Fixation got people killed.

It wasn’t a secret, not among the Legion. It was the unfortunate destiny that ended most of the soulless. They’d find something and it would latch onto their brains, and before they knew it they were violently clinging to whatever it was at the cost of all others. Innocent people died with the soulless fixated. Doryan would do whatever it took to make sure it didn’t happen to him.

Voices rose from one quarter, a human man and woman fighting. The blonde woman scooped up her plate and stormed out, leaving the man behind. The scarred Detyen he’d noted earlier walked out of the room a moment later; he wasn’t sure if he was following the woman or not.

Lieutenant NaMasee had a sour expression on his face when he walked up to Doryan’s table and noted who he was sitting with.

“NaVayn,” Lieutenant NaMasee greeted, “Captain NaPyrsee requires your presence.”

He knew he wouldn’t be able to escape for long. Doryan stood and nodded to the NaZades. He didn’t say goodbye, even if this might be the last time any of them saw him.

NaMasee led him out of the dining hall and down the path to another cabin. He opened the door but didn’t follow Doryan inside. NaPyrsee’s cabin was small, with a dining area off the kitchen that had been turned into an office and two closed doors, one, Doryan assumed, leading to a bedroom and another to a bathroom.

Doryan heard something squeak, like a door sliding open, but he didn’t know if the sound came from outside or the other room.

NaPyrsee stood and looked him over, keeping a healthy distance between them. The captain had never been comfortable around the soulless and he didn’t try and hide it.

“Doryan NaVayn, you survived. That’s surprising.”

Of anyone in the Detyen Legion, NaPyrsee knew Doryan’s circumstances best, but Doryan didn’t respond. There was nothing for him to say.

“You’ve been away from your duties for over a year. I could have you automatically retired for that, but I’ve decided that you should be subject to evaluation before such a decision is made.” He paused, as if he expected Doryan to respond.

Doryan remained silent. If he was going to ask anything, it would be why had the captain summoned him so far away from the Legion to have such a mundane discussion. But the soulless didn’t ask such questions.

“Meet me back here at midnight for your evaluation,” NaPyrsee continued. “Then we will see if you are fit to be reintegrated into the Legion. If not, you will be retired.”

“Yes, sir.” If he’d still had emotions, Doryan would have described the deep pit inside of him as dread, but he’d given all that up a long time ago.

Would he pass evaluation? He didn’t know. He’d undergone it before, it was routine for soldiers like him, but there was no telling what evaluators were looking for at any moment.

When NaPyrsee dismissed him, he stepped out, careful to avoid the mud around NaPyrsee’s cabin, distantly noting that someone else hadn’t been so lucky and there were footsteps dragging through the muck.

On the path to his cabin he was alone and almost relieved. Almost, because relief was another thing he couldn’t feel. And one day he might admit that feeling nothing was exhausting.

The not-relief didn’t last for long. Neither did the solitude. Doryan nearly plowed into a woman heading towards another one of the cabins, but they both stopped just in time to avoid a collision. He’d seen her before, right when they arrived, and something about her had embedded in his memory. She’d pulled her long, dark hair back behind her but a strand had fallen out over her face. Her brown eyes narrowed as she took him in and her light brown skin had the strangest flush to it.

Had she been running?

It was none of his business.

“It’s you.” She breathed it out and then shook herself, the pink on her cheeks getting darker.

Doryan was frozen in the spot. Who was this woman? Why did his body want to step closer to her? Why did his hands ache to touch her? His stomach flipped and heat flashed through him. And the feeling traveled lower, bringing an impossible twitch to his groin.

He couldn’t be feeling anything. Not when he had an evaluation at midnight, not when a fixation could bring disaster.

But this woman.

“You’re one of the Detyens,” she stated and then her lips curled up into a false smile. “That was inane. Of course you are. This is a Detyen settlement. Apparently my brain is misfiring.” Her smile turned into something real. “I’m Amy Dalisay. This is a wonderful place. Are you one of the settlers?”

“No.” It was more greenery than Doryan could ever remember seeing. He’d grown up in the Detyen Legion and at the time they’d lived on a frozen moon where the seasons never changed. He wondered if he would have liked a place like this settlement when he was younger.

And then he banished the thought. It wasn’t for him.

“Not much of a talker, are you?” Amy asked. She was still smiling and leaned in towards him just a hair, as if she, too, couldn’t make herself walk away.

No, he had to be reading that wrong. The soulless were terrible at reading emotions and intentions, it was why they were so dependent on orders. Whatever reason she was here had nothing to do with him.

“Are you part of the Detyen Legion?” she pressed on. “I saw you talking with the lieutenant earlier.”

How to answer that? “I was raised in the Legion,” he said after a moment. “But we’ve been separated for some time.”

“Interesting. You seem a bit older than the rest of them. That’s not rude, is it? I was shocked when I met the captain. Then again, you’re aliens, right. And, yeah, now I hear what I’m saying, this is definitely rude.” She snapped her lips shut. “Sorry, I don’t know why I can’t stop talking.

Explaining the denya price might shut her up, but Doryan saw no reason to. “Different cultures,” he murmured.

“What’s your name?” Amy asked. Though her cheeks were red from what even Doryan could tell was embarrassment, she wasn’t walking away.

“Doryan NaVayn.” He needed to move on. The riling in his stomach was getting worse and he didn’t know if he was about to vomit or explode. He’d never felt anything like this in his life, and certainly not in his years as a soulless warrior. What was going on?

And why couldn’t he make himself move?

Discipline drove the soulless, it was all they had left. And yet he couldn’t make himself do anything but stay and talk to Amy. It was like there was some greater need overriding what he knew was best.

He forced himself to move, but somehow ended up even closer to her and their hands brushed.

Fire raced up Doryan’s arm, scorching a path from his fingertips to his heart and circulating through his blood. He gasped and stumbled, clutching his chest and locking his legs to keep from falling over. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his vision went fuzzy around the edges for a moment.

Then he yanked his hand back and everything cleared.

Amy was right in front of him, close but not touching. “Are you alright? Do you need me to find a doctor? I think I heard there’s one on staff here.”

Doryan looked at her, and though the memory of the pain was enough to make part of him flinch, the sight of her worry just made his stomach clench again.

“I’m fine,” he lied. “No need to worry.”

Shock rocked through him. The soulless didn’t lie. It was forbidden from the very beginning of their training. And yet the placating words had sprung from him, not to protect himself, but to soothe the worry he saw in Amy’s eyes.

Who was she?

Was this fixation?

Maybe he understood why it took his brethren so suddenly and completely. But he could never hurt her. This had to be something else.

Unless he was lying to himself.

Doryan rocked back and then took two big steps, putting as much space between them as he could. “I need to go,” he said. And then, before she could do anything but look at him strangely, he was off, rushing back to his cabin.

When he got there he was alone, and as his stomach settled and the last remnants of pain faded he knew he should avoid Amy for as long as they were both still at the settlement.

He should. But there was no way in any galaxy that was going to happen. Something in her called to him, and he feared he couldn’t resist.


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