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Exile’s Hunter Chapter Four: Free Sci-fi Romance

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Kenzie’s baton was covered in blood and her side was bruised. None of the Kru’dari had gotten close enough to take her out, but it had been a near thing. She felt so damn small here.

Why did these assholes need to be seven feet tall?

Hands clapped behind her, a mocking, singular beat of two palms slapping together. She turned and saw five more Kru’dari blocking the path. These men were different than the wannabes who’d cornered her. They wore dark uniforms that looked to be made of leather, and carried well-crafted weapons.

Soldiers of the exile king. She was sure of it.

Kenzie rolled her wrist, making a big circle with the baton. Taking out the wannabes had been harder than she expected. She didn’t think she could win against trained soldiers.

When in doubt, fake it. She wiped the blood off her baton and gave the men a flourishing bow. “Thank you. I do love it when a performance is appreciated.”

The head soldier stopped clapping. “You’re new here.”

“Fresh off the boat.” She couldn’t look away from him. He and his men effectively blocked off her only escape route unless she could find a way to scale the buildings behind her. They weren’t that tall, but she was still only human.

“Boat?” the man asked.

Not all idioms translated. Kenzie forgot that sometimes. “My name is Kenzie Fletcher. These men cornered me and I defended myself.”

The leader put a hand on his chest. “I am Tyze. You are in my king’s territory. He loves to meet his people. Will you accept his invitation?”

Invitation? Ha! Like Kenzie had a choice. Her only choice was whether she’d walk there on her own two feet or if Tyze would drag her in chains.

Audible

“I was told this is King Jadirel’s territory.”

Tyze nodded in confirmation. “We are not far from his palace.”

Jadirel was her only lead on Carise. This wasn’t the optimal way to meet the man. Kenzie had the sinking suspicion she was about to end up in one of his cells. But her back was very literally to a wall.

She wasn’t dead yet. This was her chance to find Carise. She hadn’t had a lead this hot in over a year.

“I would be honored to accept his invitation.”

Tyze’s men swarmed around her, crowding close enough so she couldn’t try to run away. She kept any snarky comments to herself. She didn’t want more bruises if she could avoid them.

“Please give your baton and that knife to Gav,” Tyze instructed, pointing to the obvious weapons on her belt.

Kenzie did it without complaint. But she didn’t offer up any of her less conspicuous weapons. Tyze didn’t have anyone pat her down, and that was his mistake. One she wasn’t about to offer to correct.

The soldiers led her to the palace and walked her in though the ornate doors and down a dim hall with a high ceilings and complicated carvings on the walls. The hall led to a throne room, and the king himself was sprawled on his throne.

Two humans were chained on either side of him, and Kenzie wanted to reach for one of her throwing knives and end this now.

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The bastard would die.

The desperate need for freedom flowed deep in her veins, going back to ancestors who’d prayed for it for centuries. This wasn’t an injustice she could walk away from.

But it also wasn’t a problem she could solve right then. If she killed Jadirel, his people would kill her right back. And Carise would lose her last hope of being saved.

Jadirel wasn’t what she expected. He was in his forties or fifties, assuming Kru’dari aged like humans, and on the short side for his people, topping out at around six foot five.

He reminded her a bit of her commanding officer back on EarthCol3. Happy to be in charge and desperate to stay that way. This wasn’t a man who’d share a lick of power.

That was fine. Kenzie didn’t want power. Just her sister. And freedom for his people.

Was that so much to ask?

Jadirel sat up straighter on his throne, his smile almost kind. It didn’t reach his eyes. “Tyze, what have you brought me?”

Tyze bowed swiftly. “A warrior, sir. Baryn and his men cornered her, and she left them a crying heap on the ground.”

Jadirel looked at her more closely. He stood up and crossed the room to her, circling around her like a shark. “Interesting. You’re human, yes?”

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No use denying it. “Yes,” Kenzie confirmed.

“And new here.”

“Yes.”

“Hmm.” He didn’t touch her. Thankfully. Kenzie was good at hiding her emotions, but when people got too close, she sometimes snapped. She vibrated with tension. Her sister was possibly in the same building, and she had to get information.

“Not many humans come freely to Guerran.” Jadirel backed up a bit, and Kenzie let out a breath.

He was lying. She’d seen several humans on the street. But contradicting the king would do her no good. “I’m looking for my sister. I have reason to believe she was brought to Guerran. Not freely.”

“Hmm.” He looked her up and down, and Kenzie hated the attention. She walked a thin line. This man kept humans as pets. If she wasn’t careful, he might try to clap her in chains. “Tell me about her.”

Her arm tingled, a reminder that she always carried a bit of her sister with her, but she kept her sleeves covered. She had a garotte hidden in her bracelet and she didn’t want to call attention to it. “She looks like me, though she has a scar on her left cheek and she has curly hair. Her name is Carise and she was abducted from Earth about two interstellar common years ago. I’ve been searching for her ever since.”

“You’ve come a long way.” Jadirel was getting closer.

Shit. She really didn’t want him noticing her. But it was far too late now.

“Do you like my toys?” He nodded to his chained humans. Neither of the people responded. Their eyes were blank, and Kenzie hoped both of them had found some mental way to cope with their surroundings.

She kept quiet. If she opened her mouth, she’d only make things worse.

“The boy is getting weak.” He waved a hand toward the chained male, and the boy moaned and fell to his side. Jadirel sighed in pleasure and seemed to get taller. Somehow. “But his energy is so delicious. I wonder what you’d taste like.” He leaned forward.

Kenzie had a hand on her knife before she could think better of it, and in a blink, her blade was against the skin of Jadirel’s throat. But rather than react in fear, the bastard laughed.

He clamped his hand on her wrist and squeezed, but she held her knife where it was, even as it felt like he’d grind her bones to dust.

“Stay back,” he warned his men. “This feisty little bird is my treat.”

She tried to dig the knife in, but his grip was too strong.

“I don’t have your sister, little bird. But if she’s as delectable as you, I’ll bring her straight to my bed.” He twisted, and she found herself holding her knife to her own throat. It took all of her strength to keep from digging in and killing herself.

Jadirel nipped at her ear, tugging on the cartilage until it hurt. And then he shoved her to the ground and kicked her in the stomach.

Kenzie grunted. There was blood on her neck, and her ribs might have been bruised. She wasn’t sure.

But she got to her feet.

Jadirel tipped his head back and laughed again. “I haven’t seen a person as brave as you in an age. I want to see you in the pit. Win the night, and you’ll walk away free.”

The pit. That sounded great. Just what Kenzie needed when she was already bleeding. Just survive until tomorrow, she told herself. One day at a time.

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