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Exile’s Hunter Chapter Twenty-Three: Free Sci-fi Romance

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Anxiety thrummed through Kenzie as she made her way to where she was supposed to meet up with Mad. She’d tossed and turned all night in her blankets and could not be further from rested. Which was stupid. She’d spent most of her life sleeping alone. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d taken a man to her bed. One night in Mad’s arms shouldn’t have made it impossible to walk away.

And yet it had been harder to walk away from him the night before than it should have been.

Soulmates are real.

And that was a thought she couldn’t shake. It didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter. And yet she’d spent half the night wondering if… nope. She wasn’t going there. That way lay dragons, and she didn’t want to get eaten by the specter of hope.

She had to focus on the mission. Carise was still on Guerran, she was sure of it. She was going to find her sister and… then what?

Would Carise want to go back to Earth? Would she ever feel safe enough there after her abduction? Was there even a life for them back on Earth? Kenzie hadn’t heard from their father once since she left. He had a way to contact her; she’d made sure to leave him with that lifeline. But he’d never used it.

Would he care if they came back?

Was he even still alive?

That question should have been a knife to the chest. Instead, she felt a tiny pang and nothing more. If their father was dead, that was truly the last tie they had left to Earth. If he wasn’t… well, he hadn’t exactly ever been Father of the Year.

She’d do whatever Carise wanted.

But what do you want? The voice in her head sounded suspiciously like Mad. And since he wasn’t actually standing next to her, she couldn’t tell him to shut up. She didn’t have the luxury of wanting things when she had to find Carise.

She wanted Mad.

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Luxury or no, that desire couldn’t be denied. And if Kenzie was honest with herself, she wasn’t trying too hard. She kept falling into his bed, and it got harder and harder to crawl out of it.

Would she manage it next time? She wasn’t fooling herself into thinking there wouldn’t be a next time.

Would he come with her and Carise when it was time to leave?

The thought nearly knocked her over. Yes, she was attracted to Mad. But she’d known him less than a week. She couldn’t ask him to leave his entire life behind and give up any hope of ever seeing his sister again just for some good—great—sex.

Soulmates are real.

She had to stop thinking about that. Mad hadn’t been talking about them. And there was no way Jaek was actually Carise’s soulmate. Carise was still basically a kid. She was too young for a soulmate.

A little voice reminded Kenzie that Carise was twenty-four now. A little older than Kenzie had been when she took off for her stint on EarthCol3. If Kenzie had been old enough to make her own decisions, wasn’t Carise?

That was a problem for after she got her sister back.

When she made it to the meeting spot, her worries were pushed to the back of her mind. Mad was already there, and he looked like crap.

“Have you slept?” She was already close to him, a hand on his shoulder and breathing in his masculine scent.

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How did the man smell so damn good?

He gave her a faint smile and a short kiss that made her heart flip. It was so… casual, as if they’d been kissing for years and would keep doing it forever. And it was scary how much she wanted that.

“I caught an hour or so. Maybe two.” He was dressed for war today, his leathers all in place and his axe slung over his back.

“What happened?” Kenzie never should have left his quarters. If he’d been attacked, she could back him up. If something else had happened, she could comfort him.

Mad stepped away from her and braced himself as if he knew she wouldn’t like what he had to say next. “Jaek came to me a little while after you left. Carise was staying with him, but she was taken by two men working for Jadirel: Baryn and Gav.”

“The same Baryn whose ass I kicked in the pit?”

He nodded.

And then the rest of what he said caught up. “Jaek had Carise? We were that close? If we hadn’t walked away, she would be with me right now. How did he lose her? Where is she? Why didn’t you get me the second you heard?” She realized her hand was on her knife only as she started to pull it out, and she forced herself to let go. She wasn’t going to stab Mad, not when he knew where Carise was.

He had his hands up to placate her. “He came for help when he could. I didn’t know where you were sleeping, and I wasn’t going to risk leading Jadirel’s men to you when there was nothing we could do until morning anyway. He’s had her for a few hours, and I know that’s bad. But we know where your sister is. We’re going to get her back.”

She needed to stab something. Someone. She needed to move. She knew Carise had been through hell in the last few years, but this was different. Kenzie had met Jadirel. She’d seen the way he treated humans. “If he’s put a collar around her throat, I’m going to gut him. Slowly.” And she’d enjoy it. She didn’t like violence, no matter how good she was at it. But she’d use every trick she’d learned in the last seven years to cause him as much pain as a person could feel before she ended his sorry existence.

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“You said you’d go through hell to find your sister. Did you mean it?”

“Of course I meant it.” She could list off all the terrible things she’d seen in the past two years, but they didn’t have time, and she was tired of standing around. “Whatever the plan is, yes, I’m in. She’s less than two miles away from me when we’ve been light-years apart for nearly a decade. I want her back today.”

Mad nodded solemnly. He opened his mouth, but closed it again before he could make a noise. If he had something more to say, he’d decided not to share it. “Jadirel tasked me with returning you to him. It’s the only way I can think to get close enough to challenge him without needing to strip out of my weapons. Will you let me take you to him?”

She was a fool to consider it. Mad could be playing a game right now. She’d been betrayed by contacts before. And if she judged him wrong, she’d be the one in a collar by the end of the day.

But he was leading her to her sister. He didn’t need to lie. He could have turned her over to Jadirel at any point. And she trusted him, simple as that. Maybe that made her reckless, but at some point, she needed to trust someone.

Mad wouldn’t betray her.

Soulmates are real.

She didn’t know if he was hers, but the belief that he could be was enough to propel her forward. She could trust Mad. He knew why she was here and what she needed. And right now, they needed to work together to finish her mission.

“Let’s go get my sister back.”

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