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~ Ancient Mythology ~

The Star Constellation Ophiuchus

This ancient constellation is known in England as the Serpent-bearer. It represents a figure, the physician Asclepius, wrestling a snake. Asclepius had learnt the secret of life and death from watching one serpent bring herbs to another. In order to prevent the human race from becoming Immortal under Asclepius’s care, Zeus (King of all Gods) eventually killed him with a bolt of lightning, but placed him in the skies in honour of the good work he did on Earth.

Prophecy

Before Asclepius was killed he shared his secret of eternal life with some of his trusted associates and a prince from Arabia. It is said that even today some of his associates and this prince still roam the Earth hiding amongst the human population.

~ Authors Insight ~

Alina knelt, looking sadly at the man who had loved her for three decades. Rick was old now and showed his age. Once he would watch her with sexy alluring baby blues. Now he gazed with dull grey eyes that looked at her with the same passion and love, although they were weary and ready to say goodbye. She shed a tear as he took his last breath of air and wished she could lie down beside him and do the same. Life had been cruel and she vowed this was the last husband she would ever bid goodbye.
No more for me. She whispered her vow, her heart aching. Then she screamed out his name into the night and quietly left him to rest in peace.
She could hear the lynch mob outside the front door, bashing at the entrance— trying to get in. They say I am a witch and want to watch my body burn tonight.
The door was strong and made of solid steel, but nevertheless it would not hold against the battering. Her gaze roamed to the open window where the sound of a truck and its movement caught her interest. They intended to ram their way in. Time to leave. She was unable to stay with her dearest a second longer. Why can’t they let me be so I can bury my loved one. She let out a sob at the sadness of separating this way.
Detective Berry’s voice yelled out above the racket, ‘Open up Sharma Woods, we know you’re in there. We have you surrounded so there is no use attempting to escape. Open this door now or else we will break it down.’
Sharma Woods was one of many names she had used.
Alina looked up at the sound of a helicopter and blinked at the lights that blinded her for a second.
’They’ve found me.’ She gasped as the gunman in the helicopter let off a round of bullets. They splattered through the window and as she ducked and rolled out of the way she saw her love had been hit. He was dead, but she hated to see the damage.
With a raise of her hand, she brushed the sadness that ran from her eyes. ‘Goodbye my dearest friend, I will miss you terribly.’ she whispered, and blew him a kiss.
With an ache in her heart and a body in grief, Alina moved swiftly to the bookcase. Before she disappeared behind a secret door, she took one last look. The last sound she heard was the crack of the front door as it gave way.
She quickened her pace and rushed through the underground tunnel. An explosion that rocked the castle loosened the rocky passageway. Crumbled stone and dust caught her breath, but she didn’t look back; she knew it was coming.
A little surprise for my unwelcome guests. She smiled as her husband’s revenge was finally taken. Both had been hounded for many years. They were never left alone to live free and happy.
‘Do unto others, as they do unto you.’ Her husband’s words rang in her ears as his death set off his dying wish, an order to light the place up, to leave nothing standing. Alina only need stand by the window to alert their ever-faithful butler that Rick had taken his last breath. Her adorable and caring husband had expected her to be long gone, but she could not leave his side until the end.
Rick Segal had been Alina’s companion for just over thirty years and his loyalty to her never once faltered. She blamed her own stupidity, her senseless love for him, that he too led such a painful existence. Normally she would have left her partner’s side long before the age-gap grew noticeable, but with Rick it was different. He was like an expensive bottle of wine. With each year, he aged benevolently and his virility astounded her. He kept her so happy she couldn’t bear to be without him, but it had to end and today it had.
Rick was nearly forty when they met. To have had such a man was beyond all her dreams. His only downfall was his wealth. It was so great that his family looked upon her as a gold digger. They assumed she was only after his fortune. Alina drew not only the hate of family and friends to their door, but also the detective they hired to destroy her, Detective Kalam Berry, an enemy who followed her through the decades. Paid handsomely to get her out of Rick’s life, his efforts to chase her away failed not once but three times. Each time Rick begged her to come home and she did, in another disguise.
Alina shuddered with fear while she opened the case before her. It had been stashed in the cave far below the surface for this day. She angrily snatched out of it, the short brunette wig and tucked beneath it, with rough annoyed movements, her long blonde locks. Peering in the hand mirror, she removed the beauty spot that Sharma, her latest identity, sported, and scrubbed off the tacky makeup she wore as a disguise. Only Rick ever saw her naked face, the real woman.
When she finished, her skin glowed but her face was sad and unsure in the mirror. To cheer herself up she threw her head back and gave a crazy laugh, glad she never had to cake on that much make-up again. With a smooth motion she slipped on a large pair of sunglasses, tugged a baseball cap ever the wig and wondered what the headlines would be in the morning. She could already imagine them.
Bomb blast totally destroys Sherwin Castle.
The owner, wealthy tycoon Rick Segal, aged 70, found dead in the ruins.
It is believed he died in an explosion caused by Sharma Woods, his girlfriend of 10 years.
Woods, a self-styled witch, is considered armed and dangerous. Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Sharma Woods is advised to keep their distance and ring our hot line immediately. A reward is offered for anyone with information that leads to the capture of Ms Woods.
Over the past four decades Alina had gotten use to Detective Berry’s sly innuendo and suggestions to the press. These made it impossible for her to dwell in one spot.
Even all Rick’s wealth could not protect her. It had only been a few hours earlier that a dear friend of his found out they had been betrayed again. He rang Rick to inform him that a raid was about to take place and that Alina was being hailed as a witch. She was devastated that even in this day and age there would be no trial and she was to be killed on sight. Rick fell with the phone in his hand, his heart failing, unable to cope with the love of his life having to leave him again. They both knew she had to flee immediately or be caught. There was no telling for how long she would be gone this time, and time was something he was running out of. The butler helped Alina get him to his bed and there he cried in her arms telling Alina he could not live another minute without his precious girl. She could feel his sorrow as he spoke. Rick figured he would sooner be dead, and Alina’s heart broke for him, for both of them. Their bond was too strong, and to be separated at his fragile stage in life was something he could not bear. His sweet and gentle heart gave way and as she lay him on the bed, sobbing miserably.
‘I will never stop loving you Rick, my big loveable bear.’
She was leaving his body but the spirit of this man would never die, and as she fled from capture, she felt that Rick’s strength would eternally live on within her heart. Alina pulled her tear stained cheeks into a sad smile at the memory of his laughter. His eyes would be dancing knowing that he was able to help her evade the people that hunted her, one last time. Kissing her thin shaking fingers she blew a silent kiss up towards where she left him and headed for safer ground.

~ Chapter One ~

Australia

Alina smiled at the desk clerk. ‘Hi, I have a booking.’
The clerk received a call and put his hand up. ‘Just one second, sorry,’ he apologised. ‘Jupiter’s Casino Gold Coast. Mr Johnson, sure.’
Alina was a good judge of character but Jay, the desk clerk, was a bit of a mystery. With his hair tied back and his soft features, she would have picked him as a geek and yet this persona didn’t match the firmness and maturity of his voice. Could she trust him with any personal information?
Alina had been tracked by the best of the best. She sighed inwardly, unfortunately; Detective Kalam Berry did not perish in the blast. He had gone outside to take a call and was thrown free of the danger. This past year he had chased her halfway around the world before she finally lost him in the Greek Islands, three months ago. He had used everything from satellites to sly pimps and military personnel to track her. Now confident she had fallen off the radar, she had come up with a new disguise. Dressed as a man, she arrived in Australia.
‘Name sir?’ Jay’s voice pulled her out of her thoughts.
‘Sorry.’ She blinked and straightened her tie. If she didn’t get it off soon she would choke herself. How men wore these day after day she could not fathom.
‘Chad Harper.’ She deepened her voice.
He continued to ask her questions and hoped she had the tone right.
‘Occupation?’
‘I design men’s fashion.’
‘Mmm.’ He leant on one elbow and smiled. ‘That one was for me.’
Alina laughed, trying to keep her tone low. Jay was hitting on her and it so amused her. ‘Why Jay, are all Australians this friendly?’
‘Nope, just me. I knock off at six,’ he casually mentioned, handing her a key card and snapping his fingers to get the bellboy’s attention.
‘Mr Harper would like to go to his room now.’
Alina was enjoying Jay’s clever pick up line and wished she could take him up on his offer, but he would get quite a shock when it was a woman he disrobed. The thought made her giggle as she strode off after the bellboy who already stood waiting for her with the lift doors open. It had been twelve months since Alina had stayed long enough in one place to find a man. Here in the land of beaches and opportunities, she hoped to meet a fun-loving Aussie to holiday with.
* * * *
Once settled and rested up, Alina went out on the town. Dressed as a man she didn’t have a clue what her reaction would be if another female tried to pick her up. This was going to be one hell of a night she grinned to herself as she waved to the desk clerk Jay and stepped into the taxi he organised for her.
The door opened into a modern night club and all she could think of was drink, dance, drink and more drinking. Alina didn’t waste time and walked straight over to one of the bouncers who seemed to be checking her out with a strange glint in his eyes. And damned fine eyes they were.
‘Excuse me sir, but for five hundred, cash, will you make sure I get home safe tonight?’ Alina smiled up at him. Shit he was huge and his face lit up when he saw her. She liked that. Oh that’s right I’m a bloke. She frowned.
‘For five hundred bucks, I’ll even sleep with you if you want.’ That cheered her up again, but Geez! Why it is that all the good ones are either taken or gay?
‘How long are you in town for?’ he said with a deep husky voice that warmed her whole body.
‘Not sure, maybe a day or so.’
He looked dangerously like a spider that could trap her in his web. She hoped he wasn’t a part of the posse that hounded her; maybe she had walked into the wrong club. Deciding she had to loosen up and believe she had finally lost Detective Berry, she headed to the bar for a drink and left the hulk at the door to count his money.
‘Go do your worst hot stuff. I’ll keep a good eye on you. Oh, and hey sweet thing,’ he bellowed over the crowd noise, ‘What do I call you?’
‘Chad. And you?’
‘Ricco!’
Sweet thing! He’s got a nerve the rotten sod.
At least half a dozen guys looked around; her face right now was as red a beetroot. Alina looked back at him. He was laughing at her, enjoying how uncomfortable he made her. She turned away with a flick of her hand and walked towards the bar and did what any embarrassed idiot would do; stuck her tongue out at him. That, by the way, only made him laugh louder. At least he had a sense of humour. Ricco’s laugh, she liked…a lot.
‘Line em up man, and don’t stop till I fall off the frigging chair,’ Alina said, in her best aussie accent, to the guy behind the bar. Opening her wallet she threw him a couple of hundred dollar bills for his trouble.
‘What’s your damage?’ he asked.
‘You make the cocktails and I’ll drink ‘em. Whatever you can think up, but don’t put it in a girly glass. Just stick it in a middy for me and keep em coming.’
She threw him another couple of fifty dollar bills. ‘And that’s for your pocket. The name’s Chad.’
He leaned over the bar and shook her hand. ‘Lenny.’ He grinned while stuffing the tip in a man purse he had hooked on his jeans. ‘You have me in your back pocket Chad my man; your wish is my command.’
Lenny was a small guy with a big personality. He talked to everyone that came up to the bar like he was their old friend and true to his word, once Alina downed one drink, the next one was sitting right there in front of her.
There were so many hot guys in there she wished she could rip off this man disguise and pick one of them up. Her sex drive had always been healthy and she had mourned for long enough. Her late husband would hardly expect her to be untouched for the rest of time. Alina cursed. She had always been against one night stands but how could she seriously drag any self-respecting man into the dangers she faced?
Like a pro she scanned the club and spotted the location of the security cameras. She could ill afford to be captured on screen as a woman so knew the disguise had to stay. She cursed again. It would be hopeless to try and pick up here. Thinking this was all so unfair she downed another drink.
Alina chuckled every time a women hit on her. The few guys with propositions were moved along by good old Ricco. He muscled in on those that got too cosy. He was a good looker with dark hair, eyes and skin. The more Alina drank the more she fantasised about taking him up on his offer. Well maybe, she pondered as he walked away from her for the umpteenth time. He was working very well for his five hundred. She eyed him more carefully and wondered if he didn’t mind women too. If she asked him and it was a shock to him would he expose her or keep her secret?
* * * *
It was two in the morning when Ricco came and dragged Alina away from the bar. In the car on the way back to her motel she thanked him for doing his job. She wanted to ask him for another favour but he had turned quiet so she rested back in her seat. He seemed moody and Alina started to wonder if she wanted sex with someone so grumpy anyway. It was when she watched him change gears and the strength of his thigh muscle flexed under his pants that she changed her mind. It made her feel dizzy and she decided to just wait and see.
Going up the lift she chatted nonstop and once, thought he smiled. He was a hard nut to crack but she wasn’t going to give up until he bade her goodnight. She started to wonder if he already guessed she was female and had turned him off.
At her door, Ricco stood looking down at her. ‘Are you right now or do you need me to help you inside?’
She grinned and threw him a shy look. ‘Do you like me at all Ricco?’
‘Depends.’
‘Depends on how much more I can pay you?’
He smiled. ‘Maybe.’
Alina opened up her bag, pulled out another wad of cash and, giggling, put it in his hand.
He looked at her strangely.
‘More?’ she asked and this time raised her eyebrow, wondering if she had got him wrong. Maybe he had only joked about the sleeping with her. Maybe he wanted all her money.
He shook his head. ‘You shouldn’t be carrying around this sort of cash.’
He showed her he cared and that was all the prompting Alina needed. She opened up the door and dragged him in. Closing the door she put her finger to her lips, hushing him.
‘Can you keep a secret Mr Ricco the bouncer?’
‘Yes.’
‘Do you prefer females?’
‘Yes.’
‘Even if someone roughed you up to try and get my secret from your lips, would you tell on me?’
‘My word is my word.’
She pulled off the glasses, the moustache and the wig and her blonde hair bounced around her.
The smile he gave was both goofy and cute and she was glad she made the right choice. He put his hand out to her.
‘Wait. I have to show you it all. You have to see my whole secret.’ Alina chuckled like a mischievous schoolgirl and stripped off seductively, throwing her clothes wherever they landed, mainly on Ricco, who quickly tossed them aside so he didn’t miss a thing. His sexy look and grin encouraged her as she danced and sang to a melody she liked. He was enjoying the show, but once she got down to the briefest bra and knickers, he could wait no longer. Lifting her into his arms he kissed her, then sat with her and ran his hand through her real, silky hair.
‘I knew all along you were a female. I was just annoyed it was taking you so long to confide in me.’
‘What gave me away?’ She frowned. ‘This is not good Ricco. If you guessed others may.’
‘It was your eyes. Even through those awful glasses your eyes sparkled and danced as you spoke to me. No man, no matter how hard he tries, can do naturally what a real woman can do. You were delightful and I enjoyed watching the game you played with us all.’
He kissed her again and this time it was hard and with longing. ‘You are beautiful. Tell me your real name.’
‘My passport says Chad.’
‘Your real name.’ He frowned.
‘Please, just Chad for now, okay?’
He watched her face for a few seconds and then smiled again and his whole face lit up. ‘Then I will call you Alina. You are far too pretty to be called anything else.’
Shocked, she held her head back glaring up at him. How did he guess her real name? Held in the warmth of his arms, the hot sexy breath as he nuzzled her neck and earlobe, mixed with far too much booze, hazed her judgement. Maybe she accidentally slipped it out while under the influence and hadn’t noticed.
‘I was going to say something and you have made me forget.’ She moaned as he continued laying sweet kisses around her shoulders.
Suddenly he stopped and held her at arm’s length.
She wanted him and it annoyed her that he chose now to talk. ‘Damn it; what now?’
‘And you can take out those green contacts as well. You will damage those gorgeous blue eyes you have refused to show me.’
‘How did you know that?’ She pushed away from him.
This man knew far too much. He was either a good guesser, and she hardly thought so, or he was one of Detective Berry’s men and expected him to bust in at any moment.
‘Maybe you should leave.’
He started to remove his clothes and smiled again, totally ignoring her.
‘Alina… the contacts… Now.’
She looked at him, still dizzy from being in his arms. He was too big for her to fight and she really had no inclination tonight to run or argue. This might be her undoing but tonight she just wanted this big overgrown bully to love her until daybreak and then she would sneak off and he would never find her again. As he slowly removed his clothes her heart leapt and somewhere deep down an explosion of wanting this particular male was almost primal. Okay, she gave in, her need bigger than her thought of tomorrow. Let’s see what you got big boy. She removed her contacts.
‘Much better.’ He stood starkers and looking pleased.
The once over Alina had given him in the night club did little justice to him. Man he was hot, she thought, trying to find breath that stopped in her chest. Ripped muscles, tanned and gorgeous and hello, oh my god, his manhood was much, much more than she had even imagined.
‘Have you got a license for that?’ Geez far too many cocktails, and a girl will say anything.
Ricco thought her comment was funny and he chuckled as he came over, scooping her up in his arms to carry her into the bedroom. Then for the next few hours he showed her just how capable he was of handling such a weapon.

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READ BEFORE YOU BUY

Here is a sample of Home Worlds for your reading pleasure….enjoy!

Home Worlds

~Preface~

On a dusty track in Australia Kayden found Cassie; bruised, lost and alone. As the leader of an elite group of galactic peace keepers, known as the Cloud Riders, Kayden had found many women over the years whose prime mission was to infiltrate and sabotage his group. But Cassie was different.

Following an incident with one of his men in his team, where Cassie’s true worth is proven, Kayden offers her a position as a Cloud Rider.

Is Cassie ready to explore the heavens? Or will Kayden, the hot headed leader, not only lose a valuable member of the team, but miss out on the woman that could be the one?

~Princess in a New Land~

A couple of days ago Cassie had a home and a nanny that catered to her every need. Suddenly, her whole world had transformed and she found herself alone and miserable. Cassie’s last memory of home was a hand covering her eyes and a smelly cloth held against her mouth. The fumes had burnt her throat.

She woke in a dark metallic crate; the sides felt like aluminium. It seemed no bigger than a packing box. She could feel that her ears were pressurised and she cried out as her body slammed into the sides of the container. It was obvious it was being unloaded.

‘Ouch!’ she screamed out as the container landed with a thump. Her bottom hit hard and she felt her whole spine adjust, and not in a good way. Cassie was unable to stand up in the confined space and she started to cry, not yet able to grasp what was going on. The drugs she had been given were still making her groggy.

Her sobs were so heavy that her lungs and stomach began to hurt from the deep gulps of air she was trying to suck in. Cassie tried closing her eyes, which didn’t help either. Her head ached and she felt violently ill from the smell of herself being locked up for she didn’t even know how long. She thought it might have been a couple of days by the way her stomach twisted with hunger and she was so dehydrated, her sobs were waterless.

She heard someone turning a key in the padlock on the door and she sat very still, waiting for a face to peer in at her. Cassie shook with fear as she listened to the sound of doors slamming as the vehicle sped off. It was only then that reality sank in.

I’ve been left to die.

Cassie’s adrenalin kicked in; feral instincts made her howl like an animal. She lashed out with her legs, booting the section where she had heard the key used. It was stuck. Cassie curled her legs tight and pounded on the door. After using every ounce of strength she could muster, the door fell open.

She stayed inside for a long time, scared to look at where she was. She focused her eyes. The scorching sun stung and bit into her pupils as it shone inside the crate. All she knew was that she had been dropped off in bushland somewhere.

Cassie finally plucked up courage and ventured out, forcing her aching body to walk towards a dead tree that had toppled over nearby. Using one of the stumps that jutted out, she undid the knot that bound her hands together. Cassie wiped her face, stood up and realised that even though her body was stiff and sore she had finally been released from her captivity. She was happy to be alive. Free at last!

Cassie stretched, glancing around for water, a sign, or a road to follow. The vehicle must have veered a long way off the main road to get her to where she was, as there were only tyre marks in the dirt as far as she could see. If I follow the tracks, will they lead me back to the road? Or is it a trick to take me further away from civilisation?

Disorientated, she decided to head in the opposite direction, not trusting her kidnappers. The bush began to thin out until there were just sparse trees and bushes that poked out of the fine and powdery red dirt. She frowned as a whirlwind picked up the red sand, stinging her eyes and sticking to her clothes and body where she was perspiring.
‘Great,’ she grumped. ‘Now I must really look a sight.’

She gazed down at herself, wondering if she did find a road if someone would pick her up. I look and smell disgusting. The wind whipped up again. She could barely see two feet in front of her and the heat in the wind was unbearable. Have they dumped me in a desert somewhere? She wiped the dirt off her face and hands but it just smeared and felt worse. Every step she took she forced herself against the strong wind. How much worse can this get? She trudged along, trying to find some sign of civilisation.

Cassie thanked the heavens when she finally stumbled across a road and found a sign. Left will apparently take me to a mining town called Mt Newman, right to a town called Perth. Mt Newman was only a few miles away. She wasn’t sure how long it had been since she had eaten and there had been no sound of a car. Therefore, walking was her only option and she begun to trek her way along the dusty, partly covered road towards Mt Newman.

The sun beat down on her fair skin and the wind scorched her arms and face. Sadness overwhelmed her as she realised she might die before getting to the town. Thirst took over her every thought as she pushed harder against the howling wind.

Keep moving! She kept yelling at her body. Surely it couldn’t be far now. The thought swam around in her mind repeatedly.

She heard a car coming. A horn blasted. Turning in her dazed state, Cassie realised that she was walking in the middle of the road. The utility truck skidded to a stop. Pain screeched within her as she fell and rolled herself away from the loud motor.

‘What the hell were you doing walking in the middle of the damned road?’ she heard one of the men say as he checked her body to see if she had broken a limb.

Cassie shaded her eyes and saw another man leaning up against the truck with a smug look on his face. ‘Just leave her, Kayden. How many times have spies tricked us like this? Get us to feel sorry for one of the enemies very own so we take them in, using them to expose us? Christ knows where this one’s been. She’s so filthy she’d probably give you a disease just touching her or maybe that’s the plan. If we don’t get sick they’ll be sure they’re on to something.’
‘Shut up, Jason, she could be hurt. Just give me a sec.’

‘You’re a bloody vet! What can you do anyway? Let’s get out of here and leave her to her own luck. Someone will be along shortly and they can deal with the scrubber.’

‘And if you’re right, we need to know what enemy camp she’s come from.’ He straightened her out, slid his arms under her and picked her up as if she weighed nothing.

‘She’s not getting in my bloody car,’ Jason grumbled.

Cassie caught her breath and coughed but the dryness stopped her from talking. She wanted to tell them to leave her alone. Instead she just stared helplessly at the one called Kayden.

‘Help me get her in the car, Jason, and stop being a jerk.’

Jason moved to the back of the utility truck, unclipping the canvas cover and dropping down the tailgate, helped Kayden pick her up. ‘Put the dirty bitch in the back of the truck then. There’s no way I’m putting up with that smell all the way home.’

The two men were rough when they put Cassie down. Her head ached as Kayden shoved a rolled-up towel under it.
‘You know, she might be just one of the Mar Bakers whores, lost her way after one of those parties they have out here in the bush. Never seen that one before though.’

‘Maybe we can put her to good use.’ Jason slapped his side with renewed vigour. ‘Hot damn, it’s been a while! Could I really be that lucky?’

‘Whatever, stud! We at least need to try to find out what we’re dealing with here first. It’s one of our hottest days and she won’t last long out here in the condition she’s in.’

Cassie passed out.

When she came to, she was in a horse stable in a barn. She was lying on hay and she was itchy everywhere it touched. It was dark and she was freezing but at least the moon was full and giving her some light. Next to her she could see a bottle of water and three biscuits on a plate. The thought crossed her mind that they might be laced with drugs but she was far too hungry to care. Nervously anticipating her fate and yet unable to stay awake long enough to do anything about it, she fell back to sleep.

When she woke again, she had a horse blanket on her that smelled worse than she did. The plate had gone but the bottle had been refilled. Giving thanks, she drank the water in gulps. Cassie jumped and put the bottle down when she heard steps. She scurried into the corner and tried to hide: her meeting of the two men had not made her comfortable about being around them at all. Her body froze as the man called Kayden moved towards her and dragged her out, his fingers digging into her arm.

He threw her out of the stables and turned a freezing-cold hose on her. She rolled into a foetal position out of instinct to stop it stinging the cuts. He kept asking ridiculous questions that made no sense and even though he was a bully and hurting her, she made no sound. Cassie had watched movies about mistreatment. The abuser always felt more of a thrill if the victim screamed and begged, so she choked it back. He kept it up until he realised she wasn’t going to participate in his line of questioning, then grabbed her arm and threw her back in the stable. He tossed a clean pair of jeans and a shirt at her and said impatiently, ‘Get dressed. I’m taking you back to Mar Bakers or wherever the hell you want to go. But you’re not staying here.’

Where does he think my home is? It’s at least three days travel from this place! Cassie was cold and confused but didn’t want him hurting her anymore so she did as she was told. He watched as she removed her wet clothes. She could feel his eyes burning into her, enjoying her embarrassment. She turned her back on him. God, so humiliating.
‘What are you hiding from? If you aren’t who I think you are then you have to be the other and I’m sure you’ve stripped off for many a man! Could this just be another part of your act to get me to think you’re actually a lady?’ he scoffed. ‘A lady would not have been wandering around in the middle of the road trying to get anyone to stop and take pity on her.’

Cassie shot him a heated look and threw off the rest of her clothes without care. He had made her so cranky she would let him look at what they’d done to her! She turned and he had a full view of her.

‘Happy?’ she scowled.

Cassie heard him swear. ‘Where the hell are all those bruises from? Jason said he didn’t hit you with the car.’
‘What do you care how I ended up with them? Leave me alone.’ She turned her back to him. She wanted to tell him how she really ended up so banged up but was angry at his reaction. The look on his face made her feel ugly and instead of confiding in him, she just wanted him gone.

He stomped out cursing. It confused him. She’d looked so innocent as she stood naked in front of him but her refusal to answer any of his questions infuriated him. What was she playing at? Cassie dressed, slouched against the wall and closed her eyes.

****

Damn it. I passed out again. Why? She wondered.

She woke up in a bedroom this time, her stomach rumbling from hunger. Cassie had no idea how long she had been asleep but she needed to find some food. She went to get up but her legs were tired and could not keep her in an upright position. She collapsed onto the floor with a thud. ‘Cripes,’ she groaned.

The door flung open and Kayden came in and lifted her back onto the bed.

‘You’re weak. How long has it been since you ate?’ he asked impatiently.

She gestured that it had been maybe two or three days.

He seemed irritable that she had barely spoken two words since she arrived. ‘Look, I’m still not sure if this is all just an act and I’ll definitely not play bloody nursemaid to a any woman. If you want to eat, the kitchen’s outside this door. You might as well quit the performance and go get it yourself or starve.’ He stood looking angrily down at her. He made Cassie so mad that she swung her legs over the bed, attempting to stand again and … whoops!

Cassie woke up back on the bed. There was water and a sandwich next to her that she choked down, ignoring her dry throat and gulping water with every bite. She lay back, thankful that at least her hunger was satisfied. Feeling better, she gingerly moved from the bed and headed for the bathroom. Out in the main room it surprised Cassie to see Kayden reading in an armchair. She thought he hadn’t seemed educated enough to be reading with all the cursing he did.

Kayden looked up.

‘Can I use your bathroom?’

He pointed to a door and Cassie nodded. She looked back at him as she closed the door. Immersed in his novel and he took no notice of her. He looked different under the light shade: not so cruel at all.

The toilet led into a shower. Cassie found a clean towel. She looked in the mirror and was shocked at her appearance: the hose-down he gave her didn’t clean her face or her hair very well because she had rolled herself into such a protective position. Red dust had caked onto every strand of her hair and Cassie’s normal golden-blond colour was dirt-stained a reddish-brown. Her face had red dust patches and her clear hazel eyes looked dark and dull from the mascara that had run from her tears. She could see why the men had thought she was untrustworthy. She looked a fright.

She turned the tap and scrubbed herself clean. The spray bit into the cuts and battered against the bruising on her skin although just to feel dirt-free was worth it. It made her feel much better. Reaching for a towel, a wave of light-headedness came over her and she leaned against the wall. Exhausted, she slid down the tiles and sat on the floor, hugging the towel, waiting for her energy to kick back in.

Did I faint again? Maybe I did. She heard footsteps and the voice of Kayden cursing her. He stood Cassie up and she could feel him shake her and curse some more. She remembered very little after that.

****

The room glowed with the first signs of dawn. She pulled back the covers and noticed she wore a big shirt that Kayden must have put on her. She also noted she was still alive which proved it was unlikely he intended to hurt her.
At least she now knew why she kept passing out. When Cassie had washed her hair she had felt a big lump and a cut on her head that stung under the water. I must be concussed.

Her body still felt tender and sore, yet she felt stronger since the pain in her head had eased. She padded out into the kitchen in bare feet and made a cup of coffee, and the call of fresh air had her walking outside to drink it. The porch had a chair that she bypassed, preferring to walk out into the yard to have a good look at her surroundings. Kayden’s farm wasn’t fancy—nothing like the immaculate gardens and grandeur of the castle Cassie had once called home—but it was quaint and peaceful. There were dirt tracks leading away from the house in different directions. The trees and shrubs were sparse and the red dirt and big boulders that covered the landscape reminded her of her first look at this country in which she had been dumped. Kayden had the largest barn she had ever seen and a few horses were nibbling on feed behind a high-gated fenced area. How long has it been since I’ve done this? Not in many years had she been able to stand out in the fresh morning light and view anything. From her bedroom her view had been very limited and even the open window never gave her such a complete feeling of freedom and love for what she was now seeing for the first time. Even though her parents were not there, she still felt a little nervous about being outside. At home she would have been beaten for an action such as this.

Cassie contemplated how a twist of fate had led her here, to this farm, with the strangest of men. Not that she had met many; well, up close and personal, only her father. Kayden had mistreated her but it was nothing she wasn’t used to, yet at other times he was kind and his eyes told her she could trust him. He was so different to the men in the movies she had watched and the magazines she had read. She had thought all men were womanisers, wanting everything their own way and doing anything to get laid, yet she had picked up none of this behaviour from him. She wondered if he would put her on a plane home if she told him who she really was. God, no! She would have to carry her secret alone. She swept her eyes around the landscape. There was a power, an unseen energy pulling her to this spot, this farm and to Kayden. This was where she knew she needed to be—for now anyway. She found a log to sit on and sipped her coffee, watching the glow of day light up the sky and gasping at its beauty.

‘How lucky is the person who lives here? This would be so pretty to wake up to every day.’ She talked quietly to herself as she had done for years. There was usually not a soul to hear her.

A sound behind Cassie made her jump. She stood up and faced Kayden who was standing behind her, looking at her with a strange expression.

‘Yes, very beautiful to wake up to.’ The sunrise reflected in his eyes.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. I just woke feeling better and wanted to see where I was.’

‘You have a slight accent.’ He eyed her a little suspiciously after hearing her speak more loudly and fluently.

Cassie put her head down, wishing she hadn’t spoken. Now he has that ‘I don’t trust you’ look back in his eyes again. ‘My name is Cassandra but most people call me Cassie. I’m not from around here.’ She took a sip of her coffee and ignored the uncomfortable tension that fell between them. ‘I want to apologise for passing out on you. I have a huge lump on my head and it stung under the shower,’ Cassie said, flinching as she touched the tender spot by accident.
Frowning, he walked towards her. ‘Let me see. Keep still!’ He was somewhat gruff but not scary anymore and his fingers, strangely enough, were very gentle as they parted her hair. ‘You may need a stitch but it seems to be healing alright. Do you normally heal quickly?’

Cassie shrugged. ‘Don’t know. I’ve never had a cut before.’

He let her hair fall back. ‘You’ll have a little scar but it will be well hidden under all this hair.’ He squinted and held a hand over his eyes, viewing the sunrise. ‘Sit. Don’t let me disturb you. I just have to go check the paddocks before breakfast. Unless you want to come and have a look around, get out of the house for a bit?’ he asked in a more civil tone.

Surprised at his change of mood, Cassie jumped at the offer. ‘To get outside anywhere would be a treat. Can you wait until I get some shoes on and tie up my hair up?’ She ran inside, excited. Check the paddocks. What does that mean? Her thoughts ran wild as she dressed. Who cares? It gets me out of the house. She smiled.

When she came out to join Kayden, she noticed that he seemed to have a happier look on his face. He wasn’t smiling but he definitely wasn’t grumpy. He stood by a utility truck with the door open, and closed it after her when she jumped in. A little way down the dusty track he pulled up at an open field where horses grazed under lovely flourishing trees along a pretty stream. No red dirt here, she thought, amazed at how this area was so different from the rest of the landscape she had viewed so far. They walked along the stream. Cassie watched as fish darted in and out of the rocks, the clear crystal water flowing over them like moving glass.

Kayden went over to pat and check a couple of the horses. He lifted the hoof of one and pressed it, talking quietly. ‘That’s looking better, boy,’ he said, letting its leg go and patting its mane again. Another couple of horses were ready to foal and he frowned at one of them. ‘You better come with us, girl.’ His tone was calm.

He went back to the truck and grabbed a bridle. After harnessing the horse, he led it around and dropped down the back of the high-sided trailer. Once the horse was safe on the trailer, he checked a few more horses and then they headed back.

It was obvious Kayden wasn’t a real talker which suited her just fine. The last thing she needed right then was someone wanting answers she could not even get her own head around yet.

Kayden took the pregnant horse back to the stable and bedded her down for the day. ‘I’ll have to watch her carefully today,’ he said, making Cassie jump with just the sound of his voice. He’d been so silent since they left (unless he spoke to the horses) and it took her by surprise. Until now, his voice had always had an annoyed tone, implying that she was intruding in his world. Even though he had not yet sent her packing, she had been waiting for it. ‘Mother’s ready but it looks like the foal needs turning. I’ll tend to her after breakfast. I’m sure you can amuse yourself while I’m busy.’

‘Can I watch? I’ve never seen anything get born before.’

He raised his eyebrows curiously and then shrugged. ‘If you want to. But don’t get in the way or you’re out of here,’ he grumbled. The tone of his voice said clearly that she was once again walking a fine line and to do as he said—or else.

Cassie smiled meekly and he turned away, but not fast enough. She was positive that he had nearly smiled back. The way he straightened his shoulders however and walked briskly out made her wonder if she had imagined it. Cassie practically ran to keep up with him as she followed his long strides back into the house. After washing their hands they went to the kitchen. Cassie felt awkward being around someone who seemed to fill up every room he walked into. He was unusually large, she thought, although she hadn’t seen that many men in the flesh to compare him with.
Pulling a pan and utensils from drawers below the bench, he started cooking bacon and eggs. He threw her a loaf of bread. ‘Here, you can cook the toast,’ he said casually. This time his voice sounded a little more human. Yet all it took was a dumfounded expression on her behalf and the annoyed look was back on his face.

Goddamn it, why can’t I keep my stupid face from showing any expression? ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to look ill mannered but I haven’t cooked before. If you show me, I’m a quick learner.’

His eyes darkened and creases lined his forehead as he frowned, making her cringe and take a step back from him.
‘I don’t know where you came from or why you had to turn up on my doorstep but I was hoping you could at least feed yourself. Even the bloody animals know how to do that.’ His flat tone let her know he was more frustrated with her than upset. He threw two pieces of bread in the toaster and pushed down a lever. ‘When it pops up, just butter it,’ he added a little sarcastically as he held up the knife and the butter. ‘You do know how to butter bread, I assume?’ He went back to cooking the bacon and eggs.

Cassie grumbled under her breath and she saw his face tighten at her response.

He pulled out two glasses from the cupboard and filled them with juice, handing them to Cassie, gesturing for her to put them the table, while he dished up. The tension was choking but he did pull out a chair for her. She guessed that maybe he was just worried about the horse out in the barn and that she was not the problem at all.

It was hard not to watch his every move. Cassie had never been so close to an eligible male before and she loved the way he folded the egg and bacon into a sandwich and held it in one hand while his other gripped the paper he read. His fingers were long and strong and they put a tingle through her as she imagined curling her own fingers around them. She shook her head and glanced down at all the food on her plate. She tried to eat but her stomach filled after just a few bites. She thought about the last few days. By the date on the calendar in the kitchen she knew it was day four since she had been taken from her bed. It had seemed a nightmare and yet there now seemed to be so much to be grateful for. Even the little bit of kindness she had received from Kayden was more than she had ever had. Cassie didn’t want him to take her home as he had threatened and yet if she kept annoying him, she would end up there for sure. Already, Cassie liked his quiet existence and wished she could stay a while until she learned to do things for herself. Somehow though, she doubted this man had patience for anything other than his horses. She focused back on her plate of food. She had barely touched it and Kayden had already cleaned his up.

Cassie was on edge, wondering if wasting the food he had cooked for her would be enough to tip him over the edge and make him cross at her again. He’ll most likely stomp out to the stables without me, she thought. Tears sprang to her eyes that she tried to wipe quickly away.

Cassie heard his paper move and his eyes peered around it at her. ‘What’s wrong now?’

‘My stomach, I still don’t feel well. I know you hated having to cook it for me and now I’m wasting it.’
He shrugged and went back to reading his paper.

Damn. He’s so hard to fathom. She dropped her shoulders and breathed out heavily. Now she realised how tense she was, she really had to stop feeling so uptight. Maybe it’s me and not him at all. She leaned back in her chair, drinking her juice and looking outside. The tree near the window had lovely lilac flowers that lifted in the breeze, making a carpet of petals around the trunk. Yes, it was beautiful here.

She picked up the dishes. One thing she did know was how to wash a dish: she had seen that done plenty of times when she was a child.

Cassie followed Kayden out to the stables when he was ready and he sat her up on a bale of hay, putting a hand on each side of her and leaning in close. She could smell the delicate spice of his aftershave and his body, so near, was a bit unnerving. His eyes closed as if he too was taking her into the depths of him. Cassie heard the horse make a weird noise and with a quick movement he stood up, glancing towards the noise. The moment was gone and his old self was back.

‘Remember, one peep out of you and you go back inside,’ he warned. ‘Sit still and don’t move.’

Cassie watched as the horse dropped onto the floor, obviously in a lot of pain. Kayden was at its side within seconds, sliding a big long glove onto his hand that went all the way up his arm. Then to her surprise, he slipped it inside the animal. She was horrified for the poor thing. God she’s making the worst noises! Even though she was unsure of this strange procedure, she kept herself perfectly still and quiet, her eyes barely blinking as she observed a miracle: a foal slid out and lay with its mother.

It wasn’t long before it tried to stand. Not even a human baby is this smart! Tears ran down Cassie’s face as the little fellow wobbled and tried to get its balance. Kayden looked around and she felt his eyes on her for a minute as her heart went out to the tough little fellow. By the time she’d ripped her eyes from the newborn, Kayden had turned back to the mother and continued working on her.

After it was all over he led them both into a clean room and hosed the little one down. Cassie watched as the mother nudged him to keep him moving. When Kayden finished, he said they needed to leave them for a while; that the mother needed rest.

It was well into the afternoon by the time Kayden woke Cassie, asking her if she’d like to go for a swim. She was glad to go and cool off but after checking her watch, she wondered what had happened to the last forty-eight hours or so. She recalled that the paddock had been covered in fog when they took one of the horses back and after they returned home, Kayden had made her a hot drink.

Did he drug me? Thinking she had lost her marbles, she put the thought aside. She must have her days mixed up. One seemed to run into another on the farm. She smiled and took up his offer. It was stinking hot inside and sweat had dampened her hair and pyjamas so she quickly changed and bounced out the door, excited to be doing something other than sitting there in the heat.

At the waterhole, Cassie looked up at the rock wall that stretched far above their heads. The sun was in a perfect position to highlight the ferns that grew from the crevices between the big boulders. Closer to the water’s edge she could see reeds growing, staining the water yellow. Farther out, the water seemed to change to a royal blue that ran into indigo in the depths. The water smelled clean and was lovely and refreshing to wade in. She had to suck in a huge breath to stop from shrieking after jumping in as her still-bruised and aching body hurt with the pressure against her skin.

Kayden picked that moment to move past and he accidentally rubbed against her. She flinched and groaned.
‘Sorry,’ he apologised, looking down at her bruises. A look spread across his face: a mixture of pity and horror. She looked down at her body and could hardly blame him if he thought she looked disgusting: she felt ugly.
She swam away to hide from him behind some reeds and lay back, floating in the cool water, relaxing her mind, trying not to think about looking like an elephant lady. They will heal, she repeated, trying to console her vanity. She remembered that she was with a person who really didn’t seem to like her very much anyway. She had to stop worrying. All I have to do is be good for a little while and not anger him. Then once I get stronger, I can just disappear into the night and his life will be back to normal. Happy with her new thoughts, Cassie closed her eyes and imagined her room at home and her wardrobes of clothes and shoes. If only she had been good then she would not be here in pain, trying desperately to survive.

She felt a splash. Kayden was trying to get her attention. ‘Do you swim?’ He splashed her again playfully, appearing to be in a happier mood.

‘I’ll race you to the other side,’ Cassie challenged him, lifting her head out the water and eyeing him competitively.
‘Let’s see what you’ve got.’

Making it to the other side was easy but coming into the last couple of metres on the way back, Cassie slowed. She had nothing left. Kayden flew past her and stopped. He was looking back as her eyes started to close and she slipped under the water. Cassie could feel him grabbing her and lifting her out and even though her body had let her down, she still felt and heard everything going on around her. It was somewhat scary not being able to open her eyes and she hoped the feeling would pass quickly. She felt him throw a towel around her, place her in the truck and put something under her head before it all went black.

****

It was dark and she was back in bed when she woke. Damn it, not again. This guy’s going to think I’m such a girly-girl, fainting all the time. Way to go and make an impression, Cassie girl! She sat up with a start, wondering what was happening to her and felt two arms pull her back down. Kayden had been lying with her and was still holding her. Mm, nice.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m so sorry,’ she apologised in a whisper.

‘You’re still weak and just overdid it.’ He was leaning on his elbow, watching her. ‘I hope you didn’t mind me staying with you until you woke but you gave me quite a scare.’ His voice rolled over her like warm honey.
She smiled shyly. ‘I um …’ She wanted to say she had never lain with a man before and that it was nice but the words were stuck in her throat.

He reacted to her blubber as if she did not want him there and he mumbled a curse, getting off the bed. ‘You’re right, of course. I shouldn’t have presumed. I’ll keep my distance and take you home as soon as you’re okay to travel.’ He stood at the door for a minute, maybe waiting for her to respond, but she was speechless.
That isn’t what I meant it to sound like at all.

‘I guess you’re hungry. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready, seeing as you can’t do anything for yourself.’

Cassie wanted to crawl back inside of herself. Kayden glared at her before shutting the door and leaving her on her own. She lay for a while thinking, pushing aside his cutting remark.

She had woken up in his arms. He was holding me. Me. At that moment a horrible thought changed her happy mood. It dawned on Cassie that he might still think she was one of Mar Bakers girls. Maybe he had wanted to have his way with her, only she had rejected him. No wonder he was cross. A woman rejecting him he could handle, but by a would-be tramp? After all, that’s how he saw her. She couldn’t lie there thinking of what he thought of her any longer. It was making her nuts. She flung the blanket off getting up. If he wants me gone tomorrow, then maybe I should make a run for it tonight while he’s sleeping.

With this new plan in mind, Cassie decided to go all-out to be polite and throw him off the trail. Not that he’ll care when he wakes and finds I’m gone.

Kayden turned around as she appeared at the door, looking her up and down with an almost-smirk crinkling the sides of his mouth. Cassie looked down and saw that she had only one of his T-shirts on.
‘I didn’t know where my clothes were,’ she said timidly.

He returned his gaze to the frypan. ‘You’re not anything worth looking at, girl, so don’t kid yourself. It hardly worries me what you wear. Anyway, I had to wash your clothes. They should be dry soon—and don’t say it,’ he said sarcastically, ‘You have never washed clothes before.’

This man sure sounds as if he dislikes me. So why is he cooking for me if he really feels that way towards me? Why am I still here? None of his unusual behaviour was making sense and even if it did, she had no answer for him. Cassie was ashamed to tell him she had never had to wear anything twice. She just walked over to the table and sat down quietly. ‘I’m sorry,’ she apologised and hoped he wouldn’t growl anymore.

When he made no further comment, she glanced up to watch him as he confidently moved around the kitchen. He was so big, well over six feet, yet seemed so graceful. His hair was dark brown tonight, yet in the sunlight it had red highlights. His eyes were hazel and changed colour with his moods. He had the longest eyelashes Cassie had ever seen on a man. Sometimes he watched her through them and she felt like he could see right into her very soul. His features were strong and masculine but when he smiled, which was not often, he looked so very young.

Tonight he had his shirt off and wore only his singlet because he had been with her. She smiled as she realised she was wearing the shirt he must have had on. Somehow it gave her a warm glow as she imagined him taking it off and carefully putting it on her to get her warm. They had been swimming so he would have had to remove her wet clothes. Cassie shook the silly thoughts from her mind, knowing he would never really care about her like that. Maybe he just thought that I’d reward him with sex if he was nice enough to me.

A sneak peak revealed his tattoos. One looked like Pegasus, the mythical flying horse, which didn’t surprise her, seeing as he liked horses so much. He bent into the drawer to pick out a pair of tongs and his masculine body rippled as he moved. For a nice-looking man, he was sure angry towards women. What a total waste! Oh well, not long now and he will be on his lonesome again.

The sound of a motor disturbed Cassie’s thoughts and she looked out the window and saw a four-wheel drive pulling up. Doors opened and closed. She heard a couple of voices: one was very familiar. They were joking around as they walked towards the house.

Kayden moved as quick as a flash at the sound of them. He threw a steak sandwich in front of her and shot her a look that told her to stay where she was as he went out to talk to them. Cassie ate quietly and when she finished she put the plate in the sink and went back into the bedroom.

Kayden must have taken them to see the new foal as it was quiet for some time. When they finally came into the house, she could tell they must have been drinking because there seemed to be a lot of staggering and slurring going on with the one she did not know. As the night progressed they started playing cards and taking shots, getting noisier and noisier. Cassie pulled the covers over her head. As inexperienced with people as she was, she knew it wasn’t right for a young lady to be in a house with drunken men.

She drifted off to sleep but woke as the door flung open. She saw Jason gawking at her and laughing. ‘Kayden should have told me you were still here. Seem I rescued you, I reckon you owe me a kiss,’ he said, lunging at her.
He flopped on top of Cassie and she tried to pull away from his drunken breath. He had a firm grip on her though and started to kiss her, muffling Cassie’s screams with his lips. She pulled away, screamed and hit him across the face.

‘Come on, girlie! What’s your problem? Like it rough, do you?’ He grabbed her again.

She yelled at him, ‘Please don’t do this.’ Cassie was now begging. She called out to Kayden but he ignored her, making her so mad she shoved his friend up against the wall, smashing a stand, just about putting him through the plaster and brick partition.

She ran out, noticing Kayden was lying on the couch, passed out. She slapped his face for getting her into this position. She showed her evilness, used that which she suppressed. Now she would have to leave him. Leave this life she had grown to like so very much. He stirred and sat up. The other one also began to wake, hearing Jason moan. She fled and outside she heard Kayden cursing as he stomped in to see what she had done. It’s time for me to find other living arrangements. Not only was she in a house full of men who drank and thought she was a spy or one of Mar Bakers ladies, but she had just hurt his friend. Cassie bolted out the door and kept on running. Somehow she ended up on the track that led to the horses. At least there was water there and she could freshen up and get a drink before she found her way back to the highway.

It took a while but she finally made it. The big one with the sore hoof was lying on the ground and didn’t move when she went near him, so she curled up against him and cried herself to sleep.

****

It was daybreak when Cassie woke to the sound of an engine and froze as the horse stood up and left her exposed. She darted over to the river, tried to cross the slimy rock surface and slipped, cutting her foot and squealing out in pain. She kept moving until reaching the other side and then ran again. She was just about to look behind to see if she’d been cunning enough to get away when hands grabbed her roughly and swung her up into a pair of arms.
‘What the hell are you playing at? Stop struggling or I swear I will tie you up.’

Cassie realised that Kayden was holding her and the fear subsided. She stopped fighting to escape as he carried her back over the creek. At the truck he grabbed a bag from inside the cab, sat her on the back and patched up her foot. He was very gentle and careful with her and Cassie calmed down and started to breathe normally again. When he had finished, he lifted her chin and put some cream on her split lip she got when fighting Jason off.

Her face felt puffy and tear-stained but she didn’t care anymore. He had passed out allowing his friend to do as he wished. Her eyes filled up with anger at him. ‘I was calling for you. You shouldn’t have got so plastered that you couldn’t look after me.’ she hissed.

‘I am not your carer, Cassie. Someone like you should know what to expect if you want to stay in a house full of men.’
‘What do you mean someone like me? I’ve never even been around men. How was I to know what to expect?’

Kayden sucked in a breath and sighed. ‘How old are you?’

‘Nineteen. Why?’ she asked.

He seemed angry but controlled his voice. ‘You seem very young for your age and the way you look. You’re telling me that you’ve never had a serious relationship?’

‘None.’ She shook her head, feeling miserable and upset. ‘But that doesn’t mean I’m stupid and don’t know what feels wrong.’

‘Maybe you should realise that the grass is not greener on the other side and whatever happened or what tiff maybe you had with your folks you should suck it up and go home. How long have you been around this area for?’

‘Since the day you found me. I was just kind of left.’

He looked at her sharply. ‘What do you mean, left?’

‘Near where you found me. My parents sent me away. I’m a very bad person.’

‘You’re lying. Stop it. Tell me the truth,’ he cautioned her.

She choked back tears, outraged and indignant. She lifted her chin, squaring her shoulders and trying to control her voice. ‘I’m not fibbing. I heard my parents say they wanted me gone permanently. Next thing I know I woke up in an aluminium container of some sort, my lack of memory making it obvious they had drugged me. I travelled for a couple days by plane and afterwards by car. The container is there, near where you found me. I’m not a liar!’ She watched his disbelieving glare with tears streaming down her face. ‘They hated me, like you do now—and your friend does—and I don’t know why you do! I’ve done nothing to you except be useless at taking care of myself.’ She jumped off the back of the truck in frustration, wincing at the pain in her foot. ‘Ow!’ she squeaked, holding both hands to her reddened cheeks. She plopped on the ground, rocking back and forth, nursing her foot and her hurt pride.

‘You must know your story is bizarre and totally unbelievable.’ He put up his hands in a frustrated motion. ‘However, I’m inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt and check out your story. But trust me when I say that if there is no container, Cassie, and this is just to get my sympathy …’ Kayden didn’t finish. He just picked Cassie up and put her in the car. They drove back in silence. Cassie became nervous when she saw that the other car was still out the front. She held her breath and started to shake, not wanting to go inside.

Kayden could feel her fear and growled, ‘It’s okay. I won’t let him touch you. Just settle down. Shit, do I have to treat you entirely like a damned child? You act like you’re bloody ten years old.’ He picked her up, annoyed again, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, not letting him go. She didn’t care how cross he was; he was safer than the others were. He laid her on the bed and pried her arms from around his neck. He shook his head. ‘I still doubt your wild story, Cassie. However, if you’re telling me the truth and want my help, you will stay here until I get back. If you’re a liar, maybe it’s best if you were gone when I return,’ he said and left her.

She heard him talking, the noise of car doors opening and closing and the engine of the car starting up, after that silence. Cassie was glad they were all gone and now alone, hobbled to the bathroom to freshen up. She knew he told her to stay in the room but she smelt like the horse and needed a shower. Finding another shirt in the wardrobe, she put it on and lay back on the bed. Her foot was sore so she took his advice and decided to stay off it.

It was some time before she heard the car pull up again. Only one door opened and one set of footsteps came inside as the car drove off. Cassie could hear Kayden pacing in the sitting room and knew he must have found she wasn’t lying and was wondering what to do with her now. She was just about to get up when he opened the door and came in. You could have fried an egg on his face; it looked so hot and red. He seemed a little calmer as he changed the dressing on her foot.

‘I told you not to move. You’ve opened it up again.’

‘I had to go to the bathroom. While I was in there I showered as well,’ she said bravely.

‘I noticed you’ve cleaned up. You smelt like a horse when I brought you home,’ he joked.

Cassie giggled and he smiled back and kept fixing her foot. It was the first time he had even attempted humour and it was refreshing to see him actually smile at her. His face was so handsome when he did.

He didn’t speak for the rest of the day; he just lifted her wherever he wanted her to be while he worked through his jobs. They checked on the new foal and fixed a couple of fences before cleaning the stables. He was a hard worker and never seemed to stop. Cassie understood that he was so used to being on his own that having her around must have been why he seemed so frustrated. He was just a loner and happier to be by himself.

That evening they sat on the porch drinking coffee while they watched the sun set. Listening to the night creatures as darkness came made Cassie brim over with questions. The sounds filling the air were foreign to her. She questioned Kayden and he told her what they were. It was the first time they had really had a conversation that was more than simple politeness and it was nice just to listen to his honey-smooth voice that made her feel warm all over. When he was being just like that she could listen to him forever. He picked out the sounds for her and not only named the insects that made them but also gave her a description of their colours and shapes.

‘Your country is very different from what I have ever known.’ She turned and looked at him curiously. ‘Where am I? What country is this?’ Kayden seemed to get annoyed again and Cassie reacted by cringing away. ‘Don’t worry, I don’t need to know.’

It was a long time before Kayden answered. ‘You really don’t know?’ he asked.

Cassie lowered her eyes and felt stupid for having to ask. ‘I saw a sign when I first arrived that said Newman or Perth. I wasn’t very good at geography and those places don’t ring a bell.’

‘You’re on a farm a little way out of Mt Newman in Western Australia.’

‘Australia!’ Cassie was wide-eyed and shocked. ‘Kangaroos and koalas Australia?’ she asked, not quite believing what he was saying. ‘Why would they send me so far?’ Hot tears streamed out of her eyes now she knew that there was definitely no going home. ‘They sent me down under.’ She stood up and paced. ‘And probably hoped the desert or the crocodiles would get me. They really wanted me dead!’ Cassie stopped moving as the impact of where she was shattered the last bit of hope she had left. She flopped back onto the seat next to Kayden, wondering if panic attacks could kill because right at that moment, her heart was racing like a freight train, almost too fast to breathe.
Kayden slid his arm around her. ‘You are very convincing but your story is so unbelievable. How could someone do that to their own? Are you sure, Cassie, that you haven’t just run from a bad experience and are trying to get shelter? I promise if you tell me I will help you. I just need to know the truth.’

Cassie shook his arm off and pulled away. ‘Kayden, I repeat: I am not a liar and I do not need your help,’ she fumed. ‘I’m better now so let me make your life a lot easier and relieve your conscience. I’m not scared to go it alone nor do I need a babysitter anymore. This is my new life now, not yours. I’ll make it just fine on my own. I’ll head off to that Newman town tomorrow and that’ll be the end of it. Now go away and leave me alone. I hate them and I hate you,’ she sobbed and turned from him, wishing she never had to talk to him again.

Kayden sat for a minute, before getting up and walking back inside the house, closing the door. Cassie hated her family for what they had done to her and now she hated him. He had never believed a word she’d said and right then she didn’t care. I’m really on my own and I’ll show them all I can make it, she thought as she finally went to bed. She punched the pillow before cuddling it.

It was late in the night when a big crash woke her. It was so loud she jumped out of bed and stood frozen to the spot. There was another loud grumble and a shrieking crack that lit up the room. That one had her moving and she ran out of her room and flung open Kayden’s bedroom door. She stood there, breathing fast and hard.

He sat up, looking concerned and sleepy and rubbing his eyes.

Cassie whispered, ‘What’s that noise?’

As she said it, the house shuddered with another loud crack. She flew over and jumped at him, wrapping herself around him and trembling, waiting for the roof to come down around them. He lay back down with Cassie still clinging to him like a vine to a tree. ‘It’s just an electric storm. Don’t you have them where you come from?’
Cassie shook her head and clung to him as the sky crackled again.

‘Shh. Go back to sleep. It won’t hurt you, silly,’ he said, a bit jovial but sleepy.

He relaxed and breathed heavily, letting her know he’d gone back to sleep. Every time the noises cracked, they shot through her and there was no way she could sleep. She clung on to Kayden, not releasing her grip until the noises quietened down. It was only after she settled that she realised he was stroking her hair which helped her to doze off.
When Cassie woke up much later she was on her own. She sat up, remembering the storm and feeling silly about being scared. She scrambled out of his big bed and looked for him. He was having a coffee and reading the paper. She looked at him a bit shyly. ‘Sorry about last night and the whole storm thing,’ she said, embarrassed, as she slipped into the bathroom.

‘Watch that foot. Don’t press on it too hard,’ he cautioned and she hopped the extra few steps to prevent it opening up again.

Cassie came out of the shower to find he had fried a couple of eggs for her. She ate while he cleaned up his plate of food and finished reading the paper. He said he had already gone out to the paddocks and she felt sad that she’d missed seeing the foal this morning. It was her last morning here and she would have liked to say goodbye. Kayden was most likely wanting to get his rounds out of the way early so they could leave directly after breakfast. She suddenly regretted saying she hated him and was leaving.

To continue reading Home Worlds

(Lord of the Planets Book One)

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Firre Divine

Preface

Caitlin is rescued by a gorgeous stranger. He takes her home but before he leaves he steals a kiss, forever sealing their fates. She is soon to discover that this same man is the Tsar, a supreme ruler over galactic celestial spheres, and her new boss. While in training with the Cloud Riders, a crack team of super-human heroes, Caitlin throws caution to the wind and gives into Axon’s charms. She is soon to regret it when the only man she has ever loved is found in bed with another. But Caitlin finds she has more important issues than Axon Stanton’s betrayal when she is captured by Hades, god of the underworld.

Saturn

Rhea, goddess and mother of the Titans, moved from the Roman style bath where her husband still lay. Servant girls dried and wrapped her in sheer lavender cloth, a robe of silk and lace that slipped delicately over her shoulders, tied neatly at her tiny waist with a bright purple sash.

‘Careful how you handle this, husband of mine.’ She sat to have her long brown locks of hair brushed and styled into a braided topknot.

The powerful god, Cronus, lifted his huge body suddenly from the water. The droplets sprayed from him as he shook his hairy body. His wife sat admiring her man’s naked form. Even after all these years, she longed for the strength of him to hold her in a lustful moment of togetherness. Today they had other commitments and no time for what was on her mind. She grinned with a twinkle in her eye only he understood. It made him smile back as the servants wrapped him in natural cottons, custom dress when holding council.

‘Tonight my sweet.’ He moved close to her and laid a gentle hand on her cheek.

‘Shoo!’ She gestured for the servants that had finished with her hair to leave. ‘Husband, what will our son do – what will you do?’ Her voice was quiet and shaken.

‘My son Hades has always been a planet ruler and if I have anything to do with it, he always will be. I cannot believe they have kicked Pluto out! A dwarf planet! Can you believe they are calling his kingdom a god-dammed dwarf planet? The shame of it,’ he huffed while vigorously drying his legs. ‘If Pluto is not reinstated I will go to war for him. My sons and I will take over the planet, Mercury. Hades will be the new ruler and the current ruler, Hermes, can rule Pluto or the defiant fool will pay for going against us and voting him out; he will end up with nothing.’
Rhea’s head shook. Her silky-woven hair shimmered in the candle light, the clean sheen of her skin glowed magically and for a moment it calmed him, giving him inner compassion as he watched his wife handle what lay ahead. It was the first time they’d had time to speak and even though it was a lot for her to take in, they no longer held truths from one another.

‘So all our friends voted for this change to Pluto?’ Rhea said.
He stood still and listed them for her. She had to know this was serious. He felt strongly. If she didn’t stand by him he would do this alone. ‘Hermes of Mercury, Uran of Uranus, Ares of Mars, Gaea of Earth and Aphrodite of Venus were all there.’

‘And voted against you and your sons?’ exclaimed Rhea.

‘Clearly a legal alliance was formed as they have half the planet rulers’ vote of approval.’ He bent to cup his wife’s chin. ‘My love, I have no choice, I will not lose my son to the ice world. If Pluto cannot stay with us then we will go to war, and we will take over Mercury.’

‘Why Mercury? Hades knows nothing about the working of Mercury, or vice versa. Hermes will not surrender or swap. I don’t know about this, Cronus. What are the boys saying?’ Rhea’s tone was high.

Cronus didn’t like his wife upset but this entire new law was unacceptable and his sons agreed. ‘Zeus and Poseidon are with me. They believe as I do that Hades will find his feet. Mercury has similarities as it is the first port of call for the deceased. The departed are escorted by Mercury to the River Styx and shipped across to Hades’ Kingdom. Hades will now be on the front line and who better than Hades to advise the new ruler, Hermes of Pluto on the judgment of their fate before sending them to the underground?’ He had put a lot of thought into it and was positive he had covered all angles as a responsible god and that the planets would still run smoothly once the transition took place.
‘Yes, Hermes will need help.’ Her lips curled and he knew she was still worried.

Cronus turned to the mirror and studied the formal attire. ‘He is a conductor of souls through his planet and Hades is aware he will need to assist Hermes for quite some time, but we feel this is the only choice we have. He too will find his feet in time as we all have. Even gods can change.’

The grin that spread across her face and a raised eyebrow, made him smile. ‘Well, I’d like to think I have changed a little.’

She stood. ‘You have, only slightly,’ she said, and poked his stomach. ‘I will trust you to share with me every detail this time. No secrets.’

He took her finger and kissed it sensually. ‘I will. I promised last time, no more cloak-and-dagger from me and I meant it.’

‘There is no talking you out of this course of action? You are up against Ares, God of War, and Zoren.’

‘Yes, wife of mine. Zoren’s army will be difficult to deal with if he dispatches them, but I hear the Cloud Riders are kept busy these days with the star worlds and it would be a stretch to have them handle the planets too. No, I can safely say we will deal with this in house, so to speak. Zoren’s team is not really equipped to handle us gods.’

A squeaky door stopped their conversation. ‘Sorry to interrupt. Your family has arrived. I tried to steer them to your chambers as requested, but they have gone straight to the Shangrili bar. Zeus instructed I get the hell out of there and let them be,’ their most faithful servant confided.

‘That will be all,’ Cronus said with a note of concern as the servant quickly bowed his way out of the room. ‘Sounds like our boys are in low spirits. We must go to them.’

He turned back to Rhea. ‘We have worked too hard over the years to repair the rift within our families and I will not allow this new law to separate our home world, which splits us up! No, this is not going to happen to us again!’ His words were strong yet low and deadly as he kept his well-known temper in check, his worry for the situation apparent. He put out his hand. ‘Come my sweet, and let us work through this as a family.’

With a lace cloth, Rhea wiped her tears, threw it aside, and took his outstretched hands. ‘Don’t let them spoil that which has taken us so long to mend husband of mine.’

He kissed the softness of her lips. ‘Never again.’

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(Lord of the Planets Book Two)

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Chapter One - Project Eight

Bray got home from school; cross he had to work on his new project on his own. His best buddy, Zac, was caught name calling and had detention. In his room, Bray, tossed himself on the bed, muttering, ‘To hell with the stupid planets.’ He punched the pillow.

‘You okay son?’ His stepdad popped his head in. ‘You got troubles?’

‘What do you care? Go find Mum and annoy her.’ Bray couldn’t stand his new stepdad. ‘What a jerk,’ he said quietly after he left him alone.

Bray woke an hour later to his mum calling him for dinner. He had a huge size chip on his shoulder because his mum got married before he had even met the man. He hated him for no other reason than he now had to share his mum. Loser new dad, he grumbled as he joined them for dinner, but only to irritate them. He had a burger on the way home and wasn’t the least bit hungry.

As he pushed his mash around the plate he eyed his mum. ‘So, you two met in the casino and after one weekend got married. How’s that working out for you?’ His voice was almost evil because he was still so cross. He didn’t imagine his mum would be so spontaneous. Marry a man she only just met? Bray was smart, the top of his class, but he didn’t see that coming.

His mum put her knife and fork down with a clunk. ‘Bray! That’s enough. It’s been a month. Eishol is my husband now. We love each other. Please give him a go or at least try to be polite. For me — please!’

She had put on the waterworks this time. It boiled Bray’s temper. ‘I’ll give it a rest when you kick him out. I’m the man of the house. You said so. Now you say he is. Well… well, have him.’ Frustration flowed. Heated tears ran down his cheeks. ‘I hate you and I hate him.’ He ran back to his room, angry that he had made his mum cry… again! Why he added that he hated her he didn’t know. That was so not the truth.

When she called in on him an hour later it was dark in his room. She stood in the light not saying anything.

‘Sorry Mum. You know I didn’t mean what I said about you.’

‘I know sweetheart. But please try to give our new family a go. I promise. No more surprises.’

‘I’ll try,’ was all he could muster.

The whole thing had been one big drain on his strength. He sighed and rolled away from the light. His red curls were stuck to his forehead from sweating in anger. With his hand shaking a little, he smoothed his hair back off his face. He was one of the smallest kids in his class, but what he didn’t have in size he had in guts. Tonight he overdid it, but being twelve years old he had no idea how to handle the anger he felt towards them now for having to share his mum. He pondered but soon switched back to his project. Now he felt more himself, he again looked forward to starting the solar system he and Zac planned to make using papier-mâché.

An hour later when sleep still hadn’t come to relieve his worries, he threw back the covers. In bare feet he padded across the floor to his desk, found the cord to the lamp and switched it on. The room lit up. Pressing his nose to the glass he squinted to see outside. It was then he saw a light on across the street.

‘Zac’s light is on. Yes!’ Bray cheered quietly. He had sulked and had put himself to bed early. It was only eight o’clock. He picked up his two-way. ‘Hey Zac, you awake?’

He heard a crackle and muffled sound.

‘Cripes you frightened the bee geezers out of me. I was going to call you up earlier to talk to you about that library book we borrowed, but I saw your light off and thought you were either asleep or playing happy families and watching a movie with your olds,’ said Zac, ‘so I thought I better not intrude.’

‘Pff, you’re kidding me right. Happy family we are not. And as for, him, it’s his fault my mum is cranky at me! So I was ticked off and went to bed early, but that’s not why I can’t sleep. I keep thinking about this project. And what did you say about a library book? Didn’t catch what you said. I’m opening the door to see if they are still up.’ Bray peered out his bedroom door to make sure his mum and Eishol were busy watching television. He heard a movie playing so he knew they were.

Zac said, ‘Come over and I’ll show you something strange. Maybe after, we can start work on the space project tonight. I’m not sleepy either.’

‘What about the stuff we were going to get? Can’t believe you ended up in detention. I told you not to fight my battles and to leave Grogan to me. He is one big bully and I am so sick of him,’ Bray said.

Zac huffed. ‘All I did was to call him a sissy, not loud enough for him to hear. Only the teacher overheard me say it. I had to write fifty times on the board, do not call boys a sissy.’

‘Geez, Grogan would have knocked you into tomorrow if he had heard it.’ Bray was worried for him.

‘Whatever. Look, are we chatting all night on this thing or are you coming over? I’ve got everything we need; I really want to work on something other than a blackboard,’ he joked to let Bray know he wasn’t cross. He just hated talking about Grogan, the biggest idiot in their class.

‘Coming.’ Bray switched off his hand piece.

Bray was looking forward to starting the assignment. It was a cool night so he slipped on sweat pants, a t-shirt, runners and a jacket. Hurrying, he tossed his notes from the desk into his backpack and slung it over his shoulders. As he lifted his window and jumped from it to the ground, he was glad he decided to wear long pants and shoes. He landed on the rose bush which would have really scratched up bare legs and feet.

Across the road he scurried to Zac’s place, where Zac met Bray at the door. ‘Mum and Dad are at a work function, and sis is out the back with her boyfriend so we are free to make as much noise as we want.’ He gave a braces-glinting grin.

The mouth hardware was new and Bray felt for him. Not only had he seen how self-conscious Zac was at school, but he’d said they felt nasty in his mouth. Around him, though, Zac didn’t care and Bray was glad. He liked the way he smiled.

Bray had a big gap in his front teeth and wished his mum had the money to fix this. They had food in the cupboard and his shoes didn’t have holes in them, so they weren’t poor; just not as wealthy as Zac’s parents. Bray remembered a time when Zac’s mum didn’t work. That was a long time ago. Bray much preferred to have less and have his mum there when he come home from school than to be wealthy and have her never be there at all. Things had sure changed for Zac. But still, he was going to have the coolest teeth in college.

Bray had to look up as Zac was a good head taller than him. His dark-brown hair and eyes made his skin pale in the moonlight.

‘What’s going on? Are you sick? You’re as white as a ghost.’ Bray slid his glasses down so he could see his friend better.

‘Well, as I said, I’ve got something to show you. Something strange is going on in my room. Started an hour ago when I tried to undo that book we borrowed from the library.’ Zac urged him to follow.

‘What, the leather-bound one with the locking gear? Thought the librarian said it wasn’t locked. I mean, we only wanted it so we could get the mythology connected to the planets. If it’s useless we can google it. Just thought it might give us a heads up on all the other students, ‘cos they’ll all be googling,’ Bray said. He climbed the stairs behind Zac with gusto. This was what he liked more than anything; a good challenge.

‘I know.’ Zac turned and waited for him. He had long legs and tackled the stairs easily, three at a time. ‘It was a great idea to get some ancient symbols to add to our planets after we make them. But the book seriously creeps me out. It’s making whispery sounds like horses and smells funny… more like a phone app than a book.’ He flung his door open and paused to sniff. ‘It’s worse.’ Zac gulped audibly.

The entire bedroom was full of mist. There seemed to be a strong wind swirling and no sooner had Bray noticed it, than they were sucked into the room, and the door slammed loudly behind them. In fact the vacuum was so strong both boys landed on the floor, one each side of the book.

‘You left it on the floor?’ Bray rubbed his hip where he landed hard.

‘No! It was on my desk. Don’t ask me how it got on the floor and opened its own lock.’ Zac looked scared. His head moved from side to side, looking to see if someone was playing a trick on them. ‘There has to be someone here!’ he whispered in a strained voice. ‘Sis? You messing me about?’

There was a loud clap and a hole formed within the pages of the book. As it got larger, both boys seemed to swirl in a circle. They watched each other go out of shape as if they had no bones, just a melted body, and opened their mouths in a shared scream. Around and around they went until their bodies disappeared into what they thought looked like a portal that had opened up within the leather binding of the library book.

Still screaming and not knowing what futuristic hell they had just discovered, they grabbed for each other and held on for grim death.

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Bray and Zac Book cover 31.07.16