Authors: Candace Sams
Copyright © 2014 by Candace Sams.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, OH 45242. U.S.A.
ISBN 10: 1-4405-8191-6
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-8191-5
eISBN 10: 1-4405-8192-4
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-8192-2
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123RF/Angela Harburn and 123RF/Alessandro Guerriero
To Lee and to everyone who looks to the stars in wonder. Good reading to you!
In the distant future, on another world
Having leisurely serviced his two lovely guests some hours ago, Marcos Starlaw had opted for fresh air in the palace gardens rather than the stuffy ballroom where a party was currently taking place. He’d left his fetching lasses behind only because they’d wanted to shower in private. There was no doubt in his mind they’d meant to compare notes on his lovemaking prowess. No doubt they’d found the liaison with him delightful. But if they hadn’t, there were plenty of other lovelies to take their places.
In any event the women had re-joined him after they’d finished their ablutions, and all three were now back at it. One sweet thing was on his lap kissing him deeply; the other leaned over his shoulder watching and caressing his manhood through his uniform leggings. He was on the verge of suggesting they go back to his quarters, when someone loudly cleared their throat. The noise had the desired effect. The tryst was broken.
Marcos turned his head to find his older brother, Darius, standing on a walkway, watching him and his girlfriends. A deep scowl marred his sibling’s features. And in an old, recognizable posture, Darius had his hands on his hips. He wasn’t going away until some matter or other was addressed.
Sighing deeply, Marcos gently brought the girl on his lap to her feet. Then he stood to face whatever anger his sibling might unleash. “What is it, Darius?”
“Your guests must excuse us. Our parents have requested our presence in their council chamber.”
“Right now?” Marcos asked.
Marcos sighed heavily and turned to his two, waiting beauties. “Sorry, my darlings. Duty calls. Have the guards summon you a shuttle back to the city. I apologize for not seeing you both safely home. I’m afraid this is most chivalrous option I can devise under the circumstances.”
The girls whined but pulled their dresses back in place and walked away.
Marcos sauntered toward his older brother. “This had better be good!”
“When you’re called to the council chamber, you know it is.”
“Lead the way, oh gallant prince and future king of all Luster,” Marcos jovially remarked as he lifted his chin, raised one brow, and made an elaborate show of dusting off his black, law enforcer’s uniform tunic.
“Marcos … get serious, or Father might just have you confined to your quarters.”
“Please. He hasn’t grounded me since I was sixteen.”
“If he’d seen what you were doing with those two women, within sight of the ballroom and guests who’re still quite sober, he might have done worse. We have important visitors at the ball tonight. You’ve barely made an appearance. How do you think that looks?”
,” Marcos derisively responded. “Father and Mother love it so … until they get in their chambers at night and the lights go off.” He laughed bawdily. “Creator’s blood … when they’re upstairs they don’t care if the entire castle hears them. I swear, Darius, it’s like listening to wild cats mating in the forest. Their precious decorum doesn’t mean much then.”
“For the love of—have you no shame?”
Marcos made no other comment, but silently joined his brother. They slowly walked toward the second floor of the castle and the council chambers located there. But right before they opened the massive, bejeweled, metal doors that led to the inner sanctum, where all royal decision-making took place, he couldn’t contain one last barb. “I really don’t know how your beautiful daughter came into this world. You’re such a prude.”
“Yes, you are.”
“I am not.” Darius blinked and shook his head. “We sound infantile. For the last time, will you get serious? You’re well over thirty and the commander of a galaxy-class enforcer vessel. Act like you deserve the commission.”
“Of course, Commander Starlaw. Anything you say, Commander Starlaw. Kiss your butt, Commander Starlaw? Should I get on one knee to do it, or will you bend over to make the target more accessible?”
“Just open the damned doors and go in!”
“Oh, no,” Marcos insisted. “You go first; age before intelligence.”
Darius growled out an obscenity, pulled the doors open, and entered the domed room.
Marcos, as second-born prince, followed. Their father stood behind the high throne-like chair at the end of a marble table. Mother sat to their father’s right. Their elderly but ever-faithful advisor stood—like a wizened old wizard in all the obligatory robes—to his father’s left.
“Father, I see you’re in full uniform tonight. You’re looking especially …
,” Marcos quipped as he ignored his sire’s frown. Then he walked forward, took his mother’s hand, and kissed it. The extra little smooch wasn’t for decorum, but because he loved her with all his heart and wasn’t afraid at his age to show it. “How is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom tonight?” he asked as he gazed into his mother’s blue eyes and winked.
As always, she visibly tried to suppress a smile.
Although he was clueless to matters leading up to this meeting, the situation probably demanded more formality, and he was behaving like he didn’t care. In truth, he didn’t. As far as he was concerned, Dar and Maelle Starlaw were his parents
. They were his king and queen
The king shook his head. “Marcos, if you weren’t such a good commanding officer I’d never put up with your nonsense. The guards tell me you were cavorting with women all day. I suppose that’s why you couldn’t make it to the ball when we were presented?”
Marcos made his way around the table, grabbed his father in fierce hug, and planted a resounding smack on his sire’s cheek. “You’re an old fake. You’d be upstairs with Mother if all this pomp and circumstance weren’t necessary.” He paused as his sire, like his mother, tried not to grin. “I know you have to behave like a royal hemorrhoid,” Marcos continued, “but I love you anyhow.”
Darius sighed heavily, rolled his eyes, and shook his head.
“Take that forbidding look off your face, brother. You love me, too. After all, I’m adorable whether you want to admit it or not. So we may as well admit it.” After diverting his sibling with that piece of wisdom, Marcos plopped into a chair, put his booted feet on the council table, and clasped his hands behind his head. “So … what’s up, Pop?”
Dar cleared his throat. “Please try to pay attention. Our advisor has news to share.”
Marcos turned to the older man with the long white hair and even longer white beard. “And how are you this evening, Hannibal?” He winked and leaned toward the elderly man. “I hear you’ve been romancing those dancers from the Andromeda Bar again, you old demon. Things must be hanging very well these days, eh?”
Hannibal responded by placing the fingers of one hand to his lips. “Why, Prince Marcos … I would never … at my age?”
“Can we get down to business?” the king sternly asked.
Marcos waited for Darius to take a seat.
Nothing in these dull meetings was ever resolved until everyone had a butt in a chair and leaned expectantly forward. Sadly, the night had started out so well. He could have been in a big, warm bed with two beautiful women pleasuring him. Instead, he was in conference.
When Hannibal struggled to gather his star-embossed robes about his old figure and fought to pull out a very heavy chair, Marcos surreptitiously slid it back by using one booted foot. For that small favor and show of respect, he finally got Darius to smile.
“All right, Father. We’re here,” Marcos announced. “We’re all seated and waiting with bated breath. As I told Darius when he found me in the garden, I hope this is very important. If not, I’ve just left two young beauties to find amusement elsewhere.”
Dar shook his head, briefly closed his eyes, then opened them again. “Despite the interruption in your love life, there are rather pressing matters, Marcos.” He glanced at Hannibal and nodded for the elderly advisor to begin.
Hannibal cleared his throat. “We have news that pirates may be operating in or near the Delta Seven planetary system. They may have access to
Marcos sat up straight, immediately dropped his playful façade, and faced his father. There were few things he took more seriously than weapons of mass destruction. “Possessing the formula alone warrants a death penalty. I saw what that substance did during the wars.”
“That’s exactly why we have to find out what’s happening on Delta Seven,” the king replied. “The governor of that planet is Adaman Forrell. He insists there’s nothing wrong, but the latest news from other sources says that plasma is being stockpiled under his watch. Enforcers in that area don’t confirm it. But your mother, as ambassador to several colonies in that outlying sector, suspects marauding ships
present, and that they might be threatening the population into keeping quiet. Add it up. Pirates plus plasma … there’s nothing passive in that state of affairs.”
Marcos glanced at Darius before speaking. His sire hadn’t just sent for him and his brother without some plan on how to handle the situation. “What do you intend to do, Father?”
“I’ll need someone to get to that planet without being associated with the Constellation League or its enforcers. Someone who can covertly report back, find any cache of banned weapons, and identify leaders of any pirate faction … assuming one does exist. As of now, all this is just suspicion. There aren’t many people on Delta Seven. It’s small and there are only two communication sources. One belongs to the governor. The other is public but isn’t transmitting for some odd reason.”
Marcos slowly smiled. “I’m your man.”
“The blazes you are!” Darius asserted.
Marcos slowly stood. “I’m the only enforcer in this room without family. I go,” he firmly insisted.
if not your family?”
the king angrily asked. “And what makes you two young bucks think I wouldn’t go myself?”
Marcos’s gaze turned to his sire’s solid and imposing presence. From a distance, his father could easily be mistaken for himself or Darius. The long black hair was the same. His father had the green eyes of the Starlaw clan and the massive build of all the men of their lineage. He was still exceedingly virile and athletic. But his safety came first.
“Father, you’re the king of Luster. It’s possible that citizens of an outlying planet, even though it’s a planet with which we hold diplomatic ties, may never recognize you. Especially if you’re out of royal trappings. They don’t hold to tradition in such places, so your image may not have been widely circulated. But all that considered, we can’t risk it. First, if anything goes wrong, you’ll be blamed. Second, if there’re pirates present who
recognize you, you’ll be targeted. Third, we’d only intervene for the sake of diplomatic alliances agreed on by some ancestor. Our own people might not understand your absence. Finally, as for that remark about not having family, you know what I meant. I have no wife or children. I’m the only one who should do this. My experience with similar matters trumps everyone’s.”