Coming July 16!
There's no doubt in Kitsune Jung's mind that he deserves the hellish punishment he receives at the hands of the Nephris. After betraying Rose Lee, he expects no less. He planned his own capture in a daring mission that went sadly awry. Now all he has to look forward to are long days of hard labor and the occasional appearance of Jahn, the handsome young employee of a powerful Nephris general.
Hu Fei Lee has gone undercover to rescue Kit Jung from imprisonment on the Black Planet. She knows about his past with Rose, but somehow the quiet, courageous slave just doesn't seem to be the venal, cowardly man she expected. Succumbing to a powerful attraction, she seduces Kit, but keeps her true identity a secret.
When the truth comes out, will Kit Jung be able to forgive Hu Fei Lee? And will his own secrets destroy the fragile bond of their love?
Hu Fei Lee never realized silence had a texture, especially silence as uneasy as this one. She stood in the center of the studio, still as a statue, with one arm extended before her, the other down by her belly in a block. One foot was out to the front, and most of her weight was on the rear foot. Sweat trickled down her forehead.
She moved, gliding through Pi Chuan, freezing as her weight shifted to the other foot.
"Uncle Milo, you can't possibly be serious!" Rose Lee's voice cut through the air like a whip.
"Pull. Chaun Sen."
She shifted into the water element, giving a graceful curve to the wrist; her weight more forward now. As before, she froze, focusing everything into perfecting that stance. Mentally, she reviewed her position, and then remembered to put the tip of her tongue to the roof of her mouth.
"I'm completely serious, Rose. Those are the orders from higher up."
"Kit Jung can just roast in whatever Nephris hellhole they've stuck him in."
Hu Fei glanced from the corner of her eye, watching the small cluster of her relatives argue in hushed voices.
She moved through, changing sides. Regardless of how distracting she found the conversation, her grandfather's focus never wavered. A gentle hand on the chin moved her attention forward.
"Under orders when he tried to seduce me in front of a camera? Or how 'bout when he pissed his pants on the bridge?"
"Rose, I think every person in this room has either wet their pants or lost their lunch when they've flown with you."
Hu Fei bit the inside of her cheek at her father's words. Rose's piloting skills were phenomenal indeed, but it took a certain fortitude to fly as her co-pilot.
"Thank you, Uncle Aiden. That completely absolves him." Rose's words dripped with sarcasm. "Now there's just that little matter of smuggling the crown jewels of Parsis and drugging me. Oh... and contacting the Nephris ship. No offence, baby, but he didn't know you weren't one of them."
Hu Fei heard Arad's gentle murmur of reassurance.
Absently, she stepped through to the other side.
"There are a few things we need to tell you about Kit Jung. You might not forgive him, but perhaps you'll at least consider helping us plan his extraction."
"Look, Uncle Milo, Uncle Darah, you guys handle the undercover part of this operation. Arad here teaches the recruits what they need to know about Nephris culture. I teach them to fight and take a punch. That's all."
She stepped through, made her turn, and faced the small group that was assembled at the front of the school. Hu Fei focused on her fingertips, but opened her vision so she could watch the action in front of her. Rose sat on the floor, her knees drawn up to her chest. Arad squatted on the floor next to her. His great black wings were extended protectively over her shoulders. Hu Fei's parents were also seated on the floor. Annie Tanaka sat cross-legged. Aiden Chen Lee was seated behind her, allowing her to lean against him. Milo Greene and Darah Lash leaned against the wall, facing the others.
"Kit is there undercover. We... they were hoping he'd eventually win the trust of those in power and move into their scientific community."
Once again, the room went silent. It was broken by Rose's laughter. "He's a scientist? Kit is motivated by two things in life: sex and money. He doesn't have any room in his head for anything more complex than how to put on a condom. You're telling me he's an undercover operative? That he planned his own capture?"
Arad Soheil cleared his throat. "I skin read him. He's... without conscience, without feelings."
"Sociopathic," Hu Fei's mother Annie supplied.
"Yes. It was very disturbing to find such callous disregard for others."
Arad tilted his head for a moment, clearly in communication with the other Thalian present. "Oh, that's what it is then."
Darah nodded his head.
"For those of us unable to read minds?" Rose crossed her arms defensively across her chest, propping them on her knees. Her short black hair was ruffled and messy, as though she'd been dragging her hand through it.
"Darah has informed me that Kit Jung worked extensively with Thalians to learn to block our scans. That would explain the disturbing read," Arad Soheil answered.
"Dr. Jung also agreed to take Thalian DNA material into his body to enable him to develop empathic skills. From the data I've seen, he's able to read nearly as accurately as a full Thalian." As always, her Uncle Milo's voice was smooth and dry like a good wine.
"No. Shit." Rose dropped forward, hiding her head on her knees. "Dr. Jung. He's a freakin' scientist."
Hu Fei nearly missed the cue as she watched the unfolding drama. Arad leaned forward, gently rubbing his wife's slender back. Rose relaxed into his touch. Hu's throat went a little tight as she watched the unspoken interaction between them. They were connected in a way Hu couldn't even imagine. Her eyes flicked to her parents. Like Rose and Arad, they were bound to one another by so much more than love. Though Milo and Darah stood apart, she couldn't miss the occasional brush of the hand that spoke of their need for one another. When Aunt Grace was with them, watching the three of them was like seeing a deftly choreographed dance they performed only for themselves.
"You guys must really be paying him a lot. I saw his fees for the courier job we took. I imagine the government sweetened the pot many times over. Little bastard never does anything that doesn't serve his purposes."
Milo Greene sighed, his form long and lean against the backdrop of sunlight. He'd forgone his normal black suit and was wearing loose cotton pants and a tee shirt as a concession to Hong Kong's sweltering heat. His hair was almost completely silver now, and she caught Darah watching him intently.
Did it hurt the big Thalian to know time was running out faster for his lover than for him? Like Hu Fei's mother Annie, their wife Grace had been treated by Thalian medicine. They'd flooded the women's bodies with transfusions from Thalian donors, and now both women had the longevity of the alien species. Their children had inherited that trait as well. Milo had resisted all suggestions that would have extended his life as well.
Gazing at Rose, she saw her cousin still favored her left arm. She'd been badly injured while on duty, and had also received Thalian medicine. She wondered if Rose realized she'd been altered on the molecular level.
"Pull." Hu's grandfather Guo Lee now stood next to her, moving through the slow, linear movement of the form with her. She felt power and energy radiate from his body. The scent of tobacco that always accompanied him tickled her nostrils. Immediately, a sense of peace settled over her, as it always did in his presence.
"This discussion is not to leave this room. Is that understood?" Milo's voice was stern.
"The only people I'd tell are right here, Uncle Milo."
Everyone else nodded. No one seemed to notice Hu Fei and Guo were just yards away.
"Obviously, Dr. Jung did this for the money."
"Surprise! Kit did something for money!" Rose's voice dripped with sarcasm.
Hu Fei's parents choked back their laughter. They'd had a great deal of the burden of raising the rather precocious Rose Lee, and had always enjoyed her borderline bitchy behavior.
Having been at the receiving end of it over the years, Hu Fei wasn't quite so amused.
Milo continued. "He has a twin sister. She's been fighting uterine cancer for many years now. His family has no means to pay for the treatments. In effect, Kit's life revolves around money because it's the only way he's been able to keep his sister alive."
Tears pricked at Hu Fei's eyes. The Thalians had found cures for so many illnesses, but they'd never gotten a handle on cancer. As soon as one type was conquered, it seemed another appeared.
"I didn't know." Rose sounded subdued.
"He didn't want anyone to know, you in particular. It would have jeopardized his entry into the Nephris culture." Darah's voice was gentle and understanding.
"He couldn't have known I would take him into custody. I could simply have had him killed!"
"Arad, he only knew what might happen. He knew the odds were excellent you would intercept Rose because of the data we received from your brother Nomi, and from Sala." Milo looked uncomfortable with that statement, as well he should. Arad would certainly be unhappy his twin had kept information from him.
"So now what?" Rose had clearly been won over and was ready to move ahead. Hu Fei had always liked that about her cousin. Rose had a mighty temper, but she knew when to put it away.
Hu Fei moved another step and froze, her attention never leaving the discussion.
"We need someone with skills similar to yours, Rose: piloting, fighting, the ability to go undercover, and to think and act on the fly," Milo said. "Knowledge of Nephris culture would be good. We were hoping one of your human recruits would be willing."
Rose gracefully rose to her feet, smiling as Arad gave her an arm up. The ink was still fresh on their wedding certificate.
Hu Fei wondered why they'd decided to take the plunge after being together over a year. Automatically, her gaze shifted to Rose's flat tummy. Humans and Thalians crossed easily, as Darah and Grace had demonstrated. It still surprised her that Rose had found a man from another world who was so perfect for her volatile personality.
"I don't really think any of the humans are appropriate. They're good. There's no doubt about that, but none are the whole package." She was still holding Arad's big hand.
A few names were tossed out, both male and female. They began considering some of the Thalian recruits. The dark Thalians were able to fold their wings nearly flat to their backs, an ability that had allowed Arad to pass among the Nephris for seven years undetected. The return of his breeding cycles had almost blown his cover. The risk of discovery was too great for undercover work. Most Thalian recruits were seeded into raids. Few had piloting skills.
"We need someone who can negotiate deep space, and then take a small craft down to the surface. From there, he'll need to pass for Nephris and move through their culture. The Thalians would be perfect with their ability to pick up thoughts."
Hu Fei's parents also rose from where they sat on the floor. In a moment, they were all on their feet, continuing their conversation.
"Pull. And relax."
Hu Fei sighed and shook out her arms. She stretched high to the ceiling, and then low to the floor. Guo Lee remained in the Pi stance, his eyes focused on nothing, though he saw everything.
"Hu Fei will do it." Her grandfather's voice cut through the buzz of conversation. Again, the room fell into thick, uncomfortable silence.
"No. Absolutely not." Annie's voice was quiet, but firm. Aiden looked from Guo Lee to Hu Fei, and then back to his wife.
"No, Grandpa. It's too soon." His voice was tight with tension. Fear?
"I'll do it." Hu Fei bent to tighten the laces of her shoes. She straightened and looked calmly at her parents.
"Hu Fei!" Annie's voice took on an edge of fear.
She sighed, knowing she needed to comfort them, but uncertain how to do so. The ability to interact with others had been just one of the skills she'd lost years ago. Now she remained around the family, but felt separate and isolated. After surviving the attack, depression had settled on Hu Fei's slender shoulders, and only Guo Lee's stubborn insistence on coaching her daily had kept her on her feet and alive. Now it was time to move from existing to living again.
"I'm well. I'm healthy as I've ever been. If you need someone as good as Rose, then you need me."
"Well, maybe you're nearly as good as me..."
She spared a smile for her cousin.
Guo Lee tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned away from her family, ready to resume practice with her Sifu.
There were no other arguments.