By Cynthia Sax
Now Available From Ellora’s Cave
Solar cycles ago, Elle bonded with Berke, the fiercest of all Warlords. He declared their sexually intense bonding a mistake, deposited Elle on a distant planet and returned to Chamele to fight the wars of succession. Elle dealt with their separation by creating one of the best bounty-hunter schools in the galaxies.
Now, two of her top students have made the same mistake she did, bonding with Chamele Warlords. Determined to develop an antidote and save them from the pain she’s experienced, Elle captures her barbarian mate. Tempers flare and passions burn as she thaws the ice around Berke’s heart, revealing a desire too strong to ever be dissolved.
Because the most savage lust and love is hidden within the coldest of Warlords.
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Only Zeta and Gale could induce me to leave my sanctuary and return to this cursed planet. Elle trudged across the barren plains of Chamele 1, her boots crunching on the crystallized snow.
I told all of my bounty hunters to avoid the Chamele system but did those two listen? No. The winds blasted against Elle’s back, pellets of ice biting into her white, cold-temperature suit.
Not only did they enter the system but they then compounded their bad decisions by bonding with Berke’s brothers. Warlords who are, I suspect, as arrogant as he is. Elle gritted her teeth and stomped toward the rock outcropping, venting her irritation on the frozen ground.
I should leave Zeta and Gale to share my fate, their misguided belief in lasting love forcing them to avoid all contact with other males, to spend their life spans isolated, alone, trapped.
Elle sighed, knowing she couldn’t be that heartless, not when she could cure her friends and spare them that pain. She continued her solitary trek. Each step brought her closer to the hardhearted male she needed for their cure and her anger flowed into bone-deep dread.
She’d met Berke mere steps away from this location. She’d been a young bounty hunter then and had crashed upon the planet while chasing a fugitive. She had tried to borrow a Chamele ship. Berke had intercepted her. He’d risen from a snow bank as though he’d been part of the land he guarded, rushed toward her with his inhuman speed, disarmed her easily, and pinned her to the unrelenting ground.
Elle had looked upward, met his dark gaze and awareness had flowed over her body, a sense of home engulfing her. From that instant onward, her heart had belonged to him, would always belong to him. She’d returned with Berke to his underground chambers and they’d spent many planet rotations playing, hunting, kissing, touching. He’d teased her about being a weak human. She’d called him a barbarian.
One sundown, they’d gone too far physically, sexually bonding, an act Elle had cherished and Berke had regretted. He’d called it a mistake, his cold voice cutting through her soul. After that, the playing had stopped, replaced with increasingly frantic rutting. When Berke had taken her to Dorian 2 and left her there, she’d known he wouldn’t ever return.
Elle had been right. She’d given her bounty-hunter-school students the task of monitoring Dorian 2, solar cycles had passed and Berke hadn’t returned. He must have found a strong, worthy Chamele mate by now, had offspring, loved and been loved. She blinked back tears, feeling foolish for mourning a relationship that wasn’t meant to be.
He doesn’t care about me. I shouldn’t care about him. Elle tossed her head back defiantly, ice-covered strands of hair rattling against her cold-burned cheeks. I’ll capture him, run my experiments, break the bond, repeat the process for Zeta and Gale, leave Berke and the Chamele system forever.
She ignored the ache in her heart and scanned her surroundings, searching for danger, a habit ingrained from solar cycles of hunting fugitives. The sun’s rays had dimmed through space and cast a bluish glow over the desolate plains and jagged rock formations, the land as harsh and as humorless as the Warlord who ruled it.
Don’t think of him, of his hard body, his big hands, his sensual black eyes. Elle turned her back to the outside world, hunched her shoulders against the elements and carefully placed tabs on her gloved fingertips. She reached into the crevice, the break in the rock wall serving as a hidden backdoor to the Warlord’s private residences.
There was no sudden jolt that usually came with disrupting a Chamele security system. Elle frowned and peered into the darkness, her eyes adjusting slowly to the lack of light. Tabs already broke the circuit, deactivating the sensors.
Someone has already infiltrated Berke’s stronghold. Elle’s body tensed, her muscles pulling tight with concern over a male she shouldn’t care about.
Or he knows I’m coming for him. Elle relaxed. That scenario was more likely. Berke closely monitored landings on his planet. Even during that last visit to Dorian 2, the planet he’d left her on many solar cycles ago, he’d tracked activity on Chamele 1, putting his people’s safety first, before her, before their doomed relationship.
I no longer have the element of surprise. The challenge excited her. Elle pressed the button in her right cuff and her suit darkened to a concealing black. She slid into the crevice, entering the Warlord’s underground domain. The temperature increased immediately and the ice dangling from her eyelashes melted, the liquid splitting the light from the wall torches into a dizzying range of bright colors.
She moved along the narrow corridor, sprinting soundlessly from shadow to shadow. Her feet tingled, the feeling returning to her toes. The air grew warmer as she descended into the mining planet. Water dripped along the stone walls and perspiration slid between her breasts, invisible fingers of moisture stroking her skin.
Elle turned a corner and reeled backward as though she’d been struck. A piercing pain assaulted her brain and the air burned her nostrils. Threat. She searched the space, seeking the source of her agony.
A tall bare-chested male leaned against the far wall, taking inventory of his weapons. He moved his hands methodically over his daggers and guns, his body covered with an impressive array of weapons.
The strange male didn’t need a weapon to hurt her. Elle’s stomach heaved and bile rose in her throat, every moment spent away from Berke having reduced her tolerance for another male’s presence.
Ignore…pain. Elle breathed in, breathed out, breathed in, breathed out, pressing her body into a naturally formed alcove, the rock hard against her back. She examined the guard as she fought for composure, contemplating her next move.
The male had Berke’s long black hair, tanned skin and dark eyes. Despite the Chamele warrior’s broader, more heavily scarred face, Elle saw his resemblance to the Warlord. He must be one of Berke’s beloved brothers. The pain leveled, allowing her to think, to take action.
I’ll capture him also. She plucked at her gloves, drawing the fabric higher over her wrists, concealing all of her exposed skin. If I can capture him. The brother’s defined chest, bulging biceps and thick, leg-covering-clad thighs made him a daunting opponent. Elle extracted the gun from her right hip holster, slid the lever to stun and aimed.
The brother raised his head, his dark eyes widened in alarm and she pressed the trigger. His face contorted and he fell silently to his knees.
“Gotcha,” Elle whispered. She holstered her gun and quickly, carefully strapped a leather gag over the brother’s closed mouth, preventing him from yelling for help.
Her captive jerked backward, his bare shoulder brushed Elle’s cheek and searing pain shot across her face, down her neck, welts bubbling on her skin. Moisture dripped from her nostrils, her head pounding and her knees shaking.
Elle bit back a curse. Once one of the best bounty hunters in the galaxies, she had almost been incapacitated by a mere touch.
“I should kill your brother for that offense alone,” she murmured. Bonding with Berke had ruined any chance she had of enjoying a normal life, her affliction forcing her to resign from active bounty hunting and to sequester herself at the all-female bounty-hunter school.
The captured warrior’s gaze met hers, his jaw dropped, and the gag automatically tightened, strangling any protest he might make.
“And I should kill you for bonding with my friend, whichever one of my dear friends you have in your grasp.” She pulled his arms back and bound his wrists, the reinforced restraints unbreakable even by a Chamele warrior.
“But killing you now would hurt either Zeta or Gale, something I’d never do.” She restrained his boot-covered ankles. “I’ll capture Berke and come back for you.” Elle stood back, studied him and nodded curtly, satisfied he wouldn’t be able to free himself.
“Don’t go anywhere.” She continued along the corridor, glad to be away from Berke’s brother, away from the physical pain he caused her.
Berke will cause me another type of pain. She steeled herself for that confrontation. I’m stronger, stronger than he thinks.
As Elle approached his private chambers, she frowned. The alarms around the back entrance had been activated. Did they expect the brother to stop me? She snorted softly as she placed tabs on the sensors. Berke had always underestimated her, his weak human mate.
Prepare for a nasty surprise, Warlord. Elle pressed her glove against the control panel, the simulated handprint mimicking Berke’s creased palm and scarred fingers.
The doors slid open, and a tantalizing wall of musk hit her, Berke’s scent holding no pain, only pure pleasure. My male. Elle’s pussy moistened and her nipples tightened, the rush of emotion making her head spin.
No. She pressed her lips together, fighting her arousal. He’s no longer your male, Elle. He’s your target. Focus on your target.
She slipped inside, searching for a shadow to hide in. There wasn’t any concealing darkness, the space brightly lit, and panic rose within her, swirling with her desire.
“You shouldn’t be here,” an achingly familiar voice rumbled, Berke’s words reaching deep inside of her, weakening her knees and stripping her pride. “It isn’t safe.”