About the Book
Jame, an Emoran princess and assistant arbiter, takes on the most difficult case at the military compound in Ynit: arguing for the rehabilitation of former Supreme Commander, Tigh the Terrible. Between Jame’s changing feelings for her childhood sweetheart and pressure to return home, and Tigh’s rejection of the family business, they become kindred spirits in their struggles against family and societal expectations. Will they be able to break from their inherited paths and achieve their dream of a future together?
“The author wove a great story and, even though I know I should wait until tomorrow to buy the sequel, I’ll be purchasing and loading it onto my ebook reader in just a few minutes. There wasn’t a page, let alone a scene, that I would have missed of this book. I hated to see it end.” – Lesbian Fiction Reviews
Tigh stared at her door for several heartbeats, knowing she was supposed to go to Pendon Larke’s office after her morning meal. Despite her slow and deliberate consumption of the food, the tray sat empty outside the door. Unsettling evidence that she had to be on her way.
She inspected her face in the tarnished mirror. She looked a little better than she had a few days earlier. At least she didn’t look like Bal’s ghost. She straightened to her full height and studied the spotless white tunic and leggings. The nervous lad had brought a clean set for her with the meal. White was not as utilitarian a color as the black she had gotten used to and the cotton weave was harder to keep clean than good leather. The clothing’’s lightness made her feel vulnerable and that was the last thing she wanted to feel.
She turned to the door. She had to leave soon or they’d come and get her. In her army that would be humiliating and Guards didn’t react well to humiliation. She swallowed down the memories of that person she used to be and searched within herself for the sword-strong backbone she had once possessed.
“I can do this,” she muttered. “It’s just a door. I’ve walked through thousands of doors without a thought. It’s not like I have to go outside.” Her breath caught as she pushed down a panic attack. What did they do to me that I fear walking in the sunshine and fresh air? “You’ve as much backbone as a newborn lamb. Just step through the door. You can always turn back.”
Soothed by that thought, she took a step and fell into a Guard trick by raising her consciousness to a state that felt as if she was floating outside her body, removing herself from her actions. She was out the door and staring down the corridor without even realizing she had moved.
The assistant healer gaping wide-eyed at her from his little table at the end of the corridor helped her relax. People staring at her in fear was as familiar as her favorite boots and the healer’’s stare made her forget the Elite Guard was no longer within her.
She walked down the corridor, concentrating on stretching her leg muscles. As far as she knew, she hadn’t been on her feet for any length of time during the past several weeks and her legs screamed from the neglect. She glanced through the barred doors of the cells that had once belonged to her comrades and confirmed she was the only one left on that floor. She wondered if watching over this floor was considered a prime assignment or a punishment for the assistant healers.
Tigh stopped a few paces in front of the table. The assistant healer looked as if he was trying to say something, but all he could manage was a straggled noise in his throat.
“I was told I have to sign in and out,” Tigh said.
The assistant healer stopped his efforts to communicate with visible relief and nodded. “Here.” He pushed his chair to the wall, pointed to a ledger, and snapped his hand out of the way.
Tigh picked up the pen, scribbled her name, and, after glancing at the sand clock on the wall, the time. She straightened and captured the assistant healer’s eyes with her own. His wide brown eyes brimmed with near panic. “I’ve been down the corridor with my door unlocked for two days. You’ve no reason to be frightened of me.”
“That’’s what Pendon said,” the assistant healer said in a shaky voice.
“He should know. He helped cleanse me, after all.” Tigh raised an eyebrow and turned down the short corridor to the central stairs. The clatter of the chair dropping back on all four legs echoed behind her. The world was as afraid of her as she was of the world. The thought was not comforting.
She paused at the top of the large stone staircase. Her mind flashed to the last time she had walked down those steps, when she had to fight against the surging flow of black clad Guards in full battle gear. They had been on their way to the plains of Hillian for what had been the last campaign of the war. She fought back memories of that bittersweet event that had marked the end of her career as a Guard and the start of her two years as a fugitive.
The fall of her soft boots on the worn stone stairs penetrated the silence of the stairwell. She could almost see and hear the Guards huddling on the steps, jogging up and down the flights to keep in shape, testing the echo with midnight drunken vocalizations . . . the central stairwell had been a living place. Tigh couldn’t remember it ever being empty or silent.
She walked numbly down two flights. The silence overwhelmed her with a profound sense of loss, and she collapsed onto the glacial step. The idea that she would never see her comrades again or raise a sword in battle alongside them brought on a wave of grief the depths of which felt bottomless. Five years of her life, filled with the heightened reality that the Guard enhancements gave her, had been stolen from her. She loved being a warrior and a Guard. Nothing compared to the feeling of invincibility in battle or the elation of victory. Even if she couldn’t face Tigh the Terrible’s ruthlessness, her heart ached for the company of her comrades in arms.
She clenched her fists in anger. That life had been ripped away from them by the Federation Council in an act as ruthless as anything Tigh the Terrible had ever committed. Their victory had not been celebrated with parades and they never received sashes of honor. Their reward had been a relentless hunt to capture them and strip them of the life they had loyally given to the state.
Tigh snapped her head up. She wiped away her tears with her sleeve and knew she”d been there far too long. The last thing she wanted was to be found sobbing like a lost child. She concentrated on settling her thoughts and emotions and made it down the remaining flights of steps.
As she stood in the main entry hall of the fortress, she realized she didn’t know which office Pendon Larke had taken over. Gray-robed healers and a few Guards in white tunics passed by, but she wasn”t ready to talk to any of them yet. Her legs moved from habit and she found herself at the threshold of her old office. Through the opened doorway, she was puzzled to see Loena Sihlor behind her old work table.
Loena looked up and put on a welcoming smile. “Good morning, Tigh. Pendon is expecting you. He’’s the next door down.”
Tigh stared at her, still fumbling with the idea that this was no longer her office. “Thanks.” She shuffled to the next opened door.
Pendon, seated behind a table, looked up from his work. “Come in, come in. Sit.” He waved a bony hand and Tigh slipped into the office, glanced around it in search of something familiar, and sank into the visitors chair. “Good, very good. And on the first try, too.” The wrinkles around Pendon’s eyes threatened to obscure them as he grinned.
“First try,” Tigh said.
“Sometimes it takes days for a cleansed Guard to make that first step outside their room,” Pendon said. “You made it on the first try in only a few sandmarks. Good work.”
Tigh sat back and stared dumbfounded at Pendon. The compliment did nothing to lessen the pain those few sandmarks had brought. If this was an example of the healers” blind attitude toward cleansing then it was a miracle a Guard got through rehabilitation sane, much less alive.