Bryce by Jessica E. Subject

Bryce by Jessica E. Subject

Bryce

Galactic Defenders, Book 1

by Jessica E. Subject

Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9948431-9-7
Print ISBN: 978-1-988428-00-0

[ Space Opera Romance, MF ]

Bryce, a dedicated Galactic Defender on a mission, is reunited with his one and only love, the missing princess of Hemera. Will they have a second chance at love, or will fate rip them apart as it did years ago?

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Chapter One


Bryce raised his crossbow, lining his sights on the creature standing amongst the bushes, its branch-like tentacles undulating in the gentle breeze. Focusing the crosshairs on the alien’s torso, he drew in a deep breath. He had one shot. If he missed, the Erebus would cry out and alert the natives of Terra to its existence, resulting in more casualties. At first glance, no one on the planet, also called Earth, would believe an Erebus anything more than an overgrown bush, but Bryce knew the truth. He’d trained to hunt the creatures from childhood.

Each step carefully placed, he advanced until he stood twenty feet from the Erebus, no chance to miss the shot. With a slight movement of his finger, he squeezed the trigger, sending a zuranium-tipped arrow racing toward the alien.

“Quinn, would you grab me another garbage bag?”

Fornax. The creature lunged toward the female voice, Bryce’s arrow stuck in one of its tentacles. A kill, but not instant.

He loaded another arrow. At the risk of being seen, he charged through the hedges. He had to cut the Erebus off before it had a chance to kill the Terran. He leaped over metal furniture and large urns, keeping his focus on the creature.

“What the hell? Get out of my yard!”

The woman rushed him, but Bryce darted around her. When the Erebus lumbered in front of him, he raised his weapon and fired. A clean shot to the middle. The creature dropped like a fallen log, crushing the furniture it landed on.

Bryce loaded the crossbow again. No time to celebrate the kill. He had to worry about the possibility of other Erebus in the area, along with the Terran woman who had seen him. Instead of running away screaming, as he’d expected her to do, she stared, wide-eyed in horror. Not at him, but the Erebus. Her body trembled as she shuffled backward, mumbling incomprehensible words.

An unexpected sense of familiarity washed over him. He couldn’t draw his attention away from her slim figure, the way her long brown hair flowed over her shoulders. Far more attractive than he’d pictured the Terrans when others talked about them. He took a closer glance. Lalia? How had she traveled so far from home without anyone knowing? She was no stranger, and definitely not Terran. Or, perhaps she was simply a doppelganger of the woman he’d once loved. He had the sudden urge to comfort her, relieve her worry. Hold her in his arms the way he had many years ago. But what if the missing princess had somehow made her way to a planet unaware life existed beyond their own? After she’d left Hemera and him behind without so much as a goodbye, he’d searched everywhere. Though not once had he thought to look on Terra.

A ground-shattering bellow pierced the night. Bryce spun around, finding himself face-to-face with another Erebus. It stared at him with beady red eyes. Thick black goop dripped from its mouth.

Bryce raised his bow, but the creature slammed him with one of its tentacles, flinging him back. The Erebus lunged at Lalia.

Rolling to his knees, Bryce aimed and fired. He hit the alien from behind, launching it forward. Onto his former lover. Slinging the bow over his shoulder, he raced toward her. The creature’s tentacles still pulsed, even though dead. Careful not to trip himself up, he shoved his hands under the creature’s torso and heaved it off her.

Lalia stood immediately and wiped the black goop from her clothes, as if she hadn’t been flattened by an alien. “They weren’t supposed to follow me. I was supposed to be safe here.”

“Lindsay?” A Terran man appeared in the doorway of the house. He surveyed the property before his eyes focused on Bryce. “What the hell is going on? Who is that guy?”

Lindsay? Maybe she wasn’t the woman he remembered, but his tired mind played tricks on his lonely heart.

“Go back inside, Quinn.” She held her hand in front of her, slowly heading toward the other man. “It’s not safe out here.”

“I’m not going anywhere until—”

An Erebus leaped over the hedges, landing mere feet from the man. Erebus generally traveled in packs, but specimens this large had never been hunted so far from the systems in the Galactic Alliance. With one swipe of a tentacle, the Erebus knocked Bryce onto his back. He grabbed his bow and loaded an arrow. He shot. Too late. The alien pounced upon Quinn, its poisonous saliva filling the Terran’s mouth.

Bryce lurched forward and heaved the alien off the man. He scooped the tar-like substance from his mouth. “Spit it out. Don’t swallow.” No one had ever survived an attack, but he had to try. Though with the black foam pouring from the man’s mouth, Bryce feared the worst.

“Hey, there’s another Erebus.”

The fact Lindsay knew the name of the creature gave him pause, but only for a second. Bryce pivoted and shot the creature the moment he had the arrow loaded. And missed. The Erebus bounded toward Lindsay, and she blocked his direct shot at the creature. With no other option, Bryce dashed to her, hoping to thrust her out of the way before the Erebus could pin her down. Closing in, he realized they would reach the Terran woman at the same time. As the creature launched into the air to attack, Bryce dove for her midsection. He skidded across the ground with her before the alien flew over them. It skidded to a halt, spinning around for another attack.

At the same moment Bryce readied his weapon, a younger woman raced out of the house, holding a knife above her head. She launched off the deck, flying through the air toward the moving alien. Before he could get a shot off, she plunged the knife into the back of the Erebus, dropping the creature to the ground.

What in Gaspra? Bryce stared, stunned by what he’d witnessed. She could only have killed the creature with a zuranium blade, metal not believed to exist on Earth.

Yet, Bryce had no time to confirm. He needed to secure the yard then get the two women to a safe house. They had already seen him and the Erebus. Pollux and his squad couldn’t erase what the Terrans had witnessed, but he could protect them from another attack.

After grabbing the canister from the side pocket of his pack, he thrust it at Lindsay. “Spread this around the edge of your property.” The zuranium powder would keep the Erebus back, give him a chance to get them to safety before he tackled the front of the house, allowing the cleanup squad the opportunity to do their job without coming under attack.

“But, Quinn…. He’s gone?” She glanced behind her at the foaming lump, once a man, her body quivering. “This is all my fault.”

Bryce gripped her biceps to hold her still. “No, it’s not. None of this is your fault.” Only his. He’d been too careless, easily distracted. “But, I need you to take the powder and spread it along the edge of your yard. There are likely more Erebus on the way. Okay?”

Lindsay nodded, and while she sprinkled the metal powder along the bushes surrounding the yard, Bryce surveyed the area. He didn’t want to be caught unawares by another creature. The younger woman sat next to the remains of Quinn, holding her knees and rocking back and forth. She never should have had to kill an Erebus. He’d failed at his job. Failed her, Lindsay, and the dead Terran.

Far too many beings had died across the universe at the hands of the Erebus, an experiment gone wrong by a now-extinct race. They’d thrown the creatures into the sun to burn, trying to put an end to their mistake. But the move produced the opposite effect, multiplying the Erebus’s numbers and giving them transport to many systems and worlds through solar winds.

The Defenders of the Galactic Alliance fought to bring the Erebus population to extinction and end the casualties of the innocent. Yet, so many still perished. Including the man in front of them. Bryce’s fault for becoming mesmerized by the appearance of the woman called Lindsay. As a Defender, he had one responsibility, and it wasn’t to reminisce on his sexual escapades. He’d locked away all memories and feelings for Princess Lalia after she’d fled Hemera. But one Terran woman brought the heartache rushing back, leading to an innocent man’s death.

***

Lindsay shivered as the Kalaren Galactic Defender eyed her, his brow ridge prominent in his look of disdain. Glancing away from his stare, she pressed her temples. She never should have escaped to this planet. Her fate was to die like everyone else back home, not to pretend to be a Terran, to have a life when none of her kind survived the Erebus attacks on Hemera. They had to have followed her to Earth somehow, and now they would destroy those she knew, and eventually all of Earth.

The Kalaren slammed Katrina’s knife on the table. “Where did you get a zuranium blade?”

“It is an heirloom belonging to my family for generations.” Turning her back to him, she pulled her hair aside, exposing the back of her neck. “I’m the only Hemera to survive the Erebus attack.”

Her daughter gasped beside her. “What the hell does that mean? Mom, you said those spots were just a bunch of birthmarks we shared. What’s going on?”

“Give me a minute, and I’ll explain everything.” The truth wouldn’t be easy for her daughter to hear. Not after growing up believing she belonged on the planet.

“Impossible.” The Defender moved behind Lindsay and ran his fingers along the back of her neck, over her people’s markings, a bold move for a stranger, especially one not from Earth. His touch sent a thrill through her body, one she hadn’t experienced for a long time. Not since Quinn had last made love to her, a year before he’d presented her with divorce papers. Though her ex-husband—visiting to celebrate Katrina’s eighteenth birthday and now dead on the deck outside the patio window—had never been able to penetrate the part of her heart belonging to a man from her past, and from the same planet as the Kalaren touching her.

“You are a Comosova. You’re royalty.” The Kalaren moved in front of her and bent down on one knee with a quick bow of his head. “Lalia, I am very sorry I failed to save your partner. I should have been there to defend him, and I failed.”

Comosova? Lalia? How did he know her former identity? Lindsay hooked a finger under the Kalaren’s chin and lifted until his gaze met hers. She stared into his eyes, looking for something familiar. A long time ago, she’d fallen in love with a Kalaren Defender, but her parents had convinced her she provided a diversion for him, believed Kalarens stole the innocence of women all over the universe before moving on to the next pretty face. Had the man she’d given her virginity to, the one who’d stolen her heart, found her again on this planet?

“Mom, what’s going on?” Katrina slapped her hands on the table. “What were those ugly things in the backyard? What did they do to Dad?”

Lindsay tucked memories of her first love away. She turned in her chair and gazed across the table to her daughter who had been adopted by Quinn the day of her birth. After the divorce, her ex-husband only showed up on Katrina’s birthdays. And, over all those years, Lindsay had tried to keep her heritage from Katrina. What child wanted to know her mother came from another planet? Or could keep the fact a secret? She refused to have her daughter taken by children’s services because they believed her an unfit mother. But, after today, her daughter needed to know the truth. “The Erebus invaded my home planet of Hemera. I saw my parents murdered, and then, before I could comprehend the loss, the attack on the planet, my handler whisked me away to Earth. She didn’t survive the flight, so I am the last of my kind.”

“Not so.” The Kalaren rested his hands on her shoulders and began to lightly massage. Another bold move. Could he possibly be the Defender she remembered?

Holding in a soft moan, she squeezed her thighs. The man’s touch reminded her of what she’d once shared with her first love, Bryce, memories she’d held onto for many years. She shook away the ill-timed desire. The Erebus had found her and killed her ex-husband in front of her daughter. And now the Defender claimed others survived? “What do you mean?”

“You are not the last of your kind, Lalia.” He stroked the soft spot behind her ear, a sure sign of affection.

“Bryce?” She jumped to her feet and turned to face the Defender. He had to be the man she remembered, though older and more battle weary. No one else would dare caress her in such a manner, especially one who knew her true identity.

He nodded, and she fought to contain the urge to jump into his arms. She’d never expected to see him again or, if she did, thought he wouldn’t remember her or even care to as her mother had tried to convince her.

“Your brother now rules the planet, and I can take you there. But we must leave now.” He reached out his hand. “Before the Erebus return.”

“But Quinn…he was my husband.” Past tense, but better to worry about him than to focus on the teenage lust threatening to explode from within her. “I can’t just leave.”

“From the bottom of my heart, I’m truly sorry for your loss.” Bryce bowed, regret etched into the creases around his eyes. “But, if we don’t go now, more Erebus will arrive to hunt us down. You know the amount of destruction and death they can cause.”

She did, having lost her parents and the life she knew because of them. Steeling her nerves, she followed Bryce away from the window.

The sudden howl of an Erebus made her jump. The hedge around the yard bent over as if assaulted by hurricane-strength winds. A crash came from the front of the house; something hard and heavy slammed against the door. They had no time left.

Bryce yanked her across the kitchen then grabbed Katrina. “I am Bryce of the Kalaren, and I am going to get you and your mother out of here right now.” He fished around in his pocket then pulled out an oval blue object and pressed the sole orange button on it.

A large hole appeared in the middle of the kitchen, a swirling mass of red and purple. Lindsay shrank back, worried the hole would cause more damage than an Erebus, but Bryce halted her retreat and urged her forward. “It will take you to a safe house. Stay there until I come for you.”

Safe? With the Erebus after her? As her stomach churned, the circle inched closer. It pulled at her like a vacuum, sucking her and Katrina into it mass. Katrina screamed. The mass pushed in on them before shooting them out the other side like a slingshot.

Katrina fell to the ground with a whimper. Slumping beside her, Lindsay willed her head to stop spinning. She’d heard the alien hunters used wormholes, but had never seen or traveled through one, and hoped to never again. Holding her daughter’s head to her chest, she stroked her hair. She’d vowed to keep Katrina from knowing of this life. Running and hiding. Earth was supposed to keep her from all that.

“Mom, what’s going on?” Katrina sat up and pulled away. “Please tell me this is all a bad dream.”

“I wish.” She reached for her daughter’s hands and held them tight. “There is so much I have withheld from you for your own safety. But, to understand what’s going on, you need to know the truth.”

Katrina glanced up at her, her bottom lip quivering. “What about Dad? Will he survive? Will I ever see him again? I know he only visits on my birthdays, but still….”

She cupped her daughter’s cheek. “I’m so sorry, sweetie, but the Erebus killed him. And….” Lindsay swallowed the lump in her throat. Time to reveal the lie. “Quinn is not your biological father.”

Katrina scooted away from her. “No. How could you, Mom?” She didn’t cry or scream, simply shook her head. “How could you keep so much from me? About my life? It’s my eighteenth birthday, and I’m supposed to be considered an adult. But all I want to do is hide, crawl into some dark corner and pretend everything I’ve seen in the last hour never happened. I mean, my dad is dead, and not even my dad. The backyard looks like a roofing company had an accident back there, but I’m not even at home. I’m stuck God knows where with you, an alien. If you’d have told me about any of this beforehand, I could have been prepared for today.”

“No! Nothing can prepare you for an Erebus attack.” Folding her hands in her lap, Lindsay glanced away. She thought she’d done the right thing, protected her daughter from harm and a life on Hemera controlled by backward politics. “When you were young, I thought it was for the best. And as you got older, I wanted to tell you, but there never seemed to be a good time.”

“So, you wait until the mutant tentacle creatures attack our house, when they kill the man I believed to be my father?” Katrina stood and paced in front of a small semi-circular table. “What the hell are we, anyway? What did that guy mean calling you a princess? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

“I’m sorry. I never expected today to happen. I thought I’d left it all behind. Traveled far enough away the Erebus would never come here, that the life I once knew would never catch up with me.” Lindsay let her daughter digest the little bit she’d told her. Besides, nothing she had to say would make the situation better. Instead, she glanced at their surroundings for the first time since arriving. Bryce had sent them to a tiny A-frame house with a loveseat in front of the fireplace, a desk covered in various extraterrestrial electronics—most of which she didn’t understand—and a bathroom and petite bedroom holding nothing but a bed, at the back. A mini fridge sat against the wall in between the two rooms with cupboards above it. A small bit of counter rested on the outside wall near the bathroom, with a sink and built-in oven. In the middle of the minimalist space, a ladder touched the ground, leading up to another modest room. With every surface covered in a thick layer of dust, the owners must not have visited the place in a while. Lindsay had expected to be sent off planet, but, from the logs used as walls and supports for the house, and the 1970s furnishings, she doubted they’d left Earth. How long did she have before Bryce arrived? With the zuranium blade in his possession, she and Katrina would be dead by the time he showed up if an Erebus somehow found them. Yet, she had so much to tell her daughter, and painful memories to dig up.

Katrina stopped pacing and crossed her arms. “So, who is my father? Likely some extraterrestrial based on everything else I’ve learned today.”

Lindsay sucked in a deep breath. Only Lindsay and her parents knew the identity of Katrina’s biological father. They’d sent her away to keep it that way. The Defenders received respect across the galaxy, but she wasn’t supposed to fall in love with one. “Your father is Bryce.”

“The guy who sent us here?” Katrina touched the skin at the bridge of her nose.

“Yes. I met him at your age. He was assigned to guard the palace leading up to and during the Allorama, the spring celebration.”

“Palace?” Katrina wrinkled her nose. “You mean you really are royalty?”

“I was a princess on Hemera, the oldest child of my parents. I would have been coroneted as queen when my father became ill or passed onto the afterlife. But the Erebus attacked the day before the Allorama was set to happen. My parents were killed, and I was rushed off to Earth.” Pregnant, and completely alone after her handler died on the way to the new planet.

Katrina pulled out a wooden chair and sat down, perhaps finally ready to listen. “So, how did you hook up with my real dad?”

“I made a habit of sneaking out of the palace to get away from the suitors my parents wanted me to meet.” A pattern she’d started as a child, leaving the grounds to play with the common children or disappearing into the woods to be completely alone.

“They were arranging your marriage?” Her daughter’s nose flared. “Don’t think you can try that kind of thing with me. I won’t marry someone because you tell me to.”

“And I felt the same way.” Lindsay took a seat beside her daughter. “That’s why I went out for some air. They arranged several banquets in the months leading up to the Allorama, where I was supposed to get to know my suitors to decide which I would marry. I couldn’t take any of them, with their desire for money, and unwanted groping.” She shivered at the memory of a particular instance. “Bryce stopped me at the door one night. He wouldn’t let me leave but said I could spend the rest of the evening talking with him. I learned about his training and some of his missions. And I kept going back. I spent time with him every evening, went back to his quarters when he finished his shift. I fell in love.”

“And got pregnant.” Katrina winced. “I don’t need the details.”

“Yes.” The image of the digital readout of her pregnancy test flashed through her mind. She’d cried for joy, excited to tell Bryce the next time she saw him. But her parents learned the news first, catching her with the readout in her hand. Her mother convinced Lindsay the Defender had used her for sex, likely had bragged to the rest of his squad how he had tainted the princess. Once he left for his next mission, he would forget all about her. “My parents demanded I never see him again and arranged for me to travel to Earth after the Allorama to have you, and leave you at the hospital. But the Erebus attacked first.” She’d never wanted to believe her mother’s words but couldn’t avoid the doubts they implanted in her mind. Especially when Bryce didn’t come to look for her during the attack or search for her after.

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