Vaulcron (Enigma Series Book 3), page 1
By Ditter Kellen
Copyright © by Ditter Kellen
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For my husband, my hero...my friend. Thank you for your support and belief in me. I love you.
Cathe Green, my beta reader and friend. You will forever be dear to my heart. I love you.
Vaulcron jogged across the sand, slowing his steps as Mallory began to fall behind. “It is not too late for me to carry you,” he called out, glancing over his shoulder.
“I’m fine. We’re almost there.”
Vaulcron could see the plane through a copse of trees in the distance. “I have a bad feeling about climbing aboard that thing. Are you certain it is safe?”
Mallory laughed, stopping next to him to take hold of his arm. “It’s perfectly safe. I fly all the time.” She began to move, leaving him no choice but to follow.
“Brother?” Hauke’s voice suddenly penetrated Vaulcron’s mind. “Do not do this.”
“It is the only way,” Vaulcron sent back. “If I do not go, Aukrabah will be lost forever. I refuse to run for the rest of my life.”
“Are you certain that you can trust her? You could be walking into a trap.”
Vaulcron glanced at Mallory’s small frame as she trekked toward the plane. “I trust her, Hauke. She is our only hope at the moment.”
“Wait for me. I will come with you.”
“No. I would not risk your life, my brother. You have a son to protect.”
Vaulcron shut down his mental link with Hauke as he and Mallory came to a stop next to the plane.
She turned to face him. “Don’t say anything. Let me deal with the pilot.”
With a nod, Vaulcron followed her onto the plane.
“What the hell?” the pilot barked, jumping to his feet.
Mallory faced off with him, her shoulders back, chin lifted. “Is there a problem, Richard?”
“You’re not bringing that thing on board. Those creatures are contagious.” Richard pulled a small handgun from beneath his seat and pointed it in Vaulcron’s direction. “Back off.”
Vaulcron stepped forward, blocking Mallory from the pilot’s view. “I mean you no harm.”
“They are not the cause of the virus,” Mallory persisted, moving to stand next to Vaulcron. “Do you think I would be with him if he were contagious?”
Doubt registered in the pilot’s eyes. “But the news—”
“Is misinformed,” Mallory interrupted. “Which is why I am here to bring him back to the States. I’m doing an interview to attempt to clear the Bracadytes’ names so they can return to their home.”
Richard glanced at Vaulcron before shifting his gaze back to Mallory. “I don’t know about this.”
“Maybe this will convince you.” Mallory reached into her purse and pulled a stack of bills free. “It’s five thousand dollars.”
The pilot’s eyes lit up, and he lowered the gun. “Fine, but you sit in the back. Any sudden movements, and I won’t hesitate to shoot it.”
“Deal,” Mallory bit out, before ushering Vaulcron to the last row of seats and buckling him in.
Vaulcron stared out the window of the small Cessna plane that Mallory Cahill had insisted he board, listening to the engine come to life.
His stomach twisted in knots as he watched the plane leave the ground, the trees beneath him slowly becoming smaller.
Mallory touched him on the shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Vaulcron peeled his gaze away from his impending death and turned to face the beautiful reporter. “This is not natural.”
Humor sparked in her incredible blue eyes. “I’ll admit it takes some getting used to, but I assure you, it’s completely safe.”
“So you tell me,” he murmured, gripping the seat as the plane vibrated around him. “I would have preferred we take a boat back to the States.”
“Nonsense. We will arrive in half the time, going by air.” She patted his hand. “Try to relax. We’ll be there before you know it.”
Vaulcron studied her pink lips as she spoke. She had the softest-looking mouth.
If not for the fact that he was strapped into the seat of a plane, waiting to fall to his death, he would see if they tasted as good as he imagined.
He decided to keep her talking. Anything to take his mind off the small oval window beckoning him to look once again. “I am grateful for your willingness to help us, Miss Cahill. Not all humans have been as gracious where we are concerned.” He glanced at the pilot to prove his point.
“They only act out of fear. And please call me Mallory.”
“What is there to fear from us? The land walkers hold weapons that we do not possess.”
“Not those, they don’t.” Mallory tilted her hand toward Vaulcron’s wrist, indicating the slightly darker shade of skin.
Vaulcron glanced down at his soft as silk barb before meeting her gaze once more. “We do not use the barbs as weapons, Miss Ca— Mallory. They are our way of obtaining food. Nothing more.”
“And presumed deadly to the humans, considering the bacteria that live in your venom.”
“And you think that we would use that venom to harm your people,” he finished for her.
Mallory shrugged a dainty shoulder. “I am not here to judge you. I’m here to help.”
Vaulcron studied her angelic face. A face that hid emotion and undoubtedly secrets aplenty, if the rumors he’d heard were true. “Why do they refer to you as the Great White Shark? You do not appear dangerous to me.”
The corner of her mouth lifted. “Looks can be deceiving. You should know that by now.”
He did know that. Humans with their amazing foods and ready-made smiles could be more deadly than any shark he’d ever encountered. But something about Mallory called to him. He found himself wanting to trust her, to believe in her. “How long will I be required to remain in Florida?”
Something flickered in her eyes. “Long enough to do the interview that will prove my theory on the Incola virus.”
“It is more than a theory,” Vaulcron corrected. “Doctor Sutherland lost his life attempting to expose your government’s conspiracy against the Bracadytes.”
“I’m well aware,” she pointed out, straightening her short gray skirt. “But unlike Doctor Sutherland, I won’t be sneaking around, cowering in corners. I’ll b
Mallory blew out a breath and laid her head back against the seat. “Removed from office.”
“You have proof that your president is behind the Incola virus?”
Mallory shook her head. “Not definitive proof. But I have enough evidence to implicate him. And once the head of the CDC is in the hot seat, he will sing like a canary. That or face prison time.”
Vaulcron was able to decipher most of what she’d said. Not all. “What means hot seat?”
The sexiest laugh burst from her beautiful mouth. “Let’s just say, once Raducha’s lies have been brought to light, he will talk. He won’t be willing to take the fall for what he’s done.”
“Raducha? The head of the Center for Disease Control?”
Mallory nodded. “I haven’t decided if Raducha worked alone in creating the Incola virus, but I do know that President Howell was aware of his faux pas and allowed it to continue, letting your people take the fall for something created by our own government.”
Anger rose up inside Vaulcron. Anger for the blame placed on the Bracadytes, the destruction of their home, their livelihood. But nothing angered him more than the thousands of innocent lives lost in the chaos. “We have to find a way to stop this virus before it wipes out an entire race.”
Mallory gaped at him. “You care about what happens to the humans? After everything we have put your people through?”
Vaulcron pushed his hair back away from his face. “I cannot hold you responsible for the actions of one man, any more than you can blame me for the deaths of so many caused by the virus.”
“You’re very compassionate, Vaulcron. You’ll need to shelf some of your forgiving nature if you expect to survive in a world full of humans. Most don’t possess such humanity. And the few that do are too afraid to stand up for what’s right.”
“What of you, Malory Cahill? What category do you fit into?”
“My nickname should speak for itself.” She turned her face away, but not before Vaulcron noticed something resembling regret swimming in her eyes.
Shifting his gaze back to the damnable window, Vaulcron watched as Cuba disappeared from view, along with his family and any help he might have obtained from Hauke or Tony. No, Vaulcron would face their adversary, alone, before anyone else in his family became hurt…or worse.
Mallory Cahill had never been known for her generosity. When it came to getting the story, she’d use every card at her disposal, including deception.
She glanced at Vaulcron’s giant form, planted in his seat as if he feared he’d be ejected at any moment.
Anger surfaced at the treatment he’d received from the pilot. No matter what she’d be able to prove from her interview with Vaulcron, Mallory knew his presence would never be accepted in society.
Her gaze traveled over his muscular thighs, encased in a pair of shorts that appeared to be made of sharkskin. His legs were devoid of hair, as was his massive chest.
Mallory had never encountered a male more beautiful than the Bracadyte prince. His sheer size was enough to intimidate any man, but his eyes could melt the panties right off the entire female species. Yeah, he was incredibly sexy.
She shook off her lustful thoughts and glanced at her watch. They had a two-hour flight ahead of them to the small Destin airport, and Mallory intended to make use of every minute she had with the prince.
“Once we arrive, you’ll go to my place while I set up the interview. Most roads are blocked off, and military presence is heavy along the beach. We’ll have to be extra careful not to be seen.”
“Is your city not under quarantine?”
“Parts of it, yes. But businesses are still open, so we are allowed to come and go, as long as we stay within the county.”
“But you left the county,” Vaulcron pointed out.
Mallory nodded. “By private plane. Don’t worry; you won’t be stuck in the States. I’ll arrange for your safe passage back to Cuba as soon as possible.”
Vaulcron pinned her with a curious stare. “I am to sleep in your dwelling?”
Mallory’s heartbeat kicked up a notch at his naïve, yet hopeful tone.
“Well, not in my bed, of course. I have a spare room that you can bunk in for the night.”
Embarrassment shone in his emerald-green eyes. “I did not mean to sound presumptuous. I only thought…”
“You thought what?” Mallory prompted, a small smile playing on her lips.
“It does not matter. The spare room will be fine.”
For some reason, it frustrated Mallory that he didn’t elaborate. “I’ll order us some sushi for dinner. Have you ever seen Man from Atlantis?”
An adorable indention appeared between his eyes. “I do not understand.”
“It’s an old television show. I think you’ll like it. I have all the seasons on DVD.”
“I am not sure what a DVD is, but I thoroughly enjoy television. We do not have your human luxuries in Aukrabah.”
“Tell me about your home,” Mallory implored him. “I would love to see it sometime.”
A look of pride settled on his face. “It lies at the bottom of the gulf, hidden behind the falling water. It—”
“Wait,” she interrupted, holding up a hand. “Falling water?”
Vaulcron’s eyes crinkled with mirth. “Humans refer to them as waterfalls. Or so I have read.”
It took everything Mallory had to rein in the reporter inside her and listen patiently. “Go on.”
“There are miles and miles of caverns in Aukrabah. The air is crisp, the water warm and fresh. It keeps us safe from those who wish us harm.”
A muscle ticked along his jaw. “Or it once did. Before the human military attacked. I do not know if Aukrabah still stands, or if it has been destroyed.”
Mallory let that soak in. “The Navy has found your home?”
Vaulcron shook his head. “They found Anthony Vaughn’s boat, along with Doctor Sutherland attempting to return to the surface, approximately a mile from the entrance to Aukrabah. They dropped explosive devices around the area, causing severe damage to the walls surrounding the entrance.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“A few, but most made it out in time. I do not know if the military continued their assault after we fled to Cuba.”
Mallory had a hell of a story, and she knew it. This gorgeous Bracadyte prince had practically been dropped in her lap. He had no idea that he was the break she’d been waiting on for the past ten years.
“Sounds to me like they are bombing that area in hopes of flushing your people out. If no bodies surfaced, they will likely move on.”
“I hope you are right, Mallory. Many families left behind all that they owned when we fled. It would be wonderful if they could return soon to find their possessions are still there.”
Guilt settled in Mallory’s gut. She shifted her gaze to her hands, unable to look into his eyes another second.
Mallory’s father had always told her to never get close to a subject. Treat it as a means to an end. But her father had never met Vaulcron, with his innocent heart and guileless eyes.
“Will you excuse me for a minute? I need to have a word with the pilot.” Mallory unsnapped her seatbelt and jumped to her feet before he could respond.
Stumbling down the narrow isle to the front of the plane, she took a seat behind the pilot and tapped him on the shoulder.
He removed his headset and glanced to the right, presenting her with his ear.
She pulled another wad of cash from her skirt pocket and leaned over him, sliding the folded bills into the pocket of his shirt. “We were never here.”
The pilot glanced down at the bribe. “How much is it?”
“Another five thousand,” Mallory assured him, holding her breath as she waited for his response.<
“You were never here,” he confirmed, replacing his headset as if the brief exchange had never happened.
Mallory squeezed his arm in thanks before returning to her seat.
She plucked her notepad from her purse and snagged a pen. “We have another hour and a half before we reach Destin. Would you mind answering a few questions for me in the meantime? It’ll help me out a lot for the upcoming interview.”
“I will do whatever you want me to do. I rather enjoy hearing you speak.”
Another round of dreaded guilt tightened her gut. She quickly shook it off. “Let’s start with your history. Where you came from, where you’ve been. Your abilities, what you eat…that sort of thing.”
Mallory listened attentively as Vaulcron filled her in on everything from the Bracadytes’ favorite food, to their need for blood. He explained their barbs, gills, and their telepathic ability.
Fear replaced Mallory’s euphoria. “You can read my thoughts?”
Vaulcron laughed. “As much as I would love to say yes…the answer is no.”
Relief poured through her. “So, you can only read the thoughts of other Bracadytes?”
The plane hit turbulence before Vaulcron could answer. His face turned white, and he gripped the back of the seat in front of him with enough force Mallory thought she heard the material rip.
“It’s okay,” she assured him, resting her hand on his incredibly muscular thigh. “It’s only turbulence.”
“I will be swimming back to Cuba upon my return. No more planes for me.”
Mallory’s lips twitched. “You can swim that far?”
He glanced at her as if she’d lost her mind. “Cuba is not far.”
“It is for someone that doesn’t have gills.”
“I did not think of that.”
Mallory decided to give him a break from her questioning. The guy had enough on his mind without being harassed on the plane. There would be plenty of time to question him later, once she fed him and got some wine down that masculine throat of his.