Unforgivable Lover (Warriors of Lemuria Book 5), page 1
A WARRIORS OF LEMURIA NOVEL #5
Copyright © March 2018 by Rosalie Redd
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This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
For permissions contact: Rosalie@rosalieredd.com
Cover design by Melody Simmons
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Also by Rosalie Redd
“ Nikki! Not so close!” Worry laced Jasmine’s words, bringing Nikki to a halt. A few loose stones skittered over the cliff’s edge and pinged against the rocks.
“Don’t worry, Jas, I got this.” Nikki closed her eyes. The warmth of the spring sun on her shoulders was in stark contrast to the cool, damp spray prickling her cheeks. A moment’s respite, that’s all she wanted, and the waterfall’s roar did its best to drown out the lonely voice in her head telling her she wasn’t good enough.
“Please, Nik, come back.”
With a soft sigh, Nikki opened her eyes and glanced at Jasmine. She wore a red bandana around her head, the knot tied at her temple. Her brown hair flared around her ears, framing her features and accentuating her deep green eyes etched with unease.
Nikki tightened her fingers around her backpack straps. A couple of rhinestones on her bracelet caught the light, sending a cascade of brilliance over Jasmine’s white tank top. “Wahclella Falls is beautiful this time of year. I wish I could dive in.”
Jasmine pursed her mouth and laugh lines formed around her eyes. “Of course, you would. Just don’t stand so close to the ledge, okay? You make me nervous.”
“I’m fine, Jas. Really, I am.” Nikki stepped back from the rim.
Jasmine gripped Nikki’s hand, and she drew away, her shoulders tightening at the contact.
A slow, resigned sigh eased from Jasmine, and she wrapped her fingers around her hiking stick. “Let’s go. We need to leave if we’re going to make it back before nightfall. You want to do a marathon session of the Underworld movies?”
Nikki rubbed the back of her neck. Surprised at the hike invitation in the first place, she wasn’t sure why Jasmine would put in the time to try to get to know her better. They were work buddies, nothing more. The hike was a nice diversion, but a few more hours of studying were on tonight’s agenda.
“Sorry, Jas. As much as I like all things paranormal, I have a major test tomorrow. If I don’t pass, I don’t graduate, and I’ll have to return to classes in the fall. No way do I want to see Professor Chandler again.” Besides, without the master’s degree, she couldn’t apply for the open management position at Zumitel, the software company she devoted her life to these days.
“Aw,” Jasmine scrunched her nose, “all right, but I want a rain check.”
“Sure, no problem.” Nikki glanced at the majestic waterfall one last time then followed Jasmine down the path.
The heel of Nikki’s sneaker skittered over a wet stone protruding from the mud, and she placed her hand along a tree trunk to steady herself. This part of the trail hugged the precipitous hillside, skirting down a vast ravine.
Jasmine peered over her shoulder. “I’m glad we came here today. I didn’t think the rain would ever end.”
“Yeah, springtime in Portland can be a drag sometimes, but the summers are so worth it. At least I can check the first waterfall of the season off my list like James and I…” Nikki’s throat tightened. James had shared her love of waterfalls and last year they’d put together a list of the best ones in the Columbia River Gorge, marking off each beautiful cascade they discovered.
Jasmine huffed. “Forget about James. He’s not worth another moment of your time.”
Handsome, smart, and kind, James had showered Nikki with affection, but it hadn’t lasted. Soon after, she’d discovered his binge drinking only to watch it morph into a daily occurrence just a few months into their relationship. After her father’s addiction destroyed her family, Nikki couldn’t handle another alcoholic in her life, so she’d said her goodbyes and moved on. “Don’t worry, Jas. I’m all about my career—”
A loud rumble shook the ground. Pebbles rained along the dirt.
One hit Nikki on the shoulder. Another grazed her ear. She glanced up.
Trees, plants, and rocks tumbled toward them at breakneck speed.
Nikki shoved Jasmine forward, down the path, and toward a large boulder. Jasmine screamed, and Nikki lost her footing. She buckled to the ground. Her knees jarred painfully against rocks littering the path.
“Nikki!” Jasmine’s voice echoed, competing with the crashing of tree branches and rolling mud.
The deafening roar ricocheted in Nikki’s ears, eclipsing her scream. She scrambled backward, up the trail in the direction they’d come. A stone pelted her on the shin. Blood pooled from the cut. Fear snaked its way into her stomach, coiling into a tight ball. She continued to scramble up the path, forcing her limbs to move despite the rocks digging into her palms.
A Douglas fir, followed by a rhododendron bush, slid down the mountainside chased by several more giant trees with spear-like branches that rushed toward her. Boulders from the size of toasters to refrigerators crashed and rolled along with a wave of mud. She winced, her heart racing, and braced for the possible impact.
The landslide roared past her and slowed. A few pebbles bounced over the debris.
The trail no longer existed.
Nikki’s pulse pounded. She scanned the trees on the other side of the wreckage. “Jas!”
Jasmine rose from behind a boulder. Her fingers, bloody and raw, gripped the edge of a tree that remained rooted in place.
Relief flooded through Nikki’s bloodstream.
Jasmine’s features tightened. “Nikki. Be careful. Back up slowly.”
So focused on Jasmine, Nikki hadn’t assessed her situation. One foot dangled over the trail’s broken ledge. She gripped a tree root, the gnarled ends eerily similar to long pointy claws. At the bottom
It was one thing to stand at the edge of a cliff overlooking a waterfall, quite another to stare into the depths of an abyss up close and personal. The hair at her nape rose. “I can’t move.”
“Look at me, Nik,” Jasmine commanded.
Nikki peered at her workmate.
Jasmine nodded in encouragement. “You can do this. Hold on to that tree and move back. I’ll be right here.”
Nikki reached further into the exposed tree’s roots and curled her fingers around the sturdiest one. The muscles in her arms shook. She forced her gaze to return to Jasmine. “I’m scared.”
“I’d be surprised if you weren’t. Now, scoot back, slowly.”
A bead of sweat slid down Nikki’s cheek. She’d had to rely on herself for so much of her life, she could do this, too. Pulling on her inner strength, she crawled up the path.
A few small pebbles dislodged from the edge and pinged against a downed tree. The sound ricocheted through the still air.
Nikki held her breath. Beneath her feet, the ground remained solid.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
With careful, measured movements, she scooted up the trail. She reached level ground and stood, leaning against a tree. A tremble started in her calves and spread up her thighs.
“I did it,” she choked, the sound morphing into a relieved laugh.
“You’re not hurt anywhere, are you?”
Nikki exhaled, long and slow. “No, I’m okay.”
“Nik, there’s no other way out. I’ll return to the car and find a ranger. I won’t be gone long.”
Nikki glanced into the sky. Tinged pink, a few small clouds reflected the setting sun’s rays. I may have to spend the night out here. The errant thought traipsed through Nikki’s mind like an unwanted visitor. She forced herself to smile. “I’ll be okay. There’s some trail mix, water, and a mini flashlight in my pack.”
“I saw a few trees in a thicket not too far up the path. Wait there, but don’t go any farther. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Jasmine gave her a thumbs-up then took off down the trail.
As the pounding of her sneakers receded, an eerie quiet settled over the forest, a peaceful contradiction to the landslide’s violent chaos. Goosebumps rose along Nikki’s arms.
“There are worse things than spending the night in a cold, dark forest.” She’d hoped saying the words would ease some of the tension in her shoulders. It hadn’t. Instead, she tightened her grip on her backpack strap, drew her courage around her like a cloak, and headed toward the small thicket of trees. Despite her forced bravery, the twilight descended, and she couldn’t quite shake the sense of foreboding that tingled the hairs along her nape.
G aetan leaned over his cane, forcing the staff to bear his weight. His knee buckled beneath him, and he braced himself against the rough stone wall. The hard volcanic rock bit into the skin on his palm, scraping deep into the flesh. Tangy and bitter, the scent of blood wafted through the Portal Navigation Center.
He welcomed the pain. After what he’d done, he deserved far worse.
Rin, the Portal Navigator, placed his hand on Gaetan’s back. His red hair jutted from his head in tufts, a sharp contrast to the worry lines rimming his eyes. “What did ya tell Noeh and Melissa?”
Gaetan focused on the little Jixie’s wild hair. The sudden urge to laugh bubbled up his throat, and he clamped his jaw tight. There was nothing funny about their situation. Prince Anlon—Noeh and Melissa’s son—had disappeared through the portal only a few minutes ago. To where, they didn’t know.
Self-loathing coiled in Gaetan’s gut, twisting his insides into a ball. This was his fault. The royal couple had placed Anlon in his care.
All four of Gaetan’s markings, the ones that signified his personal values—responsibility, benevolence, empathy, and patience—burned hot on the back of his hand then faded from a dusky charcoal to a light gray. He wasn’t surprised. Guilt, bitter and dark, ate at his soul.
A bout of pain travelled up his leg, the agony so great white spots formed in his vision. He slipped his fingers into the satchel tied at his belt and withdrew a pill. Round and white, the medicine was as much a curse as a blessing. He popped the pill into his mouth and dry swallowed. “I sent a cryptic note through the sunstones. Indicated we needed to see them right away. I expect they will arrive any—”
The pounding of heavy feet accompanied by the swish of soft-soled shoes echoed from the corridor. A moment later, Noeh entered the chamber. He wore a thin shirt, a pair of dark pants with his dagger attached at the belt, and a pair of boots.
Melissa, wearing a loose blouse and slacks, drew to his side.
Noeh’s attention passed from Gaetan to Rin and back again. “What was so urgent you needed—”
“Where’s Anlon?” Melissa’s voice wavered.
Heat raced up Gaetan’s back and burned his ears. His throat tightened, but he forced himself to answer. “That’s why I called you here.” His gaze flicked to Noeh. “I don’t know how to tell you this, my king, but Anlon, he’s gone.”
“What?” Noeh’s stern voice boomed around the room.
Pulling on his empathy and natural ability to calm others, Gaetan gripped Melissa’s hand. “I’m so sorry, my queen. Anlon was so fast, I couldn’t stop him—”
Noeh gripped Gaetan’s shoulder and spun him around so they were face to face. In the heat of the melee, Gaetan had forgotten Noeh was deaf.
“Where’s my son?” Flashes of gold flicked through Noeh’s eyes. His nostrils flared, the beast dangerously close to the surface.
Rin stepped forward and pointed to the platform. “Anlon disappeared through the portal.”
Melissa cried out and bolted for the large stone platform. Noeh wrapped her in his arms, stopping her. She struggled against him, squirming in his embrace. After a long moment, she glared at Gaetan. Tears rimmed her eyes.
A low growl rumbled in Noeh’s chest. “How did this happen?”
Gaetan lowered himself to one knee, bowing in front of his king. His bad joint protested, but nothing could match the ache in his heart. He’d hurt the one male that meant more to him than anyone, the male he’d raised like his own son after the death of Noeh’s father. There were no words to describe the anguish in his soul. “I set Anlon down to talk to Rin. The babe, he levitated a sunstone through the portal and pursued it. This is my fault. If I—”
“We tried ta stop him, but the newb, he was too fast.” Rin strode up to Noeh and bent down on one knee. “Yer Majesty, we had no idea—”
“What were his coordinates?” Noeh released Melissa and brushed past Gaetan without a glance. “Show me my son’s location.”
Gaetan rose, using his cane for support.
Noeh refused to look at him. The king couldn’t have injured Gaetan more if he’d taken his dagger and stabbed him in the chest. Deep inside, Gaetan’s beast howled.
Rin held out his hands in supplication. “I…I can’t tell ya. I don’t know where he went.”
“What? How can you not know?” Noeh’s voice ricocheted around the chamber.
Rin slowly rose to his feet. “I’m sorry, Yer Majesty. There was no signature mark among the Porte Stanen’s red sunstones.”
Gaetan gripped his cane, and the cracked sunstone at the tip reflected the light across the stone walls. He’d come to the Portal Navigation Center to fix his sunstone, the one Ginnia had given him long ago. His sister bore the brunt of Gaetan’s biggest childhood mistake, leaving her forever stuck in her childlike world. He was bad luck, just like the cracked sunstone, and now he’d harmed or even killed the little prince. Vicious hatred of his own vile self filled his lungs with every breath he took. He deserved no mercy.
Melissa stepped forward, tears streaming down her face. “Noeh, please. We must find him. What if the Gossum…”
“Ah, craya!” Noeh ran his hand through his ha
A chill crested over Gaetan’s shoulders and down his back. Gossum were their enemy in this war over Earth’s water. Placed here by their goddess, Alora, the Stiyaha fought to keep Earth free and to barter with the humans for their precious resource. The Gossum, and their god Zedron, wanted to enslave the humans and take the water by force. If the Gossum, or Mauree, their leader, found Anlon…
No, that couldn’t happen. Gaetan’s mouth went dry and a shudder of dread wracked his body followed by a guilt so heavy he almost buckled under the weight.
Noeh stilled. The muscles in his shoulders visibly tensed beneath his shirt. He pointed to the porte stanen, the giant stone lined with red sunstones that ignited the portal. “Open a gateway. Send me to the last known coordinates.”
Rin’s mouth fell open. “But, Yer Majesty, what if ya run across Gossum?”
“Which is why I must leave,” Noeh’s gaze flicked to Gaetan, “to find my son.”
Noeh’s words buried into Gaetan’s soul. How far he’d fallen. So, so far.
“Yes, Yer Majesty.” Rin ran to the porte stanen as fast as his little feet would carry him. He swirled his hands over the sunstones lining the surface, faster and faster, until a thin mist gathered along the platform, forming into a ball.
Melissa clutched Noeh’s arm. They peered into each other’s eyes, but didn’t speak, at least not verbally. Ever since Noeh saved Melissa’s life, they shared a soul and could communicate telepathically. Gaetan and Saar were the only ones aware of their special bond.
Noeh tugged Melissa to him and gave her a rough, bruising kiss. She wrapped her fingers in his hair, holding on for a long moment before pulling away. “Bring our son back to me.”
Noeh glanced at Gaetan, his mouth drawn into a grim line. Anger, bitterness, and pain reflected in the depths of his blue eyes. Like a spear, his gaze tore into Gaetan, shredding him from the inside.
Gaetan held out his hand, guilt and love for Noeh pushing him forward. “I will accompany you.”
Noeh’s jaw tightened. “No. Stay here. You’ve done enough already.”
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