warrior rogue (the drift lords series)

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Praise for Nancy J. Cohen and…

Acknowledgements

SILVER SERENADE

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Books by Nancy J. Cohen

Thank you for purchasing this publication of The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

Warrior Rogue

by

Nancy J. Cohen

The Drift Lords Series, Book Two

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

Warrior Rogue

COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Nancy J. Cohen

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Contact Information: [email protected]

Cover Art by
Tamra Westberry

The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

PO Box 708

Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708

Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com

Publishing History

First Faery Rose Edition, 2013

Print ISBN 978-1-61217-739-7

Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-740-3

The Drift Lords Series, Book Two

Published in the United States of America

Praise for Nancy J. Cohen and…

WARRIOR PRINCE:

“An urgent quest to save humanity leads to surprising adventures and dangerous passion! …a wild ride that will leave readers breathless and eager for more!”

~Allison Chase, author

“The first Drift Lords romantic urban fantasy is a super thriller … brings ancient mythology to a city known for modern day mythos. The Cohen world feels real.”

~
Alternative Worlds

“Terrific. …meshes contemporary times with other planets and mythology.… Bring on the next book!”

~Traci Hall, author

SILVER SERENADE
:

“A fabulous new world, …[and] a fantastic new galaxy to explore. This fantasy erotic romance has a strong, sexy hero and an even stronger, sexier heroine.”

~
Coffee Time Romance

“The author draws a fascinating world of intergalactic politics, futuristic technologies, and clashing moral priorities.” ~
Fort Myers Magazine

“Get ready for an epic adventure, as vast as the universe in which it is set! With a touching love story, a great blend of humor, action and passion, and a great cast of characters, this is a book that won't let you go until the very last page.” ~
The Romance Reviews

“A fun romantic science fiction thriller… fast-paced from the moment Jace makes the hit on Silver and never slows down as love between them complicates their already complex relationship.”

~
The Romantic Post

Acknowledgements

With deep gratitude, I offer thanks to the following individuals who assisted me with this novel:

Al Hartman, retired commercial airline pilot,

for his input on the aircraft scenes.

Janice Sklar, former Palm Beach resident,

for providing information on fashion designers

and life in Palm Beach.

And with special thanks to Stuart Podolnick

for inspiring the character of

Captain Hiroshi Jin Kolami.

Jin is finally getting his moment of glory.

SILVER SERENADE

won Best Book in Romantic SciFi/Fantasy

at The Romance Reviews.

~*~

Ms. Cohen also won the HOLT Medallion Award

in the paranormal category for
CIRCLE OF LIGHT
,

her first published title.

Chapter One

“If he doesn’t show up in the next ten minutes, I’ll kill him.” Jennifer Dyhr paced back and forth on the Tokyo film set for a video game commercial. Their lead actor, Keith Monroe, was more than an hour overdue. Where the hell was he?

“I called his hotel room.” Sandi tapped her pen on the clipboard cradled in her arm. Dressed in a prim suit, she looked more like a schoolteacher than a fashion designer’s assistant. “He didn’t answer, so I left a message. Ditto for his cell.”

“The jerk. You’d think he would be more reliable.” Jen tucked a stray hair behind her ear. Her twist was coming undone, same as her composure.

“It’s the producer’s problem, not yours.”

“Oh, yeah? Who else could we get to look the part of a vengeful Norse god?” She waved a hand. “If you recall, I’m the one who recommended Keith for the role. I wouldn’t have won this project without him.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. Like, your costumes have nothing to do with Keith’s no show.”

Sandi’s calm tone failed to reassure her. “The producer might not see it that way. He’ll lump us Americans together and blame me for Keith’s behavior.”

“Oh, come on, Jen. He’s lucky to have you. You’re the best in the field.”

“True.” Jen squared her shoulders. Inspired by visions from the past, she’d made her mark on the fashion industry and garnered numerous awards for her designs based on Viking influence. She’d become as much a celebrity as the stars who wore her garments.

Nonetheless, Jen had yet to introduce her line overseas. If she wanted her company to expand, she needed gigs like this one to show she could compete in the global marketplace.

“I hope Keith wasn’t in an accident.” Her heart raced at the thought. “Maybe we should call the hospitals.”

“You can suggest that to Mr. Nakamura.” Sandi bobbed her head in a warning nod.

Jen braced herself as the director hurried over. A lanky man with black hair, Mr. Nakamura wore a perpetual scowl and his tense posture like a seasoned samurai.

“Keith Monroe is passed out drunk in his hotel room,” the translator interpreted after a rapid-fire dialogue by the director. A boyish-faced youth, Akeno had confided to Jen his wish to work on the film crew someday.

“You’re kidding,” Jen blurted before remembering her place. “I mean, I’m so sorry. Please accept my apologies for Keith’s irresponsible behavior.”

She bowed her head in deference, expecting a tongue-lashing in response. Her Japanese associates would need someone to take the blame. Jen only hoped this snag wouldn’t damage the reputation she’d worked so hard to build.

“The producer has already called the casting office for a replacement,” Akeno said after another spate of dialogue from his employer, whose irate tone matched his angry eyes.

“We need a guy with the right build,” she reminded them. “Blond hair and blue eyes would be a bonus.”

While they waited for the stand-in actor to arrive, Jen inspected the stitching on her costumes.

“Jen, this woman’s seam is splitting.” Sandi indicated one of the extras portraying a villager.

Jen cursed under her breath. “Did she sit down? I told her not to bend. This shift barely fits around her hips.”

She grabbed a needle and thread from her kit as the director herded everyone to take their places on set. The storyline involved a barbarian ravaging a peaceful village until a Norse god appeared to battle him.

It amazed her how the sound stage looked like a real Viking town with thatched roof houses spewing smoke from holes in the roofs, vendors lining a busy market street, and wood planked walkways leading toward a fake pier rimmed with barrels of wine.

The village street bustled with action as actors walked through their paces and chatted amongst themselves. She could almost smell the sheep dung and wood smoke.

Uh, oh. Her visions often started with a sensory impression. Quickly, Jen wrapped up her repair and stashed away her kit. Reality receded as a white haze swept into her mind.

When her eyes focused again, she was strolling down the village street in the distant past.

Her gown swished against her leather boots as she beamed a friendly smile to the blacksmith. Across the road, the fur peddler waved. She nodded him a greeting, her nose wrinkling at the smell of fish emanating from the wharf. Shivering, she drew the edges of her shawl closer together, as a stiff breeze blew off the sea.

Shrieks of surprise made her vision evaporate. A man charged into view from around the corner onto the studio set.

A naked man.

Jen stared at him, aghast. What kind of joke was this?

Lacerations marred his body, and heavens above, what a magnificent body the man had. Her glance dropped from his massive shoulders to his muscled chest and then down to his very masculine package. The glory of him stole her breath.

“Where am I? What’s happened?” His wild-eyed look and combative stance froze the actors on set.

His American accent startled Jen.
Brilliant, just brilliant.
Who else but their stand-in for Keith Monroe would show up with such melodrama? She should have recognized him at once from his wheat blond hair and blue eyes, but she’d been too focused on his, ah, other parts.

She fought an urge to fan herself, the heat from the spotlights raising her temperature. Or maybe that wasn’t what caused her to feel so hot all over.

The man’s gaze slammed into hers, and time stood still. The distance between them shrunk, blotting out their surroundings, until only the two of them stood facing each other on a plain where mist swirled at their feet. Their heartbeats pounded a sensual rhythm in harmony.

In her mind’s eye, she shed her clothes as a hunger she’d never known swept through her. A hunger for him.

Shaking her head, she reoriented herself. Much as she’d like to admire his physique all day long, they had to get moving. Time was money as far as the producer was concerned. This guy needed to be clothed, fast.

“Sandi, get me Keith’s costume and tell the makeup artist we need her.” Jen’s voice came out as a high-pitched squeak. She cleared her throat. “Our new stand-in has done a great job on those fake wounds, so he shouldn’t need more than a touch-up.”

Mr. Nakamura hustled over with the translator in tow. He jabbed his finger at the new guy. “You there, what is your name?”

The actor stiffened but didn’t respond. He glanced at the other crewmembers who had stopped to watch. A look of confusion spread over his face. His jaw tightened, a day’s growth of bristle adding authenticity to his role.

“What’s your name?” Jen spoke in a loud tone like people did to foreigners who could hear perfectly well but didn’t understand.

“I am Paz Hadar.” His dimples deepened as he regarded her. “Who are you?”

His slow, lazy perusal generated warmth throughout her body. Those devilish eyes roamed from her hair, to her rayon maxi dress, to her low-heeled sandals. A gleam of appreciation entered his expression, making her heart beat faster.

“I’m Jennifer Dyhr, the costume designer.” Jen pronounced her last name like deer. “You are inappropriately dressed, Mr. Hadar. Or undressed, I should say.”

Mr. Nakamura’s lips compressed. “Tell him he has ten minutes to get ready. I am not amused by his dramatic entrance. He is only a substitute for our star.”


Hai
, Mr. Nakamura-san.”

Jen gave him a deferential bow. After he walked away, she signaled to Paz. The man sauntered over as though strolling about naked was a normal occurrence. Had he meant to disrupt the set and attract everyone’s attention?

No matter. She had to make him look like a vengeful Norse god. Standing before her, the man towered over her five foot eight frame by at least six inches.

Moisture glistened on his skin. His hair hung in damp clumps, as if he’d just come from a swim. He must have been near the studio to rush over, disrobe, and apply his makeup.

However, he’d forgotten to remove his watch. Having been so focused on his other
attributes
, she hadn’t noticed the fancy dial before. Further up his forearm was a broad gash. When she touched the edge, he winced as though it hurt for real. Unable to help herself, she let her fingers slide up his arm, outlining his firm bicep. He drew in a sharp breath but didn’t move.

Her glance roamed to his chest, where a tangle of golden hair tempted her to feel its texture. His scent entered her nostrils, a strange mixture of sea air and salt.

Her temples pounded. Oh, no. Afraid she’d segue into another vision, she grabbed the trousers Sandi brought over and thrust them at him.

When he just stood there, she clucked her tongue. “What’s the matter with you? Put these on. And take your watch off. It doesn’t belong in this scene.”

He plucked the pants from her fingers and pulled them on while she averted her gaze. When he muttered under his breath, she dared to look again. Poor fellow fumbled with the drawstring ties at his waist as though he didn’t know what to do with them. Good God, what planet did he come from?

She grabbed the ends, pulled tight, and tied a bow, all the while conscious of his proximity and powerful musculature.

Standing so close, she had a terrible urge to feast her eyes on him. He was quite the man, and it had been a while since she’d split with her last boyfriend.

Resolutely looking into his crystalline eyes, she moistened her lips. Her throat had gone dry when she touched his skin. “I hope you’ve been briefed on your role.”

His brow furrowed. “Of course. I know what to do.”

His deep voice resonated through her like warm honey, turning her bones fluid and making her belly flip-flop.

Best to finish this as fast as possible.

She offered him a linen shirt next followed by a brick red tunic. When she’d studied what Vikings had worn, she had been pleased to learn they dyed their fabrics in bold shades. Wealthy people wore clothing trimmed in silk with gold or silver threads. These styles became the inspiration for her unique designs.

Paz donned the garments and stuffed his watch into a pants pocket. After he secured a leather belt around his waist, she gave him a cloak to fasten at his shoulder with a faux gold brooch. The cobalt color brought out the ocean blue of his eyes. He glanced at her, and she blushed to be caught staring.

She stepped away as he tugged on his boots. The makeup artist bustled over to bring some order to his unruly hair and to dab cover-up on the dark shadows under his eyes. Odd that he hadn’t fixed that problem when he’d applied his fake lacerations. And was that scratch on his cheekbone starting to smear?

The director called for everyone to take their places. Jen retreated with Sandi to a spot off to the side where they could observe. Ready for any wardrobe disasters, she prayed they’d get this done in as few takes as possible.

Mr. Nakamura issued instructions, but the new guy wasn’t listening. He tensed as the pace picked up. Jen swallowed. Did he understand what his role required?

“Action,” the director yelled in the equivalent Japanese.

Lars Anderson, the Scandinavian actor hired to play the bad guy, charged onto the set wearing what accounted for full battle armor in those days: a chain mail tunic and conical helmet complete with metal eye and nose guards. He looked ferocious with his full beard, blazing eyes, and feral grin. Swinging a long-handled battle-axe, he gave a chilling war whoop.

Fake blood sprayed as he attacked the villagers. Carnage resulted. Or rather, what would appear to be carnage on screen. While the other actors screamed in mock fright, the man called Paz reached behind his back. A startled look crossed his face as though he expected to find a weapon there.

Chaos broke around him. Jen hoped he knew his moves. He was supposed to use his magical power to stop the villain dead in his tracks.

That didn’t appear to be his intention. Instead, Paz launched himself at Lars as though the hounds of hell were on his heels.

Pow, thunk, thud.

His fists and feet aimed practiced blows at his opponent.

Lars didn’t even have time to feign a defense. He raised his arms, but Paz’s punches hit home with unswerving accuracy.

Along with the cast and crew, Jen watched in fascinated horror. Were the cameras getting this? The director observed in stunned silence as his cameramen kept filming.

Paz smashed the hapless actor on the jaw. With a howl of pain mingled with surprise, Lars wheeled around. Jen’s heart leapt into her throat when Paz lunged for a stick on the ground.

Her eyes widened. Was that a yardstick? Someone must have left it there by mistake. What did Paz want with it?

Stop, she wanted to say but her mouth wouldn’t form the word. Wrong prop. And you’re playing a Norse god. You don’t need a weapon.

Paz twirled the yardstick like a staff before striking Lars at mid-thigh. The stick snapped, but Paz kept his motion flowing, following through with a kick to the same spot. Lars cried out, his legs crumpling. He went down—flat on his back.

Immediately, Paz planted a foot on Lars’s chest and pointed the broken yardstick at his throat. His arms tensed.

In another instant, he’d put a lethal vent into the guy’s trachea. What was the matter with him?

“Don’t move,” Jen hollered, recovering her voice.

Paz hesitated, stick poised in the air.

“You’re hurting him. Haven't you filmed a fight scene before?”

“Fight scene?” Paz’s brow creased, as he regarded her with puzzlement.

Meanwhile, crew members rushed forward to break the men apart. One man put out an arm to hold Paz back, while another helped Lars to his feet.

“Where’s the first aid station? Ow, my leg.” Lars cast Paz a scathing glance. “What’s wrong with you, mate? You cudda killed me.”

Blood oozed from a cut on his bottom lip. He yanked the helmet off his head and swiped his mouth. “I’m bleeding, you idiot. If I have any marks on my face, my career is ruined. Ruined! You’ll hear from my lawyer.” With a growl, he limped backstage and out of sight.

Jen scuttled over. Could this day get any worse?

She gripped Paz’s arm. “Didn’t you study fight scene choreography when you took acting classes? You could have seriously injured Mr. Anderson.”

Across the room, the director spouted a torrent of words at the crew. Jen was sure he must be chewing them out. It wasn’t their fault, for heaven’s sake.

“What do you mean?” Paz shook her off. “He was butchering those villagers. I couldn’t stand by and let that beast murder people.”

She stared into his confused blue eyes. “Paz, they were acting. You know, pretending,” she explained when he shook his head in bewilderment. “This set, all that blood, it’s fake.”

“I don’t understand. People were screaming, fleeing in panic.” He lifted his chin. “It is my duty as a Drift Lord to protect them.”

“You’re playing a Norse god. You were supposed to use magic to defeat your enemy and not pick up a stick on the ground. A yardstick, no less! Didn’t you get a script?”

“Your words have no meaning for me.” He rubbed a hand over his weary face. His fingers came back stained with crimson. “Is this fake, too? My head pounds as though hit by a hammer.”

“Good Lord, you’re really bleeding.” Jen examined the gash on the side of his head. “These wounds are real. No wonder you’re so out of it. What happened to you?”

“I remember an impact, and then…nothing.”

Her mind somersaulted on what she knew about the guy. He showed up here naked and confused, and everyone assumed he’d prepared for his role. Had the poor fellow been in such a rush to take the job that he’d had an accident along the way? A concussion would explain his strange behavior.

She crooked her finger, signaling Sandi who’d been consulting with the makeup artist.

“Yuki says she didn’t touch the cuts on this man’s face because he had done such a good job of applying paint.” Sandi squinted at him. “That stuff is smearing, but she’s afraid to come any closer to fix it.”

“That’s because his wounds are real.” Jen turned to Paz. “This is my assistant, Sandi. We’re both concerned about you. Tell us what happened on the way here. You must have been in an accident.”

“Accident…yes. No. The images are—how do you say it? My mind is unclear.”

Mr. Nakamura broke off from his conversation and strode in their direction. From his taut posture and pinched face, Jen expected a reprimand.

“Security said no one drove through the studio entrance.” Poor Akeno looked as though he had swallowed a lemon pit as he translated the director’s words. “How did this man get here?”

“I think he may have been in an accident.” Jen glanced at Paz. His lips were clamped together, his complexion pale.
Don't pass out,
she pleaded silently.
We need to get you to a doctor.
“He could have left his car behind, walked the rest of the way, and stumbled through the gate. A head injury would account for his confusion.”

Sandi’s eyebrows lifted. “I’ve known a lot of desperate actors in my time, but this? If he really got whacked on the head, he belongs in the hospital.”

“You’re right. I’ll take him.”

For some reason, she felt drawn to the newcomer. Maybe it was the lost look in his eyes, or perhaps his unstable state of health. Being ill in a foreign country could be terrifying, and he could use her support.

Sandi drew her aside. “Are you nuts? You don’t know anything about this guy. Like, he could get violent again.”

“I’ll be all right. He seems to respond to me, so I can get him through the hospital hoopla. In the meantime, check on Keith and see if he’s on his way yet. I’m counting on you for damage control.”

The translator gestured to her. “Miss Dyhr, the director wants this actor’s contact information.”

Did he plan to press charges against the poor guy, too? She shouldn’t be surprised. Mr. Nakamura would need to save face in the producer’s view. Forget their opinion of her—it must be blown to hell by this incident.

Jen had been completely unaware Norse mythology interested video gamers until Sandi pointed out a couple of games titled
Viking Warrior:
Bridge to Asgard
and
Valkyrie Knights
. This revelation had opened a whole realm of possibility for her. She’d designed wardrobes for feature films and magazine shoots galore, but never an ad for a video game company.

She’d been so excited when her hairstylist brought the Japanese producer into her Manhattan showroom, and he’d called afterward to offer a job. It gave her the perfect opportunity to extend her brand.

“Mr. Nakamura, this man needs medical attention.” She thrust her chin forward, determined to salvage her reputation by assuming responsibility. “With your permission, I’ll take him to the hospital. If Keith still isn’t here by the time I return, I promise to call the casting office myself for a replacement. I’m so sorry for the delay.”

After giving him another respectful bow, she turned to Sandi. “I’ll order my driver to bring the car around. Try to appease the big wigs while I’m gone. We have to find some way to salvage this situation.”

Jen led Paz backstage to change into some borrowed street clothes. Then she herded the newcomer out the exit and into the busy midday traffic.

Chapter Two

Paz came to his senses in the back seat of a ground vehicle beside a beautiful woman. What had she called herself? Jennifer, although the short blonde addressed her as Jen. He remembered that much from the nightmarish barbarian attack.

When he’d regained consciousness earlier, he had no idea where he had landed. The first people he’d seen had been the costumed characters, making him think he had been cast back in time to the Viking era. Jen had been an anomaly. He’d focused on her at once, ignoring the others around them. Then came the attack on the villagers. He’d reacted automatically as per his training.

Once he realized it was a film set, he deduced that he must have spatial shifted from his point of origin in Orlando, Florida. That meant he’d traversed a spontaneous rift in the space-time continuum. Things would only get worse unless he accomplished his mission, and until then, he had to survive.

Jen sat alongside him. She wore her raven hair secured in a twist, highlighting the delicate angles of her face. Her long dress stuck to the cushion, pulling on her bodice and giving him a tantalizing view of her cleavage.

By Odin’s grace, he didn’t need this distraction now. He had to find out what happened to his team.

At his last recollection, they’d stormed an enemy facility housing a jamming device that blocked their sensor readings. Their objective had been to destroy the antenna and its power source. Paz had no idea if his friends had succeeded. A beefy Trollek soldier had shoved him into a pit filled with a chopping, whirling mechanism.

He’d hit his head and bounced off a wall, tumbling to the bottom where the sea rushed in a torrential current. Yanked underwater and tossed about like a particle of sand, he’d lost his clothing and his consciousness.

Paz didn’t remember much else until he awoke backstage at the film studio. Hearing voices, he’d stumbled in their direction and rounded a corner onto the village set. His face heated when he remembered his natural state and people’s stares.

“Where should I take you?” Jen asked in a soft tone.

“That depends. Where are we?” He glanced out the window. Neon signs advertised a sword museum, an arts center, and a department store. He could read the English well enough with his implanted universal translator.

“I thought the doctor did a neurological exam on you. He said you were clear to go.” Jen’s eyes widened in alarm.

A healer at their medical center had cleaned and treated his wounds. He’d been fortunate none of his injuries were more serious than a crack on the head and minor lacerations, meaning he could resume his mission.

“I know we’re in Tokyo. I meant to ask where we are headed?”

Relief flitted across her face. “Let me see if Keith made it to the set first before we make any decisions.”

Jen pulled out a rectangular object from her handbag. Paz recognized it as the crude communication device called a cellular phone. He smiled inwardly. As communications officer for the Drift Lords, he could upgrade that to a Class IV Portable Intel Platform, or PIP, with the proper added components.

Jen punched numbers on her touchpad. “Hello, Sandi?” She held the phone to her ear. “Yes, it’s me. What’s going on?”

Her forehead scrunched as she listened. “You’re kidding. The producer loved the take? I don’t believe it.” A pause. “Hmm, good question. I’ll get back to you on that one.”

While she spoke, Paz stared at the jumble of tall buildings that went by in a blur as their driver shot through an intersection, barely missing a bicyclist.

Jen hung up and stuffed the phone back in her handbag. Her narrowed gaze swung toward him. “Okay, who are you?”

“I told you. My name is Paz Hadar.”

“That’s not what I meant. Keith still isn’t there, and Sandi says the actor sent by the casting office arrived shortly after we left the studio. So if you’re not the man they sent, who the hell are you?”

He liked the way her dark brown eyes blazed when she was angry. How would they change when she got aroused?

Get that idea out of your head. She’s not your type.

Just look at her expensive diamond earrings and manicured nails, at her fashionable clothing and confident posture. She oozed wealth and sophistication. He steered clear of women like Jennifer Dyhr for the same reason he’d left home.

“I am a Drift Lord on a mission.” He didn’t see any reason to lie.

“A Drift Lord? What’s that?”

“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” He grinned at the moue of displeasure on her face.

“Please don’t joke with me. I’m trying to help you.”

“Very well. I am a warrior sent to banish the horde back to where they belong.” He watched for her reaction and was gratified when she stared at him as though he’d sprouted wings.

“The horde? Okay, fella. Maybe you are some kind of agent on a mission, and you ran afoul of the bad guys. You know what? I’ll drop you off at the nearest consulate. They can help you get home, or complete your job. Whatever.”

“You are correct. It was the bad guys, as you call them, who did this to me.”

He sank back in his seat and closed his eyes, memories flooding him. Along with them rode a sense of pain. His team had been captured by the enemy. One of their own had betrayed them. Paz had no way of knowing the final outcome of the battle because he’d been pushed into the pit, presumably left for dead.

“May I borrow your communication device? I wish to call my colleagues to let them know I’m all right.” And to find out if any of them survived.

“You mean my cell phone?” Jen fished it from her purse and handed it to him. “Maybe you should ask them to arrange for your return home.”

“Indeed, I shall.” But when he dialed their emergency number, no one answered. Even if his mates were on board the
Protector
rather than planet-side, they should receive the transmission. The fact that even Zohar, their captain and crown prince of the Star Empire, did not respond made Paz’s jaw tighten.

In silence, he handed Jen back her phone. It was up to him now to complete their assignment. Failure would mean the destruction not only of this world but thousands of others.

His duty was clear. He would send the Trolleks back where they belonged, or he’d die trying.

****

Jen ordered the driver to head for the American Embassy. She’d drop Paz off there where hopefully he could reconnect with his friends. He’d gone quiet, staring out the window, his profile frozen in consternation. Aware of his hulking presence beside her, she inched away on the seat. His magnetism tended to draw her closer, but they’d only just met and caution prevailed.

He looked a wreck, his jaw unshaven, and his hair askew. Maybe he
had
been attacked. A mugging would account for his confusion and injuries. In that case, the man was lucky he hadn’t been hurt worse. But shouldn’t he have recovered his senses by now? All this talk of Drift Lords and secret missions made her wonder about his sanity.

He seemed to be a decent guy otherwise. Growing up in Palm Beach had taught her to discern between men who were sincere in their admiration and men who wanted something from her. She yearned to find a guy who had enough cash and clout that he wouldn’t need hers. A prominent businessman might fit the bill, but she had yet to meet a magnate who lit her fire. Her dream of marrying a partner with whom to share her successes and start a family seemed to grow ever distant.

She sneaked a glance sideways at her companion. He’d be fabulous in the role of a vengeful Norse god if he really knew how to act. Actually, with his powerful physique, he’d make a striking model for her upcoming Spring line. Maybe he’d consider a change in careers? He didn’t have to be sane. Just looking like a hunk would work well enough.

“Tell me, are you an actor at all, or do you have another job?”

He gave her an oblique glance. “When I am not employed in my current position, I work in telecom.”

Jen gripped her seat as their driver jammed on the brakes. A trio of motorcyclists zoomed past a yellow light. Outside, solemn-faced workers scurried down the street while tourists craned their necks to regard the billboards. A popular department store loomed ahead.

The car jerked forward after the traffic signal changed.

“How would you like to do something different?” Jen smiled encouragingly. “You’d make a great model for my designs. I could teach you what you need to know if you came to Manhattan. You’d make a lot more money than you do repairing telephone equipment.”

She assumed that’s what he did, based on his vague reply that he worked in telecom. That’s like a garbage man saying he worked in sanitation.

Paz’s gaze seared into her. Did he believe her offer to be sincere, or did he think she was proposing he become her next boy toy? A restless feeling washed over her at the notion. Hot and cold impulses raced up her spine as the image of him naked popped into her mind. His scent drifted into her nostrils, reminiscent of a sunny day at the beach. She crossed her legs and then uncrossed them.

Her cell phone’s strident ring shattered the moment. Jen retrieved her unit, wondering what was wrong with her. The man was a total stranger, for heaven’s sake. She should never have gotten involved with him. Sandi was probably calling to see what was taking her so long in returning.

“Hey, hon, it’s Dad.”

Jen’s stomach lurched. Getting a call from her father during business hours on a Wednesday sent up a red flag.

“What’s the matter? Is everything all right?”

“No, it’s not,” he replied in a terse tone. “The Board of Trustees has called an emergency meeting to vote on the merger. You need to be here to convince them to hold out. I need more time to talk to Yeager Capital Investments.”

Jen cursed under her breath. She’d inherited her aunt’s shares in the family business empire, and with it came a Board position. Her cousin Clifford, Aunt Alba’s son, had contested the will but hadn’t won. Now he’d changed tactics to try for a hostile takeover instead.

“Can’t you stall until I’m home? I have a flight booked on Friday. We’re almost finished filming.”

“Cliff has come up with a new challenge, Jen. It concerns you personally. I’ve hired a business jet. It’ll be waiting for you on the tarmac.”

Jen sighed. She supposed Sandi could pack her things and send them along later. Meanwhile, her assistant could handle the rest of the details with Mr. Nakamura. “Okay. I’m in the car now. I’ll go straight to the airport.”

“I knew I could count on you, pumpkin. Let me know your ETA. I’ll send a car to pick you up when you arrive.”

“That’s not necessary. I’ll get a cab when I reach Palm Beach. Bye, Dad.”

Severing the connection, she pursed her lips. The family business served more as an anchor around her neck than an asset. The management skills she’d learned from her father, though, had helped when she formed her own design company.

Sitting beside her on the backseat, Paz patted her hand. “I couldn’t help overhearing, and I’m sorry if you received troubling news.”

“I have to go home. It’s a family business matter.” Jen’s voice hardened.

“Don’t you have any siblings who can step in?”

“Nope, it’s just me and my parents.”

“Is it true you will be flying to Florida?”

“Yes, my father chartered a private jet.”

They’d probably have to make a few refueling stops along the way. Guess she wouldn’t be headed back to Manhattan just yet. Hopefully she could conclude the business at home before Fashion Week, because she still had a ton of work to do in preparation for their show even though her staff was fully capable.

Awareness crept into her that Paz’s hand still covered hers. His large palm conveyed reassurance and warmth and sent tingles of pleasure along her nerves.

“I’m heading straight for the airport.” She slipped her hand away. “We need to drop you off first. I’ll give you the address of my showroom in New York. If you’re really interested in modeling, meet me there.”

When he didn’t respond, Jen gave him a sharp glance. His gaze fixated on her left wrist where she wore the watch Mom had given her on her sixteenth birthday. Silence stretched between them, until he raised his eyes to meet hers.

“I accept your offer of employment.” His grin dispelled the gloom she’d felt only moments before. “I’ll accompany you on your aircraft.”

“Pardon me, but who invited you?”

Maybe she’d been too hasty in offering him a job. She knew nothing about him except that he’d lied about being Keith’s stand-in. Then again, he hadn’t actually claimed to be the actor’s replacement. They’d all just assumed he was the guy.

He lifted an eyebrow. “You need me, whether you know it or not. Tell me, have you ever felt a compulsion to learn about the past?
Your
past?”

Her breath hitched. “What do you mean?” He couldn’t know about her visions. No one knew. Well, Aunt Alba had known when she was alive but Jen had told nobody else. They’d think she was nuts.

Paz surveyed her with a devilish gleam in his eye. “I’ll bet you’ve always been strangely drawn to the Viking age.”

Her stomach somersaulted. Oh, God. He
did
know.

“You…you…how do you know this?”

He grinned, his dimples deepening. “Now that I’ve seen your timepiece, I know a lot about you. Take me along on your journey, and I’ll explain.”

“My timepiece?” She felt like a parrot.

“Are you aware that symbol etched on its face is a rune?”

She ground her teeth together. The man might be loony, but he knew things no one else did. Hadn’t Aunt Alba said the inscription looked like runic lettering?

She’d just warn the pilot to keep the door securely locked to the flight deck while en route to the States.

“What about your passport? You’ll need one to get through Customs.” Huh. Maybe that would stump him.

“I’ll worry about it once we arrive.”

“That’s a bit blasé. You have no ID, no money, and nobody to bail you out. How do you expect to get around, even if Immigration does let you into the States, which is unlikely?”

His shoulder lifted in a shrug. “I’ll improvise. Don’t be concerned. It won’t reflect on you.”

It had better not. I already have the fallout to deal with from your snafu on set. Sandi wants to know who you are, if not the actor’s stand-in sent by the agency.

Sensing that he wouldn’t take no for an answer, Jen issued new orders to the driver, who then crossed lanes and made a turn.

Paz fell silent, his gaze directed at the passing scenery. His forehead creased as though troubles plagued him.

“Are you having second thoughts?” She tapped his arm. “I can still drop you off along the way. Maybe there’s someplace else you need to be?”

His somber gaze swung toward her. “No, I’m just thinking it’s been a while since I─”

“Since you what?”
Shaved? You got that right buddy. You could use a few personal grooming tools.

“Never mind. But it might be a good idea for us to pinch the deal.” He edged closer.

“Don’t you mean cinch the deal?” Why did he act like such a foreigner? Maybe he wasn’t from the U.S. but merely had an American accent.

He leaned nearer, and her perception shrank until it included just the two of them. Surely he didn’t mean to kiss her? The man filled her vision, from the golden highlights in his hair, to his intense blue eyes, to his contoured mouth.

Her blood surged, and despite her wariness, places within her that had lain dormant began to stir.

His eyes sparked as though he knew his presence affected her. He lowered his head and brushed her lips before she could protest.

The touch of his mouth on hers set her nerves aflame. She should be affronted by his actions, but his feathering kiss made her stomach flutter and her limbs turn languid. Molten lava poured through her veins as though a sleeping volcano had just awakened. The edges of her mind receded.

Bracing herself for another vision, she placed a hand on his forearm. A muscle moved beneath his hair-sprinkled skin, and his playful kiss changed to a deeper assault.

No, this is wrong. The man is a complete stranger.

She sprang back, her breath coming in short pants, her body trembling. If this was wrong, why did being with him feel so right?

Paz’s mouth twisted in a wry grin as he took in her flushed face. “I hope I haven’t offended you.”

“No…I mean, yes. Don’t do that again, or I’ll change my mind about taking you along.”

His eyes darkened to indigo. “Don’t worry about me. It is others whom you should fear. Whatever happens, I will protect you.”

What’s with his delusion about protecting people?
He might be the biggest nutcase she’d ever met, but at least he didn’t act dangerous toward her. Well, he was dangerous in one respect. His kiss melted her best intentions.

She’d be wise to keep a professional distance between them.

****

Paz slid over on the seat, widening his distance from this woman who seduced his senses and compromised his will.

Ever since he’d laid eyes on her back at the studio, he was drawn to her like a glitter bug to sunlight. Those creatures on his home planet could bedazzle a mighty beast, and so Jen had the power to beguile him as well.