Kat O’Conner was either dying or flying—she couldn’t tell which.
All she knew was that she was hovering above her own body, looking down, and what she saw didn’t look good—not good at all.
My God, I’m a mess!
Her long, auburn hair was a tangled snarl around her head and there were deep purple shadows under her eyes, which were closed at the moment. There was a troubled look on her face even in sleep—if it was sleep. Kat looked closer, trying to see if her chest was rising and falling, but it was difficult to tell because someone had covered her with blankets. She tried to check her own pulse, but when she reached for herself, she found that she had no hands, arms, or fingers to reach with.
Just like when I joined with Lock and Deep, when we were hunting for Sophie. It had been an exhilarating sensation—the feeling of being a swift, invisible bird able to flit from place to place in space instantly. But she wasn’t joined with them now—she could tell. Because, for once in the past several weeks, she wasn’t full to overflowing with their overwhelming emotions. And overwhelming was the right word.
Anybody who says men don’t have feelings is full of crap, Kat thought ruefully as she studied the scene below her. Locks Tight and Stabs Deep, the Twin Kindred warriors who had gotten her into this mess in the first place, had plenty of feelings—enough to make her feel like she was drowning in a sea of emotion whenever they got too close to her. And lately, anywhere was too close, at least as far as Kat was concerned.
She’d been trying to avoid them ever since their last joining—the one she’d agreed to in order to find her friend Sophie Waterhouse, who had been kidnapped by the Scourge. The evil race of red-eyed, gray-skinned bastards had attacked Earth a few years ago. Only the intervention of the Kindred warriors—a race of genetic traders from beyond the stars—had saved Kat’s home planet.
The Scourge had some kind of prophesy involving an Earth girl that they would stop at nothing to fulfill. At first they’d believed that Sophie’s sister, Olivia was their intended target. Then they centered on Sophie. Kat didn’t know who was going to be taken next, she was just glad that her friends were safe.
And speaking of Sophie and Liv, where were they? So far Kat had been focusing on her own still body, but now she looked around—if you could look without a head to turn or eyes to see with, that was. God, this was so freaking weird. She wondered again if she was dead. If so, wherever she was didn’t look much like her idea of Heaven.
The full-figured form which she recognized as her own was lying on one of the floating stretchers the Kindred kept for transporting the sick or wounded. The stretcher itself had been crammed into the back of a space shuttle and there was someone sitting beside her, holding her limp white hand. But it wasn’t Sophie or Liv.
Lock, she thought with dismay, watching the large male who was carefully cupping her hand in his. And sitting in the front of the shuttle, at the controls, was his brother, Deep.
Though they were twins, it was easy to tell the brothers apart. Twin Kindred always came in diametrically opposing pairs of light and dark.
The light twin, Lock, had sandy blond hair and eyes the color of melted chocolate. He also had a more optimistic view of life in general than his brother. Of the two of them, Kat found him much easier to tolerate. He was nicer than Deep, for one thing, and she could actually have a conversation with him that didn’t turn into an argument. His feelings were easier to deal with, too. Though Lock’s desire for her was loud inside her head, it was nothing like the deafening blast of lust she felt from his brother whenever he got too close.
Deep, the dark twin, had hair so black it almost had blue highlights and eyes the color of a night without stars. They seemed to burn when they looked at her, making Kat feel naked and vulnerable—feelings she didn’t care for a bit. She had enough body issues from having been plus-sized her entire life without an irritating alien male adding to them, thank-you-very-much. The big warrior had rubbed her the wrong way from the moment she’d met him—both literally and figuratively, since he couldn’t seem to keep his hands to himself when the three of them did a joining.
Of the brothers, Lock was shorter by about an inch. But since they were both over six foot six and extremely muscular, it didn’t make much difference. They were both huge as far as Kat was concerned—physically, and emotionally.
She should know—she’d had both of them tramping around inside her head for the better part of a month.
The constant tension of two other people’s powerful emotions churning inside her was incredibly tiring and the headache she’d gotten from their joining was beyond painful. Lately she’d been feeling like she couldn’t take it anymore. Not that she would ever commit suicide—Kat was a fighter and her grandma hadn’t raised her to quit. But the thought of hijacking one of the Kindred shuttles and folding space to put a couple of galaxies between herself and the annoying pair had begun to seem more and more attractive.
The only problem was, she didn’t know how to fly a shuttle and she couldn’t fold space without the help of the special Kindred technology. Besides, where would she go? Sophie had recently visited Tranq Prime, one of the other worlds the Kindred had initiated a genetic trade with, and she hadn’t liked it a bit. She’d come back with stories of roach pudding and clothes that were alive and inclined to play practical jokes that weren’t funny. Not to mention extremely snooty natives—at least the ones Sophie had met. No, Kat had no wish to visit Tranq Prime.
She didn’t want to go to Rageron either—a savage world filled with blue jungles and vicious predators—which was another Kindred trade planet. And as for Twin Moons—the home planet of Deep and Lock—she definitely didn’t want to go there. Because that was exactly where the twin warriors wanted to take her. Earlier, on the Kindred Mother ship, she’d caught a few snatches of thought from them that indicated they were homeward bound—and they wanted her to come with them.
Not on your life! Kat thought, watching from above as Lock held her hand and Deep steered the shuttle through the blackness of space. Once they got me there, I’d never get away from them. Talk about having the home field advantage!
But where exactly were they taking her now? As if in answer to her question, Lock spoke at last.
“Are we almost there, Brother? I fear her pulse is weaker than it was.”
“Going as fast as I can,” Deep growled, throwing an irked glance over his shoulder at his twin. “We just passed through the fold. Home should be just ahead.”
“Well, go faster.” Lock’s voice was urgent. “My touch doesn’t seem to be stabilizing her anymore. What if we lose her before we land?”
“We’re not going to lose her. We can’t—she isn’t ours to lose.” Deep spoke in a lazy drawl but his broad shoulders were bunched with tension as he hunched over the controls.
“I wish you’d stop pretending you don’t care.” Lock stroked Kat’s hand. “Maybe if you’d let her know how you really feel instead of always putting up a wall—”
“There it is.” Despite his earlier sarcasm, Deep sounded relieved. He pointed to the viewscreen where a round gold and green orb was floating like a Christmas ornament in the blackness of space. “Twin Moons, dead ahead. We’re almost home, Brother.”
Twin Moons? No! Kat was aghast. How had she gotten on board a shuttle with these two and why had they been allowed to take her back to their home world? Where were Liv and Sophie when she needed them? The last thing she remembered was talking to her two best friends before everything went black. And now I wake up dead, on my way to the last place I ever wanted to go? Great, just great.
Kat didn’t know how she’d gotten into this mess but somebody was going to answer for it. Just as soon as she found out if she was really dead or only sleeping, that was.
As she had the last thought, her vision began to waver.
“Deep—hurry!” she heard Lock say as though from a great distance. “I can’t feel her pulse any more!”
“Maximum drive engaged. It’s not safe this close to the planetary atmosphere but what the hell,” Deep growled. The tiny green and gold orb began to grow in size, filling the viewscreen with a dizzying suddenness.
Kat’s strange, otherworldly vision was growing dimmer but she could still hear what was going on.
A speaker crackled to life and an alien voice spoke loudly in the small cabin. It wasn’t speaking English—of that she was sure. But somehow she could understand it anyway. “Unidentified Kindred shuttle, this is Control. Be advised that your approach exceeds upper limits of safe velocity. Please throttle down at once.”
“No can do, Control,” Deep responded in the same language, his big hands tightening on the steering yoke. “We have a sick female here. Repeat, a sick Earth female dispatched from the Mother ship and she may be…” He cleared his throat and his voice dropped for a moment. “She may be dying.”
“Regardless of the circumstances, your vector of approach is too steep. I cannot allow—”
“Did you hear me?” Deep demanded, overriding the voice. “I said she may be dying. Requesting clearance to land directly in the Healing Garden.”
“Negative!” The voice sounded panicked now. “Clearance denied. Spacecraft are forbidden within consecrated grounds. The gardens are filled with pilgrims at this time of day. To even consider—”
“Then get them out of the Goddess-damned way!” Deep barked. “We’re coming in now.”
The shuttle tilted alarmingly and Kat’s vision came back with a jolt. She saw was a patch of green rushing toward the viewscreen at alarming speed and had a blurry impression of tiny, Barbie doll-sized figures running to get out of the way. Then her gaze was dragged back to her own still form. Lock was working on her frantically, doing some Kindred version of CPR that looked exceedingly painful as he begged her under his breath to “Live, Kat. Please, live.”
“Almost there,” roared Deep. “Hold on, Brother. Keep her with us!”
“I’m trying!” Lock’s voice sounded close to despair. “But she’s so still. She’s not responding.”
“Fucking make her respond!” Deep ordered. “And be ready to run the moment we touch down. We’re taking her stretcher straight to the center of the garden. Directly to Mother L’rin herself.”
“Yes, all right.” Lock nodded frantically, still working on her. “Please, lady Kat, if you can just hold on a little bit longer…”
There was a jarring thump that rattled everything in the shuttle and Kat saw her body jerk. Then Deep was out of his flight harness and reaching for her. “Go, go go!” he demanded, nodding at the opening which had somehow appeared at the back of the shuttle.
“Going!” Lock was still holding her hand as he pushed the floating stretcher toward the pinkish-gold sunlight pouring in through the opening. “Get the other side.”
“Got it.” Deep grabbed the stretcher with one hand and Kat’s arm with the other. “Goddess, she’s cold! And her lips are blue.”
“I know. I—”
But before she could hear what else Lock was going to say, Kat felt a huge jolt, as though she’d been struck by lightning. Suddenly she was no longer hovering above her own still body, but rushing toward it on a collision course.
Wait, she had time to think. This can’t be right. I can’t—
There was a flash of brilliant light and then…