Xever, a powerful alien lord who rules outside of the Battalion authority, promises Raylin and her captain, Sterling Tristam, freedom in return for the use of their bodies. He's inhabited their consciousness, but he's also linked the three of them using his own powerful psychic energies. In return for their lives and their freedom from certain death at the hands of the Battalion, Raylin and Sterling now owe Xever one year of servitude under his command.
As he's shanghaied Sterling's body for a year, Xever has taken over captainship of the Raven. The crew is wary of their new/old captain, but happy to be able to watch over Sterling. Raylin also has a year of belonging to Xever, and while she tries to remain faithful, the alien who looks so much like her lover attempts to seduce her at every turn. Not easy, when she owes Xever her life.
Somewhere in space the Battalion's supreme commander, Bartholomew Tristam, deserves every bit of their wrath -- and the time for vengeance is coming...
~~~Excerpt~~Beauty surrounded Raylin Fabian. The peace of her grandmother's healing garden was like no place else on Galina. The noble house of Fabian was well known for its talent to grow even the most difficult of plants. A flutterbug landed on her hand. Raylin's hands were small -- she was only five years old. This flutterbug was blue. She liked the purple ones best. The luminescent wings would light up the night, but here in the sunny garden she could only see the normal azure blue the bug used to blend in with the Seabuds. The purple ones used Queen's robe as their home.
Her father had noticed her interest in the creatures and sent a collection of Knowing files to her very own comm. Her family was wealthy. Most children didn't warrant the need for such expensive toys, but Raylin would one day lead house Fabian. Her father believed in advancing her knowledge as quickly as possible. She knew he loved her and it made her young heart prideful.
High-pitched squeals of laughter caught her attention. She looked over to where Jilmara and Magalia, her younger sisters, played. They were chasing a small marsh-cat through the flowers and the terrified little red and black animal weaved between the walking paths. Her heart ached.
Jilmara's long blond hair was free. Raylin watched it streaming behind the child like the house flag in the wind. The sight gave her pause. Ray knew when she was five Magalia hadn't been born yet. Maxwell rushed after his sisters. Wait. I want to play! Feeling the private family link was so comforting. She felt as if no one had spoken with the thought pattern for years, but that couldn't be true. At breakfast Mama had just sung thought songs, as she did every morning as the servants brought in the meal.
Raylin squinted against the bright mid-morning sun. Maxwell hadn't been born yet either. Her siblings were spaced out enough that they all hadn't played this way together before. She was the eldest. She'd been fourteen when Maxwell was old enough to play as he did now. Something was terribly wrong with the glorious garden.
Dark clouds gathered overhead. The warmth became a chill.
Then she heard it -- laser fire.
Raylin sat up with a start, gasping and pushing at the blanket. Xever's arms were around her -- holding her. She pushed him away, too. Instinct caused her to claw at the personal air recycler on her face. The device became essential when the ship went into power save operations at bedtime. The only room with the normal oxygen level was the pilot's house at the highest level of the ship.
She pushed herself out of bed. "You were messing with my dreams again!" she accused.
The contrite expression on his face made her look away. For a moment, he looked so much like Cap... but she knew it was her alien captor. The purple bastard was inside him, using Cap's body. It wasn't her lover who sat on the bed looking back at her.
"You've been sad, Raylin Fabian. I thought happy memories might make you more content. I tire of your anger and unpleasantness."
"Stay the fuck out of my head!" She could understand why people had feared and mistrusted telepaths now. Xever was far more powerful than any Galina telepath she'd ever known. His ability to use mental manipulation was terrifying. His games were a bit overwhelming.
She slapped at the door release and rushed away. The oxygen concentration was still a bit low. She felt light headed as she rushed for her own cabin to get dressed for the day. Hard work was what she needed to take her mind away from how much she missed Sterling.
* * *
Raylin handed Owen a wrench. The heavy metal slipped from his hand. "Ouch! Fuck! Damn it, Ray, I thought you had it," he shouted from under the large cylinder-shaped turbine.
"Sorry," she muttered. Being home on the Raven felt surreal. Her distracted thoughts weren't helping her focus on the task. Owen rolled himself out from under the machinery. His green spandex flight suit, covered with grease smears, looked like it was ready for the recycler. His face was filthy, too. She could see the strain on her friend's face. The Raven had been problematic lately, making Raylin glad to be the gunner and not the mechanic.
"Hey, don't worry about it. I'll live." The large bump on his forehead made her cringe.
"I keep thinking about how everything is my fault. My abilities made it easy for Xever to use Cap. Now we're stuck with the pompous ass as our captain."
"Shh, he might hear you. I don't trust that thing inside of Cap, but we have to keep him happy or God only knows what he might do with the two of you. At least here, we can keep an eye on him. I don't like the idea of him suddenly dragging you two away from us." Owen paused, smiling briefly. "It'll be all right. If his people hadn't shown up Bartholomew would've killed you all. It wouldn't be the same here without you and Esta. I miss Cap too, but he knew what he agreed to."
"Are you sure about that? I know he didn't agree to let an alien take over his body completely. Xever admitted Cap thought he would be sharing his body, not losing control of it."
"I'd have agreed to anything to get away from Battalion, too. Cap knew you didn't have many options. Maybe one of you might have escaped, but there was no way all three of you would've gotten out alive. You were hurt badly. If we want him to stay, we can't push back too hard. Remember when you all returned? We all agreed to this."
She'd never forget.