Previously in The WyndMaster’s Escape
Copyright © Charlotte Boyett-Compo, 2015
When last we left our intrepid lovers, Maj. Marisol Diaz had fled the planet Terra in a fit of pique—leaving privateer Santos Cabrera behind at the ancient Mayan holy ground of Chichén Itzá. Infuriated over the intimate relationship Santos had formed with the Mayan immortal Necahual and expecting him to bring the evil woman back with him to their side of the Megaverse, Mari had made a vow to never see Santos again.
Even though the great god Kulkucán who had arrived on the Solstice to bless the people He had left behind on Terra had shown her and Santos that they had once been husband and wife. They were Lord Xpiacoc and Lady Xmucane from far beyond the stars. She and Santos were destined to be together in all the lives they would been born into over the centuries.
But Santos had left Terra without Necahual. Having every intention of finding Marisol to talk sense into the famed Riezell Guardian whom he realized he loved more than his own life, he got sidetracked on Akhkhara. Distracted by a sultry siren who had stroked his ego—among other things—and tossed him a wager his male ego would not allow him to ignore.
In other words, he thought with the wrong head which was typical of Santos Cabrera.
The problem with that small indiscretion as he hunted for his one true love was that the siren—posing as a Riezell Guardian—was in fact the pampered daughter of the Akhkharusian emperor. She hadn’t really wanted him but rather the one of a kind Fiach runabout that had been a gift to him from the Burgon of Aduaidh Prime. That and exacting revenge on any man who held the distinction of being a legendary WyndMaster. Santos not only lost the runabout to her wager but his freedom as well when the emperor’s men arrested him for befouling the royal daughter.
Thankfully a member of the emperor’s court realized Santos was one of the renowned war Hounds of the Burgon’s Kennel and thus was spared the emasculation that was the punishment for his supposed crime. Instead, Santos was sent to the prison on Hell-12—a brutal planet broiling beneath duel suns.
Upon learning of Santos’ predicament, King Gabriel Leveche of Storia—the infamous Lord Savidos and Kennelmaster for the Burgon—borrowed Marisol from the Guardians to rescue her wayward lover from his savage imprisonment.
Heartsick, terrified of what she would find once she reached Hell-12, Marisol took flight in her own Fiach runabout to rush to her lover’s aid.
Now that we’re all caught up on what came before, we join Marisol somewhere in the Ceathrú Quadrant of the Ainmhi Galaxy…
Here she was bucking a nasty tailwind as she headed for Helios-Twelve on a rescue mission for which she wasn’t sure she was prepared. It had been eight months since she’d returned to Riezell from Terra. She’d neither seen—nor heard—anything of Santos Cabrera until King Gabriel had sent for her.
She’d tried to forget that Breasalian bastard. The gods knew she had but the more she tried to push the good-looking son of a bitch out of her mind the firmer he became entrenched. Knowing they had once—long, long ago—been husband and wife ate at her subconscious like a mind worm. Like getting a melody stuck in your head and being unable to force it out. Like stepping in a big pile of Diabolusian warthog shit and trying to scrape it from your boot.
Santos Cabrera was firmly entrenched and would not leave.
There’d been a dozen men since him. Twelve men that she’d found attractive, sexy and had wanted. They’d had all the qualifications she desired in bedmates: rugged, forceful, cocky but not enough to piss her off. On first inspection that were ripe for her to pick.
Until she got them back to her quarters and began to find ways in which they were lacking. Coming up short in comparison with Cabrera.
She’d sent them packing without so much as allowing them to cop a feel.
And there were her myriad emotions regarding that swaggering bastard. Dwelling on the things she loved about him.
His lopsided grin. The endearing habit he had of arching a brow when he was entertained—lips twitching in a useless attempt at hiding his amusement. That lock of dark hair that constantly fell in a soft curl over his brow. Those long legs flowing down from a high, round hard as rock ass.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she groused. “You’re a stud muffin, Santos Miguel Cabrera. I’ll grant you that.”
And not only handsome but dangerously so.
He was highly-trained, determined, disciplined and extremely confident, she thought. So physically and spiritually powerful. There was something preternaturally focused about the way he did everything—as though he had visualized each and every move long before he made it. He knew precisely how she would respond if he touched her in a certain way, in a certain place with just the right amount of pressure or even pain. He seemed to be able to see beyond the mundane to the very heart of the matter. He was a hunter—fierce and aggressive—a loner, and she thought that might well be why he needed the conquest of so many females. Mayhap he was searching for just the right one and what she wouldn’t give to be that companion. Yet for all his steady determination, he was a will-‘o-the-wisp, as ephemeral as that phantom mist and just as impossible to pin down.
“Damn you to the Abyss, Cabrera,” she said on a long sigh. “Why can’t I just forget about your sorry ass?”
She knew why, of course. She couldn’t get him out of her mind because he had become as much a part of her as the air she breathed and just as necessary, it seemed, to give her peace. Yet the enigma of him raked across her mind with steel talons to scratch away at that fragile peace.
He wasn’t monogamous and didn’t pretend to be. He flirted with every halfway decent looking split-tail with whom he came into contact. He lied. He cheated. He flitted about the Megaverse as though it was his own personal playground—gods-be-damn the consequences of his actions. He put his life on the line time after time without a second thought.
Because when he looked at her with those big brown puppy dog eyes…
“Fuck!” she snarled. “You dance with a demon and you’re gonna get burned.”
Frustrated didn’t begin to cover how she felt.
Horny? You betcha. She was that in spades.
Lonely? That, too, even when she was in a room full of people.
Needing him? Needing to be with him?
Gods-be-damned right she needed the selfish, arrogant prick.
And then some.
Along with all that, she was worried.
Concerned with what might have been done to him at the hands of the Akhkharusian emperor or his henchmen. That he’d been taken to Hell-12 was not encouraging. It was a vile, dangerous place where men were sent to be punished severely. Not as severely as at Utuk Xul, the infamous underground penal complex, but severely enough. She’d gone there once to drop off a prisoner and the world was horrendous. Hot as the hell for which it was named. Constant daylight 24-7 and little to no rain during the 425 day year. They didn’t call it the sweat box for nothing.
Glancing down at the monitor that King Gabriel had supplied her, she stared at the blip that was the subcutaneous chip each Hound had been given upon initiation into the Kennel. The blip was strong—which meant Cabrera was alive but it didn’t say anything about his overall condition.
Or whether or not he still had that part of him women across the Megaverse had enjoyed with such relish. Santos Cabrera being anything less than the supreme, confident and sexy alpha male he’d always been was a terrifying thought.
She drew in a ragged breath.
“Be all right, Santi,” she whispered. “Please be all right. I’m coming for you, babe. Just hang on.”
Helios-Twelve: The Burning Lands
He shook his head as he dropped his knee to the scalding sand. Gods, it burned through his pants like acid but he didn’t have the strength to push back to his feet. Eyes closed against the stinging salty sweat dripping into them, chin to his chest, gasping for breath, he rocked back on his ass until he was resting on his heels.
“Marisol,” he whispered then fell to his side. He drew in on himself—the scorching sand burning him alive—wrapped his arms around his bent knees and began to shake from the excruciating pain.
But he could go no farther. Could not take another step. His energy, his spirit, his very will to live had been sucked from him along with every ounce of moisture.
Her face passed before his closed eyes and he held onto it for as long as he could. It was the only salvation he had in this hellish place. The only thing that brought him a modicum of peace in these last moments of his life. He was rapidly losing consciousness and he knew when the darkness came, it would last forever. Yet he knew he would take her name and her face down with him into that eternal stygian nothingness. Her flickering image would be his only companion in the Underworld. The woman who had been his destiny. The woman he had thrown away.
Or who had thrown him away. It didn’t matter which it had been now. Either way he had lost her. The only good thing he’d ever had. The only happiness he would ever know. She could have saved him. Now he was so lost no one could save him. Dying as alone as he had lived.
“No!” Marisol gasped. The tracking device that was monitoring the subcutaneous chip housed inside Santos was fading, pulsing slower and slower. A red warning was throbbing around the indicator. That was not a good sign. That meant he was…
He was dying. She knew it as surely as she pushed the Fiach into a steep dive over the red planet of Helios-Twelve. Beneath the belly of the runabout the dunes stretched for hundreds of miles in all directions. She’d already passed over the penal colony camp miles to the south as she tracked the blip that led into the very interior of the inhospitable desert.
“Hang on, baby,” she said. “Just hang on a little bit longer.”
What the hell was he doing way out here? She wondered. He wouldn’t have tried to escape. He was too smart for that. He’d know there was nowhere for him to run. No place to hide on this barren world. The only thing on Hell-12 was the penal colony. Trekking into the desert where there was no water, no vegetation and no shade was suicide and Santos Cabrera wasn’t the type to off himself. He was too practical. Too arrogant. Too sure of himself. Too greedy for life and all that it could give him. He wouldn’t have gone voluntarily into the cauldron of the desert but he might have been taken there.
“Someone brought you out here and left you,” she snarled. “And if it’s the last thing I do this side of the Abyss, I’m going to find out who and end his fucking life.”
She was close to where the signal was originating and she slowed the mighty Fiach, pushed it lower to the ground until she was all but skimming the sand. The underside of the craft was inches from the planet’s surface and the runabout was kicking up a boiling cloud of red dust in its wake.
“Where are you, Santi?” she asked, straining to see through the shimmering haze of heat. The light was so bright it hurt her eyes even through the protection of the solar film on the windscreen. “Come on, sweetie. Where the hell are you?”
Miles and miles of nothing but endless dunes stretched out beyond the nose of the Fiach. One glance at the heat sensor on the control panel told her the outside temperature was dangerously high. No one could live long in such interminable heat.
“Damn it, Cabrera. Don’t you dare have fallen into some fucking quicksand thing and been swallowed up!”
She looked down at the tracking device. The red glow was barely moving. Once it stopped, so had the heart of the man whose vital signs it was monitoring.
Then she saw a dark blotch in the midst of a red dune off to starboard and knew it had to be him. There was no animal life on Helios-Twelve, no indigenous life of any kind save the wretched souls—inmates and guards alike—at the prison miles from where she was.
Throttling down even more, she realized she shouldn’t get too close for the wash from the downdraft of the propulsion pods beneath the craft would send blistering sand all over the still form to cut him as easily as diamond to glass. Impatiently, she lowered her craft—engaging the webs on the struts to prevent the Fiach from sinking into the powder—and came to rest about eighty feet from where he lay.
Unmoving, curled in on himself in a fetal position.
She had the hatch open, gangway down before the engines could throttle all the way down. She flew off the corrugated metal ramp as she raced toward him. It was him. She’d know that curly black hair anywhere. The build. The dark umber of his skin. Wading through the sand felt as though she were dragging her feet through thick mud, she cartwheeled her arms to keep from pitching to the burning surface. When she reached him, she went to her knees beside him with tears streaking down her cheeks.
“Merciful Morrigunia!” she gasped as the heat from the sand seared her knees.
His flesh was blistered over nose and forehead, the backs of his hands, the tops of his feet. The rest of what skin she could see was turning red. She could see his chest moving slowly and knew he was alive but his cracked lips and labored breathing scared the shit out of her.
“I’m here, Santi. I’m here. Just hang on, baby. Please hang on.”