Cold Blue Love by Valerie Wilde

Chapter One

There wasn’t even an automatic defense system around the planet.

The only protection was a clutter of satellites that didn’t even pay the slightest attention to Haadr as he easily maneuvered his way around them. Anyone in the universe could land on this planet and be completely undetected, Haadr thought scornfully.

Which was probably why Slervoran had chosen this particular planet to hide on. That damned shape shifter had been able to sneak onto this planet, disguise himself as one of the locals and escape from justice.

The thought that Slervoran might get away, when so many of Haadr’s people had died because of his betrayal, sickened Haadr. He refused to allow that to happen. His fingers jabbed at the controls, punching in the landing coordinates.

He’d got a tip off from a Centauri trader that Slervoran was hiding out in a remote mountainous region on one of the larger landmasses. He’d paid a hundred credits for the information. It was a small fortune but he considered it money well spent to get an exact map reference for Slervoran’s shelter.

Haadr did not have a lot of experience dealing with other species. His own species, the Ka’adril, had been kept in servitude to the Vaslor for so long, slaving away in their mines for hundreds of years. He had no experience dealing with any of the thousands of other species that inhabited the galaxy. It was pure luck that he’d crossed paths with a Centauri who had the exact information he was looking for.

The small spacecraft landed and powered down while Haadr ran a few diagnostics. The atmosphere really was breathable, just as the Centauri had assured him it would be. Haadr’s weapon was already clipped on his belt, but he still laid his hand on the handle, double checking it was there.

Slervoran had been his friend. But all of it had been a lie. The traitor had spent years living as a Ka’adril. Years spent deceiving them all, working his way into Ka’adril society. He’d been accepted into the secret army with every appearance of being just as dedicated a soldier as Haadr.

The two of them had trained together, spent hours learning to fight, learning to shoot.

In the long years, while the Ka’adril slowly planned and plotted their revolution, Slervoran had been his best friend. How many times had the two of them spent an evening drinking, discussing their hopes and dreams for a future where they would be free?

But now Haadr knew the truth. That every single word out of Slervoran’s mouth had been a lie.

He slowly relaxed his hold on his gun. Yes, he was here for revenge on a man he’d once trusted with his life, but this was more than just personal vengeance. He was here to avenge the deaths of all those Ka’adril that had died when Slervoran had betrayed them. Those dead Ka’adril deserved justice.

He was here to take Slervoran back to his people so that he could be put on trial.

Haadr opened the hatch door, breathing in a lungful of the alien air. It was dark on this side of the planet, and there was a warm breeze that felt unnatural for this time of night. Up ahead, through the alien flora, there was a flickering light. He drew his weapon and stepped onto the strange world.

Slowly, taking care not to make a noise, he got closer to the light. He was so close to Slervoran now; a wave of cold anger swept through him. It was just like the Centauri had told him to expect. A single person was sitting in the clearing. This must be him!

Slervoran must think his hiding place was very well hidden, he’d relaxed enough to fall asleep out in the open like this. It was almost too easy. But then Slervoran had always been arrogant. When they were younger it had even amused Haadr.

The traitorous shape-shifter was disguised. Instead of the sticky green skin of a Vaslor he was wearing the skin of, what Haadr assumed, was one of the native species.

The weak female form was a good disguise, attractive. Slervoran looked small, pale skinned and vulnerable looking, her body covered in material that hid away most of her skin. The native species must be poorly adapted to their own environment if this was considered normal.

The form was almost cute. There was hair on his head, the curves of his hips and breast more pronounced than on any Ka’adril female.

Haadr hadn’t thought it was possible for him to feel any more disgust for Slervoran than he already did, but he did now. Shapeshifters could never be trusted. How manipulative of Slervoran to take this particular form. One that was so beautiful.

The primitive fire crackled, the burnt out fuel left unattended for too long as it started to die down. With his finger on the trigger of his gun, he headed toward the sleeping traitor. So many of his friends and family were gone, many because of the actions of the shapeshifter before him.

Haadr hesitated, he wasn’t sure that he even truly cared about taking Slervoran to trial.

Perhaps he should just kill him now and free the universe of his foulness and treachery.

Beth dozedin front of the campfire. It had been years since she’d last hiked up here but it was just the same as when she’d sneak up here to meet her friends. How many Friday evenings had she spent partying up here? Beth had lost count. The teenagers all used to think they were so brave and naughty, having this secret place to come and hang out.

It was up here, just a few feet from the fire, where she’d first kissed Milton. She could still remember that night in vivid detail. She’d been wearing a sweater that her mom had embroidered with little flowers. Mom had worked on that sweater while she was sick, she’d even taken it with her when she went into the hospital.

That was why it was Beth’s lucky sweater; it was made with her Mom’s love. That night with Milton, when she kissed him and he asked her to be his girlfriend, she thought she was the luckiest girl in the world.

She sighed heavily, annoyed with herself. There was no need to get upset about things that happened so long ago.

Beth was only back in Drumlin Mills because two of her high school friends were getting married to each other. Amy and Stu had been high school sweethearts and now, after eight years together they were officially tying the knot.

She supposed she was just feeling sorry for herself. Things hadn’t worked out like that for Beth and her high school sweetheart. Which was fine. Of course, what Amy and Stu had was rare; most people who dated in high school weren’t still together by the age of twenty-five.

The only reason she was thinking about Milton now was because she was back in her home town...and because the six months that the two of them had been together was still her longest lasting relationship.

While everyone else was sleeping off their hangovers from yesterday’s wedding reception, Beth had decided to hike out here and start a small fire. Now she’d been sitting here for hours and it was getting late. It was already dark, although she knew the path back so well that she wasn’t worried about finding the way.

Seeing Milton and all her high school friends had been odd. Yes, it was great to catch up...but she couldn’t help feeling a sense of melancholy learning how everyone else seemed to have moved on with their lives. Two of the girls from her homeroom had kids!

It all gave her the sense that she hadn’t really achieved that much since she’d left Drumlin Mills. She wasn’t even sure how it had happened. Beth had been the first of all her friends to move away, the first to start a professional job.

But she was still working that same job, still in the exact same cubicle as she’d sat down in on her first day. She still hadn’t found Mr. Right, had barely even been looking for him!

The problem, Beth thought as she looked into the dying fire, was that she worried too much. Her eyes slipped closed as her mind wandered. She just got so anxious. She was too timid to ask her boss for a raise, too stressed to ever perform well in a job interview, too worried every time she went on a date with a guy. If she could only learn to relax in the way that came naturally to everyone else then maybe her life wouldn’t have stalled out like this.

Beth slumped back against the fire warmed rock, listening to the comforting crackling of the fire. This trip was going to be her wake-up call. She was going to leave Drumlin Mills in the morning, and demand the raise that she deserved from her boss. She was going to start putting herself out there. No more letting herself be ruled by her anxiety!

Definitely.

This was going to be her fresh start. She sighed, a part of her already doubting herself, already whispering that she wasn’t capable of change. It was simply her nature to worry about things, how could anyone change their nature?

Beth started to doze, not quite asleep but not awake either as her mind drifted between thinking about her bright new future where she was fearless and went after her goals without worry, and sharp moments of self-doubt.

There was a soft noise of footsteps. Someone must have seen her fire and decided to come out here to join her.

Beth shook herself awake with a yawn. She stretched out, closing her mouth with a snap as she finally saw who had joined her. It was a man. An almost naked man. An almost naked man with more muscles than Beth had ever seen on a person in real life. Except, for some reason he was painted entirely blue and, on his well-defined cheekbones, there was a row of blue scales.

For a full second, Beth stared at his body, too mesmerized to fully understand what she was seeing. Who the hell was this guy? And why the hell had he painted himself blue? Didn’t he know Halloween was weeks ago?

He reached out a painted hand toward her but there was something in his hand, a lump of twisted metal. Was she supposed to take it?

The strange man stared at her, his eyes burning with emotion and he still hadn’t said a word. What the hell was he doing? Beth looked between his intense stare and the weird object he was holding out to her.