sci-fi romance book
genre: sci-fi romance book
length: 27283 words / novella
released: September 2009
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Daughters of Lyra: Heart of an Assassin
Princess Natalia, one of the beautiful and strong daughters of Lyra, has spent her whole life on Lyra Five behaving just as a princess should, except for one thing. After her daily duties she sneaks out at night to sing in the bars of Lyra Five, pretending to be someone else. Natalia loves to sing, more than anything else in the galaxy, until the night that Ixion, the handsome commander of the royal assassins, comes to the bar to bring her home.
Ixion is the only man Natalia has dreamed of since she first saw him seven years ago, but she’s sure he doesn’t notice her and she’s determined to change that. But Natalia couldn’t be more wrong.
Ixion has loved his elusive princess, Natalia, since the night he revealed himself to her, and now he faces a daily struggle between his duty and his heart, between hoping a princess could love him, an assassin and man of no rank in society, and fearing that she loves another man more worthy of her heart.
When Natalia insists on going to the spring festival, Ixion is ordered to ensure her safety, just as she hoped, but things don’t go as smoothly as she had planned. An explosion in the port triggers a battle between the purist factions and the imperial army and Natalia is caught in the middle of it.
Will Ixion be able to protect Natalia? Will Natalia be able to convince Ixion that she loves him and that the passionate night they share won’t be their only time? When her family discovers she’s in love with an assassin, will Natalia be able to save him or will Ixion face a death sentence?
ALL OF THE DAUGHTERS OF LYRA STORIES STAND ALONE AND DO NOT NEED TO BE READ IN ORDER.
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Natalia lifted her head and almost stopped singing when she spotted him sitting alone at a table at the back of the dark and crowded club.
What was he doing here?
Without missing a beat, Natalia continued to sing to the gathered Terrans but his presence played on her mind, making her movements restrained. She pushed rogue spikes of her black hair off her neck, trying to cool down while still looking as though she was dancing. Nerves fluttered in her stomach, keeping time with the fast bouncy music. She twirled and the moment she faced front, her gaze snapped back to him.
He stared at her.
The room was too hot. Her eyes darted to the exits either side of the stage. She struggled to keep singing under his watchful gaze.
What was a royal assassin doing here?
Was he here for her, and if he was, why had they sent him?
The song faded. Natalia gave a quick bow and then fled the small stage. No time for the usual talk at the end of her set tonight. The applaud ceased when a door slid shut behind her. No time for an encore.
She had to get away.
Natalia turned down the corridor to her changing room, hurrying along it as quickly as she could manage in the platform-heeled metallic pink boots. The door to the changing room slid open and she hit the pad to shut it behind her. No time for a shower. She stripped off the small shiny pink and white top, the long gloves, and the tiny shorts and stuffed them into the black bag that she always brought with her. She tugged on her long deep blue dress and fumbled with the fastenings across the front, struggling to tighten and tie the ribbons with her trembling fingers. When she was done with her dress, she grabbed her hair, twirled it around into a knot at the back of her head and pinned it roughly into place.
What was he doing here?
Did her father know about her singing?
Her breaths shortened and came faster when she thought about how angry her father would be if he discovered that she had been singing in the slums of Lyra Five. Her mother would kill her.
Maybe the assassin was just in the club to relax like all the other patrons. Maybe she was mistaken.
Natalia stormed along the corridor towards the exit that led to the narrow street at the back of the club. The palace was far away but she was going to run all the way there, even up the steep hill on which it stood overlooking the city. She would be in her rooms within the hour. No one would know that she had been gone.
She sent a prayer to Iskara that she was mistaken and it wasn’t him. The bright lights on the stage could easily have turned someone else’s face into his. It might not be him.
No. It was definitely him. The lights hadn’t been that strong and she had taken a good look at him. She had only seen his face once before but it was enough. You didn’t forget a royal assassin.
She had to get home. Perhaps he hadn’t recognised her. No one else did. Renie was the more famous of them and Natalia always looked different when attending public events and around the palace. He might not recognise her.
The beaten grey metal back door slid open as she approached.
Natalia froze in her tracks, her heart hammering.
“Princess Natalia,” he said, voice deeper than she had expected.
It sent an odd tremor through her.
Ixion stepped forward. Head to toe in black, and with his dark hair, he was a sight to be seen. His clear purple eyes fixed on her as he moved into the corridor, blocking her only exit. The muscles of his lithe body shifted beneath his tight black uniform with each step.
Natalia’s palms sweated and her skin turned tacky. She clutched the bag over her shoulder and tried to see if she could pass him. It was too hot in the building. She longed to drink in the cool night air and to return home to her apartments in the palace. She wanted to pretend that she hadn’t been caught.
“I don’t know who you mean.” The quiver in her voice ruined her denial.
“Princess Natalia,” he said again and her heart fluttered at the way her name sounded on his lips—soft and sensual. She had never heard him speak before, didn’t know anything about him or any of the royal assassins.
She tried to move past him but he shifted to block her path, towering over her. She didn’t even know where he was from. He wasn’t Lyran or Terran. None of the assassins were. They were a different species entirely.
Natalia tried the other side but he blocked her again.
She stared at his knee-high black leather boots and hunched up, clutching her bag with both hands over her right shoulder. It was no use. While she had never seen him close up or more than once, he had clearly seen her a lot of times, enough to recognise her when others hadn’t. She supposed that was part of his job. He and his men were often used as stealth bodyguards for her family.
“Did father send you?” she said, giving up her attempt to lie. It probably didn’t do to lie to a royal assassin. Although they worked for her father, they were still deadly and mysterious, giving off an air of men who would gladly kill anyone if they were offered the right price.
Natalia corrected herself. Ixion wouldn’t. He had been with her family since she could remember. She had heard his name repeatedly from when she had only been a child. He was loyal to her family.
Her eyes scanned up the length of him, over taut muscles that were only emphasised by his uniform, until they reached his face.
Ixion shook his head, causing finger-length strands of his black hair to fall down across his pale forehead.
In a way, he looked Minervan, but she knew that he wasn’t. No Minervan had eyes so vivid and purple.
“Mother?” she whispered, hoping he would say no. She didn’t want to upset her mother, not after what she had been through with Renie and Rezic’s kidnapping by the Vegans.
“None at the palace know.” His voice was as smooth as the ocean of Lyra Five, and almost as deep.
Natalia exhaled long and slow, and then frowned at him. “You knew.”
“No one of importance knows,” he said as though correcting himself and her.
No one of importance? He was part of the palace and an important part of it in her eyes.
He placed his right hand to his chest and bowed his head, closing his eyes. His hair fell forwards, a mass of long spikes that hung in front of his face.
“It is not safe, my lady. We must return to the palace.”
Natalia tightened her grip on her black bag and nodded. At least she wouldn’t be frightened on her way home tonight. Sometimes some of the men had too much cheap Lyran Aquan and came around back to serenade her with lewd suggestions and offers. She didn’t think that they would dare approach her when Ixion was by her side.
His eyes opened and he looked up at her through the strands of his hair, his purple eyes cool and impassive. When she blinked, he straightened and turned, moving out into the alley.
They walked along the main street of the city. It ran straight to the palace and she could see it standing tall in the distance on top of the hills, lit up in the dark. Its pale stone towers shone brightly, like something out of the fairytales her mother had told her as a child. The waterfalls thundered down from arches at its base to the river one hundred feet below.
Her cousin Sophia had told her that the emperor’s palace on Varka Prime was similar to hers, but a lot spikier and darker looking. She had looked up a picture of it and had decided that her palace was far superior. There was nothing in the galaxy that could compare to the beauty of her home. She loved it with all her heart, even when it felt like a prison at times.
Turning her attention away from the palace, she looked in the windows of the small redbrick buildings that lined the main street. The stores sold all kinds of goods, from junk to antiques and food to clothes. They were a treasure trove when they were open during the day hours and a place that she loved to wander around with her attendants in the rare times they had managed to escape the palace alone. There was always something new and fascinating to find.
In one of the windows was a pretty painted card advertising the upcoming spring festival. Natalia wanted to go to it but had never been allowed. Her attendants went every year and always came back with stories of wild animals and even wilder men, and of beautiful clothes and bolts of stunning coloured silks and materials. She loved to make her own clothes. Her outfit that she sung in at the club was one that she had made and certainly one that she had kept hidden from her parents. Her mother would have Snrikiks if she ever found out about her singing.
Natalia snuck a glance at Ixion. The street was only lowly lit by the tall glowing white lights that hung from the roofs of the shops but it was enough to see his face. He was younger than she had expected considering how long ago she had first heard his name and far more handsome. She didn’t remember him looking this good the only time she had seen him but then he had been far away, not close enough for her to see any real detail. She had noticed his eyes though, couldn’t forget the rich clear purple of them and the way they had fixed on her, intent and unnerving her back then. When they had settled on her tonight, she had felt no fear. She had only felt a strange stirring deep inside her and incredible warmth that had suffused every inch of her body.
They turned down a side street and came out by the river. The lights were brighter here, making the rapidly running water sparkle like diamonds. Two large passenger freighters passed overhead, one going towards the city port and one away, the tinny whine of their engines loud in the night. She wondered where the one leaving was going as it moved into the distance and struggled upwards. Out of the planet for certain and probably only to another one in the Lyra system, but she imagined that it was going somewhere far away, to a place that she had never been.
To one where Ixion might have come from.
She looked at him again, as furtively as possible so he didn’t realise that she couldn’t keep her eyes off him. He was incredible. His straight nose, the delicious curve of his dusky lips, and the strong square line of his jaw made his profile so noble that she could imagine that he was a prince from some distant planet. The light shone off his purple eyes, making them bright. It wasn’t just his profile that made him regal. It was the way that he held himself. He walked with his shoulders back and chin tilted up, a confident stride that spoke of assurance. No man was a threat to him. More than a prince. He looked like a king.
Her gaze flickered to the palace. He was certainly more of a prince than two of her older brothers, Aiden and Ciel, and possibly more than her oldest brother Rezic.
Natalia glanced at Ixion again and then up at the crescent moon and the stars beyond. Where did Ixion come from? How old had he been when he had joined the royal assassins?
She had first heard his name when she was five. That was twenty Lyran years ago now. Ixion didn’t look beyond fifteen years older than her. She wanted to ask him about his species but didn’t dare converse so freely with him. A princess wasn’t supposed to talk to those outside her circle, even if she wanted to know about them more than anything in the world.
If she knew what species he was, she could look it up on her computer pad at home and learn more about him. She could find out whether his species aged differently to Lyrans, like the Varkans and Vegans did. He was no species that she recognised. She had never met another man like him. Everyone seemed so ordinary in comparison.
He was quiet as he walked beside her but she could sense that he wasn’t deep in thought. He was aware of everything, his hands remaining constantly near the two long daggers strapped to his thighs. Did he think that she was in danger? The streets were empty. They hadn’t seen a soul since leaving the entertainment quarter.
The light shone on him again, making the delicate royal Lyran blue embroidery around the cuffs of his black stand-up collared jacket glimmer.
Natalia realised that he hadn’t been out tonight without reason. If he had been off duty, he wouldn’t have worn his uniform. It was obvious to any who knew about the Lyran royal family that he was an assassin. He had been on a mission, or he had wanted to be seen.
That was a strange notion for Natalia. Ixion was their best assassin. She had only seen him once in her lifetime and they had been in the same palace since she was a child. She had seen other assassins several times, which had led her to believe that the one time she had seen Ixion, he had wanted to be seen.
He had wanted her to see him.
Just as he had wanted her to tonight.
Her parents hadn’t sent him. He wasn’t on a mission from the palace. He had sent himself. A chill raced through her but she wasn’t frightened. In fact, she felt strangely honoured that Ixion had chosen to retrieve her and bring her home safely.
It wasn’t his duty to do such things, but he had done it nonetheless.
Which meant he was telling the truth when he said that no one at the palace knew.
“What were you doing in the city?” she said, hoping that he would just think that she was making small talk and wasn’t probing for answers.
“Following you.” His eyes remained forwards, his deep voice emotionless.
Her heart thumped against her chest. Following her? He must have seen her leave the palace and wondered where she was going so late in the day. She always left after dinner and it was getting dark then at this time of year.
“Why?” That question came out blunter than she had wanted.
Ixion looked at her. He blinked slowly but not a trace of emotion showed in his eyes.
“I have noticed you leaving the palace at night for several months.” He faced forwards again and a frown married his eyebrows. “It is dangerous at night in the city right now.”
Was it? It didn’t seem any different to usual but he would know better than her. The only city matters that she was involved in were balls, openings and festivals, and any other ceremonies. Her father kept her and her siblings away from news that he thought might upset them. Was something going to happen? If it did, the palace was well protected. The bridges over the wide moat would rise and the shield would activate to cover the entire area in a dome. If something happened, she would be safe, but it still frightened her when she thought about it.
Her city had always been peaceful. The only violence she had ever witnessed was drunken fights outside the club.
“So you came for me?” she said in a quiet voice, distracted by her thoughts and the idea that Ixion had feared for her safety. He nodded. “Thank you.”
His purple gaze slid to her. “It is my duty to protect you and your family.”
She stopped and turned to face him. “It is also your duty to tell my family what I have done, is it not?”
Ixion came to a halt and slowly moved to face her.
“Are you going to tell my father?” Natalia’s heart clenched at the thought. Her father would be so angry with her for going out into the city after dark and singing somewhere so public without any guards. She bit her lip and stared into Ixion’s eyes, waiting to hear her sentence.
She would do anything to keep him silent.
A frown creased her brow when a voice at the back of her mind asked exactly how far she would go to silence Ixion.
The pale light of the streetlamp shone down on his face. His gaze held hers, steady and intent, his stunning purple irises stirring something deep inside her. She pressed a hand to her stomach as it warmed. Her heart fluttered against her ribs like a butterfly, trembling in its attempt to break free and fly to him.
He was so mysterious and handsome, and she had never experienced anything like the pull she felt to him. It was deep, making her chest and stomach hot, and tingles dance along her nerve endings whenever his eyes met hers.
“We must keep moving,” he said at last.
Natalia shook her head. “No. Not until you promise not to tell my parents.”
His eyes darkened as he frowned. He looked as though he was going to refuse and then slowly nodded.
“But you must promise me something in return.” Those words held a sense of foreboding and she knew what he was going to say. She didn’t move, didn’t want to agree to his terms, even though it would mean trouble if she didn’t. “You must stop leaving the palace to sing.”
It hurt to agree to that, to sacrifice the one thing that made her truly happy and feel free, but she nodded nonetheless. She had no other choice. She was asking a lot of him by making him promise to keep her habit secret and go against his duty to inform her parents of any danger to the family. The least she could do was promise that she wouldn’t put herself at risk anymore.
With a heavy heart, Natalia followed him over the bridge that led to the palace grounds and through a side gate. No one was on the other side and it wasn’t a gate that she was familiar with. Was it one that the assassins used? She hadn’t been paying attention to whether Ixion had a key for it.
Looking up at the palace towering above her, she tightened her grip on her sack of clothes and sighed. So much for freedom. She was reduced to singing in her room again and living the life of a princess.
They walked up through the gardens and she followed Ixion when he branched away from her normal path and took a barely visible one through the low flowering shrubs. It twisted and snaked its way through the garden and she was surprised when it came out right by the door to her apartments.
She looked back, trying to see the path, but the night stole her vision and made the path invisible—just as it made Ixion invisible. She could barely see him in the low light from her apartments. He lingered in the shadows away from her door, on the main path that led to the back of the palace.
Natalia looked into his eyes, wondering if he would keep his promise and whether she would ever see him again. Twice in her life, he had allowed her to see him, and this time it had affected her deeply. She wanted to know more about him and how he came to be at the palace. She wanted to know why he had come to escort her back rather than sending a guard, and why he would keep her secret when it went against his duty to do so.
Most of all, she wanted to know him.
He placed his right hand against his chest and bowed. “Goodnight, my lady.”
With that he disappeared into the night before she could even realise he was gone. She blinked and stared at the spot where he had been.
She pressed her hand against the panel beside her door. The light flashed blue and the twin arched glass and white wood doors to her apartments opened. She looked back into the garden, trying to catch a glimpse of Ixion.
She knew that he was still nearby. She could feel him watching her, just as she had felt his eyes on her at the club.
“Goodnight,” she whispered and then walked into her apartments, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight.
Not when her heart and mind were full of Ixion.
He made her feel things that she had never experienced before.
For the first time in her life, she wanted to know a male’s touch.