“So who won the fight?” Gwen asked, pushing open the door to the training room.
“It was not a true competition. What is more important is that Synar surprised me and I let him get by with it,” Ania said with a frown. “That’s what should matter to you from a warrior’s perspective.”
“Much of what Synar does these days surprises me. Before you got here, he was the most stoic male I had ever met. Now he’s as anxiety ridden as any other creature. When I reported to him last, he actually yelled at me. So quit stalling and tell me who won the fight,” Gwen demanded on a laugh, removing her shoes and tucking them under the bench. “Did you beat him as badly as you do me? And can I watch next time?”
“Your competitive nature screams ‘Earthling’ to everyone who gets to know you,” Ania chastised, even though she also paused to think about Gwen’s question as she slipped off her own shoes.
Truthfully, she hadn’t really thought of what happened during their fight as her losing to Synar or either of them winning. She didn’t even think of fighting Synar the way she thought of fighting other people. She had merely been trying to prove a point, and maybe work off some justifiable anger.
“Winning is relative, but by your standards I would say I did. My body never hit the mat,” Ania said with a shrug.
Gwen snorted, examining the smaller female’s skinny frame and lack of roundness with a trained warrior’s eye.
“Synar is not all that tall for a male, but you’re at least five inches shorter than him. I know because I’m as tall as he is. Are you telling me Synar kissed you and your feet never left the mat?”
Remembering his fierce embrace and her legs wrapped tightly around him, Ania sighed and frowned. “I see your point. Perhaps the fight ended in a draw.”
“Too bad for you both that it didn’t end in one of your beds,” Gwen teased, laughing at her own joke. “If it makes you feel any better, right now I’m running from Zade. He keeps asking to speak to me privately. My instinct is to keep away from him, so that’s what I’ve been doing. You want to help me out by telling me what’s going on?”
“Why should I tell you what I see intuitively when you are able to see for yourself? If you are so concerned, use your intuition to discover the reason,” Ania ordered.
Gwen ran a hand through her hair. “Not going to happen—I’m not sure I want to even know. Zade and I—Shades of Kellnor—we have a history, okay? Or at least we could have had one. I sort of threw myself at him when I first met him. I hadn’t felt that way about a male before him and haven’t felt like that for another since. He refused me very politely, which has worked out fine. Now I think he wants to break the news to me about the mating thing you mentioned. I’m just not up for all that awkward stuff,” Gwen protested.
Ania studied Gwen, blinking in disbelief. Dorian was finally chasing and Gwen was now running. They had traded places, but the end result remained their continued avoidance of involvement with each other.
“You really need to learn to use your intuition in better ways. It rules you anyway. I suggest you concede to it as soon as possible,” Ania advised.
“Really? Well, what’s so great about knowing the future? Zade can just go do what he needs to do. Let him mate someone. He doesn’t owe me any explanations. I admit I felt a twinge when you first mentioned it, but no male is worth dwelling on forever, no matter how nice he looks,” Gwen announced.
Ania rose and took a deep breath, wrestling with the decision of telling Gwen or not telling Gwen about Dorian’s intentions towards her. When a creature rejected their intuition so adamantly, it had always seemed wrong to her to force them to epiphanies they did not seek on their own.
Besides, Ania thought, who was she to put herself in the middle of Dorian and his mate?
Deciding to let it happen as it would, Ania only smiled and gestured at the mat.
“Let’s go. I’m feeling lucky today,” Gwen told her, looking down on the top of the shorter female’s head.
“Good for you. I’m feeling like you’re going to be on the mat in the first two minutes again,” Ania teased back. “Unless you’ve magically learned some patience since last time.”
“Very funny,” Gwen said, taking her stance.
An hour later her top was drenched in sweat while Ania was completely dry still. And it wasn’t because Pleiadian females didn’t sweat. Ania just didn’t sweat when fighting with her.
From her hated position of being flat on the mat, Gwen sighed hard and promised herself she would change that in time.
Reaching down, Ania pulled her determined pupil to her feet. “You did better today,” she informed her, grinning when Gwen rolled her eyes.
“How many years did you say it took you to master your moves?” Gwen demanded.
“At least fifty Earth years,” Ania said.
“No wonder Earthlings don’t become Khalsas. None of them live long enough. My father says members of his family live on average around three hundred years. With my genetic heritage, I could die tomorrow or live a few centuries. I’ll keep training though if you’ll keep teaching me,” Gwen said.
Ania bowed her head to Gwen respectfully, pleased when her new pupil returned the gesture naturally. There were some things in Gwen that were changing rapidly. Then there were others that would probably never change, Ania decided, smiling about several of them.
“Let me phrase my answer in your favorite terms. I have no problem kicking your ass every day, though fighting you so often makes me want to engage Dorian for a proper workout,” Ania bragged.
“Now that I look forward to seeing—you and Zade going at each other. I’d love to see him kick your ass,” Gwen mused, putting her shoes back on again.
Ania laughed. “Well, that would probably not take much in his case. He’s been practicing for centuries. I haven’t.”
Gwen snorted. “I’m trying to imagine a whole military trained like you. Who did the Khalsas fight?”
“Demons—for one,” Ania said easily, standing and stretching.
Gwen sighed and shook her head. “Does that help you deal with your situation any?”
“Not really,” Ania admitted sadly. “But I do understand Malachi better because of it. I have been reading about demons. There were many things I did not know, that my training never covered. He is not the scary ‘unknown’ entity in me now. He is Malachi, and I think of him that way. He is bowing to the will of the creators of all just like the rest of us.”
“You trying to make friends with him or something?” Gwen prodded as they headed back to their rooms.
“I guess something like that,” Ania said finally, stealing a full look at Gwen as they walked. “If I can find ways to deal with your volatile Earthling nature, dealing with a demon can’t be much more difficult.”
“That was an unprovoked insult,” Gwen exclaimed, reaching out a hand and shoving a laughing Ania lightly into the nearest wall. “Not so tough off the mat, are you?”
“I’m starting to like you, Gwen. I don’t want to hurt you,” Ania said truthfully, rubbing her arm as she veered off to head to her room. “Enjoy your day off.”
“Thanks. Maybe I’ll see you at the meal this evening,” Gwen said, breaking into a quick jog to cover the distance down the hall faster.
She was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon with Chiang. It was rare when they both got the same day off.
Dorian paced the room as he dressed. So far he’d let Gwen get by with ignoring him. Now his patience had reached its limit. When he heard the knock on his door, his spirit leapt inside him, then quieted immediately as he realized it wasn’t her.
He opened the door to Synar who—shock of shocks—waited for an invitation before bursting in this time. Sighing in resignation, Dorian gestured his friend inside with a sweep of his hand.
“Are you heading somewhere?” Synar asked, looking at Dorian who was dressed in more clothes than usual with several hours left before his duty began.
“To claim my mate, if I can catch her alone for two minutes,” Dorian complained. “Gwen has been ignoring me for several days.”
Synar smiled. “Maybe she’s finally using her intuition.”
“Very funny, but not helpful. Where did Ania sleep last night?” Dorian asked.
“Do not project your bad mood onto me. You’re very tense Dorian. I haven’t seen you this way in many years. Did you really think that when you were ready, Gwen would just go along with your mating plans without objection?” Synar asked.
Dorian knew Synar would think him completely arrogant if he answered yes, but actually he had figured that Gwen would at least be open to hearing his offer. She was in most ways a logical being. He knew he still affected her as a male, knew she felt desire for him. Claiming was only a matter of connecting all the dots that were already there.
Sirens weren’t the only species to have figured out the energy settings of mating. They were just the only ones that truly respected the enormous power of such intimate connections.
“Gwen Jet is my mate. That’s just an energetic fact. If she is not yet consciously aware of it, I intend to inform her. I could release my mating vibrations and draw Gwen to me without appealing to her logic, but I do not want to force her to be my mate. It is preferable that she choose me,” Dorian said tightly. “I should never have turned her away in the first place. I made a mistake. Now all I can do is try to rectify it.”
“Do you think admitting your mistake is going to win Gwen?” Synar asked. “If so, I hope you have better luck than I did apologizing to Ania.”
“Something must have worked for you because I felt your bonding vibration with her. You know how sensitive I am to those things,” Dorian said. “I’m aware when anyone on this ship bonds with anyone else. It’s a bloody curse when I’m trying to abstain.”
“Thank the creators I’m not a Siren then,” Synar said, grinning at Dorian’s pained expression. “My time with Ania was two minutes and one vibration long. She assures me she doesn’t need anything physical from me, but she’ll let me know if she does.”
“Ania lies to you and to herself. She’s just hurt still. The female part of her is wounded,” Dorian said, relenting to pat Synar’s shoulder in comfort. “Do not lose faith. I have seen your relationship with Ania is meant to be, but to have it, you will have to compromise more than she will. Be prepared.”
Synar snorted. “I advise you to have faith also, my friend. Gwen now guards the keys to herself with a warrior’s mind set against an enemy. Don’t turn your back on your fierce mate until you win her over.”
“I can be a formidable enemy, but I can also be a determined mate. Now I see that the centuries are very long without a female to warm your bed, and I am done being alone. Gwen will be warming my sheets shortly,” Dorian said with confidence.
“Well, I guess I will believe it to be a truth for you two when I see it happen,” Synar said, walking to the door.
“Did you just come by to offer your poor encouragement to me or did you have another purpose in seeking me out?” Dorian asked, letting his tone indicate his disbelief about Gwen rejecting him.
Synar laughed softly, but with little enjoyment. It was more fun to tease about Gwen and Dorian fighting than to have to inform Dorian about the real reason he’d sought him out. “The documents from Ania’s inquiry were filed today. They announce she is Malachi’s host. It won’t be long before Conor starts trying to find a way to get to the demon again.”
Dorian shrugged. “It was always inevitable that your brother would come after you and the demon. You need to tell Ania about Conor so she can prepare.”
“Tell her that in addition to giving her body to a demon, my evil brother will soon be trying to kill her as well? No. Ania has enough to worry about,” Synar said, opening the door.
“You underestimate her,” Dorian said, shaking his head. “She is much more than you have discovered. Ask her about her life when she met me.”
“There is no benefit in discussing the past. How many more secrets can she can have, Dorian?” Synar said on a humorless laugh. “I would rather she focus on the future and stop asking me for her death. I’m running out of ways to say no.”
“There are many circumstances worse than death, Liam. Keep strong where Ania is concerned. She will always need you,” Dorian told his friend, whom he could see had already tuned him out.
“Let me know when you finally confront Gwen. I’ll send someone to mop up the spilled life force from the floor,” Synar joked.
When the door closed behind Synar, Dorian walked to the ship’s computer port on his wall and touched the screen.
“How may I assist you, Lieutenant Zade?” the computer asked.
“Report present location of Commander Jet,” Dorian demanded, as he had several times over the last few days.
“Commander Gwen Jet is in her quarters,” the computer reported.
Dorian removed his hand from the screen and walked determinedly to the door.
This time he was not going to be put off.