Authors: Lily Cain
Tags: #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Adult, #Erotica
The Naked Truth
By Lilly Cain
Captain Susan Branscombe was the victim of brutal torture at the hands of terrorists. Though rescued, she’s now facing an equally brutal accusation: treason.
The only way she can prove her innocence is to allow Asler Kiis, a Confederacy Examiner, to delve into the depths of her mind. Asler is Inarri, the alien race that made contact with Earth just months before. His duty is to find the truth, but when he explores Susan’s mind he can’t resist drawing her into a more intimate experience.
Susan takes comfort in Asler’s heated sensuality. Their erotic sensory exploration chases away the darkness and her body aches for more. But as their desire reaches new limits Susan finds it difficult to suppress the memories she is desperate to forget.
Is the passion they share enough to let Susan push aside her fear and trust Asler, not only with her mind and body but with her ever-opening heart?
I feel as though it was just last week I was attending 2010 conferences and telling authors and readers who were wondering what was next for Carina Press, “we’ve only been publishing books for four months, give us time” and now, here it is, a year later. Carina Press has been bringing you quality romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and more for over twelve months. This just boggles my mind.
But though we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary (with champagne and chocolate, of course) we’re not slowing down. Every week brings something new for us, and we continue to look for ways to grow, expand and improve. This summer, we’ll continue to bring you new genres, new authors and new niches—and we plan to publish the unexpected for years to come.
So whether you’re reading this in the middle of a summer heat wave, looking to escape from the hot summer nights and sultry afternoons, or whether you’re reading this in the dead of winter, searching for a respite from the cold, months after I’ve written it, you can be assured that our promise to take you on new adventures, bring you great stories and discover new talent remains the same.
We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.
Executive Editor, Carina Press
Special thanks to my mom, who has always supported me in everything I do. Thank you to my friends at the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, and thank you to the wonderful Carina Team, especially my editor, Rhonda Stapleton.
To my readers:
Welcome back to the world of the Confederacy Treaty, where the fate of Earth lies in the hands of lovers from different worlds. On the surface, they are very different. Underneath, they are the same, driven by motivations and emotions that revolve around the heart.
“Fuckitall,” Captain Susan Branscombe slurred as she woke to the sound of gunfire and running footsteps. She lay on the cold floor of an empty storage room; only the light from the force bindings on her arms and legs provided any illumination. She shivered then groaned in pain as the trembling motion brought cramps to her arms and legs. If they didn’t unbind her and let her up soon, she wouldn’t be able to walk.
She grimaced in the darkness. Even that tiny motion sent waves of pain across her face and down her neck. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to walk anyway after the last beating.
Susan could taste blood in her mouth. The coppery tang would have made her retch if she hadn’t strictly controlled herself. She wasn’t certain how badly she was injured—one wound on her leg seeped and bled where she’d been burned, and her arm was definitely broken, along with several fingers. Dried blood caked on one cheek pulled as she grimaced, and her head throbbed. How bad is my face? They’d cut off her hair and sliced her cheek and nose.
Before she could begin to pity herself, the floor heaved in a sudden explosion.
They were under attack. Not surprising. She’d told them the way to the base and now she would die, along with the terrorists who held her captive. At least she could end it knowing her fellow Starforce Marines would defeat them. They were a kick-ass bunch, every one of them, and she was damn proud to be among them, even if this was how it ended.
Another booming explosion threw her against the wall of the tiny room. This is it. Soon the walls of the ship would rip open, and she would die in the cold void of space. Thank God. She was so tired of pain; death would be welcome. She waited, but a final explosion didn’t come. Instead the room grew even blacker. She realized she was losing consciousness and fought against it.
Sue flinched as bright beams of light swept across the room and over her. A blurred face appeared before her, and rough hands reached out to grab roughly at the lapels of her ruined uniform.
“Get it over with, asshole,” she ground out through pain. She resisted as she was lifted, but the blackness returned and stole away the last of her defiance.
Confederacy Examiner Asler Kiis sat at the large oval conference table and listened with waning patience to the chaos around him. His long robes, although of the softest chammiss available, were heavy and irritating. The drone of constant chatter from the ongoing conference was also annoying, and the reason for calling the conference even more so. He tapped his fingers against the polished walnut surface of the table, admiring its quality and the striking pattern of the unique Earth product even as he planned his next move.
As Lead Examiner during the mission to contact the human race, he was also Examiner Advocate for the Earth people until such a time as the first Treaty between the Confederacy and the humans was complete. Whether the humans knew it or not, he was there to protect and defend them.
Of course, should the need arise he was also there to judge and punish as necessary. It was the highest position he’d achieved to date, and the most honor his clan had garnered in three generations. He was the youngest Examiner to achieve Advocate position in a hundred years, and he wasn’t about to lose the chance to make history.
His entourage of fellow officers and Co-Examiner, Salis Fiiten, sat with him on one side of the table. All waited silently as the members of Earth’s Starforce Marines argued among themselves on the other side. Or, at least some of them argued. Top Admiral Jeffers and Base Commander Davies sat as silently as the Confederacy team. These were the men to watch.
In many ways, Earth people were not dissimilar to his own, Asler thought, but most humans lacked the ability to touch each other as his people did, mind to mind. Perhaps this was why they were so loud and argued so much. Maybe if he had been older than his thirty years—maybe if he had been as aged as his predecessor—he could have continued to wait while the humans fought it out. But he wasn’t.
“Enough.” He echoed the thought aloud to Salis. Silently he mind-spoke to him. “No more wasting time. Tell Admiral Jeffers we have made our decision, and if Earth wishes to begin Treaty talks with us, we must, and will, have control over this investigation into the attack.”
As he spoke the words into the mind of his partner, he stood, bringing the attention of the room back to him and his silent officers. In the first days of the initial Treaty talks a vicious attack had damaged both Inarrii and human starships. The Confederacy demanded a measure of control over the investigation into the attack, an investigation which the humans seemed determined to handle alone. The argument, not the first of its kind, had raged for the last half hour of Earth time, monopolized by the Earth military. It was not going to continue.
Salis, rising with his Co-Examiner, explained once again that the Confederacy would conduct the investigation or would break off the Treaty discussions.
Immediately several voices broke into heated argument. One caught Asler’s attention—grizzled Earth Starforce Base Commander Davies, who until this moment had sat silently at the admiral’s side.
“Captain Branscombe must be excused from any investigation!” the base commander demanded. His face was flushed and his words ripped through the clamor. “She’s suffered enough at the hands of these terrorists,” he insisted. “There is no reason to believe she had anything to do with this attack. She’s been tortured, for Christ’s sake.”
“She may very well have been forced to give up the location of the base,” interjected a young man. Asler had determined the speaker was a Starforce Lieutenant by his insignia and likely to be an Earth lawyer of some sort. The position was not one that Asler’s race employed; with Examiners there could be no doubt when truth was determined, and therefore there was no need to argue over motivation, or punishment.
“Or perhaps she gave it up willingly after being with them this long,” insisted another officer.
The argument had been heard before. What caught Asler’s ear was the sincerity and concern ringing behind the base commander’s words. The sentiments were echoed in his emotional projection. Obviously the old man cared for the woman as if she was his own child. The base commander’s rage over her treatment and his fear over what might happen to her at the hands of the alien Confederacy tugged at Asler’s heart. While Asler wouldn’t enter another’s mind uninvited, this man’s emotions rose and pushed past the barriers of his mind and overflowed clearly into the room.
Asler’s beliefs would never allow an innocent to be mistreated, but he had to make a demonstration of the Confederacy’s power. The two compulsions pulled at him, and his head throbbed in reaction. There were factions on Earth that believed the Confederacy should leave, that for humans to work with aliens was an abomination. Their voices were a force, albeit a small one, in the human media.
As an Examiner, Asler knew his duty was to prove the Confederacy’s strength by finding answers, and then to quickly mete out punishment where it was due. Perhaps the woman was innocent, but having been found on the vessel that had attacked the first scheduled Treaty talks, he too had to wonder how much she had told, how much she had been involved. As a Starforce Marine pilot she knew enough to be dangerous in enemy hands.
He squared his shoulders. Above all, the truth must be revealed. He signaled his entourage of fellow officers and as a group they stood beside him and Salis, and turned to leave the room.
“Wait,” a voice filled with command called to them.
Asler turned back, already hearing the capitulation tinged with frustration in the mind of the Starforce admiral. Asler noted the power in his strong shoulders belying the heavy creases in his face. This was a man accustomed to the weight of responsibility.
“Admiral Jeffers,” Asler responded, his trained voice perfectly even, uninflected with any emotion.
“The investigation is yours. You’ll have full access to all our databases and scans of what happened. A complete record will be beamed to you immediately.”
“And the surviving prisoners—the captured Starforce officer?”
The admiral’s lips thinned. He laid a hand on the shoulder of the base commander who had protested so strongly, calming him with a gesture not unlike one Asler would use in the same situation. “They’re yours.” He raised his other hand as his grip on Base Commander Davies became stronger. “But you will consult us before any and all judgments are made.”
Asler heard the iron in the admiral’s voice, but he knew he had to be the stronger opponent in this confrontation. The Confederacy must have compliance. “You will not be involved in any judgment, Admiral. However, we will inform you before any punishments are meted out.”
Asler turned and left as the protests began again behind him. His thoughts were grim as he walked quickly through the hallways of the Earth vessel toward his shuttle. It was doubtful this would be the last time the argument came up. Earth’s people didn’t trust the Confederacy yet—and how could they, really? They’d only been contacted a few months earlier. But if Earth was to be saved from pillaging by the larger universe, they must become part of the Confederacy. It was either that or be stripped of their resources by the pirates the Confederacy battled on a daily basis.
The more he interacted with Earth people like the admiral and the base commander, the more they seemed worth saving. But he needed data, needed to understand them better in order to fight for a decent Treaty for them. Despite being the Examiner Advocate for Earth, even despite the fact that his clan relied on him and his current rank to bring them status, he knew himself well enough that if he didn’t believe in his cause, he wouldn’t argue as effectively as he could. Earth had resources that the Confederacy wanted—metals and organics like the fine wooden conference table, and most of all imaginative, intelligent and culturally diverse people. In return, the Confederacy could offer protection and technological advancement for the planet. A Treaty would benefit everyone—Earth, the Confederacy, himself and even his clan, millions of light years away on their home planet Inarr. But he still wouldn’t support the Treaty without having faith in the people.
He’d met only one human on a personal level at this point, not counting those attending the elaborate and lengthy Treaty negotiations. Earth’s Starforce Major David Brown had made first contact with the Inarrii—or rather, they had contacted him. Major Brown was a strong and commanding presence, a man Asler enjoyed meeting. He spoke easily and commanded the men in his squad of fighter pilots with care and integrity. He handled his new role as emissary with equal care. Brown’s personality had played a big part in the willingness of Confederacy representatives, like Asler, to begin Treaty negotiations with Earth that would greatly favor the humans, although they were likely unaware of the fact as yet.
“If we find their officer guilty, they’ll never trust us,” Salis stated flatly into Asler’s mind. He paused in front of the entrance as the security scanner took his genetic imprint for comparison.
“They may not,” Asler mentally replied. “We’ll know soon enough.”
Entering the softly lit shuttle, Asler felt immediate relief from the tension he’d suffered onboard the Earth vessel. There were too many unshielded people there, too many untempered emotions as people wondered about the Confederacy’s arrival and what it meant to them.
Salis groaned and pulled his robe over his head, shedding the heavy garment quickly. Around them, other officers stripped as well, pulling off the clothing deemed correct for meeting this new species. Asler followed suit, stripping down to his pettan, a short-legged covering that wrapped him loosely from his waist to just above his knee. Earlier members of the Confederacy sent to observe human behavior noted that the Earth people wore many layers of clothing and suggested that wearing just the pettan in public might be considered disrespectful.
Inarrii were the perfect first contacts for Earth—they were shaped much like humans, though somewhat more muscular and about a hand’s-breadth taller than a human’s average height. Only their L’inar truly set them apart in appearance, the curving sienna-colored nerve lines that covered their skin from under their hairline, down the back of the neck and over most of their torso. There were many within the Confederacy who looked far more exotic. In some cases their appearance differed so much that humans might not accept them as friendly.
Asler lowered himself onto a low couch, letting the heat and vibrations from its cushions relax him further.
“Could I offer a calming moment, Examiner Kiis?” One of the female officers approached him. She reached her hand, palm forward to him, offering him as much comfort as he might desire in her arms. Physical touch kept the Inarrii calm and reduced the wear on their emotions caused by the psychic onslaught of close proximity to a species that did not shield their emotions. Sex was the common and often desired result.
Many of the younger officers were here for that reason, although the comfort would be shared by both participants. Behind her, Asler caught a glimpse of a grinning Salis shaking his head.