The man in front of me tilted his head, and I caught a glimpse of a familiar one-sided smile. My breath caught. It couldn't be.
He closed the distance between us. The hood shadowed his face, but I would know those striking, gold-streaked green eyes anywhere—Nila Shoren had found me even though I'd been on-planet for less than two hours.
A maelstrom of emotion arose-annoyance, anger, desire, happiness, and most dangerous of all, hope.
I kept the blade between us. His smile grew wider, and he murmured, "Going to stab me?"
"Depends. Are you going to betray me again?"
Something fleeting crossed his face, but he shook his head. "Believe it or not, I'm here to help."
I didn't believe it, but another shout behind me proved that I didn't have much choice. Nilo stepped closer, and I deactivated the blade. When I stabbed him, it would be because I'd meant it, not by accident.
"Take a deep breath," he ordered as his hands clamped around my bare upper arms.
I sucked in a breath to tell him exactly where he could shove his orders, but I didn't get a chance before cold power washed over me and the world disappeared.
The vertigo was instant and intense. It felt like spinning through zero gravity, where there was no up or down, just endless twists and turns in total, inky darkness. Tavi had tried to explain it, but she'd left out a few pertinent details. Like how I could still feel Nilo's taut body pressed up against mine, a tiny reassurance in this hellacious void. And how I could feel his power, sharp and cold, swirling around both of us, binding us together.
The glass of wine I'd drank was dangerously close to reappearing when the world popped back into existence. Nila stumbled and we both nearly went down. He cursed and steadied me for a second, then let go. My stomach heaved, unhappy with the entire ordeal.
"What were you thinking, coming to Valovia-" Nila started, his tone furious, but I tuned him out.
I closed my eyes, tilted my head back, and took several deep, calming breaths. It helped. I still felt nauseous, but I no longer felt like I would immediately vomit on Nilo's shoes. When I opened my eyes, he held out a reusable bottle. I dropped the plas knife in my tote and accepted it.
Nila still wore a scowl, but it was tempered by reluctant sympathy. "Sorry," he grumbled. "Humans tend to have a stronger reaction than Valoffs. I should've warned you."
I opened the bottle and took a cautious sip of cold water. When it stayed down, I took a longer drink and looked around. The fading sunlight revealed that we were in a narrow clearing surrounded by a forest of massive coniferous trees. A small house blended into the landscape, with dark brown wooden siding, a curved front wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, and a sloping green roof covered in plants.
There were no other houses nearby. Indeed, with the exception of what was likely a shed or garage, there were no other structures nearby. Just trees, trees, and more trees. Nervousness drifted through me like smoke. Despite our squabbles, I didn't think Nila would take me into the woods and murder me, but if he tried, no one would hear me scream.
Of course, if he was stupid enough to try, then no one would hear him scream, either.
Bolstered by that thought, I turned to him and gave him the same slow perusal I'd just given our surroundings. At some point while I'd been trying to keep my wine down, he'd pushed back his hood, giving me a clear view, and one thing remained true: Nila Shoren was an unfairly handsome man.
Not only did he have a bone structure that would make models weep with envy, but he also had dark hair, tan skin, and stunning eyes. Nilo's irises were startlingly green—as deep and vibrant as the forest around us—and streaked through with bolts of gold. Valoffs' eyes always tended to be interesting, but Nilo's were over the top.
I pulled myself away from the magnetic draw of his gaze and looked at the rest of him. He was looking more unkempt than usual. His hair was too long, and several days' worth of dark stubble shadowed his jaw. There was a subtle weariness to his expression that even his usual charming facade couldn't quite hide.
"Are you okay?" I asked with a frown.
That surprised a chuckle out of him. "It's been a long week," he admitted. His humor evaporated, and he leveled a glare at me. "And a lot of that is thanks to you. What were you thinking, returning here?"
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the paperback edition.
Monday, December 12th, we begin the book Implacable by Jack Campbell.