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Ascension Saga: 5 (Interstellar Brides®: Ascension Saga) by Grace Goodwin (1)

Prologue

Queen Celene of Alera, Optimus Unit Headquarters, Solitary Confinement

Had I known where they were going to transport me when I was taken off Scarface’s ship, I might have put up more of a fight.

Then again, probably not, for I was getting what I wanted now. My daughters were safe, as far as I knew—he’d probably look a lot happier if something had happened to any of them—and searching for me.

At last, I knew the name of at least one person who had betrayed me and my beloved mate all those years ago.

Lord Wyse, or Inspector Optimi, of the Optimus unit stood before me, his cheeks flushed, his eyes shining with a fever I recognized as fanaticism. He hated me, apparently.

We had grown up together, he just a few years older. I’d considered him a big brother of sorts, even though he was not a brother by blood, but a cousin.

When he had decided to try to kill me, or why, I had no idea. How far back did his hatred go? I would find out.

Scarface stood with his back to the door. He hadn’t beaten me, yet. Not since I’d been sent here, under lock and key in the private interrogation rooms saved for the most defiant and dangerous prisoners.

Defiant? Yes.

Dangerous? More than he could possibly imagine, but not for the usual reasons. There was no way I could defend myself or fight back—I thought proudly of Destiny who would be able to whoop his ass—but there were other ways to be ruthless.

“I see your lack of success has forced you to show your face, cousin,” I said. How very brave of you.” I made sure to sound amused, as if his presence were no more of a threat than that of a worm under my shoe. Of course, I had bare feet, I was starving, freezing cold, and fairly certain I was becoming ill. But he didn’t need to know any of that. I’d taunted, goaded and acted unaffected ever since I’d been transported from Earth. I had to fake it ‘til I make it as the girls would say.

I was a queen, after all. Even being on Earth for all these years, didn’t change who or what I was. I could handle anything. And if I couldn’t… Lord Wyse would have to deal with my daughters, and they were so much stronger—mentally and physically—than me.

“It’s not bravery, dear,” he countered. Dark eyes blazed, but he kept his calm reserve. “But the assurance that you’ll soon be too dead to talk.”

I’d already figured that one out myself, but now that he was here, I knew something else as well—he wasn’t in charge. He was a pawn. A more powerful pawn than the man with the scars, but one all the same. A much needed tool to wield since he had royal blood flowing through his veins. I didn’t care about minor players in this game; I was hunting their master now. His presence proved I was one step closer. He wouldn’t be here—he’d let his underlings guard me—if things weren’t heating up. Were their plans falling apart? Was my remaining silent affecting their schedule? Were my girls’ plans so effective that theirs weren’t? I hid the small smile that was about to curl my lips as I thought of them being bested by a bunch of Earth-born females. But Trinity, Faith and Destiny would not be safe until I found the mastermind, and planned a way to destroy him.

Or her. I supposed their master could be a woman, but a female, in my experience, was much less into frontal assault and much sneakier than the attack had been twenty-seven years ago on me and the king. To them, my mate had just been collateral damage. I was the one they’d wanted, the one who’d gotten away.

A woman would have been more cunning in her attack—less fists and more finesse—taken the jewels from my neck and put herself on the throne in due order. I’d had plenty of time to think, to wonder who it might be. Male or female.

No. This was a man’s personal vendetta, I was sure. There had never been a ruling king on Alera and someone wanted to be the first. My mate, obviously, had been the king before he’d been killed, but in title, not by power. Not that the law forbade a male to lead the planet, but the royal family, those in the direct line of succession, by chance or design, did not give birth to sons. My three daughters were proof of that. I had a suspicion the intelligence within the citadel that gave us our gifts had something to do with that as well. A suspicion, but no proof.

Other than the fact that, through all of recorded history, a royal heir had never given birth to a son.

A daughter had the power to rule within her. A son would need the jewels so desperately to have any hope of claiming the throne, for they provided a different kind of power, but enough to rule nonetheless. The spire would not light for a king, yet with the sacred stones, he’d be able to control the planet. No doubt the arrival of my girls and the lighting of their spires only added to the mastermind’s plans. Get the jewels, kill me and rule the word. Simple enough, but he hadn’t considered I’d had daughters. Heirs and future rulers.

Whoever he was, he was ruthless. Lacked a conscience. Had the biggest balls ever. Only a very aggressive—or desperate—male would attack my mate and I with an entire squadron of soldiers in plain view of the entire city.

Lord Wyse was watching me closely now, his inspection unflinching, as if he could read my mind.

I knew for a fact he could not. He had none of the gifts. He was a cog in a war machine. Nothing more. “Why are you here, Coburt?”

I wanted to call him bastard or dumbass or a whole bunch of other names, but I went with his given one.

“Where are the royal jewels, Celene? Tell me and I’ll let your daughters live.”

I laughed. I couldn’t stop myself, and I enjoyed taunting him. It was the same question I’d been asked ever since I’d been snatched from my bed on Earth—until the spires lit and my daughters’ existence was brought to light… literally—and then they added the additional threat of harming them. “If you could kill my daughters, you would have already done so,” I countered. “I suspect you’ve tried and they slipped through your fingers like water. How embarrassing for you, Inspector Optimi.” I used his title as a taunt, as a reminder that if the leader of the most ruthless protective unit on Alera couldn’t be successful in ridding the planet of three females, then he probably shouldn’t hold the position. “I’m sure your master was very disappointed.”

“I have no master, Celene,” he replied.

I hadn’t seen him in twenty-seven years. He looked older. That cunning look he’d always had about him when younger was understandable now. He’d had evil running through his veins all along.

“You have always been lesser, Coburt. That’s why you cower in a corner and send others to do your dirty work for you.”

That earned me a slap across the face, but he was nowhere near as strong as the man with the scarred face. Not even close. It hurt, but was nothing compared to what I’d become accustomed to. I very nearly laughed.

“Where are they?” he shouted, spittle flying from his lips.

“Who?”

“Your other two daughters. Faith and the other one. The ones who lit up the other spires. I’m not stupid. I know they came here together. I had Faith in my clutches. In custody. No records of her birth or her fingerprints exist. Of course, she was one of the mysterious females. A fucking princess. But Thordis Jax saved her, took her away.” He growled, beyond livid. To know he held Faith, had her life in his hands and then she slipped away… “Trinity might be in the palace, but the other two are on Alera. I will find them and kill them both.”

I didn’t want to panic at the thought of Faith being held by Wyse, so I thought of how proud I was of her, of all three girls, instead. Yes, without any Aleran records, it had been easy for him to take the mental leap about Faith and Destiny. Not hard to put together. But now, he had no clue where either of them were. I smiled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Tell your master that.”

“I do not have a master.” He towered over me, his hand raised as if to strike me again, his voice low and each word clearly enunciated. I did not flinch or turn away, but stared him in the eye and dared him to do it.

“Lord Jax has one of them, Celene. Not the old man you once knew, but his son. It has to be her. I had her in my custody. No birth records. No schooling, bank accounts. Fingerprints. Nothing. I am sure she is one of yours.”

He began to pace. “But Thordis Jax took her away. I would have guessed his apartment, but since my team checked thoroughly, no. Tell me where they would go, where she would hide, and I’ll save her from him and his… attentions.”

The lewd innuendo was obvious, but I wasn’t taking the bait. I knew the elder Lord Jax, and his mate. Lady Jax was a shrew. Calculating and brilliant, mean to everyone but her family. For them, for her small son—a strapping young man I remembered as a sweet-faced toddler—she would bring hell down on anyone. Well, he wasn’t so small now, but a full-grown male and clearly interested in Faith.

Lord Wyse didn’t understand Earth women. Faith didn’t need Thordis Jax. She didn’t need his attentions, or anyone saving her from them. If Faith wanted Thordis Jax, then she’d have him. Or not. The fact Lord Wyse thought my daughter needed protecting from a male made me want to laugh.

I thought of Lady Jax, then her mate, Lord Jax. I remembered him fondly. No one loved to laugh more than he did. And he adored his mate, at least all those years ago. I doubted that would have changed. If any of my daughters were in that house, they’d be safer there than they would be with Lord Wyse, that was for damned sure. He’d had Faith in custody—in his evil grasp—but she’d somehow slipped through his fingers. No wonder he was pissed.

“Better Lord Jax than you, cousin.”

“Where are the jewels, Celene?”

God, he was like a broken record.

“They won’t do you any good, you know,” I said again, even though he knew all this. “Even if you had them, they’re useless now with four spires lit at the citadel. Killing me does nothing.” I looked him over, from head to toe, slowly, with as much disgust as I could muster. “And you’re not the most attractive male on the planet. You’ll look like a complete idiot with a pretty necklace on your greedy neck.”

He did not respond, but stared at me for a full minute before speaking. “Not when you’re all dead, Celene. I’ll wear them to your burial ceremony. Yours, and all three of your daughters’.”

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