Neeve opened her eyes to find her mother standing by her bed. It was still dark and she was wearing her nightgown.
Her mother shuddered. “That is a very unfortunate way of a conversing that you picked up from Ian, daughter. I don’t like it.”
Neeve sat up, aware that she was naked and that her bed looked and smelled like there had recently been three highly sexed adults romping on it—which there had been.
“How can I help you, Mother, dear?”
“I need you to come to the temple.”
“Something is amiss.”
“I’m not sure. That’s why I need to consult the Gods.”
Neeve cast a look outside at the bruised purple skies. “Right now?”
Gisele grabbed her hand. “Please, I wouldn’t ask, but this is important. I sense danger among us.”
“Then let me get hold of Mac and Willow. They can come, too.”
Grumbling under her breath but seriously worried by her mother’s urgency, Neeve got out of bed, pulled on a pair of running shorts and a T-shirt that belonged to Mac. She also took his gun from his holster and stuck it into the back pocket of her shorts concealing it under the T-shirt. Her mother didn’t approve of weapons, but Neeve had learned to be careful on Earth.
“Okay, let’s go.”
She followed her mother out onto the balcony where Ungar fell in behind them like a silent green shadow. They used the quickest and most private route to approach the inner sanctum of the temple. As they climbed the marble steps, Neeve also looked around her, aware that something wasn’t right, that something was disrupting the peace and power of the place. Her mother reached back to grab her hand and their telepathic connection strengthened her.
“There is someone in the inner sanctum.”
Before Neeve’s eyes, Gisele disappeared and was replaced by the majesty of the Oracle in an awesomely foul mood. “How dare someone desecrate my temple!”
Ungar stepped in front of them both. “Let me go first.”
The pure white light that normally surrounded the sanctuary where her mother’s ancient throne and the source of the sacred spring resided was bathed in flickering red and orange flames.
“No!” The Oracle’s voice boomed out physically and telepathically. Neeve wanted to cover her ears at the power as her mother started to run toward the sanctuary.
“Mother, don’t!” She grabbed for the Oracle’s sleeve, but missed and had to increase her speed. Heat built in front of her and she started to cough.
“Stop! It might be a trap!”
Even as her mother half-turned back, several figures appeared from behind the pillars and converged on them. Something hit Neeve on the back of the head and she was engulfed in blackness. She cried out for her mates, a cry she couldn’t control and the last sound she was allowed to make before blackness enfolded her.
Mac sat bolt upright in the bed, only to see that Willow was already standing beside it.
“What the fuck just happened to Neeve? She screamed our names and now I can’t feel her anymore.”
“She and the Oracle are in trouble. We must go, now.”
Even as he spoke, Willow was grabbing his bow and arrow and a variety of daggers. Mac got up too and realized all he had to put on was a towel.
Willow glanced up from his preparations. “Clothes in my chest on the floor, weapons I will give you as we proceed.”
Mac grabbed a pair of soft buckskin pants and a white shirt and ran after his mate. “How are we supposed to find them? I can’t feel her.”
Willow pointed up at the temple, which was on fire. “I suggest we start there.”
“Holy fuck, what happened?”
Willow didn’t bother to answer him as they made their way as stealthily as they could through the narrow passages known only to the bodyguards that led to the summit. People were converging on the temple from all sides now. Mac suddenly stopped and grabbed Willow’s arm.
“They’re not going to be up there.”
“But they might be trapped inside.”
“No. If they are in there, they’re dead, or someone will get them out much faster than we can reach them. It’s far more likely they’ve been taken somewhere else. Come on.”
He ran to the edge of the steep pathway where he had an overview of the whole complex and engaged his biometric tracking skills. A grid of the temple unfolded in his head and he surveyed the area. Data ticked through his consciousness of what was usual, and what was out of place.
“Give me your power.”
Willow added his telepathic strength to Mac’s and the data stream speeded up.
Mac pointed at a group of trees behind the temple.
“Up there against the cliff. There’s some kind of craft. I can read an energy stream.”
He started running, and Willow followed without hesitation. They passed through one of the security gates where Mac was able to pick up a weapon. Willow updated the Hakron tribe as they ran. If anyone knew how to track the Oracle and her daughter in the jungle it would be them.
Mac glanced back at Willow who was looking as grim-faced as he was.
“Can you sense the Oracle?”
“Yes, she is of our blood.”
“She isn’t dead, First Male. You’d know if she was. It would feel as if your soul was being ripped apart.” He pushed past Mac. “Let me lead, I know the terrain better and can get us to the place faster.”
Mac didn’t argue with that. He had a terrible sense that time was running out. If the shuttle took off, the Pavlovan nation would lose its Oracle and her heir. He followed Willow in single file, using his mate’s footsteps as a guide and moving as quietly as he could through the uphill terrain. They came to the edge of a clearing where a small six-man shuttle had been set down. There were no identifying marks on the craft, or any sign of activity.
Willow went down on one knee behind the tall scrubby foliage and Mac did the same.
“I don’t see any movement.”
“They are in hostile territory. It is also possible that we have reached this place ahead of our prey.” Willow pointed to the other side of the clearing. “Something is coming.”
The faint sense of another telepathic signal searching the area made Mac raise his shields. He felt Willow do the same.
Their mating link meant they could still communicate despite blocking everyone else out.
“Damn, how the hell did they land here without being detected?” If he survived the present crisis, Mac intended to have a serious conversation with the Pavlovan military about their security network.
“I have no idea. How many are you picking up?”
The same, including the telepath who is the only female. They probably thought to have the element of surprise, not realizing the First Daughter has her two bonded males with her.”
“Agreed.” Mac tensed. How the hell could they have left Neeve alone? He’d never forgive himself if she were hurt. “Here they come.”
Neeve opened one eye, aware that something wasn’t right and that her world was inverted and bumpy and basically painful. The grunt of someone breathing heavily against her ear made her try to turn her head. They were moving through the jungle and away from the temple. She was being carried over someone’s shoulder, as was her mother.
There was another telepath present, a small fair woman who jogged alongside the much bigger soldiers. Not wanting the female to know she was conscious, Neeve tried to tighten her shields, which made her head hurt even more.
The voice of the man who was carrying her was low-pitched but distinct enough for Neeve to detect an Etruscan accent.
“Put them down close to the ship.”
The rumbling voice continued. “Pazz and Tetra stand guard. If they move shoot them dead.”
Her world tipped crazily again as she was lowered unceremoniously onto the ground next to the still body of her mother.
“Shoot them, sir?” The female said. “I thought our orders were to—”
“No one gives a freck what you think, telepath, so shut it, and obey orders or I’ll shoot you for insubordination.”
The rest of the men, Neeve counted four of them went aboard the shuttle. Within seconds, a low hum of power emanated from the engines blowing hot puffs of air across Neeve’s skin.
“First Female.” The whisper of a thought from Willow made Neeve want to shout out in triumph. “Protect your mother.”
Neeve tensed as the female soldier turned toward the shuttle. “Sir? I think—”
“Frecking hell, Tetra!” The commander came out of the shuttle and headed straight for them. “You got a death wish or something? I told you not to disturb me.”
“But—” There was a gasp and the telepath ended up curled on the ground next to Neeve, her mouth bleeding.
The Etruscan laughed and aimed a kick at the female’s ribs before turning his attention to Neeve’s mother. He crouched down beside the Oracle and touched her hair.
“She looks pretty good for a two hundred year old goddess. Quite fuckable, in fact. If we hadn’t been given our orders. I’d take her back with us and try her on for size.”
Rage blistered through Neeve’s entire body. She wasn’t aware of standing up only that she was pointing her finger at the Etruscan commander. A voice she didn’t recognize roared out of her.
“Do not touch the Oracle!”
“Yeah, right, sweetheart. Now shut the freck up.”
The commander grinned and pointed his weapon at her. Neeve closed her eyes and let the power of her rage consume her. There was a booming sound and then a crackle of burning flesh. Someone tackled her from behind, picked her up and ran. She started to struggle and then realized it was Mac.
“Let me go!” She shouted through the noise. “My mother!”
“Willow has her.” Mac’s hand tightened in her hair. “It’s okay, don’t look back, it’s going to be okay.”
She wrenched herself out of his hold and turned to look at the clearing. It looked like someone had dropped a bomb on it. The shuttle was a charred, blackened shell, and the people… there were no people. She swallowed hard as she registered the small piles of ashes.
“Did I do that? Holy meershit.”
“Yeah.” Mac touched her shoulder. “Remind me never to piss you off.”
“I…” she shook her head. “I didn’t mean it to happen. That man touched my mother, he was threatening to rape her…” She shivered and Mac put his arm around her shoulder.
“Whatever you did, Neeve, it was totally justified. You saved yourself and your mother.” He paused. “Willow and I were just about to rush to your aid, but you did a much better job of it.”
“I’m a monster.”
He put his hand under her chin and made her look up at him. “No you’re not. You’re the Oracle’s First Daughter. You might not want to be that person, but you sure as hell are capable of amazing things.” He hesitated for a second. “How long do Oracles live, give or take a hundred years?”
“About five hundred.”
“So, if you do decide to embrace your powers, you’ve still got a couple of hundred years to get used to the idea, right?”
She nodded as his solemn face went all blurry.
She nodded again as her tears continued to fall.
She turned to find her mother looking up at her and went down on her knees. “Oracle.”
“You saved my life, First Daughter. You came into your true powers with your triad.” Her mother’s voice wobbled. “Thank you.”
Neeve kissed the Oracle’s hand. “You are welcome, Mom.”
“Now I just need to teach you how to control your powers.”
Neeve stood up and managed a shaky grin. “You mean I don’t have to annihilate everyone all the time? I think Mac and Willow will be pleased to hear that.”
“You will learn, Neeve. I will show you. It will be a great honor.”
She squeezed her mother’s fingers. “I know.”
After taking another deep breath, she turned to Willow, who was smiling at her.
“Where’s the Etruscan telepath?”
“She had the sense to run into the jungle the moment you stood up. I’ve sent Ungar to find her and bring her back to the temple.”
“Good. She doesn’t deserve to suffer for what happened. She tried to protect us.”
“So I saw. I suspect if she wants to stay she will find her talents far more welcome here than in Etrusca.” Willow stepped in and kissed her cheek. “I am most proud of you. First Daughter. You saved the Oracle.”
“Just the Oracle?”
She met his silver gaze, which was full of love and respect. Mac joined them and for a precious moment, they both took her hands. Power rose and surged between them blending into something new and unique that contained them all, but was even greater than the sum of its parts.
“And yourself,” Willow murmured. “And us. We are yours, First Female for as long as you live.”
“Which by the sound of it could be a bloody long time.” Mac said. “She’ll have worn us both out by the time we turn fifty.”
“Don’t you remember?” Neeve shook her head. “The triad shares everything, Ian McNeill. You’re going to have to put up with me for a lot longer than that.”
The expression on his face almost made her want to kiss him. But that would come later. Much later after they’d alerted the assembly, contacted Ash, reviewed security and made sure her mother was all right.
But it would happen.
Much like her destiny.
Heeze, was she finally growing up? She took a deep breath and went over to her mother. “We’ll leave these two here to deal with this mess, and I’ll take you to the healers. Willow says the damage to the inner sanctum is minimal. It was just to draw us into their trap.”
“Good,” her mother pressed a hand to her head and winced. “I’m feeling rather strange.”
Neeve linked her arm through her mother’s offering her support.” Do you think you can make it? We can’t fly can we? That would be an awesome super power.”
“I’ve never tried.” Her mother’s soft laughter flowed through Neeve. “I’m quite capable of walking back to the temple with you.”
“Good.” Neeve replied. “Being able to incinerate people with a flick of my fingers is quite enough to deal with for one day.”
She only stopped walking because her mother had.
“Stop being flippant and trying to pretend that didn’t frighten you.”
“Frighten me? It terrified me.” She shuddered. “What if I had a row with Mac and I accidentally fried him?”
“You wouldn’t do that.”
“I don’t know, he can be damned annoying sometimes.”
“Neeve.” The Oracle touched her cheek. “It’s all right. I’ll teach you how to manage your powers. Now that you have accepted that you have them, you will learn quickly.”
“I hope so.” She frowned. “Even though that man deserved to die for touching you, the other’s didn’t.”
“I read their thoughts. Neeve.” Her mother’s eyes hardened. “They all knew the purpose of their mission. They had been sent to kill us. They were all guilty apart from that poor empath. If you hadn’t acted, the Pavlovan nation would’ve been left without the two key figures of their belief system—you and me.”
“That would’ve been terrible.”
“Yes. Being the Oracle brings great power, but that power is placed at the service of the nation. You preserved that. You did the right thing.”
“That’s what Mac and Willow said, too.”
“Then we are all in agreement. Now, come on, it is getting rather cold out here.”
After one more deep breath, Neeve turned away from the scene of the disaster and followed her mother up to the temple. So, one day she was going to be the Oracle of Pavlovan.
One day she might even be okay with that.
Her mother took her hand, and together they ascended the steps, acknowledging the relief and joy of the crowds. Neeve had another thought.
With Mac and Willow at her side, heeze, she might even enjoy it…