“Zoey, in my office now,” my father, General Thaddeus Jones, snapped over the intercom. The general made my name sound like the foulest of cuss words. I’d been a disappointment to him since I came out of my mother’s womb female.
The general figured with his mind-control abilities and Mom’s clairvoyance, they would produce a child with off-the-charts powers. He had little use for a sickly baby who showed no signs of psychic ability. Hooyah!
He was equally unhappy with my mother, Grace, for not giving him a male heir with the traditional Jones-family powers. A botched C-section during my delivery left Mom sterile, rendering her useless to the general’s plans and the Colettis’ breeding program.
My mother actually loved the general. Why? The only reason I could come up with was daddy dearest used mind control on her. Being an ace investigative reporter, she soon discovered her not so loving husband was actively searching for her replacement. Mom divorced him when I was two and took me with her on assignments.
For fourteen years I never received a birthday or Christmas gift or even a phone call from the bastard. Once a year we got a nice letter from his attorney requesting that I be retested for psychic abilities. Father of the Year he wasn’t.
When I was sixteen, the Iraq incident triggered my psychic powers. Mom had been doing a story on the Khamisal Al-Dari, and, terrorists being terrorists, they started shooting at us infidels. When I saw Mom get hit, I totally lost it. I unleashed such a burst of power that my cousin Quinn, the head of the Siren program, felt it all the way in the Bunker, Central Command’s top-secret base.
Central Command and Coletti hunters swarmed Baghdad looking for the female responsible for taking out twelve heavily armed terrorists. Sirens’ psychic abilities make them a hot commodity and prime breeding stock. The hunters were more than a bit pissed when they couldn’t locate me.
That was about the same time the general started demanding his visitation rights. He wanted to get to “know” me. My father figured if he could prove I was a Siren, I would be his ticket to a job at Central Command. The bastard got a court order forcing me to go to his military base in Arizona for two weeks a year.
That was when I came up with the wonderful idea of a grown version of the sickly child. Along with Hollywood-quality makeup that made me appear to be on death’s watch list, I added padded clothing to give me a grotesquely deformed figure. To really piss him off, I assumed the demeanor of a timid mouse who was afraid of her own shadow.
He has this vein on his forehead that pops out whenever I’m around. I love driving him nuts.
If daddy dear had done any research on me at all, he’d know what I really look like. I’m a Scottish throwback just like my cousin Quinn. Instead of red hair and green eyes, I have black hair and silver eyes. I’m pretty sure my unique psychic powers rival or exceed Quinn’s and Kaylee’s. My shields are my biggest ace in the hole. I appear to be a normal human without any abilities at all, and I used my acting skills to become whoever I need to be.
When I was eighteen, Mom obtained information that three high-ranking military men were aiding the Tai-Kok and Rodan. These traitors were giving the Tai-Kok the codes to shut down our planetary defense systems, allowing them to swoop in and slaughter thousands of people. Seems human flesh is considered a delicacy and sold for a fortune at their version of supermarkets.
We tracked the traitors to Dallas, where I met the love of my life. Paul was a fighter pilot assigned to protect Texas. The minute I saw him, Cupid struck. Paul was a tall, handsome warrior with the cutest dimples and a terrific sense of humor. After a whirlwind romance, he proposed, and I said yes. A week later we were at the base chapel, and I was about to become Mrs. Paul Hennessy, when the warning sirens sounded, and all hell broke loose.
The western US defenses had been disabled, allowing dozens of Rodan ships to attack the base. The ground shuddered under our feet as the armory blew. Paul gave me a hard kiss and said, “I will always love you, Zoey.
” With a grin, he grabbed his rifle and stepped out the door. A laser beam flashed out like a fiery snake and vaporized him.
Every nerve in my body twanged with shock and denial. No! He couldn’t be gone. He couldn’t. It wasn’t possible. Mom grabbed my arm and tried to pull me to the bunker. That was when the pain hit me, and my mental howl of fury and grief was heard all the way to the moon.
Screams of terror jerked me back to reality. I bolted from the church in my white silk wedding dress and destroyed the mind of the Rodan raider trying to disembowel a panic-stricken woman. The Rodan are ugly sonovabitches. With their scaly purple skin, they kind of remind me of a weird combination of rat and dinosaur.
Unleashing my psychic power, I slaughtered every Rodan and destroyed every one of their ships. Unfortunately, my rage also brought down the Coletti hunters. How Mom managed to smuggle me out of Dallas, I’ll never know. I was almost catatonic from overusing my powers.
It took me six weeks to get back to normal—whatever that meant. My heart had been ripped from me, and all I had left was vengeance. I would find those murdering bastards no matter how long it took.
The trail went cold for almost two years until one of the traitors got drunk at a Mexican drug lord’s hacienda and hit on his wife. Not a smart thing to do. In a desperate attempt to save his life, the snake in the grass told El Jefe, the drug lord, about his dealings with the Tai-Kok. Being a splendid fellow, El Jefe decided to join forces with the traitors. The drug lord’s supermodel wife knew Mom from an interview earlier in the year and eagerly ratted the creeps out.
Mom was in Tucson following up on the promising lead when I felt her die. My mental wail of grief had every hunter in my vicinity searching for me. I was too busy evading them and the general to do a proper investigation of my mother’s car accident for almost a week.
I soon discovered her death wasn’t an accident like everyone claimed. It was murder. Mom had gotten too close, and the traitors had silenced her. Those murderous bastards had made one fatal mistake. They thought I wasn’t a threat.
“Zoey,” the general bellowed again. “Get your ass down to my office.”
My father expected instant obedience. After Mom’s murder, he used his military might to force me to live with him. Could his sudden concern for my safety have something to do with his Central Command ambitions? Ah, yeah. The fact that I was twenty and an adult didn’t matter either. Martial law gave him the right to do pretty much anything he wanted.
The only reason my timid-mouse charade worked as well as it did was Marie. She had been Mom’s photographer and best friend. Marie and her son, Alejandro, had traveled the world with us on assignments until he turned ten. That was when her jerk of an ex-husband got custody of him, and I lost my best friend.
Marie managed to get hired as the general’s housekeeper to keep an eye on me. She was afraid I’d shoot the ass. It had been close a few times. She also kept me from doing anything too stupid.
I waited to answer my father until I was sure his vein was pulsing nicely. The moron actually thought I wrote bodice-ripping romance novels. I had even decorated my room with erotic book posters and a frilly pink heart bedspread. The joke was on him. I’m an award-winning journalist and even have my own byline with New Times Weekly.
With the information my snitch gave me, I knew one of the traitors was on the general’s base, and I wasn’t leaving until I found him. My father’s demands had worked to my benefit. The only downside was the Coletti Warlords. They were persistent buggers.
“Zoey, answer me, dammit!”
I pushed the intercom button and squeaked timidly, “I’m right in the middle of a scene. Can’t it wait, sir?”
“While the rest of the Jones clan protects Earth, you write goddamned porn. You’re such a fucking waste.”
Oh, I was more than doing my part to protect Earth, including being a Siren—anonymously, of course. I wasn’t ending up as a broodmare. With a heartbroken sob, I sniffed. “I’ll leave immediately, sir.”
“You’re not going anywhere. Comb your hair and put some makeup on, for God’s sake. You’ve got five minutes before I send Ted up.”
Ted was the general’s toady and an all-out bully. “Yes, sir.” My dad only got this way when a big-shot Coletti was visiting. Got to make a good impression, you know. The only way for my father to earn another star was to get posted to Central Command.
Dropping my shields, I scanned the area and gasped in horror. Holy shit, this Warlord’s psychic powers were off the charts. Why they kept coming to look me over was a mystery. It wasn’t like I flaunted my powers. Okay, sometimes I did, but always for a good reason. Maybe I needed to up my gross factor or give them what they were looking for.
A feral smile pulled at my mouth. Why not give them Jasmine, the general’s whore? All I had to do was boost what little psychic ability she had, and they’d be all over her. The trick was not getting caught.
I widened my scan. Where was the little slut? Oh my God, she was banging Lieutenant Golf in the men’s restroom. Talk about romantic. Wonder if the general knew?
I slid easily into her mind. Yikes, the lieutenant’s itty-bitty penis wasn’t getting the job done for her. I could hear her saying, “Oh yeah, baby. That’s it. Give it to me, big boy.”
He was going to give it to her, all right. Jasmine’s mercenary thoughts were centered on how much money she could get out of him. She wanted a new party dress.
The nasty bitch was about to get her just dues. With a few adjustments, her power level and brain waves now mimicked mine. God, I loved having psychic abilities. Too bad the fix wouldn’t last long, but the resulting fireworks would be fun to watch.
Now came the hard part. I skimmed cautiously around the scarily powerful Warlord’s mind, and waited for him to notice me.
An instant later his mind struck and bounced off my shields. “Impressive shields, female,
” a deep voice announced in my head.
Shit! Shit! Shit! He had been playing possum, and I had walked right into his trap. Now all I had to do was lead him into mine. Giving a little yelp of alarm, I did what he expected any reasonable person to do when confronted with a dangerous predator. I ran.
He followed me easily. “I’ve been tracking you for some time now.
That explained why the Colettis kept coming back to the base. I had used my powers a little too much lately investigating my mother’s murder.
The Warlord commanded, “Tell me your name.
It was a good thing mind control didn’t work on me. “Jasmine.
” I led him right to the horny bitch and snapped my shields down tight.
I caught a fleeting sensation of all that power ensnaring Jasmine’s mind. A tremor shook me. If he ever got inside my head, he’d own me mind, body, and soul.
My bedroom door shuddered from a heavy blow. “Zoey, open the door.”
Ted was such an ass. Using my best whiny voice I cried, “Go away. I have a migraine.”
“You think I give a fuck?”
I flinched as the warlord’s furious mind swept the house. I was impressed. It had taken him all of thirty seconds to realize he had been tricked.
“Zoey!” Ted roared.
“I need to comb my hair,” I answered in a frightened voice.
“You’ve got five minutes,” he snarled and stomped down the stairs.
If the warlord wasn’t here, I’d give Ted a good mental shove down the stairs. I went into the bathroom and pulled out my makeup. Time to ugly myself up.
Five minutes later I limped down the stairs and came to a dead stop. Even with my psychic abilities locked down tightly, I could sense another powerful Coletti warlord inside the general’s office. Thank God it wasn’t Scary Guy. I had a horrible feeling he would know who I was the minute he saw me.
An evil grin curled my mouth. Just wait until they got a sniff of my eau de dead skunk perfume. I knocked timidly on the door.
“Come in,” my father growled.
I opened the door and got my first look at the Coletti. He was a big dude, and, to my surprise, really cute, if you were into the whole merciless-predator thing. His black battle suit displayed an amazing amount of muscles, and he wore large bronze bracelets on each arm. A bronze chain was woven into one of his ebony warrior braids. He was definitely high up on the food chain.
“Jaylan, this is my daughter, Zoey.”
The warlord’s stunned gaze swept over my greasy black hair that hung in clumps around my pale, zit-covered face, and paused for a minute on the black raccoon-like circles around my eyes. He eyed my Hunchback of Notre Dame outfit in outright horror, and his nose wrinkled in disgust as my scent hit him.
It was all I could do not to giggle. Hideous didn’t even begin to describe me. There wasn’t a man or warlord alive who would want to touch me.
“It is an honor to finally meet you, Zoey.” Baring his awesome fangs in a scarily polite smile, he held out his hand diplomatically.
What a liar. Time to get the fun started. I scuttled round the desk and hid behind the general. “Please, don’t let him eat me.”
The general gagged. “My God! What is that smell?”
“My new medicine,” I squeaked, letting the tears roll. My cheap mascara would soon be running down my face in nice black streaks.
Jaylan took a step back, and his copper-colored skin turned a ghastly green color.
I had to admit the stench was pretty horrific. I might have overdone it just a tad. Thankfully the Vapor Rub up my nose kept me from hurling. I clutched the general’s jacket. “Please, sir, don’t let him hurt me.”
My father jerked away from me and vomited into the wastebasket.
The big warlord grabbed it away from the general and puked violently.
Who knew warlords had such weak stomachs?
A beep sounded in my earpiece. Marie’s signal that Ted was coming with a tray of her nice powdered-sugar-covered cakes and coffee. My plan was coming together perfectly.
Right on cue, Ted stepped in the room. I let out a bloodcurdling shriek and ran for the door.
Jaylan instinctively leaped out of my way and crashed into Ted.
He staggered off balance, desperately trying to keep the tray from falling. I stuck out my foot and tripped him.
The tray tipped over, raining cakes and coffee all over Jaylan and my father.
A stunned look on his face, Jaylan stared at the coffee running down his spiffy boots and the pieces of smashed cake decorating his battle suit.
“Dammit! You clumsy fool, look what you’ve done!” my father bellowed, trying to brush the powdered sugar off his uniform.
I shot out of the office and ran into the parking lot. God, I hadn’t had this much fun in ages, and the looks on their faces were priceless. Grinning, I headed for my car.
“Zoey!” the general shouted.
Crap. Hunching my shoulders, I turned to face him. “I’m so sorry, sir.”
“You worthless bitch, you’re determined to destroy everything I’ve worked for!” My father punched me.
My head rocked back, the world swam dizzily around me, and I hit the asphalt.
“Your mother ruined you.”
Wiping at my bleeding mouth, I fought down the urge to kick the living hell out of the jerk. Staring up at my father’s rage-contorted face, I hissed, “You hit like a girl.”
“I’m going to beat the truth out of you.” My father pulled back his foot to kick me, and I rolled frantically to the right.
A frightening Coletti battle cry sounded, and the next instant the general flew across the parking lot and slammed into a wall.
I took one look at the ferocious expression on Jaylan’s face and quickly huddled into a fetal ball. What had the general done to piss him off that much?
The warlord stalked over to my father, grabbed him around the throat, and lifted him up. “Touch her again and you die.” He shook my dad hard. “Do you understand me? Voss has claimed her.”
His face an ominous purple, the general nodded.
“Zoey!” Marie screamed, rushing toward me in her crappy mustard-yellow maid outfit that clashed violently with her red hair. “Did that bastard hurt you, honey?”
I scrambled to my feet and ran into her outstretched arms like a scared child, and whispered in her ear, “Did you get my bag?”
“It’s stashed under the rose bush. I can’t believe he hit you,” she whispered, shooting a worried glance at Jaylan, who still held my father by the throat.
“I think Daddy just blew any chance of getting that job at Central Command.”
“What a shame.” Marie took an abrupt step backward. “Dear God! Did you use the entire bottle?”
“I guess I should have stopped with one good spray, but I wanted to make sure I grossed them out.”
“By the amount of vomit in that wastebasket, I think you succeeded.”
Immense power rippled the air around me, and the biggest, scariest warlord I’d ever seen teleported in. The guy was huge, and his battle suit fit him like a glove, emphasizing every bulging muscle. Two daggers protruded from his knee-high armored boots, and on each arm he wore a large copper bracelet. Copper chains were woven into his ebony warrior’s braids. A burn scar on the right side of his hard, chiseled face twisted his mouth into a permanent sneer.
One look at his aura of sheer menace, and I knew he was the warlord who had been chasing me.
A frightened gasp broke from Marie. “Isn’t that Voss, the Overlord’s battle commander?”
My stomach clenched. Dear God, it was him. The only logical reason for his visit was the Alliance cruiser that had blown up in Earth’s orbit a month ago. I was pretty sure the traitor I was investigating had sabotaged the spaceship, but all my research had failed to yield any hard evidence.
What had Jaylan meant when he said Voss had claimed me? We had never really met, and he didn’t know anything about me. Did he? Nah, I was probably freaking out over nothing. If he laid a hand on me, I’d kick his ass. I eyed his muscles again. Running was good too.
Marie grabbed my face and turned it toward her. “Unless you want to be a Coletti war bride, you’ll wipe that scowl off your face and start crying.”
I obediently broke into hysterical sobs.
“Better.” Marie stiffened. “Holy Mother of God, he’s headed this way.”
I took a quick peek over my shoulder. Shit! Voss’s pale amber eyes were locked on me, and I didn’t like his gotcha smile.
The Battle Commander’s baritone voice sounded in my head. “Your disguise is very effective, little one. I shall enjoy discovering what is hidden beneath it.
“He knows,” Marie cried at the same time.
“He sure as hell does.”
“Oh yeah.” I reached into my pocket and hit my special panic button. The base alarm wailed loudly.
Voss stopped dead, shot me a suspicious look, and commanded in perfect English, “You will go to the bunkers and stay until I come for you.”
Yeah, like that was going to happen.