Hi lovely reader!
I have some great news for you: I finished Cold Seduction, the third book in my Ice Planet Rendu series! Yep, Hanne and Lhett finally got their story, and it's steamy and a little bit heartbreaking, and so romantic. *heart eyes*
Here's the cover - it's sparkly and green - and below, you'll find chapter one, told from Lhett's perspective!
The book is out on January 12, so if you haven't started the series yet, dive into Cold Attraction today!
And here's Chapter One - enjoy!
The hover sled sped over the icy plains separating the capital city of Volarun from the sky port. Lhett narrowed his eyes against the glare of the low-hanging sun—even with snow goggles, the light was painful. He should be inside the indoor training center, making sure the army exercise was going according to plan, but he couldn’t stand another moment in there.
So now he was here, racing to catch up with his brothers and their human mates. They’d offered him a ride to the port that morning, but he’d refused, thinking that it was for the best. Most of the human delegation was leaving, and peace would return to Rendu at last.
His heart hammered in time with the sled’s nuclear core’s rhythmic pulses. He had to make it in time. It was only right that he should say goodbye to the scientists.
Hanne’s face flashed in his thoughts, and he gritted his teeth at the surge of unfamiliar discomfort. He’d thought that after her best friends, Mika and Adriana, who fell in love with his two brothers, had decided to stay on Rendu, Hanne might remain here, too. They’d seemed more like sisters than colleagues to him. But the queen hadn’t received Hanne’s application, which meant she must have chosen to leave.
Apparently, there was nothing on this planet that would tempt her to stay.
Another flash of resentment, and Lhett focused back on controlling the sled so he didn’t crash the hovercraft into an ice drift. The human could do whatever she wanted. She wasn’t his responsibility anymore, not since she’d dismissed him as her guard.
The spaceship came into view, parked on a hydraulic boarding platform that was kept free of ice and snow. It seemed so small from the distance, but as Lhett’s hover sled rushed closer, it showed itself in its full glory.
He’d watched his youngest brother depart on a ship just like this months ago, when Taron had left for Earth to bring the first human scientific delegation to Rendu. Lhett had argued against it at the time, concerned that humans would present a safety risk.
He’d been right. One of the two soldiers who’d arrived with the scientists proved to be a violent spy working to steal Rendian military technology. But the rest of the humans…
They might not have caused security issues, but they’d stirred up a lot of trouble nonetheless.
Lhett wasn’t sorry to see most of them go.
He parked the sled beside several other hovercraft and jumped to the ground. His boots sank into several inches of fresh, powdery snow. The storm had raged last night, blowing in from the mountains, but this morning couldn’t be more perfect for departure.
He turned toward the boarding platform and strode for the observation deck. The spaceship thrummed with a low hum, its nuclear engines melting the ice beneath it. The last of the crates were being loaded, the equipment stowed carefully in the cargo bay as the human delegation said their final goodbyes.
Lhett searched the gathered throng of humans and Rendians for a woman with yellow hair braided in a crown, but she was nowhere to be seen. Lowering his gaze to the ground, he told himself it didn’t matter.
“Hey.” Taron walked up to him. “Everything okay?”
Lhett unclenched his jaw. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
The words came out harsher than intended, and he stifled a sigh. This was always his problem. He never meant to sound like a grump, but somehow, he always did.
Taron didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he remained silent, watching Lhett with raised eyebrows.
“Fuck.” Lhett crossed his arms over his chest and kicked at a clump of ice that had been churned up by the plow. “I’m fine. How’s Adriana doing?”
“She’s…” Taron shook his head slowly. “She’s been crying all morning. You’d think these people were her family from the way she carries on.” The words held no rancor, though, and a corner of Taron’s mouth turned up in a small smile.
Lhett’s new human sister-in-law stood by the door, clinging tightly to one of her colleagues. Adriana and a handful of other humans had decided to remain here. Lhett knew that his brother was overjoyed about that—Taron had fallen for the tiny anthropologist, and she loved him so much, it was sometimes hard to watch them together. The same went for their other brother, Kol, and the zoologist, Mika, a diminutive black-haired woman who preferred animals to people—with the notable exception of Kol, of course.
Both happy couples now lived in the Naals mansion, and Lhett was seriously thinking about moving elsewhere. The walls of the mansion were made of stone, but the sound sometimes carried along the corridors, and he’d accidentally overheard things he shouldn’t have. It was enough to drive him insane.
Maybe he could ask Queen Zeema to send him on some long assignment to a training camp far from Volarun. His young cousin would probably frown upon his idea, but he needed to get out.
The hum of the spaceship intensified, growing in pitch, and a voice announced through the speakers that the vessel would take off in ten minutes. Most of the humans were crying now, exchanging hugs and words of farewell.
Lhett narrowed his eyes as Steven, the human soldier, kissed Queen Zeema’s gloved fingertips. That she’d come to say goodbye in person was significant. The six soldiers of the queen’s guard fanned out behind her glowered at Steven, but he didn’t seem perturbed. He and Zeema had formed a peculiar friendship, which had prompted the Cabinet members to warn her against taking a human consort. It was a messy situation for the young, uncrowned queen. Maybe it was for the best that Steven was leaving, even though Zeema might suffer because of it. She would get over the man.
Lhett didn’t want to think too hard about the fact that the same thinking could be applied to his situation. He and Hanne weren’t friends. She hadn’t even said goodbye to him in person before boarding the spacecraft.
He glanced over at Taron, whose gaze was stuck on Adriana. His fingers twitched as though he wanted to rush to her side and make sure she wasn’t leaving, too, but he was giving her space. Huh.
Kol stood next to Mika, who demurely shook Steven’s hand. She was much more reserved than Adriana in terms of emotions, but Lhett had learned that she always said exactly what she meant. It was refreshing, and he liked the tiny scientist a lot. Kol was a lucky bastard.
The crowd thinned as several humans boarded the ship and their Rendian acquaintances left the platform to return to the city. Notably absent were two human men: Graham Taylor and Jean Proulx. Since Graham shot Jean not two days ago, this wasn’t surprising: the former was already aboard the spaceship, locked in a holding cell. Jean remained unconscious because he’d taken a direct shot in the stomach and lost a lot of blood. Ben, the human doctor who’d chosen to stay on Rendu, was still unsure whether the big engineer would make it.
If it had been up to Lhett, Graham would have been dead already. Kol agreed with him, mostly because Graham had threatened Mika as well—but the Intergalactic Trade Association had given them the order to release the human prisoner back into human custody.
“Has Hanne boarded yet?” Taron asked finally, breaking the silence between them.
Lhett forced out the words, “I don’t know.”
“Did she say goodbye to you?”
Lhett turned on his brother, frustration boiling over. “Will you stop?”
Taron lifted his hands in a defensive gesture. “Hey, I’m just asking.”
“Stop asking, then.”
Lhett faced the spaceship again. Why had he even come here? There was no one he needed to see off, apart from Hanne, and she’d apparently decided to leave quietly. Hanne had told everyone that she was returning home. To Denmark, though Lhett had no real concept of the country. It was a cold place on Earth, though not as cold as Rendu, she’d told him once when he’d still been assigned as her guard under the former regent’s rule.
As soon as the queen had gained her independence and the regent was dead, Hanne had shaken off his company and insisted she could make her own way in the capital. So he’d taken himself off to a training facility to oversee the training of a new batch of recruits, even though the mission was far below his status as a general. He didn’t want to impose on her, and seeing her at the palace every day destroyed what peace of mind he had left.
Then the news had come about the string of unsolved break-ins, and he’d returned to the capital to help Zeema oversee the investigation. It turned out that Graham Taylor was behind those burglaries as well, and that he’d been sent here with the intention of stealing Rendian military technology. Lhett had no idea what would happen to the man on Earth, but he hoped it would be painful.
“All passengers are asked to board the Traveler now. Departure in four minutes.”
Humans leaving the planet exchanged last hugs with their friends and hurried up the ramp and into the belly of the ship. Steven lingered for a moment longer, then finally turned his back on Zeema and headed up the metallic incline with heavy steps. Without warning, the queen darted after him and grabbed his hand. Lhett took a step forward, ready to intervene, to pull her away should the spaceship door start closing, but Taron slapped an arm across Lhett’s chest to stop him.
They watched as Steven faced her and she stood on her tiptoes to press a quick, desperate kiss on his lips. Then she whirled away and left, engulfed in the circle of her guards who whisked her off the platform and back toward a large hover sled waiting for her. Steven stood on the ramp, his cheeks pink and his hand covering his mouth.
“Poor bastard,” Taron muttered.
Lhett didn’t answer. Even the queen had gotten her last kiss. He scanned the ship’s oval windows for any sign of a pale face, but the weak sun reflected off them, hiding whoever was inside.
This was it. She was leaving, and he’d never…
Lhett cursed under his breath and walked away from the spaceship. There was no use waiting here anymore. If she’d wanted to say anything to him, she would have. She’d had every opportunity.
He was halfway down the platform steps when Kol caught up with him.
“Where are you going?” his brother asked.
Lhett nodded in the direction of the capital. The city walls gleamed black in the sun, the spires of the royal palace rising from the middle like a clawed hand of some gigantic ancient creature punching through the ice. His planet was always forbidding, but on days like this one, it was also starkly beautiful. It figured that the day she left would be the brightest that week.
“Come have lunch with us,” Kol added, apparently unshaken by Lhett’s demeanor.
Lhett closed his eyes for a moment. He didn’t want to have lunch with Kol and Mika. What he needed right now was a rough training in the military center, where he could run until his lungs burned and his muscles screamed in pain. Or take a bet against four or five soldiers willing to prove themselves against the general and let them pummel him a while until he finally swept the floor with them.
A sharp poke in his arm had him opening his eyes. “What?”
“We’re having a family lunch. Taron and Adriana will be there, too. You should come.” Kol searched his face with narrowed eyes. “You’re not thinking of leaving the city again, are you?”
Lhett didn’t want to lie to his brother, so he didn’t reply at all. Kol blew out a breath that steamed in the frigid autumn air, then grabbed Lhett’s arm and tugged him toward a hover sled.
Behind them, the spaceship rose steadily in the air. Lhett glanced over his shoulder, unable to stop himself. He didn’t want to stand there like an idiot, waving after it. There was no point. But neither could he wrench his gaze away until the spaceship took on speed and shot through the atmosphere. It glinted silver in the sun, a speck in the vast blue sky, then disappeared.
A heavy weight settled in his stomach.
“You have to come today, then. We barely ever see you anymore, and if you’re off again soon, I don’t want to miss the opportunity.” Kol waved to Mika who was ambling over hand in hand with a sobbing Adriana. “And maybe we can persuade you to stay in Volarun for a while. It’d be nice to have you around more often.”
Lhett let himself be dragged along and didn’t voice any objections. If his brothers missed him, the least he could do was have lunch with them. That didn’t mean he had to contribute much to the conversation—Taron and Kol were loud enough as it was, even without the addition of their human mates. A quick meal wouldn’t hurt.
He took over the controls of the hover sled while the two happy couples wrapped themselves in rica pelts and reminisced about the humans who’d just left the planet.
“Once the trade route is established,” Adriana piped up, “we’ll be able to visit Earth for the holidays. We could have a big reunion with all the delegation members.”
“Apart from Graham,” Mika grumbled.
Adriana clicked her tongue. “Well, obviously.”
Lhett kept his gaze facing forward, mindful of any bumps in the ice surface that the hover sled could brush against. He liked speeding over the plains. There was freedom in feeling the bite of the wind on his cheeks.
“You could come with us, Lhett,” Mika said. “You’d like Earth. We have penguins and—ow! What?”
Lhett didn’t catch Adriana’s whispered, urgent words, but he didn’t need to be a genius to figure out what the anthropologist was saying. He clenched his jaw. Where had he gone wrong? Had he ever shown his sentiments toward Hanne? Surely not. But Taron’s mate was incredibly observant, even for a human, so she’d probably figured it out.
It didn’t matter.
Lhett half turned back and said, “Thank you for the invitation. But a general cannot leave his troops for months on end.” Then he focused on the path ahead, glad of the distraction that gave him the excuse to distance himself from the conversation.
He thought he heard Kol sigh, but the wind carried off the sound before he could be sure. But what he’d said was true—the queen needed him here. He had to make sure the army was up to standard, and there wasn’t any point in making plans he could never carry out.
“Why don’t people just say what they mean?”
Mika’s annoyed murmur made its way to him, and he grinned. Yes, life would be much simpler if everyone spoke their mind. Him included. A flash of regret shot through him, sudden and bitter. He hadn’t spoken to Hanne because it had stung that she’d got rid of him the moment the humans were allowed free rein of the city. But maybe…
Lhett shook his head. He’d never in his life pursued a woman after she’d made it clear she didn’t want him around, and he hadn’t broken the rule for a human, either. If she’d changed her mind, she should have informed him.
He stifled a groan and resisted the urge to slap himself. Enough. The woman was gone, and his life was here.
They passed the city gates, where the soldiers on guard saluted him, and left the hover sled in the hangar nearby. The stroll to the Naals mansion only took five minutes, and Lhett dutifully chatted with Adriana on her plans to redecorate the living quarters in her and Taron’s wing. She was trying her hardest to make him feel included and he was grateful for that, even if it didn’t stop him feeling like an impostor.
Their home glittered like ice in the sunlight, the pale-blue stone their ancestors chose shining at its finest. Lhett grimaced. He’d rather have a less opulent home, one that didn’t come with so many responsibilities and expectations. But being a Naals was what he was born with, and only fools tried to change their circumstances.
Swiping his wrist cuff over the door panel, Lhett unlocked the door. It swung wide, releasing a gust of warm air from the foyer, and they all crowded inside.
“Good morning,” their housekeeper greeted them, his hands fluttering by his sides. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
Lhett raised his eyebrows. The capable, mild-mannered man had never expressed so much emotion in all the years he’d been employed here. “Is everything all right?”
“Er,” Olin said. “Well. Yes.”
His gaze shifted to the others, who were still removing their protective outer layers and discussing what to have for lunch.
Lhett squared his shoulders. “Come on, out with it. What’s the matter?”
“I was asked to bring Misses Ribeiro and Yadama into the parlor and not to bother you, but you all arrived at once, so…”
Mika stared at the housekeeper. “Oh no. Is it Jean? What’s wrong?”
Adriana let out a gasp, and they both hurried forward, Kol and Taron close on their heels. Lhett followed behind them, his curiosity now piqued. Mika threw open the door of the parlor—and stopped dead.
“Oh my god,” Adriana whispered.
Lhett rounded the corner and peered into the room above the heads of the others. He was taller than even Taron, so he had a good view of…
Hanne sat on the pale-gray sofa cushion, her hands clasped between her knees. Steam rose from a teacup beside her, and an array of pastries sat untouched on a plate. She was alone, and her outerwear hung on a hook next to the space heater, her blue parka dripping water to the floor.
Lhett’s analytical brain took in all the details, but one thought clamored louder than all the rest.
She didn’t leave.
OOH, plot twist! :D Find out what happens next >> dive into this world now!