Zuran

Zuran

Albaterra Mates Series Book 6

He’s forced to revisit the past he left behind, and she’s coming along for the ride.

As a nurse, Phoebe has spent her career helping people. She knows it’s her calling and throws herself into tending to her patients’ heart and soul. In the city of Ka-lik’et, she is considered one of the best attendants amongst those in the human colony. When she loses the most important patient, she’s ever had, though, a fuse is ignited that sends her spiraling into a course of events she could never have imagined.

Zuran is the Interplanetary Affairs Officer for the Albaterran Kingdom of Dhal’at. He is also a reformed criminal, but he walked away from that life in pursuit of something better. When he meets the curvaceous and intelligent Phoebe, it’s in the midst of a crisis, and he realizes he has never met someone so genuinely good. He soon discovers walking the straight-and-narrow is not the only unexpected change in himself as he finds himself captivated by the compassionate, beautiful human.

Albaterra has been playing host to a colony of Novai for many months, but they are suddenly stricken with a mysterious disease neither A’li-uud nor humans have seen before. Suddenly, Zuran and Phoebe are thrown into the race against time to cure the disease before it kills the Novai colonists or spreads to the other beings who call Albaterra home. After she is unable to save an Elder, Phoebe battles her inner demons to fight for the ailing Novai. Meanwhile, Zuran is forced to battle demons of another kind when his brother is imprisoned for the Elder’s death. They unite in hopes of achieving their goals, and they discover sides to themselves they never knew existed. Phoebe realizes how far she is willing to go for someone she cares about, and the ever-independent Zuran finds out just how much he needs her after all.

Can a bad boy alien and a selfless nurse save the world? Can they even save themselves?


Chapter 1

Zuran

A hazy blur materialized on the horizon just over the arcs of the swooping dunes. I was almost there. If not for the blazing white rays of sunlight in my eyes and the thick veil of heat blanketing the desert landscape, I would have been able to clearly see the clay walls marking the boundaries of Ka-lik’et, their peachy hue distinguishable against the backdrop of the vividly turquoise Albaterran sky. Another thousand footfalls would yield the low, ceaseless rumblings native to the Dhal’atian city as merchants bargained with interested buyers, friends and couples strolled the streets, and parents called out to energetic children determined to steal a moment of independence. Finally, the great golden dome marking the highest point of the Elder palace was birthed before me, glinting its encouragement for my return.

I slowed to a jog as I passed through the pair of gates. They were made of impenetrable bronze-brushed metal and towered well over two A’li-uud tall, their peaks meeting flush against the intricately-carved arch overhang. Had the afternoon given way to the dusty indigo dusk, I would have been required to request entrance from the stationed warrior guards, but the sun was still high in the sky, and the gates were left open for civilians to come and go as they pleased. At this hour, Ka-lik’et was still buzzing, and my energetic re-entry went unnoticed by all but one.

“Where have you been?” Through eyes that were little more than exhausted slits, I watched the lean, feral-faced A’li-uud charging toward me. Ribbons of pearly hair cascaded out behind him, the ends snapping like whips in the sweltering desert breeze, and the flared fabric of his breathable jodhpurs rippled with each stride. His skin had darkened from its usual royal blue richness to lush cobalt after spending most of the day out-of-doors. Slanted lids gave way to spectral irises, which plunged into me with visceral irritation and bolstered the jut of his angular jaw. He was fierce, striking, and identical to me in every way.

“Pleasure to see you too, Venan,” I remarked as casually as my heaving respirations would allow.

He refused to be deterred. “Where have you been?” he repeated, injecting insistence into his already rigid tone.

Venan was my twin brother, fellow warrior, and mirror image, but the similarities ended there. While he had thrown himself into his role with the Dhal’atian militia the first day he began training, I spent my initial years amassing a repertoire of warnings and disciplinary actions for reckless behavior. He was the epitome of humorless stringency; I preferred the livelier side of life. Our respective personalities led us down two very different and begrudgingly felicitous paths within the ranks, but time had blessed us with startling closeness.

“I needed to run,” I told him airily. “Catering to the humans all day does not make a warrior fit.”

“Our honorable Elder Kharid named you Interplanetary Affairs Officer for a reason, Zuran, and far be it from me to question him,” Venan sternly replied, the skepticism in his tone betraying his unspoken doubts of my appointment. “It is not your privilege to leave the colony at your whim.”

“And it is not your privilege to reprimand an officer of equal rank, brother,” I retorted.

He swelled, his unclothed torso expanding until the veins in his pectorals bulged. The harsh edges of his cheekbones hardened, and his shoulders squared with indignance. “Need I remind you your promotion was only upon my suggestion?” he challenged.

I pinned him with a patronizing gaze and asked, “What do you want, Venan?” I was still too tired to instigate further annoyance from him as I ordinarily would have.

“Elder Kharid has issued an order for your presence at the palace to address an urgent matter,” he said at once, managing to swell another breath larger.

“What is the urgent matter?”

Venan did not answer, opting instead to fix me with an exasperated glare for my lack of instant compliance. I shook out my wind-ruffled hair, which was just as long and pale as his, and started toward the palace. He caught me by the arm before I could take more than two steps.

“You must return to the colony first,” he asserted.

I held back a groan of frustration and decided I was owed a bit of antagonism for my efforts. “Is the matter not urgent after all? Was that a detail you invented to ensure I report to the palace and propel you deeper into Kharid’s good graces, perhaps?”

Elder Kharid,” he corrected me snappishly. “And, no, I am not so childish as that. The Council has requested the inclusion of the human healers in the debriefing. It is your duty to collect them from their infirmary and accompany them to the palace.”

Several pieces of his explanation prickled my attention, and I became serious as I asked, “With what urgent matter could the human healers possibly assist, and why has the Council become involved?”

“You must report to Elder—”

“No, Venan,” I interrupted sharply. “I am not asking you as a warrior or an officer or even a Dhal’atian. I am asking you as a brother. What is happening? Why do I need to gather the humans?”

He eyed me uncertainly for a beat, his achromatic orbs flicking between mine. I knew he was struggling between his obligation to remain tight-lipped at Kharid’s command and his loyalty to our familial bond, but I was unwilling to retract my demand for information. Finally, his voice lowered to prevent overhearing by loitering eavesdroppers, he said, “An unidentified disease has broken out amongst the Novai. The Elders want every healer across Albaterra assigned to diagnosing and curing the illness before it spreads to both humans and A’li-uud. They fear the disease has the potential to grow to pandemic proportions and kill us all.”

 

 


Chapter 2

Phoebe

 “How did this happen, Mr. Killian?”

The infirmary was slow today. Only one overnight patient needed tending thanks to dehydration—an ailment we saw quite commonly, as people tended to push themselves too hard in the relentless desert heat of Dhal’at—and a single other had come in complaining of mysterious allergies. Most of the other nurses were gathered around a host of empty beds, chattering about nothing of substance and counting down the minutes until they were free to leave for the day and ogle the hundreds of soldiers who populated our colony. I wasn’t so lucky. On my exam table sat a well-tanned man, and in my lap rested his upturned hand with a nail straight through his palm.

“Nail gun,” he said a little sheepishly. “And call me Josh. It makes me nervous when people call me Mr. Killian.”

I lifted his hand for closer examination. “I’m no surgeon, but I’d say you’re very lucky. It seems to have missed every bone. I expect you’ll suffer some nerve damage, though.”

“Will it affect my job?” he worried. I didn’t blame him for his concern. Josh Killian was one of the few carpenters who resided in the colony. If he were unable to practice his trade, he would likely be put on grunt duty: delivering goods to the dormitories and homes, performing janitorial work around the common areas, and assisting the colony leads with menial administrative tasks. Everyone who left Earth to take their place in human settlements on Albaterra had done so with a skill or occupation of value. If any of us were rendered incapable of performing said skill or occupation, we did not have the luxury of collecting disability benefits and living out our lives. We were expected to work, to pull our weight and help the colony flourish in all but life-threatening circumstances. Perhaps the demands on us were unfair or militant, but we’d known what we were signing up for when we’d submitted our applications for selection.

Sympathetically, I shrugged and replied, “Like I said, Josh, I’m not a surgeon. I don’t know.”

He cursed and glared at his hand as if it was horribly offensive, and I spun on my wheeled stool to jot some notes down on my clipboard. In many ways, being a nurse on Albaterra was no different than being a nurse on Earth, but I definitely found myself wishing more times than not that I had my laptop to work on rather than handwriting patient details. Unfortunately, until human electricity was figured out on this alien planet if it ever was, we were stuck doing many of our duties the old-fashioned way.

“I’m going to have you wait here,” I told him absently, finishing my scribblings, “and Dr. Griep will be with you shortly.”

“Thanks, ma’am,” Josh responded.

I smiled kindly at the carpenter and stood, leaving him to his woes. It felt good to walk around. The heat of the day had risen to its peak, and sitting for extended periods meant sweat gathering in uncomfortable places, especially for a full-figured woman like myself. Some of the other nurses were never bothered by the arid desert swelter or even found it unpleasant, but they tended to be of the twiggy nymph-like breeds who sweat dewdrops rather than bullets. I’d never regretted my decision to become an Albaterran colonist, but I’d be lying if I claimed I never wondered why fate took my mild climate-born butt from Ohio and plunked me down in the middle of the alien Sahara Desert.

“Dr. Griep,” I called, crossing the vast room to the middle-aged man in the white coat. He turned, and I held out the clipboard to him. “Josh Killian took a nail through the hand. I think he missed bone, but it’s still pretty severe.”

The doctor took the clipboard from me and skimmed my notes with knitted eyebrows. “Pain level?”

“Minimal. His primary complaint is tingling.”

“There’s probably nerve damage,” Dr. Griep mused, frowning. “I hope, for his sake, it’s not permanent.”

A sudden bang detonated through the air, and I looked up in alarm to see the door to the infirmary entrance flung wide open. Crossing the threshold was a tall, blue-skinned A’li-uud with a waist-length curtain of alabaster hair flowing out behind him like a cape. His sculpted mouth was set in a thin line, and his pointed jaw was firmly clenched, but even from a distance, I could see the facetious devilry lurking behind the seriousness in his ghostly white eyes.

I knew this A’li-uud, by sight at least. He was the Interplanetary Affairs Officer for the colony, responsible for the well-being and goings-on of the human settlers in Dhal’at. We had never spoken, but I’d seen him around the colony every single day since my arrival nearly a year ago. Truth be told, while my female co-workers exchanged raunchy comments about the human soldiers, I had instead harbored lustful thoughts more than once toward the limber, sinewy alien. His muscles were carved out of stone, his sharp and mischievous face a work of the gods, and he reeked of the kind of confidence I wished I had.

In short, he was not an unwelcome sight.

“I need all healers to report to me,” he announced. His coarse voice and clipped words carried through the room in layered echoes. The infirmary was not like a modern American hospital, with many floors and private rooms and hallways upon hallways to roam. It was more akin to the hospitals of the 1940s, just a large open space with rows of beds lined up against the walls and only a few separate rooms branching from the sides. Any conversations had could be heard at least in tone, and the resounding command from the A’li-uud was easily understood. “Now.”

“Nurses too?” asked Edie, the most diminutive of all the attendants.

“Yes.”

“We have patients,” Dr. Griep pointed out. He glanced toward Josh Killian out of the corner of his eye, who was now cradling his hand with sallow cheeks.

The IAO followed Dr. Griep’s glimpse, and the shadow of a smirk crossed his thin lips. “I am quite certain he will be here when you return,” he said with tactless amusement. The doctor bristled, and the A’li-uud made an impatient noise in his throat. “Treat him if you must, but Elder Kharid has requested your presence at the palace and attendance is mandatory. I will send a warrior to escort you shortly.”

I hesitated, uncertain if I should remain behind to assist Dr. Griep, but the doctor offered me a nod of reassurance and walked away to handle Josh. The other nurses were gathering around the IAO, and I crossed the room to join them. When I was near enough, I asked him anxiously, “What’s going on?”

For the first time, his eyes turned directly to me. My breath caught in my throat as they pierced through my skin, drilling into my soul. The smirk was still lingering on his lips as he said, “You are going to save the world.”