Home > Captain of the Guard (Galactic Kings #3)

Captain of the Guard (Galactic Kings #3)
Author: Anna Hackett

Chapter One



The moon rose over the forest, huge and bright.

Annora Rahl breathed deeply. Her enhanced Damari senses picked up so much: the rich scent of the trees, a small animal in the undergrowth nearby, cooking smells from not too far away.

But it was the moon that sang to her. To the wolf inside her.

The people of the planet Damar were shapeshifters. She was both woman and wolf, and both parts of her had finely honed, protective instincts.

Both were clamoring at her to protect her planet.

Blowing out a long breath, she strode down the forest path. It wound through the trees, and before long, she spotted houses nestled under the broad branches, all made of wood and glass.

The forest city of Accalia coexisted with the trees, the rocks, and the landscape. The Damari tried to live in harmony with nature.

But it was all in danger.

From a megalomaniac king, determined to conquer not only the planet of Damar, but their entire star system.

Annora’s hands curled into fists, a sub-vocal growl in her throat.

She would not let King Zavir Sarkany of the planet Sarkan destroy her people, or their allies.

She’d fight beside her emperor and do what was required to win.

And it appeared that meant she had to head off on a mission with a man who annoyed her to her bones.

Annora scowled. She did not want to work with Captain Thadd Naveri of the planet Zhalto. She’d prefer to have her claws pulled out one at a time.

Laughter echoed through the night, distracting her from her thoughts. It was childish, and filled with cheeky delight. Some Damari children ran toward her. A few were in wolf form, others not. The little wolves almost tripped over their big paws. They were such cute balls of fur.

It wrung a smile out of her, despite all the musings crowding her head.

The children saw her and altered course. They ran over to her, those not in wolf form babbling greetings. A small, gray wolf planted his paws on the leather of Annora’s trousers.

She scooped him up. “Hello. Are you being good?”

A chorus of yeses. The little wolf nuzzled her cheek.

A wave of affection flowed over her. She was Emperor Brodin Damar Sarkany’s right-hand, his First Claw. She was known for being tough and deadly.

But she wanted this one day. A child. A family. A mate.

“Off with you.” She set the wolf pup down. “And stay out of trouble.” She watched the children scamper away into the night-drenched forest city.

She needed to protect her planet and her people. If that meant working with the man who made her want to punch him, constantly, then so be it.

She strode down the path toward the landing pads built into the side of a green-covered hill that towered over the city. Some of the semi-circular platforms were empty, while others had brown Damari flyers on them. One had a sleek, black ship perched on it like a bird of prey.

As she watched, a flyer flew toward one platform, its wings flapping like the wings of a giant bird. She looked back at the ground and spotted a small group waiting for her at the base of the hill.

The three tall men sure made an impact. Her emperor and friend, Brodin, was the tallest of the three brothers, but not by much. He was a warrior, built tall and muscular like most Damari. His long hair was silver-gray and pulled back from his rugged face.

The three of them were all the sons of the power-hungry King Zavir, ruler of the planet Sarkan. The Sarkany system consisted of five planets orbiting a red giant sun: Andret, Zhalto, Damar, Taln, and Sarkan.

Andret, a small, rocky planet, had been mostly destroyed by the Radiance, a giant, solar flare that had ripped through the system millennia ago. It had destroyed Andret’s atmosphere, and killed the species who’d called it home.

The most distant planet in the system was Sarkan. Zavir ruled his planet with an authoritarian iron fist. He controlled what his people saw, touched, ate, and did. No one dared disobey him, or they disappeared in the night and were never seen again.

Years ago, after decades of fighting with Zhalto, Damar and Taln, Zavir had proposed peace in the system…by marrying a woman from each of the other inhabited planets.

He had three sons, and now those men—Brodin and his brothers—ruled and protected their planets from Zavir. They were united in their hatred for their father.

Brodin would give his life for the Damari. They’d just beaten Zavir’s vicious warlord, Candela. And they wouldn’t stop fighting.

Her gaze moved to the dark-haired, silver-eyed warrior beside Brodin. Overlord Rhain Sarkany ruled the planet Zhalto. The Zhaltons were skilled energy wielders who were fierce in battle. Rhain had recently battled another of Zavir’s warlords, Krastin. He’d won the fight, but he’d lost people.

Annora’s lip curled. Zavir’s Zhylaw warlords were scum who experimented on different species. They used their tech to twist, enhance, and keep creatures alive well past their natural lifespans. Annora had no respect for the Zhylaw.

The final planet in the system was Taln. Conqueror Graylan Sarkany, the ruler of Taln, nodded at something Brodin said.

Tall, leaner than his brothers, he radiated an intense strength. His gold eyes sat in a sharp, hawkish face, and his black hair was clipped short. Not a man she ever wanted to see angry.

Brodin spotted her. “Annora, are you prepped for the mission?” His voice was deep and gravelly.

She nodded. “Yes.” She met Graylan’s gold gaze. “Thank you for supplying the ship for the mission. I will stop Zavir mining the genite on Andret. Whatever it takes.”

The conqueror inclined his head.

“We can’t let a chip of genite off the planet,” Rhain said, his voice deep and authoritative.

Genite was a mineral found on Andret, and was deadly to Talnian physiology. They’d recently discovered, after Zavir’s failed attacks on both Zhalto and Damar, that Zavir was planning an assault on Taln. His people were mining genite as part of his plan.

Talnians possessed formidable powers, and were able to command and control the geological forces of their planet. She’d never seen it herself, but she’d heard they could generate earthquakes, cause the ground to move, and shoot soil and rocks into the air.

“We have full faith in you and Thadd, Annora,” Rhain said.

Ugh. That was the one little problem in all of this. She had to work with Captain Thadd “Uptight and Controlling” Naveri.

She’d encountered him on and off over the years. Whenever Rhain and Brodin had met up, Rhain’s second in command and bodyguard was there. The first time she’d met him, she’d thought Thadd Naveri was one gorgeous hunk of a man. Just how she liked them: tall, big, muscular.

Unfortunately, she’d also learned he was bossy and controlling, and had no respect for her strength or abilities. At that first meeting, a Sarkan spy had tried to attack the kings. Luckily, the man got nowhere near Brodin and Rhain. Annora had made sure of it.

But when she’d cornered the enemy agent in a cargo warehouse, just as she was about to attack, Captain “Has to be in control” Naveri had knocked her out of the way and had taken the Sarkan down himself.

Her jaw tightened at the memory. He’d treated her like a helpless female in front of her team, and stolen her kill.

She’d blasted him for it later. The man had just watched her, stone-faced, with his brilliant blue eyes, and told her that it was his duty to protect not only his people, but their allies.

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