Genre = Paranormal, Science Fiction Romance, Romantic Comedy
Alien Guardians of Earth #2
Sugar left on sentient blade business. She came home to a very mad panther.
When the sentient blade sends her on a rescue mission, Dr. Sugar Jennings sneaks out of her Bad Panther’s bed without saying goodbye. Why? Because a woman’s got to do what she’s got to do.
Okay, not really. Sugar’s more of a straight forward kind of person who would have preferred having the freaking fight to all the subterfuge. Axel’s father, Rodu—a fellow blade host and her mentor—says asking forgiveness later is far better than asking for permission which she’s never going to get.
Sugar doesn’t understand why her alien panther shifter slash next-in-line for the Lyran throne mate is all up in her sentient blade business. She thinks Rodu should have done a better job teaching his thick-headed son about the concept of maintaining some personal space while in a relationship.
Sugar’s blade business turns out to be saving another sentient blade host. This one is a silver-spooned, cocky kid fresh out of college whose ineptitude and negative attitude makes Sugar look like the best blade host ever selected. The younger man is amusing and adorable but also a big pain in everyone’s rear, especially her new alien-sister-in-law’s. But like it or not, the kid is the host of the other Protector blade which means he’s Sugar’s freaking counterpart. She had to tolerate him… and train him how to stay alive if she can.
Honestly? All this blade drama is starting to wear on Sugar’s last nerve. She needs some space to be what she needs to be. Her alien panther isn’t the only one getting mad over the situation.
In the palace of Queen Nyomi, leader of the Alien Guardians of Earth…
Sugar thought of herself as a laid back kind of person—the kind who went with the flow instead of fighting it. The result was a less stressful life which let her sleep better.
Tonight, action dreams where she was fighting had kept her tossing and turning for hours.
On top of that, she’d had weirdly vivid dreams of rock walls and stone terraces. During the dream, part of her had felt like she was walking some ancient site. This was a fairly common dream for her because she was an archaeologist, but she hadn’t stayed in the dream long enough to figure it out where she was.
After being jolted awake from that somewhat pleasant dream of exploring an ancient site had come other dreams—dreams of freaking numbers—dreams of 13.1631 degrees south and 72.5450 degrees west. How weird was that?
Sugar rolled over and groaned quietly. Those numbers were more than regular numbers. Those numbers were grid coordinates. But to where?
Since she wasn’t able to sleep, Sugar decided that she might as well go to the library and find out.
She lifted the giant male arm thrown across her body and laid it gently on the bed as she slid from under it. Luckily, there was no worry about waking her softly snoring lover. Axel always slept deeply after the kind of sex they’d indulged in last evening.
She knew from their months of being together that Axel wouldn’t wake up until late in the day tomorrow, probably not until mid-afternoon even. Her half-alien guardian remained in human form for her most of the time, but his feline side loved, loved, loved to nap.
Sugar grabbed her robe from a nearby chair and padded softly across their bedroom to her growing closet of clothing. The ancient artifact buried in her chest had cost her all her previous possessions. Not long ago, she’d been forced to wear the discarded clothing from Axel’s previous conquests. Luckily, sleeping with a Lyran prince came with perks. Among them was that she now had enough gorgeous clothes that she could change daily for several weeks without wearing the same outfit twice.
Her hands reached for items on auto-pilot. Sugar smirked at the functional denim over her arm and the layers of shirts now in her hands. Her arms were filled up long before her mind grasped the significance of her choices. Apparently, she was getting some help dressing from the sentient blade she was still coming to terms with.
There was no use getting pissed at the artifact over the clothing intervention. The sentient blade she hosted had taught her a whole new level of patience. She’d learned to go with the flow because it was less trouble in the long run.
“Hey, Artifact. Got something to tell me?” she whispered softly as she consciously gathered warm socks and sturdy boots as well. They matched the rest of her ensemble.
Affirmative. Entity Sugar will be surprised.
“Like that’s something new?” Sugar quietly grumbled.
State problem. I will amend communication.
“Sorry. Forget I said anything snarky. Save your surprise until I’m dressed and out of earshot of my alien cat, okay?”
Request acknowledged. Haste necessary. Protector Sugar needed.
Sugar nodded. Well, that was her, whether she was happy about the fact or not.
Dreading the artifact once again taking control of her body and morphing her into something superhuman, Sugar ran an agitated hand over her shorter hair. Axel hated that she kept cutting it off these days, but long hair and fight training hadn’t worked out for her. No one had forcibly dragged her down by her ponytail in a long damn time. Prince Picky was just going to have to deal with her butch look. It sure hadn’t seemed to slow down his libido any.
Sugar bundled her clothing and her boots inside a light-weight brown leather jacket before letting herself out in the hallway. A night guard passed by and bowed politely. She inclined her head as she shoved her clothing bundle under her arm in an attempt to shield what she carried. She assumed the benevolent smile she’d been forced to develop for the sake of all those living in Nyomi’s alien queendom.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Sugar explained quickly. “I thought I’d go to the library—didn’t want to wake the sleeping prince.”
The guard bowed his head. “Long live, Prince Axel of Rodu, firstborn son of Queen Nyomi and future leader…”
Sugar ran swiftly to the guard and put a hand over his mouth until his head raised in shock. She was careful not to touch his feline whiskers or she’d have him screaming in pain.
“You know what? I’d like to live long as well. He’s a very cranky feline when he doesn’t get his rest. Let’s not wake Prince Axel up, okay?”
At his nod, Sugar moved her fingers away. “Good. Now, as I said, I’m headed to the library.”
“Long live, Dr. Sugar Jennings, Ancient Earth Historian and…”
“Shhh…” Sugar hissed, putting a finger over her lips. “Let’s not worry about protocol tonight. Continue your…” she flicked her hand as she waved at the hallway, “your prowling—I mean, guard duty.”
Sugar snickered softly when the guard ignored her sarcasm and bowed his head once again. She took advantage of him finally looking away and ran soundlessly down the metal hall. One of the first abilities the artifact had given her was greater speed. Hopefully, she’d moved too swiftly just now for him to have seen her robe billowing open. Public nudity wasn’t condoned here any more than it was on Earth.
She hastily waved her hand over the security panel of the library and entered when she heard the click of the lock releasing.
“Finally. I thought you’d never get here.”
A deep masculine voice came from her favorite chair and startled her. “What the… Damn it, Rodu—I almost screamed when you spoke to me,” Sugar chastised, bringing a hand to her racing heart. She glared at the near replica of the male she’d just snuck away from… and a fellow blade host. “You’re dressed for travel. Where are you going this time of night?”
Rodu snorted and pointed to the clothing clutched to her chest. “Same place you are. My blade informed me that you’ve been given our travel coordinates already. Despite not yet knowing the destination, I took the liberty of acquiring our transport.”
“Transport? Is it a flying saucer like Axel’s? I don’t remember riding in his flying machine. Both times I was in it, apparently I was knocked out. Gina told me they’re really cool though.”
“You can trust it’s a suitable transport for our task which is the critical information you need to know at the moment,” Rodu said with an eye roll. “Why are you wearing a sleep robe? Why didn’t you dress in your room?”
Sugar grunted. “If I had accidentally woke up your son, it would have taken hours to get away from him. Plus, I only thought I was coming to the library to check the numbers in flashing in my head. My blade didn’t say anything about me having to go somewhere.”
In answer, Rodu grunted his disbelief. His reaction made Sugar smile.
Axel might be half-alien but there were times he acted just like his human father. They both had a chest-thumping arrogant male thing they did as they bent the world and everything in it to their will. Such a male attitude in Rodu drove Queen Nyomi crazy, but Sugar found it easy to ignore Rodu’s masculine anger.
When it came to Rodu’s son though, Sugar reacted quite differently. He was so very sure of himself that she was always amused by Axel’s chest-thumping. Good thing she found him humorous because it would be highly problematic, not to mention tiring, to have to kick Axel’s half-alien ass every damn day.
Her mind had obviously wandered too far off track because Rodu was now glaring at her. Sugar giggled as she ducked behind a stack of books to get dressed.
“So do you have them or not?” Rodu demanded.
“Have what?” Sugar asked. One of the servants would find her robe in the morning, but it wouldn’t be the first time she’d left her clothing in the library. Axel had a habit of tracking her down there and seducing her away from her work.
A series of numbers suddenly appeared again in her mind. “Oh… you mean the coordinates?” The artifact’s abilities were a kind of magic she never took for granted. She didn’t wait for Rodu to make a sarcastic reply. “13.1631 degrees south and 72.5450 degrees west. I haven’t had time to look up where that is on the map. The artifact said I was going to be surprised.”
Sugar heard one of the workstations chiming softly as Rodu punched in the numbers. “Huh,” she heard him say.
“What? They’re longitude and latitude, right?”
“Machu Picchu—specifically those coordinates are inside the Temple Of The Moon. There appears to be a door carved into a rock wall at that exact spot.”
Sugar carried her socks and boots out to find a seat where she could put them on. “What are we supposed to do? Go there right now?”
“You tell me, Protector. My blade hasn’t withheld information from me in hundreds of years.”
“Guess our blades must want us to work together on this.”
“That would be the logical conclusion,” Rodu said dryly.
Sugar grinned as she fastened both her boots and stood. “You know something, Rodu? You’re every bit as cranky as your son when something wakes you up from sleeping.”
“You can’t be awakened if you haven’t been to sleep. I couldn’t rest because of the urgency I have for us to be underway. We should leave as soon as you’re finished dressing,” Rodu said, as he turned to erase his original search from the workstation.
“Leave? Without telling anyone?” Sugar asked.
“Do you want to explain going to Machu Picchu in the middle of the night to two cranky cats and a whole army of those in their service who’ll all insist on going along? I’ve found it much easier to explain my absence after I return, and far easier to discover what is happening without the distraction of Nyomi and her elite. The royals will both get mad over our departure, Sugar, but they’ll get over it. It’s beyond time Axel learns to trust the power inside you.”
“Well, when you put it like that…” Sugar said with a sigh. “Okay. I guess I’m ready to go. The numbers keep flashing in my brain like a Las Vegas sign. I’m not able to ignore them. I wasn’t sleeping either.”
“Precisely. That’s how it works,” Rodu explained as he stopped them at the door. He turned to look down at the one human who was connected to him in a way no other being had been in his very long life. “Does Axel’s reaction to your departure truly worry you?”
Sugar chuckled a little. “Not like you’re probably thinking—but some I guess. He’s used to protecting me so he’s going to be one mad panther when he finds out. Axel doesn’t even like me doing the fight training. Going off on a mission with you… and without him? Yeah, I imagine that’s definitely going to piss him off.”
Rodu nodded. “I understand your dilemma. Despite his advanced age in human years, Axel is more child than you are at times. Fine—you can formulate a transmission to send him once we’re underway.”
“I can what?” Sugar asked as she laughed. “Speak English, Rodu. Earth English—the kind I can understand.”
“I was speaking of a note, Sugar. You can send Axel a communication from the airship explaining that the blade called you to duty tonight. Tell him he’ll have to get used to it happening now and again. He’ll seek out Nyomi who will explain it to him.”
“Oh,” Sugar said as she picked up speed. Rodu moved faster than his son did when in panther form. “Okay. That should work. I guess.”
Rodu grunted. “It may ease your guilt at leaving, but don’t count on it working to maintain peace in your relationship. My eldest and his mother are… they are…”
“Emotionally complicated people?” Sugar suggested.
“I suppose that is nicer than calling them clingy,” Rodu said with a shrug.
“Clingy?” Sugar snorted at the term, snickered at Rodu’s frustrated expression, then let herself actually laugh even if Rodu thought she was rude. “Yeah, you’re right. Axel is a bit clingy. Guess I don’t mind it most of the time.”
Rodu didn’t answer. Nor did he laugh with her. He just picked up more speed as they headed for the “transport” he’d arranged.
They entered what appeared to be an enormous area where not only one but at least ten flying vehicles were stored. They varied in size and shape, but all of them seemed like something from a science fiction movie. Some floated and were tethered to the floor by chains. Others had wheels like airplanes used.
Sugar’s gaping mouth closed as Rodu went directly to one and walked up its open ramp without stopping. Her boots ringing on the metal echoed in the giant room as she followed him.
The idea of actually flying somewhere in the machine gave her goosebumps.
Her excitement doubled again when she buckled herself into the passenger seat and listened to Rodu start up the engines. Why had none of the guards tried to stop them from leaving? All the guards they saw along the way just bowed their heads to her and Rodu and went back to their tasks.
Their craft rolled out into the open space in the center of the space. It got airborne before Sugar could gasp in surprise and shot out of an opening into the middle of what looked like a thousand stars. Wherever they were, something she still didn’t know, it must be nighttime.
She peered out a window that didn’t let her see far through the darkness and wondered again where the Lyran palace was located. As if to mock her attempts to discover her whereabouts, seconds later the craft was flying down through clouds and leveling out like a plane.
“Are you ever going to tell me where the palace is located?” Sugar asked.
“Not if I hope to keep sharing Nyomi’s bed,” Rodu answered.
Sugar laughed at his reasoning but she believed it too. She had no doubt Axel’s mother would make Rodu pay dearly if he told.
“I’m going to figure it out, you know. It’s just a matter of time.”
“It’s been over ten months and you still haven’t,” Rodu pointed out.
Grinning over how sure everyone was about her remaining in the dark, Sugar leaned back in her seat and got comfortable. She knew something they obviously didn’t know, which was that finding out secrets was a way of life for her.
She’d have to pay more attention on their return trip. All she could really see at that moment was what was out the front window of the craft. The view was expansive though and she really did feel like she was flying through clouds.
As she wondered about why they were headed to Machu Picchu, all thoughts of a potentially mad panther left her mind.
On top of an Andes mountain at the site of Machu Picchu…
Lake Wright wandered the ancient stone-lined paths bored out of his twenty-two-year-old mind. Despite the panoramic views, all Lake could do was wonder about the number of people and amount of energy it had taken to build the megalithic citadel.
What were the ancient Incans trying to accomplish when they hauled all those giant rocks up the mountain? Lake figured they probably were thinking the same thing his father had been. They thought that when Lake got to the top of the mountain, he’d be awed by the majesty of their accomplishment. And he was, at least a little bit, but at the end of the day, this place was just rocks and dirt and stories.
It was nothing life-changing for him.
His father had meant well with his Peruvian going away gift. To be fair to the man, Lake had used the word exotic when he should have used words like tropical and island during their conversation about where he’d like to go. It was a typical mistake for him. Lake had never known how to communicate clearly with his absent-minded yet academically brilliant father.
Inventor and futurist Frank Wright hadn’t been the best at listening to his one and only child. Born late to parents in their mid-forties, Lake could look backward and see that he’d been way too much trouble for them to manage gracefully. He’d had too much energy and too much curiosity. He’d been too much of everything really. Their answer to the question of what to do with such a child was to send him away to school.
He’d been away when his mother died. He’d come back for the funeral before returning to school two days later.
Self-reliance had become a matter of survival.
Over the years, friends drifted in and out of his life, but he never mourned their loss. Lake just made new ones and moved on. And girls—girls were fun but a bloody enigma. They all seemed to want things he couldn’t find it in himself to give them—like marriage and babies.
God, the last thing in the world he ever wanted was to create another version of himself.
His father’s sudden heart attack just before his graduation had taken away Lake’s secret goal to force his father to connect with him. Whatever was said during the last conversation ended up not mattering one whit. His father was just as dead either way.
Ever the good son though, here Lake was on top of a Peruvian mountain suffering from oxygen deprivation. Either that or he was being haunted by his father’s ghost because he could swear someone kept calling his name.
Lake looked around and felt instantly embarrassed by his mental breakdown. Had anyone else noticed? There were others walking the paths, but so far not a single tourist or guide had looked his way. It was like he was invisible. Maybe this was what being dead was like, Lake thought as he walked. You wandered among the living while they didn’t know you existed.
Shaking his head at his strange thoughts, he trudged on following one path after the other.
How many stones had the Incas carried up here anyway? He’d read the history. The Temple Of The Sun was not all that impressive to him nor was the whole of Machu Picchu unless you were into all the legends.
He’d traveled to Cambodia on a school trip his father had funded a couple of years ago. The temples of Angkor Wat were far more interesting to him—all the giant heads and giant gods. It was creepy to most visitors but he’d oddly felt right at home among those ancient buildings with trees dissecting them.
Lake followed the winding path to the end of the stone walls. He listened to a guide talking about “The Temple Of The Moon”. A strange rock throne, several rooms, and some peculiar yet pointless doorways were carved out of what appeared to be an open cave or at least part of a cave.
He stepped around the other tourists who were still politely listening. He pushed his hair back and bent his six-foot frame to fit through the first genuine opening that went inside. No one paid any attention to him as he walked to one of the many fake doorways. They were just part of the rock wall that hadn’t been excavated.
Lake’s head whipped around. What was the hell going on here? That time his name had been louder and clearer. His imagination was probably being affected by the lack of oxygen at Machu Picchu’s high altitude.
His gaze scoured the cave area looking for the owner of the voice but came up with… well, nothing. There was no one else in there but him.
Snorting over his idiocy, Lake glared at everything around him. He finally turned back and glared at the closest “fake” doorway that went nowhere. There were all listed in the visitor brochure to make sure tourists didn’t miss seeing them. All Lake saw was unfinished work and places the builders hadn’t managed to get around to carving before they’d abandoned the temple.
Following some urge he couldn’t refuse, Lake reached out a hand and placed his palm on the rock surface of the wall in front of him. Though solid at first touch, his hand with the slightest push went completely through the cold stone.
“Fuck,” Lake yelled as he yanked his hand back. Not really believing what had just happened, he reached out a second time. The rock surface seemed to melt as his hand, wrist, and finally, his whole arm went through.
Then he felt a tug. And there was a humming sound like a jet engine gearing up for takeoff. It seemed to be coming from the opening his hand was passing through.
What the fuck was this place?
And how in bloody hell did the person with the voice know who he was?
“Shit,” Lake yelled loudly as the rest of his body got yanked through the stone.
“Are we there yet?” Sugar bit her lip to keep from laughing when Rodu turned to glare at her.
“Why do you keep asking me that question? It’s only been fifteen minutes.”
Sugar shrugged. “I don’t know. Guess I figured a flying saucer should travel faster than an airplane. It feels like we’re not even moving. I’m pretty sure I keep seeing the same clouds.”
“Peru is very far from the palace,” Rodu said carefully, turning his attention back to the sky in front of them. “Earth physics apply to all craft moving through its atmosphere. Perhaps it would help you to know that we are moving at triple the speed of the fastest commercial airliner. That is all the acceleration our human bodies can handle, even for you and I who are aided by the artifacts within us.”
Sugar made a face. “So are we talking more than four or five hours to get there?”
Rodu turned to glare again. He pressed a button on the panel in front of him. “Calculate and report the estimated time of arrival when maintaining current speed.”
“Four hours fifty-two minutes and twenty-eight seconds,” the craft’s programmed voice reported.
Sugar giggled at the information and how Rodu got it. She couldn’t help it. This was definitely a flying saucer, and it had an onboard computer—just like in the movies. She turned a wicked grin his way. “Are you sure the calculation is right?”
Rodu grunted. “No wonder you tamed my son. The uncertainty you create is like trying to walk through cement. He probably never knows where he stands with you.”
“Not if I can help it,” Sugar agreed with a smile.
She stared out of the window. All she saw was the early morning sky. Skywatching had stopped being amazing after the first hour. Now it was just tedious.
“Actually, I don’t try with Axel. It’s like we meshed without all the common struggle two people experience when they’re attracted to each other. My relationship with him is not like any I had before him.”
Rodu shrugged one shoulder. “Nyomi is as foreign a female companion as a male could ever find. We have nearly nothing in common except that we are obsessed with each other. How it came to be that way remains a mystery to me, even after all this time.”
“That sure doesn’t sound like an easy relationship though.” Sugar grinned when her comment finally managed to get Rodu to smile.
“No. It is not easy. But being with her is more wonderful than anything a human male could ever dream of finding. Her adoration alone is worth living for, no matter how many lifetimes it costs me—and it’s cost me several already. The blade I carry would have probably found a new host long ago if it had not agreed with her regeneration plans.”
Sugar sighed in understanding. “All mine says about the potential end of our connection is host alive until death. It doesn’t seem to get how that kind of statement is not reassuring to me.”
“If you’re expecting it to develop emotional nuances, give that up now. My blade is as direct as it was in the beginning. The only thing I’ve gained over time is that it doesn’t seem to have an opinion on every action. Sometimes I forget it’s in me.”
Sugar chuckled. “My blade and I are far away from that place. I still call it ‘artifact’ when I talk to it because I can’t talk to something that doesn’t have a freaking name. Honestly, everything that’s happened to me still seems completely surreal. Hearing you talk about your blade seems surreal too.”
“After all the years it has been with me, I assure you the being I carry is very real,” Rodu answered. “Soon you will come to understand your bonding with your blade is a natural state. Your blade sought a host for a long time and it finally found one in you. It was created solely to make its host superhuman, as trite as that sounds.”
Sugar nodded. Being superhuman no longer seemed like something fictional, but her brain still couldn’t accept it yet either. The only reason she stayed silent was that too much had happened for her to debate Rodu’s description… or his conclusions.
Sugar glanced at Rodu then returned to staring out the window. Private mode, artifact. Understood?
Affirmative. Urgency now recommended. Protector is awake.
Sugar closed her eyes. Yes, but don’t you think the Protector needs sleep too? I’m still tired.
Response is unclear. Please restate for clarity.
Sugar rolled her eyes behind closed lids. Like the artifact was making sense tonight? Never mind, Artifact. Explain things to me. I’m listening.
Choice is now made.
Sugar felt her eyebrows draw together. I know and I get it. You chose me. You and I are a team.
Affirmative. We are team. New Protector chose Lake.
Her eyelids squeezed tighter as Sugar tried to sort out what the artifact was trying to tell her. Are you saying the new blade is now in a lake?
Previous answer remains valid. Protector now in Lake.
Sugar opened her eyes and stared out at the much brighter morning sky. They were flying through acres of blue with fluffy white vapor puffs. Funny how from the ground the sky always seemed more interesting than when you were moving through it for real. Is that where we’re going? To retrieve the Protector blade?
Negative. Retrieval will result in death.
Whose death? Sugar demanded, her eyes widening at the warning.
Death of Lake.
Sighing, Sugar leaned forward in her seat. Usually, the artifact was much clearer. At the moment, she was getting a headache. That hadn’t happened in a while.
“Getting airsick?” Rodu asked.
“No,” Sugar replied, wincing about keeping things from him. She hated doing it, but the instinct to protect him from feeling too much concern overrode her guilt. “But I’m getting sick of trying to figure out what the hell the blade is trying to tell me about this mission. She says the other protector blade is awake and in a lake. She says if we try to retrieve the blade, the lake is going to die.”
Rodu pondered the possibilities. “Perhaps the blade is speaking of Lake Titicaca. It is the closest lake to your coordinates. There is a science base beneath its depths staffed by a variety of aliens from other planets.”
“Are you telling me real aliens are living underwater in Lake Titicaca?” Sugar exclaimed.
Rodu snorted at her disbelief. “Many visitors from other planets have limited capabilities. There are aliens living in lots of places on Earth, probably in places you’d never believe unless you saw them there.”
“You got that right,” Sugar exclaimed.
“How can you be so shocked when you’re sleeping with a half alien male yourself? You now know for certain that aliens exist, Dr. Jennings. How can you not accept that there are more of them than just the one species you have met to date?”
Sugar let a long breath escape. Because it was incredible that Earth had been invaded long ago and not many knew it. She chuckled over bumping up against the limit of her willingness to believe.
“Guess you got me on that one, Rodu. It hadn’t crossed my mind.”
Rodu grinned. “In Earth terms, Lake Titicaca hosts a scientific observatory where other species study Earth’s ecosystems and biology. But there are no humans there. Human bodies simply aren’t made to be handle pressures down that deep. Only certain aliens can do so.”
Sugar nodded. What else could she do but accept all the new knowledge Rodu kept dropping on her.
“Okay, I got it. Blades only go into humans, and there are no humans in the nearest lake to the coordinates. We’re now officially back to zero understanding of what my blade is trying to tell us. I think we need to go to the coordinates and look around for clues until I get clear on the message.”
Rodu frowned as he nodded. “It makes sense that you should trust your instincts in the matter. I will take us to the Temple Of The Moon. We will pretend to be explorers and hopefully find our answers.”
Sugar felt her lips twitch. Her wicked side was never far away. “I actually am an explorer. Remember?”
“I suppose that’s true,” Rodu said, nodding. “Our ruse will be highly believable then.”
Sugar didn’t bother explaining that if it was true, then it wasn’t a ruse. Rodu was concerned enough. She’d save her sarcasm and her semantics debate for another day.