Authors: Nancy Straight
Touched Series, Book 4
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Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features, are assumed to be the property of their respective owners and are used for reference only. There is no implied endorsement if we use one of these terms. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Printed in paperback in 2014. Available electronically from all major bookstores.
would not have been possible without the support of several incredible people. Linda Brant, my aunt, has painstakingly edited and polished
Rebecca Ufkes, Charles Young, and Melissa Balentine volunteered to be Beta Readers - their feedback was invaluable.
The beautiful cover was designed by Amber McNemar at E-Think Graphics.
I wish there were a way to single out each of the independent authors out there who have helped and inspired me along the way, but a thank you to each one would be a book in itself. A few that I cannot leave out are Shelly Crane, Rachel Higginson, Charlotte Abel, Amy Bartol, Christie Rich and Shannon Dermott – each one has been an incredible inspiration to me and I highly recommend their books!
Book bloggers are the unsung heroes for indie authors. There have been many that I feel indebted to, and you can find a list of great ones on my website: nancystraight.com
Finally, my husband, Toby, has been supportive of my every adventure. Thanks for all the nights you made dinner and did homework so that I could follow my dream!
Thanks to you all!
For my sons, Alex and Zack, whose humor and imaginations inspire me every day.
(Camille Nash – Cancun, Mexico)
The fine white sand was hot between my toes. Waves crashed on the shore as the seagulls shouted warnings from the sky. Had they seen what had just happened? The sun blared down as I looked at the bodies lying unconscious on the ground. I had told Drake to spare a single enforcer who had tried to escape.
My feet walked confidently toward the enforcer, “Take a good look at these Centaurs. Commit the image of their beaten and bloodied bodies to memory, and then share that image with every Centauride you meet. Let them know this is the fate that awaits their husbands, nephews, uncles, sons and grandsons if they choose to hunt the Lost Herd.”
The color in the enforcer’s face drained. He was excellent at hiding his thoughts, but I felt his fear.
Drake stood closest to the enforcer, standing ready to knock him unconscious with the others. I looked at Drake, a tower of strength prepared to do whatever I asked of him. I smiled, “Let him go free. He has a message to deliver.” My words hung heavy in the air as everyone stood on the beach looking confused.
Drake took a step away from the enforcer doubled-up on the sand. All of my family members backed away from him, giving the enforcer room. Although I could feel their stares, none of my brothers made any effort to argue with me. My eyes remained fixed on his.
The enforcer’s confusion was clear, and I was sure he must have thought my words were some sort of a trick. I made my intentions more obvious for him. “No more harm will come to you.” I gestured to the bodies of the unconscious enforcers who had escaped from the basement with him and attacked us. “We will leave soon, but will leave word with the humans to free your friends after we’ve departed.” More forcefully, I reiterated, “Go. Deliver my message to the others.”
The enforcer staggered backwards a couple steps. My father’s eyes locked on mine; I could see Will’s disapproval as he asked, “You’re sure?”
I nodded. “Let him go.” Motioning to the bodies of the Centaur Enforcers who lay unconscious on the beach, I told my family, “Get them back into the house. Give them whatever first aid they need. They should heal fine on their own, but set any broken bones before they start to mend.”
The enforcer paused; something had changed in his demeanor. The cut above his eyebrow had stopped bleeding, and the blood was no longer running down his cheek. “My name’s Quinton. I believe you that no harm will come to my men, and they will see their families again. If I didn’t believe you, I wouldn’t leave them behind.”
I nodded my assurance to him one more time. He cocked his head to the side the way Daniel did, as if he were studying me. After an uncomfortable pause, I expected him to turn and to run down the beach. He didn’t. Instead he pointed directly at me and warned, “If you really are who I believe you to be, daughter to Chiron and Tak, you won’t leave Centurion alive.”
Lots of responses rushed through my mind. Pointing out that we had just gotten the better of him and his men, not once, but twice, wouldn’t have accomplished anything. Instead I smiled at him. “Since when can Centaurs see the future?”
Drake was at my side before I realized he had even moved. He didn’t let Quinton answer, “She may have spared you and given you your freedom, but give me a reason to end you and I will.”
Quinton’s mouth gaped ever-so-slightly as he looked confidently at Drake. “If I am to return to Centurion in shame, I can hold my head high that I did battle with a Centaur Warrior and survived. You are one our ancestors would be proud of.” He tore his gaze away from Drake as his eyes rested on me again, “I will deliver your message, but you
the last Chiron Centauride. I beg you – do not go. We cannot allow you to perish. Stay away from Centurion.”
A ray of hope warmed my soul. Quinton was my sworn enemy. Zandra had made sure of it, yet he didn’t want me dead. If his mind could be changed, maybe we really did have a chance? I heard the waves pounding the beach, but all other sounds had silenced themselves. Maybe the birds and monkeys were waiting for my answer, too.
“My family will take its rightful place among the herds.
able to see the future, and I promise you, I will not perish.”
Quinton bowed his head deeply, took two steps backwards, turned away from us, and blurred out of sight without another word. As I looked around at the faces of Bruce, Beau, and Brent standing closest to me, each of their heads seemed to sit a little higher. It was true I couldn’t see my own future, but hearing my words to the enforcer gave my family a little more hope than they had had a few minutes before.
Internally I still struggled with the “what ifs.” What if our plane crashed and we never made it? What if we were ambushed along the way? What if the Centaur Council refused reason? What if we were outnumbered so badly that none of us survived? What if my father were killed before I got a chance to really know him?
I could have gone on for hours, but Drake’s hand slowly wrapped itself around mine. He was tuned in, and rather than giving me any assurance or trying to convince me my worries were unfounded, he merely whispered, “It’s time, Cami.”
A boisterous voice brought a smile to my face, “Slow down, Speed Racer.” Daniel stood in the clearing near the main house. His feet were still bandaged from his trek in the jungle yesterday. Daniel was using Jessica for balance. As I closed the distance between us, he said, “I feel like I’m always telling you 'Sayonara, Señorita'.” He looked at all the enforcers lying on the beach and then back to me with a confused look. “Did I miss something?”
I shook my head, “Naw, nothing much. We’re headed to the airport.”
Daniel hobbled a couple steps in my direction, but it was obvious he was still in a lot of pain as he winced when his feet carried his own weight. I turned to Drake and silently asked, “
Can you give us a minute?
“Sure.” Drake, still in his warrior form, turned to my brothers, and asked, “Can you get these enforcers back in the basement? I need to change into something that can board an airplane.” He disappeared down the path toward the little beach bungalow we’d been staying in.
Everyone pitched in moving the unconscious enforcers to the house, even Jessica. Just Daniel and I were left alone on the beach. Daniel wore a white t-shirt with the neck and arms cut out: the scrap of fabric barely passed for a t-shirt. His khaki shorts hung low on his waist and both his feet were bandaged. He took a seat on the ground, stretching his feet out in front of himself, and I sat down beside him. His arm went around my shoulder just as it had thousands of times before. I couldn’t even guess the number of times we’d watched the sunset together on the beach in Carlsbad.
He cleared his throat and confessed, “I’m going to miss you.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“You sure you have to do this?”
I nodded. There was no question that we had to see the Centaur Council. I hated leaving Daniel behind, but this wasn’t his fight. This wasn’t even a society that pretended he was a part of it. There was something more than human about Daniel – I’d known it my whole life. Well, I didn’t know the part about him being a three-quarters Centaur, but he had always been larger than life and the one person, other than Mom, who had loved me no matter what stupid choices I made.
He pursed his lips together. “Are you really going to take over the Centaur Council?”
I shrugged my shoulders. That was the million dollar question. “I don’t know. Zandra’s been the Chairman for a long time. Will thinks it’s a real possibility.”
He looked off into the ocean. The way he watched the water, I wondered if maybe he saw something I couldn’t see. I was about to ask him what was on his mind when his words caught me off guard. “You could make a real difference if you were the Chairman. Not just for your family, but for Centaurs everywhere.”
I was surprised by his statement. Usually Daniel seemed to have a real chip on his shoulder against Centaurs. “How do you mean?”
Daniel looked embarrassed. He couldn’t get the words out, but his thought was clear in his mind. “
So people like me aren’t shunned. So Pops and others like him don’t think of their human children as unworthy of knowing their Centaur families.
” He took a deep breath, and his words were a watered down version of his thoughts, “I just know you’re the right person for the job.”
I didn’t let on that I had read his thoughts. “Thanks. You gonna be all right with Jessica?”
He grinned. “The real question: is she gonna be all right with me?”
“Be careful,” I cautioned, “a Centauride like her isn’t going to fall at your feet like all the other girls you’ve hooked up with.”
Confidently he answered, “She’ll come around. If I keep limping around, she’ll stay. If I’ve learned anything the last week, it’s that every one of you has this crazy maternal instinct. You all want to take care of someone who’s hurt.”
I laughed, “Daniel Gaskins, are you faking?”
“Naw, not much. My feet are still pretty torn up, but I might be laying the pain on a little thicker than it is. They really only hurt when I walk.”
I shook my head. Was he clueless? Jessica could see through any lie he tried. I considered warning him but decided against it. “Like I said, she’s not a pushover. Don’t fake the pain. If you want her to stay, just tell her the truth.”
“I got this, Cami. I know women.”
It was hard, but I bit my tongue. Daniel’s feet were healing quickly after his jungle tour, but not quickly enough for him to accompany us. My whole family had grown to tolerate him a little better, and I dare say, a few may have even welcomed him along, even though he wasn’t a full-blooded Centaur.
We stood up as the others filed out of the house while we waited on the grass in front of it. Everyone looked ready. He stood in flip flops trying to pretend the pain was bearable, but I saw how he winced with every step he took. I couldn’t help but notice how Jessica refused to take her eyes off of him as he made his way back to the others.
My family gathered around, backpacks slung over their shoulders, freshly tanned skin peeking out from under their clothes. Daniel turned me toward him, put a hand on each of my shoulders and said, “You don’t have to do this, Cami.” Despite his statement, Daniel knew I did. His thoughts just a few minutes before told me he wanted me to do this for him, too.