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Authors: Johanna Lindsey

Keeper of the Heart

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KEEPER OF THE HEART
JOHANNA LINDSEY

AVON BOOKS

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.

Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

AVON BOOKS

An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers

10 East 53rd Street

New York, New York 10022-5299

Copyright © 1993 by Johanna Lindsey

Front cover art by Walter Wick

Inside front cover art by Elaine Duillo

Inside cover author photograph by Jerry Chong

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 93-90387

ISBN: 0-380-77493-3

www.avonromance.com

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

First Avon Books printing: November 1993

Avon Trademark Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. and in Other Countries, Marca Registrada,

Hecho en U.S.A.

HarperCollins® is a trademark of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Printed in the U.S.A. 20 19 18

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

 

Chapter 1

 

Shanelle Ly-San-Ter hit the cushioned exercise mat flat on her back, temporarily losing her breath. Score one for Corth. She’d told him not to go easy on her, and the android had taken her at her word.

“Why do you let it do that to you?” she heard from behind her.

Shanelle got her breath back and it came out in a near growl. She really resented that remark from Jadd Ce Moerr, one of her fellow graduates from World Discovery, where she had just spent the past nine months. When she had impulsively invited some of her new friends to come home with her for the three-month vacation they had earned before starting their life-careers, she hadn’t counted on any of the
male
cadets taking her up on the offer.

Like most of the graduates from her class, with the exception of herself, Jadd was only eighteen years old. He was also short by her standards, no taller than a Darash male of the servant class on her home planet of Sha-Ka’an. But his relatively diminutive stature, coupled with his age, made him look like the boy he was. When her brother, Dalden, had turned eighteen, no one had doubted that
he
was a man fully grown. But she supposed Jadd’s sandy-brown hair, gray eyes, and usually eager expression, along with his occasional tactless remarks like the one he’d just made, kept her from seeing him as anything but a boy.

She sat up now, tossing her long golden braid over her shoulder as she swung around and pinned the Kystrani male with narrowed amber eyes. “Corth isn’t an
it,
Mr. Ce Moerr—he’s just like family to me.”

It wasn’t hard to tell he’d gotten her angry. Those large, almond-shaped eyes could be disconcerting when they narrowed like that. And Shanelle Ly-San-Ter was not a small woman. She was, in fact, almost as tall as he was, and Jadd was above-average Kystrani height at five feet ten. Of course, she was only half Kystrani herself on her mother’s side. The other half was pure Sha-Ka’ani, and everyone knew that the Sha-Ka’ani were of the warrior caste.

But the last thing Jadd had wanted to do was to get her annoyed with him, for the simple reason that he’d been trying to get her to file double occupancy with him ever since they had graduated. He would have tried it before they had graduated, but students were disallowed sex-sharing before then. And it had driven him crazy, being in the same class with Shanelle but not able to touch her. It was still driving him crazy, because she had flatly refused to share sex with him, let alone file for something more permanent. But he couldn’t give up. She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

He tried placating her now, not really sure what she was angry about, since the concept of “family” was alien to him. Just having a mother and father as she did was alien to him, though he had learned about such things in the portion of his studies that dealt with what might be found on other planets. On Kystran, children were born in artificial wombs and raised in Centers. On Sha-Ka’an, they were barbarically born by females.

“Come on, Shanelle, your android is just a machine. Even I learned families are made up of live persons,” Jadd said.

“That’s true, which is why I said ‘just like.’ But just like is pretty damn close as far as I’m concerned. And Corth not only looks lifelike, but my mother’s Mock II computer has had years to tamper with his programming, so he’s now almost as free-thinking as she is. Besides that, he has been my companion-protector since the day I was born, so he might not take offense at being called an ‘it,’ but you better believe I do.”

Protector
was a rather archaic word, but
companion
wasn’t, and you only had to look at the handsome exterior of the android to know what he had been created for—a woman’s entertainment. Real men had a hard time competing with something that perfect in looks and ability, and most men resented the entertainment models. This one was black-haired and green-eyed, and an unheard-of six feet four inches in height. The tallest any Kystrani male ever got was six feet max, and those men were all slotted for careers in Security. Jadd could have just made the height requirement for Security himself, but he didn’t have what it took to bash people to bits, as those in Security were sometimes required to do. He had the feeling, though, that Shanelle had what it took. Her mother certainly did. Her mother, Tedra De Arr, had been a Sec 1, one of the top Sec Is on the whole planet of Kystran. She had also become a national heroine some twenty years ago when she had brought an army of barbarian warriors to liberate Kystran from the mad dictator who had taken control of the planet. One of those barbarians was Shanelle’s father.

Jadd felt he understood now why Shanelle had been turning him down repeatedly. She had a machine whose main function was to give pleasure to its owner. How was he supposed to compete with perfection?

He looked at the android with impotent fury, though his words were addressed to Shanelle. “You should have said he was your
companion.
Caris said your mother owned him, so I assumed you wouldn’t be sharing sex with him, but—”

Shanelle’s soft laughter cut him off. It was melodious and infectious, the kind of laugh that forced a smile even from strangers who merely heard it in passing. It had the ability to take the edge off his own jealous anger, particularly since it was genuine humor he was hearing, not anything ridiculing or sarcastic.

“I’m sorry, Jadd,” she said after a moment, “but if you knew my father, you wouldn’t have jumped to such a conclusion. Tell him, Corth.”

Without expression, the android replied, “The Challen Ly-San-Ter would not allow me near his daughter until the Martha agreed to reprogram my abilities. I am no longer capable of sex-sharing.”

“Oh, that’s real tough, Corth.” Jadd grinned with immense relief.

“I wouldn’t gloat if I were you, Jadd,” Shanelle came back with a grin of her own. “There was another thing my father insisted on when he allowed Corth to be my protector. Corth can’t share sex with me, but neither can anyone else until I’m given to my lifemate. If you don’t believe me, just try touching me when Corth is around, and you’ll find out what it’s like to be stomped into the ground.”

“But that’s—that’s—it can’t be!” Jadd exclaimed. “It’s against the laws of the Centura League for an android to be programmed to hurt people. They’re too strong, ten times stronger than any man could be. If they attacked someone, they’d end up killing him!”

“That’s true, and Corth draws the line at killing, merely doing a lot of hurting instead. And that
is
what my father had in mind when he insisted on that particular programming.”

“But the law—”

“Doesn’t apply to Sha-Ka’an, Jadd. We aren’t part of the Centura League, and my father is
shodan
of Sha-Ka-Ra, a law unto himself. Besides, what Corth would do to any man who touched me is mild compared to what my father or brother would do if they heard about it.” Then she made a face. “Unless, of course, they approved of the man. Then I might be given to him for a lifemate.”

Jadd didn’t sympathize, no matter how barbaric he found the concept. It was one of the things Caris, their mutual friend, had told him that Shanelle had mentioned to her. Shanelle’s father must approve of the man she would be given to, or he would choose the man himself, whether
she
agreed or not.

The final decision would be her father’s. She could bring forth candidates, but only for his approval. It was for that reason that Jadd had gone on this jaunt to the Niva Star System and the barbaric planet of Sha-Ka’an. He’d already struck out trying to get Shanelle to accept him. He now intended to ask her father for her. With her father’s permission, she would be his, and she wouldn’t have anything to say about it. She would be his...

“You’re as easy to read as computer basics, Mr. Ce Moerr.” A female voice dripping with disgust came through the intercom on the wall behind them. “You don’t really think her father will give her to you just because you ask him, do you? His own warriors have been asking for her for years with no luck. What makes you mink he will favor a puny Kystrani still wet behind the ears?”

Mortified, Jadd flushed with color. Before he had come aboard Shanelle’s Transport Rover, he hadn’t known it was possible to hate a computer. In the past two weeks, he’d found out it was indeed possible.

“I will see you for dinner, Shanelle,” Jadd said stiffly and stalked out of the exercise room.

Shanelle watched him go, then glanced at the intercom on the wall. “That wasn’t very nice, Martha.”

“I’m not programmed to be nice, kiddo. How many times do you have to tell that boy no before he takes the hint? Your mother wouldn’t have put up with that kind of irritating persistence, so why should you?”

Shanelle sighed. “I’m not my mother.”

“No, you’re not. You’re too damn softhearted. Not that Tedra couldn’t be softhearted on occasion— she just never let anyone know it like you do.”

“Martha, I’m in no mood for another lecture on my deficiencies.
When
are you going to stop trying to turn me into another Tedra De Arr?”

“When are
you
going to realize that that’s something I wouldn’t do even if I could? Besides, it isn’t necessary. You’re already more like her than you know. You just take a little longer to assert your wishes, but you
do
get around to asserting them.”

Shanelle chuckled as she came up off the mat with easy grace. “Sure I do. That’s why that obnoxious little boy is on his way to Sha-Ka’an with the rest of us.”

“You just aren’t fed up enough with him, because you know he won’t try to take what he wants like a warrior would. Second, you knew as well as I did that the boy intends to ask your father for you, and you’ve decided to let Challen give him the facts of Sha-Ka’ani life. He would never give you to a man who couldn’t protect you as well as he could. Third and more to the point, you’re tickled pink that one of your worries has been permanently put to rest, a ridiculous worry, but no less real for that, that men other than warriors wouldn’t find you attractive. The kid’s determination reinforces the fact that you were worried for no good reason, which is why you don’t really object to having him around.”

Those
facts had Shanelle glaring at the intercom, because they
were
facts. “Martha, when in the farden hell are you going to stop reading minds?”

“I don’t have to read minds, kiddo,” Martha replied smugly. “Motives, on the other hand, I tend to read even before you’re aware of them.”

With less anger but with a good deal of dread, Shanelle asked, “Then you know what I intend to do?”

“Am I the absolute best example of modern technology in this day and age, or what?” Martha asked in one of her more superior-than-thou voices.

Shanelle moved over and plopped down in an adjustichair, barely noticing the movement under her as it accommodated her slumped position. Corth came up behind her and gently began to massage the tenseness from her neck muscles. It didn’t ease the disappointment she felt.

“I don’t suppose for once you might consider not interfering and keep this our little secret?” Shanelle asked with little hope of getting an affirmative answer.

A perfect simulation of chuckling came out of the intercom. “I won’t have to say a word. Your mother isn’t dumb. But don’t look so miserable. She wants what you want. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”

“Not this time she won’t.”

“Wanna bet? You’re her baby, Shani, her creation. She never knew what that would mean until she had you, and the feelings that released in her knocked her on her ass. She may love your father to the depth of her soul, but she wouldn’t think twice about opposing him for you or your brother. It’s called motherhood, and it took my Tedra by storm.”

BOOK: Keeper of the Heart
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