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Linda Mooney 2 In 1 [MultiFormat]
eBook by Linda Mooney

eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Science Fiction
eBook Description: Two complete bestselling erotic science fiction novels in one low-priced volume, from author Linda Mooney! HEARTFAST: They were the Guardians, sixteen special men and women with incredible powers. They lived on a world that, eons ago, had suffered a devastating plague that had rendered more than half its population unable to reproduce. In order to assure the survival of their species, the HandFast law was enacted. Every month, twenty couples, complete strangers, were drawn by lottery--couples whose sole purpose would be to procreate. It was a cold and impersonal law, but it worked. When StarLight and Master Hunter heard their names called out to be HandFasted, their neat, orderly lives were turned upside-down. Gone was the comfortable companionship and brother-sister working relationship. Now they were forced into an intimacy neither had wanted, nor expected. Neither were they prepared for the overwhelming passion they would find in each other's bodies, as well as in their hearts. But things would only get more complicated and dangerous, because someone had deliberately placed their names in the lottery as the first step in destroying their world and every Guardian living. HEARTCRYSTAL: They were the Guardians. Sixteen special men and women with incredible powers, who had sworn their lives to the protection of their galaxy, while upholding the laws of their world. For Master Hunter and StarLight, it seems the worst is over. With StarLight still recovering from her near-death experience with the Ombitra, they are ready to resume their lives as the first-ever married Guardian couple in history. Ready for a new life filled with love and extraordinary passion. But there are unknown perils when working in outer space. There are dangers beyond description--unforeseeable events and catastrophes that can bring nightmares to any sane person. They had sworn they would share a lifetime together. The universe had other plans.

eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, Published: 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2010


8 Reader Ratings:
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An OUTSTANDING READ from Simply Romance Reviews! "HeartFast was not just a satisfying romance, it was also a mind-teasing mystery and science fiction read as well. Visual imagery was well written, and the mystery surrounding the unsanctioned handfast skillfully told. While I can usually figure out what's coming, this story kept me guessing to the end. Emotionally conveyed, StarLight and Master Hunter's story was equally touching, painful and poignant to read. I look forward to further stories in this new series." ~ Christine, Simply Romance Reviews 5 Enchantments from Melanie, Enchanting Reviews "Ms. Mooney again has brought amazing character to life and made them seem real. She has magic in her fingers when it comes to her stories. Her books are full of wonders and dreams, and they pull you into them and you never want to leave. This book left me with a feeling of what it could be like to travel with such wonderful people. I cannot wait to get my hands on her next novel. She never disappoints and always leaves you wanting more. In my humble opinion she is one of the best authors EVER."


Chapter 1

Announcement

Three seats were still empty.

Master Hunter watched in silent amusement as Deceiver glanced around the meeting room. It was obvious the Guardian leader was irritable, which he had every right to be.

One empty seat in particular drew his attention, and he forced himself to tear his eyes away from the gleaming padded chair to check the clock. Eighteen minutes. They were cutting it too damn close. No wonder Deceiver looked fit to be tied.

The man uttered an obscenity and slammed his fist on the communications toggle in the panel before him. The suddenness startled everyone already gathered in the room.

"Dammit, Disaster! Where are you?"

"Don't get your tights all in a twist." A sultry feminine voice laughed in response. "We're less than seven minutes away."

Hunter's eyebrows went up in surprise, but he managed to keep his smile hidden behind one hand. This was Deceiver's battle, not his.

"StarLight? What are you doing piloting? I didn't assign you to pilot that mission! Will someone please tell me she's not piloting?"

A second voice replied. Even through the slightly fuzzy transmission Hunter could hear the man was mortified. "Uhh, sorry, Deceiver. Star's piloting."

"Dammit!"

A soft, warm laugh reverberated over the speakers just as the Guardian leader closed the comm.

Deceiver's rise in anger was too much. Hunter chuckled in spite of himself. The flushed face of his superior immediately turned to confront him. "I fail to see what's so funny about the situation," he almost barked. "If StarLight's at the helm, you know as well as I do that she's going to put some kind of damage on the ship. And that's another headache we don't need at this time."

In a way, the man was probably right. StarLight's piloting skills were not among the best, even if her reflexes were acute. And a damaged spacecraft was the last thing they needed at the moment.

Hunter let his eyes rove over to the vidscreen. He and Deceiver were good friends as well as fellow workers. Deceiver would sometimes open up to him, knowing Hunter would keep what he heard in confidence. The man had admitted to him not too long ago that their coffers were becoming dangerously low, and they would continue to be that way until the Hall of Magistrates met at the end of the year to renew their yearly allotment. In the meantime, they had to count every bean and stretch every credit as far as they could. Unless some grateful client or wealthy patron decided to bless them with a monetary thank you for a job well done before then.

Sighing, he stretched his legs underneath the big oval table. Star shouldn't be piloting, plain and simple. Yes, Deceiver would forgive her for a few dents and dings, but not if she managed to put a sorely-needed transportation ship out of commission for any extended length of time. Worse still, StarLight was not known for her promptness. The woman couldn't even make it to their morning meetings on time. Hell, Hunter grinned, she would probably be late for her own funeral.

This time, though, she had to get the rest of the crew here before the announcements were aired. Missing the broadcast, which was mandated by law, was unforgivable, even for a Guardian.

"Who did you order at the helm?" he asked Deceiver.

"Bruiser."

"Well, that explains everything." Hunter spoke for them all. If there was a fan club for StarLight, Bruiser would be its president. The big man worshiped her.

"Just you wait, Hunter. One of these days you'll be facing the burden of leadership, and you won't be smiling during that interim, I guarantee."

"I just find it hard to believe you never thought she'd try to put herself in the pilot's chair and take Transport Two for a spin." Hunter chuckled. "Besides, she said she'd be here in less than seven. The announcements won't be for another..." he glanced at the chronometer above the huge screen on the opposite wall, "eighteen minutes. They'll be back in plenty of time."

"Speaking of having plenty of time, care to join the pot?" Time Merchant called from across the room. "Odds are good we might recognize someone on the roster."

Hunter waved off the man's offer. Deceiver shook his head. "As long as it's not me," the leader muttered.

Hunter agreed. "I second that. It's rather a blessing that Guardians are exempt from the lottery."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," a voice piped up from down the table. Hunter had to sit up to spot Morning Fire. The petite woman was normally subdued and often quiet, rarely volunteering any information. But when she did speak out, her observations were almost always correct. To Hunter, as well as to the rest of the group, Fire was like a younger sibling, teased and often taken for granted. Until something occurred that reminded them how potent her laser-bright powers could be.

Corona swiveled around in her chair to stare at the redhead. "Why would you say that? Do you know something?"

Hunter saw the tiny woman press her lips together. So did everyone else.

"Oh, Fire, you know something!" Animator leaned across the table. "What? What have you heard?"

"Fire, are you keeping secrets?" Sender joined in. Hunter watched Sender throw a glance at her sister as the twins exchanged unspoken communication. Seeker could delve into another person's thoughts, but wouldn't without that person's consent. However, Fire must have been giving off pronounced brainwaves because Seeker grinned and nodded her head. "Fire's keeping secrets!" Sender announced jovially.

Morning Fire shrugged while a smile tickled her lips. Immediately the other Guardians gave her their undivided attention. Hunter found himself leaning over the table and straining to hear what she would say next. Fire couldn't stay mum for long. Having a propensity for shyness, she didn't like being in the spotlight.

"It's nothing definite," she murmured as her face turned as red as her flaming hair. "It's just the word I've heard out on the street."

"You're stalling, Fire," Corona crowed. "Give! What's the word on the street?"

"That there might be a Guardian drawn in the HandFast lottery this month."

Hunter was unaware of falling back into his seat as stunned silence blanketed the group gathered around the onyx table. Several pairs of eyes flickered from one of their number to the other. Hunter locked gazes with Deceiver. A Guardian HandFasted? Not only was it preposterous, it was impossible. Maybe Morning Fire had heard wrong.

No. Fire never said anything unless she was one hundred percent certain. The woman's intuition was almost psychic.

It was Seeker who tried to put things into perspective. "Why is everyone acting so surprised? Aren't all of us graded as Supreme?"

"Yeah, but considering the type of work we're involved in..." Provoker fingered his small goatee, a habit he had whenever he was thinking. Turning to face their leader, he wondered aloud, "Think it's possible, Deceiver? I mean, even though we deal with life and death circumstances on practically a daily basis, would the Committee allow our names to be placed in the lottery?"

Corona gave a snort of derision and leaned back in her seat. "Unless they placed that Guardian on inactive status, there wouldn't be any sense in it. Besides, do you honestly believe the Committee would be so stupid as to lock one of us into a HandFast? I mean, think about it! The first two weeks alone you have to mate with your partner at least once a day. And then a minimum of three days per week for the remainder of the year until the woman conceives. Heavens, we've been on missions that would throw that little requirement law right out the porthole the first week alone!"

"Not to mention the danger factor," Hunter commented. Already his mind was racing, wondering if the Guardian chosen would be a man or a woman. There was no doubt in his mind Fire's prediction would come true. It was just a matter of trying to outguess the Committee's decision. "We all know the lifespan of a Guardian isn't exactly conducive to parenthood."

He glanced up at Deceiver who had gotten back on his feet. The leader threw up a hand and attempted to quell their growing worry. "Well, whether or not there's a grain of truth in the rumor, I say let's not even consider such a possibility. I've been a Guardian for almost eighteen years, and there has never been one of us included in the HandFast lottery."

A warning bell went off, signaling the return of the transport ship. Hunter glanced at the doors leading to the bay as they waited for some sound or notice that the woman piloting Transport Two had touched down with more enthusiasm and less finesse than was needed. He was as surprised as everyone when the last three members of their group came striding in a couple of minutes later, wearing big smiles and no contusions.

"Well, will wonders never cease," Deceiver grumbled. "You're late. You said seven minutes. You took nine."

StarLight gave a flippant shrug of her shoulders. The movement made her long black hair gleam under the recessed lights. "Hey, I knew you'd be worried if I came in too fast. You'd also worry if I took too long. So I split the difference and pulled her back. Put your precious transport number two back into her chute with more care than you take when you bathe your tush, Deceiver."

The remark made Hunter grin in amusement, which he was careful to keep concealed. StarLight really did care about Deceiver's opinion of her. But why the young woman continued to parade such a devil-may-care attitude puzzled him.

Beside him the Guardian leader chose to ignore her last remark and turned on the vidscreen as he asked, "Any further problems with the Bedorsians?"

"They're doing well," Bruiser offered. "They saw our...reasoning."

Hunter immediately narrowed his eyes at the giant taking his seat. Deceiver chose to make no comment. The lottery results would be announced soon, and the entire planet's populace was required by law to listen to the names of the twenty couples being HandFasted that month. As soon as the announcements were over Deceiver would get a full report on their mission. It was standard procedure.

So why did StarLight give him a mock salute in reply?

Hunter chewed absentmindedly on the knuckles of one hand as he kept track of the lithe figure dressed in midnight black. StarLight was the only female member of the Guardians who chose to wear a full-length body suit as her uniform. And she filled it out to a perfection that was almost too painful to observe. But the ebony costume, with its ever-changing pattern of stars running over its surface, did its job well in camouflaging the woman against the darkness of space. As well as the thick flow of raven hair she wore loose down her back. He'd seen her just once in regular clothes, with her hair pulled back into a long tail thicker than his wrist. The woman was intimidating no matter what she wore.

What if she was the Guardian to be named in the lottery? Instantly his mind and his body rebelled. No. It wasn't possible. Not StarLight.

With a cold, grim purse of his lips, Hunter beat down that thought with mental fists. Star was untouchable, despite her reputation. The men in her past he could overlook. They were before he met her, before he got to know her. Before he got to feel her shivering and cringing in his arms, against his chest, as she cried for the children they'd left to die on Follusia.

Those other men he could overlook. He could even forgive her dalliance with Provoker. But the idea of knowing another man would have permission to touch her, even if she didn't want him to...

Touch her. Caress her. Make love to her. Create a baby inside her.

He shook his head to clear it and concentrated on the screen overhead. When he had entered into Guardian training a little more than two years ago, along with Time Merchant, Star had joined a day earlier. The three of them had finished their training and first mission together. Since then, Hunter had lost count of how many times she had saved his butt in the heat of battle, and he hers. But that's what Guardians did. They watched out for each other with even greater care than they did for the worlds they were sworn to protect.

Sixteen Guardians. Ten men and six women with extraordinary powers and abilities who were honor bound to give their lives to defend their little corner of the universe from whatever and whoever chose to threaten it.

Snorting softly, Hunter tried to ignore the woman sitting a few seats away as the screen flickered to life. Fortunately the announcements were always short and to the point. Afterwards Deceiver would call their meeting to order.

This is the Committee's list of Handfasting participants for the month of Ordoris, in the year eighty-four sixteen. Announcing pair number one...Julath Cavadar and Piel Forsham. Pair number two...

On the other side of the table he could see Corona making a bet with Time Merchant and Bruiser as to whether any of the names called out today would include someone they knew or associated with outside of the Guardianship. In the past there had been one or two surprises, but so far no one Hunter could claim to know personally. In fact, there was a very little chance he would since he wasn't originally from this world.

...Vandrath. Pair number eight...Ovella Weslitt and...

From the corner of his eye Hunter caught Star shifting in her seat. She crossed her legs, and from his vantage point he could see the long, lean line of her calf and booted foot. Despite her bravado, despite the fact that she often came back with a smartass answer every time she was chewed out for something she'd mishandled, and despite the fact that she put on a very nonchalant air to her fellow caste members, Hunter always suspected the true StarLight remained buried from prying eyes. She was damn good at her job. Screw that. She was better than good. She rivaled Bruiser and Condemner when it came to sheer ability.

...Collan Forbes. Pair number thirteen...

Hunter knew he secretly nursed a private wish to get to know her better. It was almost a fond desire to be close friends. Maybe closer than friends. Once, he tried to block any further ideas from his mind. Guardians were like an enlarged family with multiple siblings. Not that there hadn't been any romantic interests developed in the past. There had been, but those had quickly died back into a comfortable working companionship. The few Guardians who eventually married had found their mates outside of the enclosed group, not among those they practically lived and worked with every day of the year. It was easier that way, he had been told several months ago. Nothing could be more dangerous or distracting for a Guardian involved in a life or death struggle than to have to worry about a spouse equally in danger.

Guardians were comrades. They relied on each other. Trust was their greatest strength. And although Hunter knew Star would readily give up her life to save any one of them if she needed to, that didn't stop him from dreaming of a time when they could have a quiet walk together in the botanical gardens and just talk about things. Things like their past. Their families. Anything, as long as it didn't involve what they did on the job, or any one of the thousand problems they dealt with day in and day out.

Pair number nineteen...Satall Tru and Vista Forde. And finally, pair number twenty...

The Committee Chairman paused to nervously lick his lips. The act instantly had Hunter sitting on the edge of his seat. Around him the others had ceased to breathe as they also leaned forward. The Chairman never paused like this. He never stopped to glance nervously aside. And he never looked as if he was contemplating the impact of his next words. But at that moment Hunter could see that the man's face had gone a shade just short of doughy as he swallowed hard and read the last pair of names from his list.

Terrin Dilyric and Udo Vosstien. Remember you have three days to report to the Hall of Magistrates for the Handfasting ceremony, or be held in contempt and face possible banishment. This announcement is now closed.

The screen went blank but the silence that filled the hall thickened to the point of choking. It was as if an unseen presence reached into the room and began to throttle every person sitting in total shock.

Somehow Hunter's eyes locked onto the form seated four chairs away. His entire body refused to respond, unable to pull itself out of the frozen void encasing him. From a distance a high-pitched shriek tore into his ears, and Star slid from her seat to collapse onto the floor.

Beside him Deceiver breathed aloud the words he would remember for the rest of his life. "By all that is holy...StarLight and Master Hunter? HandFasted? Oh, damn them! Who gave the Committee the right to put our names in the lottery?"

Hunter was vaguely aware of how hard he was gripping the table. All of his blood seemed to have rushed out of his body until he felt he would pass out at any moment from the enormity of what he had just heard.

And he had heard it. They all had. It wasn't a trick of his imagination. Neither was it a cruel joke. No wonder the Committee Chairman had nervously licked his lips before announcing the last pair of names. The Committee had breached that barrier no man dared to cross before. In all the centuries that had passed since their world had suffered through the gaseous nebula, in all the years there had been Guardians, the lottery had always exempted its defenders. But that was to be no more.

Hunter managed to take a shaky breath. Even as his heart continued to pound, it felt as if his blood was pooling into his stomach where it churned nauseously. If he got to his feet he doubted he would be able to remain standing.

Today not one but two Guardians were condemned to the impersonal answer to the survival of their people. Two of them, he and StarLight, would be HandFasted for the length of one year for the sole purpose of procreation.

Deep, wrenching sobs came from the black-clad woman bent over on the floor. Morning Fire hovered over her closest friend and tried to console her, but nearly everyone's eyes were turned on him. Accusing eyes. Expectant eyes. Provoker sat back with a big grin on his face. Bruiser paled in shock as Hunter knew he would. The expression on the big man's face was like that of a small child who had seen his favorite toy crushed beyond recognition. Everyone was aware that the giant had placed Star on a pedestal the first time she had saved his hide from the Turaki Abevians. And since then he adored her with undisguised passion.

Remember you have three days to report to the Hall of Magistrates for the HandFasting Ceremony, or be held in contempt and face possible banishment.

Hunter tried swallowing but his throat remained hot and tight. There would be no leniency from the Committee. No asking for an exemption. No changing their minds. Heavens knew enough people had tried in the past. The Law was the Law, and it was absolute.

Worse still, it was his life and duty to uphold those same laws that had suddenly made his future a total mockery of all he once believed in.

Unable to bear another second inside the room, Master Hunter winked out of existence, removing himself from their sight as he used his power to teleport himself directly to his private chambers. If the team was smart, they wouldn't try to approach him for the remainder of the day. And if Deceiver had any news to impart, or assignments to pass out to them at the meeting, at that moment Hunter couldn't care less. He just needed to get away from their stares.

It was difficult enough not to think about what the coming year would mean.


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