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Born Of The Night

By:Sherrilyn Kenyon

Prologue

"How dare you!" Commander Tiarun Biardi glowered at the Ambassador, his anger barely under his rigid control. In all the years he had ruled the Gouran Empire and sat as President of the Gourish Consulate, he had never felt as weak and helpless as he did now, facing the Probekein Ambassador before him.

Never had he yielded to threats and he had no intention of beginning what could only be a destructive habit.

Tiarun stood, glaring at the source of his agitation. "You can tell your emperor that we refuse to allow him access to Miremba IV!"

Calmly, slowly, the ambassador came to his feet, the silk of his robes rustling around the bulk of his form. "We shall have the rights to that outpost, or every member of this Council will feel the bite of Probekein justice." He stared alternately at the eight councilors seated at the round table before him.

From the dim light cast by the overhead lamps, Tiarun saw the color fade from the faces of his peers. His own heart pounded in trepidation.

Each of them knew the ferocity of the Probekeins — a warring race, they lived at the expense of weaker peoples. Even the design of the ambassador's gaudy, blood-colored robes reminded him of a wrongfully conquered planet.

The two men stood staring at each other from opposite ends of the table, neither would look away or blink. Tiarun sensed the Councilors' fear as they thought over the threat. His own fear thundered in his veins like a disease, threatening to rob him of his strength, his will.

Stiffening his spine, Tiarun knew he couldn't allow himself or his government to be subjected to the whim s of the ambassador's race, no matter the consequences. It was his duty, along with every member there, to ensure the peaceful existence of all inhabitants of his world. If they gave in now, the Probekeins would think them weak and powerless.

"You may kill me," Tiarun said bravely. "I would rather die than allow you the weapon you intend to build!"

The ambassador gave an evil, lopsided sm ile. "As a soldier, you have proven your life means little compared to the greater good of your people. But," he paused in his true Probekein melodramatic role, gauging their reactions before he continued, "are you so free with the life of your daughter?"

Tiarun clenched the edge of the table, his knuckles turning white. It took all his selfrestraint not to leap across it and strangle the ambassador. "My daughter is an acknowledged performer of the arts and is protected by the Code. You cannot touch her!"

The ambassador scoffed. "No? What of the other members of this Council? Their children are not so protected. But then, neither is yours, Commander. I know of many who care very little for the Code and its dictates. You will allow us to mine the surata mineral, or your children will die."

Tiarun wasn't sure what frightened him more — the am bassador's chilling voice or his icy cold glare. He knew he would not find mercy at the Probekein's hands.

"You cannot threaten us!" Councilor Serela spoke, wiping perspiration from her brow with a lace handkerchief.

A wave of respect rushed through Tiarun. He was grateful the Council continued to support his decision.

The ambassador raked Serela with his glare, then narrowed his eyes at Tiarun. "Do you still oppose our proposal?"

"Most emphatically!"

"Then guard your children well." The ambassador turned with a whirl of his silken robes. His two-man guard fell in beside him like silent specters beside a demon lord. The door slammed closed behind them.

Tiarun breathed a sigh of relief at the dramatic exit.

"Dear God, protect us," Serela whispered from her chair next to him, a tear sliding down her pallid cheek. "I have only one son."

Tiarun placed a comforting hand on her shoulder while thinking of his own daughter, Kiara. "I move we adjourn this meeting. We should all return to our homes and secure the safety of our children until the Probekeins have found another source for the surata they need."

The Council clearly agreed. The meeting broke up in a state of controlled panic. Tiarun drew a ragged breath. He closed the file before him, watching his friends hurry from the room. He had to find his daughter and protect her. She was the only family he had left. He couldn't stand for Kiara to be killed because of him— as her mother had been. Fear constricted his throat, making it difficult for him to breathe. His country or his daughter—dear Heaven, what a choice! It made him dizzy.

Determined to keep his precious daughter safe no matter the cost, he left the room.

One

She had been kidnapped!

Kiara Biardi came awake with a scream lodged in her throat as she recalled the events in her darkened hotel room. Someone had come into her room during the late hours and drugged her. Trembling in fear, she could still feel the cold, rough grip moving over her skin, feel the bite of the injector as the drug seeped into her bloodstream. She never had the chance to see who it was, or to even call for help.

Now, her head ached terribly as the last remnants of the drug slowly wore off. An acrid stench filled her senses, choking her with its pungency.

Kiara tried not to breathe deeply and opened her eyes to confront who or whatever held her prisoner.

To her relief, she was alone, lying face down on a rotting mattress. With a grimace of distaste, she pushed herself up and nearly fell as a wave of dizziness buzzed through her head. She caught herself against the wall next to her, a roughened spot of rust scraping the palm of her hand.

"Great," she mumbled. "No equilibrium. What am I supposed to do now, wait patiently until they come back?"

Even as she spoke the words, Kiara knew she wouldn't— couldn't— do that. Her father hadn't reared a stupid daughter, and she had learned many tricks over the years, including the ability to pick a lock.

A smile curved her lips as she headed toward the door on unsteady feet.

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