Princess Ari of the planet Falconia disliked the warriors who flew in
the Falcoan Army, but none punctured her thoughts like Commander
Rurik of the Fifth. She hated him and his smug, self-confident attitude.
He’d thought himself so superior when they were children—swooping
down to knock her on her ass so that her new gown would get covered in
muck, or overtaking her in games because of his naturally enhanced
stamina and strength—and all because he was born a falcon shifter. His
kind was rare and given the utmost consideration, as they were destined
to lead the armies that guarded her home planet from outsiders. All other
warriors turned after birth, their powers enhanced by choice, not fate.
Rurik was a falcon by destiny and it made him impossibly arrogant to
deal with. He’d grown up training at her home in the palace and
constantly around to torment her.
And now he was coming back.
Well, she had news for him. She was no longer the awkward, gangly
girl he’d known. She’d gone through puberty late, very late, but her
powers had come to her, as they did all non-shifting Falconians. She’d
been sixteen seasons, nearly twenty-four years old according to the
calendar they observed from the Old Way, and her father had begun to
worry that she’d never bloom. Too bad Rurik had been deployed to his
post merely days before it happened. She would’ve loved to prove him
wrong about her.
It didn’t matter. Now she was a powerful, envied princess, and soon
she’d be queen. With her mother gone, she was the sole female of power
Talons: Seize the Hunter
on their planet. She controlled the armies. She controlled Rurik. And,
with the evening’s coronation ceremony well upon her, she’d control the
entire planet. Her father would step aside, for men did not rule as well as
women. Falconian males’ blood ran too hot.
That is why Rurik was coming back. All commanders were to be in
attendance, for tonight was the shifting of power. But first, there was
another ceremony—one that took place this very afternoon. Today she
would drink from the sacred Chalice and awake next to the man who was
to be their future king, her husband, her mate, her eternal lover. And it
couldn’t come too soon, as far as she was concerned.
Whereas normal women of their society could take as many lovers as
they pleased, she was held to a higher standard. Until she married, she
was allowed three semi-lovers with whom all pleasures of the flesh were
allowed but one—the final claiming of her heart. If things got too close,
she was obligated to end it. In a life that kept her in front of the eyes of
all, she longed for someone to hold her in the night, to look at her with
eyes not judging but seeing. She wanted the comfort and safety of a man
who would not leave her.
Her first lover, a traveler and diplomat who visited them soon after
her powers had come to her all those years ago, had been to spite Rurik.
He’d been an enfem, a slender, pale man who spoke and acted as far
from a hot-blooded warrior as possible without being an actual woman.
She still cursed that wasted pick. Whereas he did hold her, he also cried
most of the night speaking of his feelings. Falconian women were
stronger than he was. The second man she thought she could someday
love, until she realized that lust and love were two different things. The
third was a practical choice, if not her best one. He’d been an older man,
a trainer who instructed more than participated.
Michelle M Pillow
Ari looked at her reflection in the still water that made up one wall of
her bedroom. She could touch the wetness, but magic kept it from caving
in on her and soaking her. It was a good thing too. Her hair had taken
three skilled hairdressers four hours to do. The waist-length red locks
were twisted around strands of wire to keep it in place and then bent
around her head to fashion an intricately beautiful crown. It towered
above her, five hand spans high in the front and tapered down to a half
span in the back.
Her gown was of the finest weave, held into place with a thick metal
band that wrapped around her chest and back, leaving her tanned
shoulders bare. The band was bent to fit her body perfectly, molding
along the top of each breast to keep the flowing material that hung from
it from falling down. The royal dark-red material moved with her, clinging
and releasing her curves with each step as if it were air.
Holding her arms to the side, she waited as her attendants slipped
silver coils onto her arms. They wound around from shoulder to wrist,
decorated with the shiny black stones found only in the dark depths of
Falconia’s lucid waters. A matching stone hung from the chain that