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Mystic Launch!

by Cheryl Brooks

Mystic may be the second book in the Cat Star Legacy series (the twelfth in the Cat Star Chronicles world), but it marks the first to have a guy on the cover who actually looks like an alien! Granted, he doesn't have the long spiral curls of the typical Zetithian, but check out the cat-like eyes and pointed ears!

Not only that, it's also the first of my books to get a reasonably good review from Publishers Weekly. (Read the full review here).

I've been having some health issues lately, so perhaps I haven't been as enthusiastic about this release as I have been with other books, but the release of a new book is still a big deal, and spotting your book in Barnes & Noble or Walmart is pretty damn cool. I recall getting a bit weak in the knees when I first found Slave (Cat Star Chronicles #1) in my local B&N. That doesn't happen anymore, and although Mystic could end up being my last published book (I'm working on a third in the series, but it's nowhere near ready to send to an editor), I believe it's one of my best.

Anthropologist Sulaksha Enduran is still reeling from the death of her lover, who died as they studied the primitive inhabitants of a newly discovered planet. Sula is determined to find answers on her own—until an impossibly sexy Zetithian saves her life and joins her quest.

Despite the prescient abilities and power over the wind that enable Zetithian mystic Aidan Banadänsk to rescue the human woman from certain death, he couldn’t predict Sula’s unique effect on him. It shrouds her future in mystery…and fills him with unparalleled desire.

But Sula’s investigation has put her in the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy. With an entire planet’s population at stake, Sula and Aidan must risk it all to save the planet, the galaxy…and each other…

Chapter 1

    In a vision, Aidan had watched her fall, disappearing through a fissure in the rock as the ground gave way beneath her, her screams reverberating through his mind like the tumbling roar of an avalanche.
    Although most people would’ve dismissed it as a dream, he knew the terrifying vision for what it was: a portent of a future event, which was not uncommon among his kind. Therefore, she hadn’t fallen—yet. The trouble was he didn’t know whether he was supposed to prevent the accident or rescue her after she fell.
    He’d spent the last week flying over the cliffs, his keen eyes searching the jumbled boulders for any sign that she’d ever been there. Thus far, he’d found nothing. No trace of any life aside from the cliff-dwelling condors and the assorted rodents that were widespread in the remote mountains of Rhylos.
    But the vision… He’d seen it four times now. This was the right place. He was certain of it. More certain, perhaps, than he’d ever been of anything.
    He skimmed over the plateau before swooping down over the edge of the cliffs—jagged rock fit only as a nesting place for the huge condors, which had been named for an extinct Terran species. Some said they looked similar, and, having seen pictures, he agreed. However, these birds were even larger than the original condors had been, and they defended their nests with a ferocity few avian species could match.
    His vision had been maddeningly vague. He should’ve at least known why she was there. Was she studying the condors? Or was she simply trying to find their nests in order to steal the eggs? He couldn’t think of any other reasons why anyone would venture so far from civilization to this, one of the few uninhabited regions of the planet. Neither of those reasons seemed important enough to warrant a vision. Visions came when they wished; he had no control over their timing or their topics. The only thing he could control was the wind, enabling him to don a pair of wings and create updrafts strong enough to carry him aloft.
    Only Valkyrie, the Avian clone, knew of his flights. Val would’ve hidden his own talent if he’d been able to remove his wings, but his were as much a part of him as his other limbs. No genetic manipulations could undo what had already been done to him.
    As Aidan flew back up the cliff face, a flash of light on the plateau caught his eye—the effect of sunlight on metal. Something was moving down there. Something he’d only seen because of his vantage point high in the sky.
    And there she is…
    How he’d missed her before he couldn’t imagine, especially on the open mountainside, unless it wasn’t quite as open as it appeared. As she climbed up the edge of the plateau as though ascending a staircase, the air crackled around him like a thousand tiny lightning bolts. The moment had come.
    He flew lower, hovering effortlessly, letting the wind do the work while he studied her approach. A backpack and other accoutrements were strapped to her upper body. Everything she wore—from her wide-brimmed hat, leather jacket, and khaki trousers, down to a pair of dusty boots suitable for climbing—was the same color as the rocks, causing her to blend in with her surroundings in a manner that seemed strangely covert.
    A visual sweep of the plain revealed no speeder or other conveyance nearby. Had she hiked into the wilderness?
    When she looked up, his eyes met hers—huge, expressive, and brown—with an impact that nearly caused him to fall out of the sky.
    In the split second before he shouted a warning, she slipped from view, leaving nothing behind beyond a puff of dust that feathered away to nothingness even as he plummeted toward her, his heart pounding like a drum. He chastised himself as he flew; he’d assumed he was there to save her when, in all probability, he’d actually been the cause of her misstep.
    A condor’s harsh cry made him alter his route from the plateau where she’d disappeared down to the opening in the cliff face and the cavern into which she had undoubtedly fallen. He soared through the opening just as he’d seen the condors do. Unfortunately, he’d only come prepared to rescue her, carrying a knife, a length of rope, a sling made of leather straps and carabiners, and a comlink. He hadn’t counted on having to get past an angry condor with murderous talons and a razor-sharp beak.
    Correction. Make that two condors and a nest full of eggs. At least he assumed there were eggs in the nest. He couldn’t see for sure, although given the female’s protective stance, he deemed it a safe bet. “Son of a bitch.”
    Fortunately, the female seemed disinclined to move from her position on the nest. The male, however, was already advancing on the woman’s crumpled body. Against the far wall of the cave below the crack in the plateau, she lay unmoving amid the rubble that had fallen with her. A soft moan told him she still lived.
    No doubt the condor, which was easily twice her size, intended to change that.
    Focusing his attention on the huge bird, he created a gust of wind with a sweep of his arm, sending the condor fluttering to the side of the cave where his nest and mate were situated between two upright slabs of rock.
    Undaunted and angrier than ever, the condor hissed and began stalking toward him. Aidan really didn’t like the idea of killing or even injuring the bird, but he might not have a choice. Taking advantage of the bird’s position, which was now between him and the mouth of the cave, he created another gust that sent the bird flapping out into the open air.
    One glance was enough to inform him that this woman was quite small. Val could’ve carried her easily. Never having flown with more than his own weight, Aidan wasn’t sure he was up to the task. His own physical strength wasn’t the only factor. The wings and their harness were sturdy but not unbreakable. Not for the first time, he wished his wings were a part of him the way Val’s were, although when it came to sitting and sleeping, wings large enough to enable a man to fly tended to get in the way.
    Upon reaching her side, he recoiled immediately when he spotted what he took to be a snake but was actually a leather bullwhip.
    He almost laughed aloud. “Who do you think you are? Indiana Jones?”
    Upon closer inspection, her outfit was exactly the same as that worn by the fictional archaeologist. For trekking through the mountains, such garb was quite practical, although the resemblance to “Indy” ended there. She was small and undeniably female, with shiny black hair that had been braided back from her face and pinned into a twisted knot at her nape. His gaze swept over her exotically beautiful face, taking in the rich brown of her skin, the fullness of her lips, and the lovely arch of her brows.
    “No,” she murmured. “I am Sula.” Her eyelids fluttered, and she let out a gasp. “Are you an angel, come to take me to Raj?”
    Given his feathered wings and long, golden curls, her assumption was reasonable enough, although not many people believed in angels anymore.
    “Hadn’t planned on it,” he replied. “Who’s Raj?”
An angel wouldn’t have asked who Raj was. An angel would’ve known.
    Then again, he hadn’t said whether he was an angel. He’d only claimed he wasn’t planning to take her to Raj.
    Pain soon expunged any doubts from Sula’s mind. Had she been on her way to the afterlife prior to being reincarnated into another form, she doubted the body of her current life would’ve troubled her quite so much. Therefore, he was no angel—certainly not like any angel she’d ever heard about.
    Nor was he like any living being she’d ever seen. A man with pointed ears, feline eyes, and enormous wings? Unless the wings weren’t real. They’d certainly looked real when he’d been sailing through the sky above her. Plenty of black and gray white-tipped feathers, arranged row upon row like those of a bird. Or was she confusing him with the birds in the cave? In the short time before she’d passed out, she’d seen drawings of them on the cave wall, being hunted by primitive humanoids. She’d finally found the evidence she’d been searching for.
    The question was, could she ever find it again?
    The warm sunshine beating down on her face was proof enough that she was no longer in the cave. She wasn’t lying in a pile of stones, either. The ground beneath her was relatively soft, and a gentle breeze carried the fragrance of fresh, green grass to her nose—a smell quite unlike the dank odor peculiar to caves, particularly those inhabited by birds.
    Her leg still pained her, although she could tell that it was at least lying straight. The initial shock of the break that had brought on her fainting spell had passed. She was thirsty, almost to the point that her tongue seemed cemented to the roof of her mouth. An attempt to moisten her lips failed.
    Within moments, a hand slipped behind her head, and a cup was held to her lips. As the cool water soothed her parched mouth, she recalled doing the same for Raj in the last hours of his life.
    Dear, sweet Raj. So intelligent, such a promising student, and the one man she would never forget. The love of her life—or rather, the lost love of her life—and she’d had to watch him die.
    She’d been helpless to prevent his death or even ease his suffering. The aftereffects of the disease were nearly as bad. Within hours, even his body was gone; nothing remained of him aside from the clothes he’d been wearing and a pile of dust that was soon scattered by the wind.
    Surrounded by an eerie silence, she’d returned to their ship. Purely out of habit, she’d gone through the decontamination process. The scanner proclaimed her to be free of disease, although she hadn’t been sure she could trust even that. She and Raj had gone through a similar process prior to their departure, and yet Raj had been among the first to fall ill. They’d had minimal contact with the natives, observing rather than interacting with them directly. Granted, they’d barely begun their study before Raj began to feel sick, but on the whole, the natives had seemed industrious and intelligent and appeared to live together in relative harmony. Rather strange in appearance, perhaps, but that was to be expected.
    Not nearly as strange as her rescuer. Despite being somewhat afraid to take another look, she opened her eyes a teensy bit.
    The wings were gone.
    So they weren’t real after all.
    The long golden curls remained, as did the peculiar eyes. Rather than the usual dark, round pupils, his were vertical slits that emitted a soft, golden glow. His ears came to a point like those of a storybook elf, and a pair of straight brows slanted up toward his temples.
    “Glad you’re awake,” he said. Then he smiled, revealing his sharp fangs.
    A scream had nearly left her throat when she remembered something from her studies that caused her to gasp instead—a textbook description of a nearly extinct species of feline humanoids.
    “You’re Zetithian.”   
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