Best Friends Forever
Note: Part of the proceeds from this book are being donated to the family of Lara Anne Punches, whose life ended tragically and much too early.
(blue ribbon rating: 5)
"...BEST FRIENDS FOREVER is a futuristic/paranormal story that delivers quite a punch...What I found inspiring about these characters is how they seem to take pleasure in their differences as well as similarities – prejudice still exists but they rise above it....Don’t worry if you haven’t read the rest of the STARQUEST saga. BEST FRIENDS FOREVER can easily be read alone but if you’re anything like me you’ll end up having to go back and pick up copies of the rest of the books in the series simply because Kate Douglas does such an amazing job at world building with highly memorable characters."
"...A brilliant, captivating read!"
"...Love Kate Douglas!! She has such a way with words and I always enjoy her books. Her sex scenes are so hot my pages always smoke! Best Friends Forever is a fun, creative and hot read. Ms. Douglas writes characters that you can relate to, with a twist of science fiction. I recommend all of the StarQuest reads for your bookshelf!!
Best Friends Forever
In the twenty-second century, Earth is a world undergoing enormous change. With the population decimated by nuclear wars in the middle of the twenty-first century and almost annihilated by an alien invasion a few years later, humans have gone through an accelerated evolution that has resulted in many of them developing extrasensory talents. Telepaths, telekinetics, and empaths are common, though it took a rebellion against the ruling World Federation to give those with extrasensory Talent the same rights as the rest of the population-a rebellion that was inspired by the first peaceful contact with a telepathic alien species.
Leonine people from Mirat, a distant planet with an advanced civilization where extrasensory abilities have long been the norm, have become powerful allies with humans. Joined in their quest to learn more of the mysteries of the universe, many humans and lions have also fallen in love and bonded as mates-and produced viable offspring with their parents' same desire to travel among the stars.
Kefira, daughter of Mara Armand and Starship Captain/now Diplomat Sander of Mirat, is the first child born of a human female and Miratan male. Tad Barton is the very human son of the World Federation's former president-entirely human, though endowed with powerful extrasensory Talents. The best of friends as children, theirs is a rather unique tale…
Kefira Armand consulted her handheld for time and directions and looked once more at the imposing set of double doors ahead of her. Right place, right time, but what in the name of the Mother would the Council of Nine have to say to a lowly social services scholar?
She checked the line of her skinsuit, made certain there weren't any dust bunnies clinging to the tuft of fur at the end of her tail, brushed her dark mane back over her shoulders and, with a nod from the sentry, pushed the heavy door aside.
As always, she sensed the intense interest of everyone in the room. There were so few human/leonine hybrids in existence that she was always an object of curiosity. Since she had the distinction of having been the first child born to a Miratan male and Earthen female, she'd long ago grown used to the pointed questions and odd glances.
Her unusual appearance had been even more noticeable here on Mirat, the planet of her father's birth. Though this world was decidedly more advanced technologically than earth, it was far behind in the acceptance of racial diversity. Miratans were still enmeshed in a tiered society determined by racial heritage.
Luckily, her father, a bipedal African lion for all intents and purposes, had been at the top of the food chain, even though the genetic blend of human and lion DNA had given her an appearance that more closely resembled one of the lesser breeds. She wasn't quite in the lowly tabby caste, but with her slight build, refined features and small stature from her mother's side, there was no way anyone would confuse her with the ruling lions of Mirat.
That's where attitude played a big part. Walking purposefully down the long aisle leading to the front of the large hall, she kept her Aunty Sheyna's directive in mind on how to deal with the arrogant and bigoted members of both worlds-hold your head high and walk like you've got bigger balls then they do.
With the image of basketball-sized testicles in mind, Kefira strode to the supplicants staging area at the front of the room. The small platform put her in full view of the Council of Nine, the ruling aristocracy on Planet Mirat. She had absolutely no idea why she'd been called to present herself before this renowned body of rulers, but from the intense scrutiny she received from the nine lions seated on the raised dais, Kefira had no doubt she was about to find out.
Tad Barton read the notice on his handheld and frowned. The Miratan Council rarely dealt directly with humans, but he'd called to confirm the order he'd received, and this was definitely where he was supposed to be.
He nodded to the sentry on duty, showed his Starship Captain's ID badge and entered the huge chamber. He hadn't taken more than a couple of steps down the broad aisle when the sense of someone he'd not seen in ages suddenly slammed into him.
Kefira! Oh shit… What in the name of the Mother was she doing here? He managed to maintain his stride even though his heart lurched into high speed, pounding at least a million miles a minute. The closer he got to the supplicants booth, the more his fight or flight responses kicked in and the stronger his urge to flee…or maybe just throw up.
He'd requested duty on Mirat when he heard she was coming here for advanced studies, and then, like a complete idiot, he'd done everything in his power to avoid her. What was it about the damned female, anyway? They'd been playmates from the time they met almost thirty earth years ago. She'd been the one to teach him how to use his Talents, the one who saved both their lives when they were kidnapped by a madman back in the last days of the rebellion between Talents and the World Federation.
She'd also been the object of every sexual fantasy and wet dream he'd had from the time he was old enough to experience either.
Kefira's parents had been the leaders of the rebellion-his father was president of the World Federation, but both sides had finally managed to come together in a manner that had resulted in a lifelong friendship between Kefira's family and his own, and had forged an enduring peace among the diverse factions of both Earth and Mirat.
He just wished he'd managed to forge an enduring peace with Kefira. For whatever reason, the little minx has decided to put space between them when she turned about fifteen. He'd been trying-unsuccessfully-to get back in her good graces ever since.
Not easy when he didn't have a clue what he'd done to get kicked out of those good graces, other than one quick teenaged kiss…and this probably wasn't what he should be thinking about as he prepared to face the illustrious Miratan Council of Nine.
By the time he reached the supplicants platform, Tad had his shields in place and his nerves under control. Kefira's head jerked up when he stepped into place beside her.
Good. She hadn't sensed him coming. He acknowledged her with a brief nod and then turned to face the Council, well aware of her confusion and obvious discomfort with his nearness. He was even more aware of her feminine scent, the perfect shape of her small breasts beneath the fitted skinsuit, and the thick fall of her dark mane flowing over her shoulders.
He checked, out of habit more than anything else, and her shields were solidly in place. In that respect, nothing between them had changed. She'd been shielding herself from him for almost twenty years. Tad stared ahead and thought of all those years without her friendship, without her quirky sense of humor, without her quick mind linked with his.
Best friends forever, they'd promised. For so long they'd been inseparable.
And then they weren't.
Damn, but he missed her. It was probably just as well she blocked him, or she might have figured out the truth.
The lights dimmed and then came back up as the last of the council members filed in. Tad blinked himself back to the present. He stood at parade rest with his hands folded neatly against the small of his back. Kefira stood beside him, a small dynamo holding the same calm, reserved position. Only the nervous twitch and flick of her long tail gave her away.
Tad watched the older female at the center of the long dais in front of him. She stood and nodded in their direction. “Welcome, Scholar Kefira of Two Worlds and Captain Thaddeus Barton of Earth. We of the Council appreciate your prompt attention to our request.”
Tad glanced at Kefira. She focused entirely on the Council. Tad might as well have been on another planet for all she seemed to care. Would he ever figure her out? Probably not in this lifetime. He turned his attention back to the Council.
“…and since this request comes from a sentient planet, the only one we have discovered, much less formed diplomatic ties with, we are loathe to ignore it.”
What? Sentient planet? Must be BoldCené. Tad glanced once more at Kefira. She looked his way and shrugged before turning back to the dais.
“Your names were mentioned as two not only personally known to the consort, but also possessing the skills and training the goddess and her consort hope to utilize as they bring their people forward into a more modern way of life. Too many years under the yoke of evil have left the planet's inhabitants traumatized and struggling to rebuild their villages, their very way of life. At BoldCené's request, a ship is being outfitted with necessary educational and technological materials. If you are willing to accept this assignment, we expect you to depart for the sentient world in three day's time.”
The Council leader nodded to the members at both her right and left, and then turned to Tad and Kefira. “What say you?”
Tad looked to Kefira, deferring to her and giving her the chance to speak first.
She glanced his way, wide-eyed. No, you! I don't know what to say!
Her tail twitched so uncontrollably, Tad softly set the heel of his boot down on the fluffy tip to hold it in place. He almost smiled. He'd done the same thing years ago when they were kids, always getting into trouble together. Kefi'd never been able to keep that damned tail of hers under control-it broadcast every mood, every thought she had. Especially guilt. Poor Kefi never got away with anything. Tad bit his lip to keep from grinning at the memories.
He bowed to the leader of the Council, including the other members in his deference as well. “Kefira and I are honored to be considered for such an extraordinary opportunity, my lady. Will there be a briefing before we leave?”
Kefira jerked in place. Her body went rigid. Obviously she hadn't expected he'd accept so readily.
“There is no need, Captain Barton, Kefira. The journey to BoldCené will take the equivalent of two of your weeks. Your instructions have already been loaded into the ship's memory and you'll have plenty of time to study before you reach the planet. Expect to be gone for at least two years. I would suggest you contact your families before you depart as communication at that distance is difficult. Your flight crew will brief you once you board. Report to Dock A, Section twelve of the StarQuest terminal in the main port at dawn of the Mother's Day. Your departure instructions including suggested personal items to pack have been loaded on chips for your convenience.”
She handed a pair of info-chips to one of the security guards standing to the left of the dais, who carried them to Tad and Kefira.
Tad took the one the lion handed to him and watched Kefira clasp hers in a paw shaking so badly she could barely hold the small disk.
Bowing stiffly to the Council of Nine, Kefira stared for a moment at the disk in her hand. Then she turned and quickly led Tad out of the auditorium.
The moment the huge double doors closed behind them, she spun around and glared at him. “How dare you commit me to a two year assignment? Do you have any idea what you've done?”
Tad backed up, both hands raised. Damn it all. He hadn't expected this! “Whoa, baby. You deferred to me to answer their request. How the hell was I…”
“I deferred to you to get us out of this.” She spun on her heel, stomped about ten steps and then turned around and glared at him. “You were supposed to tell them it was impossible, that we have work here that prohibits us from…”
“And I was supposed to know this how?” Tad shook his head. “Sorry, Kefi. I refuse to take blame for this. One, you don't tell the council you can't do what they've just told you you're going to do, and two, what have you got that's so all-fired important you can't take the trip of a lifetime? Do you know how long I've been hoping to go on a starquest? Humans just don't get plum assignments, especially something like this. We'll get to see Bolden again. We haven't seen him since he left on his starquest.”
Kefira planted her paws on her slim hips and leaned forward until they were almost nose to nose. Tad bit back a laugh. She hadn't been this mad at him since they were kids.
“He's a god, Thaddeus. A frickin' immortal god, consort to the only sentient planet in the known universe.” Her eyes flashed green and her mane stuck out around her perfect kitten's face like a halo of black silk. Her small breasts practically quivered with her outrage.
Tad bit back the retort he'd started to make and fought a powerful urge to haul her into his arms and kiss the frown right off her face. Instead, he sighed and forced himself to relax.
“He's also our friend,” he said. “A cute little kid we hunted frogs with in the creek behind your mom and dad's house. A kid who tagged along behind us because we were the big kids and he wanted to be like us. Bolden hasn't forgotten us. Why do you think we were the ones he asked for?”
Kefira bowed her head and wrapped her arms around herself in an entirely defensive posture. “I don't know. I just know I can't spend two years on some primitive planet with you, Tad Barton. I can't do it.”
“Well, that's just too fucking bad, Kefi.”
Her head snapped up and she glared at him.
To hell with her. She'd been yanking his chain for years and he'd had enough. Tad grabbed her wrist and hauled her up against his chest. Where the last time, they'd been almost the same height, he now towered over her and outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds.
She stared up at him, wide eyed, lips parted in shock. Her breasts pressed against his chest and he felt the pebbled tips of her nipples through the thin fabric of his skinsuit. Before he could give his rational mind a chance to surface, he kissed her. His lips covered hers, his tongue forced entry and he was suddenly tasting cinnamon and cloves, the sweetness of brown sugar-all the flavors of Kefira he'd not tasted since that one kiss he'd stolen twenty years ago.
The kiss that had sent her running away from him, shields high and strong, anger and outrage radiating from every pore of her teen-aged body.
Rational thought slammed into him and he broke the kiss. Turned her loose and set her away from him. Fought the surge of arousal that was impossible to hide in the tightly fitted flight suits worn by all starship captains.
He tried to read the expression on her face. He couldn't, but it didn't matter. She hadn't kissed him back. Hadn't wanted him to touch her, if her rigid body language meant anything.
She must really think he was scum.
He dipped his chin and sighed. “I'm sorry, Kefi. That was inexcusable. I will not touch you again. I promise you'll have nothing to worry about during our assignment.”
Before she could answer, he turned and quickly walked away.
Screwed. He was so totally screwed, and there was no way in hell he'd ever get the taste of her off his lips.