Branded by Kesh


Book 2 of the Fallen Star Series.

Thrown from one dangerous situation to the next when Tarnee and her family are rescued from the imminent explosion of their space ship she finds herself at the mercy of a ruthless band of pirates. One man’s dark smouldering gaze draws her like no other and has her offering to help the men who have rescued them.
Kesh was not expecting for his mate to fall into his hands or the extent he will go to make her his. When trouble finds them and Tarnee’s life is in danger he will do whatever it takes to protect her.
Fascinated despite herself Tarnee finds herself torn between her desire for Kesh and her need for freedom until he brands her as his and she cannot escape from the truth of his claim or the longing of her heart.

Length: 79 pages.

Read Chapter One

Chapter One

“This is the Spirit of Freedom, if you receive this message, please help us. Our fusion core has a rupture and could go critical at any time. We need help.”
I looked at the scanner screen and saw…nothing. There were no ships in range. In fact, there wasn’t any movement anywhere. My papa’s distress message was constantly repeating in my ears.
It had been four days since we sent out the first distress call—four days of nothing. No sign of any ships, not even pirates, who usually showed up at the first sign of weakness to take advantage of the situation.
“Magnolia, have you packed your things?” My father’s voice came from the back of the ship’s control room.
Not really a control room or bridge. It was just big enough for two seats and all the controls needed to fly the ship. I currently curled myself up in one of those seats watching the scanner.
“Yes, Papa, they’re in my room ready to go.”
“Have you packed everything you want? Once we leave, there will be no coming back. Have you packed all the data sticks from the kitchen?”
My eyes flared wide. I’d forgotten about those. I’d still been using them up until this morning so I hadn’t packed them yet. I jumped out of the seat and slipped through the narrow passage between the two chairs. My father’s lean form was standing in the doorway of the control room.
“I’ll go pack those now,” I told him as I rushed forward.
Warm hands landed on my shoulders as I stopped in front of him.
“Someone will hear, Magnolia. Someone will come. You’ll see. The Universe knows we’re here and in need. It will send just the right ship for us.”
I looked up into his grey eyes and nodded, because what could I say? I had serious doubts that the Universe cared about one small ship full of people, but I wasn’t about to voice my doubts to my papa. I’d only end up getting a talking to about the rights and wrongs of the Universe, and how he and my mamma had always done right. So, the theory went that the Universe would always do right by them.
I didn’t know whom he was trying to convince with his words, himself, or me, but I could see the strain on his face, the worry that clouded his usually clear grey eyes. I slipped past him and headed down the open walkway to the stairs that led to what we called the family deck. It was where all the bedrooms and living quarters of the ship were located and it was where my favorite place on the ship was.
The kitchen had been my domain since I turned thirteen and my mamma had bought me my first cooking data stick. Filled with old Earth recipes, I’d spent hours poring over that thing, reading every recipe and looking at all the pictures. I knew every recipe off by heart and had cooked most of them at least once. Sometimes I’d had to improvise where ingredients were concerned. Some of the things you just couldn’t get in space. Some things I had no idea what they were.
Rushing down the metal stairs, my shoes loud on their open grated surface, I headed for the kitchen. I’d be devastated if I left my data sticks behind. Bags of belongings sat in the communal lounge area between the two couches, all packed and ready to be transferred to the ship that hopefully would turn up to help us.
I had to move my bags to the lounge with everyone else’s, but first, I needed to collect my sticks which I did quickly once I reached the tiny kitchen of our ship, then headed for my room across the lounge. The door swished open to let me into the cramped space. Barely big enough for a bed and some storage, it had been my space, my refuge for as long as I could remember. Tucking the sticks into one of the bags, I hefted it up on my shoulder and turned to walk out.
The sudden blare of the emergency alarm shocked me so badly I almost dropped my bag. My heart thundered wildly. This was it. This was the moment we had all been dreading—the moment when the fusion core went critical. We had hours left before the core exploded, ripping through the ship, turning it into a twisted mass of metal and fire.
I rushed my bags out to the lounge, intent on returning to the control room. Someone had to come. They had too. We couldn’t die like this. I may have had doubts about my parents’ conviction that the Universe would help us, but I had to have hope. I had to have something to hold onto when everything was going to hell around me.
Racing up the stairs, my long skirts almost tripping me up in my haste, I slipped back into the control room and resumed my seat. The scanner screen was empty. No ships. No signs of anything. In desperation, I grabbed the communications microphone and pressed the button.
“Please, if you can hear us, we need help. Our fusion core has gone critical. If there’s anybody out there, please help us. We have children aboard the ship.”
Letting go of the button, I slumped back in the seat. There was nothing—no response. I stared at the scanner screen, willing a ship to come along. Any ship. I wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to do too many things and too many places I wanted to visit.
Loud voices and the quiet sobs of a child reached me through the open door of the control room. This was my family, and usually, we all got along. You had to get along when you lived on a ship together, but the last four days were taking their toll on all of us and tensions were high. Light footsteps echoed along the metal walkway that led from the lower level to the control room before my mamma’s voice came from the open doorway.
“Magnolia, come down to the lounge and spend time with the family. It might be the last chance you get.”
I turned to look at my mamma. It was the first time she’d acknowledged that it was possible we wouldn’t make it out of this mess alive.
“Alright. I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Don’t take too long. We should all be together.”
She didn’t need to say at the end. I knew that was what she meant. Giving the scanner one last look, because I could sit for the next two hours watching it and we might only have two hours, I stood up from the co-pilot’s chair and stepped between the two seats.
A small beep had hope exploding in my chest. I whipped around to look at the scanner and sure enough, there was a tiny blip on the screen. One little dot point of green light amongst the black, right on the outer edges of our scanner’s range and moving slowly towards us.
Falling over myself to get back in the chair, I grabbed the microphone.
“This is the Spirit of Freedom. Please respond.”
I waited, my breath caught in my throat. Come on…come on. They had to respond. I wanted to shout for joy. I wanted to call out to my family and let them know there was a ship, but I had to make sure they were going to respond first.
“Please, we have children aboard this ship. You’re our only hope,” I said into the microphone.
“Please, you have to help us,” I whispered as my hand fell into my lap, the microphone falling from my fingers.
I stared at that little green blip and willed them to respond. The Universe had provided a ship in our hour of greatest need, so they just had to come through. I just needed to hear a voice over the comm system telling me that they were on their way to us and then I could breathe.
It felt like days since I’d been able to take a deep breath, the worry pressing in on me, tightening my lungs, making it impossible to breathe deeply.
“Spirit of Freedom this is the Fallen Star. What is your status?” a deep masculine voice asked, coming through the comm system.
A sob rushed up from my chest to lock in my throat, my hand flying up to my mouth, holding the noise in. I grabbed for the microphone in my lap.
“Fallen Star, we have a critical rupture of our fusion core. The core will explode in the next few hours. Please help us.”
I waited, watching that little green blip as it moved slowly closer, millimeter by millimeter, creeping across the scanner screen towards the centre and our location.
The lights on the control panel of the ship flickered and danced. Warnings that we had a serious problem. Warnings that had been flashing for four days.
“It should take us two hours to reach you, gather everyone in the cargo bay and we will dock directly with your ship. You should gather everything you want in the time it takes us to get to you. Fallen Star out.”
The relief was overwhelming, tears gathering in my eyes, slowly trickling down my face.
“We’ll be ready, Fallen Star. Thank you.”
Now we just had to hope that we were still here in two hours. I scrambled up out of my chair.
“Papa! There’s a ship coming!”
I raced for the door and clattered down the walkway, my hasty footsteps echoing through the ship.
My father appeared at the bottom of the stairs, hope shining on his face.
“A ship?”
“Yes,” I replied, “We have to move everything into the cargo bay. They’re going to dock directly with us and they said to wait in the cargo bay.”
“How long, Magnolia? How long until they get here?”
I stepped off the stairs and saw the hopeful faces of my family and the few people who travelled with us. They may as well have been my family we were so close.
“Two hours. We just have to hold on for another two hours.”

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