Justine Davis

May 2019 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-950-6

A traitor may be their only hope.

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A traitor may be their only hope.

The Coalition’s most decorated battle commander Caze Paladen is running out of time—personally and professionally. A shard of shrapnel embedded close to his spine threatens his life, and the resistance of Ziem’s people to Coalition rule threatens his career. Either way, Paladen is on borrowed time, unless he can find a way to win this war.

The legendary Spirit of the Mountain, widow Iolana Davorin—long believed dead—has the power of healing along with the blessing and curse of far-seeing vision. Following her path has saved Ziem so far, but cost her nearly everything, including the love of her children. Now, when she’s almost reclaimed her life, she must risk it all again and find a way to turn an honorable man into a traitor.

Caze Paladen holds her world and the lives of her children in his hands. Yet, she sees something in him that gives her hope, for both her home and her heart. If she can find the long buried spark of humanity in him and flame it to life again. If she can stop the rebels from killing him. . . .

About the Author: Author of more than sixty books (she sold her first ten in less than two years), Justine Dare Davis is a four-time winner of the coveted RWA RITA Award, and has been inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books have appeared on national bestseller lists, including USA Today. She has been featured on CNN and taught at several national and international conferences and at the UCLA writer’s program. Find out more at her website and blog.


Coming Soon!


Chapter 1

COALITION MAJOR Caze Paledan knew he had reached the tipping point. That point at which all the grim warnings from the Coalition doctors back on Lustros did not outweigh this fierce need for physical action. Any action, as long as there was a lot of it, and it exhausted him. Not in the way lack of sleep exhausted a person; he’d been dealing with sleep deprivation for so long he barely felt it anymore. He wanted—no, needed—to be physically exhausted again, in the way he had not been for far too long.

The two were linked, he knew. He’d had no trouble sleeping when he’d been able to work his body to that point of collapse. Several hours of his own unique brand of training, put together from methods distilled from any oppo­nent who had ever bested him or impressed him, had left his body with no choice but to sleep.

But he’d been unable to do so since that day on Darvis over a year ago, when his vehicle had triggered an explosive device left in a roadway by a vanquished enemy, a sort of farewell volley from a defeated force that had put up only a token resistance anyway.

He supposed, were he as honest with himself as he tried to be, that was part of his irritation at his current situation. To suffer the first serious wound of his career at the hands of an already beaten enemy was a bit ignominious. And another part of that honesty would also have to be that he had made an assumption that cost him; he had trusted the local commander when he said they had no such devices. It had been the last inaccurate information the man would ever pass on, for he had died in the same blast.

All of which was the reason for his more intensive, first-hand study of Ziem and the inhabitants; he did not wish to make another mistake of that magnitude. This one had cost him too dearly.

It is too close to the spine, even the automatons cannot guarantee a safe procedure. But one misstep, Major, one wrong combination of movements, or a well-placed blow, and the shrapnel will shift and sever your spinal cord.

For all his strength, for all the fit power of his body, one wrong move and he would crumple like a shipjack subjected to too much weight.

When they had told him he would live, he had been relieved.

When they had told him how he would have to live, he had rebelled.

There was no other option, the doctors had all agreed. Trying to remove the shard of planium was an almost certain death sentence.


He had fastened on that word. "Almost” was not a certainty. And better to die trying than to live a half-life, the kind of life they said he must to sur­vive. And he had taken this post only for the time to regain his strength, for he was certain in the end he would choose the operation no matter the risk.

He had never expected to become so fascinated with this distant, mist-shrouded world. Or its unique, surprisingly resilient people.

He had never thought he would regret dying without knowing what the final result of the battle for Ziem would be. That he was even thinking of it that way, that the final result could be at all in question, he well knew was sacrilege. That he even called it a battle for Ziem would be thought so in some quarters.

But in those quarters, they did not know the Raider.

The medical staff had recommended minimal movement, meaning at most being trapped at a desk, as his best course. But he knew he could not live wearing a desk chain.

What he hadn’t realized was that living this way would be nearly as bad. Constantly reminded by the ache, and the occasional sharp jab from the shrapnel that his body was no doubt trying to expel as the foreign object it was. Constantly wondering if this movement or that would shift it that last critical fraction, leaving him paralyzed or dead.

Dead. It had better be dead.

He could think of nothing worse than being totally immobilized. What especially haunted him was the thought that he might be left unable to end himself. For most officers, ending up unable to function would be handled, for they would be of no further use, and thus be discarded. But he had often been told his knowledge of battle and tactics were valuable resources. What if the Coalition decided his knowledge, his experience in battle, required him to be kept alive even when he could no longer move, for his mind alone?

He would have to make arrangements for that. There were ways, he knew, that required nothing but the ability to swallow.

A now-familiar need welled up in him. He fought doing what he knew he wanted to do. But he decided after a moment to give in, because for the first time in his life he had more than a glimmer of understanding. Not of her reasons, for that was beyond his ken, but of the idea of reaching the point at which you truly could no longer go on. When the future you saw was more nightmare than the end you sought.

He crossed the office to the storage room. He’d been thankful that the rebel attack on the council building had not taken down his office, mainly because of what was stored in that closet.

He opened the door, reached in, and grasped the edge of the stretched canvas. The simple frame that had once bordered it had been shattered in the bombing of the taproom, but it had done its job and protected the piece itself. He’d removed it to keep any splinters from damaging the canvas.

He pulled it out carefully. He lifted the arm-span-wide painting and prop­ped it on the chair. He denied even to himself he’d placed the chair for that very purpose.

He stared at the woman in the incredible painting. He could barely credit the taproom keeper’s claim that it had been done by a mere art student. And the Coalition would refuse to believe a back of beyond place could produce such a talent at all.

But then, they had also found it impossible to believe a lowly taproom keeper was in fact the Raider, who had brought Coalition efforts on this world to a standstill. The bedamned world that had nothing to recommend it but a vast reserve of planium.

And in the end it did not matter to him whether the Coalition would reach their goals here. What mattered was the woman in this portrait—the vivid, blazingly alive woman with the amazing eyes and the fiery hair. That she had been reduced to the act he had just been contemplating seemed as impossible as everything else about this world.

What seemed the most impossible was her reason. He knew who she was, or rather had been. He had known before he had ever arrived on this world that its one-time leader, the man named Torstan Davorin, had been the one to first incite the population to rebellion. First, but not for long. The Coalition had learned from its failure on Trios to nip such insurrection in the bud and had taken out the fiery orator before the revolt had gathered much momentum. And this woman had been pledged to him, a local custom of binding, for life apparently. By all accounts she had been unable to bear her grief and plunged from Halfhead Scarp, that stark, towering half mountain to the west of Zelos.

That was the part that seemed the most impossible to him. Not the plungeitself, not even that she left four children behind—the Ziemite devotion to such primitive bonds was something he was familiar with from other worlds— but that she had loved the man so much she could not go on without him was the impossible concept.

He—and the Coalition—had long ago relegated that kind of love to the realm of folk tales and imagination.

And yet what else could possibly drive the woman in this portrait, so achingly alive, to take that leap to her death? Not fear, not anger... for in fear she would stand, in anger she would fight. He was not certain how he knew this, but he did. However, that left him back at the beginning, the tales of a love so great that the loss of it ended a vibrant life, with nothing left but the formality of physical death. The kind of love the Coalition scoffed at, when it wasn’t denying its very existence.

This woman had not only been the mate of this world’s most powerful man, she was the mother of the man who had nearly brought the Coalition to its knees on this remote planet. How did a woman with that kind of strength give up?

It had once seemed to him the weakest way out, and therefore not worthy of consideration.

Now he was not so sure.

Now, he could only think of how immense that love must have been, to drive this woman to end her own life when she had had four children who, according to the structure of this world, depended upon her.

He, however, had no one who would miss him or help him leave this world if the worst left him immobile. He’d likely be remembered for his victories, but there would be no one weeping over his grave. The Coalition would go on, and he would soon be nothing more than a few lines in the approved histories. Which was as it should be by Coalition tradition. A simple passing, acknowledged but not dwelt upon. Grief was one of the worst of emotions, ungovernable, useless, and among the first to be forbidden by Coalition edict. And after love, that softest of all emotions, grief was the most ridiculed when encountered on the more primitive planets not yet taught the proper way to deal with such things. He himself thought the two defects were entwined, for the one seemed to set the circumstances for the other. For the Coalition, both were oddities to be studied only to find the best way to quash them, nothing more.

Such emotions had been extracted from him in childhood and replaced by Coalition logic. And yet here he was, staring at a painting of a woman he’d never known, feeling an odd sort of ache that was beyond physical. He knew there was a word for it, even though it, too, had been excised from the Coalition lexicon long ago.


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