Kiara could just imagine how many females had fallen to that debonaire smile.
Darling tsked at his friend’s actions. “Kiara, this is my best friend, Caillen Dagan, smuggler extraordinaire and lady-killer extreme.”
“Nice to meet you.” She shook Caillen’s hand.
He raised her hand to his lips and placed a warm kiss across her knuckles as he wickedly caressed her fingers. One corner of his mouth lifted in a way Kiara was sure would have set most women off into giggles.
“As in the most talented Kiara Zamir?”
At her nod, his smile widened. “It’s an even greater privilege to swap drinks with you, princess. I’ve always been enamored of your beauty and work that no other dancer can touch.”
Darling shoved playfully at Caillen’s shoulder. “Don’t start on her.” He faced Kiara. “Caillen’s harmless enough, he just thinks every woman breathing is dying to crawl into his bed and stay there.”
Caillen finally released her hand to reach for Darling’s drink. “In case it’s missed your attention, Darling, most are.” He took a sip and grinned. “You’re moving up in the world. When did you start drinking the hard shit?”
“Hi, Caillen.” An attractive redhead leaned over Caillen’s shoulder to kiss his cheek.
Caillen wrinkled his nose and sent the woman away.
Kiara looked at Darling, who was giving Caillen an incredulous stare.
He shook his head in disbelief. “I think that may be the fist time since you hit puberty you’ve let a beautiful woman get away unmolested.”
Caillen shrugged as he downed his whisky in one gulp. “Yeah, well, Lila’s a ubiquitous slut. Someone should paint an X on her back and mark it ‘This side down.’ ”
Kiara’s eyes widened at his crude response.
Caillen returned his attention to her, his irresistible smile back in place. “I’m sorry if I shocked you, princess, but I tend to let my manners slip at the damnedest times.”
He swapped his empty glass for Darling’s other drink, then leaned across the table and gave her a seductive grin. “I hope you’re not here on Darling’s arm.”
“She’s Nykyrian’s,” Darling answered for her.
Caillen’s face blanched as he withdrew so fast, he left a vapor trail. “I’m out of here.” He bolted to his feet, then turned around and glared at Darling. “Why didn’t you tell me he was here? That I was making passes at his female? Geez, Darling, what’re you trying to do, get me disemboweled?”
Darling shrugged innocently. “Actually, I enjoyed watching you embarrass yourself. It was kind of fun.”
“Hah, hah.” Caillen gave Kiara a sheepish look. His face turned serious. “By the way, some of Arturo’s men came by Kasen’s place a little while ago asking about you. I told them you were visiting Ryn last I heard. I don’t think they believed me, so watch your back.”
With a nod to them, Caillen drifted off into the crowd.
Kiara watched him go and pick up a woman off the dance floor and carry her through the crowd. “That was an interesting human.”
“You’ve no idea. But he’s worth his weight in comic relief and he’s a hell of a man to have at your back in a fight.”
Kiara twisted the straw in Nykyrian’s glass with her fingers. “I thought Nykyrian was your best friend?”
He leaned back in his chair and studied her face. “Nykyrian protects me and I love him for it, but he’s too serious. Caillen, on the other hand, takes life in stride, always with a joke about it.” He reached for his juice that Caillen had been drinking. “I don’t know, he just makes me laugh when no one else can.”
She nodded, understanding all too well the importance of laughter. “Are you and Caillen lovers?”
Darling laughed. “No, Caillen is strictly heterosexual.” He glanced around the crowd. “You still nervous?”
She took a deep breath. “A little.”
He picked her hand up off the table and traced the line of her fingers. “Don’t worry. Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
“Touching,” a malevolent voice snarled between them.
Darling went rigid as he turned to face three men dressed in Caronese uniforms. “What are you doing here?”
The man who’d spoken was glaring in rage. A handsome, older man, he had a few faint lines flanking his cruel mouth. His graying, sandy-brown hair was cropped short and steely blue eyes raked her with a cold stare.
“We were told to fetch you home . . . highness.” Could there have been any more loathing in that one word?
Panicking for Darling, Kiara scanned the crowd, trying to find Nykyrian, Hauk, or Caillen, but she didn’t see anyone who looked familiar.
Darling lobbed several coins at him. “Pretend you didn’t see me.”
The guard looked at his companions and smirked. “Well, we know what our orders were should you resist us.” His next response was a vicious backhand.
Darling fell against the table, upturning it. Without thinking, Kiara ran forward and shoved the guard away from Darling.
She barely budged him.
With a ringing curse, he slapped her hard, knocking her backward into a group of men. Ignoring her stinging cheek, Kiara pushed herself off them, intending to return to the fight, but found herself surrounded by the ones she’d bumped into.
“Excuse me.” She tried to break through them.
They refused to part or move in any way.
“Just where do you think you’re going, lovely?”
“I don’t think she’s going anywhere,” another answered before grabbing her by the waist and pulling her back into the center of the group.
Terror engulfed her. She had to do something.
Kiara fought against the man’s hold, clawing at his hands. With a heated curse, he slung her over his shoulder and headed for the door. She shrieked and screamed as she fought as hard as she could against his hold.
He didn’t relent at all.
Infuriated and frustrated, she watched as the guards dragged Darling through a rear door. She renewed her struggle with vigor. She had to get free to help him.
The man holding her laughed at her attempts and bounced her hard against his shoulder. Her breath left her with a loud, painful woof. Pulling at his hair, she clawed at his exposed neck.
He took her outside to the landing bay and threw her onto the filthy ground where she landed with a solid thud. She moaned at the pain pounding through her body. Her ribs and back ached to the point where she feared they were broken.
“You’ll pay for that, harita.” He drew a huge dagger out of his boot.
She shook all over, her mind seeing Chenz coming after her again with his cruel blade.
The others in his group surrounded her so that she had no way to freedom.
What was it Nykyrian had taught her?
Eyes, head . . .
No . . . throat.
Go for his nose . . .
No, the groin.
Clenching her teeth, she did exactly what Nykyrian had taught her. She landed a hard kick straight in his groin.
He cursed as he doubled over. “Get that little bitch!”
The others moved in on her. Kiara spun around, trying to catch them like Nykyrian had said, but he hadn’t told her what to do when she was so outnumbered.
They were going to kill her.
Suddenly, they started hitting the ground around her feet. One by one, they dropped until she saw Nykyrian standing there, his face a mask of fury.
The one she’d kicked made the mistake of running at him.
Nykyrian caught him and spun him about. Out of nowhere he manifested a knife and held it tight to the man’s jaw. “What do you think you’re doing?”
A bead of sweat ran down the man’s temple. “This is human business, Andarion.”
The cold look on Nykyrian’s face sent a shiver down Kiara’s throbbing spine. “She’s my mate, ass**le. What you do with her is my business.”
The man started shaking uncontrollably. He looked to her, to Nykyrian, then back at her. “You’re his mate?” he squeaked.
“Yes,” Kiara answered with conviction.
Nykyrian dragged the knife under the man’s chin, leaving a small trail of blood before shoving him away. He extended his hand to Kiara. Grabbing it like a lifeline, she allowed him to pull her to her feet.
The man gulped as he wiped the blood from his face with the back of his hand. “I’m really sorry. She crashed into us. I had no idea. I mean . . . we—”
“I suggest you leave. Now.” Nykyrian bared his fangs threateningly.
The group ran faster than Kiara would have given them credit for being able to. Shaking with her relief, she buried her head in Nykyrian’s shoulder. “Had you said ‘boo,’ I think they would have wet themselves.”
He held her against him, his arms soothing her completely. “What happened?”
“Arturo’s guards grabbed Darling and I tried to stop them.”
His body went rigid. “Where’d they go?”
“Out the back door.”
Nykyrian led her back into the club and through the crowd. As they passed Hauk, Nykyrian grabbed him by his shirt and, with a furious curse, hauled him behind them. They burst through the back door into an empty street. There were a few people hanging out, two who looked like they were doing something illegal. But no sign of Darling or the guards.
Nykyrian paced around, scanning the area. He paused to glare at Hauk. “Remind me later to kill you.”
Hauk frowned in confusion. “What’s happened?”
Nykyrian curled his lip. “Nothing of any great importance. Kiara was grabbed by a rape gang and Arturo’s men have Darling.”
“Shit!” Hauk raked his hands through his braids. “Where do you think they went?”
“Most likely back to Caron.” Nykyrian pulled his link out and tried to call Darling. When that failed, he snatched it out of his ear, then punched coordinates into his wrist computer. After a few seconds, he cursed again. “They must have removed his tracer and link. Damn it to hell.”
Caillen came running through the back door. He pulled to a stop as he caught sight of them. “Where’s Darling?”
Nykyrian cast a look of disgust at Hauk. “Arturo’s men have him.”
Caillen let out a curse so foul it brought heat to Kiara’s cheeks. “Kasen just told me she saw him being taken out of here a few minutes ago. So help me, I’m going to kill my sister for waiting to speak up. Idiot!”
“Do you have any idea what holding facility Arturo’s men would take him to?” Nykyrian asked Caillen.
Nykyrian replaced his link and called Syn and Jayne to start a search. He tossed his link to Caillen. “Keep in touch with them and tell them where to start looking. I’ll take Kiara home, then join you.”
Caillen put the link in his ear. “How will we keep up with you?”
“I have another link at home.”
Caillen nodded. “All right, then. Let’s burn out.” He struck his fist against Nykyrian’s as a mark of solidarity before he and Hauk took off.
Guilt gnawed at Kiara while Nykyrian led her to his ship. If not for her getting into trouble again, Nykyrian might have been able to get to Darling in time.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered as they reached his ship and he helped her up the ladder.
His grip tightened on her waist. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I should have known better than to leave Hauk with the two of you. Sometimes he just doesn’t think.”
Kiara nodded as she got in and waited for him to join her.
Before long, they were launched and headed back to his house.
She remained quiet the rest of the trip, her thoughts whirling over what had happened. She prayed for Darling’s safety, unsure if she’d be able to forgive herself if something happened to him.
Nykyrian rushed her inside his house, grabbed his link and was gone before she could even wish him luck. Her heart heavy, she made her way up to bed with the lorinas following after her.
Stroking their soft fur, she lay for hours watching the stars twinkling above her head. Her thoughts drifted between all of the men she’d befriended. Hauk and his surly personality. Syn, who was basically bipolar, and Darling’s sweet disposition.
Most of all, she thought of Nykyrian and his pain. Who would have ever believed that four people could come to mean so much to her in such a short amount of time?
Yet they did. And she prayed for all of them.
When she finally saw Nykyrian’s fighter fly over, her heart pounded in relief.
Please let it be good news.
Grabbing her robe, she dashed downstairs to wait for him to enter. The lorinas curled about her legs, mewing softly.
Exhausted, Nykyrian came through the door. He dropped his helmet to the floor and opened his arms to receive her tight squeeze. “We found him,” he said in a tired voice.
“I hope you beat them into pieces.”