Alien Beast’s Fated Mate: Chapter Seven


By midday, Grindi brought us to the steep, gray walls of the Canyonlands. She knew her way through the network of deeply cut rivers, guiding us unerringly towards Zashi. 

There were hidden drop-offs and pitfalls in the canyons, as well as many dark caves that could shelter predators. But the bagart’s senses were far keener than mine, and I trusted her to avoid any dangers. We passed the same cavern by which I had originally entered the alien city. Had that only been a handful of days? Another lifetime.

One without Lita.

There was no point in even remembering it.

After hours of traveling between the sheer, close-pressing walls, my mount led us out into the salt jungle beyond and towards the hypnotic roar of the sea. 

As soon as the claustrophobic canyons opened up into endless vistas, I felt Lita relax in the saddle in front of me. The set of her slender shoulders eased, and she took a deep breath of the briny air.

So far, she hadn’t spoken a word since we rode away from the bloody carnage of the bandit camp. Through our soul bond I could feel the numbness of her shock, the bone-deep fear and confusion that still gripped her. My unleashed Valti side had terrified her almost as much as her former life imprisoned in the strange temple.

How could I overcome this quandary? As much as I longed to calm my thoughts and control the Valti beast within, it was an intrinsic part of me. Perhaps the only solution was time and patience.

“The water,” Lita said suddenly, her voice hushed with wonder as she gazed out at the glimmering sea. “It’s so beautiful.”

I followed her rapt stare. “Yes. The coast has always been a place I come to find peace. At times, it’s good to be alone here.” 

She turned slightly in the saddle to glance back at me, the scent of her hair tickling my nose. “I’ve seen the Snarling Sea before from a distance. But I’ve never gotten to spend time alone by it.”

I frowned. “Snarling Sea? That sounds dangerous. We call it the Bright Sea.”

Grindi continued on tirelessly through the thinning trees. Before us, the alien crystal sands of an isolated beach spread out, studded with the swaying emerald fans of the dinva trees. The rich green of the sky met the deeper purple of the waters at a sharp, clear horizon.

The clever bagart made her way towards a small freshwater river that ran down to the sea, sheltered on both sides by tall reeds. When we reached it, I dismounted, then helped Lita down from the saddle. She leaned against me for a moment, her slim frame pressed to mine.

I led her towards an outcropping of tumbled boulders, isolated in the midst of the clear sands. 

“It’s so beautiful here,” Lita said again wonderingly as she gazed out at the perfectly flat expanse of the purple ocean. “I’ve never seen a sea that color before.”

“There is a vast creature that lives in the depths beneath the still surface,” I explained. “Some say it is bigger than a city, and has remained unmoving for eons like a stone. Its natural hue colors the waters.”

I clambered easily up the piled rocks and reached a hand down for Lita to follow. She took it without hesitation, allowing me to guide her up the boulders until we sat together atop the highest point, temporary monarchs surveying the alien sea. The soft pads of moss made a gentle seat.  

“Mmm, it’s so warm here,” Lita sighed in contentment, stretching her legs out and arching her back. The dappled sunlight played over her curves. She turned her heart-shaped face up to me, dark eyes dancing. “The rocks feel almost hot in the sun.”

I smiled back, the ever-present tension in my shoulders easing. “The Bright Sea is very shallow and calm near the shore. The water becomes heated by the sun.”  

Lita bit her full lower lip thoughtfully, still facing me. “Just how warm does it get?” 

I thought she might feel trepidation. Through our bond, I’d felt the almost unfelt waters of what she called the Tomb.

But did I catch a gleam of playfulness?

The sight sent a spike of heat through my own body.

“Well, there is one way to find out,” I answered lightly, and before she could react I had scooped her up in my arms.

“Drax!” she shrieked, though she was laughing now even as she swatted in protest at my shoulders. Her hair tumbled free around us both as I carried her down the boulders and waded into the surf. 

The water swirled cool around my legs at first, then warmer as we went deeper. Lita kicked and squealed as the foam lapped higher, wetting her feet. 

“It’s not warm at all!” she gasped dramatically, clutching at my neck. But she was still grinning, eyes dancing with mirth and thrill as I swung her playfully through the gently crashing waves.

I obediently moved closer to shore again until the water was only knee-deep, then set Lita down carefully in the wet sand. She kept one hand on my shoulder to steady herself as the surf tugged at her skirts.

“Alright, now you have to turn around and close your eyes,” she instructed, mock sternly. 

I raised an eyebrow but did as she asked, wading back out until the swells lapped my waist, then turning my back. “Why? What are you planning, little fish?”

“No peeking!” came her voice from behind me. I heard a splash as she slipped into the deeper waters.

After a long moment she called “Okay, you can look now!” 

When I turned around, Lita was floating serenely in the glassy waves, clad only in her thin white shift. Her dark hair fanned out around her, contrasting with her golden skin. She waved at me, then flipped over in the water, kicking up fountains of glittering spray as she swam with smooth, strong strokes. 

Her laughter rang out freely over the water. I watched her playfully diving and splashing about, seemingly without a care. She was captivating – joyful and unbound, more radiant than ever.

I quickly shed my own tunic and boots, stripping down to my breechclout before diving in to join her. The silky water closed around me, cool and caressing. As I surfaced, Lita swam nearer, floating before me with a dazzling smile. Her sodden shift clung alluringly to every curve.

“How did you know this is just what I needed?” she asked wonderingly, treading water. 

I could only shrug, taming a sudden urge to pull her lithe body against mine beneath the waves. “Perhaps we both needed this respite.”  

Lita tilted her head back, closing her eyes with a blissful sigh as she floated atop the swells. “I’ve only been to the lakes in the Infinity Ring before. But never have I been able to enjoy the water all to myself like this.”

I drank in the sight of her, committing this untamed joy to memory. But reality could not be ignored for long. 

“It’s still at least three day’s ride to reach Zashi, and true safety,” I said reluctantly. “We are exposed and vulnerable here in the open.”  

Lita’s eyes opened, her expression sobering before she nodded. “You need to turn around again,” she said.

I faced the horizon. Avians with great wingspans rode the air currents. One dove into the water, coming out with a wriggling fish.

When I turned, Lita sat on the boulders, swathed demurely in the wool once more, though it did little to hide her sodden state. Rivulets of water still dripped from the ends of her hair and the hem of her sheer shift. She bit her lip and hugged her arms around herself against the chill wind off the sea.

“I suppose we should get moving again before it gets much colder,” she said quietly after I’d dressed and joined her.

My heart ached at the thought of her shivering and miserable. Before I could think better of it I stepped forward and enfolded her in my arms, wrapping her in my greater warmth.  

Pressed together so intimately, I felt a swirling riot of emotion through our soul bond – hesitation, a spike of fear…and buried beneath it all, tentative desire. Those conflicted feelings surely mirrored my own maelstrom of longing and restraint as I met her fathomless dark gaze.

I had brought her into the wilderness, and now she had no choice but to rely on me. The trust implicit in that reliance humbled me. With a sigh, I loosened my embrace and stepped back, staring at clouds scudding nearer. “The storm will be on us. It’s time to find shelter.”

Grindi found a track through the jungle. Vines hung heavy with bright traveling flowers. Thick trees bulged, looking waterlogged. Undergrowth swayed with stalks of fat pink kernels that exploded when touched. Ripe fruit hung low from branches. 

I picked one as we moved beneath. When I offered it to Lita, she shook her head.

“It’s not healthy to eat food we don’t grow,” she said. “Its one of the rules of the city.”

Such a strange rule. But soon she would need to eat something. I would simply keep trying.

Biting into it, the sweet aroma drifted as juice ran down my face. I smiled and wiped it away. Grindi knickered.

“Here, feed her,” I said picking another dandrow and handing it to Lita.

She leaned forward, clucking to the beast. The bagart delicately took it before munching it down, pit and all.

Lita giggled. Then, she picked one for herself as we passed beneath. She took a tentative bite. I though she might throw it away, but she didn’t.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she said.

A brilliant mist of golden pollen danced in shafts of light between the trees. When we passed through, it clung to Lita’s hair. She turned to me and I saw it glittering on her features.

“Beautiful,” I said.

Distantly, I heard the crash of branches and leaves. Kicking Grindi to a trot, I scanned the foliage.

“What was that?” Lita said.

“The cold is coming. This will be the last chance for animals to fatten up. On fruit and each other,” I said, leaning against her back. 

She gripped the saddle horn as the bagart found her footing.

Daylight dimmed, unseen clouds moving in from the sea. Stiff, spear like leaves raked us on either side of the trail. 

“We shouldn’t try to move past the jungle rocks this night,” I said. 

“Why?” Lita asked.

In answer, the sky darkened swiftly. Almost at once, rain sizzled through the canopy. As we passed beneath the gaps, we were drenched.

Lita gasped as more and more water lashed through the leaves.

“There’s a cave I sheltered in on my journey here,” I raised my voice around the hiss of water. “It’s not far. Hyah! Grindi! Yah!”

The animal doubled down, sprinting through the narrow track surging beneat us. If some large browser or predator stalked the path ahead, we would be in trouble. 

I swiped water from my eyes.

Lita pulled up her woolly hood against the weather. 

Trees thinned out to the left. I made out a rise in the land, outcroppings of rock. Reining the bagart in, I guided her with my legs.

Briefly, we moved up a muddy hill. Then the sheer cliffs rose from the mist. 

I guided Grindi alongside, until a hollow opened up. The bagart eagerly moved under shelter.

Rain curtained the entrance as we dismounted.

I gazed around the dim space. “This is where I sheltered before. I think.”

“There’s a stack of dry wood,” Lita pointed.

She pulled her hood back. It hadn’t kept her from getting soaked. My heart ached at the sight of her face dripping and miserable. 

“You’re shivering,” I said. Unable to help myself, I pulled her close.

Souls bound, I felt a whirl of emotions. Trepidation. Repulsion… 


Those emotions were mirrored in her impossibly dark eyes as I gazed.

Yet I had brought her into the wilderness. She had to depend on me. There was no other choice for her.

“Let’s get a fire started and some food in you first. Then we’ll continue on before the weather worsens.”

I busied myself unsaddling Grindi and rubbing the bagart down. Lita moved closer to the shelter of the rocks and began gathering driftwood for a small fire, her sodden white shift clinging distractingly to every alluring curve. 

This was going to be a long, tempting journey to Zashi.

Alien Beast’s Fated Mate: Chapter Six


It did not take Drax long to fall asleep. I watched the rhythmic rise of his chest as he lay across the fire from me. Only then did I dare drop off.

Once again, I was in the blackness of the Tomb, held fast. Except the water grew warm enough to feel—and warmer. I felt my face sweat, my muscles go limp. Breathing became a labor.

Then, the sarcophagus lid pulled back. But it was neither the oracle nor the priests who drew me out, but Drax.

“I’m so hot,” I breathed.

“As am I,” he said.

We were back in the forest. His face above me, Drax yanked free the woolen cloak. I gasped at the chill of the air.

“I won’t let you grow cold,” he whispered in my ear.

Then kissed it.


He bit the lobe, making sparks shoot through me. Bit my neck. My hands clawed his back of their own accord.

Roving, his lips explored my naked skin. I felt his passage like burns.


His lips met mine. I responded, perhaps with more animal ferocity than he possessed. Arms locked around his neck, I pressed his soft lips firmly with my own. My tongue sought his. 

Never had I wanted like this.

What was I doing? This primitive—

Rough hands kneaded my breasts, pinching and massaging my nipples until I cried out into our embrace.

He pulled away. In a rough, low voice, he growled, “I will kiss you everywhere, my bonded soul.”

No! I did not want this savage—

“Yes!” I pleaded instead. How I wanted this animal man touching me everywhere, I didn’t know. 

Impulsive desire flooded me. I guided him to my secret places with my hands.

His face rasped against my belly as he kissed lower and lower.

My traitorous hips lunged to meet him, back arching.

His arms locked around my legs as his kisses plunged.

I wanted to struggle. Away from him or against him? My heated flesh yearned for his touch.

But then he vanished. 

I opened my eyes. Branches and leaves, the pale green of dawn.

When I looked across the cold fire, Drax remained bundled in the blanket. I was still wrapped in the woolly cloak. 

Dreams or nightmares?

I remembered deeply wanting Drax’s touch. My face flamed, as I was shamed by the memory. Being alone with a man was improper enough!

But it was only a dream. 

Grindi’s impatient hoof stamp and frustrated snort made me jerk awake. I sat up, leaves and dirt falling from my tangled hair as I blinked in confusion. 

Drax rose slowly beside me, his movements fluid and silent like a predator. Our eyes met, and I saw a flash of something feral in his gaze before his expression smoothed into nonchalance. 

All around us, the forest seemed to hold its breath. The snapping of a twig underfoot shattered the stillness. Then came the dry rasp of leaves brushed aside by careful footsteps. 

Another sound, then the gleam of early morning sunlight on steel. A figure glimpsed from the shadows, crossbow loaded and aimed unwaveringly at Drax’s heart.

More shapes slipped between the trees, hemming us in. We were surrounded.

In a blur of motion, Drax leapt to his feet, muscles coiled tight beneath his tunic. His head turned rapidly as he scanned the woods. 

“Stay down, Lita,” he murmured, eyes flashing yellow for an instant. “Brigands.”

My legs trembled as I tried to stand, the lingering effects of the temple’s poison still making my movements sluggish and weak. I took Drax’s advice and huddled on the ground, making myself small.

Drax’s hand went to his belt, grasping for a sword that was no longer there. Vaguely I remembered it had been destroyed when he rescued me.

He frowned, then threw himself flat as an arrow buried itself in the tree trunk where his head had been. Arrows hissed through the leaves as he crawled rapidly to snatch his saddlebag.

From its depths he drew not another sword, but a large jagged knife. He turned to me, an odd urgency in his gaze. 

“Look away, Lita,” he said, his voice deeper than before.

I turned my face into the dirt, clamping my eyes shut. I wanted to obey, but the sounds of rending fabric snapped my attention back.

What was going on?

When I found the courage to look back, my breath caught in my throat. Drax’s eyes glowed, his canines lengthening into wicked fangs. Claws tipped his fingers, and the faint spots on his face and neck had expanded into the bold rosettes of a stalking cat. 

Though already muscular, his frame grew larger, stretching his simple garments. The transformation transfixed me. No longer was he the Drax I knew, but something wild and primal from legend.

Here before me was the true beast man I’d been warned about as a child.

“Stand down!” A voice called out from the trees. “Surrender! You are surrounded.” 

“We want only your mount and weapons,” came another voice from the opposite side.

The words barely registered through my shock. When an arrow buried itself in the branch above me, I scrambled deeper beneath my cloak, heedless of the leaves and dirt. 

The temple had been trouble enough, but this? My guide was a beast wearing a man’s face. Whether he or the brigands won out, I feared the loser would be me.

Keeping the cloak wrapped tight around me, I crawled for the dubious safety of the trees. 

From behind came a roar that vibrated through my chest. Risking a glance back, I saw Drax leap into the brush, predatory grace belying his size. Arrows peppered the leaves around him, but if any found their mark, he gave no cry of pain.

Another scream tore through the forest – this one filled with agony. I did not want to imagine what horror Drax had visited upon the man. 

“Valti! Valti! Run!” came a panicked shout.

A brigand burst from cover, cloak flying behind him as he raced for escape. But Drax was faster – his claws caught the man’s hood and belt, lifting him effortlessly.

With brutal efficiency, Drax swung the struggling man into the unforgiving trunk of a tree. The awful crunch left no doubt his foe was dead.

Drax’s fanged maw opened in a snarl as he slid the jagged knife from his belt. Then he was off again, pursuing another target. He dodged an arrow with uncanny speed and vanished into the underbrush.

“No!” A different bandit shrieked in despair. “No! Valti!” 

The screams rose in pitch and volume, becoming a wail of unimaginable pain and terror. Beneath it came the horrible tearing sounds of Drax’s fury being unleashed.

In the silence that followed, I huddled beneath my bush, trying in vain to still my panicked breaths. The forest gradually came back to life – birdsong, insect whines, the impatient noises of our tethered horse.

At last Drax returned, crossing the bloody ground on two legs once more. His muscular chest heaved with exertion and dark arterial blood spattered his skin. 

Wiping his blade clean on a dead man’s cloak, he slid it home in its scabbard. As his breathing slowed, he turned his face skyward. The last visages of the beast melted away, leaving only shadows that shifted across his rugged features as he mastered himself.

Soon it was just a man who stood blood-stained in the dappled light. The same man who had whisked me away from the temple.

Drax moved silently to the nearby river. I heard him splash and wash.

“Lita?” he called, his voice now mellow and familiar.

I did not answer, only huddled smaller beneath my cloak.

He returned from washing. I realized the blood that had covered him was not his own.

My heart quivered at the thought.

“Lita, are you hurt?”

Lifting his head, he snuffed the air like the predator he was.

There was no point hiding.

Rising, I pulled back the cloak and returned to the fireside.

My stomach turned at the sight of his relieved face.

Had I really desired this creature? Even in dreams, it seemed my emotions were unthinkable. Taboo. Drax was a monster.

“Valti?” the word came to me. “What is that? What are you?”

His relief vanished and he faced away. “There is a condition. Rare among Shakai. A savageness beneath. There are remedies.”

“You’re an animal,” I breathed, risking his wrath.

“No,” he gave me a fierce look. “Not yet. I am still the master of my beast.”

It sure didn’t seem that way.

“I can use it. To protect you while we travel the wilds.”

I didn’t want to be protected by a monster.

“Even here, on this side of the Canyonlands, there is danger. Desperate brigands. Hungry beasts of great size, that would protect their territory, devour you in hunger. We have not yet crossed into my lands.”

I looked away. “You frighten me.”

He sighed.

“I have time. Time before my Valti side becomes less controllable. I would not hurt you, Lita. We are bound.”

Panic swirled through me. “I don’t know what a Valti is. I don’t know these lands. How can I trust you?”

He folded his arms. “Is it a matter of trust? Or survival? Brigands are defeated, but it is always best to stay on the move in the wilderness.”

Drax had a point. Maybe it didn’t matter if I trusted him, or his inner animal.

“Your heart knows me,” he said. “There is beauty in my homeland. Such as you’ve never seen. And peace. You need surrender to no one ever again, save me.”

Survival or not, how could I give into this creature?

“My heart doesn’t know the animal that ripped these bandits apart,” I argued.

“Your presence will calm my inner savagery. It is why we are drawn together,” he said.

“That’s a lot to put on me,” I said. “Claiming that I can keep you… you.

“More than your people trading you to a foul old man? To a temple of torture?”

At this point, I was calling it about even: fear behind me, fear before me.

“Allow me to show you a better way,” he said. “Should you refuse it, I vow to return you to your former life.”

I didn’t want that. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know what to do.

“Come. Let’s leave this place of violence,” he said. “Find a place of beauty. If you will.”

Drax was giving me a choice. Although there weren’t really any other options. 

I was deep in the woods, past the end of Terr’s lands. Grindi had brought us much farther than I could easily walk. We had encountered bandits. There were wild animals out here. 

I was a city girl.

And despite everything, something deep in my belly trusted Drax.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said.

Whatever those feelings were, I’d sort them out later.

Alien Beast’s Fated Mate: Chapter Five


She hunched nearer the fire as I put Grindi’s brush in the side pouch and unbuckled the saddle. Afraid of me—she couldn’t hide it.

Lita, her name was Lita.  The word sang through me.

Did she know I was a little afraid of her? I took in her smooth hair, her dark, tip tilted eyes framed by long lashes. So strange to me, yet more than compelling.

The bagart wandered to the river to drink. I fetched a skin of water. There was pemm wrapped in a morgon leaf in the side pouch. I brought it to the fireside.

She made a face. “What is that?”

“Dried meat and tongue fruit in tallow. Travel food,” I said.

“No thank you.”

She could suit herself. I peeled off a chunk. 

“What do you want so badly back in that place?” A spike of fear drove through me. “Do you already have a mate, a lover?”

She laughed bitterly. “That’s the whole problem. My parents were not happy in their marriage. They didn’t expect me to be either.” Tossing a twig into the flames, her gaze followed the sparks. “I was a bargining chip, nothing more than livestock to be sold. And they found a buyer. Old and poxy, with three wives already bred and buried.”

I ached to hold her, to ease the pain in her eyes. But instead I stayed quiet, watching. Waiting for her to confide in me.

“I… I couldn’t take my father’s command. So that’s when he sold me to the temple.”

“He would marry you to such a man without your consent?” I couldn’t believe it. “Why?”

“Money. Status,” she said. “It’s the way of Terr. Families make alliances, making ties to our betters to lift ourselves to an easier life. For me, marrying a man two tiers above would have made my life leisurely. Our children would grow up wealthy, inherit their positions. At least, the boys would.”

“The girls would be like you—groomed chattel.” 

She shrugged. “Women aren’t worth more than that.”

I bit back my snarl. She was worth everything. And to be treated like that should have been a crime.

Although I had to admit strands of her story wasn’t dissimilar to my own family’s, save that she was a commoner.

Among our royals, there was much matchmaking, the maneuvering of brides or mistresses. Unions to ally against raiders, or stave off invading armies. 

Such was my state. My father was king. 

Even though I was a bastard born of his concubine, I still stood in line for the throne.

Not that I wanted it, nor was it likely I would ascend it.

“It’s late. We’ve ridden a night and day.” I spread out the bedroll.

She stretched and groaned. “I’m sore from it.”

“I have healing balm in my pack, if you would like me to massage you.”

“Massage me?” she said. “That wouldn’t. I mean, my people don’t. No thank you.”

“At least share my bedroll. The warmth will soothe you,” I said.

“I have this cloak. It will keep me warm enough.”

Her nervousness traveled through me. Or perhaps it was my own.
To have her this close, the match to my heart, set all of my nerves on fire.

Closing my eyes I focused on my breathing, willing my body to calm, to resist the urge to wrap her in my arms.

Such soft skin. What would it feel like under my hands, my lips?

What gentle moans would sound through the night as I explored her body, learned every place that made her quiver, tasted her desire?

Sleep was a long time coming.

Alien Beast’s Fated Mate: Chapter Four


He was a walking legend. Dusky skin with gray spots that ran from his temples down his neck. Fangs. Sweeping, pointed ears. For my entire life, I’d been told stories of savage, man-like beasts in the woods beyond the Canyonlands.

I’d only half-believed.

His body was larger than a man’s, broader, rippling with muscle, hands huge. Pale blue hair was caught in a queue. Shoulders practically burst from a tooled leather vest, his pale shirt stretched tight. Breeks and boots were of a different leather than the vest. An empty scabbard hung from a braided belt.

Did primitive, man-eating monsters wear belts and boots?

Taking a calming breath, I dared look at his face.

Brutal blocks of bone, eyes heavily ridged, cheeks broad, chin a slab. His eyes were strange. The irises were multi-colored, a blue ring surrounding a green, the pupils slit like a night predator’s.

Yet his mouth looked delicate, soft. Until he opened his mouth to speak, revealing sharp, prominent canines.

“We need to keep moving,” he said, his deep voice rumbling through me.

The beast man strode away, not looking back. I watched the play of muscles across his broad back as he moved.

I jogged to catch up, my heart beginning to pound. “Who are you? Why are you here?”

“My name is Drax of Zashi. I claim you as my mate,” he said, glancing back at me with an intense gaze. “For months, I have dreamed of you. Did you not dream of me?”

“No…” I whispered, though something deep inside me stirred at his words.

Not until I was placed in the Tomb, my mind twisting itself in knots. Then I felt his presence. Did I dare admit it?

“You can’t claim me. Arrangements must be made. A dowry paid to my father. My parents would never let me marry below my status,” I babbled, unable to meet his penetrating stare. “My marriage must be to a man in a higher ring.”

“I don’t care about rings,” he said, his voice a low rumble. “Only that you must accept me. If not—”

“Really? You’re giving me a choice?” I said, my heart skipping.

“No. You are mine.” He glared at me, desire and possession burning in his strange eyes. “Figure it out. You called to me. I feel your need. There is no hiding from our bond.”

Bond. Yes, I did feel something while the priests crammed skills and knowledge in my brain. I had come to think that the presence was my own mind, inventing a savior, keeping me sane. Life had swiftly become a horror. It was only a coping mechanism.

Except my made-up hero now dragged me into the woods, far from Terr.

“Where are we going? It’s dark. We could get lost,” I said, though I already felt lost in his presence.

“We can’t get lost. My mind touches Grindi’s,” he said.


“My bagart,” he said, glancing back again, his strange eyes seeming to see right through me.

How I knew that a bagart was a beast of burden, I didn’t know. They were built like stie—hooved browsers—except carnivorous, with a spread of fierce horns to bring down prey.

“She is racing to meet us. Once we are mounted, we will lose your captors.”

I wasn’t getting on a predatory beast with this powerful, primal man. Period. No matter who was on our trail.

But what was I going to do? Break away and run back for Terr?

Could I even find my way through the woods?

We were forbidden from traveling so far from the city walls. Not even hunters came this far, I was sure.

“Do all you Frostlings speak my tongue?” He turned, eying me curiously, his gaze heating my blood.

I found myself mesmerized by the way his full lips formed the strange words.

“Frostling?” I managed to ask. What the hell was that?

“I’ve been told of your kind, my ancestors going back to the sunrise of eternity committed your fearful image to tapestries, to dark songs.”

He said it as if he knew something about my people. But I was just an ordinary girl from Terr.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure how I came to know your language. It must be something from the Tomb. But why put that in my brain?”

Vaguely, I recalled the oracle behaving oddly after a lightning strike. How else could I be fluent in a language spoken heretofore by legendary monsters?

So many questions. With the sudden insanity my life had become, I didn’t feel grounded enough to find answers.

On and on we ran through the woods. My head spun, lungs burning, trying to keep up with his long, powerful strides.

My foot caught on something. With a yelp, I tumbled forward.

In a flash, Drax was there, catching me before I hit the ground. Lifting me in his arms, he continued on.

My weight seemed like nothing to him. Instead, he seemed relieved that we were moving at a faster pace. I felt the hardness of his body pressed against my curves, the heat radiating from his bare skin.

We passed enormous trunks, branches ladened with broad leaves, the ground rising and falling beneath his steady feet.

The red moon appeared above in the breaks between branches. It was low in the sky. Morning neared.

With the first vague glow of dawn, I heard a commotion in the woods ahead.

A giant beast broke through the screen of leaves, shaking a head loaded with killing antlers. Bearing shredding fangs at us, it rose on its hind legs. Sharp front hooves pawed the air.

“Grindi!” Drax commanded in a resonant tone that shook me. “Down!”

I felt a flurry in my brain, a whirlwind of fierce command through our strange bond.

The massive animal settled down and trotted over. On its back, a kind of saddle was strapped. Drax set me down and leaped astride it with effortless grace. Despite my fear, I couldn’t take my eyes off the play of muscles beneath his skin. He reached down and pulled me up into the saddle in front of him, enveloping me in his warmth and the scent of leather and spice. I trembled as his arms caged me.

“Hyah!” His legs jerked and the animal trotted off with a snort. His arms surrounded me, hands gripping the leash. I felt both terrified and exhilarated.

Now we moved much quicker into the woods away from Terr, from all I’d ever known. But pressed against the sturdy frame of this powerful primal man, I felt a foreign thrill instead of fear…

“They wouldn’t chase us this far,” I said, my voice breathless as I leaned back against his broad chest.

“No?” he rumbled, his warm breath tickling my ear and sending a shiver down my spine.

“There are laws. While Terr holds lands as far as the great canyon, none are allowed that far. Most of our farms are south,” I explained, trying to focus as his muscular thighs squeezed against mine with the motion of the beast. “Warriors maintain order in the city. Hunters take down monsters that threaten our herds.”

He chuckled, a deep sound I felt vibrate through him. “Not a very adventurous lot.”

“They wouldn’t have chased us very far outside the walls,” I insisted, though I was having trouble thinking clearly with his hard body pressed so intimately against my soft curves.

“Your people would allow me to take you?” He sounded confused, his breath hot on my neck. I squirmed as unfamiliar desires began simmering inside me.

My heart sank as reality intruded on my traitorous thoughts. “I may have exaggerated the importance of Four Ring. It is really the middle of our society. I am not very important. Especially since…”

After a pause, he prompted me in that deep, rumbling voice. “Yes…?”

We moved farther and farther from Terr. Fright squeezed my heart, competing now with other strange feelings this man provoked in me. “I can’t go home again anyhow.”

“Why?” His arms tightened around me reflexively.

I sighed, simultaneously comforted and disturbed by his possessive hold. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“I would try,” he promised. “If it is important to you, I would learn.”

How long had it been since someone really cared what I thought, what I wanted?

Lost in my thoughts, I fell into a light trance, the hours slipping by as we traveled further away from Terr.

Suddenly I realized the motion of the beast and his intoxicating nearness were lighting fires inside me I didn’t understand. I squirmed against him, my breath coming faster.

“We’ll need to camp soon,” he rasped, his voice husky.

After riding all day, my legs were numb and sore, but tingles of excitement coursed through my body too. The trees had changed, now lower, the canopy thicker, and the rush of water came from the distance.

Drax brought his mount to a halt and slid off, then reached up to grasp me about the waist. As he lowered me down along the length of his body, we both froze, gazes locked. The barely leashed desire in his strange eyes stole my breath.

Neither of us moved for a long suspended moment. Then he set me down carefully, steadying me as I found my feet. “You have had a hard day,” he finally said gruffly. “We should rest. There is still far to go before we reach my home.”

I shook out the pins and needles in my legs, nodding wordlessly. His nearness made it hard to think or speak.

Did I want to see his home? Did I have any choice?

Drax made camp with a bedroll from the saddle in the crux of fallen trees. A single bedroll. Would we have to share? My cheeks flushed and I busied myself gathering sticks, intensely aware of his every movement.

“Can you start a fire?” he asked. “Grindi needs grooming.”

I focused on igniting the tinder pouch he gave me, understanding his need to put some distance between us. The growing attraction was palpable, impossible to deny. What would happen when we could avoid it no longer in the intimacy of this camp?

The fire sparked to life as darkness gathered. Now what? I glanced at Drax caring for his mount, his muscles flexing. Heat that had nothing to do with the flames washed through me. 

I looked away, trembling. 

We were utterly alone here. 

Alien Beast’s Fated Mate: Chapter Three


My shoulders barely fit in the tight passage, but I crawled forward on my belly until it opened wider. This awful place…

I sensed her. The girl from my dreams. I could feel the vibration of her thoughts in my heart. More than that, I caught her scent. She was real. Though I knew that already, I’d had no proof until—


Pain sliced me, sizzling fire drawing strips across my skin.

And again!

“Aahh!” I screamed through clenched teeth.

My voice echoed. Hands sliding over my body, I felt no sign of injury.

The pain wasn’t mine.

With double the effort, I surged through the smooth burrows deep beneath the earth. My Valti overwhelmed me with roaring abandon. The beast within railed against the pain. For the nonce, I exalted in the animal power, the bestial senses. It drove me faster. Surer.

The pain was hers. She was being whipped by flames, tortured. Surging agony could not slow my progress.

When the cave turned upward, I followed her scent. Unholy decorations appeared, red eyes watching, a fire that didn’t warm.

Frightened as I was, it was not nearly the abject terror I felt through the bond of my soul.

She must be protected. I must make her mine. Tear those who hurt her limb from limb.

Of a sudden, the pain vanished.

I stood still in a geometric cavern. Felt fear through the bond. She was still alive. Her heart sadly resolved.

Taking a relieved breath, I focused, calming myself. This strange place was no place to unleash my inner beast. Following the wind in and out of me with my mind’s eye, I restrained the animal within.

Feeling my true self after a time, I examined my surroundings.

Was this room so different than a chamber in the castle palace? Staring eyes could be candles. Flickering blue square windows. Bizarre boxes and tubes… furniture?

Calm. Balance.

I needed these to fight.

Tapping gently into my Valti nature, I sniffed the air. The girl, my mate, was somewhere above.

Stalking these shadow chambers, I sought a way up.

My motions halted.

My mind filled with a calmness more profound and stiller than I ever experienced. Unlike the state I fought the animal that lived in me, never had I felt such overwhelming tranquility.

I recognize you, though I don’t know you.

That touch, I knew it from before. “I am here for you,” I said.

So fierce… Are you my savior or devourer?

“None will hurt you and live to tell of it,” I said. “You are mine and mine alone. Come to me.”

I cannot.

Even in this serene state, I felt her fear rising. Was she held captive?

“Come to me!” I commanded.

Her thoughts quailed, intellect rippling like a still pool disturbed by a thrown rock.

I… I will…

“Come to me, my bonded soul!” I bellowed.

I will… try…

A shudder of hopelessness. The depthless tranquility flashed away. My mind had lost hers.

By the cursed red moon. If she could not come to me, I would go to her.

Passing beneath mountain-sized construction, through straight caves in steel, around cold objects that blazed with light, I sought a passage upward.

I am Branna. How may I serve?

A vision appeared, eyes without sight. Below, a network of lines pulsed and shined. Glowing red eyes winked on the flat surface.

“What are you?” I took a step back. “Are you trapped in there?”

I am Branna. Biological Oracle. Interface to Terr. How may I serve?

“Where is my bound soul, Oracle?” I asked.


“A woman held captive. Imprisoned. Where is she?”

Cells of initiates are on sublevel one north.

Meaningless. “Where are we?”

I am omnipresent. You are below sublevel five.

“How do I get to sublevel one north?” It was worth a shot.

This temporary monitor chamber is beneath Terr proper. Passages are natural lava tubes and unmapped.

Lava tubes. Is that what I’d been creeping, squeezing through since the Canyonlands? Easy enough to recognize.

I continued my quest.

Wandering, tiring, every chamber, every cavern started to look the same. No upward passages appeared.

I would not give in to despair.

There had to be an area I hadn’t searched. If only I had a torch, a lantern.

Then, voices.

Echoes made the direction difficult.

A jolt ran from my shoulder to my hand, stunning me. I tried to shake off the numbness.

Again, it was not my own feeling.

More jolts seared through me. I sprinted toward the source. As I neared, the intensity of the attack increased. At least I knew I was headed in the right direction.

Swerving around a curve in the tunnel, I came upon two hooded men. They stood above a form covered by a fluffy blanket. Each of them stabbed the fallen one with a wand.

Each touch crackled with energy. Through the nerves of the one on the ground. Through our bond. Through my own. Lunges of agony.

“Hold, torturers!” I raced toward them, drawing my blade.

Hooded figures staggered back in shock.

One cried out a babble of fearful words.

The other hooded figure sounded more commanding.

Warriors to sublevel five west. The temple has been breached by a primitive.

Branna’s voice in my head told me it was time to flee.

I leapt over the fallen one, putting myself between her and the hooded foes. They backed away even more, staring at my weapon.

The first made a sweeping gesture. A line of fire cut through the air. I parried it away. Even that slight touch brought heat all the way to the pommel.

When the hooded ones began attacking in earnest, I knew there was no point in defense. Turning the sword, edge meeting whip, I swung with all my strength.

With a clang, the tip of my weapon bounced off the rock walls. At the same time, glowing red and squirming, the flame whips lay on the floor.

With cries of panic, the hooded ones fled. I should go after them…

Her face froze me in my tracks.

Legends, stories told around campfires emerged upon the sight of her. Hair and lashes black as night. Skin pink and pale. Impossibly delicate features. A Frostling, a forest nyx, deceptively frail, yet bearing lethal magics.

In my dreams, haunting me, drawing me, never once did I think she was a fearful creature of myth.

She lay so still…

My bond mate was a creature out of legend?

Dare I?

My fingers touched her neck.

A strong pulse. Warm skin, not the feel of an unliving, unearthly fiend.

She stirred as I lifted her in my arms.

“You…” her eyes widened in fear. “You… what are you?”

Her head slumped again, unconscious.

And what are you? I thought.

The woman was small, hardly a burden. Though barely larger than a child, her feminine curves were evident under her clothes. Still, shoving her through narrow caves—lava tubes—all the way back…

Might as well give it a try.

“Branna, what is the fastest path to the Canyonlands?”

An emergency escape passage runs from sublevel one north beneath the city wall.

Okay, a good start.

“How do I get there from here?”

Take the central corridor to the farthest north wall from sublevel five east. Stairs lead to the levels above. A door beyond the level one north landing leads to the emergency escape tunnel.

Adjusting the woman’s weight, I moved in the direction the hoods had fled. Since they’d melted my sword in half, I hoped not to meet their warriors.

Following the oracle’s directions as best I could, I ran through the underground nightmare.

The female trapped in the wall wasn’t lying. After racing up flights of stairs at the north side of the dungeon, I saw a disused door. Kicking it open, I ran through a square, metallic passage that rose steeply.

Hollow shouts pursued. Warriors. Their torches provided enough light to see, and I sprinted after my shadow.

Finally, I came to a short flight of stairs, a door above.

Ramming with my shoulder, I crashed my way into the cool night.

Looming walls of the alien city rose close behind as I glanced over my shoulder.

Time to put some distance between us and it.

In my mind, I reached out to the bagart. Though I’d left my mount in the Canyonlands days before, she remained. Grindi was loyal, chained to the dominance of my Valti, even if she would rather run free.

My Valti summoned her, and she ran toward us. I would do my best to meet her halfway.

Running through the forest, I kept casting looks behind. This was territory controlled by the aliens. I needed to reach the Canyonlands, and my home beyond.

The bond of my soul, my creature of dark lore, stirred in my arms. Her legs thrashed.

Then she gasped.

I could not understand the words that followed. Gripping her more firmly, I continued losing us in the forest.

It did not take her long to wriggle free, forcing me to put her down.

I kept hold of her arms.

“We are destined to be one,” I told her. “I’m taking you to be mine. Should you not burn me to ash with your spells.”

Her eyes took me in, growing wider and wider.

She let out an ear-piercing scream.

More than that, her horror stabbed me in the heart.

“I have claimed you. You came to me in my dreams, and now you are mine,” I tried.

“Like hell I’m yours!”

Our language on her tongue sounded strange. How did she learn to speak it? Again, the possibility of a magical nature seized my heart.

“You’re a primitive, an animal!” she shrieked.

She tried to pull away, to run back to the city.

“I’d not whip you,” I said. “Chain you. Force you to live in a wall. Am I so savage?”

“Live in a wall?” After a moment, she stopped struggling. “Branna…”

“We remain in alien territory,” I said. “If we don’t move now, the warriors will find us. Drag you back to that living hell. Cut me to bits.”

“I can’t go with you!” she said. “My home is in Terr.”

“Do you really want to return to your prison? To the hooded men with the fire whips, the lightning cudgels?”

She faced south but trees blocked the view of the city.

Would she choose her terrible life over an unknown future?

If I couldn’t convince her to accompany me, my animal nature would fully consume me.

“Do you?”

She trembled, torn between the only home she’d ever known and the open unknown. I could see the indecision in her eyes, could feel the war raging in her heart through our bond.

“I…I don’t know,” she whispered.

I softened my tone, trying to reassure her. “You need not be afraid. I only wish to take you far from those who would chain and torture you. I swear no harm will come to you by my hand.”

She searched my face, looking for any deceit. I held her gaze steadily, willing her to trust me.

After agonizing moments, her shoulders slumped in resignation. “Very well. I will go with you, away from this awful place. But I don’t belong to you, primitive! Don’t think you can control me.”

Relief swept through me and I nodded. “We should move quickly, before the warriors come.”

I took her hand and we moved through the trees at a brisk pace. She stumbled often, weak and disoriented. I steadied her gently each time, waiting until she nodded to continue on.

I would never leave her behind.

She was mine now.

Alien Beast’s Fated Mate: Chapter Two


“Give her a robe,” an irritated voice said.

I felt rough hay scratching my back beneath a thin, itchy blanket. My senses slowly returned after…how long had I been in that watery tomb? Days? Weeks?

When I finally managed to sit up in the dim, cramped chamber, a wad of coarse cloth smacked me right in the face. Oh lovely.

Raucous laughter ensued from two rather unkempt young women sitting together on a cot across from mine.

“First time in the Tomb is always the worst time,” the blonde one commiserated.

I quickly realized I was in some kind of dormitory cell. My charming new roommates had so graciously chucked a shapeless tunic at me to wear.

“Get dressed, sleeping beauty. We’ve got work to do,” the other woman added in a bored tone. She had straight black hair and eyes the shape of almonds, set in bronze skin.

I fumbled to pull the garment over my head, my body stiff and sore. “I take it you both have been in this dreadful place far longer than me?” I asked wryly.

The blonde nodded, chewing on a fingernail. “You catch on quick, girl. What’d they put in that pretty little head of yours?”

I paused, surprised to find I could answer. “Removing corrosion from the contact points in Monitor One.”

Where in blazes had that specific knowledge come from? I knew nothing about contact points or monitors before entering this nightmarish temple.

The brunette raised an eyebrow, looking mildly impressed for the first time. “Well, well. You can learn to learn. Good for you. In that case, I’m Mila.”

“Name’s Denna.” The blonde fluffed her mass of springy curls with one hand. “Guess it’s the three of us now. Our previous roommates got…reassigned.”

I shuddered, hugging my knees to my chest. The temple demanded five young women be sacrificed as tribute every year. “What happened to the other two girls who were with you?” I asked quietly, fearing I already knew the answer.

“Not suitable for temple slaves, we gather,” Mila replied with a careless shrug. “They’ve been…”

Applied. The ominous word slithered unbidden into my thoughts. I felt nauseous.

Denna gave me an assessing look. “You know what we’re doing here at least. Do you have any clue where we’re going next?”

I blinked in surprise as the answer popped readily into my mind. “Monitor One is on sublevel three west.”

“Well, let’s get moving then,” Mila said, standing up and stretching. “We’ve got a lot to do today, ladies.”

I slowly rose to my feet but immediately staggered, my legs rubbery and weak. Denna grabbed my arm to steady me.

“You’ll get your land legs back soon enough,” she said. “Takes some time to get used to whatever forbidden knowledge the priests crammed into your brainbox. Makes you dizzy at first.”

The cell door swung open at my push. I turned back to the other two slaves hesitantly. “Don’t they lock us in?”

Mila gave a harsh laugh and physically turned me around, shoving me out into the dim corridor. “The temple IS your life now, sister. Get used to it.”

I felt a chill run down my spine at her words.

Denna sidled beside me, slipping her arm supportively through mine as we walked. “Wouldn’t bother trying to escape if I were you,” she murmured. “They’ll kill any girl who tries running away.”

My mouth went dry and my steps faltered. “They’ll kill me?” I whispered.

Mila shook her head, her face grim. “Death would be a mercy. They’ll keep you alive instead. For a very long time.”

I shuddered at the thought, quickening my pace. What fresh hell was this place?

We turned a corner and I immediately recognized one of the robed figures approaching us. It was the same pale woman who had first led me into the temple, who had watched impassively as I was sealed into the lightless tomb.

Mila and Denna quickly bowed their heads and echoed, “Oracle.”

The woman blinked slowly at us. “Error,” she stated flatly. What a cheery greeting.

Without further acknowledgement, she handed each of us a small metallic device before gliding away down the hall.

Denna blew out an exasperated breath. “Good morning to you too, sister. Ever so chatty, that one.”

Mila silenced her with a sharp elbow to the ribs. “Have some respect. Niam wasn’t given a choice in her role here.”

I glanced between them questioningly as we descended a winding staircase.

“Niam was selected by lottery too,” Mila explained, “but she was just a baby when the priests took her. She’s spent her whole life growing up in this temple.”

Denna leaned in close with a theatrical whisper. “Rumor is becoming an oracle made her more than a little…eccentric. Strange even for one of their kind.”

I pondered that silently as we navigated deeper into the temple’s subterranean maze, trusting my feet to lead us unerringly to our destination. More questions than answers still crowded my mind.

We finally entered a spacious chamber filled with enormous panels that reminded me of auto-scribes, but expanded to wall size. Swirling symbols and colors shifted hypnotically across their glossy black surfaces.

I had no idea what any of it meant. But a clinical part of my brain knew exactly what needed to be done here.

“One day we might come to understand all this data,” Mila remarked in an ominous tone. “Can’t say I’m looking forward to that day…”

For now though, we were simply performing routine maintenance on the bizarre machines, guided by knowledge implanted in our minds. Without consciously deciding to, I found myself disconnecting a translucent tube that pulsed with crawling blue light.

Inside were thin wires tipped with golden nodes, squirming and wriggling like living things. Using the device the oracle had given me, I began methodically cleaning each one.

Glancing over, I saw Denna and Mila also efficiently tending to the disturbing biomechanisms, their faces stony.

Over the next few days, I settled into a grim routine. The dreams of my mysterious rescuer had utterly ceased. But I gradually learned more about my fellow captives.

Denna was a military brat from the fifth ring. Mila had grown up the child of leather workers in the lowest slums of the eighth ring. Both were hardened and cynical enough not to speak of loved ones left behind.

But one evening after lights out, Denna asked bluntly, “What did you do before your number came up in the lottery?”

I stared at the ceiling, struggling not to tear up at memories of happier days. “Not much. Just a glorified nanny and maid for a wealthy healer’s family on the third ring. Cooking, cleaning, gardening – making do with what herbs and vegetables we could grow on our terrace. Mother showed me how to sew dresses too.” I tried to keep my tone light.

Denna scoffed in the darkness. “That’s not a real job or skill. That’s just basic living, girl.”

“Is nannying even considered a job?” Mila wondered aloud. “If so, someone owes me a sack of coins.” She chuckled before adding kindly, “You must come from a high class family to live on the third ring though.”

Unwanted tears trickled down my temples into my hair. I stayed silent, jaw tight. The life I’d lost felt so far away now.

Mila seemed to sense my sadness. Her voice softened with sympathy. “How’d you end up as one of the chosen tributes then?”

I exhaled shakily. “I learned my real purpose right before being handed over to the temple. All those lessons in cooking, cleaning, sewing – they were meant to make me the perfect prize for some wealthy old man. A broodmare bringing status with my good breeding. My father hoped to use me to climb another ring up the social ladder.”

Bitterness seeped into my tone. “But I drew the unlucky lottery number instead, and Father’s grand plans were ruined.”

Denna made a small understanding sound. “Like our friend Branna then. Her parents essentially sold her to a prominent family who could afford to bribe the priests and save their own daughter from selection.”

I simply nodded, unwilling to explain further. Some secrets were mine alone to keep, at least for now.

We lapsed into silence until the cell door suddenly scraped open. The oracle’s waifish form was visible in the torchlight.

“The Tomb,” she intoned hollowly, unblinking gaze fixed on me. “You will acquire a new skill.”

Fear slithered down my spine like ice water.

I did not want to return to that lightless underwater crypt, suspended weightlessly in total darkness and silence. The very thought made my skin crawl.

But Mila’s scarred forearms caught my eye as she gave me an almost imperceptible nod. I remembered the brutal punishment the priests had inflicted before sending me into the Tomb the first time. Defiance or resistance would only make things worse.

With leaden feet, I followed the oracle out of the cell down to the chamber that held the sarcophagus pool. My palms began to sweat, my breaths coming faster.

Two tall robed figures awaited me impassively. I could not see their faces within the deep hoods, only shadow. But I sensed their malevolent power.

When I glanced pleadingly at the oracle, her gaze remained fixed straight ahead, disconcertingly vacant. She would be no help.

“Remove her robe,” one priest commanded in a deep, resonant voice that seemed to vibrate through my bones.

I hesitated only a moment before obeying, despising their desire to humiliate me by leaving me bare and vulnerable before them.

For long moments, they simply stared at my exposed flesh. I fought the urge to cover myself with my hands.

“The knowledge we will impart carries a heavy toll,” the other finally rasped. “Should your feeble mind survive assimilation, you will be initiated fully into our order.”

I couldn’t restrain a visible shiver at his words. Survive?

“Submit to the Tomb,” the first priest intoned.

Before I could ask what price they spoke of, both made a sweeping gesture in unison. Searing heat flashed across my skin, followed instantly by the wet agony of an open welt.

With a choked cry, I fell to my knees, clutching my head in anticipation of another blow. But none came.

“The Tomb awaits, fathers,” the oracle said tonelessly, moving between us.

I saw a smoking rent in her robe where their punishment had burned through to mark the flesh beneath. Yet she showed no reaction to what must be pain.

The slight diversion at least halted their assault.

“Yes…” the first priest drew out the word almost sensually.

“Into the Tomb,” the other echoed with a hungry rasp.

The oracle held an instrument that glowed green, erasing the worst of my injuries before binding me once more. 

Jaw clenched, I descended into the warm dark water, feeling the heavy stone lid seal me in silent captivity. What price would my mind pay for the secrets they forced into it this time?

Some unknown hours later, I awoke bolt upright on my cot, heart racing. I didn’t remember returning to the cell.

Disturbing dreams clung like cobwebs to my mind, just out of reach. Dreams of freedom…of escape.

I stood and hastily pulled on my robe and sandals, tiptoeing so as not to disturb Mila and Denna. But Mila’s whispered voice froze me in place.

“Where are you going, Lita?”

So much for sneaking out unnoticed. I turned reluctantly to face her, unsure how to answer.

I felt a powerful compulsion drawing me down into the temple’s lower levels. But why? What waited for me in those buried halls?

“I…I don’t know exactly,” I admitted. “But not here. I can’t stay trapped in this place another night.”

Mila slid silently out of bed and gripped my hands, her eyes pleading. “Please don’t do this. Wherever you feel called to go, it’s a trap. There are far worse fates than this cell. Please, just try to sleep.”

I wanted to believe her. But the relentless pull in my mind was impossible to resist. I gently pulled away, shoving past her out the cell door before I could change my mind.

“Lita, stop!” she hissed after me. But she didn’t follow.

Driven by compulsion, I descended deeper into the temple, navigating the maze of stairs and corridors without hesitation. It was as if my body moved of its own volition, my conscious mind merely along for the ride.

The walls gradually changed from roughly hewn stone to smooth metallic panels decorated sporadically with inscrutable symbols.

I was drawn short by one panel with a glowing design that turned my blood to ice: a pattern of intricate veins and sinews, undulating with lurid colors.

With dawning horror, I realized it was organic matter fused directly into the metal. Flesh and blood transformed into biomechanical circuitry.


Just as the Oracle had warned would happen if I would not, could not learn.

A screen suddenly flickered alight, making me jolt back in alarm.

“I am Branna,” a feminine voice stated from unseen speakers. “How may I serve?”

Wide, vacant eyes stared out from the monitor at me. With a strangled gasp, I whirled and ran, desperate to escape the grisly wall decoration and the sightless gaze tracking my flight.

In my panicked state, I lost my footing and tumbled with a short scream into absolute darkness. The compulsion fell silent, leaving me alone and disoriented.

I slowly got to my feet and felt along the smooth walls of what seemed to be a service tunnel. Then a dim light approached from the far end.

The oracle materialized before me, face unreadable as always. In one hand she held an ancient lantern, in the other…a bundled cloak?

“Error,” she stated in the same flat monotone. Then she dropped the cloak at my feet and backed away.

“Wait!” I blurted out before she could leave me alone again in the terrifying catacombs. “Where are we? Why did you bring me that cloak?”

She paused, blinking slowly. “Error. Lava tubes. Formed during the establishment of Terr.”

Lava? I didn’t understand her vague explanation about the founding of the city. But I had no chance to ask as she turned and disappeared into the shadows once more.

“Error,” her voice drifted back, then faded away.

Unsure what to make of her cryptic actions, I picked up the bundled siu wool cloak and wrapped it around my shoulders. It provided some small comfort.

But I was quickly reminded I was not alone down here.

“She thinks she can escape,” a contemptuous voice echoed around me, instantly recognizable as Father Aronn.

I whirled, searching desperately for anywhere to hide in the exposed tunnel.

“We will teach her obedience,” rasped Father Zarak. “Many, many times…”

Their lascivious words turned my blood to ice.

“Branna!” Zarak suddenly shouted. “Attend us! Where has the initiate fled to?”

His command seemed to reverberate directly into my skull. Moments later, I glimpsed flickering light rapidly approaching through the curved tunnel, reflecting off the polished black walls.

My pulse roared in my ears. They were coming for me.

Alien Beast’s Fated Mate: Chapter One


My brain cleared as if emerging from a deep fog.

How much time had passed, I didn’t know. But it was enough for soldiers to be summoned, for me to be dragged up the winding roads of South Spoke that led to the imposing center of Terr and the arched entrance of the foreboding temple.

I heard the clop of siu hooves on cobblestones, smelled the rank animal odor of the draft beasts. Above me, Terr’s terraced rooftops and overhanging eaves crowded the stormy night sky. I realized I was lying on a wooden cart, propped up on a bale of hay.

My head throbbed; my jaw, teeth and nose were a symphony of pain. Blood clotted in my raw throat as I struggled to breathe.

“She’s coming around,” said a gruff, deep voice nearby. I blinked, slowly focusing on the three imposing spires of the temple looming above us.

“The old man really did a number on her,” remarked another man, his voice fading as he dismounted a siu and walked away. Then came the hollow, ominous knock of the round serpent’s head door knocker, slammed three times against the ancient bound wooden doors.

“Too bad,” continued the first man, the one who remained close by. “I’ll bet she’s a real beauty under all that blood and bruising.”

A blinding flash of lightning lit up the ominous temple façade an instant before a torrential downpour opened up. I blinked away the purple afterimage seared onto my retina and struggled to sit up on the hay bale.

Despite being ten feet tall, the imposing temple doors swung open without a sound. Beyond lay only inky blackness.

The soldiers immediately knelt, keeping their gazes fixed firmly on the ground. One held out a sheet of auto-scribe parchment in a slightly trembling hand. An impossibly slender pale hand emerged from the impenetrable darkness beyond the door, long fingers beckoning.

“Let’s get this over with and get the hell out of here,” muttered one of the soldiers nervously.

They returned to the cart and lifted me up. My legs were unsteady but I could stand at least. The soldiers kept their grip under my arms as they walked me toward that pointed black maw of a doorway.

I was utterly terrified, my heart hammering against my ribs. But I dared not resist. These men were afraid too, I realized. Fearful of whatever lay within that lightless temple.

“You’re afraid,” came a soft voice from the shadows. It wasn’t a question.

I managed a slight nod, unable to find my voice to answer.

“Come,” the voice commanded. Those long pale fingers emerged again, summoning me forward.

I wanted to run, to fight, to resist entering that ominous doorway. But the soldiers gave me a rough shove from behind and I ended up on my knees on a hard stone floor inside.

The light narrowed, then vanished entirely as the thick wooden door boomed closed behind us. Thin cold hands gripped my shoulders, stopping me from collapsing further.

“I’m touching you,” said the soft voice. It belonged to a woman, I realized.

As my eyes adjusted to the dim torchlight, I saw luminous amber eyes peering out from beneath a black hooded shroud, her skin almost glowing in the firelight.

“Your skin is like gold,” she murmured, those spidery fingers trailing down my arm.

I wanted to scream and demand answers, but terror shut my mouth. I couldn’t make a sound.

“You are afraid,” the pale woman repeated. She seemed pleased by this realization.

I finally managed to croak out a trembling, “Yes. I’m afraid.”

“Your response is appropriate,” she replied. Her tone was devoid of any warmth or sympathy.

Before I could say another word, more hands reached out from the surrounding darkness, grabbing me from all directions. My beautiful blue dress, my mother’s gift, was ripped violently from my body and disappeared from view.

I was lifted up, stripped completely naked, and carried swiftly through the blackness. Terror robbed me of my voice, leaving me mute.

In an unlit chamber, I was dropped carelessly into a water-filled stone tub. Coarse cloths immediately began scrubbing my skin, reaching every private place with complete disregard for modesty or dignity. I couldn’t slip free of the unyielding grip that held me down.

Just as suddenly as it began, I was dragged from the bath. Cold metal manacles were forced over my wrists and ankles. When I instinctively struggled against them, I found the bonds were strangely soft, yet utterly unbreakable.

Still held fast by these inexplicable bonds, I was taken into another room, this one containing a large rectangular hole in the floor. Nearby lay an angled stone slab, like the cover of a sarcophagus.

My captors forced me onto the slab, positioning me over the opening in the floor. I still could not see their faces in the oppressive darkness.

“What are you doing to me?” I finally managed, my voice rising in naked fear.

To my surprise, the water in the hole below was pleasantly warm, embracing my body instead of chilling me. Yet I still floated fully immobilized, with only my face remaining above the surface. When I tried to thrash my limbs, I found I was gently but firmly held in place, unable to move.

The pale woman’s face suddenly floated into view above me again. Her amber eyes were impassive, devoid of emotion.

“What is this?” I pleaded with her. “Please don’t hurt me.”

She tilted her head, considering me for a moment. “We only need to learn if you can learn,” she finally replied. Her words made little sense to my panicked mind.

“What? What does that mean?” I demanded, fresh tears spilling down my cheeks.

“The temple requires this,” she explained patiently. “We will attempt to train you, if you prove able.”

One spidery finger stroked my cheek in an oddly tender gesture. “You are present,” she murmured, seemingly to herself. “I’m never sure.”

My confusion only grew. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” I sobbed.

“You will be deprived of sensory input,” she continued, ignoring my distress. “Once you reach a calm, open state, the priests will attempt to impart esoteric knowledge directly into your mind. If you cannot fully accept the wisdom, there are…other uses for you.”

“Other uses?” I repeated. That single phrase filled me with unspeakable dread, even as her meaning eluded me.

None of the girls brought to the temple by lot ever emerged again. 

Was that what she meant? Were they used in some dark, sinister way I could scarcely fathom?

The slab I lay upon began sliding backwards with a grinding sound of stone on stone. The sarcophagus cover being positioned to seal me inside this liquid tomb.

“No no no, please!” I begged, thrashing weakly.

“Fear is your friend,” the pale woman said in her soft monotone. She showed no reaction as the heavy stone lid loomed over me, sliding relentlessly into place.

A flash of lightning illuminated the room just before the cover sealed shut. I shouldn’t have been able to see it this deep within the temple’s bowels. Yet the very walls shook in response to the tremendous crack of thunder that followed.

The woman suddenly threw back her hood with a moan, clutching her temples as if in pain. Sparks erupted from the slick black featureless walls around us.

I glimpsed her face clearly for the first time in that brief instant. She was slender, with short cropped auburn hair. When she blinked against the pain, I caught a flash of sea green eyes. And…were those freckles across the bridge of her nose?

She looked barely older than me. How could this seemingly ordinary young woman be complicit in such cruelty, such torture within these unholy temple walls?

“Error,” she murmured, blinking rapidly.

“Don’t do this to me,” I pleaded one last time.

More sparks burst from the darkness. She winced again, shaking her head. “Error,” she repeated firmly.

With chilling finality, the heavy lid came to rest over me, sealing me in suffocating darkness. I floated in the warm black void for a time, senses utterly deprived.

Then slowly, gently, colors and lights began playing across my vision. Vague shapes formed, then took on solidity. Scenes from my life played before my mind’s eye, summoned from memory.

My father, bouncing me on his knee on our terrace, telling me silly stories. My mother and I, slicing firin root and patat together as we prepared larendove pies. Friends from Four Ring, playing skip-tag.

My lecherous, lame betrothed, assaulting me violently within view of the temple itself.

A towering wall built from steel plates, set inside a deep mote.

Giants wandering a shimmering forest, ancient trees glittering.

Stars wheeling slowly across the night sky.

Whispers, soft as feather caresses within my ear.

Silence. Utter void.

And then…a presence. Not mine.

Danger, the foreign mind thought. Cautious, yet determined.

This presence sensed my own fear, my mortal peril, embraced me as it crawled through the rusted, blood-scented guts of some bizarre stronghold.

The passages we moved through were barely large enough to squeeze along on bellies. Slick, cold, greasy fluids dripped down as we slithered forward. Sometimes we crawled through grotesque, fetid muck, gagging but unable to stop.

This mind would not give up or turn back. It was here for me, my rescuer across impossible distances.

For many moons, it had dreamed of me, as I now dreamed of it. But those were just yearnings from afar.

Now, my terror and pain had forced its hand at last. I was no phantom, but real. Flesh and blood. 

What was this rescuer? Man or beast?

Should I feel jubilant relief or dread as it approached unstoppably?

Needing to understand, I reached out tentatively with my mind.

At my first probing touch, the mind’s reflexive growl was feral, primal. Savage.

Yet still we connected. Rage and fear fell away in a flood of stunned recognition, of yearning joy beyond words.

“My fate,” it whispered within me. “The missing bond of my soul. You will be mine.”

The tidal force of raw emotion was almost too much to bear. I pulled back, breaking the link…

Reaver’s Return: Chapter Three



I kicked away one of the rocks that had fallen from the narrow stone chimney.

Another day, another dead end.

“Come on Snix, let’s go. There’s nothing here for us.”

From his perch on top of the pile of stone, the strange white critter chirped, then flowed down the pile of stones like fuzzy water.

We climbed up a short incline, and I muttered, pulling my hair back from my face from where it had fallen out of a piece of thin vine.

It’d been months since I’d been trapped down here, and my hair was past my shoulders now, constantly in my way, an annoying reminder of how long it had been since I’d seen the sun.

How long had it been since Tirac, Yelan and I had stumbled into these caverns with that strange female creature?

I rubbed at the long scar that crossed my chest.

I hoped they made it out. I’d done my best, but at this rate, I’d never know for certain.


The furry creature wound around my feet and I blinked, realizing I’d stopped walking, the small bag of woven vines that held the Deiyon stones hanging loose in my hand.

Stooping to pet him, I ruffled his fur. “I’m alright. Sorry, just got a little lost.”

That was a bit of an understatement.

Lost in the caverns, lost in my thoughts.

Lost enough that sometimes I wasn’t entirely sure what I was still doing down here.

“Who’s a good critter?”


“That’s right. You’re a good little beastie.”

No idea what Snix was, but right now, he was the only friend I had. Freakishly oversized eyes, hands like mine, and white fur so thick it made him look fat. Or her. I hadn’t looked that close.

“Let’s head back to the stream.”

Not really a stream, more like a dribble of water than oozed down a rocky wall to trickle away down another crack in the stone.

But it was enough to keep us alive, and the same cavern was home to a colony of thick wriggling worms that were surprisingly spicy.

Not saying that I wanted to keep on the worm and rat diet forever, but it had been enough to keep me going, ever since I’d broken free of the cavern-dwellers.

The Grubs, I’d named them.

Not at first, of course.

After I’d been captured, I didn’t have time to come up with a clever name.

I was too busy coming in and out of consciousness, wondering what they were going to do with me, listening to their grunts.

At first I thought they were just a particularly shouty clan, but soon I began to wonder.

It looked more like they were arguing, fighting among themselves, snarling.

Probably not sure what to do with me.

Whatever they wanted, I was sure I wouldn’t like it.

I barely remembered escaping.  A fight broke out, and bound, wiggling like a worm on my shoulder, belly and knees, I had dropped into a black hole in the stone.

In agony, I’d kept crawling until I collapsed.

Snix must have liked the taste of my bindings. I was too beaten to free myself, but down there in the dark he’d found me, gnawed away until I was free.

Even then, I could barely move. Bruises, breaks, tears, one closed eye and a few loose teeth conspired to still me.

After my escape, it was hell; blinded by darkness, constantly afraid, walls too close.

I couldn’t reveal myself if I wanted to live.

If not for the ugly, fuzzy burrower who had befriended me…

“I’d be crazy by now. Right, Snix?”


“You better believe it.”

Snix stopped his weird noise. I heard him sniff the air.

He left my side, but claws scrabbling on stone quickly stopped.

“You smell something?”

Covering my ‘lantern’ with a scrap of rat hide I crawled after him, feeling my way in pitch black.

My ribs no longer ached. Nor the break in my left arm I’d barely managed to splint. How long had that taken?

Time didn’t pass underground.

Snix came back to my side, bringing my attention back to the here and now. Sniksniksnix.

Then he ran forward again, back and forth, quivering.

What was Snix smelling?

Then, the voices came.



“Yay! She! Beth sooth!”

“Poke she, en herberwe. Coy! Coy!”

My gut froze at their words.

For a while, I had been able to follow the Grubs from darkness, using it against them. Over time, I began to understand some of their tongue.

The word she I hadn’t heard before.

But poke she, en heberwe, sounded like they were putting something in one of their nets and bringing it deeper into their dwelling.

Like they had done to me.

Coy, secretly, quietly.

Beth sooth—believe, real, true, listen to me.

But she?

It was worth a look.

Crawling silently, I headed for a spot of wan light ahead. This cave intersected a larger, brighter one from above.

A pink glow—the dim deiyon stones they carried for light. Bobbing, shifting, the Grubs were in motion.

For an eternity, I had secretly followed groups of the monsters.

Eventually, I’d figured, they would lead me somewhere.

So far, either in avoiding being seen, or just moving too slow, I had come up with nothing.

This cave system was a jumble of tight tunnels intersecting larger ones. The monsters stuck to regular paths.

I had learned where they slept. Where they ate.

Once, wracked with hunger pains, I had stolen food from them.

Turned out, it was better to grab whatever crawled on the cave walls.

Even when my injuries made me nearly immobile, I could creep and crawl in secrecy and Snix’ nose had kept me from getting spotted.

My enemies were busy, constantly moving.

I had no idea what they were doing.


Yes, I could smell it, too—freshly disturbed soil.

That meant a tunnel to the surface.


I tried to still myself, to stay hidden, silent—coy.

From my position, I saw the tops of the Grubs’ hoods as they passed beneath.

Two of them carried a net between them, a squirming burden within.

Waiting for them to pass, I hung from the upper cave.

Light. Not pink stone light, but daylight. Fading. Dim.

A breeze struck my face as I dropped—a breeze, fresh air, when was the last time…?

Snix followed after, landing on my shoulder. This cave was just large enough to stand in. I moved as quickly as I could toward the light.

Daylight, maybe dusk, maybe dawn, I didn’t care, I could crawl up that little rise and see the sun, the moons.


Right. Stay coy. I absently rubbed Snix as I crept toward escape.

I didn’t really care why the Grubs were digging their way out of the caves.

All I knew was that joy bloomed in me, my heart pounding with excitement.


“Yeah, it’s different up there. Don’t worry, buddy. You’ll be okay,” I whispered.

That dirt slope was steep. By now, I was an expert creeper. One way or another, I was getting out of—

“Help me!”

I looked at Snix. He didn’t speak in words. Huge dark eyes turned in the direction the Grubs moved.

Leaning back, trying to see around the bend in the tunnel, I caught sight of them, and instantly leaned forward.

“Somebody help me!”

A high-pitched voice.

It couldn’t be.

The sound of a slap followed, echoing.


“Impossible,” I whispered to Snix.

Sniksniksnik, he argued.

“What do you know about it?”

Sniksnix. His huge eyes chided me.

I sighed, tearing my eyes off freedom. “Fine. Just a quick look.”

Pressed to the slimy wall, I pursued. This cave curved a lot, which could keep me hidden from eyes used to the dim.

I nearly ran into the hooded party.

Eyes caught mine.

Not those of a Grub.

Pleading eyes, crying eyes, fearful eyes.

Female eyes.


A soft creature like the one who had captivated Tirac, bossed him around, pushed him into this underground hell, dragged me along…

Curvy, with dark curls of hair, she was trapped in a net, hauled toward who knew what.

The troupe vanished around another turn.

I turned back toward the surface tunnel.


“Females are nothing but trouble,” I told him.

Snik. Sniksnix.

“But we can get out of here.”


“Yes, I hate the Grubs more than anything,” I said.

The little animal might be right. Depriving them of their captive would be a coup. And with an exit found…

“You know this is a stupid idea.”


“Same to you. I don’t even have a weapon.”

The creature leapt off my shoulder and ran along the cave, chattering away. He looked over his furry shoulder, telling me to follow.

Snix didn’t follow the Grelzoks. He dived into an unlit cave to the right.


He jumped atop something with straight edges. From the deiyon stones outside, I made out the shape. It was a moving thing, like Tirac, Yehan and the female had dragged me into. What had she called it? A cart?

This one didn’t move. Brown covered the metal surfaces. It had only a single wheel.

Grelzoks had dragged it here, I thought, and wondered if we were close to the large, metal tunnel that ran between towers above.

“What did they want with it?” I asked Snix.

He crawled around it, chittering.

I followed. “What?”

Snix. Snix.

Though it was hard to see, I made out a familiar shape. Even if it was metal…

“A bow?”

Part of it remained attached. But a few twists freed it. It felt heavy in my hand, but just as flexible as any weapon I’d handled.

“Needs arrows, a string—”

But there, segmented like a bug but long and narrow, a thick shiny strand of vine. I stepped on one end, tugged the other.


In a moment, I ran it through the loops on one end of the metal bow, angled it with my foot, and strung my bow.

After all this time hiding, sneaking, it felt good in my hand.

There were long, straight shafts running beneath the boxy thing. I managed to dislodge them. Two arrows were better than none.

But I had nothing for an arrowhead, nor kaqen feathers for fletching.

There were vine-like things, in many colors splaying from a box.

I yanked some free. Not exactly feathers, but they might be enough to keep an arrow straight. I tied them tight to the end of my two arrows.

Perfect? No.

Would it work?

Well… we were about to find out.


“Definitely a good find, Snix.”


I nodded. “Let’s go ruin some Grubs’ day.”

Reaver’s Return: Chapter Two


We dropped down the slope of the mountains, the Sen’ki wings beating a deep drum sound. It was freezing! I should’ve grabbed some furs.

Eventually, we dropped past the snow line, heading for a sketchy jungle on the horizon. Many of the trees were bare with the season. But the foliage was still dense.

Vandath landed in an area with few trees, gazing at the wall of the jungle ahead. “We shouldn’t need to venture into Ken’ki territory.”

“Hope not,” Maisie said, hopping out of his arms.

Evrik set me down clumsily. I managed to keep my dignity by not falling on my ass.

“Thanks, Evrik,” I said.


“C’mon, Ray-Ray,” Maisie jerked her head toward a bank of low brush.

We hunted the cold ground for her weeds. She quickly found one.

“Pull it out of the ground,” she said. “Smell the roots. If it smells like cow manure and Old Spice, keep it. If not, toss it.”

I found one, and yanked it out. Yep. Stinky. “Kyla actually drinks this stuff?”

“We don’t have medical tech like she needs, but what we figured out is some kind of nerve ailment. The baby is attached to her in the same way as the Reavers attach to mates.”

“Really? It’s a bio-chemical thing? I thought you guys hooked up by going on harrowing adventures. You know, being so close to death really gets the juices going.”

Maisie pulled up another. “Maybe both? Don’t ask me. I never even had a boyfriend before.”

I had to wonder again about her life back on Earth. Still, I was the one not getting laid.

We quickly filled a carry pouch with stink roots.

“Let’s get this done and get out of here,” Maisie said. “There have been lots of Grelzok reports in this area. There must be a cave that surfaces nearby. Maybe in the woods.”

As happy as I was to get out of the claustrophobic Aerie, I scanned the area for threats.

This planet was worse than Australia for things that wanted to kill you.

There was a strange feeling in the air. A vibration. No clouds hung on the horizon, only a misty winter fog.

“They wouldn’t come out in the daylight, would they?” I asked.

“We don’t know. Up until recently, even the Reavers had never heard of the subterraneans.” She snatched another weed, sniffed, and tossed it. “Maybe just a few more.”

Evrik called from a distance. “Are you nearly done?”

It seemed my case of the jitters was contagious.

“Couple more minutes—”


Vandath suddenly took to the air. When he freed his bladed spear, my heart froze.

“Tirac! Yehan! What are you doing here?”

A moment later, I saw two big men racing from the trees. They had green skin with turquoise stripes. They were running their tails off. Literal tails.

“Preika!” Tirac shouted breathlessly.

“Stampede!” his partner yelled.

Then, I realized the heavy, rolling feeling in the air wasn’t thunder. The ground shook.

I knew what neika were. My boots were made from the golden hide of the gentle, deer-like critters.

But preika?

They burst from the trees, antlers spread broadly, hooves kicking up mud as they charged. Even from here, I could see the gnashing of sharp fangs. Not at all like neika.

“Get us out of here!” I ran toward Evrik.

But he took to the sky!


The striped guys turned, firing arrows at the wave of rushing deer flesh. Two fell. The others just trampled over their bodies.

“Shit,” Maisie said. In a split second, her sling whistled through the air. A loosed stone felled another preika. Arrows took down a few more.

Above, the Sen’ki swooped in, trying to drive the herd off.

My sling was out. This was pretty asinine, trying to kill a whole herd of the things.

Maisie had taught me well. I knocked one off its feet.

But they weren’t diverting, despite the fallen frontrunners.

We needed to get airborne!

Vandath dove in front of us. His nakav killed a deer that nearly trampled us. One behind fell atop the dying one.

“Up!” Maisie cried.


She dragged me, climbing up the fallen deer. More joined the collision. We leaped on the back of one that tried to turn.

Would we really be safer on top?

“Maisie! Raelyn!”

Vandath swooped in, Evrik on his tail. But their maneuver caused our mount to bolt to the side.

I gripped dark fur, holding on for dear life. Maisie gripped the spread of spiky antlers.

“Maze, turn around!” I said.

In an awkward but amazing move, she faced me on the running preika’s back. “Why?”

“Get up, get a foot on my shoulder. If I boost you, Vandath can grab you!”

“What about you?”

The sea of dark brown deer surged around us, still on the rampage. A moment later, I understood why.

Arrows jutted from the animal next to us. They weren’t the fletched weapons of the Ken’ki.

Distantly, I saw pale figures among the trees, firing, hoarse voices urging the stampede.


“Vandath!” Masie and I shouted together.

She got up on her knees. I took one of her hands. Her foot landed on my shoulder.

Maisie stepped up—instantly, her weight left me.

Looking up, I saw Vandath holding her by one hand as he flew.

Evrik swooped toward me.

I tried to move upward, the churning muscles of the animal beneath me making it a challenge.

Getting on my knees, I reached my hand toward the oncoming angel.

He screamed, practically falling from the sky.

Blood rained down.

An arrow had pierced his arm.

I lost sight of him as I had to grip fur to stay atop the running preika.

How long before it turned its head, snapping at me with its fangs?

More Grelzok arrows hissed through the air. More deer dropped.

For an instant, I saw Tirac fire at the enemy, then at the deer.

Then, a glimpse of Yehan sprinting for his life.

Wait. The sling was wrapped around my fist.

I whipped one end though the air. It wrapped around the preika’s neck. I caught it as it came around. Instant reins.

Like I knew what to do with reins.

The efforts of Tirac, joined by Vandath from above, turned the stampede.

Back toward the trees.

Where the Grelzoks waited, firing their bows.

“Son of a…”

The deer next to me collided with my makeshift mount. Which made the preika beneath me ram another.

My makeshift leash kept me on board.

The wall of trees moved closer. I could see the glow of the Grelzok’s eyes in the deep shadows of tattered hoods. Hunched backs made their long arms nearly touch the ground. Those not aiming bows.

“No! No! Turn!”

Maybe I had a handle, but not a steering wheel.

“This is bad. This is so bad.”

The animal in front of me reared, an arrow jutting from its neck. My mount tried to run over it.

No good. I felt it stumble beneath me.

I was going down.

Desperately, I turned to look back.

Vandath swooped toward me.

Arrows drove him away.


I fell to my hands and knees. Rolled through cold mud. Got up.

Chaos ensued, animals rushing at me. One stopped, hooves slashing just over my head.

I tried to run, but the fanged deer were everywhere. Running. Falling. Dying.

In my freaking way!

“Git!” I waved my arms, my sling. “Git, deer!”

They pushed me back into the trees.

Wrong way!

But at least I could avoid a trampling.

Something I couldn’t avoid was the pale hand that grabbed my arm.

I looked on in horror. Translucent white skin that had never seen the sun covered a claw.

It yanked me around.

Half a dozen faced me, several with bows drawn.

Eyes were pinpricks of light. Their pale hair grew from just above the ugly, huge ridge of their brows. No foreheads. Cheekbones jutted. No chins.

“She!” it sounded like my captor said.

“She! She!” Others repeated it.

I tried to yank from its grip.

All I got for my effort was a slap that sent me spinning to the forest floor.

Blood flooded my mouth.

I got to my knees. My head swam. This was not the kind of male attention I’d craved.

“She!” the creature said again.

I didn’t even see the blow coming.

Cold hands gripped me everywhere.

I was lifted. Carried.

And then I lost track of everything.

Reaver’s Return: Chapter One


“But why the mecha?” Kyla said. “Why would the commbangles lead us there?

“Who cares? It worked, we were recovered, happily ever after.” Jael was one of the girls with me when our escape pods landed on this primitive planet.

Now, we lived in caves with winged cavemen and a few hulking dudes of assorted colors.

By-and-large, the dudes in question were not into girls. Or guys.

From what I gathered, they were genetically designed clones, built for warfare. Maybe their Makers thought romance would only complicate their simple soldier design.

They made for less than exciting company.

“It could be that the mecha have flight capability, that the bangles are trying to help us get off-world,” Kyla said.

Blah blah blabbidy blah, I didn’t say.

I stood in the corner of what had become the women’s chamber. There were no other women on Thaxios, save the survivors of a crashed spaceship, Smarniks Dream.

All of us Earth girls were hired as dancers on that cruise ship. The Loliax, tentacled jerks who put us on display, hadn’t bothered looking for their cargo of entertainers after the ship exploded.

We had landed here almost a year ago.

You’d think being one of the only women among hoards of muscle-bound alien hunks would be paradise.

But none of them approached me. The rest of the girls didn’t like me much, either. Screw them.

Maybe it was because I tried to seduce the first humanoid male I’d seen in forever.

Could you blame a girl?

But Vandath, who looked like a combination of classical statue and bronze angel, was mated to Maisie.

For a bunch of asexual guys, they really took mating seriously.

Just look at Kyla. Could you be a hundred months pregnant? She was ready to pop.

My attempts to drag Van into the bushes earned me a half-shunned status.

No male, bronze angel, red devil, gray monster or striped tree hugger, gave me the mating eye.

Lord, I was bored.

A year ago, we were dancers. Regular girls, taking a job to get by.. Now, super-pregnant Kyla sat at a table, talking about strategy against underground creatures bent on taking us out. Discussing huge, armored suits and strange weapons to use against the subterraneans.

Can you believe it?

“How’s it going with the sonic guns?” Sarah bounced her little cherub, the winged infant babbling.

She was mated to the leader of the Sen’ki, the angel guys, Dakath. The baby was the only one known in the whole world.

“We’re missing a component. Ryven and I need to make a trip to the Mansion in the Icelands,” Kyla said. Ryven, red and scaly with spiny hair and thorns, was her mate.

To each her own.

“Not while the serkits are migrating. It’s the end of winter,” Sarah pointed out.

Most of the animals on this planet were out to kill and eat you. And some of the plants.

“And the gekka will pursue them until they reach the highlands,” Hannah added.

Hannah was mated to the spooky, silver-scaled Khelos. His eyes were solid black, features on the aquatic side.

Thinking about it, maybe the Reavers’ lack of interest in me wasn’t so bad.

“Sen’ki could fly you there safe,” Allison said.

“Hah! Like Ryven would be caught dead…”

Kyla slumped forward, elbows on the table. Her eyes turned bright and wet, hands trembling.

“Not again,” Maisie got up from her place. “Get some of the herb tea.”

“I hardly had any trouble with my pregnancy,” Sarah said.

Allison hurried to a side table. She poured water from a woven bucket into a carved bowl. Adding dry leaves, and then stones from the fire to heat the water, she carried it over.

“We’re almost out of the herbs,” she said.

Maisie frowned. “I thought she’d have the baby by now, or I’d have found more. It’s tough with snow still on the ground.”

Kyla sipped the brew. She made a face. “Ugh.”

But in a few moments, she sat upright.

Maisie put a hand on Kyla’s extended belly. “C’mon, little guy. You’re making mamma sick. Time to come out.”

“Stubborn,” she said.

“Like his mother,” Sarah smiled.

“I’ll get more herbs to see you thought,” Maisie said.

“Let the Reavers gather them. It’s dangerous out there,” Kyla said.

Maisie shook her head. “They can’t tell which are the potent ones. They can’t smell it like I can. Besides, I can take care of myself.”

“I’ll go with you, girlfriend,” I said. “Shorten the time.”

The other girls exchanged catty looks.


“Okay. Be nice to get out of the cave,” Maisie said.

Which only inspired more amazed glances.

I was sick of my fellow human women.

“No time like the present,” I said.

We walked together through the tunnels of the Aerie. I found it ironic that winged men would spend their lives underground, even if this was at the top of a mountain.

“Man, can I use some time away,” I said. “Those bitches get on my nerves.”

“Guess they’re looking out for me, in a way,” Maisie said.

I sighed. “Why are you my friend? I tried to steal your man.”

“You were half-drugged on zingot sap and siqot juice. If you girls hadn’t been sleeping in your escape pods, you’d all be dead. Happily frozen to death,” she said.

It was true. The marsh our pods landed near was a trap to turn our bodies into fertilizer. Stinky sap and hallucinogenic fruit kept us blitzed, stupid and lazy.

“Maybe I would’ve been more successful if I wasn’t so high,” I said.

“Why do you always have to push?” Masie said.

“Sorry. You land on the planet of the buff barbarians, and you expect a party, right? Freakin Loliax. Those squirmy SOBs owe me a ton of cash,” I said.

Maisie gave me sympathetic eyes.

“I’ve never been popular. Never had friends. My folks were survivalists. Anti-alien. They’d kill me if they found out I was married to a Sen’ki. Now, I’m one of the girls. Who knew? All I needed was to be marooned on an alien planet.”

“Well, I don’t want to be marooned anymore,” I said. “What was Kyla talking about, the commbangles trying to get us off-world?”

I shook the ornamental bracelet that acted as communicator, translator, homing beacon.

“We really don’t know why they signal like they do,” she said. “I know it sucks here for you. I really hope that’s what the bangles are doing.”

“You wouldn’t go if you had the chance?” The idea of it astounded me.

She turned away, pink face pinker with blush. “I’m too stupid in love.”

“I don’t need love,” I said. “Just a good hard banging. Here I am, on a planet where point oh-oh-oh-oh-oh one percent of the population is female, and I can’t even get a leer, a wolf whistle.”

Giving her a covert look, I had to wonder how she scored an Adonis with wings.

There wasn’t much to her. Back on the ship, she was stand-offish, quiet. I had come to think of her as either backward, or somewhere on the Asperger scale.

Turned out, she was the one of us most suited to survive this planet.

“I can’t explain the Reavers, why they do what they do, why some fall for us girls. But I was really worried when Van and I found you in the marsh.”

“Worried?” I asked.

“He thought you were attractive…” She took a breath. “Oh, face it! You’ve got that curvy body, those freakin curls. I thought he’d dump me in a heartbeat. Either you, or Jael. Hell, any of you. Anyone other than me.”

“Well, he sees something in you, that’s for sure. C’mon, Maze, you’re good looking. A little on the short and plain side. But you’ve got something special.”

She snorted in response.

I put a hand on her shoulder. “He’s not the biggest Sen’ki, but he’s certainly the hottest. That beautiful face, those abs, those shoulders.”

“Stop already!”

I held up my hands. “What I’m saying is, he’s into you. Nobody else. You don’t need to worry. I can see it every time he looks at you, kid. You hooked the best possible alien dude on Thaxios. I put on the full-on flirt, and he didn’t budge. Hold your head up, all right?”

When the winged god in question stepped from a tunnel, I buttoned my lip. He smiled at Maisie. I saw the love look in his eyes before he kissed her deeply.

Dang it!

“I need a lift, Van,” she said a little breathlessly when they broke.

His eyes studied hers. Jeeze, he was stupid with her!

“Anything you need, babe.”

“We need to collect herbs. It’s the only thing keeping Kayla going,” she said.

“Hmm,” he frowned. “The edge of Ken’ki territory. Those striped tree dwellers don’t like us much. It’s nearly sunset.”

She nodded. “We’ll have to be careful. Believe me, we’ll stay where you can keep an eye on us. But we can be back before dark.”

The bronze angel faced me. Van smiled. “Ray-lnnn.

But I didn’t get a smile like Maisie had. “Can you help us out?”

“Of course,” he said. Then he called down a cave. “Evrik! Nakavs! We’re going on a flight.”

A moment later, a taller, thinner Sen’ki appeared, two bladed spears in his hands. He gave one to Vandath; holstered the other behind his back. Then he looked me over.

“We’re flying the females?” he said. “Should I get a sling?”

“Nah. Just pick her up. This won’t take long,” Vandath said. He scooped Maisie into his arms as she giggled.

Evrik looked hesitant.

I sighed. “C’mon, tall, bronze and nervous. Pick a girl up already.”

It was an awkward moment. He tried to keep my body away from his.

“You are unnervingly soft,” he said. “Will this hurt you?”

“Just fly, kid. Just fly,” I said.

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