Uncommon Treasure (Drifting Treasure Series #7)

Chapter 1 – Clalls is Whining Again

Nova was feeling good. A few hours in the medbed, healing from a few broken bones, a dash of internal bleeding, were worth it. Killing the sneaky little bastard with black-wings and a spiked tail that lied to her boss about why he wanted to see the spaceport deserved the drawn out death. 

Stalking the port for potential breeders to kidnap was breaking her rules so….she had to murder him.

Exiting the elevator she waved her video scrambler before exiting into the hall, she knew Clalls, her boss wouldn’t know she was coming – the way she liked it.

He was more agreeable when he was irritated. 

Entering his office, she looked at every item she’d memorized to see if anything was out of place. Anything new or something missing was a clue when it came to Clalls’s complicated mind. “Your birthday’s hours away and you’re sitting in your office like you’re so busy that you can’t even take off for your own event?” she made a mocking sad face. “That overly busy cliche went out of style a million years ago.”

Clalls cast in his usual yellow light, was reading a hologram window, ignoring her because he foolishly thought it put her in her place.

No one could do that.

Pulling back a chair, she sat down and extended her leg so her boot rested on the edge of his fancy Minky desk.

“Off,” he ordered.

Pulling her boot off at the perfect angle so it scratched, she watched him cringe. She read the words backwards on the translucent image. Ship manifest lists, the male was so over the top it was amazing he didn’t suffer from ulcers. 

“Worried someone’s going to sneak in an uninvited guest? I noticed Seso’s back at work, so it will be fine.”

“I’m never worried, that’s a Terran thing,” he said in true Demon deflect. 

Clalls was a Night Demon, with long, sharp teeth, black sclera, and yellow irises. It made him look every bit the nightmare he could be. But he wasn’t. Never really was, and that’s what had attracted her to him all those years ago. 

All his defiance, abhorrence, retribution, and need to conquer others did nothing to stop the unconscious nursing of his Yunkin heritage. Yunkins, the one race who’d found a way to breed in an honor code.

Of course, that made them unbearable snobs, in Nova’s opinion, but some people liked them. Specifically, Clalls, who’d joined the Federation, which was a Yunkin-influenced galactic military. 

She peered over at Clalls’s memory box, which held his Federation jacket, his Commander of Communication rank insignia, and all his medals.

The male was an uncommon creature, that was for sure.

“I assume you came to vent or something girly you’re trying out,” he droned. “I know you’re not here to do my nails, because they’re still black.”

Nova smiled inwardly. He could pretend all he wanted, but she knew he liked their friendship.

More now that she’d turned it into a girls’ friendship.

Responding in her best snappy tone, she said, “Sometimes Clalls, girls just are bored and nosey. So,” she drew out, “what are you doing? And how can I make it about me?”

Clalls narrowed his eyes, then reduced the window and faced her. “It’s my birthday, and my rise to power, and today’s never going to be about you.”

His rise to power?

He may have crafted the blueprint, but she did all the hard work. If they weren’t good friends, she’d have been pissed he didn’t value the dirty deeds that were done to make his strategic takeover possible.

“We’ll see,” she said, noticing a flutter of movement in her periphery. 

Instincts on alert she honed in to see a small creature move across a photo. It changed colors as it moved so it was hard to make out the eight tentacles, but she was able to count them out as it moved from one side of the abstract circle painting. The thing was inside a strange square tank placed over a painting. 

It was an elaborate aquarium that connected to all the paintings he had. 

No way did Clalls buy this for himself.

“Stop staring at my octopi, he hates that, and he will throw dead shrimp at you. He threw three at Dhak earlier.”

A vengeful octopi…

Her blood tingled under her skin. She needed one. Immediately. 

And who the hell was Dhak?

Huffing a mock of disappointment she said, “I was wondering why it smells fishy in here. You know, I could fry him up and make us some calamari. I feel snacky.”

“If you fry him, I will make you very sorry. It’s my birthday gift from Avenell.”

Avenell? Clalls’s admin pet that got a promotion to the island of horrors?

The pet bought him…. a pet?

The Terran was going to get a visit from Nova very very soon. 

Responding to Clalls with a snort, Nova said, “Your threats are getting weak. Pump up your killer quotes or everyone will notice you’ve gotten soft, and they will think it’s because you’re mated. Soft kings never conquer Kirca kingdoms.”

“My threats aren’t weak, I just have too many things I want to hurt you with that it would be hard to choose,” Clalls said. 

He returned to whatever stupid thing he was doing. 

Tapping the desk to enlarge the manifest list he pulled up, then, pointing at it, he said, “Sci and Sasha left their moon three minutes ago to respond to something that happened on Cerebral. Ansel’s not on the manifest. They left him on Serem moon but he needs to be here.” 

Something happened on Cerebral? That’s suspicious as hell. Did Clalls plan that without her? 

“He could have booked a flight on another ship. Did you check all the ships?” she asked.

“There are no other ships headed back to the Federation border. I checked.”

“Or, Ansel didn’t want to go in the first place because he thinks you invited the yellow eyed Cerebral that scrambled his brain. Plus, Ansel’s old now, no one will be impressed if he attends. And if he did, he’d probably bring his ugly pet.” 

Ansel, was the genius Numan doctor who’d served with Clalls while they were stationed on Garna, the star carrier. He was thin with brown wavy hair, gangly hands with the creepy Numan purple nails. 

Not her type.

“Ansel doesn’t age, you know that – and his pet is a niskie….and I agree it’s nightmarishly ugly and I have no idea why he always brought it to the reunions. No one who has a healthy dose of self-preservation would own a pet that could eat them if they got too hungry, or if they died in their sleep.”

“If that’s true, he didn’t miss the flight, he’s in the belly of the snake-dog.”

“He’s not dead,” Clalls snapped, “his stupid pet likes him. Go. Get. Him.”

Nova put a hand under her chin, mocking someone who’d done that once. “No.”

Clalls gave her a long, threatening look, like he was at his wits’ end and he wasn’t going to ask her again.

She ignored the threat, as one does, and asked, “Why does he matter so much?”

“Because he’s broken, and broken things are beautiful additions to my port’s ambiance,” he said with a hand flourish.

Nova didn’t bother calling out his lie, Demons were sensitive about that. Instead she guessed, “You’re going to send him to the island of horrors, aren’t you?”

Rolling his eyes, he said, “How can I use him if his bestie Sci is here too? The Cerebral would ruin everything.”

Sci wasn’t going to make it, if he had a planet to help. So she was right, Clalls was going to use Ansel. How boring.

“Except,” she challenged, as she reached over and took his mostly full Niffy from the desk, “you planned a travesty on Cerebral and made Sci turn around and go there, because he’s the closest co-ruler.” 

His white brow raised. “Care to make a wager on that?”

That was Demon speak for she was a thousand percent correct.

“Yep. If I win, I get to attend the party as a guest.”

“Considering I know you’re wrong about everything, wager accepted.” Pointing to the door, he said, “Now, go get Ansel.”

Huffing, she stood up and mumbled loud enough for him to hear, “Reduced to a transport driver. It feels so wrong.”

“You’ve transported people before,” he said to her back.

Turning, she corrected, “Everyone I’ve transported for you took breaking into a planet, or killing off a mansion of bastards or a ship full of meat suits. This is just…boring.”

“It won’t be. I’m sure Ansel will be a hostile passenger.”

Oh, she truly hoped so. “You’re probably right. Old people get hostile when younger kids boss them around. It’s probably why you’re getting grouchier.”

“You’re annoying, get out of my face.”

“Now that I’m thinking about it,” she said, pretending she hadn’t heard him and gleefully pissing him off more, “I’ve decided to add a bonus to my services – I’ll make sure he has a date,” she said, thinking about what she knew about the Numan and what kind of female would be a punishment. 

“You will only get Bonus points if Ansel falls in love with her and all his ills are fixed,” Clalls said sardonically as he pulled up more ships from other planets around the Federation side of space. 

“Love doesn’t fix people…it didn’t fix you, did it.”

Clalls gave her a long look, “Ansel could have fixed himself years ago, but didn’t. That means he intentionally wants to be who he is, but everyone, including Chollar – the yellow-eyed Cerebral who took away his memories, wants to change him. They want him in a happily-ever-after life. They want him to be happy according to their terms. But he’s not them, and he likes being alone. He likes punishing himself. He’s just that way. So do the impossible Nova, find him the perfect date that makes him be less boring.”

“There-” she began but was cut off.

“Nothing’s impossible….remember?” the bastards said smugly.

Needing to destroy his good mood, she dabbed under her eye like she was letting another female know her makeup was smudged. “Touch up your makeup, sweetheart, your Yunkin side is showing again.”

He dropped his hands on the Minky desk with a bang and whipped his head towards her. “Everything inside me hates you.”

Underneath all his deceptive masks, was a Yunkin who desperately needed to avenge the wrongs of innocent people with all the passion and cruelty of a Night Demon

Pleased at her success, she laughed as she exited the office and made it to the elevator. As soon as she was inside, she pulled up her flexible helmet that doubled as a hood and hit the invisibility program on her black leathers, then walked out, letting the doors shut. 

Taking the hall to the emergency chute, she left the spaceport. Turning on her magnetic boot heels, she was pulled back to the outer hull layer of the port, where no one had bothered to install a video camera. Running to her ship, she entered through the chute and took off.

She needed every minute to research about Numans and their relationships as well as scanning as many females who would be able to deal with the old fashion-less lab mouse. Because she was going to the party as his guest no matter what. 

Especially since she already bought her dress.

Unnatural Treasure (Drifting Treasures #6)

Chapter 1 – Training the Infants

Clalls sat behind a lavish Minky desk, relaxed with his index fingers steepled together, going over loose ends. His birthday celebration was ten days away and yet there was still so much to do, because he wasn’t simply hosting a Demon party.

No, gone were the days of skinclad beauties being used as décor. Gone were the days of tempting the lawmakers and lawbreakers to give in to their reptilian brains and indulge in their deepest fantasies so that he could record it – and blackmail them later.

Blackmail was a childish game.

Hell, building a fortune just to see the numbers grow was just as foolish.

He was no longer that fool.

Clalls had learned that lesson while he sat locked in his Federation-assigned cabin, waiting to die like the rest of the crew on Garna, the starcruiser. None of his millions had been able to save him, none of his priceless relics could console him. Worse, he hadn’t even had a single person who gave a damn about him to call and say goodbye to.

That was when the old Clalls died and the new one was born.

Clalls always believed Seth of Stars hated him, had cursed him, but maybe the Yunkin god did what he’d had to do, to give him another chance, to show him another way, to do what only Clalls had the ability to do.

Sitting in his private office, lording over his empire, Clalls knew this one event was going to reverberate through time. It was going to be his masterpiece.

He couldn’t wait.

Jolting him from his thoughts of grandeur, Clalls’s Minky desk trilled. The hologram illuminated a square image with white letters at the top that indicated it was a non-Federation ID. Under name of owner, it read: Answer the call. Clalls took a long breath and sat forward, wondering what Nova was doing…and where. The last thing she’d told him was that she was going shopping for his gift.

Answering the call, he said, “How long does it take to pick out a present?”

“You’re very hard to buy for,” she said.

In the background Clalls could hear male voices, not shouting or anything, just the normal rhythm of it. Having been stationed on a series of ships, he knew that sound well. The part that almost worried him was why she was on a ship and not at a market.

“I’ll make it easy for you, a case of Quib will work just fine.”

She scoffed. “Seso’s already getting you a case.”

Seso, his head of security, a decent Terran, with good instincts and a simple mind. A case of Quib was a good gift…considering the Terran’s limited creativity.

“Two cases will last twice as long,” Clalls told Nova, hoping she took the hint and got a case. At the very least, he hoped that she didn’t think on any gift too long. She was the one person he had to constantly keep track of. One bad mental health day and she could turn over months and years of work.

“I’m not getting you Quib. Not after I came all the way out here to get you a walking squid for your fish pool.”

“I don’t have a fish pool,” he responded, needing answers to so very many questions.

First things first…how far had she gone?

Reaching over, he tapped the desk where he could open a new program window. He quickly ran a scan to see where her ship was. Narrowing his eyes as he read that her ship was still docked at Drifting Treasures, Clalls assumed she’d figured out that he’d tagged her engine with a location chip.

“Yes you do, it’s the one with the slides.”

His water park?

Hell no, was she that crazy?

“I don’t want any sea animals, Nova.”

“These ones are rare, though. They’re humanoid-ish, the last of their kind. Their planet died and these squids are practically a steal at two million each.”

Nova was mentally broken, with zero ability to feel for the plight of others. As a Demon, he had similar qualities for the masses, but there were a few people he cared about and one he loved.

Nova was in neither category.

She was in a category of her own.  That category was labeled constant pain in the ass.

Apparently. Nova wasn’t exactly shopping for him. She was just doing what she loved doing, and that was killing people. As his employee, he’d told her she wasn’t allowed to kill anymore. Over the years, that rule had morphed to she was only allowed to kill bad people, specifically, those who kidnapped and sold people in the skin trade.

“How many are there?” Clalls asked in his business voice.

“I count seven,” she said.

“Alright, get ‘em” he said, knowing that Admiral Rannn would take them in, and send a ship over to pick up anyone else. Clalls had worked out a contract with the Federation years ago when Seso was missing. The contract stated that if he [through Nova’s actions] found a trafficking ring of any kind where individuals were being used and abused, Rannn would take the victims and the Federation wouldn’t pursue criminal actions if some of the traffickers died.

“I knew you’d like them.”

Clalls didn’t comment.

“One more thing, you don’t want them wrapped or anything, right?”

Clalls wiped a hand down his face. “No. Just deliver them to Rannn, as usual.”

“First of all, they’re collared, because they’re deadly. Second of all, none of them speak Universal, and third….these are a gift, not a job. Don’t be a jerk,” she snapped, and ended the call.

Staring at the spot where the call log read ended, he wondered if the reason why Seth had not allowed her to die yet was because He didn’t want to deal with her.

Unclaimed Treasure (Drifting Treasures #5)

Chapter One

Krant Genetics

Markov was in the ship’s galley, loading his pockets with water packages and stews-in-a-pouch. He was scheduled to take over in the pilot seat in ten minutes, and he wanted to have plenty of edibles before going on his twenty-four-hour run. During his past shifts, he had finished his food early and ended up feeling sick by the time he clocked out.

After his last shift almost twelve hours ago, he felt off. Not sick, but not…right. Thankfully, the uneasiness in his gut and chest was gone, but he didn’t want to repeat yesterday’s ordeal.

Just as he was about to reach for a six-pack of Nebula Greens, Dov, the crew’s weapons expert, stood next to him and grabbed two of the six.

“You d-d-don’t drink Nebulas,” Markov said as he grabbed the other four. When he looked at Dov’s pitch-black eyes, he waited to see if the Allus would admit who he was grabbing the drinks for.

“You’re right, I don’t. But the pale-skinned sea urchin from the depths of the cargo bay does.”

Markov smirked. “Henna w-w-would kill you if she heard that.”

Dov used the green Nebula can to point. “That’s why I said it to you. So, if she finds out, I’ll just tell her you said it.”

“She knows me b-b-better than that.”

Dov snorted. “She knows you’re scared of her.”

“You’re s-s-sc—afraid of her more than me,” Markov said as another female entered the galley. She was a Bolark with green scales and long, black hair and wore a pristine outfit that accented all of her curves. Her nails were longer than natural with a silver hue to them and matched today’s getup.

Markov didn’t usually take the time to look at females on the crew. Mostly because he knew they would never go for a guy like him: big and yellow with a stutter. But something about the female caught his attention.

He didn’t know what it was, but he found himself staring. So much so that when she noticed, she cut her eyes at him and said, “You wish.”

Markov turned and stared at the stacks of nutrient bars. He didn’t exactly look at them because unease churned in his gut. Not as bad, but it was there.

Dov used his arm to bump Markov. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Markov said just as his Minky pad’s alarm rang out. Pulling out the black electronic communication device, he read the alert. Apparently, he had two minutes to get to the bridge. Showing Dov, he said, “See you in twenty-four.” Returning the device to his pocket, he walked out.

Dov followed. In the elevator, Dov hit level three for the cargo bay before Markov could select the bridge. Which meant he might be late, depending on whether or not the elevator stopped at any other levels on the way down.

Markov didn’t usually get upset over things like that, especially knowing that Dov was trying to give Henna—the logistics and cargo specialist—her breakfast before Dov had to clock into his shift, too.

However, Markov felt the heat of his irritation. Words danced on his lips, ready to jump out given the opportunity, but Markov kept them in.

Seconds later, Dov exited the cab, and Markov took a relieved breath as the elevator headed back to the bridge.

It stopped two floors from his destination, and the uneasiness in his stomach compounded, making him feel as if he had drunk acid. Pressing his hand to the cool metal wall, he steadied himself. The smelly male who entered the cab moved to the side and remained silent.

At his stop, Markov rushed out and entered the bridge. As he walked in, the captain turned and told him, “Medical said they sent you a message to stop by.”

He nodded to let Captain Grom know that he’d heard him. But whatever medical had to say could wait. He had been in there the day before, and they had no answers for him. He doubted they would have anything new today.

The transition of pilots took a few seconds, and then Markov was in control of the ship. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a water package and consumed the liquid in three gulps. He did the same to another. Within a minute, his nausea and uneasiness were gone, and he proceeded to eat the first of his nutrient bars.

***

“Markov,” a male called from behind him.

Turning, he saw the cyborg doctor who had sent him two more messages in the past six hours. Exhaling with irritation, he turned back to the navigation screen, “I’m b-b-busy.” Tapping the console for another flare to keep an asteroid from hitting the ship, he focused on what he was moving in and out of.

He was flying through an asteroid field because traveling to Angny was a really long flight. It went much quicker if a sound pilot navigated the billions of small to monstrous-sized rocks.

Markov dipped the ship and let the tail end drift before getting another burst to hold them until a bigger asteroid floated past.

“I need to see you as soon as possible,” the cyborg said.

“Is he dying?” Captain Grom asked.

“No. But…I have something I need to discuss with him.”

“You can discuss it when we are free of the asteroids,” Grom said.

Making an educated guess for time, Markov said, “We’ll b-b-be on Angny in four hours. I can wait.”

“Captain, it’ll take seconds to take Markov’s scan, and ten minutes to go over a few things. Please send him to medical as soon as he’s able. It’s important.”

Markov didn’t say anything else because, suddenly, three asteroids collided. He jerked the controls and gunned the engines to avoid impact. The rest of the flight was just as dangerous, but he got through it with minimal contact. Nothing was damaged, so it was all good.

“All right, take a breather. Set it to autopilot and go see the damn doc. Whatever it is, get the pill or the shot and come back and finish the flight.”

Markov turned, astonished that the captain was willing to send him to medical when there was nothing truly wrong. “C-c-captain?”

Grom was an older Terran-Hetten hybrid. He wasn’t mean, but he made sure that everyone on the crew knew that if you were scheduled to work, you’d better be at your post for the whole shift. No late arrivals and no early checkouts.

“He’s worried,” Grom said dismissively, his hand pointing to where the cyborg stood. “Just go and get it over with, yeah?”

Markov stood and looked over the scans, the flight path, and made sure no other ships were around. Something caught his eye. One of the asteroids—or what he’d thought was an asteroid—was no longer on the same course. It had changed its trajectory to head directly towards him.

“We have a t-t-tail,” he announced and sat back down.

Grom grunted. “I was starting to think this would be an easy mission.”

Markov didn’t speak, he checked out of the Federation flight path, slowed the speed, and searched for the nearest solar system to hide near a lava planet and disguise their heat signature.

The doors of the bridge opened, and Markov was about to snap at the cyborg if he came back in, but it was Dov. He slapped his palms together and began rubbing them. “How many ships?”

“One,” the captain said as Dov took a seat at weapons control.

“Where is it?” he asked, squinting at his navigation screen.

“B-b-behind us. We’re hiding b-b-behind a hot planet to hide us.”

“No, we are not,” Dov said. “I didn’t just count all six thousand and forty torpedoes for me not to use them.”

 Markov turned to the captain to see if he agreed. The older male shook his head. “We’ll fight if we have to, but I don’t see them following us. They are still on the Federation flight path.”

“Wait, did they actually fire at us?” Dov asked, and Markov wanted to glare at the Allus. Markov was being cautious. Considering Dov had been on the last mission when they had been attacked and kidnapped by pirates, he should have understood why Markov responded the way he did.

Ten minutes of silence lingered until Grom cleared his throat. “The ship has transitioned to the Lotus Nexis flight path. We’re clear.”

Markov pulled the ship around and readied the engines for FTL speeds. No one said anything as they got back on the path and headed to their destination. The captain’s Minky screen pinged with an incoming call.

Grom accepted it, and Markov recognized Avenell’s rushed and slightly frantic voice. “Captain Grom, thank you for answering.”

“I haven’t ever ignored your call,” Grom said slowly as if trying to calm the female down. 

“Yeah, I know. I mean…I’m just hoping you haven’t passed out of the asteroid field yet.”

“I’m sorry to say we have,” Grom admitted.

Avenell cursed. “Okay, fine. Um, how close are you to Marnak?”

“Pretty far. I’m not headed that way yet. We’re about to pick up the cargo from Angny, and then we’re headed to Marnak.”

Markov could hear the confused hope in Avenell’s tone when she asked, “I thought you said you were out of the asteroid field?”

“The ship had to fly into the asteroid field to get to Angny. We’ll fly through it again when we leave. So now that you know that, what can I do for you?” Grom said with a hint of sternness.

“Okay, well, I thought everyone flew around the asteroid field. But, whatever. I need you to go to Lotus Nexis and pick up a package at the visitors’ center. I was under a time crunch and couldn’t think of anyone else’s name on your crew, so I put it under your name, Grom.”

The captain grunted. “You could’ve called and asked first.”

“I didn’t have time. Clalls came in, told me to get him something, and then stood behind me until it was done. I’m sorry, but there’s more.”

Grom exhaled with frustration.

Markov could only assume what more she would ask for. Drifting Treasures wasn’t like the other companies Markov had worked for. Most hired cargo pilots and crews and had specific things they sold and shipped. Drifting Treasures was a spaceport run by a Night Demon named Clalls, and he didn’t do anything the normal way.

He had a rotation of cargo ships. Most crews never even knew what their jobs would be or where they were going until they were assigned.

Avenell was one of the Night Demon’s two personal assistants. They had never officially met, but most males on Drifting Treasures knew who she was and knew she was a Terran who dressed in classy but sexy dresses with high heels. She always looked like she was seconds away from throwing her hands up and quitting, and from what Markov had heard, plenty of people made bets on when she would do it.

“What else?” Grom asked pointedly.

Markov tapped the console, readying the ship to begin slowing its speed because they were approaching the planet. But he did so quietly so he could hear what Avenell wanted.

“Madam Amri, who sold the items, was willing to do so after I agreed to accept her gift for Clalls’ birthday celebration. The thing is, I have no idea what it is, and Clalls threatened to fire me—for the fifteen thousandth time—if that gift gets anywhere close to his spaceport. So, I kinda need you to take it but also keep it in case Clalls has to send pictures to the madam should he need to do more business with her in the future. And, lastly…”

Grom cursed.

Dov snorted.

Markov shook his head at the catastrophe of a deal.

“The madam says that it has to be picked up in the next ten hours, or she’s taking the items back.”

 Markov hit the button and looked back at the captain to say, “D-d-down in ten minutes.”

Grom rubbed his mouth and the stubble on his jawline. “I should be able to make it.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. I promise I will find a way to repay you.”

“It’s not you. It’s the job,” Grom said, but Markov wasn’t stupid. He knew that Grom wasn’t happy, and he blamed Clalls for the sudden change in plans. However, that was to be expected on Drifting Treasures.

Markov engaged the thermal covers and initiated the thrusters to get through the atmosphere faster. Once through, he took the ship down fast but landed with enough grace to keep everyone from jerking in their spots.

Markov unbuckled his harness, needing to relieve himself, and figured that he should see medical before they took off.

Grom pointed a finger at Dov. “Tell Henna to be quick. We have to drop off, pick up, and take off in less than forty minutes.”

Dov stood. “Will do. But I politely request that Markov join me because telling Henna anything could get me shot.”

Rubbing his face again, the captain agreed, and both Markov and Dov walked out of the bridge. In the elevator, Dov shifted from one foot to the other. The male looked far too uncomfortable and nervous for simply passing along a message.

“She w-w-won’t kill you.”

The doors opened, and Dov exited while saying, “Why do you think Grom gave me the message instead of telling her himself? He’s scared of her, too.”

Markov, for all his astuteness, hadn’t noticed that.

The ship’s ramp door was open. Dov cursed and started to run. Markov followed, not sure what they were running for. At the top of the ramp, they stopped, and Dov said, “She was planning on going to the market to buy pims for Seajay’s mate. Apparently, Riva’s pregnant and craving pims. Seajay said her planet called them something else, but they taste the same, I guess.”

Markov saw the issue. “I’ll g-g-get the cargo.”

“Thanks,” Dov said, and they both headed down the ramp. Once they hit the landing pad, they set a brisk pace. Between breaths, Dov added, “The market is a mile away, but it’s three or four miles long. Henna took the hopper in case she had to go into the city.”

Markov hoped she didn’t check the city first.

Markov’s Minky rang out in his pocket, an incoming call. Assuming it was the doctor, he silenced the call and figured he’d check it when he was back on the ship.

The run took just under ten minutes. Dov pointed to the right and said, “You check there. And I’ll check this side.”

Markov had not taken three steps before Dov’s arm slammed into his chest. “Wait,” he said as he pointed to several columns of boxes. Between them was an Angny. He wasn’t grey like their race usually was, but he had the lower tusks protruding out of his mouth, and his chest was bare, showing his fighting scars.

As big as the male was, he looked uncomfortable as hell with Henna yelling in his face.

“She’s the most insane female ever born,” Dov snapped as he ran around the table, directly for her. Markov followed, pleased that everything was starting to fall into place.

Henna must have heard them coming because she turned and pulled her phaser, pointing it right at Dov. Seething, she said, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Dov pointed at Markov and stepped out of the line of fire. “Markov has a message from the captain.”

Henna moved the phaser back to Dov but spoke softer to Markov, “What is it?”

“The c-c-captain has to g-g-go to Lotus Nexis. He needs to leave in thirty minutes.”

She hissed and then pointed the phaser at the light-brown-skinned Angny. “Well, then, we have a problem. Because this good-for-nothing bastard doesn’t have our cargo.”

“What do you mean?” Dov asked, cutting his eyes at the other male.

The Angny pointed off in the distance. “There’s a sandstorm.”

“When d-d-did it start?” Markov asked, knowing a bit about sandstorms from his planet.

“Thirteen hours ago,” Henna answered for him. “Just in case you want to do the math, he had two weeks to get the ring he sold Clalls. But the lazy ass waited until the last minute.”

“Can’t you just fly over the sand?” Dov asked.

Both the Angny and Markov shook their heads. Driving through or around a sandstorm would get an engine clogged for sure.

Dov groaned. “We have to leave, or the items Grom needs will be gone. It’s a time-sensitive pickup.”

Henna tossed Dov the phaser. “Fine, you stay with the idiot here since you two are probably related. We’ll go back to the ship.”

Dov tossed the phaser to Markov, saying, “I’m the only weapons guy. I need to be on the ship. Markov has a backup, he can stay.”

Markov tossed the phaser to Henna. “I have a b-b-belt knife.” He expected Henna to object to him staying, but she said, “Fine. Markov, you stay with the idiot here. We’ll be back in half a day.” To Dov, she said, “And you can walk back.”

Dov gave Markov a look and then took off. Henna got on her hopper but came back to say, “If the sandstorm lets up soon, make him go and get the ring. I trust you.”

Markov nodded, pleased she’d said so. He watched her as she flew away.

The Angny didn’t seem concerned that Markov was there to keep an eye on him. The male turned around, lifted the lid to a wooden box, and grabbed a bag of something. “Thirsty?”

“No.”

“It’s not water. You sure?”

Markov shook his head and watched as his ship took off.

As soon as they were gone, he pulled up his Minky pad and saw the many messages from the doc. All saying the same thing. Your hormones are rising. If you don’t get back to the ship and let me adjust your Krant band, you will go into full mating heat.

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Who are the 371?

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LOCATION: Eldon

Unusual Mate

Chapter One

Pasha stood between two males with her wrists bound behind her back. She had been kidnapped, drugged, sold and now she was here, inside a large cave that smelled like wet earth.

The one who bought her stood expressionless, but she felt his anxiety and irritation.

“There’s a lot of people here. I thought you said it would be empty?” Hanoff said as he sent a small surge of electricity through the bands that clasped her wrists together.

On her left was Hanoff’s guest, a malicious male that hated Hanoff but pretended they were friends.

The guest, whatever his name was, told Hanoff, “I said the cave would be empty. Not the trek to it.”

“If this cave is full of so much treasure why aren’t these people trying to get it too?” Hanoff asked yanking her to her knees so he could step closer to his guest.

“Because no one wants to pay the price to open the chest. Plus, most of these families use this passage to get into the city on the other side. They know not to stop and look around because most people who go looking, end up finding more than they bargained for.”

Hanoff curled his upper lip. “Good thing you know the way.”

“Yes, a good thing.” The guest looked down at her as if he was seeing an object, not a living breathing person. “But even my map would be worthless if you didn’t have an equal sacrifice

***

Pasha walked into the cave barely winded, immediately noting another presence. It was barely there but she was sure whoever it was, was overcome with emptiness.

The other two had sweat dripping down their face. Once inside Hanoff stopped, rested a hand on the wall, and sucked in air. The guest didn’t stop, but he was breathing heavily as he walked up to a large rectangle box surrounded with chains.

“That’s not a chest,” Hanoff said getting control over his breathing. “That’s a casket.”

“Regardless it’s still full of gold.” Holding out his hand he pointed to the old iron chains. “Alright, from what the legend says, the person who frees the curse inside will receive the treasure. But only if he has an equal value sacrifice. If the curse is satisfied, he or it will let you take what’s inside. I’m stepping out of the cave so the curse does not think I’m a sacrifice too.”

Hanoff pulled out a welding knife. “You better be right about this. If it’s empty, I’ll find you and cut off your head.”

The other male held up his hands. “I guarantee it’s not empty. And remember what we agreed on. Fifty-fifty split.”

“Yeah, we agreed to that, but if this is a trick, I’ll kill you and whatever is lurking inside then I’ll take all of the gold for myself.”

Pasha felt the change in the desolate presence. It went through a series of confusion, hunger, urgency, and hope. Whatever was inside, was wide awake and anxious to get out. Just then the casket rocked and Hanoff hopped back with a yelp.

Hanoff turned back to the guest, but the guest was gone. Worried eyes turned evil when they settled on her. “You’re the prettiest slave I’ve ever seen. If it wasn’t for this chest of gold, I would have kept you, chained you, and used you as you were meant to be used.”

Pasha could feel the person inside getting angrier by the second. As a Hetten she was taught and trained never to use her ability to affect others, but in this, she refused to let a scum-sucking rat bastard like Hanoff get mounds of gold, while she was killed and probably eaten by the thing inside. His hunger was building, and Pasha used her ability to fuel it on to being practically consuming.

The chains rattled as the casket shook.

Hanoff held up his welding knife, closed his eyes, and cut through the chains, suffering little resistance. The iron clanked as they fell on top of each other. The box still shook and Hanoff moved to the hinges and sliced through those.

The presence seeped out in a cloud or shadow encircling Hanoff. Pasha could feel the hunger and the anger radiating off the darkness. She watched, stunned that such a thing was real. She had never in her short twenty-eight years heard of such a creature.

Suddenly, Hanoff’s neck twisted back and his head was faced the wrong way.

Pasha’s knees buckled. She hit the ground just as wet splatter echoed in the cave. Watching helplessly she watched as the thing fed off Hanoff’s body.

Chapter Two

Pasha felt the shadow’s hunger start to dissipate. She stayed on the ground seeping calm into the air. Not directly at the beast, but around him so that he wouldn’t feel her Hetten ability. Not knowing the creature, she didn’t know how he would react to sudden emotional stresses.

Hanoff’s body was a mangled mess, blood seeped down the slope of stone to her right. It smelled foul, a mix of iron and raw meat that had sat out in the heat too long.

Her stomach flip-flopped. Closing her eyes she breathed in through her nose and exhaled louder than she intended.

The beast’s eyes snapped to hers as if he just realized he wasn’t alone. Red eyes held her captive as the shadow fully solidified into a dark grey person.

He was tall with wide naked shoulders. Long black hair draped over his face making him look sinister in the dark. His mouth covered in blood.

Pasha felt the moment being cut into her soul as the most terrifying times of her life. More terrifying than being sold to a stranger. She pushed more calm energy between them, hoping he didn’t see her as his next meal.

The male narrowed his eyes and then scanned the room as if he could see something she couldn’t. He sniffed in the air and then shook his head. It was very animal-like and that worried Pasha even more.

Animals couldn’t be reasoned with.

His chest rumbled, but it didn’t sound like a growl but more of an acknowledgment.

The male crawled over the body, hands, and feet working perfectly together like a four-legged animal. Red eyes keeping a hold on her as he moved closer and closer. Pasha could feel his curiosity growing with every step.

Sliding a foot forward, he was less than a foot away, smelling like a horrid bouquet of rot, blood, raw meat and wet dirt. There was another rumble in his chest. His hand reached up and took a chunk of hair, examining it like he’d never seen blonde before.

May he hadn’t.

There was no more hunger, anger, or malice emanating from the male, but Pasha couldn’t shake the strong desire to run. Probably because the creature had not yet made up his mind what to do with her.

A crunch of rocks behind drew her attention…and the beasts. The male exposed his sharp teeth and hissed.

“Whoa, guy, it’s alright. I’m not here to hurt you, I’m just making sure you got what you needed. Food and someone to breed with. That’s what your kind does right?”

That’s what his kind did?

The guest had tricked Hanoff for sure. And now the jerk was trying to get the gold they talked about.

Pasha was disgusted and angry. So much so she might have purposefully sent a sliver of anger towards the male crouched in front of her.

The scary bloody beast gnashed his teeth and screamed a high pitch scream right before turning into a shadow. Anger radiated out from the guest and the beast. The guest tried to fight but his head was turned the wrong direction moment later.

The beast made that high-pitched scream again and ran out of the cave.

Pasha felt the presence less and less. Enough that she didn’t think the beast would return. Pushing off her knees she rushed forward, careful not to step in the blood and gristle. Taking the welding knife, she sliced through her binds and freed her wrists. Then she tucked the knife in her pocket and took off.

***

It took her no time at all to feel the presence of the walking people. Finding the path, she rushed forward, driven by the need to be safe.

Outside it was cold and dark, but she was breathing free air.

A small huddle of houses was lit with smoke filling the air. As she rushed forward she could smell fresh bread and stew. Her stomach rumbled for food after days without.

She stopped at the first Inn.

The old woman behind the desk had grey hair pulled back in a bun. She looked Pasha over with a frown before asking, “Do you need a room?”

“I need a transport off this planet and any food you have to offer.”

“Transport only comes in the morning. You’ll have to wait outside if you don’t have any keleps.”

“I have keleps and I would rather stay in here.”

The old woman handed over a thumbprint reader, an old technology of transferring funds. Pasha depressed her thumb, unsure if she had any funds. Her kidnappers could have emptied her accounts.

The reader blinked green and the old woman smiled.

“Welcome to Synnogum Inn. I’ll show you to your room and have dinner brought up to you.”

“Thank you.”

Inside the room it was warm. A small heater blew gentle radiating heat into the room and Pasha almost started crying right then. But she held back so she didn’t affect the old woman. But as soon as the door was closed and Pasha knew she was alone, she let herself feel her terror, her sadness, and her painful relief that she was free.

Tears flowed freely until they were done and she felt better. Then she wiped her eyes, composed herself and sat down on the chair nearest to the heater, and waited for dinner.

***

Pasha had eaten every single crumb of bread and every last spoonful of stew. She was full and sleepy. Taking the blanket from the bed, she snuffled on the large chair and let the heat lull her to sleep.

It was working too until she felt his presence.

Her blood chilled and she didn’t move as he crept from behind her. His rumbles sounded more threatening this time. Like he was still angry.

The shadow solidified in front of her. His upper lip curled.

Pasha pushed out a hint of calm and the beast hissed and moved out of the way as if he could see it. Sucking back in the calm she sat up not sure how to proceed.

Chapter Three

Nem watched the trickster as blue ribbons floated in the air towards him. The last time he let the ribbons touch him, he lost control and killed a male who looked like his master. He wasn’t going to let them touch him so he accidentally hurt her.

Nem knew he was going to be punished for killing the red-skinned male. His master would take the female for killing without permission. The master always took the females away when he was bad.

But the master had not come yet, and he was determined to mate this female before she was taken away. Every part of his body was honed to her. He was not fully ripe for the mating, but he would be as soon as he touched her, as soon as he removed her clothing.

“Hi,” the female said.

He looked away. He wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone but the master. She should have been told not to talk to him. They were always told to keep quiet.

The master was going to punish her. He hissed again, hoping she remembered to keep quiet.

“I’m Pasha.”

He liked that name. But she needed to be quiet.

Moving to the door he listened closely for the special gait that he knew so well. So far, they were safe.

“I didn’t mean to upset you when I influenced your moods.”

He growled. She had to stop talking.

“I won’t do it again.”

She wasn’t stopping so he cut his eyes to her and said, “Shhhhhhh.” It sounded more like a hiss, but he saw how she tilted her head like she understood him.

“Does it bother you if I talk?”

Clenching his long nails into the flesh of his palms he was angry at the female, and yet he was more worried for her. The master would kill her. He’d seen it before.

Nem didn’t look at her, he kept his eyes on the door because he was sure at any minute they would be caged and punished.

“What if I whisper,” she said lowering her voice to only something he could hear.

He swung his head to her and very slowly shook his head. Talking was out of the question.

The female patted her mouth but didn’t say anything.

Good, she figured it out.

Maybe she would also quickly get undressed so he could breed her real quick. He had waited his whole life for it. His father had shown him before he was captured, that their only reason for living was to find a female to breed with.

After that life didn’t matter because he did his job.

“One quick question,” she whispered leaning towards him. “What’s your name?”

That was it. He had to silence her himself. Walking around her ribbons he headed straight for her. More blue ribbons surrounded her. He didn’t care. He needed to stop her.

Reaching over he covered her mouth with a hand, feeling his blood warm and his worries dissipate. He wasn’t terrified about being punished or locked back up. He would be fine….

NO.

He wouldn’t be fine. He never wanted to be locked up again.

Growling he pressed his hand harder forcing his mind to fight the ribbons. In her ear, he said, “He’ll kill you. Stop. Talking.”

Leaning back he didn’t take his hand away until she nodded. Then he stepped back and watched her whisper, “You talk?”

He threw up his hands and growled. The woman was crazy.

Chapter Four

What just happened?

The beast gave her a you’re irritating me look, turned back into a shadow, and walked out. He left the door open and there was a part of Pasha that wanted to get up and follow him. But she also didn’t trust the male who switched between lust, fear, and irritation.

In that order.

Not to mention, the warning about another male who would kill her.

Shaking her head she decided it was much better that he left. Yeah, it was better this way. Except, she didn’t stay sitting down. Leaving her chair she silently moved to the door that was darkened by the unlit hallway.

Biting her bottom lip she moved forward, knowing deep down that this was probably the dumbest thing she had ever done. Why she was leaving the safety of her room, only Seth of Stars could answer that.

The wood under her feet creaked as she left the hall for the stairs. Pasha could feel his presence but it didn’t stop until she was at the bottom of the stairs. Then she felt him next to her even though she couldn’t see him.

Again, there was lust, then fear followed by irritation.

“What are we doing down here?” she whispered.

“Shhh.”

She rolled her eyes. The beast didn’t have much of a vocabulary. Then she felt something touch the side of her face and a deep voice saying, “Stay here.”

The shadow was quick as it drew away, but it was back less than a minute later. He grabbed her hand and pulled her forward towards the door.

No.

She was not spending the night in the icy cold.

Pasha yanked back her hand, but the hold was tight.

“No.”

“Shhhhh.”

Digging her heels into the wood floors did nothing, so she hissed. “I’m not going out there. You could be a killer.”

He stopped and solidified to the massive wall of muscle that he was. “I am a killer.”

Stupidly she said, “Yeah I know. That’s why I don’t want to go.”

His head tilted. “We need to leave before the master comes.”

She shook her head. “I don’t have a master.”

“You do. He’s the one who gave you to me.”

Her mind paused.

What in the hell did he just say?

GAVE HER?

No.

Absolutely not.

“I was kidnapped from my planet and sold to the man you ate. Trust me if there was a master, you killed him.”

The beast shook his head and pulled her forward again, this time getting her closer to the door. Pasha grabbed hold of his wrist and wishing she had the touch ability to inflict pain. So instead she pushed out as much calming emotions she could between them, letting it soak into his skin.

“Please stop. You have me mixed up with someone else. I am not your gift.”

The male didn’t stop.

How he was able to shake off her effects were beyond her understanding. No one, to her knowledge, could do that.

Cold air struck her skin and she instantly shivered. She hated the cold and she hated losing her freedom again. Worse, this time, she walked right into it.

“LET ME GO!”

Growling the beast picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. The wind blew hard, making it hard to see through her hair. The jerk was running and her stomach was taking a beating.

Holding herself up, she continued to push calm into the male’s exposed skin. Not that it helped, but it was all she could do, and she refused to do nothing.

Chapter Five

Nem was fighting the fake calm that the female was torturing him with. Did she not understand how dangerous it was and he needed to keep his senses alert? The crazy female never stopped talking, so it was stupid to assume she would understand.

Stalking down the empty streets through the back passes, watching and listening for the master’s guards. He couldn’t let them find him and take her. He also didn’t want to end back up in that box.

The air coming out of his mouth made it look like he was breathing smoke.

Nem knew that was bad. He needed a cloth or something to cover his mouth. But he was also too afraid to stop. He would find something soon.

Running from one house to the next he made his way as far away from the female’s place as he could get.

There at the end of the street was a perfect broken-down house. He took a step and heard a clink, click followed by a rumbled of an engine. Nem sucked in his breath and backed further into the shadow of a pile of logs.

The female he was holding tried to stand up, but he didn’t let her. She needed to stay still. But she didn’t and she didn’t stay quiet either.

“HELP,” she screamed, pushing against his chest. “Someone help me.”

Nem pulled her down and slid her legs between his. Then he grabbed her flapping hands and trapped her wrists with one hand. With the other hand, he covered her mouth and then lowered himself on top and turned to his shadow form, making it near impossible to see her through his shadow.

She struggled in vain underneath him. Her hands spinning more false emotions of fear, anger, and confusion.

Nem shook the fear and the confusion away. Anger was harder to pull away from. Because he was angry. Deep down he had been angry for longer than he was trapped in the box.

But she was his now, and he wasn’t going to hurt her.

In shadow form it was easier to keep his control. He didn’t have to breathe or control his heart. In his shadow, he was in ultimate control.

Finally, the female stopped struggling. In fact, he was sure that she was no longer stiff either. Almost as if she was relaxed.

He found her ear and whispered, “The master will kill you if he finds us. I’m trying to save us. Stop your noise.”

“I don’t know any master.”

“I do.”

“I think you have the wrong person. Please just let me go.”

“Master hurts females. He likes it. He is not going to hurt you. I’m keeping you. Don’t fight me.”

“Please. I don’t want to be your slave or breeder or whatever. I just want to go home.”

Home?

She had a home? His kind didn’t have homes unless they were mated. His heart sunk. “You have mate? Or did master kill him?”

“I don’t have a mate. I was kidnapped.”

But she said she had a home. “Home is where you mate. If you have a home, you have a mate.”

“Not on my planet. I live alone.”

“You produce brumms by yourself? How?”

“What brumms?”

“They come out of the woman after breeding.”

“Are you talking about…your male juice? That’s gross.”

“Not drink. Small brumm grows into big male or female.”

“…ah. You mean baby. Uh, no. I’m not a – whatever they call those things.”

“I don’t understand your words,” Nem said solidifying because he was sure there was no one around. As soon as he was whole the female looked up at him, not fighting him or sending her ribbons into his skin.

“I can’t produce brumms myself.” Then she made a face at him. “I won’t scream again, but you have to let me go so I can help find a place to stay. It’s cold and I feel like my blood is turning to ice.”

She was cold and if he went into the broken-down house she would be very cold. Nem searched the street looking for something warmer. There across the street was a floating vehicle.

His master used to make him sleep in them when the master went inside to talk to other people. The floating thing was perfectly warm. And he just so happened to figure out how to drive it.

It was on accident the first time, but after that, he liked to travel knowing his master never knew.

Picking up his female he stood her up and then grabbed a hand and pulled her to the vehicle. The female hissed at him but he glared at her and she went silent fast.

Good.

She was learning.

Once inside he programmed it to go. Then his female touched the screen and it started heading to a place called landing dock.

Chapter Six

Pasha’s bones were shivering. The cold leaving her body was not as pleasant as she hoped it would be. Leaning forward she increased the flow for the heater and cupped her hands over the vent.

There.

That was soooo much better.

Warmth rushed under her skin, she knew she was putting out low levels of good emotions. She was no longer a slave, she was no longer cold and she was headed home. Everything was going to be okay.

“Stop making the blue ribbons. They will not trick me again.”

Pasha lowered her lids partially and faced the beast. “They aren’t for you, they are for me.”

“Stop making them.”

Excuse me?

“No.” Pasha sat back so she could straighten her back. “I can’t stop making them. It’s like breathing. I’m a Hettan, surely you know what that means.” She doubted he knew what that meant.

“I don’t know what a Hetten is. But if it is that is your race of tricksters, I don’t like them.”

Her entire race was reduced to a bunch of emotional tricksters.

She could feel his emotions and recognized the mixture of fear and anger. Two of the worst combinations. Before that moment, Pasha might have dug deep and argued until the idiot understood it was natural and shouldn’t be subdued, but this guy….didn’t seem the type to listen to reason.

So she said, “I won’t push any emotions – I mean ribbons – at you. I promise.”

“You said that before. You didn’t keep your word.” The beast didn’t feel or show any marks of betrayal. It was like he was used to being lied to.

That…bothered her.

“You’re right I said that and then you pulled me into the freezing cold talking about a crazy master. So in my defense, I was just protecting myself.”

“I protect you. You will not fight me anymore. You are mine to keep safe.” He said those words with such assurance.

Pasha took in a breath trying to think of a way to explain that they weren’t mates because that was how he was talking. But the Navigation screen blinked alerting them they were approaching the landing docks.

In the distance, she could see ships coming and taking off. The beast’s eyes narrowed and he leaned into the visual screen. A growl erupted from his chest.

Pasha felt his fear spike.

His growl sounded sinister, no, it was more threatening. Not to her of course, but to the ships. He reminded her of a rabid animal.

Thinking fast she needed to calm him down – without her ability.

“You never told me your name. Do you have one?”

His fear plateaued when he looked over at her. “My name is Nem.”

Nem.

“What is your planet like?”

He shook his head swaying his long black hair. “That was a long time ago.”

“Did you leave because you didn’t like it?”

His face pinched. “I was taken as a young one and given to the master.”

Pasha bit her lip.

Nem was a child slave, she couldn’t imagine what he suffered at the hands of a master who would lock him in a coffin and kill women so much so that the shadow man was so terrified for her.

His brows lowered. “Your ribbons are changing to black.”

Deep sadness.

Turning away she whispered, “Do you want to go back to your planet?”

She felt his confusion and then uneasiness added to her sadness it was depressing.

He didn’t answer.

“If you could go back, would you?”

No answer.

The landing dock was closer. Nem reached over and bashed the console. The screen cracked and he quickly went for the doors.

“Hey, what are you doing?” It was still dark and cold and she didn’t want to get sucked outside again.

“We can’t be seen. We can’t be here. The workers will tell the master.”

Reaching over, she half laid on him to keep the door from opening. “Nem wait, wait. What if there is no master? Because I have never met him and I don’t think there is anyone chasing us.”

Nem’s expression was firm and unyielding. If he didn’t smell like wet moldy earth she might have liked being this close, but her nose was too sensitive. She sneezed – turning away before she did so on his face.

When she finished she blinked back her watery eyes and watched his mouth move as he spoke.

“You are wrong. We have to hide and not  where the guards will shoot at me for getting free.”

“What if they can’t see you? What if you’re in the shadow form and I find a Luri ship?”

He shook his head then stopped. “What is a Luri ship?”

“A Federation ship designed for people who were kidnapped and lost. It gets us home.”

He shook his head again.

Stubborn man.

“Okay, what if I find a ship and arrange a passage on it?”

He didn’t answer so she pushed. “That way we won’t be here for the Master to find, and we won’t be going back to my home where the master will find us?” After the words were out of her mouth she regretted them.

She didn’t plan to go to some random place.

She wanted to go home.

What was she thinking?

Nem watched her closely. His head tilted as he looked over her face, nose, and forehead like he was seeing something she couldn’t.

“Your ribbons are yellow now.” He lifted a hand to her face and rubbed a thumb over her cheek.

Damn it.

His touch was soft even though his thumbs had calluses. She didn’t expect to like it and that worried her. It wasn’t just the tenderness in the act, it was underlined by his emotions that she hadn’t felt at a distance.

In his touch, she was swallowed by dark possession and awe.

Pulling back she tried to cover her shock with a fake smile.

He frowned.

Pasha needed to focus on the situation. The complexities of keeping the shadow were something she would worry about later. “I’ll find a ship and get passage. Stay in the shadows so no one sees you. Then when he or she agrees, you can follow me on, okay?”

Nem dropped his hand, his face hardening, which was surprising because he already had an impassive expression.

“You will not trick me. If you scream and run…” he flared his nose as if thinking about it upset him.

Pasha knew she needed to set him straight. To tell him that they weren’t mates, but she could feel his seriousness. There was no talking him out of it.

“I promise not to scream and run.” She didn’t promise not to find him a different female though.

Internally she grinned knowing that was a great idea. And on the next planet there were going to be plenty of females for him to choose from.

Nem grunted as the Hampton Dwarf came to a stop at the docks. Once it stopped Nem opened the door, took her hand, and led her out as he turned to a shadow. She could still feel him holding her hand even though she couldn’t see him.

It was eerie.

***

The docks were full and Pasha held herself close as the cold seeped back into her bones. She tried to hail two other people walking from their ship. Both told her they didn’t pick up space-nubs.

The third ship she approached was large and sleek, matte black and a greenish-blue tail painted on the back. It had a saying over the part of the ship with a ramp on it: Calypso’s Dream.

The male was Terran looking but she didn’t hold her hand out in proper greeting. “Hi, I’m looking to buy passage off the planet.”

The male lifted his brows but didn’t say anything.

“I will pay for a single room to wherever you’re going.”

He smirked. “You don’t even know where we’re going.”

“Don’t care.”

“You should.”

“Why?” she asked knowing that there wasn’t any vileness in his emotions.

“Because it could be a long trip, with a ship full of men and you’d be the only female.” He winked. “Get it?”

She snorted with a heavy dose of arrogance because Nem would probably kill him if he touched her. “Are you going to rent me a room or what?”

He shook his head. “If I was a better man…I would offer you or what, but I’m not. Three hundred keleps and you will have a place to stay.”

“Five hundred and I get my own room.”

“There is no spare room, empath.”

Dang.

“Tell the other person they can sleep outside and take a portion of the rent.”

He rolled his eyes. “Like I’d give in a kelp. Nope, you want him out, you do it yourself. He goes by Blitzer, so I’m sure you know what that means.” The male pulled out a Minky pad and tapped the screen.

Then he held it out for her to use her thumbprint.

What kind of planet was she on that they used such archaic technology?

Once it dinged complete, he smiled. “Welcome aboard Ms. Smith.”

That wasn’t her name.

“Yeah, thanks.” She scanned the shadows wondering if Nem was near. She didn’t feel him, and she hoped he would follow her on, even though there was a bright light shining down on the ramp.

“The time to think about the offer is over sweets. Walk up the plank and meet the crew.”

Face forward she headed into the ship. A second later she heard a male cry out behind her. Turning she saw the Terran male dropping to the ground. The black shadow quickly followed her up the ramp.

“Did you just kill him?”

“No, do you want me to?”

“No. I just…”

“No more talking, we go inside.” Pasha felt his hands lift her up and walk her into the ship. There were several males stacking crates. Nem put her down just as three pairs of eyes turned her way.

Sticking a thumb towards the ramp she said, “I paid five hundred for a room with Blitzer.”

Blitzer, she assumed, with the blond hair and blue eyes started rubbing his hands together. “You got that right, babe. I’ll take you to my room.”

Seth of Stars these males were gross.

Faking a smile she said, “Great. The sooner the better.”

Someone whistled, another male rolled his eyes. Blitzer on the other hand walked with a bounce in his step as he led the way to the stairs.

Once inside the room, of course, Nem flung him out, shut the door, and locked it. As soon as he solidified, he frowned looking around. “I don’t like this ship.”

“We needed off the planet,” she reminded him as she saw the disgusting piles of clothes and junk. “But more importantly, I need to sanitize this room.”

Chapter Seven

Nem was usually collard when he traveled. It kept him from turning into a shadow. The master wouldn’t let him on the landing docks without it. Rubbing his neck, he felt…different. Not good and not bad.

Escaping the master, however….that didn’t feel real.

“You’re growling at the door again,” she said somewhere behind him.

Nem turned, catching Pasha drop a still sock down the ejection shoot. Her body shivered while making a face. As if touching a piece of clothing the worst thing she had ever done. Internally he shook his head at her. Clothing was not worthy of her fear.

Nem knew of real fear and he needed to remind her of it.

“He might still find us.”

“How? I don’t even know where we are?”

Nem didn’t either but that didn’t mean they were safe. Turning back to the door he waited for the male to come back. Most likely he would be with the others. If they came together, he would have to kill them all.

He wasn’t taking any chances.

***

“Alright, I’m done.”

Nem looked behind him to see the mostly empty room. He nodded once, commending the good job, and returned his attention to the door.

“I think I should go and get some food. But I think you should stay here to keep our room safe.”

He turned around with a frown. “I keep you safe. Not the room.”

She tilted her head, “I meant someone should stay here. Both of us can’t leave.”

“You stay. I’ll get food.”

She shook her head. “You’re not normal looking. If anyone sees you they will freak out. I need to go.”

He knew about the fear in people’s eyes when they saw him. But he didn’t have to show anyone what he looked like. Plus, it was his duty to feed his mate.

Pasha took a step to walk around him and he cut her off.

“No, you will stay here.”

“No, you are. I’ll be quick.”

He moved to block the door. “If you leave, I leave with you. There are too many males on this ship.”

“I don’t care about the other males. I just want food.”

“If all you want is food, then stay here and I will be back. You will eat either way.”

She hitched her hands on her hips glaring. Nem wasn’t sure if that was for intimidation or not, but it wasn’t working. Red-orange ribbons fluttered around her skin and he was sure it was her anger.

Pasha rolled her eyes and told him, “Fine. Go. But if you bring back crappy food, I’m going to send you right back.”

Now that upset him. Food was food. It didn’t matter what it tasted like, she was going to eat it.

***

Nem slipped out the door after Pasha unlocked it for him. Turning to a shadow he moved swiftly between the dark corners of the hall, looking for food.

An hour later he finally found the food cave. It was in a cold place, but he took all he could carry and moved out. The way back was slower because he had food to carry and he wanted to remain unseen.

Unfortunately, someone turned into the cave as he was leaving it. In his shadow form, he screamed a warning. A high pitch sound that hurt the ears of all who heard it. The male jumped back, yelled to himself, and raced from the cave.

Nem smirked. It was a good thing to be scary. Fighting with his arms full of food was not good.

Outside the cave, he took the hall and then moved to the stairs. That’s when he heard them rushing up, and a male sounding frantic. So instead of moving down, he moved up the stairs until he was at the next level.

Then he walked to the other side of the stairs and took those down.

Back in the room, his mate inspected his food saying nothing. He waited wondering if she would dare insult him.

When she took a bag of water he nodded at her choice. He would have chosen water too, but this food was for her. He would not eat, drink, or sleep until he was sure he and Pasha were safe.

“Did anyone see you?”

“Yes.”

“Did you kill them?”

“No. Should I have?” Was his mate as bloodthirsty as his master?

“I was just asking. I’m glad you didn’t kill anyone.” Taking a water bag she held it out to him. “Here I think you probably need this more than me.”

Nem looked at the water. She was offering him her food? Why?

“It’s yours.”

“It’s ours. Take it.”

No. This isn’t how things worked. He wasn’t supposed to touch other people’s food. But he reached out and grabbed the bag anyway. He should have said no, but he was thirsty. Ripping the top with his teeth like he did so often he guzzled the water as fast as he could before she might rethink her offer.

When he finished he saw she was holding out another bag. “Here.”

He took it damn him.

He took the third and the fourth bag too. Then she pulled back a chair and patted it. “Why don’t you sit down and eat with me. There’s no reason to eat and drink standing up.”

Why did she care?

He sat down anyway.

Once he sat down he noticed she relaxed. At that, he narrowed his eyes. Why did she feel safer with him so close to her? She was the one saying she was normal and he wasn’t. But then she was also being too nice.

There were no ribbons around her or in the air to trick him. But something was different and it didn’t make any sense.

Pasha pushed several bags of stews and pasta bags towards him. He used his teeth to rip off the top and noticed something else. His mate didn’t talk when she was eating. The silence should have eased his soul but it didn’t. Nem liked his chatty mate.

“You like the food?”

She swallowed quickly and pointed to the green pasta bags. “I don’t like bula pasta, but everything else is great.”

He liked the green kind so he took the unwanted bags and switched them out for the food she liked. His mate smiled. But more…white ribbons shimmered just over her skin as she told him, “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

He nodded once at her. Inside Nem grinned. He was pleasing his mate. Soon they would mate and he would accomplish what he was meant to.

A hard knock pounded on the door, drawing both of their attention. Nem was the first to react though. He was a shadow before Pasha’s next breath. He was in front of the door a second later.

“Open this door. This is the captain.”

He started to growl when he felt Pasha’s presence near him. He drew her back behind him, but she held on to him and whispered, “Let me talk to the captain. If we don’t, we will look like lunatics. If they do anything stupid you can kick them out, okay?”

“I said open up,” the male shouted.

Nem wrapped his shadow around her body, and transition only his mouth so he could speak in her ear. “No touching them or getting close. You do not belong to them.”

“I don’t belong to….you know what, we’ll talk about this later.”

He faded back until he was just a small slit in the corner of the room. Pasha opened the door and three males moved in and looked around. One was the male she talked to who agreed she could come on board.

One was the male who thought to touch her.

And the third was large and red-skinned. Just like his master, and Nem was sure that they just made a horrible mistake. That male had to work for his master. All the red-skinned ones did.

“What did you do with all my stuff?”

“Don’t even get me started on how disgusting this room was. I feel like I need to bleach my hands after cleaning up after you.”

The male she was talking to opened his mouth to speak but the red Demon stopped him with a hand. “I was not told about you until we took off. For that you’re lucky. I don’t like females on my ship.”

“I already paid.”

“I know, which is why I’m going to let you stay, but not here. This hall is for my men and you don’t get to kick Blitzer out. You wanted transported to the next stop, you got it, but unless you plan to share the bed with my employee, then it’s to the cargo bay with you.”

“I paid for a room.”

“No, you paid for a transport.”

“No, I-“

He cut her off with a dark hiss, “This is not your ship. You don’t make the rules. You want off, by all means – jump out the ejection shoot or take a lifepod. But if you’re going to stay then you will remove yourself or I will.”

Nem began moving from the shadow, ready to defend their room when his mate shocked him.

“Fine. I’ll go. But let me be clear, if you or any of your men think of doing anything to me, I promise you won’t live to tell anyone.”

“Did you just threaten me?”

“No. I was just letting you know what happens if you touch me.”

The red male laughed. “You think your Hetten emotions are going to affect me? You must not have spent enough time with Demons.”

“I have,” she said boldly, “And I have to say I’m not impressed.”

The Demon curled his upper lip and Nem moved further into the room, making sure to not bring attention to himself, but also being close enough so that he could easily take out the three men.

But the male didn’t touch her, instead, he stood to the side and let her pass.

Nem almost relaxed, but the second she was between the Demon and the door, the Demon pushed her up against the wall.

Pasha screamed.

Nem…snapped.

Chapter Eight

Pasha had seen Nem kill before. But this was different. This was wrath. Nem’s emotions flooded the entryway, soaking her skin in his possessive rage. It felt like lava scorched her veins. It was so intense she shook with it. Tears spilled over her lids effortlessly as Nem continued to obliterate the body of the captain.

He was in shadow form, making it impossible to determine how he was doing what he was doing.

Her arms and clothes were sprayed with blood and bits. It sickened her. Shaking her head she whispered, “Stop.”

He didn’t.

“Please stop.”

No response.

She had to stop him. She was going to throw up. Oh, holy Seth…the smell.

The other two males had eased back in the room terrified, in their own right. It was only a matter of time before Nem either turned on them, or they turned on him.

“Nem,” she said louder, and the shadow solidified into a bloody face, his mouth covered in blood as if he had been eating the male.

No.

That was not okay.

Her stomach wriggled, she wasn’t going to make it. She pulled herself out of the room holding the door frame. She made it one step out before her other foot got stuck lodged on the body. She cried, screamed, and emptied the contents of her stomach.

The shadow wrapped around her and lifted her up. She fought as effective as a toddler being picked up. Kicking and screaming was too much effort for her as her body fought back the black emotions of a satisfied kill.

Worse she felt something she had never felt before. An echo of millions of satisfied kills.

***

Nem stuffed her in a small room and bent the door. At first, she thought it was because he was angry. But then he disappeared through a very narrow slit. When she tried to open the door, it wouldn’t budge because of the malfunction.

Locked in the room she tried to push as much calm out of her as possible, but nothing was affecting him.

Pasha pushed back against the wall and slid to her rear, silent and emotionally lost. Reaching out to as many people as she could she waited to feel their fear and their pain as Nem killed them.

…but after some time, she could still feel the people in the other rooms.

If Nem was killing it was far away.

Time ticked on and she didn’t hear or feel Nem. Did he leave her? Was that what this was? Was he killing people slowly? Watching them? Getting them food?

WHAT IN SETH WAS HE DOING?

Knocking back her head, she let the subtle sting feed her frustrations. She wanted to know what was going on. She needed to know.

More time eked by and she had finally moved from the floor to turn on the light. She snorted at first, then bit her lip fighting back the warmth of Nem’s actions.

Nem sealed her into a food pantry. Boxes of food and bags of water overfilled the room. She would want for nothing being locked inside this room. It was a cabin turned pantry, so there was a bed and a cleaner too.

He couldn’t have planned this.

Pasha shook her head knowing she was wrong because of all the males she had ever known, Nem would have absolutely thought of her needs first. It confused her to feel so pleased about that. The shadow male was a killer and delusional about a master that was out to get them.

She should be trying to get as far away from him as possible, but she had no desire, not even a little bit – to leave him.

Running a finger over the first set of boxes she tried to reason to herself why she felt the need to stay with Nem. Nothing, absolutely nothing screamed out in her mind. The only thing she knew for sure was that he was the scariest person she knew, and she was safest when she was near him.

At that, she frowned.

Was she using him to stay safe? A part of her thought so because she still consciously avoided any and all thoughts about the slave blocks and the feeling of dread when she was bought.

Knowing that she worried her intentions were wrong.

Pasha stopped to read the label of the boxes she was near: Water. Bleh. She was not overly thirsty and not in the mood for something so bland. Scanning the room, she didn’t know what she was looking for until she saw the cleaner.

Holding up her hands she made her decision quickly. Her feet moved so fast she could have been running. Clothes came off just as fast until she was inside the small cove.

Turning the shower on, she didn’t wait for the warm water to turn, she just got in, shivering soundly, but also feeling the stiffness of her hair lessen.

***

Nem stalked the halls following the males who had come with the Demon to remove his mate from their room. He watched and listened as the males recounted what happened. Two wanted to go and hunt him. Nem made sure to memorize their faces.

Several of them wanted to take lifepods off the ship.

One stepped forward and asked the two survivors to come with him to the bridge. Nem followed them up to the controls because he wanted to know what they were going to do. He assumed they were going to try and find him through their electronics, but he was wrong.

The one male went to the bridge, opened a compartment in the captain’s chair, and pulled out a bag full of something. When he showed it to the other two he said, “You know what kind of diamonds those are and you know how much they are worth.”

“How did you know he had the stash here?”

“Is the only place I couldn’t check, cap never left the bridge for me to check. So I figured they were here.”

“He said he lost them,” one male said with a curse. “So what now, we split it between all of us?”

“Nope, we split it three ways between us because we only need three people to pilot the small all-terrain tri-hopper out of the cargo bay.”

All the males were silent for a matter of moments then they all nodded and promptly walked out.

Nem followed them down to the cargo bay and watched them direct the other crew members to other parts of the ship. When they were alone, they started a small machine and then did something to open the ramp.

If Nem wasn’t snug between a very small gap in the walls he wouldn’t have been able to catch himself. He would have been sucked out into space like the many towers of boxes before him. Gritting his teeth the machine slipped out and the ramp closed by itself.

Nem solidified for a moment to catch his breath and think.

The only people left on the ship were terrified of him or wanted to hunt him down. None of those people seemed apt to fly the ship, or so it seemed to him.

***

Pasha was laying down on a freshly cleaned off bed, wrapped in a towel, when the banging sounded on the other side of the door.

A male shouted at her, “We know you’re in there female. And we know your shadow freak is with you. Send him out and I won’t hurt you. But if you don’t, we will kill you both.”

Darkness, similar to Nem’s floated through the door towards her. She knew the males on the other side of the room were not going to spare her. They liked death and they were hungry for it.

“Open this door right now!”

Pasha opened her eyes so she could stare at the wall and avoid the banging. Not that it was helping, but closing her eyes seemed to make it more real.

“Open this door or we will make your death the longest torture in history.”

Pasha didn’t respond then or to the many other rude and inhuman remarks they battered her with. Listening and feeling them igniting excitement in each other by detailing all they planned to do to her made her sick.

Worse than when she was covered in blood.

When she heard the metal banging on the door she started to worry. Getting up from the bed she scooped up her clothes, locked herself in the cleaner, and shoved the items in the washer. If the males did bust in, she needed to be dressed.

Pasha didn’t know where Nem was, but she hoped he came back soon. Feeding people like that calm wouldn’t save her at all. They would only be less excited about what they were going to do.

Her clothes dinged ready for the dryer when she heard the sound of metal bending unnaturally. Pasha pulled out the wet clothes and shoved her limbs through them determined to be dressed, even if that meant being wet.

“Look, the bed is cleared off. We must have woken our little bed pet. Hope she’s ready for a long night strapped to it.”

“Shhh. The shadow thing could be in here. We have to kill it first.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m not an idiot.”

Pasha grit her teeth and began to push layers of confusion and fear into the small space she was in. A second ago she thought about calm, but after hearing that, she needed them off their edge.

She needed to run.

The sound of crashing boxes made her skin tingle with anxiety. She was only going to get one chance and she was going to have to be quick. Shaking her head and arms she didn’t like how her wet clothes clung to her, but she didn’t have time to dry them.

The cleaner door slammed open for the males. The emotions flooded out as she used the wall to kick herself forward, knocking into one and falling on top of him. She scrambled up just as the other male grabbed her arm.

She targeted his touch and filled him with pain, and he cried out.

Using the down male’s chest to lunge from, she quickly ran from the room and turned the corner. Voices yelled behind her – the two males from her room. She didn’t turn back, she ran as fast as she could to the stairs.

Pasha pulled open the door just as a body slammed it shut.

The male’s satisfaction and dark needs coated her in an invisible oily slim. His hand clamped around her neck, tight and unyielding. His fingers dug into her skin cutting off her air and inflicting needles of stinging.

“Now you’re going to – ”

The door opened so fast it knocked both the male and her to the ground. A dark shadow whipped in, flinging her in the air landing hard on her side, but she could breathe again. Knowing exactly who that was, she let her eyes stayed closed and focused on her happiness that Nem had come in time.

And Nem, was going to make sure that male didn’t hurt her.

It was probably wrong to feel like smiling, but she did that anyway. She had survived the males who wanted to hurt her and their punishment for wanting that, was a bigger a badder killer ripping them apart.

She knew he was there before she felt his touch on her neck. She relaxed to give him access. Opening her eyes, she saw his feet. Rolling to her back she caught his naked chest as if it was chiseled from stone. He was stunning. But it was his frown that really got her attention. “He touched you.”

“Not for long, you came just in time,” she said wondering why his emotions seemed to be capped. There was no way he was feeling so little after all that.

Nem shook his head and pulled her up. “I failed you, mate. The ship is unsafe, and I allowed another to touch you.”

He didn’t have to say it, she guessed at what he was saying. He didn’t think he was worthy of her anymore.

Pasha wasn’t his mate, but if she was, she would have told him to shut up and kiss her. No, actually she wouldn’t have.

Not until he cleaned off the blood of the nasty male.

Pasha let that line of thought go and focused on the other part he talked about. “Why is the ship unsafe?”

“No one is flying it.”

Oh.

Well damn.

Rubbing her head she said, “Show me to the bridge, maybe I can find a manual.” Pasha wasn’t a pilot, but she had got stuck in a malfunctioning hover car once and was able to use the manual to override the issue and get herself to safety. Had she waited for the company to notice the malfunctions she would have died from starvation first.

“You can fly?”

“No, but I can read.”

Nem held her eyes as if she would say more. She didn’t. Moments later he walked her around the bodies and took her to the bridge.

Inside the bridge, she noted how Nem kept hovering back. She searched the place alone and found the manual. She flipped through the introduction and then began looking for basic directions.

All the while she noted Nem’s lack of emotions. Not that he was happy or calm, no, he was sucking them so deep she couldn’t connect into it. If she hadn’t felt his raw possessiveness before she might have thought, he didn’t care about her – but she knew better.

Staring at the pages seeing nothing she knew she had to do something. Turning to Nem she saw him hold her eyes for a second then looked away.

If he was a Hetten or any other race she would have fed him peace and hoped he talked about what was bothering him. It would open up the dialog and resolve his self-hate. Or at least she assumed it was self-hate.

But Nem was not like other people so she had to tread carefully.

Holding out her hand she said, “Can you help me?”

A flare of confusion emanated from him a second before he closed the distance between them. She moved from her seat and asked him to sit down. Then she said, “I’m going to read this out loud and if you can, find the button or whatever it says, okay?”

Doubt and confusion seeped from him before it was gone, replaced with the nothingness of his usual demeanor.

“What do I do?” he asked.

Pasha began reading the directions for the system reboot. Since she didn’t know the password the first thing she needed to do was get into the computer. As they worked together she noted he was not relaxing.

Once they got everything rebooted, she sat on the floor and read from there. Nem tried to get her to sit in the other seats but she liked the ground better. It was a bigger space to use because she ripped out the pages so she could get a full view of the consul.

Hours ticked on.

Her eyes hurt, her body was tired and she was thirsty, but she kept on because Nem needed a victory. He needed to know he didn’t mess up. Pasha was on the last section for the navigation when the map blinked and then a red dot appeared beside them and the whole room started to buzz.

The white lights turned red and an automated voice kept repeating the same words: Red Alert. Red Alert.

Chapter Nine

Nem watched as yellow ribbons circled Pasha’s body. He had seen the yellow ones before when she was worried. The alert would have instilled fear into anyone but hated it more because his mate was afraid.

Not that he wasn’t, he was. He had no idea what the alert was or why it was going off. Pasha seemed to know and he needed in on that information. Because his sole purpose was to protect and care for his mate, no matter what the threat was, he would take care of it.

Pointing at the blinking red dot on the screen he said, “What is this?”

Pasha was frantically reading the manual. She flipped back and forth between pages and clicked more switches.

“Mate, what is that?”

She didn’t answer until she hit the last switch and tossed the book on the floor. “It’s a planet and we need to get as far away as possible.”

“Why? Who’s planet is it?”

She shook her head taking the controls and pulling them back. “I don’t know. How would I know?”

“You are afraid of a planet that you don’t know anything about?”

Pasha’s eyes snapped to his. “Yes, Nem. I have no idea, but I’ve watched a lot of Discovery Universe and there are very few livable planets. I doubt our luck would land us on one.”

Nem didn’t know what Discovery Universe was, but he respected the facts she gave him. Taking the seat next to her he asked, “What can I do?”

She growled pulling harder on the consul. “Help me with this.”

Nem didn’t see room for him and her on the seat so he faded to his shadow, the tingles in his skin as it evaporated to the mist and wrapped himself around her. Taking the controls he felt the subtle vibrations and realized his mate had been pulling as hard as she could.

He was stronger and pulled as hard as he could.

“Yes, that’s it, keep doing that.”

Easily.

His mate let go of the controls and touched the big blacks screen. “Keep pulling, Nem. Don’t let go. I’m going to push the engines as soon as we get the nose up in the air.”

He had no idea what that meant.

On-screen he saw the screen zoom in and the red dot became a visual image of the planet they were near. The planet was not red, it was brown with grayish red hues.

Words on the top of the screen depicted how close they were.

“Are you pulling all the way back, Nem?”

“Yes.” There was no further to pull.

“Crap,” Pasha said and more ribbons flew out of her skin affecting him. Worry and doubt made him want to scream but there were no people to warn off.

“Stop your ribbons.”

“I don’t have ribbons, Nem, they are just emotions. And I’m freaking out so I can’t control them right now. Just do what you always do and ignore them.” Pasha ran her hands through her hair. “And we are not going to be able to fly past this planet. We are being sucked in because I don’t know how to turn on the other boosters to get us out of here.”

The ship began to shake.

“Uuuugh. Please don’t be a hot gas planet. Please don’t be a hot gas planet.”

Nem continued to pull back on the handles not sure what else to do, and he needed something to do. The shaking continued for another twenty seconds before the handles jerked left and his stomach lurched as the ship felt like it was being rolled on its side.

“I hate this ship. I have no idea how to land.” Pasha started to cuss as she hit the screen. “Why can’t you just go on autopilot you stupid ship?”

Nem didn’t know if he was making the right move but he shifted the handles trying to get it straight. Then for no reason, the handles were loose. No pressure it was like it was broken. Nem pulled back and solidified. Taking the handles again, it didn’t work.

“YESSSSSSS.” Pasha started to laugh. “The ship engaged auto controls to stop us spinning. We’re not going to die.” She turned, reached out, and launched herself at his neck. His natural reaction was to lean back and swipe the air, but this was his mate. So he took the hit, not sure what to do.

Her arms wrapped around him and he felt her body snug against his. Her face in the crook of his neck was a very sensitive spot if she wanted to hurt him. But she didn’t. Not even a little bit.

“We did it,” she said and her yellow ribbons were fading.

Nem slowly rubbed his hands over her back until she was secure. He had never been held like this and it was uncomfortable in a good way.

The ship’s engine hummed loud and then everything stopped.

Pasha pulled back as if she wanted down, but he wasn’t letting her. She peered at the screen. “We landed.”

He didn’t care. His mate was in his arms and she came to him willingly. He didn’t pull her there. That had to mean she chose him back.

Pasha turned back around, her blue-grey eyes found his, and then she glanced at his mouth. He knew about kissing had seen it and done it a few times – not with great success but he had tried. This was what she must want from him now.

“Pasha. I want your mouth.”

She pulled back a hand and rubbed a finger over his lips as if she was testing something. “Does your kind kiss?”

“No.”

She peered up. “Then what do you want with my mouth?”

“To kiss it.”

Her chuckled vibrated on his chest.

“If I kiss you, you will think I am your mate.”

He frowned. “You are my mate.”

She stared at him with her lips pressed against each other. “My kind does not mate like yours.”

He looked down at her breasts knowing he was made like the females of his kind. She also has the same body shape as the females he was able to breed with before. So he knew for a fact that she and him did mate the same. “You’re wrong.”

She brushed his bottom lip again. “I didn’t mean blitzing. I meant that my kind knows we’ve mated when the other person can sense our feelings. Even the ones we try to hide. You only feel what I have put out.”

Nem opened his mouth to suck her finger inside. He watched her as he did so, noticing a flush of pink ribbons floating out into the air. When she removed her soft finger, the ribbons disappeared.

“You are wrong. I see all your ribbons.”

She looked away. “I don’t understand how you can see ribbons. Emotions are just feelings. But that’s not what I’m talking about. My mate would know how I’m feeling. It wouldn’t be something he sees.”

“I’m not your kind,” he said hoping she understood that their mating would be different. Not being the same race would alter some things. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t real.

“I know.”

Nem watched her look at the ground and ask, “Can you put me down? I need to check to see what the outside looks like. I need to know if it’s livable or if I need to find another manual to get us out of here.”

Nem didn’t let her go. Her body against his was where she belonged. The females he had before didn’t care who he was or how he bred them. He didn’t want them a fraction as much as he wanted Pasha. So in this, he was going to give her time to understand.

In time she would see that he was her mate. But until that happened, he would make sure that she never doubted his belief. She would never doubt his conviction.

“Give me your mouth first, then I will put you down.”

More pink ribbons floated out then were pulled back in. He waited several seconds to call her name and say, “It won’t hurt.”

Facing him she smirked. No words or warning before she leaned down and pressed her lips against his. A burst of pink ribbons flooded against his skin, pleasure filled his veins and he couldn’t help leaning back against the console to steady himself.

Pasha pressed her lips harder against his before opening her mouth, slipping in her tongue. Her taste took him by surprise. Sweet and hot.

Opening up he followed her long enough to understand exactly how she liked it then he took over, flipping her around, laying her down, ignoring the sounds around him. He used his hand to push down her mouth wider, needing more.

He was full and heavy and in moments he was going to truly breed his mate. It was what they both wanted. He could feel it from her and she knew it from him.

A soft snick and the change in the air temperature changed all his plans.

Breaking the kiss, Nem stood up and turned towards the door. Five males stood wide-eyed with one stupid enough to talk. “I uh, we came to find out where we landed.”

Pasha sat up, her pink ribbons gone, small yellow ones peaked in and out of her skin fluttering then disappearing as she moved away from him. “I don’t know what planet we are on because this planet is not on the extended Federation maps. Since we are in the Outworlds there are only so much that has been mapped.”

“Meaning that no one will be able to find us?” one of the males asked.

“Communication should still be working. We can radio for help,” another of the five said.

Nem didn’t comment because he didn’t know about how ships worked and he didn’t care to communicate with anyone.

“I have not been able to get into the quantum network. It’s password protected and I need to override it first to send a message. I think the first thing we need to do is find out what the planet is like, so we know how dangerous it is.”

All five frowned.

“If it’s too acidic it can eat away at the ship and eventually kill us. If we landed near a volcano it could kill us. If we landed near a cliff we could fall and kill us. There could be monsters out there that can swallow us whole, I don’t know, but I do know that we need to find out.”

As she talked her yellow ribbons fluttered more often, but never went far. He understood what they meant and planned to let it go but she was scaring the men. He knew fear well and didn’t think it was a good idea to scare males who were already scared of him.

Leaning over he whispered in her ear. “Telling people how they could die is not smart. Scared people do stupid things.”

Pasha turned around and began tapping the screen. The five males moved closer, but at his growl, they didn’t come in too far. He knew they weren’t a threat now but given the right motivation and fear they could turn.

Minutes later Pasha let out a resigned breath and sat.

“What does it say?” a male asked taking a step forward then after Nem glared, the male stepped back. “Are we going to die?”

Chapter Ten

Pasha turned and told the others, “We landed hard in a dead forest, crushing the trees surrounding us. It’s too dense to see what’s out there on the visual scans, but it looks to have a half-decent air supply. I don’t pick up anything alive around us.”

The other crew members looked at each other except the one staring at her. “If there is nothing around that means there is nothing to eat or drink. Our supplies won’t last forever.”

True.

That fact that he brought it up first made her think if he was willing to do something drastic to keep the supplies to himself or if he was willing to explore the planet in hopes that there was something.

She didn’t mention either of those questions. “Are you expecting me to find the solution to that problem? I’m not your captain.”

“You killed our captain, you’re responsible for the problem.”

“Your captain was a prick, had he kept his hands to himself he would still be alive,” she said almost positive they were true. “But that’s not the issue. Right now the issue is survival. So why don’t you put it out there? Tell me what you plan to do to survive.”

“What I want is to be back in space headed to Port Nicca. That’s what I want. You said communications were down, but maybe that’s because you’re not good at fixing things like that. I want to take a look at it, see what I can do.”

Another male stepped up, “I think since this is our ship, you two should step out and leave the food and water to us.”

She expected that. Their anxiety was giving off malicious undertones. Leaving the ship was a bad idea with no food or water nearby. But staying could end up being a bad choice too because no matter how sensible someone is, once they’re forced to fight for survival, people get dirty.

“We go,” Nem said after the silence had gone on for more than was comfortable.

None of the males objected and she thought that was telling as well. Pasha fully understood the situation and the emotions. But when Nem held out his hand she didn’t want to take it. Not because she didn’t want to go with him, she did. She didn’t want to leave the ship to die on a dead planet.

Nem took one step, grabbed her wrist, and pulled. Not hard, but firm enough to know he wasn’t taking no for an answer. As he led the way he kept himself between her and them.

At the door he turned back and made that Seth of Stars awful sound. The high-pitched scream felt like someone was stabbing her eardrums.

When the door shut, she asked, “We should get as much food and water as we can carry before we leave.”

“No, we leave now.”

“There is nothing out there for at least a hundred miles in each direction. We need food and water.”

Nem didn’t stop until they were by the ramp. Then he turned to shadow and began ripping at the hinge. The ram came down and cool air blew inside giving her some goosebumps. It was barely light outside.

Pasha had no idea if it was morning or dust considering the main part of the light was straight ahead.

Nem solidified, took her hand and pulled her down the ramp. Once they were down, he dropped her hand and sniffed the air. It was so animal like that Pasha wondered if the scans had it wrong.

What if there was something?

He sniffed again and stepped onto the planet. She didn’t follow right away.

Nem turned enough to notice and said, “You are my mate. We will be safe.”

She didn’t doubt the safe part. She just didn’t trust that they would survive long without nutrition. There was no reason for her to trust him because science told her that it was a lifeless area.

But…she followed.

The air was dry and the dead trees were thick and white, but instead of growing up, they zigged and zagged like a vine. But vines didn’t grow that thick on her planet, so she assumed the same for this one.

Nem ducked under the first branch and kept looking around like he was hearing something. But she was there too and heard nothing.

Following Nem was not an ordeal, he didn’t push too fast and he constantly checked to make sure she was there. Pasha doubted she would have been as patient with anyone else, as he was with her.

Time passed and Pasha noticed a light in the distance. The star that fed this planet light was rising. As it rose though, she noticed a faint sound. Nem noticed it too, but he didn’t say anything, he just kept tilting his head left and right.

The star had cleared the horizon and Nem stopped. “Smell that?”

“Smell what?”

He sniffed again and then sliced his claws down on one of the trees. But instead of it being hollow, it leaked something into his hands. Nem smelled it again and then licked it. He smiled before holding out his palm to her.

Looking at the palm not seeing anything but a little bit of wetness.

“Lick.”

Uh…

Taking his hand, she brought it to her mouth and licked his skin with the tip of her tongue. The taste was very mineral-esk. But it didn’t sting like a poison. Thank Seth.

Nem broke a bigger portion of the tree thing and then gave her a piece and told her, “Suck on it.”

She didn’t take it. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t see the benefit of sucking on a tree.”

He shook his head. “It’s not a tree. It’s a root.”

“No, roots grow underground. Trees are the part that grows above ground.”

He shook his head again. “Not this one.”

“How would you know?”

“It looks like a tree from my home. I used to suck on these before I was taken.”

Oh.

“Do you think we are on your home planet?”

He shook his head as he sucked on his portion of the tree. His mouth was wide, his teeth were sharp and he was able to chew a fat slice. Pasha noticed the way liquid was dripping from the sides of his mouth and for the first time that morning she was thirsty.

Flipping the piece in hand she asked, “How do you know it’s not? You haven’t been on your planet for a long time.”

He spit out the chunk from his mouth before he answered. “This is not my planet. The star here is white. My home has a red one.”

That made sense. Most planets orbited red stars. And with that information, she bit into the chunk of tree and was amazed at how much liquid was inside. Then she sucked on it and it was even more.

Amazed she started to laugh.

Nem tilted his head as if he didn’t understand why she was laughing which of course made her laugh harder. And then she just lost her composure because she was stranded on a strange planet with a strange male, drinking from a strange tree– that looked like roots and there was a very good chance that this was her new normal.

Seth of Stars she was not really prepared for all of this.

***

It was midday and Pasha’s legs and back were tired from bending and crawling over the trees as they distanced themselves further and further from the ship. As she crossed over the second to the last branch she noticed it was lighter than normal. That’s when she noticed that there was no more beyond the branch. Nem noticed the same thing. Slowly they made their way to the opening and saw a large crack in the earth. The crack was dark as if someone took black foliage and covered the three-foot opening.

“Stay here,” Nem said.

“I don’t know if it’s safe for you to go down there.”

He turned towards her and made a sexy smirk. “One day, you will trust that I am number one predator.”

“I actually believe that,” she said smiling back and feeling a little tingle in her blood.

Nem faded to a shadow and moved closer to her. Then she felt something press against her lips.

She smiled even bigger and whispered, “Come back soon.”

Nem’s shadow form left her for the crack, and she settled back and rested against the root, scanning the area for anything that might pop up and attack her. Being on a new planet she wasn’t taking any chances.

***

Nem didn’t come back for a long time. Long enough that she was worried he died. She thought about going back to the ship, but no one would help her find Nem. She thought about going down, but if he was dead, she had no hope.

So she stayed hoping that Seth was being merciful.

When a dark shadow floated up from the crack she quickly stood up. “Nem?”

He solidified with a grin.

“Is it safe?”

“It is good.”

Before she could ask what that meant he took her face and pulled her into a kiss. Considering her unease, she pushed at his naked chest but less than ten seconds in she stopped pushing. Slipping a hand around his neck she opened her mouth, taking as much of his mouth into hers.

He picked her up and she felt her back hit a tree root. Nem didn’t stop and the flurries in her lady parts were more than happy about that.

But then he pulled back and said, “Your home is safe and good. I made sure to check the area. Nothing will hurt you. There are lots of crawlies to eat too.”

“Crawlies? As in bugs?”

He nodded. “Good food.”

“No,” she shook her head. “Not good. I don’t eat bugs.”

“You didn’t eat root until today. You try crawlies too.”

“No,” she pouted.

He gave her a pointed look. “Are you rejecting the home I made you?”

Yesssss. “No.”

“Good.”

Not good. She didn’t want to live a life of bugs and root juice. She wanted a home with food that she could order and a Minky screen to watch her favorite videos. This was not what she wanted.

But it was this or fight for a spot on the ship. This far away she had no idea how to get back, not that she would try it without Nem.

Damn, this was not what she wanted.

“Come on, I will take you to your home.”

“You mean our home,” she said letting him lead her to the crack.

“I made a home for my mate. And if she likes it,” he turned and held her eyes when he added, “she will let me breed her.”

Holy Seth….

***

It was pitch dark.

Her home could be patched together with worm guts and she wouldn’t know. It was cooler in the darkness and she didn’t like that much. Nem took his time to walk her through every part of the home, but she didn’t get far before saying, “I can’t see anything.”

“It’s not that dark.”

“Yes, it is. I can’t see anything. I could be walking on bugs and no know it.”

“You would feel it and smell it.”

“No, I wouldn’t. I’m not like you,” she said getting more upset because she honestly didn’t like being in the dark room. “What if there are killer worms or dirt spiders in here.”

She felt him take her face and wrap his arms around her. His warmth and pressure felt good and she found herself wrapping her arms around his waist and holding him close. They held each other for several minutes before he said, “I will find more light for you.”

“Thank you.”

Nem moved her to a corner and then had her stay there. Then she heard several grunts and scrapes and the feel of dust fill her nose.

When it was all done, she saw a glimmer of light. It was on the other side of the room she was in and it didn’t glow from the ceiling, it was from the side.

She sensed rather than saw Nem near her. “Better?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Do you want to stay in the room with light? Or do you want to walk the other rooms?”

“I want to stay here.”

“Okay,” he said, and she felt him sit next to her. A part of her wondered if he was going to try and kiss her again, to breed her, but he never did. He just sat with her.

It was uncomfortable at first. Mostly because she thought he was waiting for her to say or do something regarding the breeding. After a while he relaxed back, curled around her back, and used an arm to cover her lap as if he was locking himself to keep her safe.

She listened as his breathing slowed then after a time slightly rumbled.

Nem was sleeping.

For some crazy reason that actually pleased her. Her scary male, that had killed, feed her, and made an underground home was doing something so domesticated. It took her longer to get tired. Longer to get him to lose his hold. Once she laid next to him, their bodies fit together perfectly.

His warmth was more than enough for the chilly air, and even though the light had gone out, she didn’t worry. Especially when Nem moved her between him and the wall.

Always keeping her safe.

Always digging further into her heart.

Pasha wasn’t in the right mindset to think about matehood, but she also couldn’t imagine trusting anyone as much as she trusted Nem. He was not like the males on her planet.

He didn’t care about her job, her income, her family line, or how advanced her abilities were. Nem didn’t care that her hair was a little darker than others, nor did he have a long list of expectations for if they mated.

No, all Nem wanted was to keep her safe, provide for her wellbeing, make sure she was satisfied, and then when she was ready… blitz.

Pasha didn’t have an answer for why she had not mated him, but in the morning, she planned to think about that.

Nem however, didn’t wait for morning. His thumb skimmed back and forth against her stomach. She pushed out her chest and let her rear press against him. He groaned as if a pressure valve that was just opened. In one quick yank her clothes were gone, and he moved between her legs. It was a little early for that, but when he didn’t just push in she wondered what he was waiting for.

Nem began moving his mouth over her collar. It wasn’t exactly warming but then he moved down the v- of her chest and stopped to move to both of her breasts licking both but not sucking them into his mouth with his very sharp teeth. She could feel the humm of lust tingling over her skin and she soaked it in.

Nem rocked back to his knees, removed his clothes and then moved back between her legs. His hardness was impossible to miss. At her entrance, she exhaled as he began to push in. She was still far from ready but the fullness of him was a welcome feeling.

As he moved deeper she was amazed at how her entrace felt like it was getting even larger. She hissed when she thought she felt pain. He stopped and miraculously the pain ended as if he was no longer as full.

When he didn’t move she thought he was done or maybe he didn’t know what to do so she rocked her hips and used her legs to urge him on.

“Can you take more, my Pasha?”

“Yes.”

She didn’t exactly know what more was until he was fully set inside and billowing inside her. It got to the point of pain again and she had to stop him. Just like last time he reduced his size. And again like last time she had to urge him to continue.

He pulled out and pushed back inside, and there was an unnatural rumble from his chest. If she wasn’t a Hetten she would have thought he was angry, but his pleasure was saturating the air along with his lust.

He moved slow until she urged him faster.

When faster wasn’t enough she urged him to harder.

Her pleasure began to twist in the way it did, her need for completion was getting bigger and wider and she was almost there. “Bigger. Fill me Nem. I want to feel all of you.”

He growled and inside she felt the change. It wasn’t painful, it was perfect. He was hitting right where he needed to be. She was there.

Right there.

“NEM. YESSSSSssssssss.” Seth of Stars yes!

She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down to kiss her.

 Their kiss was chaotic but she didn’t care because the crest of her orgasm was breaking gall over her and she pushed that pleasure into him. Nem roared as he slammed home one more time and heat flooded her womb from his seed. His pleasure feed back into her and she held on to it, wanting the perfect circle.

Nem exhaled and put his head between her breast. He was breathing hard and she was too. That was a mating. No doubt about it.

She brushed his hair and then leaned up and kissed his head, pleased to have him, pleased that out of the hell she went through, Nem was her peace, her home, her unusual mate.

(Read what happens to Nem and Pasha in Captain of the Maw – Unusual Pirates Book 1)