Kiss My Asteroid Paranormal Dating Agency Galaxa Warriors
Milly Taiden Latin Goddess Press Inc.
Contents Kiss My Asteroid............................................................................................... 4 SIGN UP FOR MILLY TAIDEN’S NEWSLETTER ...................................... 5 Chapter 1 ........................................................................................................... 8 Chapter 2 ......................................................................................................... 14 Chapter 3 ......................................................................................................... 19 Chapter 4 ......................................................................................................... 27 Chapter 5 ......................................................................................................... 37 Chapter 6 ......................................................................................................... 44 Chapter 7 ......................................................................................................... 48 Chapter 8 ......................................................................................................... 54 Chapter 9 ......................................................................................................... 61 Chapter 10 ....................................................................................................... 66 Chapter 11 ....................................................................................................... 74 Chapter 12 ....................................................................................................... 80 Chapter 13 ....................................................................................................... 84 Chapter 14 ....................................................................................................... 91 Chapter 15 ....................................................................................................... 96 Chapter 16 ..................................................................................................... 100 Chapter 17 ..................................................................................................... 111 Chapter 18 ..................................................................................................... 114 Chapter 19 ..................................................................................................... 118 Chapter 20 ..................................................................................................... 125 Chapter 21 ..................................................................................................... 133 Epilogue ......................................................................................................... 142 About the Author ........................................................................................... 144 Also by Milly Taiden .................................................................................... 146
Kiss My Asteroid Paranormal Dating Agency
GALAXA WARRIORS NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR MILLY TAIDEN
SIGN UP FOR MILLY TAIDEN’S NEWSLETTER FOR LATEST NEWS, GIVEAWAYS, EXCERPTS, ANDMORE! http://eepurl.com/pt9q1 Ivy Grimaldi can’t stand change. Ever. But change is something she’s had to deal with a lot lately. Like when her cousin Cassandra moved away to start a new life, baby and all. That all changes when Gerri Wilder shows up at her door with a letter from her cousin. Cassie wants her to come visit. Sure, why not? There’s just one problem. Cassie lives on another planet. A far-the-heckaway planet, with her hotter than hell shifter mate. Vander Kasaval, King of the shifter warrior planet Galaxa, has his own problems with change. A lead by example kind of a king, he’s between a rock and a hard place. He needs to find a mate to help put an end to a brewing civil war. None of this would be happening if not for a plague affecting only the females of his planet. His warriors and the men of the Palladian Capitol are ready to riot. Vander reluctantly agrees to send for matchmaker, Gerri Wilder. If she can find a match for him and his men, then his world might be saved. Ivy agrees to go, if only to make sure Cassie’s okay. Oh, all right, and to maybe find an intergalactic hookup for herself in the process. In a planet full of big, bad, sexy shifters, anything’s possible, right? Ivy’s in for the time of her life in a planet of unimaginable beauty and dangers she had no idea existed. But Ivy isn’t one to sit idly by and let something happen. With two new friends, they’re about to take Galaxa by storm.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real in any way. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental. Published By Latin Goddess Press Winter Springs, FL 32708 http://millytaiden.com Kiss My Asteroid Copyright © 2016 by Milly Taiden Cover by WillsinR owe Edited by: Tina Winograd All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Property of Milly Taiden
—For everyone who believes in love, Keep romance alive!
Chapter 1 Before we start, have you signed up for my newsletter? There’s always giveaways and tons of fun stuff going on. I promise not to spam you. http://eepurl.com/pt9q1 “I’m sorry, Lanis, but this girl is not the one. In a nutshell, she simply will not do.” The high council member looked down her long nose and sniffed. “Again, Kari? Why are you so quick to veto every girl I present? Is it me, or is there some other reason you insist on being so difficult, besides the fact you used to be the old king’s lover? It’s annoying enough that you object, but throwing human phrases at me, too? Pray tell, what in the two suns of Galaxa do nuts have to do with finding the king an appropriate mate?” Kari smirked at the sour expression on the woman’s face. “Nuts have everything to do with choosing a mate, Lannie baby, and if you don’t understand, then it has been way too long since you got any.” The older councilor’s lips puckered like she sucked on a lemon. “Watch your tone, miss. I’m still the senior elder at this table and haven’t I told you a thousand times not to call me that ridiculous name? Your time on Earth did you a disservice regardless of what Vander thinks. How you ended up on this council is beyond me.” Kari shrugged again. “You answered your own question, Lanis. My time on Earth expanded my view and Vander agrees. Galaxa is a warrior planet and it could use a little enlightenment. As to my being on this council, Vander wanted a voice of reason among the kiss-ass bootlickers too afraid to change the status quo. This unwillingness to change is part of the reason Galaxa is in its current state. We need new blood, Lanis, and importing females from Nova Aurora is not the answer. We have a shared lineage with them and that makes them susceptible to whatever is killing our women here.” “And you really think you alone can sway the entire council?” Kari considered the high elder and the doubt in her silver eyes. “Possibly. I made a difference in Vander’s life before and no one can deny it. You forget, I was more than just Vander’s father’s lover. I was his maîtresse-en-titre when he was king and Vander’s governess. I’ll know when the girl is right for my boy.”
Lanis lifted her chin. “The king is not your boy, and just because you were his father’s mistress after Vander’s poor mother died doesn’t give you the right to veto every woman I bring before this council. I personally chose this girl from one of the best families on Nova Aurora and she comes with an enormous dowry.” “It doesn’t matter. She has no shine.” Lanis threw a hand in the air. “Shine? Is that another pretty human phrase?” With a sigh, Kari shook her head. “No. It means she doesn’t have what it takes to awaken the xenos in Vander.” Her eyes met Lanis’s and softened. “The girl you chose is beautiful, Lannie. Regal even, but she doesn’t possess that certain something to stir what’s necessary in our king. I have no doubt she could stir lust in any man, but that’s not our aim. We need a mate for Vander. A true mate. Not a playmate.” Lanis exhaled, lifting her hand in surrender. “Fifteen girls, Kari, and you’ve found fault with each and every one. I give up. I’m exhausted.” The older woman sat on the council bench. Kari plopped down next to her elder and pushed her long silver hair from her shoulder. “It was the same flaw in all of them, Lannie. They were all missing that one vital ingredient.” The high councilor sighed. “I wish you could explain yourself, Kari, because lord knows I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.” “Vander is special, Lanis. It’s in his eyes and how they glow with power. It’s as if the xenos is seething below the surface of his skin just waiting for the right one to free it from inner captivity. It’s close. The woman he takes for his mate must be strong enough to tame the animal within the king and share its wild nature. It is the same for all our warriors. We need help.” Lanis’s lips parted, and then she pressed them together. “No, I will not have my position seized or my obligation to our king and planet compromised by an earthbound shifter. Vander’s eyes have not shifted to the green we all wait for.” Chuckling, Kari watched the mood walls surrounding the council room change to a soft, pale green. “You need to cool your jets, girlfriend. Even the walls think you’re wound too tightly.” She paused. “If it’s any consolation, Vander doesn’t like the idea of a matchmaker, either.”
Lanis crossed her arms in front of her chest and smirked. “I’ll credit his father for that bit of common sense.” She looked at her sister and exhaled. “It looks like we’re at an impasse, Kari. What do we do?” The younger elder laced her fingers with the older woman’s hand. “We convince the king.” *** Vander Kasaval studied the newest candidate through his floor to ceiling monitor. He didn’t know her name or much else about her, other than she was the daughter of a rich lord from Nova Aurora and the next in a long procession of females paraded for him as a possible mate. He exhaled, raking a hand through his hair. “Now that doesn’t look promising.” Vander smirked at the familiar voice behind him, but didn’t turn. “Not even close, my friend.” He slid his eyes past his shoulder to Damen Iceri, his chief of security. “Did you come to share my pain or just amuse yourself?” He answered with a laugh. “Both.” Damen’s eyes flicked to the garden scene on the monitor. “Is she the latest?” The king nodded. “Unfortunately, yes.” “Unfortunately? What’s wrong with this one? From the look of her, Lanis truly outdid herself this time.” Vander turned to his friend. “The woman is beautiful. I won’t argue that, but her narrow frame is too delicate. One deep thrust between those skinny legs and she’d snap like a wishbone.” Damen’s snort left the king with a raised eyebrow. “We both know Galatian warriors are large compared to most, and you? You’re freakishly big, especially when you’re getting your freakon.” Vander’s lip curled at his friend’s pun. “Nice. I’m looking for back up and you’re more interested in being a comedian.” Damen grinned. “Hey, what are friends for?” “Ha! Yeah, well, then who needs enemies?” The security chief glanced at the monitor once again. “My sources tell me this one’s somehow connected to Alyx. If she’s a purebred Auroran, then I’m not 10
surprised she’s small. From what I hear, Alyx has a matchmaker hooking up half the alphas and powerbrokers on Nova Aurora with humans, and it’s solved most of their problems. I also hear they are the total opposite of Lanis’s pick.” He gestured toward the screen with a wink. “The matchmaker’s girls are full and curvy and utterly mouthwatering, but I’d have to check my reports.” “Your reports?” The king frowned. “I know it’s not considered good interplanetary politics to spy on your sister planet, but yeah, I have video surveillance.” Damen grinned. “Makes for pretty interesting viewing, if you catch my drift.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Have things gotten so bad, men have resorted to self-satisfying via an audiovisual link to our sister planet? Next you’ll be asking me permission to pipe in satellite porn from Earth.” Damen made a face. “If that’s your attitude, then you haven’t been paying attention, Vander. The female situation is bad. The rest of us don’t have a council parading a daily lineup of women for us to swipe left or right.” The severity on his friend’s face made Vander pause. “You’re wrong, Damen. I have been listening, and believe it or not, I read your reports. In fact, you mentioned Alyx’s matchmaker. I asked Ms. Wilder to come and help our situation. Galaxan men deserve mates.” “What about the Galaxan king?” Vander shook his head. “It’s not that simple, my friend. As king, I should be able to find my own mate.” “I don’t know, Vander. Alyx argued the same point with his council, even going so far as to reject the matchmaker’s offer to help, dismissing her special talents. But the woman ended up finding him a perfect mate before he could blink.” Vander snorted again. “Friend or not, what the Auroran king does on his planet is his business. I doubt a human would fit the bill here. I need a strong woman, independent, and used to managing big things. She has to be able to handle size, Damen. Galaxa is twice the mass of Nova Aurora and far less civilized in places, if you know what I mean.” Damen laughed even louder. “You’re worried about finding a woman who can handle size? Are you sure you’re talking about Galaxa and not your extralarge royal package?” 11
A slow grin tweaked the corner of Vander’s mouth. “That’s a given.” “Listen, I know you’re king, but if you’re already enlisting Ms. Wilder’s help for everyone else, why not ask her to look around for you? What’s the worst that can happen?” Vander looked at the thin, elegant woman in the monitor and the troubled faces of his elders as they assessed her. Kari glanced up in that moment as though she knew he watched. She caught his eye, her face unenthusiastic as she quietly shook her head, motioning to the woman. With a shrug, she blew him a kiss. The king nodded at the cherished woman and then touched his fingers to his lips, acknowledging her kiss. Damen moved beside his friend, watching the exchange. “After all these years, she’s still got your back, huh.” “Kari is the closest thing to a mother I have—” He paused and glanced toward his friend. “I don’t know what Jag and I would have done without her when growing up. So, yeah, she’s got my back.” “I thought my ears were burning for a reason.” Both Vander and Damen turned. “Jag, what are you doing back?” Vander asked, moving to clasp arms with his brother. “Any word?” Jag shook his head. “Four more found dead. The same symptoms. The bodies were found outside the city walls on the edge of the great sand ocean. The women were last seen in the marketplace before they vanished. Their families have been notified. Along with their bodies, the items they purchased are being catalogued. The merchants are in the process of being questioned. As far as we can tell, the women had nothing in common, but we’re still looking.” Vander moved to his desk, his face severe. “That brings the death total for the palace to seventy over the past six months and that’s doesn’t include the number of dead in the outlying villages.” “The number is far higher here,” Damen added. “There has to be something connecting the mall.” Jag took the file from under his arm and put it on his brother’s desk. “The only thing we’ve been able to find is they all had been to a spa or spring house in the past month.” 12
“The same one?” Damen asked. “No.” Jag shook his head. “That would have been too easy a common denominator.”
Chapter 2 Vander opened the file Jag set on the desk beside the one already open and stared at both, his brows knotted. “These deaths seem to be growing in frequency along with the number of raids on the outlying villages. Even the desert tribes have reported attacks.” “Thefts?” Jag asked. Damen shook his head. “No. Kidnappings.” He shrugged, but the motion was frustration, not dismissive. “Makes sense. If most of the women in the city and in the palace are sick or dying, a premium goes up on the black market for females.” Vander slammed his hand on his desk. “Trafficking is not to be abided! Not while I breathe. We need to stop this before it becomes an epidemic.” “It already is,” Jag replied. He looked at his brother. “I’m talking about the kidnappings, Jag. Not whatever illness is claiming our females.” Jag regarded Vander’s angry face. “That’s what I’m talking about. You haven’t been out there, Vander. I have. Our men, warriors and merchants alike, are ready to mutiny. They blame you for what’s happening.” He motioned Vander and Damen to the table with the model of Galaxa’s regions and terrain. “We’re here. At the center of the Palladian Oasis. Our vast resources feed not only the palace and the surrounding city, but the outlying rural villages as well, though not more than twenty leagues past the last village is the sand ocean. The only people who live and trade in that forsaken wasteland are the nomadic tribes. They’re fringe at best, as you well know. They only pledged their allegiance to the House of Kasaval because we’ve historically supplied them with food, water and medicine, yet allowed them to remain semiautonomous.” “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know, Jag.” Vander exhaled, dragging his hand through his hair again. His brother held up one hand. “I know that, Vander, but I need to talk this out, so bear with me, okay? Have a little patience.” Damen grinned at the sibling growls. “I feel like this needs popcorn. Are you making a point or do I need to referee?” 14
“Popcorn? I haven’t had that since the last time I took a transport to Nova Aurora. It’s the one thing Alyx’s new bride has stocked from Earth. That and chocolate.” Jag smacked his lips at the memory of the hot, buttery goodness. “You should try the two together. Yum.” “Kari had some brought from Nova last week along with the hotties for your brother’s line of possible mates. She’s a saint for thinking of it for us,” Damen answered. “Us?” Jag snorted. “Sorry, dude, but if those fluffy white kernels came from Kari, they were for me, not you. So, hands off.” Vander stared at the two men. “Unbelievable. Now I know why you need to talk out your thoughts, Jag. It’s because you can’t focus on a simple course without going on a tangent, but you Damen? Damn.” “All right. Jeez.” Jag rolled his eyes. “As I was saying before I was distracted—” he shot a look at his brother, “the nomadic camps, though semiautonomous, still suffer sporadic raids from rogue cave-dwellers living in the Mirror Mountains. Our militia handles these periodic surges with no problem, but intelligence believes the increased frequency of the raids, not only on the nomads but on the outlying Palladian villages, is a result of collusion between the cave rogues and the warlords from the jungle.” Vander’s eyes skimmed the model of his realm, particularly the desert and jungles separated by the twin mountain ranges. “Is this intelligence in the report you put on my desk?” Vander moved back to his chair and scanned the documents. Damen flanked his side, studying the dossier as well. “Why wasn’t this sent to me?” Jag slipped into a chair in front of the monitor and blew a casual kiss to Kari. “It was. The same report is on your desk as we speak.” “So, what’s to stop my disgruntled warriors from joining the rogues and the jungle gangs?” Vander asked. “We need to do something.” Jag and Damen looked at each other and then at the king. “As far as your men are concerned, it’s not what they have that’s the issue. It’s a question of what they don’t. Warriors have money. They have food and plenty of Sidaii wine. What they don’t have are women. Not even concubines to take the edge off,” Damen advised. “Their inner animals are caged and restless. It’s bound to get volatile.”
Vander threw his hand in the air. “We can’t just corral hundreds of women from around the star system and drop them in the middle of the Palladian capitol and tell the men have at it. It would make us no better than the rogues perpetrating the kidnappings in the outlands.” “That’s not what I meant, Vander. If your warriors have hope there are mates to be found, women immune to whatever illness is affecting our own females, they would be more likely to stand with you rather than against you. Hope is what they need, but hope is a dangerous thing if you can’t deliver.” Vander pursed his lips. “I’ve already said I would enlist the help of a matchmaker for my men.” Jag shook his head. “This isn’t just about your men. That’s a good place to start, but it’s bigger than that. I think Damen is talking about all of Galaxa. Until we find out how and why this illness is affecting our people, you need to show every region there is hope.” He lifted one shoulder and let it drop. “Unfortunately, brother, you are fighting this battle on multiple fronts.” “So, how do I fight, then?” Damen clapped him on one shoulder and turned him toward the monitor. “You fight the battles you can win and move on from there. Take a mate. Even a skinny wishbone one will do the trick to show the Galaxan men there are women to be had.” Vander’s jaw clenched and his eyes flared with emerald fire. A low growl, feral and menacing, came from the back of his throat and Jag’s eyes went wide. “Jeez, bro. That creepy green shit just got real. What the hell?” Damen nodded. “I take it back, Jag’s right. Whatever it is lurking inside you will not be satisfied with just anyone.” He gestured with his head toward the monitor. “You should know she asked me to send a transport to Nova Aurora to bring Ms. Wilder over.” Vander’s gaze jerked to his chief. “Who?” “Kari.” He spared a glance for his brother and then looked back at his security chief. “When?” “This afternoon.” 16
Brows knotted, the king spared a glance for the monitor before turning the full weight of his stare on Damen. “And you didn’t think to clear it with me?” “What do you think I’m doing now?” Irked, Vander frowned. “Good. Kari may have my ear and my affection, but she doesn’t run me or Galaxa.” Amused, Damen met the king’s annoyed glare with a smirk. “So, what about Ms. Wilder? Do I fetch her? I vote yes, especially since your moody ass tells me you need to get laid and soon. And not by some Auroran stick figure.” “I’m king, Damen. With the snap of my fingers I can have my cock serviced any time, day or night. I think we’ve gone beyond that.” “You’re right. We’ve moved beyond that. All of us. We are in uncharted territory, Vander. Everyone knows you can have anyone you want, either on their back or knees, or both for that matter, but my guess is every position in the sex manual won’t help what’s prowling inside you. Let the elders squabble about the origins of that eerie glow in your eyes. If you ask me, I think it’s connected to you finding your mate. That mysterious light is somehow connected to your xenos. Who cares about its origins? Once that wildness surfaces, it will need a soft counterpart to temper its feral nature. At least, that’s what the archives allude to.” Vander glanced at Kari again, the muscle in his cheek working overtime. “Where in the archives did you read all this?” “Deep in the council records. The archives also describe the warrior king’s xenos as a savage cat. One that takes great chunks out of its prey, taking pleasure as the poor creature bleeds a slow death.” The king’s jaw tightened even more and Damen put his hand on his shoulder. “You know something, don’t you?” Vander shook his head. “Nothing for sure. Just nightmares. But they were just as you described.” “Which part?” The king’s face was a mask of concern. “All of it. The savagery of it was like nothing I’ve seen.” He eyed his friend. “I think you’re right. I think my xenos is rising, and if I don’t find a mate to check its viciousness soon, Galaxa will suffer. If it can happen to me, then it can happen to every warrior on the planet.” 17
“What do you want me to do?” Chewing on the inside of his cheek, the king eyed his friend, sparing a look for his brother. “Send for Ms. Wilder. In the meantime, I need to make a trip to the outlands and let them know they haven’t been forgotten. I want you both to accompany me to show House Kasaval is united in trying to stop the kidnappings, but also in trying to solve the mystery of why our women are dying. Maybe there’s something in the oral traditions of the nomadic tribes that can give us a clue. “When do we leave?” Jag asked. “Remember, I just got back. Do I have time to shower and grab a decent meal?” Vander nodded. “We’ll leave at dawn.” “What about Ms. Wilder?” Damen asked. The king spared a glance for the monitor and then turned to his chief. “Send for her. If she arrives before we get back, I’ll have Maddox entertain her until we return. She and I should talk.” “Maddox entertain a woman like Gerri Wilder? But he’s older than dirt.” Jag laughed. “He may be old, but he’s the best chamberlain any king could want. He’ll make her comfortable enough until we get back.”
Chapter 3 Ivy Grimaldi closed her mailbox and locked the hinged metal door. “Damn junk mail,” she muttered, climbing the stairs to her apartment with the overflowing stack against her chest. She dropped the mail on the hall credenza and flipped through the pile of bills and flyers, tossing them aside one by one. A pretty scalloped envelope peeked from the stack of junk and her hand froze. “Cassie.” She pulled the letter from the pile, her cousin’s name barely a whisper on her lips. Turning the envelope over, Ivy hesitated at the note scrawled across the top. She recognized the looping script along with the logo for the Paranormal Dating Agency. Both belonged to Cassie’s old boss, Ms. Gerri Wilder, matchmaker and everyone knew it. Ivy frowned even with Cassie’s voice in her head warning her to be nice. Ms. Wilder was not her favorite person. Not since she convinced Cassie to go off on some man-hunting wild goose chase, only to have her cousin end up pregnant with a bear shifter’s baby. A man she barely knew. Talen was hot as hell, remember? She frowned, regardless how true the memory. …AND he ended up being the man of Cassie’s dreams. You can’t deny that. Ivy muttered to herself. “I can if I try hard enough.” She scanned Gerri’s note again and the matchmaker’s words: We need to talk. Wiggling a finger beneath the letter’s triangular flap, Ivy frowned. “Yeah, we need to talk. No shit, Gerri Sherlock Wilder.” A heavy thud jerked Ivy’s eyes toward her front door. “I’m not a detective, dear, though I do like a man who smokes a pipe, especially if his pipe is wellendowed, if you know what I mean.” The stylish older woman winked from the open door, bending to pick up her heavy purse from where she dropped it to gain Ivy’s attention. “And yes, we do need to talk. It’s why I dropped by.” Stunned, Ivy stared at the elegant woman with her classic designer style and vintage sex appeal. It was no wonder Cassie fell for what Gerri sold, hook, line and sinker. 19
“Are you going to invite me in or is it your plan to stand there with your mouth open and stare at me?” Still gaping, Ivy snapped her mouth closed. “I’m sorry, Ms. Wilder. I’m just surprised to see you. Please, come inside.” She moved to usher the older woman in and then closed the door. “You know, dear, the only time a woman’s mouth should hang open in that kind of shock is when faced with an enormous dick.” Ivy blinked. Speechless. Gerri peeled off her Chanel jacket and draped it neatly over Ivy’s couch. “I’m not one for showing up unannounced, but this matter really is time-sensitive, so why don’t you pour me a glass of wine and then you can read Cassandra’s letter.” Ivy motioned for Gerri to take a seat on a barstool in front of the granite counter separating the kitchen from the spacious living room. “Red or white? I have both.” “Is it a good white?” Ivy gave the matchmaker a look. “It’s a Pinot Gris from my family’s vineyards in Napa. “Hmmm, yes.” Ms. Wilder paused. “I had forgotten how privileged you and Cassie are in this world. Ironic, really, considering Cassandra is such a sweet girl. So unpretentious.” “As opposed to me?” Ms. Wilder shook her head. “You both have the same good-natured temperament, though you are wound tighter than Cassandra. You’re stronger, more independent. If I had to venture a guess, I would say you were the domineering cousin growing up.” Ivy pressed her lips together, squashing the tickle of a grin at the corner of her lips. Gerri nodded. “Ah…I’m right, aren’t I? You were the bossy one.” Closing the fridge door with her elbow, Ivy moved to the counter with the wine bottle in her hand. “Maybe, but I love Cass like a sister. Like I love myself. We were an unstoppable team. We could do anything. Deal with anything. As long as we did it together. Out of everyone in the family, she and 20
I were the only ones who didn’t give a damn about family status or money.” She paused, considering the older woman. “But you already know that, don’t you? Though I haven’t a clue how.” “How what, dear?” Ivy shrugged, uncorking the bottle before reaching for two long-stemmed glasses. “How you know things. People’s wants versus needs, and how you bring them about.” Gerri took the glass from Ivy’s hand and held it as the younger woman poured the wine. “It’s my job to know those things, and I’m not shy about it. Not with a 100 percent success rate,” a small grin tugged, “eHarmony’s got nothing on me, sweetheart.” Ivy poured her own glass, keeping Gerri in her peripheral vision. “That a fact?” Ms. Wilder lifted her wine to her lips. “It is okay, Ivy. I get your reasons for the slight hostility toward me. Cassandra was a big part of your life and when she met Talen, their relationship threw you. Especially since it all happened so fast. It was the first time she didn’t need you, but what you don’t understand is that she does need you and always will. Moreover, what you have to accept is your life is bigger than your bond with your cousin, and destined for more. Much more. Both together and apart from her.” Taking a sip of the pale liquid, Gerri gestured to the letter on the counter. “Open the letter.” Ivy took a big gulp of her own wine and tore open the buff-colored envelope. She scanned Cassie’s words, her jaw going slack. “Holy fuck! She’s having the baby already? So soon?” The words hung in the air as unbelieving as her stunned look. “Jesus. Those two are barely back from their honeymoon.” “She and Talen are over the moon about how quickly this is happening. That man is one giant bear hug waiting to happen, and when I say giant, I mean GIANT.” Gerri hesitated in her reply, considering Ivy. “Shifters and humans. One never knows which way things will turn or how fast when it comes to children. If they’ll take after the human side or the shifter or both, for that matter.” She smiled. “It’s always a surprise.” Ivy scanned Cassie’s words again, one line biting into her stomach—“Please come, Vee. I know Gerri isn’t one of your favorite people, but I miss you. Let her help you.” Visiting Cassie would be coolest thing, except her cousin had moved. No, not out of the state or even out of the country. Cass had left town for another 21
planet. As in a galaxy far, far away. As crazy as that sounded, it was the honest-to-God truth. Ivy would never have believed it if Gerri hadn’t provided irrefutable proof. So as much as she wanted to visit Cassie, it wasn’t as easy as taking the family jet and dropping in for a cup of coffee or a quick pizza. Ivy would probably need clearance for everything including her underwear to visit Cassandra, and while she loved her cousin, she didn’t know if she could allow anyone to go through her bags, let alone her delicates. What if they sniffed or did weird shit with her thongs when she wasn’t looking? Nope. She couldn’t do it. Her thongs were off limits to anyone except whatever man was presently allowed to peel them from her body, and right now, she had no man. Crazy but true. Her current dry spell had lasted six months and it was taking its toll. Thank God for battery-operated boyfriends or her bitch-o-meter would be off the charts. She’d broken up with her latest boyfriend for the simple fact he was happier with his ex-wife. At first, it was kind of weird dating a guy whose ex was so nice, but after a while it was clear his ex-wife still had feelings for him and vice versa. Ivy decided to remove herself from the equation and allow them to give it another shot. Would it work out? Who knew? But at least she wouldn’t feel bad about being the reason they didn’t give themselves another chance. Okay, brain wandering much, Ivy? She mentally scolded herself. Why the idea of thong sniffing would bring her ex-boyfriend to mind was beyond her and she dismissed the thought. It’s not like he knew what to do with her thongs anyway. Ever. The dude was definitely in the needs work department when it came to sex, and at thirty-five years old, Ivy was done with training men. The next guy she hooked up with would need skills. Big skills. And a big dick. She shook her head again. Enough wishful lusting. Visiting Cassie was the issue at hand. She and Cass had always been there for each other and now her cousin needed her more than ever. How could she say no? Reading between the lines, Ivy knew Cassie was freaked about delivering her baby alone. Not that she blamed her. Cass was human and Talen was an alien shifter. An alien bear shifter, to be exact. But not an Earth kind of shifter. Talen’s kind was the original prototype. Undiluted alien. ALIEN. Ugh. The word still conjured images of little green men, except shifters from Nova Aurora were the farthest thing from that. For some reason, the birth scene from the movie The Fly ran through her mind and Ivy shuddered at the horror in her head. 22
Gerri put down her glass with a loud clink. “That’s quite enough of that!” Ivy jumped. “What?” Pointing a finger at her across the counter, Gerri frowned. “Your Hollywood special effects kind of nonsense. Cassandra is no more worried about delivering her baby than any other expectant mother. Human or otherwise. As for Talen, he’s as dual-natured as any Earth shifter…just bigger…and hotter…and more well-hung. Like all alien shifters.” The older woman said a mouthful and heat crested in Ivy’s cheeks. Was it because Gerri called her out or because her panties dampened at the thought of a well-endowed shifter hottie? Yep, it had been a long six months. She held out Cassie’s letter to Ms. Wilder, but the matchmaker shook her head. “I know what it says, dear. I was there when Cassandra wrote it.” “How is Cass?” Ivy asked, putting the letter down and picking up her wine. She stared at the pale liquid before meeting Gerri’s eyes. “I mean for real. You said over the moon, but are you sure she’s okay?” She was almost afraid to know. The idea of childbirth was the one thing that scared her, that and losing Cassie. Ivy’s eyes fell on the small silver frame on the end table behind Gerri’s shoulder. It held a picture of her and Cassie from last New Year’s Eve. It seemed so much longer than just twelve short months ago. Last year, they were both alone and now her cousin was happy, married…or mated…whatever they called it on Nova Aurora…and now a baby. All their family money couldn’t buy happiness and now Cassie had everything she ever dreamed. Of course, to find that kind of happy she had to leave the solar system. Still, a vague slash of jealousy bit into Ivy’s gut. “I suppose it’s perfectly normal for you to question this, especially considering the unusual circumstances of Cassandra’s relationship, but I can answer without hesitation that Cassie is both happy and satisfied with everything in her life. Can’t you hear the happiness in her words? She simply wants to share it with you, Ivy. Cass misses you as much as you miss her, but she is happy. That I can assure you. Of course, she gets homesick for Earth, but that’s easy enough to fix.” Gerri paused. “Well, once the baby comes, any way.” “Easy? How?”
Gerri lifted her glass again. “Why not come and find out. Who knows? You might find something there that satisfies you as well.” She paused, smirking. “Something that doesn’t require batteries.” Ivy balked. “Do you always say what you’re thinking?” The older woman laughed. “I’m too old and too busy to waste time on formalities. Sometimes it takes a brash attitude to find the right ‘something’ for a person.” “I think you mean right ‘someone.’ Cassie said you liked killing two birds with one stone.” Gerri laughed. “I appreciate you think me sneaky enough to use your cousin’s pregnancy as some kind of ploy, but that’s simply not the case, although I do have clients on both Nova Aurora and its sister planet Galaxa who come to mind as possibilities. Both places are crawling with shifter men who could melt the crotch out of any girl’s panties. Why not yours?” “So, you’re not trying to get me to cross the solar system for some elaborate hook up?” Shrugging, Ms. Wilder sipped her wine. “I plead the fifth, but while we’re on the subject, I’ve got a question for you. When’s the last time you were truly satisfied?” “Satisfied? In regard to what?” Gerri eyed her. “You’re a smart girl, Ivy. You know exactly what I’m talking about. When’s the last time you had a toe curling, body shaking orgasm? The kind that comes attached to a thick cock and a skilled tongue?” Ivy choked on a mouthful of wine. “Just as I thought.” Gerri handed her a napkin, chuckling. “You’ve been lucky, Ivy. You’ve never had a shortage of men in your life, but they were all little boys playing at being men or men who had no clue what to do with a vibrant, voluptuous woman such as yourself. Your life has been a series of relationships where you give and they get off. Am I right?” She waited for Ivy to answer, but the young woman didn’t reply. Shrugging, Gerri lifted her wine to her lips again. “Doesn’t matter if you answer or not. I already know. So why not come with me and visit Cassie. See what she’s seen. You never know what the stars have in store for you.”
Stars? The sneaky matchmaker should have said planets, because that’s what she meant. Ivy chewed on the corner of her cheek, the idea of interstellar travel tweaking her inner adventure junkie. “When?’’ Ivy asked. “How soon could we leave?” Gerri pursed her lips. “How does tomorrow evening sound?” Ivy stared at her. “That soon?” She nodded. “I have a situation with another client I must see to beforehand, but I can meet you at this address at nine p.m. We can set out, then.” Gerri slid a business card with the address information across the granite counter. “Twenty-four hours should give you enough time to get your affairs in order.” Ivy glanced from the card on the table to the expectant look on Gerri’s face. “My affairs in order? What? Am I dying?” A soft laugh left Gerri’s mouth. “No, of course not, but the time/space continuum is a little different where we’re headed. What seems like a couple of weeks there, will actually be months in Earth time. You really need to make arrangements accordingly.” “Months?” Gerri nodded. “Yes, if not longer.” “Jesus.” Ivy exhaled, a little thrown. “Look on the bright side. When you eventually return to Earth, you’ll look the same as the day you left. No aging.” Ivy snorted. “Now that’s a perk worth putting in the brochure. Are you sure I can’t tell anyone about this?” Gerri shook her head. “Sorry, that’s the deal I strike with every client.” She looked at the younger woman. “So? Are you game?” Both corners of Ivy’s mouth curved up. “Why not?” She shrugged, topping off her wine. “I’m bored with Wall Street and running Mergers and Acquisitions and planned on giving my notice anyway. It’s not like I need the money, right? The cutthroat world of huge global companies swallowing smaller businesses doesn’t give me the same thrill it used to, so yes! I’m game for something big and new. What have I got to lose?”
“Good.” Gerri pushed herself up from the barstool and gathered her bag and jacket. “I’ll see you tomorrow night. Nine p.m. sharp. Oh, and pack light. The weather is changeable, so keep that in mind. One bag.” “One bag? You’ve just told me to put my affairs in order, that we’ll most likely be gone how long, yet I get one bag? Fat chance.” Ivy handed the woman her purse and the moment their fingers touched she saw something spark in Gerri’s eyes, and a slow smile spread across the matchmaker’s face. “Don’t be late, Ivy Grimaldi. Adventure awaits you, but I won’t.”
Chapter 4 “Ms. Wilder, please. I only want to know if Alivia is safe. Her letter was too cryptic for me to believe. She’d never willingly up and leave her home, her job—her friends!” Riley Parks was near tears as she stood in front of Gerri’s desk. The woman was clearly troubled, but that’s not what drew Gerri’s attention. It was the undercurrent of anger coming off the woman standing beside Riley that occupied her notice. While Riley was short and slightly curvy with dark springy curls and smooth mocha skin, the woman she introduced as Henley Rourke was the opposite. She was tall and fully fleshed, her sumptuous curves making her statuesque and regal from the top of her high, dark ponytail to the toes of her black kneelength boots. It was clear in the woman’s hazel eyes. She was a fighter looking for a reason to brawl. Riley introduced Henley as a mutual friend of hers and Alivia. A private investigator, but Gerri’s sixth sense told her otherwise. The woman was an amateur sleuth at best and was only standing in her office because Riley was too intimidated to come alone. Riley’s concern for her friend was genuine. Henley was merely curious. “Riley’s right, Ms. Wilder. If you know where Alivia Vela is, then you need to tell us or you’ll give me no alternative. I’m going to have to alert the police. I wish you would cooperate. It would go so much easier for you if you do.” Riley Parks stopped her pacing and stood with her arms tightly crossed. “Liv’s been gone for ages with no word, and you were the last person to have contact with her.” Gerri took off her reading glasses and put them on her keyboard before swiveling her chair to face both women head on. She laced her fingers together and leaned on her desk pad. “First off, you both need to calm down.” She slid her eyes from one girl to the other. “As for you, Ms. Rourke, calling the police is a ridiculous and unnecessary waste of time and you know it. Liv Vela is a grown woman, and she has made the decision to live how she chooses and where she chooses, regardless of whether or not you agree.” She turned her scrutiny to Riley, narrowing her eyes as she took in the small woman. “To be honest, Riley, while I understand your concern, there was no need to bring in a private investigator. It’s insulting. Not that your friend would find anything of value to use against me. I am a matchmaker, my dear, and your friend Alivia was matched to one of my clients and is currently
living happily off the grid, so getting her on the phone at a finger snap is a little difficult.” “I’m sorry, Ms. Wilder, but that’s just not good enough.” Henley Rourke leaned on the matchmaker’s desk, her fingertips pressed into the polished wood, but one pointed look from Gerri’s piercing blue eyes had her stepping back, clearing her throat. Gerri switched from staring down the tall woman to looking at the other girl. “For what it’s worth, Riley, I agree.” Riley blinked at the older woman. “Wait. You agree with us?” Gerri inclined her head. “Yes. I can see how frustrating this is for you, and how hard it is for you to wrap your head around. I may not be able to reach Liv via conventional methods, but I can do one better.” The two girls exchanged looks. “Better? How do you mean? Are you saying you know where Liv is?” Henley pressed. Gerri lifted her hand matter-of-factly. “I’ve always known. That’s why all this posturing,” she spread her hands toward the two girls and their defensive stances, “is completely pointless.” “If you’ve known all along, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Henley shot back. Her patience thin, Gerri stood and both women took a step back. “Alivia’s location isn’t easily explained. I think it is better I take you to see for yourself. That way you’ll understand.” Riley paled. “She’s not part of some harem or married to the mob, is she?” “Of course not.” The older woman snapped, but then softened at the pained look on Riley’s face. “Look, I’ve already offered to take you to see Alivia. If you’re serious, then meet me at this address.” Gerri slid a business card with the directions across the desk. “Transportation to Liv’s location is complicated, but I’ve made the arrangements in anticipation of this meeting. To satisfy everyone’s curiosity and suspicion, I suggest you both come. Pack light.” Riley exchanged another look with Henley before glancing at Ms. Wilder’s waiting stare. “How do we know we can trust you?” Gerri frowned. “Young woman, so far I’ve been very patient with you and your passive aggressive accusations. I’ve had to delay my work for another 28
client in order to meet with you on such short notice. My hope was to allay your fears. I’ve offered to take you to Alivia at my own expense so you can see for yourself she’s happy and well, but I won’t stand here and let you smear my integrity. If you truly are concerned about your friend, and I believe you are, then stop this nonsense.” She pointed to the card. “Be at that address tomorrow night. Nine p.m. Sharp. The transport won’t wait.” “Transport?” Henley questioned. “Yes.” Gerri nodded, slipping her reading glasses onto her nose again before sitting in her chair. “That’s an unusual way to refer to a mode of transportation.” Gerri eyed them over the top rim of her glasses. “Well, you’ll have to show up tomorrow night to find out. I sincerely hope you do. This is a trip you won’t soon forget.” *** “Ms. Wilder?” Steven opened the cab door and quickly took her bag from the front seat. “I just got your message. Just you tonight?” She shook her head. “Nope. I’ve got a full house. Three plus me.” He whistled low. “You’ve been a busy bee, then.” Grinning, she patted the tall handsome man’s arm. “When am I not?” She gave him a nod and handed him a twenty-dollar bill to pay the driver. “Do you want me to stow this while you wait for your guests?” She nodded again and then glanced at her watch. Eight fifty-five p.m. “That would be terrific, Steven. Thanks. They should be getting her any minute. Time and space wait for no one,” she replied with a wink. He laughed. “I suppose that’s true, but if it were to wait for anyone, it would be you.” Gerri’s smile broadened at his genuine chuckle. “You’re such a charmer, Steve. One of these days, you are going to let me work my magic for you. Handsome and sweet as you are, you’d be a catch for anyone, and you know I’d make sure she was the right gal.” Steven bobbed his head. “That’s for sure.” He glanced toward the road at the flicker of approaching headlights. “Do they have any clue where you’re taking 29
them or what’s in store tonight?” He gestured with his head toward the metal gate of the power plant behind them. “One does, but the other two,” she laughed, “not a chance.” He winked. “Gotcha. Well, if that’s the case, then I’d better get a move on. See you on the flipside, Ms. Wilder. With four going, I’d better make sure the power grid is intact.” Watching him walk with her bag toward the back of the nondescript power plant, she turned as one set of headlights pulled into the narrow parking lot, followed by another. The power plant that housed her transport was set between two abandoned warehouses. The perfect cover for her own covert Xfiles. She’d bet a trip to the moon, all three girls never expected this deserted place as their lift off point. Both taxis pulled closer, driving right up to the power plant gates and then parked. The girls each got out and looked around, surprise on their faces. Riley and Henley from one cab and Ivy from the other. The two girls each had one roller bag and stood in awkward silence as the cabs pulled away. Ivy had two, and Gerri shook her head. “I’m glad you all made it,” Gerri said, greeting them with a quick smile. “Since I’m your common denominator tonight, I’ll do the honors. Riley, Henley—this is Ivy Grimaldi. Ivy, this is Riley Parks and Henley Rourke. They are traveling with us to visit their friend Alivia. She lives not too far from Cassandra.” “Wait,” Riley said, looking from one to the other. “I thought you said Alivia lived off the grid?” “And?” Gerri questioned back. “And? I can’t believe you just asked that.” Henley frowned. “If Ivy’s friend Cassandra lives close enough for us to travel together, then it can’t be as far off the mainstream as you led us to believe.” Ivy laughed at that. “Oh, honey, it’s about as far off the grid from here as you can get. Just you wait and see.” “Are we ready to roll, Ms. Wilder?” Steven asked, coming from the back of the power plant with a small hand truck for the rest of the luggage. She looked from him to the girls and nodded. “I think so. Girls, give your bags to Steven so he can secure them and we can get going. Ivy, you have to leave one behind. You know why.” 30
Ivy opened her mouth to argue but one look from Gerri left her reshuffling items from one bag into the other as best she could. They all followed Steven as he led them around the far corner to the back end of the building. With a quick press of a button, a door opened from a characterless wall. Steven waited for the four women to file through before he wheeled their luggage in as well, pressing an inside button to close the door behind him. “You take the main elevator, Ms. Wilder. I’ll meet you below as soon as I stow these.” He gestured to the bags. She nodded, watching as he slipped through a side door before she turned to swipe a key card through an almost invisible slot. Another concealed door slid open and Gerri waited for the girls to step into the secret elevator before she did the same. “Authorize,” a voice prompted and Gerri placed her hand on a smooth panel where the floor buttons would be. “Accepted.” The elevator door slid shut, and in seconds, their car plunged at high speed, the lights flickering as they dropped. “Oh my God, I’m going to be sick.” Henley leaned on the polished wall but then jerked back when the lighting changed to a soft, dim pink. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—” Gerri lifted her hand. “It’s okay, honey. Do you suffer badly from vertigo?” She shook her head. “Not usually, no. Why do you ask?” Ms. Wilder didn’t answer as the elevator slowed to a smooth stop. The doors slid open and Steven met them at the end of a long, narrow hallway. They followed him to a door marked with Gerri’s name and waited for her to press her hand to the smooth metal surface once again. “Biometrics. Interesting,” Henley remarked. “Trust me, love. That’s nothing,” Steven replied with a snort. The young woman frowned at the handsome attendant and Gerri chuckled as the portal room door snicked open. “I’ll say my goodbyes now, Ms. Wilder. Have a safe trip. I’ll catch you on the way back.” He waited for them to walk inside the sleek, James Bond style room before nodding once and closing the door behind them.
The sound of a bolt shooting its lock made Riley jump, and Gerri gave her a soft smile. “There’s nothing to worry about, sweetheart. Trust me. I’ve done this more times than I can count. The only thing required at this moment is an open mind.” The older woman moved them into a circle with Ivy positioned between each of the girls. Riley exchanged a worried glance with Henley. “Open mind? How do you mean? For what?” she asked. Gerri patted her arm, but didn’t answer. Instead, she reached into her jacket pocket for what looked like a polished chrome egg. “Uhm, Ms. Wilder—” Riley began, her voice cracking slightly with alarm. “What are you doing?” “Are you a sci-fi fan, Riley?” she asked. “I like Dr. Who. Why?” Gerri grinned. “Good. Think Tardis. Now everyone take a hand.” “Wait,” Henley balked. “Why? What’s going to happen?” Gerri’s smile broadened and she whispered words in a strange language into the silver egg. The oval shimmered, its polished surface glowing blue. She let it go and the gleaming egg hung suspended in the air between them, its sapphire radiance spreading like a shallow pool on the floor. They each took a hand. Gerri eyed the group and winked. “In the immortal words of Betty Davis, fasten your seatbelts, ladies. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” The pool glistened in a turquoise so beautiful, it rivaled any in the Caribbean. “It’s almost time, so when I say jump, we jump together.” Gerri nodded to Ivy, hoping she got the message. If the other two hesitated, it was up to them to pull the couple into the portal. “No! I can’t swim!” Riley’s eyes were frantic and she tried to jerk her hand back. “You’re a crazy old bat! Henley! Get us out of here!” Gerri’s eyes met her panicked gaze and she shook her head. “It’s not water, Riley. It’s a portal. A wormhole I’ve opened for the purpose of moving between dimensions. Between galaxies. It’s how we need to travel in order to meet Alivia and Cassandra. They are on a planet called Nova Aurora with their mates. I know this seems unthinkable, insane even, but I assure you, it is none of the above.” 32
“I don’t believe you.” Riley hesitated, but Henley reached across and squeezed her hand, surprising everyone. “It’s going to be fine, Ri. What’s the worst that can happen? We land in a circle of blue light and the joke is on us, but if Ms. Wilder is telling the truth, think of the adventure! It’s the chance of a lifetime.” Henley grinned and for the first time since they met, Gerri smiled back at her. “You know, for someone who has been a royal pain in my ass for the past twenty-four hours, that’s the best thing I’ve heard all day.” The shimmering glow stilled until the pool was crystal clear. On the other side was a gorgeous landscape of purple forests and a medieval looking structure in the distance. “Okay, ladies,” Gerri warned, “it’s now or never. JUMP!” The four women held fast to each other and closed their eyes, jumping in unison. There was no splash and Riley sucked in a breath, shocked there truly was no water. A cool burst of air hit them and gravity took hold with a pulling sensation, like the draw from the open end of a vacuum hose, only massive. “Hold tightly, girls. This is where it can get a little freaky.” The dull initial pull changed to a hard sucking motion. They were wrenched forward while at the same time swirling at high speed. Pressure built in Ivy’s chest and she coughed, trying to suck in a breath. “There’s. No. Air.” The words choked out and she lifted a hand to her throat. Gerri shook her head. “It’s your imagination, Ivy. There’s plenty of air. The portal is pressurized. You need to relax and take slow, even breaths.” There was no sound. Only the intense pull and the incredible speed. The three girls gasped at how their hair floated around them as though underwater. “I’m going to vomit,” Riley cringed, swallowing hard against the thick, airless feel. “No, you’re not. It’s just the pressure. Hold on. We’re almost there,” Gerri replied. The portal shimmied and slowed and the thick density faded. The blue glow returned to the pool of light, shrinking inch by inch until it disappeared completely into the chrome egg. Gerri closed her palm over the silver oval and put it inside her pocket. “Well, that went better than I expected. When the last gal came through, she fainted. I had to have one of King Alyx’s men carry her to her room and it 33
took three days for her to recover.” She smiled. “Anyway, welcome to Nova Aurora, ladies.” The door slid open and each walked out, each peering around as if expecting an army of little green men. “King Alyx?” Henley asked, helping Riley. “Yes, he’s the ruler here.” “Taking the king’s name in vain is a treasonable offense, matchmaker.” All eyes turned at the sound of the deep, rumbling voice. The man was massive as he stood waiting for them in the anteroom just outside the portal exit. “Alyx! I didn’t expect you’d greet us yourself.” Gerri’s reply was as surprised as the look on her face. The man took three long strides and opened his large arms, engulfing the petite woman, lifting her off her feet. “Next to my wife, you’re my favorite earthling, so why wouldn’t I be here when you arrived?” Ivy’s eyes went wide at the sight of the muscled shifter. Gerri mentioned alien shifter males were huge and sexy as sin, but damn! She licked her lips and spared a glance for the other girls. Dumbstruck, it was obvious they were just as taken with the substantial piece of eye candy. She laughed to herself. As if traveling to a total other galaxy wasn’t enough. “Put me down, you oversized fur ball, or I’ll put you over my knee and I promise you won’t enjoy it!” Gerri’s tone wasn’t nearly as scolding as it was supposed to sound. He laughed, setting her on her feet. “Bella tells you entirely too much.” “True. Especially since your bedroom antics could rival a skin flick.” Gerri smoothed the front of her flowy blouse, but the mischief in her eyes was nothing less than affectionate. “How are she and the baby?” “They’re both fine and looking forward to a visit from you.” “Is everything as I asked or are juggling kingship and fatherhood too much for a big bad lion?” She cocked her head at the big shifter, smirking at the effect he had on the three stunned girls behind her.
“Warrior-sized nerve in such a bite-sized package. You are definitely one of a kind, Gerri Wilder.” With a wink, he turned his attention toward the girls. “Looks like you’ve got a packed house with you. I’m glad you sent word this time.” She nodded. “I had to. I wasn’t sure how well the trip would be tolerated, considering how hard it was on Bella the first time she made the worm jump, but it went better than I expected.” Gerri turned, lifting a hand toward the three of them. “Alyx Treyvaal, King of Nova Aurora, I present Ivy Grimaldi. Her cousin Cassandra is mated to Talen Arctos of your Northern Bear Clan. These other ladies are Riley Parks and Henley Rourke. They are Alivia’s friends.” She turned, nodding to them. “Alivia is mated to Alyx’s Chief of Security, Karel Yaghar.” “Wait, are you telling me Karel is from here? I thought he was just a regular shifter,” Riley asked, surprised. Ivy cocked her head at her. “Riley, you assumed Gerri was taking you to see Alivia. When she opened the worm hole, didn’t that clue you in that your friend had gone all Galaxy Girl?” “So you’ve met Karel, then,” Alyx noted. Riley nodded, shooting Ivy a look. “Yes, after he and Liv started dating.” “Karel was visiting Earth on business for me. It was a very successful trip for him, considering he met the love of his life. Earth has proven very fruitful in that department for us, all thanks to this petite firebomb.” The king gestured with his head to Gerri. “Okay, big guy. Flattery will get you nowhere. These girls are not here to join in the Auroran version of Match.com. The just want to see their family and friends.” Alyx smirked. “Next, you’ll be telling me Brooklyn is for sale.” Henley burst out laughing. “Dude, no. The saying goes, ‘If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell.’ It’s Brooklyn all right, but only because a con man in the early 1900s sold the rights to its bridge at least twice a week.” Ivy snorted. “There’s no fix for that kind of gullible, human or otherwise.” Riley exhaled, stealing a glance at the gorgeous shifter. “Gullible? And how would you explain our little trip through space?”
Ivy followed her line of sight and grinned. “I’d call it extraterrestrially delicious.”
Chapter 5 The look on Alyx’s face was priceless. “Uhm, yeah. I’d better stick to my own lingo, then. Clearly, my wife’s lessons in Earth slang aren’t working on this dude.” He gave Henley a pointed look and her eyes nearly bugged. “I—I—didn’t mean anything by that. I’m s-s-sorry, Your Majesty,” she mumbled, fumbling over her words. He winked at the shaken girl. “No offense taken, love. If being married to a feisty human has taught me anything, it’s to lighten up.” “One caveman shifter down, thousands to go.” She winked. “Remind me to thank Bella when I see her, but in the meantime, you still haven’t answered the question about my arrangements.” The king nodded. “Alivia and Karel already reside at the palace, but as requested, I sent for Cassandra and Talen. In her condition, I didn’t think it safe for her to travel overland, so I sent a transport. The journey is a rough trek from the north, but this way they are set to arrive tomorrow morning, safe and sound.” “All righty, then.” Gerri clapped her hands once. “I’m sure the girls want to freshen up, maybe take a nap and have something to eat. I know I do.” Alyx inclined his head. “Of course. Your bags have already been taken to your chambers. Gerri, I trust you know the way to the guest wing, so I’ll leave you to it.” He left them in the anteroom without more than a goodbye nod. “This place is one giant anomaly,” Ivy said, looking around as they made their way from the transport bay toward the main palace. “It doesn’t know if it wants to be Camelot or Krypton.” “You two are certainly taking this whole thing in stride. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact we are light-years from Earth.” Riley ran a hand through her hair. “Is no one else blown away?” “Of course, they are.” Gerri nodded. “It’s only natural to feel overwhelmed, but this is real. Here we are and here we stay until you’ve had your fill of Alivia and can go home happy in the knowledge that she’s in a good place. That’s if you even want to go home. Liv didn’t, so you never know.” Ivy snorted. “I can’t blame her. Not if her mate is half as hot as his boss.”
“Facts!” Henley chuckled. “Testify that!” Her eyes widened as they passed rows of screens set into the wall all showcasing gorgeous men and women in various stages of undress. “Holy fuck! Literally!” Gerri grinned. “I’m glad you two are enjoying the scenery. Those are ads for sexbots. Don’t forget, this deep space thing may be all new to us, but Nova Aurora is a major port of call.” Ivy laughed. “Are you telling us these sexbots are the galaxy’s answer to fleet week prostitution?” “Exactly, but the ones you see here are very high end. There are different classes of sexbots depending on what the client can afford. One thing it does do is cut down on STDs.” Gerri smirked, nodding. “And yes, it has the exact same meaning as on Earth, but with different diseases.” Riley shook her head, even more stunned. “Sexbots. Next, you’ll be telling us they have them in holographic form.” Gerri nodded again. “They do. They’re actually a lot of fun. I like to think of it as three-dimensional Facetime. You still can’t touch, but what a show!” She winked. “Of course, nothing compares to the real thing. If you think Alyx is gorgeous, just wait. Trust me, it only gets better from here. And bigger.” “Be still my heart.” Ivy fanned herself. “Please, God, let them be physically proportioned in everyway.” “You mean big hands and big feet, right?” Henley asked with a smirk. “And everywhere in between, girlfriend!” Riley burst out laughing. “And here I thought Henley was bad, but I think she just met her match. Ivy, you’re horrible.” Ivy slung an arm around Riley’s shoulder. “Only the good die young, Riley, and my adventure junkie is buzzing.” “Mine, too, sister.” Henley nodded, slipping her arm around her friend’s shoulder from the other side. “Stick with us, Riley, and this trip will really be out of this world.” “You two leave Riley be. She’ll come around when she’s ready. In the meantime, a good meal and a hot shower will help a lot, and I promise to answer whatever questions you have to help settle your misgivings, but let’s find our rooms first.” 38
No sooner had the words left Gerri’s mouth than a young woman dressed in a flowy iridescent top and matching pants slipped from a concealed door. “Teva!” She greeted the woman with a quick hug. “It’s so nice to see you again. How are you, darlin’?” “I’m fine, Ms. Wilder. The better to see you again.” “Have you been assigned to us for the duration?” she asked. The girl nodded. “Yes. The queen asked for me specifically. I am to take care of you and your guests.” “Wonderful.” Gerri turned to the others. “Ivy, Riley, Henley—this is Teva. She will be our liaison here in the palace. Anything you need or want, just announce it out loud and she’ll be notified.” Ivy snorted. “What? Do the walls have ears?” Teva nodded. “Yes, exactly.” “Oh boy, then you’d better invest in some ear plugs, sweetie, because if all the shifters on this planet are as hot as your king, you and your eavesdropping walls are going to get an earful of Earthly delights!” Ivy waggled her eyebrows. The poor girl flushed to the tips of her ears and Gerri rolled her eyes. “On that note, would you please show us to our rooms, Teva?” She gulped, nodding again. “Follow me.” They followed her down the corridor to an elevator bank. She pushed the only button at the center of the chrome wall and the doors slid open. “This lift will take you directly into your lodgings. All you need do is step in and say where you wish to go. Our transports are non-linear and will take you anywhere on the grounds or in the palace. They have been reserved for your use during your visit. Kind of like me.” She smiled at her little joke and ushered them all inside. Riley elbowed Henley. “Like the elevator from the original Willy Wonka.” “Computer, the Marque Suite,” Teva said loudly. “Engaged.”
The doors slid shut and with almost no movement or sound, they opened almost as quickly as they closed. “Arrived.” Teva walked out of the lift first and the others followed her into a sumptuous living area. Couches and plush carpets surrounded them in comforting shades, and a glass and chrome fireplace ignited the moment they stepped in. Floor to ceiling windows gave a spectacular view of the grounds, the keep, and the far turrets. “This place is wild,” Ivy said, walking to the window. “Holy shit! They have two suns!” Henley gestured to the twin orbs dipping low on the horizon. Ivy turned, taking in everything before looking to Teva. “So, whose room is this?” Teva spread her hands out. “Yours. All of you. The Marque is a threebedroom suite. The queen thought you’d be more content if you roomed together. You have separate bedrooms, of course, but the common area here and upstairs are shared.” “Upstairs?” Ivy asked. She nodded. “There is a second floor complete with bar, massage room, and media center.” At their tinkle of laughter, the walls changed hue, taking on a ghosting of pink. “Why do the walls keep changing color? It’s freaking me out,” Riley added. Gerri gave her a soft smile. “The entire castle is mood sensitive.” “Mood sensitive? Are we such delicate flowers that we need comfort walls?” Riley snorted and the walls immediately changed to a dark blue. She jumped. “What the fuck?” “That shade of blue is associated with doubt. Yellow is its direct opposite, so I suggest you relax.” The walls changed to a light butter color and Gerri lifted a hand toward the calming effect. “See? The room is trying to help you, Riley, so why not go with the flow instead of trying to fit everything into a neat explanation. Just enjoy the experience.” 40
A loud gong sounded and Gerri glanced out the window. “Dusk. That means the entire court is gathering in the great hall for dinner and entertainment.” She looked at Teva. “Don’t let us keep you, dear. I know you’re required there.” The young woman shrugged. “I’ve been assigned to you, Ms. Wilder. If you’re not planning to attend the dinner, then I’m not required to serve.” “But then you might not eat until very late.” Teva lifted one shoulder. “I can always get something from the kitchens later.” A soft knock sounded from the door interrupting her. “I took the liberty of ordering Sidaii wine for you and your guests,” she said, walking to open the door. A young boy walked in and she directed him to put the tray on the coffee table in front of the fireplace. “That was thoughtful, Teva. Thank you,” Gerri replied, watching the girl pour four glasses of the ruby red liquid. “What’s Sidaii wine?” Ivy asked, taking a glass and holding the clear crystal up to the light. “Is it native to Nova Aurora?” Teva nodded. “Yes. It’s a fruit wine and it’s renowned here and on our sister planet, Galaxa.” “Galaxa?” Riley’s mouth dropped open. “You mean there are more planets like this?” Gerri chuckled. “You sound like such a human, Riley. Earth is not the only planet that supports life. In fact, we’re the infants of the cosmos in terms of development and technology. Galaxa and Nova Aurora were formed in unison from the same asteroid kiss.” “Asteroid kiss? Isn’t that a rather romantic way of describing what I’m sure was a cataclysmic moment?” Ivy replied. “You’re talking about the big bang theory, right?” Riley asked. Gerri nodded. “Yes. The real one. Not the TV show. Anyway, the sister planets were formed and it’s from here that all shifters originate. They traveled to Earth long before our recorded history and bred with humans, creating a hybrid shifter species. Different, yet similar in all ways that count. If you get what I mean.” She clicked the inside of her cheek and lifted her glass. “To new adventures, ladies, and whatever journeys they bring.”
Henley drained her glass, smacking her lips. “Man, that’s good. I took a winetasting class offered at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, but nothing they had tasted as good as this.” “I’d take my time with Sidaii, Henley. It packs quite a punch. Especially for humans,” Gerri warned. Henley smirked. “I’ll be fine, Mrs. W. It’s one of the advantages of being built like an Amazon. I can hold my liquor.” She held out her glass toward Teva for a refill and the young woman exchanged a look with Gerri. “It’s your head, girl. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She motioned for Teva to pour, watching as Riley puddled onto the couch after one glass, her eyelids drooping. “Man, you weren’t kidding about that wine. I feel like I have no bones in my legs.” Teva caught the girl’s glass just as it slipped from her hand. Cheeks flushed, Ivy plopped down beside her and leaned her head on the cushions. “I can’t feel my teeth.” Henley snorted, taking the carafe to fill her glass a third time. “Lightweights.” She lifted the cut crystal to her lips. “Since everyone is being a Grade A party pooper, it’s obvious we’re not making it to dinner, so I’m going to take a shower and then eat the biggest meal room service can carry. Preferably in bed.” She turned to Teva. “Oh, will my Kindle work here?” “No, but all you need do is announce what you want to read and it will be provided.” Henley giggled. “Like something out of the Jetsons.” She turned in various directions before looking back at Teva again. “Which one is my room?” “Take your pick,” Gerri answered. “Teva and I will see to the others.” She looked at the two snoring girls on the couch and chuckled. “For real, we’re not making it to dinner tonight.” Teva grinned. “Looks like Sidaii earned two more notches on its belt.” “Those two are definitely down for the count and that one—” she gestured to Henley staggering toward the bedroom. “Is not far behind.” “I wouldn’t worry, Ms. Wilder. The king knew you might be tired from your journey and wasn’t really expecting you tonight. He’s arranged a breakfast tomorrow morning in the gardens for you and your guests. By then, Miss Cassie and Mr. Talen will have arrived.” 42
“Uhm, can I have a larsh double sheeseburger with bacon and frensh fries sent up asap?” Henley hiccupped. “Oh, and a coke or whatever the alien equiv—” She burped, stumbling on the carpet. “Damn shoooos,” she slurred, giggling. “Oh boy,” Gerri murmured. “The wine will have her passed out just like her friends in no time. I’ll keep an eye on her, Ms. Wilder.” “No, honey, you’ve done enough. I’ll take care of getting them settled.” She shooed the girl toward the door. “Go eat. You can check on my ducklings later to make sure they’re all in a row.” The girl hesitated. “What about you?” She shrugged. “I’m in no hurry. Have a tray sent up for me once you’re done with your dinner.”
Chapter 6 “Oh my God, my mouth tastes like my tongue grew hair.” Riley grimaced, rolling from the couch to the floor. “Ouch!” “At least you can taste. Mine mouth feels like I ate cement.” Ivy stretched her jaw, sticking her tongue out. “We never made it to bed, did we?” Ivy looked at her on the floor. “Considering you’re on the ground and we’re both in the same clothes from yesterday, I’d vote no.” “Ugh, someone kill me, please!” Both girls hissed at the loud complaint. “For God's sake, Henley, stop yelling.” Cringing, Riley covered her ears. “Some friends. I should be yelling the house down. Which one of you left me on the bathroom floor?” Henley shuffled from the bedroom door into the living room, one hand shoved into her snarled hair. Ivy sat up with a wince. “Oh boy. You look worse than I feel and I would’ve said that was impossible.” She threw a throw decorative pillow at Riley. “Look. Your buddy is doing the Walking Dead. Literally.” Riley struggled to sit up. “Oh. My. God. Hen! What happened?” “What do you think? Greedy Gus over there is paying the price for swigging three glasses of that alien poison they pretend is wine.” Ivy flinched with the sarcastic effort. “Hen, why did you sleep on the floor in the bathroom?” The tall woman looked at her friend, confused. “Did I?” She nodded. “I would assume, yes, or how the hell else would you end up with grid marks on your face?” “Not to mention your drool-plastered hair to the side of your cheek,” Ivy added. Henley scuffed her feet to the wall mirror and cringed. “Eew, now, for real, I’m going to be sick. I thought I dream edit.”
“Dreamed that you fell asleep on the tile?” She nodded. “Yeah, and that Teva and Ms. Wilder tried to move me, but gave up.” “Unfortunately, love, that was no dream.” Gerri walked in carrying a carafe of a greenish-brown liquid and three glasses. “You’re quite the fighter, Henley. In fact, you gave Teva a blackeye.” Henley groaned. “Please tell me she’s okay.” Gerri smirked. “She is, or at least she will be. Lucky for you, the level of medical know-how on Nova Aurora far exceeds what we have on Earth. She’ll be as right as rain and her face back to its porcelain perfection by morning. In the meantime, we’re on our own until she mends.” She put the carafe down and then looked at her watch. “Breakfast is in one hour. We’re expected, so you girls need to pull yourselves together. Oh, and Ivy, I left something for you in your room. It’s a surprise.” She clicked the inside of her cheek. “Make sure you read the instructions.” Gesturing toward the coffee table, Gerri nodded to them. “I’ve also brought something to clear your heads and settle your stomachs. It’s for all of you, so I suggest you don’t skip it. Hair of the dog and all.” Ivy scooted toward the end of the couch to pull the tray closer. “It looks like ocean sludge.” “Yes, because that’s what I bring all my guests who get drunk their first night in port. Sludge.” The wry retort made Ivy chuckle and wince at the same time. Henley slumped onto the couch beside her and picked up the bottle, swirling the carafe in her hand. “It’s the color of baby shit.” “Sludge. Baby shit. Call it all the names you want. Just drink it. I will not be embarrassed with you three green at the gills and ready to puke in your porridge. I warned to go easy on the Sidaii.” “We did,” Riley said, struggling onto the couch from the floor. “She’s the one who should have her head in the toilet.” Gerri laughed. “And she did. A lot.” “Will this really work?” Henley asked “Forever the skeptic. Yes, it works. For you especially.” Gerri tapped her watch. “One hour, girls. I’ll be back for you then.” 45
Ivy got up from the sofa with another wince. “Wait? Aren’t you here in the suite with us?” “Nope. I visit so often, I have my own apartment in the palace.” Gerri gave them a quick salute. “One hour.” Ivy stared at the nasty liquid in the fancy curved bottle. “Gimme that.” She held out her hand. “Every muscle in my body hurts and my bones are vibrating. Anything’s better than that.” She took the carafe from Henley and opened the top, her nose wrinkling at the smell. “Oh my God, if this tastes worse than it smells, we’re doomed.” “Don’t do it, Ivy.” Henley shook her head. “It’s got to be some kind of vomitproducing solution.” She snorted. “From what Gerri just said, it’s the Sidaii that’s the ultimate in vomit producing.” Ivy shook her head. “Besides, I trust Gerri.” “Really? She didn’t stop Teva from pouring the wine in the first place,” Riley shot back. “True, but anything’s better than the way I feel now.” Ivy poured a small amount into a clean glass and lifted it toward her lips. “Bottoms up.” She drained the cup, gagging as she forced the foul stuff down. Dropping the cup on the white carpet, she didn’t care if the horrible stuff dripped onto the rug. “Ugh! That was the worst thing I’ve ever had in my mouth.” She slumped onto the couch and dragged the back of her hand across her lips. Henley took the carafe next. “In high school, I once went down on this guy whose balls smelled like week-old fish. Charlie Fin was his name. Ironic, now that I think about it.” Ivy looked at Riley and burst out laughing. “Couldn’t you smell him the minute he dropped his tighty whities?” She could barely get the words out. “He was a football player and it happened right after practice. Hey, we’ve all done stupid stuff.” Henley shrugged. “He used to call me Amazon Queen, and not in a good way. He made gorilla noises every time I passed him in the hallway. I knew he was dying to see what it was like to fuck a big girl like me and the opportunity was the sweetest get-even ever.” “How?”
She laughed. “Let’s just say Charlie Fin was known as Charlie Tuna for the rest of senior year. Totally worth the bottle of Listerine I chugged afterward.” “Oh. My. GOD! Henley, you are my hero!” Ivy guffawed. “Big girls get a bad rap at every turn, so brava! If you can stand going down on that, then you can certainly handle this.” She picked up the bottle and poured, handing her new friend a full glass. “Like I said, bottoms up.” With a grimace and a plugged nose, Henley drained the cup before shoving it back in Ivy’s hand with a shiver. “Nope. Definitely worse than Charlie Tuna balls.” Riley bent over laughing and the other two eyed her dark springy curls. “You’re next, Ri. Tick tock,” Ivy said, tapping her bare wrist. She grabbed the carafe off the table and gave Henley a look. “So, I’m a lightweight, huh?” Riley lifted the rim to her lips. “Here’s baby shit in your eye.” She tipped the bottle straight up and drank, choking a little before slamming the carafe down on the table. Burping, her hand flew to her mouth, but then she exhaled, relieved. “You know, I actually feel better,” she said, wiping her mouth. “Of course, I drank the least so I’m not surprised.” Ivy stood, fingers probing her temple. “Me, too. I feel almost normal.” She looked at Henley. “You can’t possibly feel better yet, not with the way you chugged that wine.” “I do actually, but a hot shower will finish the trick. How long do we have?” Riley shrugged. “I don’t know, but I would guess about forty-five minutes.” Ivy held her hands out to both ladies to help them up from the sofa. “Let’s do this, then. Dress for success, right?”
Chapter 7 Ivy found her luggage in the bedroom just as they were told. She dug through her suitcase for her beauty products only to find her toiletry bag had imploded during transport. Damn. Now what? She purposely dismissed the untouched bed, ignoring the dressing table mirror as she walked into the luxurious bathroom. It was as large and as filled with bells and whistles as her master bath at home. Body sprays, rain head, steam, music, everything you could think of and more. “Okay, mood room, what do I do now? My toiletries didn’t survive the warp jump.” Only half serious, she mumbled to herself when a hidden drawer in the tile slid open with every kind of product she could imagine. “Uhm, thank you.” She scanned the ceiling. “I hope to fuck I’m not on some kind of closed-circuit TV.” With a wicked smirk, she shimmied out of her top and then her leggings, humming the stripper theme song. She kicked her clothes to the corner and then strutted to turn on the shower, slipping behind the glass door with a wiggle. “I hope that gave you an eyeful!” she yelled to the ceiling again. Feeling better, she did a quick lather and rinse and squeezed out her hair. The shower turned off automatically the moment she touched the heated towel on the rack. She wrapped the big thirsty terrycloth around her body and tucked the edges before padding into the bedroom. Gerri said the temperature fluctuated here, yet she had no idea whether she meant hot or cold. “Mood room, what kind of day is it? Flip flops or boots?” She waited. Nothing. “Oh, so now you clam up? My pre-shower dance too much for you? If I freeze today, I’m blaming you.” In that moment, she glanced down to find her flip flops neatly placed in front of the dresser. She whirled around to her suitcase, but the bag was still the way she left it. “Uhm, sorry. I didn’t mean to be so rude.” Mumbling to herself a gain, she lifted her suitcase top and took out a flowing high-low skirt and bright tank top. She ran a comb through her honey-colored hair and then pulled it into one side, letting the waterfall curls fall over her shoulder.
She had no makeup as everything oozed into a gooey mess inside her bag, so she smoothed a little extraterrestrial face cream over her lightly tanned skin. At least in that department she’d won the lottery. Good skin. She was fullfigured, but then again, all the women in her family were, including Cassie. Ivy smiled thinking about her cousin. It was only a matter of minutes until she’d see her again. She glanced at her face in the dresser mirror, running her fingers under her gray eyes and the tiny fine lines she’d noticed there. Except they weren’t. Not anymore. Huh. Maybe there were more perks to this interstellar travel than Gerri let on. Reverse aging and hot hunky men who seem to like curvy women. Win-win. She looked at her eyes again. They were the same shade of dove gray as Cassie’s. Shaking her head, she tried to imagine what her cousin looked like now, all round and preggers. She put the comb on the dresser top and turned on her heel. It was time to find out. Or maybe not. As she turned, Ivy caught Gerri’s weird laptop in the corner of her eye. The communicator was sitting on the dresser directly in front of the oversized bed. Only problem, it wasn’t there a moment ago. The odd metallic device was connected to the flat screen TV on the wall, only the unit wasn’t a television at all, more like a permanent part of the room’s structure. Ivy strode toward the note taped to the laptop’s dark metal case and unpeeled it from the screen. Surprise! When my communicator unit beeps, swipe your hand over the three right bumps in the glass screen. Keep an open mind, Ivy. Remember our conversation about sexbots and satisfaction? Enjoy! Gerri~ P.S. Oh, they’re going to ask for me. Ignore it. This is all about you. XOXO She sat on the edge of the bed, scanning the note again. She ran one hand over her side ponytail. What the hell did the old woman do? Before she could think, the screen beeped, the staccato sound making her jump. Ivy flicked her gaze to the note again and then toward the screen, hesitating. “Fuck it. Don’t be a puss, Ivy.” Her personal pep talk hung in the air as she pushed herself up from the bed, dropping the note to the floor. “Instead of being a puss, let whoever or whatever is on the other end work your puss for you. Gerri said satisfaction, so let’s give the woman her money’s worth.” 49
The room changed color again, only this time it did so from floor to ceiling. Ivy glanced at the spreading gradient. Dusky rose into a sultry crimson. The lights dimmed and she smirked to herself as she swiped the three glass orbs on the screen. The beeping pulse stopped. “Communication active,” a computerized voice announced. Bluish-silver light formed on the large flat screen. They circled in thickness and intensity and Ivy jumped back toward the footboard as it fused to a dense beam and shot toward the floor between the wall and the bed. A cylinder of light sprang from the floor and inside the column was an absolutely gorgeous man. He lifted his eyes to her and took in her full length, towel and damp hair included. “I’m looking for Gerri Wilder. I was informed she asked me to call.” His voice was deep with a sexy resonance. God, he looked so lifelike standing there, Ivy wanted to reach out and run her palms down the hard planes of his chest. Was his dark hair as thick in real life? Oh, right. There was nothing real about him. He was a computer program. But damn, he was hot! She eyed the hologram. “Gerri may have asked you to call, but your call was meant for me.” “You?” the deep voice asked. Ivy nodded then lifted her hand, swirling it in a circle. “Could you turn for me? In a circle, please.” “I don’t think you understand. I’mVan—” She waved her hand in front of her. “I don’t need your name, love. I just want to see the goodies.” “Goodies?” She nodded, her brows knotting. “I guess you’re not programmed for Earth accents or slang. What I mean is you have on too many clothes. I want to see you in the flesh. I know you’re a hologram and don’t really have flesh, but you get my meaning.” 50
The man hesitated for a second, but a delicious smirk graced his lips full of mischief and he peeled his shirt from his shoulders. “Oh my, you look good enough to lick. Whoever programmed you gets a gold star.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “Now the rest.” He inclined his head. “I like this game. Was this your intention all along?” She wet her bottom lip and the man’s eyes followed the swipe of her tongue as he stripped out of his drawstring pants. He stood naked, utterly delicious, and completely erect. “That tongue of yours looks like it wants to work this deep and hard,” he said, wrapping his hand around his shaft. With slow movements, he caressed the hard length, rubbing his palm over a thick head. “Mmmm, I can imagine the feel of your mouth.” His eyes found hers as he stroked his cock. “Let me see you, love. Drop your towel.” Ivy planted the edge of her ass on the bed and unwrapped the terrycloth from her body, letting it fall to either side. “Stroke yourself. I want to watch your slick juices coat your fingers as you dip them deep. Lick your hand and then spread your pussy wide. I want to see your wet folds. That’s it. Slip your fingers inside, one by one, and then circle your clit with your thumb. Imagine my hands and my mouth licking you clean, sucking your hard nub.” Ivy sucked in a breath. His voice was so naturally commanding, the sound nearly made her come. She leaned back, her legs spread wider than she ever dared. Her free hand cupped her breast and she squeezed the full weight, grazing her nipple. She gasped. “You’re so close, love. I can see the flush on your beautiful skin. If I could, I’d sink my cock into that pretty wet slit and ride you hard. Fist yourself. Take it all like you’re taking me.” She cried out, rolling her hips. “That’s it, baby. All of it.” Ivy let her eyes find his and the intensity of his gaze locked the breath in her throat, her body craving something more. “Your cock is so long and thick,” she croaked. “Work yourself. I want to watch you come, too.” 51
A gorgeous grin took his mouth and he shook his head. “Ladies, first.” He crooked his hand, beckoning her closer. “Wrap your legs around the column of light. When you feel the vibration hit, you’ll know that’s me.” Ivy scrambled to the ground. She lay on her back with her knees wide, pressing her most intimate parts to the light. “Oh, love, I can see you’re glistening slick and wet from here.” He leaned in and did something to adjust the communicator settings and suddenly the cylinder shimmied, pulsing at a high speed and growing faster and more frenetic every second. The vibration hit and Ivy cried out, rolling her hips, her hand deep in her pussy. “That’s it. Let go.” His voice was rough and husky across the computer. “I want to see you come!” she groaned. His image stilled, though the shimmy continued and he fisted his cock and threw his head back. His virtual hand worked his swollen head until a guttural grunt tore from his mouth as he climaxed, the facsimile evidence all over his hand. The sexy sight drove Ivy over the edge and her entire body tensed as she came hard. She slumped to the ground as the aftershocks took her, her fingers pruned in her own juice as she watched the sexy hologram clean his virtual fingers. “That was amazing,” she murmured. “I said it before and I’ll say it again. Whoever programmed you deserves an A plus.” He chuckled. “You still don’t understand, but I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore. I was happy to serve.” She leaned up on her elbows, her eyes taking in everything about him. “You know, if you were here and real, I don’t think I’d ever let you go.” He smiled and the effect was breathtaking. “Be careful what you wish for, my dear.” He blew her a kiss and then the cylinder went dark, disappearing altogether. Ivy sat up and wrapped her arms around her knees, a nagging voice at the back of her head at the hologram’s strange words. She had a sneaking suspicion she missed something important. The communicator beeped again and she scrambled to her feet. 52
“Ivy! Hurry up. We’re going to be late.” Gerri’s voice prompted from the speaker. The screen stayed dark, and for a second, she wondered if it was because the old woman knew what she’d find otherwise. She smirked, dismissing the questions in her head and just enjoyed the delicious afterglow. Wait until she told the girls!
Chapter 8 “Where are you guys? Ms. Wilder is going to be here any second,” Ivy said, coming out of her bedroom only to find everyone waiting on her. “Ms. Wilder is already here, slow poke,” Riley joked. “And from the look of you, all I can say is thank God the walls are soundproof.” Henley snickered. “Gerri’s surprise was that good, huh?” Ivy rolled her eyes, but the grin on her face gave it away. The other two looked at her expectantly, but maybe it was better to keep this one quiet. “Wow, you clean up good! I love that orange maxi dress on you, Ri. It really brings out your skin and eyes,” Ivy said, ignoring Henley’s question. “Nice evasion, Vee. Maybe if Riley and I behave ourselves, Gerri will give us a surprise, too.” Riley laughed. “I don’t blame you, Ivy. I was never one for kiss and tell, either.” She glanced down at her dress. “Thanks for the compliment, though. I had to cut about a foot off the bottom, but that’s about par for all my clothes.” “I’m just the opposite. I’m stuck with big and tall for the rest of my life—” Henley stopped mid-sentence when her eyes flicked to the window with a grin. “And Goldilocks said, ‘This one’s too big.' Well, fuck Goldilocks. Looking at what’s walking around down there, it looks like I’m just right!” Gerri burst out laughing. “You guys crack me up. And yes, if you behave, there might be a surprise in store for you, too, eventually.” She pushed herself up from the couch and straightened her lustrous silk sheath that fell to her ankles. “Let’s go. Time, tide, and the king wait for no one.” They walked into the garden and Ivy stopped, her eyes falling immediately on the blonde standing by the end of the table with her hand pressed into the small of her back. Tears pricked and decorum be damned, she wasn’t waiting another second. “Cass! Cassie!” she called across the gathering. The woman turned, her dove gray eyes so like Ivy’s searching for the source. “Over here! Cass!” Dress or no dress, she darted across the lawn, dodging people and servers. “Cassandra!”
Her cousin’s face lit up and she squealed at the sight of Ivy rushing toward her. She flung her arms out and the two women embraced, holding tightly. “Oh my GOD! I can’t believe you’re really here! What did Gerri do? Knock you over the head and drag you through the worm hole?” Cass laughed, stepping back with tears on her cheeks. Ivy shook her head. “Nope. My inner adventure junkie got the best of me. I put my life on hold and threw clothes in a roller bag and surfed the worm.” She looked down at Cassie’s swollen belly. “Look at you! You’re huge!” Cass laughed. “Surfed the worm? I gotta remember that.” Rubbing her belly, her face flushed, embarrassed but proud. “Large and loving it. Wasn’t that what we said growing up?” “The Grimaldi girls. More to love. Yup.” Ivy hugged her again, but then gave her a playful butt smack. “Why didn’t you let me know you were knocked up? I had to find out from my least favorite person.” “Hey, I resemble that remark.” Gerri chuckled, walking up. “Cassandra, love. You look radiant.” “Doesn’t she, though?” a masculine rumble said from behind. Cass held out her hand and another tall, handsome shifter slid his arm around her small shoulders. “Talen, you remember my cousin, right?” The large bear of a man looked at Ivy, his eyes studying her before inclining his head. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Ivy. We didn’t get much of a chance to talk on Earth, but Cass has told me so much about you, I feel as though I know you well.” Ivy spared a look for her cousin and laughed. “Likewise, but I can only imagine what she’s told you. All lies, I’m sure.” She winked. Talen’s laugh was gruff and sexy, and the way his eyes sparkled, she liked him already. “They certainly know how to grow you big out here in the cosmos.” He chuckled. “I know. Cass tells me the palace is like Texas on steroids, whatever that means.” She grinned. “There’s a saying back home. ‘Everything’s bigger in Texas.’” “Why?” he asked, looking between them. 55
Ivy shrugged. “No clue, but it certainly fits.” Cassie hugged Talen around the waist. “Isn’t he amazing?” Gerri pursed her lips and Ivy caught her “I told you so” look. “Okay, I admit it. You were right. Cass is happy as a clam at high tide and I’m glad.” Talen cocked his head with a smirk. “Good. Now, I don’t have to send you off into deep space.” “Tal! Quit it.” Ivy looked at her cousin and laughed. “Deep space to deep six the meddling cousin?” He nodded. “Yup.” “Hey, I thought you came with two other girls?” Cass asked, looking around the courtyard garden. Gerri nodded. “They’re talking with Alivia. In fact, I’d better scoot to make sure they’re not causing Karel problems. Those two have been tag-teaming me for a week.” The older woman moved off, her elegant form walking across the warm grass. “She’s something else, isn’t she? Since I got here, she’s been my lifeline to home, but now that you’re here, I hope I won’t need her as much.” Cass’s eyes found Ivy’s and locked. Ivy looked from her to Talen and then she inhaled, letting her breath out slowly. “I put my life on hold, Cass. Not on stop. I can’t stay forever, no matter how much I’ll miss you.” She looked around at the purple forests and the lush mountains against the azure sky with its twin suns. “Don’t get me wrong. This place is extraordinary and I can’t wait to explore, but I have to go home at some point.” Disappointed, Cassie nodded, letting out a quick breath. “I know. But you can’t blame me for hoping.” “Cass, don’t.” She reached out and touched her cheek. “I love you so much. Please don’t be sad or you’ll make me regret coming.” Talen’s eyes were on her, and despite his humor and friendly manner, she knew he was taking her measure.
“You can stop with the hairy eyeball, Talen. I didn’t come to upset Cassie, but I’ve never lied to her and I won’t now. I have every intention of staying a while. I fully intend to be the godmother to that beach ball she’s carrying, so you’re not getting rid of me that fast.” Cassandra threw her arms around her cousin’s neck and plastered tiny wet kisses on her cheek. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can always count on you, Ivy!” She laughed. “So, what’s there to do around here beside watch the eye candy walk by?” Cass snorted. “I know, right? When I first got here, my tongue was practically hanging out of my mouth. Like New Year’s Eve on Planet of the Hotties.” “Hey!” Talen complained, pressing a kiss to Cassie’s temple. “Remember who you’re mated to.” She gave him a playful shove. “Like I’d ever want to forget.” “Not when you have your own hunk-a-BEARnin’ love!” Ivy snorted. Cassie rolled her eyes. “Oh my God, you did just not go there.” “Yup. I gotta say it’s just a little unnerving to have so many men so easy on the eyes, especially all in one place. The only time you get that back home is at an escort convention. It’s got to be something in the water.” Cassie laughed, but then her face paled and she winced, grabbing her belly. “I think I’d better sit down.” Ivy lurched forward, her hand on Cassie’s arm. “What is it? What’s happening?” Talen scooped her up in less than a second and carried her to a reclining chaise under one of the purple perimeter trees. “She’s been getting contractions since before we left the north. The doctor says it’s to be expected since Cassie is—” his words broke off. Ivy straightened from Cassie’s side, her eyes flashing as she stared down her cousin’s mate. “Since Cass is what?” He looked at Ivy. “Human. There is a small chance the last stage of pregnancy could be more difficult than usual because of her small size.”
Cass chuckled, rubbing her belly. “Imagine that, Vee. I’m considered small. You should hear what they say about Gerri!” Ivy ignored her cousin’s attempt to change the topic. “Difficult how?” He ran a gentle hand over Cassandra’s hair, letting the gold strands slip through his fingers. “The delivery. Because of my size and the differences in our genetics, she’s supposed to be resting and quiet in these last weeks.” The scene from The Fly ran through her mind again, but she squashed it immediately. She looked at her cousin. “Did you know this was a possibility all along? Are you in any danger? Tell me the truth, Cass. I mean it.” Her mouth went dry. This was her worst fear about childbirth coming true in living color. Extraterrestrial purple to be exact. Cassandra shrugged. “There’s always risk for any expectant mother. Even back home.” Ivy threw her hand in the air. “Yeah, but back home they’re not giving birth to alien offspring!” The gathering went silent and Talen groaned. “Can you please try to keep your earthling hysteria to a minimum? I won’t have you upsetting Cassandra. It’s bad enough she wouldn’t take no for an answer once we got word you were coming, and now that you’re here it should be happy times. Not playing twenty questions.” Ivy smirked, eyeing him before shifting her gaze to her cousin’s laugh. “I taught him that,” Cass said. “He’s actually getting pretty good at our slang.” “I bet.” Ivy slid her eyes to Talen before looking back at Cass. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Cassandra nodded. “Yes, mother hen. I’m fine. I’m just very pregnant and tired with swollen feet and Braxton hicks.” “Okay, Dr. Spock, maybe speak English for the simple human, okay?” Ivy snorted. Grinning, Cassie took her cousin’s hand. “Pre-term contractions. They are perfectly normal and human moms get them all the time. During most pregnancies, you can’t even feel them, but—” “You’re not most pregnancies,” Ivy finished her sentence.
She nodded. “Exactly.” Cass glanced at Talen and then caught sight of Gerri walking over again. “Will you explain to my cousin how this is all going down once my water breaks, please? I know what she’s thinking. She’s probably got visions of The Fly in her head.” Gerri burst out laughing. “Oh lord, are you two related. I’d almost think you could read each other’s minds, you’re so cut from the same cloth.” She looked at Cassie laid out on the chaise and her grin faded. “I know it’s going to be all right, and when I say I know, you know I mean it, but I think you should rest and give yourself a chance to recover from the trek in from the north. I know Alyx sent a transport, but it’s still a change in pressure and gravity. You need to stabilize yourself, so don’t argue.” Cassie nodded. “I agree. Nothing is more important that keeping me and the baby safe, but I won’t have Ivy hovering around my bed for a week. She didn’t travel light-years, literally, to be my nursemaid.” “Cass, are telling me you want me to go home?” Ivy stared at her cousin, incredulous. “If that’s your plan, then I’ve got news for you. I’m not ready to give up the view around here and I’m not talking about the purple trees. I haven’t sampled the local flavors and you know what I mean.” She winked. “Stop trying to change the subject, Vee. I won’t have you cooped up for the week it’s going to take to stabilize me.” “It’s only a week. I sat with you longer than that when you had the chicken pox and didn’t want to be seen outside the house. I’m the one who kept you company, remember? We binge-watched movies for two weeks until you stopped scratching and your spots cleared up.” “We were fourteen, Vee. It’s not the same thing.” Gerri lifted a hand. “Girls, stop. I think I have a solution to both your concerns. I have a client on Galaxa that has asked me to come over while I’m here. I’ll be gone about a week. I think the perfect solution is for Ivy to come with me. She can explore Galaxa and satisfy the adventure junkie she’s going on about, and you get to rest up for when she comes back. After that, you and Talen can show her around this part of Nova.” Talen nodded. “I think that’s an awesome idea.” Gerri looked from one girl to the other. “What do you two think?” Ivy didn’t look at Cassandra. Instead, she looked across the lawn to Henley and Riley laughing with Alivia. “They look like they’re happy enough with Liv’s situation. I guess that gets you off the hook, eh, Gerri?” 59
“You’re evading my question, Ivy. As to Henley and Riley, yes, Alivia set them straight. In fact, I invited them to come with me to Galaxa as well. It seems their decision to force my hand and bring them here basically unannounced caught Liv and Karel at a bad time. “Liv’s birthday is in a few days, which explains the timing of Riley’s visit to my office. Since birthdays are more an Earth thing, Karel planned a skiing vacation or them in the Ice Mountains. They were to leave tomorrow. I suggested the same solution for them as I did you. So, see? It was meant all around.” Cassie smirked. “Looks like you’re outnumbered, cousin dear. C’mon, go! You’ll have so much to tell me when you get back. I’ve never been to Galaxa. You’ll have one up on me on an interplanetary level.” Ivy met her cousin’s smirk with one of her own. “That’s low, Cass. Using my own competitive nature against me.” She turned to Gerri and cocked her head. “Didn’t you say something earlier about the shifters on the sister planet being bigger and hotter?” Gerri laughed. “You can’t remember the one bag rule, but that you remember.” She shrugged. “Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” “Well?” Cassandra waited. “If the others are going, too, why not? I’ll be here waiting for you when you get back.” Ivy looked at both Gerri and Cassie and exhaled, nodding. “Okay. I can’t fight both of you. Plus, Cass is right. I’ll have one up on her.” “Good.” Gerri nodded. “We leave tomorrow morning, so you have all day and tonight to visit and catch up. Now, let’s eat. Alyx put out an amazing spread, and I’m starving.”
Chapter 9 “So, are we surfing the worm today or do you have something special planned?” Ivy asked, wheeling her one bag alongside Ms. Wilder. The cargo and transport bays were moving at the speed of light with arrivals and departures. Literally. “Special?” Gerri asked. “Or maybe we’re egging it again?” Ivy winked. “You know. The same way we got here.” Henley snorted. “You are too much, Ivy.” Eyeing the girls with a smirk, Gerri shook her head. “Galaxa is too close to go through all that bother, especially programming another spectrum ovule.” “A what?” Riley asked. “That silver egg, honey. Remember?” Henley winked. “Gerri is just showing off.” “So how are we getting to Galaxa, then?” Ivy asked, but then grinned, her eyes wide. “I know! It’s some kind of molecular integration, right?” “Molecular integration?” Henley laughed. “I knew it! Ivy is a closet trekkie!” “I am not!” She rolled her eyes. “Suuuure you’re not. This isn’t Star Trek, babe. Do you see a transporter room anywhere to energize us out?” “And you know this how?” Ivy retorted. “I just do.” Riley piped up. “Henley knows because the freaking Amazon queen wouldn’t shut up about molecule mixing, so I made her ask Gerri.” Henley’s eyes shifted to her friend. “Thanks for throwing me under the bus, pal.” Gerri had to laugh at the interchange. “Actually, there is a deep space process that uses molecular integration, but it is only sanctioned if a worm hole isn’t stable enough for travel. I’ve never tried it.” 61
Ivy tsked. “And here I was hoping to use the phrase, ‘Beam me up, Scottie.’” “Maybe next time, lovey, but to answer your question on how we’re getting to Galaxa, Vander Kasaval is sending a royal ship for us.” “Vander Kasaval.” Ivy repeated the name and an unusual tickle started in her belly, and that same feeling of missing something important rang in her mind again. “Exotic name. Who is he?” A slow smile crossed Gerri’s lips. “Vander Kasaval is the King of Galaxa.” Before Ivy could respond, a porter waved them toward the embarkation dock and they followed her up the metal planking toward the airlock. At the end of the ramp was an impressive looking man, although not the hunky hottie Ivy envisioned. “Maddox. It’s nice to see you again.” Gerri greeted the man with a stiff smile. “Ms. Wilder. A pleasure, as always. Unfortunately, I bring both the king’s salutations and regrets.” The girls exchanged glances, but Gerri lifted one hand. “Regrets? I hope his majesty is well.” Maddox nodded. “Perfectly well. He’s on a scouting expedition with Prince Jag and Damen Iceri. You might remember him, he’s the king’s security chief. Alas, Galaxa still has frontiers that need a firm hand, if you know what I mean.” He chuckled, but the sound was hollow. “In fact, King Alyx’s human wife refers to our planet as the Wild West. Nevertheless, I am here to escort you to Galaxa, so welcome aboard.” Ivy exchanged a look with the other girls. Human wife? Dude. “Thank you, Maddox.” Gerri’s tightlipped reply was followed by a slight narrowing in her gaze, and the interchange wasn’t missed on Ivy. “Excuse me, Maddox?” she began. He turned, giving Ivy a long-nosed look. “Yes?” “I’m curious. Saying Galaxa is the Wild West conjures images of an untamed place. Is that what’s in store for us when we arrive?” Maddox sniffed. “Our planet is vast compared to Nova Aurora and our terrain harder to manage. I can’t speak to the imaginings your human lingo invokes.” 62
He gave Ivy a curt nod and turned his attention back to Ms. Wilder, and the two walked toward the illuminated cabin doors. “Oops.” Ivy smirked, hanging back with the other girls. “Yeah, seriously. I’m getting the feeling we’re heading into a place that’s a cross between Downton Abby and Game of Thrones,” Henley added. “Did you get how formal Mrs. W was with this dude compared to Alyx? I mean who is this guy?” “Based on the crest on his chest and the epaulette on his shoulder, he’s got to be the king’s chamberlain or something close.” Henley turned with a surprised grin. “Riley, where the hell did you pull that from?” “I pay attention.” She shrugged. “I was a military brat and learned very early how to read a uniform and a person’s demeanor so I didn’t end up in trouble with my dad.” “Really?” Ivy replied. She nodded. “We moved all over the place. I got to see most of the world. It was great, if not a little lonely. Uniforms and protocols are something I’m comfortable with, so yeah. I’m good with that stuff.” “C’mon, we’re falling behind,” Ivy said, nodding to where Gerri waved for them to hurry up. They stepped through the ship’s entry doors and into the main cabin. The ship’s interior was spacious and choked with amenities, but what struck Ivy most were the cool swivel chairs and matching tables lining the perimeter of the large convex exterior window. They were clearly positioned for viewing the expanse of space and she itched to head over and check it out. Maddox cleared his voice, clapping his hands for the crisp waitstaff standing in a straight line awaiting orders. Henley was right. This was Downton Abbey Does Space Travel. “Pay attention, you lot. This is Ms. Wilder. She and her young friends are guests of His Majesty King Vander. See to their comfort. We will be firing the engines, shortly.” He turned to Gerri and smiled again. “My apologies, madam, but I have some communiques to deliver so I must leave you in my staff’s capable hands. The 63
king wanted to know the moment you were safely onboard, plus I must inform him of your other friends.” Gerri nodded politely. “I trust my friends aren’t an imposition, not considering the nature of Vander’s request.” Maddox’s jaw tightened. “I assure you they are most welcome.” “Good. Then we will see you after takeoff.” He inclined his head and walked toward the inside cabin doors leading to the bridge, and Gerri let out an aggravated exhale. “Pompous windbag.” “Who is he anyway? He walks like he’s got a stick up his butt.” Ivy took a glass of pale gold liquid offered in a chilled glass. The server stifled a chuckle. “Oops, again. That’s twice.” Ivy winked at her. Gerri took a glass, as well, lifting it in a salute. “You said a mouthful. Maddox is the Lord Chamberlain of Galaxa. He’s been serving House Kasaval since God was a boy, and if you ask me, Vander only keeps him around for posterity.” Riley clicked the inside of her cheek. “See? Lord Chamberlain. I was right.” “What does Maddox have to do with us, though?” Henley added. “I can’t help it. I get a bad vibe from him.” “I know what you mean. When you asked if we were an imposition, I thought the guy would choke on his tongue. Like he’d just as soon jettison us into deep space than take us to Galaxa.” Gerri sipped her wine, but didn’t say anything. They moved to the viewing chairs and sat, Ivy nearly jumping out of her skin when the seatbelt fastened by itself the minute her butt hit the seat. She exhaled. “I will NEVER get used to this place.” “You’d be surprised, Ivy. Bella said the same thing until she laid eyes on Alyx. Cassie, too, with Talen.” Ivy drained her glass. “I’m not a romantic, Gerri. It would take more than a pretty pair of biceps attached to a pretty face for me.” Gerri smirked into her wine. “I’ll keep that in mind.” 64
A server filled her glass and she nodded. “Thank you. This stuff is delicious. What is it?” “A white Sidaii,” the server replied. “From Galaxa.” Ivy looked at her glass. “Does it have the same kick as the ruby one?” The server laughed. “It’s an aphrodisiac, but only if you’re human.” Ivy exchanged a look with Gerri and the older woman burst out laughing.
Chapter 10 Ivy satin her curved chair watching the massive transportation hub grow larger in the convex viewing window. Red lights on the solid bay doors blinked in a repetitive pattern as the ship approached, opening when they were close enough, allowing the royal barge to dock. The ship glided forward, thrusters engaging to maneuver them into proper position for arrival. “Wow. I’d hate to think what kind of damage a little fender bender would cause around here,” Riley commented, peering out the floor-to-ceiling window at the line of giant cruisers anchored at other bays. “It’s like Star Fleet Command.” Henley rolled her eyes. “Someone save me. I’m surrounded by geeks!” “Keep it up, Hen, and you’ll end up in a galaxy far, far away.” Riley winked. “Too late, babe.” Henley snorted. “We’re already here.” A whirring noise followed a sharp hiss as the ship’s landing gear engaged, locking onto metal struts outside the bay. They had to be attached to an automatic belt of some kind, because the ship moved silently through the access before the doors closed again behind them. The inside cabin slid open and Maddox emerged from the bridge. “We’ve arrived, ladies. Please gather your personal items.” He stood waiting by the main exit as Ivy collected her bag and jacket, not sure what to expect as she moved to stand beside Ms. Wilder with the other girls. The outer cabin doors opened and they walked behind Maddox down a red carpeted gangway. A woman in a soft blue uniform trimmed with gold braiding waited at the end of the planked walkway. “Ms. Wilder, this is Soria. She will be your liaison during your stay. Anything you need, she will get.” Gerri inclined her head. “Hello, Soria. I’m happy to meet you.” The woman spared a glance for Maddox who gave her an almost imperceptible nod before she replied. “Thank you. I am happy to serve.” The exchange wasn’t lost on Gerri. “Serve? Oh, my dear, that is totally unnecessary. My girls and I are very self-sufficient. We would, though, appreciate you showing us to our rooms.” 66
The woman glanced at Maddox again, letting her eyes drop before giving Gerri a quick nod. “Of course, Ms. Wilder. Follow me.” As the woman turned, Maddox held up his hand bringing Soria to a halt, snapping his fingers. At the signal, a burly porter stepped forward. “See to their bags,” Maddox said and then waved Soria forward. “Will Vander be arriving soon?” Gerri asked, turning to prompt Maddox to answer. He inclined his head. “I will send word when he wishes to see you.” “Oh, he’ll see me all right and I expect that will be straight away. I only agreed to come because the king asked pretty please.” Gerri gave him a curt nod and then turned on her heel, waving for the girls to follow. Ivy walked with Riley, but the weight of Maddox’s stare as they left compelled her to turn. There was something not right about him, and she made a mental note to keep her guard up whenever he was close at hand. Soria led them to a private elevator with an elaborate crest etched into the silver door. The entry slid open and she stepped aside for them to enter. “So, is this a Wonkavator like the one on Nova Aurora?” Riley asked only to meet the woman’s confused frown as the doors closed behind her. “What Riley means is does this elevator move in all directions like the one assigned to us on your sister planet?” Henley clarified. Soria shook her head. “No. This lift is for the king’s private use while entering and exiting the transport bay that houses the royal barge. It will take us to a private annex, and from there, I will take you to your quarters.” “We’re staying in the royal wing?” Riley asked, impressed. Soria gave her a quick smile. “Close, but no. However, your accommodations are just as splendid.” It was déjà vu as they made their way to their rooms. Hadn’t they just done this on Nova? When Soria finally stopped, she handed them each a key and then opened the door. “Wow, you weren’t kidding. This place is the bomb dot com,” Henley said with a low whistle as she walked in to the spacious room. “Move over Camelot. Galaxa is taking the floor!” 67
Soria grinned. “I have no idea what you mean, Miss Henley, but your tone sounds about right. This apartment used to belong to the king’s mother. He wanted you to have them because the view is unlike any in the castle.” From their high peak, the vista was spectacular. Dunes as far as the eye could see were dotted with tall swaying palms and green vegetation, fresh pools, and bubbling springs. The dual suns winked along the gold-covered turrets and billowing flags of the castle, and the surrounding city spread out for miles into the desert heat, disappearing into high mountains along the horizon. “Those are the Mirror Mountains. Across their peaks is a no man’s land, fierce and nearly impassable. From there, the land levels into a lush tangle of jungle with a winding river. Not many here in the capitol have been lucky enough to travel that far. It’s not as civilized as here in Palladia.” She nodded, stepping away from them toward a staircase. “Palladia. Is that what the city is called?” Ivy asked. Soria nodded again. “Yes. The capitol of the Palladian Oasis. Past the outskirts of the city, the oasis dies off in a sea of sand. There are nomadic tribes that live in the outland, as we call it.” “Are they a threat?” Ivy asked. “No, haven’t been for a very long time. Their tribal chieftains have pledged their loyalty to House Kasaval in exchange for food and medicine. The king allows them a certain amount of self-rule, so everyone’s happy. It is what you humans call a win-win.” She winked. “Sounds pretty diplomatic. We were told Galaxa wasn’t as civilized as other planets,” Ivy commented. Soria didn’t reply and Ivy watched her face. The evasion seemed almost purposeful. “Downstairs are the bedrooms,” Soria continued. “There are four. One for each of you. Upstairs is a—” She blushed, letting her gaze drop to the floor momentarily. “A what?” Henley prompted, winking at Ivy. “A room for diversions,” Soria answered. “Diversions?” Ivy asked, interest piqued.
The woman nodded. “When the queen died, the old king moved his maîtresseen-titre to these quarters.” At their confused looks, she explained. “His mistress. The two were very creative in their appetites and it was here the old king spent most of his time. He passed on a few years ago. Kari, the old king’s mistress, is very much alive and well and still an important member of the royal family. She stepped in to help raise the current king and his brother. As strange as it might seem, she was a second mother to both princes.” “So, upstairs is sort of X-rated?” Ivy laughed. “Oh boy.” Riley chuckled. “I guess we’ll have to take turns like in college, hanging a scarf on the door when otherwise occupied.” The common room where they stood shifted to a deep crimson and the lights dimmed. “Oh my God, here, too?” Ivy turned with a chuckle, her eyes on the ceiling. “What?” Riley asked. “Ri, are you blind? The room has mood walls, just like on Nova. I wonder if everything else is as quick to respond.” Henley waggled her eyebrows. Gerri smirked, listening to their banter. “Well, the only way to find out is to check out the place, right?” She grinned. “Not that I expect you three to sample the upstairs the moment we arrive, but you know what I mean. Get changed and go exploring. Vander probably won’t be back until morning, so the night is yours for now.” “Well, if the upstairs is as quick to respond as my digs back on Nova, I may never leave my room. Sex toys on demand!” Ivy winked. “Not even for food?” Gerri kidded. “Too bad, because the cuisine here is better than any I’ve tasted. Not to mention the eye candy around every corner. If you thought the men on Nova were big and brawny, just wait.” Ivy smirked at the sly older woman, her stomach grumbling as if on cue. “One cannot live on sex alone. Believe me, I’ve tried. So, on that note, I’m going to hunt up something to eat.” She looked at the other girls. “Anyone else interested?” “I can bring you whatever you want, Miss Ivy. Just tell me what your tastes require,” Soria offered. Ivy shook her head. “Thanks, Soria, but my tastes haven’t a clue what they want. I’d rather forage around in the kitchen, if that’s all right.” 69
Henley stretched her neck, her hand kneading the back of her shoulder. “Pass, Ivy. But if you wouldn’t mind, be a lamb and bring something back for later. Chips or cookies or something fun to share.” “Will do.” Ivy looked at Riley and Gerri. “What about you two? You hungry?” Gerri shook her head. “I have work to finish for my meeting with Vander, so not right now, dear.” Riley nodded. “I’m famished, but I need to lay flat in a dark room for a bit. Something is messing with my equilibrium. We had smooth sailing, but I gotta say looking through that convex window the entire time was probably a mistake. I want a nap and then food, so like Hen asked, bring something back if you can.” Ivy shrugged. “Suit yourselves. I’ll do my best on the food front, but I’m not promising anything.” She turned to Soria. “You have a map or a GPS so I don’t get lost?” The woman chuckled. “I can do better than that. I’ll show you there myself.” *** Ivy rummaged through steel-like cabinets before eyeing the giant refrigerator door on the opposite side of the enormous kitchen. So far, she’d turned up nothing recognizable, only weird looking vegetables and raw grains. She opened the fridge door and her mouth dropped open. “Holy moly! Eat your heart out, Food Network.” The refrigerator was a walk-in and larger than any restaurant-sized unit she’d ever seen. Stepping inside, Ivy wedged the door open with a large crate. Hunting for anything remotely familiar, she eyed a large covered serving plate on a middle shelf and lifted the lid. With a smirk, she studied the roasted bird on the plate. “Halfway across the universe and what do I find? Chicken.” She hesitated upon noticing the purple striation in the crisp skin. “Or maybe not.” She moved closer and sniffed, groaning at the delicious smell and quickly broke off a small piece of meat, plopping it in her mouth. Chewing, she groaned, savoring the unbelievable flavor. “I don’t need to know what this is, nor do I care. All I know is it tastes good,” she mumbled, sticking the ‘chicken’ leg in her mouth. She replaced the cover and took the entire serving dish and a loaf of crusty bread out to the kitchen 70
counter. Putting the items on the stone surface, Ivy turned on her heel going back for the fruit she saw on another shelf. “Henley said cookies or chips, but she’ll have to make do with healthy.” She took the entire bowl of fragrant fruit, stopping at another platter of what looked to be assorted cheese. “Crusty bread, cheese and fruit. All we’ll need is chilled wine and we’re golden.” She grabbed the large tray of cheese and balanced the wooden fruit bowl on top, carrying the two out to the kitchen. “I should have asked Soria to help carry all this upstairs.” Ivy hip checked the fridge door shut and turned, losing her footing. Chicken leg still in her mouth, she pitched forward, landing on her knees, the fruit bowl clattering to the ground. Exotic produce rolled everywhere, but she managed to save the cheese platter. She put the plate on the floor next to her and crawled around for the fallen fruit. One by one, she gathered the small, plum-like balls, feeling stupid in the process. “That’s quite a stash you’ve got there,” a deep, masculine voice said from above. Ivy froze at the familiar male voice. Still on all fours, she stole a glance from the fallen plums to find a pair polished boots standing shoulder width apart in front of her. She lifted her eyes to a set of strong muscled legs, and farther up, an impressive package at his crotch. She swallowed, letting her gaze travel over his firm torso and the wide shoulders that followed. When she finally reached his face, the chicken leg dropped from her mouth. Stunned, she could only stare. “There are better ways to eat Palladian pheasant than fetching it like a puppy; though, I doubt anything on all fours would look as sexy as you.” He smirked. “Holy fuck! You’re real? I mean, really real? Not a cyborg facsimile.” He inclined his head. “In the flesh.” Her face flamed hot remembering the wanton way she spread herself. She picked up the chicken leg and threw it at his head. “You let me think you were a HOLOGRAM!” “I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”
“You could have slipped that tiny important detail in between gasps! Jesus!” Embarrassment sent nuclear heat to the tips of her ears at what she said and did with him…well, sort of him. Her chin dropped to her chest and she took slow breaths until she got it together enough to meet his eyes again. “You took advantage of me, letting me think you were a holographic sexbot. Why?” “It was what you wanted,” he paused. “I told you that night, I was more than happy to oblige.” “Oblige? Is that what that was?” Realizing she was still on her knees, she scrambled to her feet, but forgot about the fruit she’d gathered in her shirt and the plums tumbled to the ground at her feet. “There are better ways to eat Marja fruit, too.” He bent for one of the purple and yellow globes and held it out to her. “A little bruised, but still fleshy and utterly delicious. Like you.” She snatched the fruit from his hand. “The bowl tipped over when I tripped on the uneven floor coming out of the refrigerator. I was merely recovering the fruit that fell.” Tall, dark, and gorgeous inclined his head. “You have to admit, it is a little surprising to find you on your knees in my kitchen. Then again, I haven’t been able to think about anything else since last we met.” Ivy’s eyes went wide at his admission. Was he flirting or just being an extraterrestrial dickhead? “We didn’t meet. Not really. You had the distinct advantage the entire time, but didn’t think to let me in on the joke.” “Is that what you think? That this was a joke?” She lifted her chin. “I don’t know what I think. I can only imagine what you must think of me after we…I mean, I…well…you know what we did.” He grinned. “Indeed, I do.” Her answering frown was more than just embarrassed and annoyed. There was an underscoring of self-doubt and defeat. A sexbot wasn’t going to hurt her feelings or make her feel inadequate. “Look, I’m a guest of the king. My party just arrived and I was hungry, but rather than bother the poor, harassed woman assigned to us, I decided to help myself to something to eat. That’s why you found me here.” 72
He raised an eyebrow. “And who is us?” “I’m traveling with Ms. Wilder.” She lifted her chin higher at the look of surprise on his face. “She’s a personal friend of the king.” “Is she now? I’ll have to keep that in mind.”
Chapter 11 She gave him a curt nod and Vander almost laughed. His eyes swept the woman’s lush figure from top to bottom. She was even more amazing in the flesh. His cock thickened and his mouth watered at the memory of how abandoned she was that night. So open and willing. Then again, she thought she was alone and he was a digitized sexbot. She was traveling with Gerri Wilder. Had the matchmaker brought her to Galaxa for fun or was she a possible candidate for his mate? His stiff member jerked at the thought of a lifetime with this luscious creature and the animal inside him paced. No one brought before him had stirred either his dick or his beast and this woman did so in every way possible. “What is your name?” Vander asked, helping her retrieve the rest of the plums. She gave him a quick glance. “Ivy Grimaldi. My cousin Cassandra is mated to the alpha of the Northern Bear Clan on Nova Aurora. Ms. Wilder was nice enough to arrange a visit, but as Cassie is about to have a baby and had some tests to get done, Gerri invited me along as a distraction so I wouldn’t worry.” His jaw tightened and his animal clawed at the disappointing news. If this woman wasn’t meant for him, then why the slash of restlessness? He was king. If he wanted to ride between her legs, he would. He took in her honeycolored hair and the way the waterfall curls framed her heart-shaped face. Her long neck and pert breasts topped her amazing hourglass figure that had haunted him for days. The ancient animal inside him pushed to the surface and growled. The xenos knew the reason for his impatience, even if he wasn’t willing to admit it, and the animal growled and the sound translated into one word. MINE! The king slid his eyes to meet hers. Ivy’s gaze still sparked with annoyance, yet there was a hint of sadness in her dove gray eyes that woke every protective instinct in his body and he bit back the urge to kiss it from her lips. “You said you could only imagine what I must think of you. Well, I’ll tell you. You’re a beautiful, passionate woman, Ivy. Self-assured and unafraid. You’ve traveled from Earth to a distant planet and seem to take the journey in stride. That tells me you’re adventurous and brave. The shock on your face at finding me flesh and blood tells me you value your honor. I value it, too. I thought you were tantalizing then, but now there are no words to express how irresistible you are.”
The woman blushed again, but this time there was a modest sincerity to the pink in her cheeks. His animal rumbled, not only for her full curves, but for her as an individual, as well. MINE! The words roared again. But she’s just a visitor. MINE! MINE! The sentiment was part growl, part purr, and the urge to lift her onto the stone counter and taste her honey was almost too much. He cleared his throat, keeping an iron grip on his control. “So, Ms. Wilder is planning to stay the week?” She nodded. “Yes. I’m not sure why. She has some business with the king. Do you know him?” Ivy craned her neck to look at him, and in that moment, Vander saw a definite shift in her demeanor. She had relaxed. “Who?” he asked, teasing. She rolled her eyes. “The king. Who else?” “Hmmm. I think I’ve seen him around. Tall guy. Handsome. Has a thing for wearing a crown…” “Jerk.” She laughed. “I meant, do you know him personally.” Vander hesitated. After their holographic interlude, there would be no end to her mortification if she learned she had intergalactic phone sex with the king of Galaxa. Digital fling or not, this had to be handled the right way. She was bound to learn the truth so he didn’t want to lie. Not outright, anyway. “Well?” “I’m just teasing. Yes, I know the king. Very well, in fact.” Ivy nodded impressed, and he had to grin. “What’s your name?” she asked. “You owe me that much after watching me wrap my legs around a vibrating column of light.”
The memory made his mouth water, but he pushed it aside, for now. Everything about her said she was willing to get to know him. Not his title. Not his crown. Him. How often were rulers given the ordinary pleasure of being liked for themselves? Almost never. What now? Did he out and out lie or did he tell her the truth in some variation? He blinked. “My friends call me Vee.” Ivy’s eyes sparked. “That’s funny. Cassie’s been calling me Vee since we were kids.” She gave him a nervous chuckle. “What is Vee short for on your end?” Vander watched her entire face light with affection and humor when she mentioned her cousin, and the effect was breathtaking. “Well, if we’re going to share the same nickname, I’ll call you Lil’ Vee.” He gestured between them and the difference in their size. “For obvious reasons.” She laughed out loud. “You make me sound like a rapper.” He tilted his head. “What’s a rapper?” Ivy laughed out loud. “Forget it. Earth is still trying to figure that out, too. And speaking of figuring things out, why is it every guy on this planet so far is enormous? And not to mention super easy on the eyes?” Looking at him, she smiled. “Present company, above all.” Vander caught a soft change in Ivy’s scent. Her relaxed flirting had ripened into something else. A faint arousal, yet definitely filled with promise. His animal pushed to the surface and his eyes burned. “Whoa, are you okay? You’re eyes just flip-flopped color.” His hand moved to one brow and he willfully pushed his rising xenos down. He needed more time. They needed more time. Playing it off, Vander shrugged. “It happens sometimes when males of our species meet an exceptional woman.” He smirked, copying her earlier words. “Present company, above all.” Ivy’s smile left him itching to taste the satin of her lips. “Well, since you came here to satisfy your appetite, why not let me make you something? A Galaxan specialty in honor of your first visit to my beautiful planet.” “Sure. Why not?” she replied, and as she climbed onto one of the counter chairs, he sensed the last of her tension leave. She was eager, and whatever it took to keep her that way, so be it. 76
Ivy would be his. Vander slid the pheasant dish around and drew a knife from one of the drawers beneath the counter. He sliced the tender meat into thin slivers and then took two different vegetables from the bins, cutting them as well. Piling the lot onto thick hunks of the bread she carried from the fridge, he placed everything together on a plate with a few sliced plums. “Viola!” Pouring her a glass of wine from a pitcher on the counter, he pushed the finished dish in front of her. Picking up the glass, she took a sip and licked her lips as she glanced at the plate. “You made me a sandwich.” He nodded, wiping his hands. “Yes, and really good one, if I do say so myself.” Looking at the humor on his face, she laughed as well. “Galaxan specialty, my sweet patootie. You really have no idea what to do with yourself in a kitchen, do you?” She tipped the cup to her lips. He took in the flirty wit in her eyes and didn’t waste a moment. Moving around the edge of the counter, he swiveled her seat so her knees were on either side of his hips. “I wouldn’t say I had no idea,” he said, taking the glass from her hand. Her scent drove him to distraction and he lifted one hand to her cheek. Her skin was silk to the touch, and in that instant, he wanted more. He wanted it all. With a low growl, he cupped her chin and brushed his lips across hers. Her breath hitched, and the sound was such an invitation for more, he slanted his lips over hers, taking her mouth fully. “You taste is as sweet as I imagined,” he whispered into their kiss. “I can’t wait to sample the rest of you.” With a quick gasp, she opened for him, her hands sinking into his dark hair. Breath mingled and tongues sparred and Ivy shivered in his arms. That hint of arousal thickened into the scent of slick wetness gathering between her legs. She would spread herself for him, but he would let her take the lead. Vander broke their kiss and stepped back. Ivy’s eyes were closed and her lips parted as if waiting for more. “Do all Galaxan men greet their guests that way?” Her eyes opened and desire showed clearly in her gaze. 77
Vander shook his head, caressing her cheek. “Only if they had holographic sex with them, first.” She rolled her eyes, but didn’t shrug his hand away. “Nice try, dude, but with the way you kiss, holograms don’t stand a chance.” He had to chuckle. “No chance, huh. And here I thought I did a good job the other night.” “Trust me, you did. Now, let’s see what kind of a job you do in the kitchen.” She swiveled around and took half the sandwich, holding it out to Vander. “You first.” He didn’t take the snack from her hand. Instead, he leaned in to drag the tip of his tongue over her fingers before taking a bite. Chewing, his eyes never left hers as he swallowed. Lifting the other sandwich half from the dish, he held it out to her. “Your turn.” She shook her head, her eyes never leaving his mouth. “Uhm—” His mouth curved up at her sudden embarrassment. “If this first bite doesn’t interest you, I’ll give you whatever you want.” Her breath hitched again and she licked her lips. Her scent ratcheted to full throttle and Vander put the sandwich on the counter. Pushing her knees farther apart, he stepped closer, sliding his hands over her thighs. “What do you hunger for, Ivy?” With a gasp, she snaked her arms around his neck. “You.” His mouth claimed hers again and he slid his hands under her ass and scooped her up from the stool, hiking her higher so her legs wrapped around his waist. Without missing a single tongue thrust, he turned on his heel out of the kitchen. Ivy dug her hands into his hair again. “Where are we going?” she whispered, catching her breath. Her words had him hesitating for a heartbeat. He couldn’t take her to his chambers. The Kasaval crest was on everything from the towels and pillowcases to the embossed emblem on his headboard. Soria had put Ms. Wilder and her guests in his father’s old apartment, making her room off limits, as well. Though the thought of Ivy and the second-floor playroom made his cock strain even more against his pants. 78
Damen. Vander grinned to himself. His chief of security was still out on the perimeter with his brother interviewing the tribes. “I know just the place where we won’t be disturbed.” With her still in his arms, Vander turned down a stone corridor and then headed up the flight of stairs to Damen’s apartment. “I can walk, you know,” she said, hanging on for dear life as he rushed up the steps. “Be grateful, wench! By the time I’m done with you, your ability to walk will be questionable at best, so enjoy the chivalry while you can.” She hid her face in his shoulder, but Vander felt her lips spread in a smile against his skin. “So, you like the idea of a rough ride, eh? What else?” “You’ll just have to find out for yourself.” She nipped his muscled chest through his thin shirt. He took the last steps two at a time and kicked Damen’s door open. Stalking to his friend’s bed, he kissed her hard and fast before dropping her on the mattress. He turned to close the door and lock it. “Since you like being on your knees, show me what else you like.”
Chapter 12 He walked toward her from the door, predatory, with eyes burning in a shade of green she’d never seen. The sheer size of the man had her licking her lips, but when he pulled the drawstring on his pants and let the soft cotton fall, her eyes went wide. If she thought his cock was big in holographic form, holy shit! This mutha was enormous in the flesh. In the hard, lip-smacking flesh. She swallowed instinctively. “I’ve had you in my dreams every night, Ivy. I’ve fucked you every way I can and now reality is going to meet fantasy.” He stepped out of his pants and lifted his shirt from his shoulders as he continued toward her, his eyes never leaving her gaze. “Strip.” His voice held the same commanding tone as it did in the hologram, only now the intensity of his gaze nearly burned the clothes from her body. She kicked off her wedge flip-flops and lifted one hand to pull the spaghetti straps on her maxi dress, letting the dress slip off her shoulders. Wiggling the fabric over her hips, she let the garment hit the floor. She moved the puddle of clothes to the side and stood with her shoulders back, grateful she had worn a matching lace bra and panty set. He stared at her, his eyes taking in her full breasts and hips, lingering at the way her nipples poked through the thin fabric. “Do you know how beautiful you are, Ivy?” he said, moving to stand in front of her. She didn’t answer. He spun her around, his full erection at her back. She closed her eyes and let her head drop to his chest as he cupped her breasts, sliding his thumbs under the lace to graze her nipples. “So full and delicious,” he whispered, letting his fingers pluck the bra straps from her shoulders. He slipped the straps over her arms and unclipped the back. Ivy pulled the bra from her body and let it fall to the floor with her dress. Vander dipped his hands to her stiffening peaks, teasing circles over each. He slid his fingers down her belly, slipping into the top band of her panties. “I want to spread this fine pussy and lick you from your wet, hard clit to your tight hole. I watched you work yourself and now it’s my turn.”
Turning her again, he kissed her hard, his tongue demanding and merciless. His palms splayed wide on her lower back, reaching deeper to cup her full cheeks. “The curve of this ass and the way it glistened with your juice made my mouth water for days just thinking about you with your hand deep in your pussy.” Dragging his thumbs upward, he traced the fine seam of her ass until he reached her waistband again before sliding his hand around to dip between her legs. With a practiced flick, he circled her clit and she gasped, clutching his shoulders as he spread her moist folds. “Your pussy is so slick, baby. You’re so wet, you’ll take every inch of me, easily.” He walked her backward until her butt hit the high mattress. Vander pulled his hand from her panties and helped her onto the tall bed. “Show me your pussy, Ivy. Spread your pretty pink lips for me.” With a nod, he watched her slide the lace underwear from her hips, flipping them to the floor with the rest of her clothes. She pulled her knees up, letting them fall wide. Her shaved mound glistened and he growled as she drew a finger through the slippery wetness. “That’s it, love. Work yourself.” He stood above her and wrapped one hand around his shaft, sliding his palm over the corded length to his head. He squeezed the ringed ridge, forcing a pearl of cum from the end. Ivy’s fingers came up and she covered his hand with hers, flicking her tongue to the edge of his cock. Vander gritted his teeth. “On your knees, Ivy.” She moved down to the floor, slid her legs under her and knelt. With his height, her mouth was even with his navel. Hooking her hands onto his hips, she worked her tongue from there, sitting back on her heels as she clasped his dick. “Careful, love. It’s quite a helping for such a delicate mouth.” She smirked, sucking his head between her lips. Circling under his ridged head, she curled her tongue and slid it over the ribbed underside of his shaft. Vander groaned and she let her teeth graze his sensitive flesh before relaxing her throat to take more of him deep. 81
“Woman!” he fisted her hair, slipping his length from her lips only to have her suck him deep again, working his shaft with her hand as he drew in and out. “Take me deep. That’s it. Suck my full length.” With a hiss through his teeth, he pulled his cock from her mouth. One hand slipped from her hair to her cheek, his thumb tracing the seam of her swollen bottom lip. He let his hand drop to her shoulder as he sank to the floor in front of the bed and pushed her back. “You tasted me, now my turn.” He dipped his head to her pussy and licked her slit, letting the end of his tongue curl inside her. He plunged deeply, sucking her wet juice before lifting his mouth to her clit. “Good God! You’re honey sweet!” His teeth grazed her nub as his fingers spread her folds, curling up into her cunt. He circled her spot, pressing and plunging his fingers deeply while sucking her clit between lips, teasing her with his tongue. Everything in him screamed to take her, desire flooding his body. He rocked his hand further, working her until she pooled, soaking the bed beneath her ass. Ivy’s breaths were short and her hips rose. She bucked against his hand. He lifted his head, working his hand harder against her pussy. “Come for me, baby. I want to watch your body shiver at my touch.” As if on cue, her body spasmed against his hand, pleasure crashing over her body. Vander waited for the shudders to ebb and he pulled his hand from her drenched pussy. He licked his fingers and then ran his thumb over her bottom lip before licking the digit clean. He climbed over her and drew his tongue across her lips. “Taste yourself on my tongue, Ivy. Taste how sweet your juice is.” She slipped her hands into his hair and he took her mouth. Hooking his hands beneath her ass, he lifted her for the perfect angle. “Every inch, baby. Open for me.” Spreading her knees wide, she held on, holding her breath at the thick feel of his large head against her slippery folds. Her body went rigid as his size invaded her tight sheath. “Your pussy is so wet and slick. You want this,” he whispered against her lips. “Your mouth took all of me. Your cunt will, too.” He broke their kiss and leaned up, his thumb and forefinger working her clit and he drove his cock through her slick entrance. 82
Ivy cried out, lifting her hips to match him thrust for thrust. Her juices coated his cock and she took every hard bit until he was balls deep. Heat wrapped his cock like a tight glove, squeezing him. She raked her nails over his arms and he hissed. “That’s right. You like it rough, Ivy. I remember.” He pounded her pussy. “You fisted your own cunt when I told you, but now you’ve got my meat to fill your hungry pussy.” At his raw words, she gripped his hips, urging him deeper and faster. She exploded again, her walls shuddering against his thickness. Her legs trembled around his hips and she went weightless. The scent of her climax filled Vander’s nose and his beast rose, electricity shooting through every fiber. His body tensed and his cock jerked, swelling even more within her, his head engorged, straining with the need to burst. With a roar, he threw his head back, letting hot jets pump deep. Ivy clung to him, her body responding as the feeling swept her higher. He held her hips as his body emptied an orgasm unlike never before, until they slumped, panting on the bed. “Are you all right?” he asked. She sucked in a ragged breath, aftershocks rocking her body with his cock still thick within her. “Are you kidding? I’m great. You?” His tongue traced the salty tender skin beneath her jaw until he traced the seam of her lips. She opened for him, drawing his tongue deep. With a moan, Vander broke their kiss. She turned, snuggling into his arms, and he no longer wondered if she would survive the night with him, but if he would survive the same without her. His lips brushed the back of her ear and he tightened his grip over her luscious breasts. “Welcome to Galaxa, Ivy Grimaldi.”
Chapter 13 Ivy opened her eyes, her mind catching up a second later as she took in her surroundings. She bolted up in bed, disoriented, wincing at the tender jolt between her legs. Her head jerked to the side, but the rest of the bed was empty. They only thing that remained of last night’s escapade was her clothing in a pile on the floor and a single purple flower on the pillow beside her. She picked up the blossom and sniffed the unusual bouquet. She exhaled, putting the flower back on the pillow. “Better than nothing, I guess,” she mumbled, settling back against the headboard “At least he left something as a token.” “What token?” a deep voice asked from the door. Ivy’s eyes jerked to the other side of the room where Vander stood carrying a tray. “I thought you left.” He shook his head with a chuckle. “No.” He lifted the tray. “Breakfast. You slept like the dead so I figured you’d be famished.” She sat up, shoving a hand through her hair. “Now that you mention it, I never did eat last night. I’m kind of famished.” He smirked. “Oh, love. You ate all right.” He put the tray on the end of the bed and leaned in to kiss her. “You ate me. Although, I think the proper way to describe it was you swallowed me whole. Never in my life have I experienced anything like that.” Ivy wedged a pillow behind her back to sit straighter. “Well, that makes two of us. I lost count of how many times I reached climax. No wonder I was exhausted.” Vander reached for a pitcher and two goblets, pouring a pale yellow liquid into each. He handed her a cup and then touched the rim of her glass with his. “By the two suns,” he said and then drained his cup. She took a sip and looked at the wine in her goblet. “Is this the same wine you gave me last night?” He nodded. “Yes, why?” “White Sidaii wine, right?” 84
He nodded again. Ivy put the glass down with a smirk. “Makes sense now.” He poured himself another glass, puzzled at the look on her face. “You don’t care for the wine?” “No, the wine is delicious, but now I understand how I ended up here.” “Here? You mean on Galaxa?” She shook her head. “No, here. With you. Soria told us Sidaii wine is an aphrodisiac for humans.” Vander burst out laughing and put his cup on the small table beside the bed. “It is no such thing! It might make you drunker than most, but it is certainly not a tool for seduction. I hate to break it to you, my luscious one, but you came of your own free will…multiple times, I might add.” She gawked at him and then dragged her pillow from behind her head to throw at him. “It’s not funny, Vee. You have no idea what kind of puritanical bullshit we humans are raised with when it comes to sex. When I tasted the Sidaii, I thought I had an excuse for when I do the walk of shame back to my room.” “Walk of shame?” He slid across the bed and lifted her chin with his fingers until she looked at him. “There is nothing to feel ashamed about. This was, in your words, amazing…and I agree. As stunned as you are to find yourself here with me, I am just as surprised. Delightfully so.” “Yeah, right. On a planet of tall, dark, and handsome.” He leaned in and kissed her pouting lips. “If you don’t stop frowning, I’m going to fuck you again so you really can’t take this path of shame.” She grinned. “Walk of shame.” “Either way. So, are you going to smile for me?” She reached for her wine and took another sip. “I’m still not sure this isn’t an aphrodisiac.” Confused, he looked at her. “Why?” She took his hand and slid it between her legs to her wet sex. “That’s why.”
Vander’s lips curved up into a sly smile. “I thought you said you were famished.” Slipping her hand around his neck, she pulled him in for a kiss. “Oh, I am. The food can wait.” *** “And where have you been all night?” Henley asked, coming down the stone corridor in the opposite direction. Ivy grinned, twirling the flower Vee gave her between her fingers. “Remember that surprise Gerri left for me in my room on Nova? The holographic sexbot?” “Yeah,” Henley answered warily, eyeing the flower and then Ivy’s smiling face. “What about it?” At Ivy’s cocked eyebrow, she balked. “Oh, God. Please don’t tell me you were in some X-rated multimedia room all night.” Ivy grinned even wider. “No, of course not. Besides, why would I wander around for something like that? We have a built-in sex room right upstairs from us, or haven’t you and Riley check it out yet?” Henley’s lips pushed to the side in a smirk. “Stop stalling. What about the sexbot?” Ivy lifted her purple bloom to her nose and inhaled, but didn’t say a word. “Ivy!” She laughed, tapping Henley on the head with the flower. “He’s real.” “Real. As in they have his prototype here, too?” She shook her head, chuckling as the wind through the arched stone window teased her hair. “No. Real. As in VERY real. Like the wind touching your skin right now.” “How poetic.” Henley’s nose wrinkled and she lifted a finger to her upper lip. “Well, that and standing downwind explains a lot.” Ivy frowned. “Explains what?” Laughing, Henley coughed. “Your après-sex perfume. You need a shower, love muffin.”
Ivy lifted one arm and sniffed. “I do not!” “Gotcha.” Grinning, Henley winked. “That’s for making us worry. Of course, Gerri was a cool cucumber about it. She didn’t even raise an eyebrow. But seriously, go shower. You don’t stink, but you don’t want that shifter woman’s matchmaking nose snooping around. She may decide to put you on the block.” “How do you know Gerri is a shifter?” Henley tapped the end of her nose. “First, I’m an amateur private investigator. Second, it makes sense. Why else would all these hunky shifters trust her to hook them up? I’m not a shifter, but I can still sniff things out.” “Wow, you really have too much time on your hands. Maybe Gerri should play the dating game with you.” Her friend’s lips parted with a retort, but then clammed up. “Hey, isn’t that Maddox down there?” The two women craned over the edge of the arched stone window and peered into the overgrown courtyard below. “That’s the creeper, all right.” “What makes you say that?” Henley asked. Ivy shrugged, pushing her hair out of her eyes. “I don’t know. He just gives me a weird feeling for some reason. Maybe it’s his toothy used-car-salesman smile, but there’s something about the dude that’s not right. You know what I mean. Like he’s not on the up and up. Makes me wonder what he’s doing on this side of the castle. This is the guest wing.” Henley nodded. “True, but the royal apartments are on this side of the castle, too, and like him or not, Maddox is the king’s Lord Chamberlain.” She turned, lifting a hand to Ivy’s arm, pulling her attention away from the covert conversation going on below. “Oh, that reminds me. Gerri wants us to go with her to her audience with the king. It’s tonight.” Ivy pulled her eyes away from Maddox, trying to dismiss the feeling she missed something in the interchange she watched. “Uhm…okay. I kind of have a date this afternoon, but tonight works fine.” “A date?” Henley hooked a hand, cocking her hip. “With Mr. Real?” “Ha. Very funny, but yes. With Mr. Real.” She spared a glance at the courtyard only to find Maddox had left. “Damn.” 87
“What?” She gestured toward the window. “I don’t know, but my gut is usually not wrong when it comes to men being creeps. Believe me, I’ve had enough practice and know when someone needs to be kicked to the curb. Just keep your eyes and ears open, Miss Private Eye. I’m telling you something is up with that dude.” The other woman’s response was considered. “I’m all for hunches, too, Vee, but we need to remember we’re guests here.” Henley shook her head. “Actually, Gerri’s the guest and we’re here on a pass from her, so whatever we do, it has to be low key.” Nodding, Ivy agreed, sparing a glance for the wild garden. “You would think they would take care of the courtyard, considering it is outside the guest quarters. She straightened, taking a step away from the window and winced. “You okay?” Henley reached to help steady her friend. Ivy held up her hand. “I’m good, Hen. Mr. Real is also Mr. Big, so yeah.” She hobbled forward with another wince before turning with a wink. “But totally worth it.” She left Henley laughing as she delicately walked away, glad to find the living room empty when she got to their rooms. Ducking into the bathroom, she turned on the shower and stepped in, letting the warmth and pressure from the spray tingle over her sensitive parts. Her hands traced the path he took and she leaned against the tile, her fingers reaching their mark between her legs. “Ouch!” She winced. “Objects in the mirror may appear larger because they fucking are!” She hissed, reaching for the shower gel and a soft washcloth. “Hands to yourself, Ivy,” she mumbled. “Save the goodies for the pro.” Sighing to herself, she glided the silky soap over her skin and even more gingerly over her private parts. She rinsed and then washed and conditioned her hair. She had no idea where Mr. Real was taking her, but she smiled that he wanted to spend time with her at all—well, outside of his bedroom. Turning off the shower, she grabbed the thickest towel she could find and dried off, doing a double take when a non-existent drawer slid open from the vanity. Inside there was only one item. A tube of ointment. She looked at the ceiling. “Uhm, thank you?” she replied to no one. She lifted the ointment from the drawer and tried to read the unfamiliar coding on the box. “Not really sure what this is for, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.” 88
One of the bathroom tiles between her legs glowed silver, the polished ceramic shimmering into a mirror where she stood. Looking down she saw right up her legs to her tender private area and a grin formed on her lips. She cocked a hand on her hip and lifted her face to the ceiling. “Well, aren’t you a sly one. First aid cream for the lady bits. Who’da thunk. Thanks!” Unscrewing the top, she punctured a hole in the silver safety flap, impressed it was similar to the anti-tamper tabs on Earth. Squeezing a little onto her finger, she sniffed. No scent. Probably best considering if this stuff worked, there was a certain someone whose face was going to be up close and personal in that vicinity. She hoped. Dabbing a bit onto her sore parts, the ointment warmed immediately and in seconds her private area was chafe free, as fresh as it had been the past six months. Well, not really. That part of her body still tingled with well-used bliss, just no longer raw. Ivy screwed the cap onto the tube and set it on the vanity next to the sink. Mr. Real had asked her to meet him in the Royal Gardens. She chuckled to herself. She had to stop calling him that, but it felt too weird referring to him as Vee. Every time she did, it made her think of Cassie and the way they giggled as children. Before she left his rooms this morning, he gave her a quick hand-drawn map leading from her apartment to the royal wing. He said he had business there this morning and would leave word with the guard so she had no problem with entry. Chewing on her lip, she wondered what kind of business he could have with the king. Was Vee an advisor? With his one hundred percent Grade-A muscle, he was more likely part of the king’s secret service or personal guard or whatever it was they had here. Walking into the bedroom, she rummaged through her overnight case for an outfit that didn’t scream Netflix and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. She had a life even if the contents of her suitcase didn’t reflect it. Gerri never said anything about meeting the king, and a romantic rendezvous or anything close was the last thing she expected when the four of them headed for the spaceport. All she packed were leggings and comfortable tops, sneakers, and flip flops. In other words, she was fucked, and not in a good way, and the clothes in her overnight bag weren’t going to help in that department. The one dress she brought was crumpled in the laundry bag after spending the night on Vee’s floor. Damn. 89
She slumped onto the end of the bed. “Great. I can’t even borrow anything from Henley or Riley. Hen is a foot taller than me and Ri is tiny.” Getting up from the mattress, she took a pair black leggings from her case and matched them with a black and white chevron stripped tunic with peek-aboo shoulders. A light blinked above the armoire and she put the clothes down. Curious, she moved toward the sleek door and pulled it open. “Holy shit!” The standalone closet was filled with clothes and everything her size and style. She looked up at the ceiling, her eyes narrowed. “Okay, big brother, you are seriously starting to creep me out. I appreciate the instant shopping spree, but enough. I drew the line at the vajay-jay cream. No more unless I ask first, okay?” The walls changed to a soft white and the light around the armoire glowed pale pink. Ivy nodded. “Apology accepted.” She dug through the closet and chose a bohemian empire waist maxi dress. Its azure print was a mix of predatory animals in a faded wash. Understated, but still primal. It felt right for some reason. Vee was predatory and sleek and utterly sexy, and the moment Ivy slipped the dress over her head, it fit. Her body and her mood. If he was predator then she was ready to be his prey. Running a brush through her hair, she dabbed on a little makeup and grabbed Vee’s map. She took a pair of high-heeled wedges from the armoire and headed for the door. The last thing she wanted was to be late and not be admitted into the royal wing.
Chapter 14 “Where do you think you’re going?” Maddox stepped from the shadows and startled her as she rounded the corner heading to the royal gate. “Maddox! You scared the crap out of me! What do you do, hang around like a spider in a web?” Ivy stopped short, nearly rolling an ankle in her heels. “What I do is none of your affair, young woman. This is the royal wing. You do not belong here, so I suggest you take your explorations elsewhere.” Ivy lifted her chin. “I have an appointment, so why don’t you take your explorations elsewhere, like to another solar system.” “Human, I don’t know what passes for gentility on Earth, but here we do not insult our hosts. You are a guest of this castle, and I am its Lord Chamberlain. You might do well to remember that.” “What’s going on here?” The door to the Royal Gardens opened and Vee stepped out. “I heard angry voices.” Before Maddox could say a word, Ivy pushed past the little man. And measuring by Vee’s standard, he was little. In physical appearance and character. “I was just coming to see you, when this person barred my way.” Maddox’s eyes widened at her impudence in front of the king, and his lips pressed in a thin line. “I’m sorry, your—” Vander cut him off before he could out him in front of Ivy. “It’s fine, Maddox. No real harm done. Ivy is a friend and is welcome whenever I’m here. Understood?” He dropped his chin and eyed the Lord Chamberlain, his unspoken message clear. Inclining his head, the older man glared at Ivy, and exchanged a glance between her and Vander. “As you wish.” Without another word, he turned on his heel and left. Ivy watched Maddox round the corner before shifting her gaze to Vander. “That dude is seriously creepy, Vee. I swear there’s something sly about him. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know I’m right. Cassie tells me all the time I’m part psychic because my intuition is almost never wrong.” He slipped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her into a side hug. “Almost isn’t always, and Maddox is practically part of the furniture here. He was 91
my—uhm—I mean, he was the old king’s Lord Chamberlain, as well, and the new king trusts him completely.” She looked at him, studying his face. “My intuition might be almost never wrong, but right now my gut is pinging me big time. I get the feeling you’re not telling me something.” He tipped her chin up for a kiss. “For now, everything you need to know is in that kiss.” He tugged her toward the door. “C’mon. I want to show you everything.” Following him into the garden, she was immediately hit by the beauty of the place. Towering palms swayed in the breeze and lush grass spread in a lazy path around a pristine pool fed by a waterfall stream. A harem style tent was situated toward the back, its interior set with low tables and plush pillows and a spread of fresh fruit and candied dates, nuts, and wine. “This place is unbelievable! Like something described by Shahrazad,” Ivy said, taking in everything. “Who is Shahrazad?” “She’s both a character and the storyteller in a book called One Thousand and One Nights. It’s a classic. Haven’t you ever heard the tales of Aladdin or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves?” Vander shook his head, leading her toward a clear pool below a cluster of palm trees. “I haven’t, but I would love for you to read it to me. A thousand and one nights with you sounds just about perfect.” She laughed. “Just about? Why, what’s missing?” Grinning, he bent to slip her sandals from her feet. “Not nearly enough time with you, plus, if you’re reading, then you aren’t kissing me.” He scooped her into his arms and carried her to the edge of the water, toeing off his boots. “Galaxan folklore says if you bathe in a blessed pool before making love, the waters show you your true mate.” He waded into the water and stood thigh deep, letting Ivy slide down his hard length to the water. “Really. And what does it say about people who bathe after they’ve popped their relationship cherry?” He looked at her, bemused. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Forget it. It’s a stupid human saying. Popping your cherry means losing your virginity. I was talking about people who did the nasty before asking for a blessing.” Vander had to laugh. “I doubt I’ll ever get used to Earth slang, but I can guess what you mean.” He leaned in and ran a tongue over the seam of her lips. “It doesn’t matter. The truth will show.” In that moment, the water swirled in gentle eddies around her breasts and the soft fabric of Ivy’s dress clung to her every curve and hollow. She looked down at the way her nipples popped through the cold wet fabric and grumbled. “Yeah, well. I think my truth is already showing.” He grinned. “Come, I’ll warm you.” She waded closer and put her arms around his neck. Gathering up her up again, he strode through the water to place her on a rocky outcrop under a palm at the edge of the bank. The sun had warmed the stones and the heat from the stone against the cool water was amazing, but even more so was watching Vander swim. His shoulder muscles coiled and released with each stroke and when he walked toward her, she lost her breath. Hair slicked and curling below his collar, his wet shirt clung to the muscular planes of his chest and torso. He peeled the garment from his shoulders and tossed it to the sandy bank. “Are you going to walk around shirtless and wet all afternoon?” She grinned. “Not that I’m complaining.” He stepped between her legs and circled her waist with his arms. “Only if you walk around shirtless and wet with me.” Ivy laughed. “I don’t think we’d get farther than that tent over there.” He glanced toward the desert tent and grinned. “What a good idea.” Without warning, he tossed her over his shoulder and climbed out of the water. There wasn’t a soul around, and he deposited her on a pile of soft pillows, plopping down beside her. “Vee, are you nuts? This has got to be the king’s private tent! Not only are we invading his space, but we’re ruining his pillows. They’re soaked thanks to my wet ass.” He reached over and pulled her over to straddle his hips. “I like it when your ass is wet. Makes things easier for me.”
Her eyes went wide at his nerve. “Vee! I’m serious. I’m not cool with getting sent back to Gerri in disgrace or with you getting fired.” “Fired?” She exhaled hard. “Lose your current position.” He grinned, pressing the hard bar of his stiffening cock between her spanned legs. “I like my current position.” “VEE!” she squealed when he flipped her onto her back. “Stop worrying. No one is going to bother us. I promise.” Someone cleared their throat and both she and Vander jerked their attention to the opening at the front of the tent. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Your Majesty, but Prince Jag sent a messenger. He just arrived and says it’s urgent.” Ivy scrambled out from underneath his weight. “Your Majesty?” She blinked and then her eyes went wide. “Your friends call you Vee, huh…as in Vandar? Vander Kasaval? King of Galaxa?” She shook her head, getting to her feet. “Ivy, please. You have to understand. I wanted you to know me for me. Please…let me explain.” She stared at Vander, sparing a glance for his nervous steward still waiting for the king’s reply. Snorting, she gestured to the man. “Go see what this prince has to say. Gerri’s expecting me back and I need time to think. I don’t want to be late. We’re supposed to have an audience with the—” She pressed her lips together. “With you, later.” “No. I’d rather we talk now. Alone. While we’re still us.” “Us,” she sputtered. “What us? I was getting to know a cool guy named Vee, not some king pretending to be someone else.” “Ivy. Please. Wait.” He paused. “I can always have my guards stop you from leaving the garden, but I’d rather you stay because you want to hear what I have to say.” “You jerk! I can’t believe you just threatened me with house arrest! I found out you’re king—what? Ten seconds ago? And—” At the smirk tugging at his face, she huffed, exasperated. “Vander! This is not funny!” Picking up a wet pillow, she lobbed it his head. 94
“Hey! Assault on the king is a subversive offense,” he grinned. “Subversive? You want rebellion, I’ll show you rebellion.” She plopped into one of the beanbag-like chairs and crossed her arms. “Fine. Go have your pow-wow with the prince. I’ll sit here wet and waiting for you to comeback.” He straightened from his pillows to lean over hers, caging her in with his arms. “Considering I like you wet and waiting, I’ll take it.” He kissed her hard and fast and then left with his steward. “I’ll send someone with dry clothes. We’ll save the wet play for later.” He winked, and at the look on the steward’s face, she felt a blush crawl up her cheeks.
Chapter 15 “Ivy?” an older woman asked as she stood at the entrance to the tent. Ivy looked up from one of the books the steward brought her to pass the time. “Hi,” she replied, immediately curious. By the way she was dressed, this was no servant. The woman slipped past the ornate tent flaps and walked toward her. She was grace in motion. The older woman was stunning. Tall and statuesque like Henley, with gorgeous silver hair that spilled in waves past her shoulders. “I’ve brought you some dry clothes.” She smiled, handing Ivy the bundle in her arms. “I’m Karis, but Vander and his brother Jag call me Kari.” Ivy took the parcel and nodded. “Thank you, I appreciate it. This wet dress is a little uncomfortable.” She unwrapped the bundle and held up a stunning sheath dress. “This is beautiful, Karis. Thank you.” The woman shook her head. “Don’t thank me. Vander picked it for you. And please, call me Kari.” She touched a finger to her chin as if studying Ivy. “He was right, of course. That color is a good one with your skin and hair, if I do say so myself.” Ivy stood from the pillows and let the dress drape her body. A rich gradient of blood orange and yellow, the fabric was unlike anything she’d ever felt. Like a cross between the finest silk and soft cotton. “It’s perfect, thank you, and I love that it’s ankle length. My legs are not my best feature.” Kari chuckled. “Oh, sweetheart. You will learn very quickly that Galaxan men love a woman with curves, especially the Kasaval men. Trust me. I know.” Ivy’s mouth opened, but then she snapped it shut. She had already insulted the king to his face and she knew the man only cut her slack because they were bumping uglies, but if this woman was who she suspected, he wouldn’t be so forgiving if she was less than gracious. “It’s okay, love. You can ask.” Kari gestured for her to sit. “Your instincts are correct. I was Vander’s father’s mistress and helped raise both princes until their father passed. They are as dear to me as if they were my own flesh and blood.” The two women sat in the only chairs in the tent. Curved wooden seats with even softer pillows than those on the floor. 96
“I mean no disrespect, Kari.” The older woman nodded. “I know. Just like I know my boy is falling head over heels for you.” She held up her hand when Ivy opened her mouth to argue. “Listen to me, sweetheart. Vander is the King of Galaxa, and with that comes many responsibilities, but he’s a man, as well. A good man with a generous heart. Do you know how many women our council has paraded in front of him over the past months? Hundreds. From at least ten planets throughout our galaxy. It was me who asked Ms. Wilder for help, and she brought you. I knew the moment Vander saw you, his xenos would know. You are the one.” Ivy put down the orange she peeled and stared at the woman openly. “Wait…are you telling me you think Gerri brought me here specifically as a hook up with Vander?” She shook her head. “I think someone is telling tales, Kari. I came to Galaxa for one week. My cousin is mated to one of the alphas from Nova Aurora and is about to have a baby any day. I have no plans to stay here long term, let alone be anything more than a part-time playmate for Vander. I’m certainly not The One.” She crooked her fingers into quotes. Kari considered her. “Vander was a little boy when his mother died. After I moved into the royal apartments, he would crawl into my bed at night, scared and confused. I would tell him tales about his father and how he was a just ruler, kind and brave. I would comfort him with stories about his mother and how she’d won his father’s heart and ruled by his side, but that the proudest moments of her life were when she brought him and his brother into this world. He asked me then if he would be as good a king as his father, and of course, I told him yes.” She smiled. “Do you know what he asked me then?” Ivy shook her head. Karis took her hand and held it. “He said, ‘Kari, how will I be a good king like my father if I cannot find the right girl to be my queen?’” Ivy didn’t say a word, but Kari nodded. “It’s you, Ivy. How I know, and how Vander will also, if he doesn’t already, is his xenos will tell him. It’s been rising for months telling everyone it’s time for him to take a mate. With the problems Galaxa has been suffering this past year, it can’t be soon enough.” Ivy got up to pace. “His xenos? What is that? Some kind of expiration date on his kingship?” With a frown, Karis watched the young woman grapple with herself. “Your sarcasm is just a defense mechanism, my dear. I know you’ve felt his xenos. I 97
can smell it on you. This is a shifter planet, love. Or did you forget that? Vander’s xenos is the animal that lives deep within him. Unlike the rest of the men and women here, the men of House Kasaval do not know their dual nature as they step into adulthood.” “Adulthood? Do you mean puberty?” Ivy asked. Kari nodded. “Everyone else knows their mirror animal from the time they are very young. We all have one. It’s why our mountains are called the Mirror Mountains. They reflect our world. Our people. Our dual natures. When a warrior mates, their female sets their animal free. It is the same for everyone, except our rulers. They have to wait for their xenos to be revealed, and the only way that happens is when they find their true mate.” Ivy sat again, flustered. “And how does this xenos let the Kasaval men know? I mean, that’s got to be frustrating.” Kari nodded again. “It is. Vander has all the signs. His eyes glow from time to time, but the xenos makes its presence known most when he’s with his intended mate. It shows in his eyes. A glow unlike any other, and I know the xenos is awakening in him. Only his true mate could call it to the surface, and yes…you are the one.” “Where does this come from? I mean is this xenos dangerous?” she asked. Kari inhaled and lifted one shoulder, letting it drop. “No one knows the origins, but Vander would not be as kind as he is if his xenos was otherwise. That’s not to say that savagery isn’t possible. Quite the opposite. His father’s xenos was a great bear, an Ursa, like in the constellation from your galaxy.” She lifted her head. “You mean Ursa Major? In the Milky Way?” “Yes, exactly.” She eyed Ivy. “What Vander needs is a woman who can free his xenos from its inner captivity. The woman he takes for his mate must be strong enough to tame the animal within and share its wild nature.” Ivy lifted both hands in front of her and the defensive move wasn’t a show. “Tame the animal? Share its wild nature? I appreciate your dilemma, Kari, but I am not your girl.” She smiled knowingly. “You are, my dear. You just don’t know it yet. But you will. The xenos will give you a sign, and then there will be no question.” Her grin turned sly and she cocked her head. “So, have you visited the second floor of your apartment yet?” Ivy coughed, chewing on a piece of orange. “Uhm, no.” 98
“Vander’s never been there, either.” Karis poured two cups of sweet syrupy tea and handed one to Ivy. “It might be a good place to start, to see if I’m right or wrong about you.” She winked. “Now, change your clothes. He’ll be back shortly and you two have a lot to discuss.”
Chapter 16 “Are you saying they found the outpost but no one was there?” Vander asked, pacing behind his desk. The messenger nodded. “Based on the way the encampment was left, it was clear the kidnappers left in a hurry. The trackers believe the prince and General Iceri were only hours behind them before they broke camp.” “Were any women found?” He shook his head. “But there were signs of them and—” he hesitated. Vander stopped mid-stalk. “What, man? Out with it. And what?” “Signs of bondage. There were charred pages Damen rescued from a smoldering campfire that show clear indications of trafficking.” He looked at the king. “It seems things are as you feared, Your Majesty. Whoever is behind this is selling the women still blessed with health.” He nodded. “Tell Damen I said to double the number of trackers we have and to go as far as the jungle, but no farther. Tell Prince Jag to bribe the nomads and whatever mountain rogues he can find for information. We need to find who’s behind this. Money speaks every dialect, and for the right price, many of those rogues will be willing to chat.” The messenger nodded. “There was one more thing.” Vander eyed the man. “And?” “Prince Jag found an old woman hiding in one of the caves. She told him that someone had woken the tsutsa.” Vander blinked at the man. “The tsutsa? Was my brother able to get an answer from her as to what that was or meant?” He nodded. “The word means worm in tribal dialect.” The king balked. “Worm? As in on the end of a fishing line?” The man nodded again. “Prince Jag wasn’t convinced this was anything more than senseless ravings. The poor wretch was in a bad way.”
Vander’s lips pressed in a sharp line. “Thank you. Tell the guard the woman is to be brought here. I want her made as comfortable as possible. She’s suffered enough.” The messenger left and Vander stared at the 3D model of Galaxa. If he didn’t find who or what was killing their women, he’d have a mutiny on his hands and soon. Among his warriors, especially. Females were the only tempering force on their xenos, once released. He looked out the window to the Royal Garden and the tent below. He couldn’t see Ivy, but he knew she was there. He felt her, and more importantly, his xenos felt her. The animal coiled inside him ready to burst through. One word hurtled through his mind. Soon. Vander turned for the door and caught his reflection in the mirror. He stared at the man looking back and the eerie greens eyes watching as if from a distance, yet closing fast. *** “I’m sorry I took so long—” Vander stopped mid-apology and stared at Ivy. She was luminous in the bright colors he picked for her. “You’re stunning, Ivy. Truly.” She glanced at the dress and how it floated over her curves. “According to Kari, I should be thanking you. The dress is beautiful.” “You had a chance to speak with Karis, then?” he asked, taking her arm as she got to her feet from the side of the oasis spring. Ivy nodded. “She clearly loves you very much.” He watched her face and he knew Kari had filled her in on more than he expected. “Kari is an amazing woman with an enormous capacity to love.” He trailed a finger over her cheek. “As I believe you are.” She didn’t answer, just stood toe-to-toe waiting for him to say more. Vander glanced at the suns and how they had already sunk to the midpoint between noon and dusk. Somewhere in the distance, a bird of prey cawed and he grinned, sparing a glance for Ivy. “Come on, there’s something I want to show you.” She chuckled. “Okay, but you’ll have to go big or go home to top this place.” 101
“The Royal Gardens are beautiful, but they’re not mine.” She looked at him. “Not yours? You’re the king. Isn’t everything from here to there yours?” He shrugged. “Technically, yes. This garden is for the royal family to use, but it’s also a place where dignitaries come and where I host guests. It’s a refuge but not my private sanctuary.” He grinned. “For that, we need to go up.” “Up?” she questioned. “To where? The mountains?” He shook his head. “Nope. The roof.” He took her hand and walked with her toward the back of the garden to a nondescript door covered in flowers. You had to look closely to differentiate it from the rest of the garden wall. Vander leaned in as if to smell the blooms, but a laser retina scan whirred and the door snicked open. He pulled the latch and stepped aside for Ivy to enter the passage first. Inside was a narrow stone corridor that led to an even narrower set of circular stairs. He took her hand and started up the winding steps. “Who built these stairs? I barely fit, I can only image how squeezed you feel,” Ivy commented. They climbed in silence, just the echo of their feet on the stones until the top widened into a proper landing. She stepped through the door with Vander into another world. “This is my menagerie, my falconry, and my solace. I come here whenever I need to think or just escape.” He swept her up in his arms and whirled around with her. The birds and the larger animals made such a noise, she had to laugh. It was as if they were welcoming her, too. Vander finally put her down, but didn’t let go of her hand. “Come, I want to introduce you to someone.” “I thought you said this was your private sanctuary.” He grinned. “It is. This is who I want you to meet.” He led her to an enormous aviary and opened the gilded gate. Once inside, he whistled and a huge bird swooped from the high branches to sit on a carved perch. “This is Erevain. He’s the most prized hunter in the kingdom. We share a special connection. He allows me to see through his eyes—sometimes.” Ivy stared at the bird and its lethally sharp beak. “Allows?” 102
Vander’s eyes sparkled with laughter. “Animals here are not like animals on Earth. They communicate with us in various ways. It’s an unspoken language, but with our shared kinship and dual nature, it’s almost seamless at times.” She smirked. “On Earth, we only have one person with that kind of talent. Dr. Dolittle.” He laughed out loud. “Now I know you’re teasing.” “How come Erevain doesn’t wear a hood? On earth, falconry and hawking require the birds to be blindfolded until set free to hunt.” “Here, birds of prey are not social animals. They don’t startle easily like their human cousins. They are, quite literally, professional killers who think about very little other than hunting, killing, and eating. They are not affectionate creatures, but if you win their respect and loyalty, it will be for your entire life. It’s a rare bond, and I’m lucky. Erevain has warned me of imminent danger too many times to count. His vision is so acute and such a dominant sense that he can be my eyes at times, but I had to earn that right.” “The view is even more spectacular from here than from my room. I didn’t think that possible,” Ivy noted, looking around. Vander slipped a thick leather wrap over his forearm and then held his arm out for Erevain. The bird climbed on and Ivy’s eyes widened at the length and lethal curve to his sharp talons. “Wow. That bird is quite the ally to have your back. Just look at those scythes!” she exclaimed. He nodded. “They’re deadly, for sure, but Erevain is pretty gentle once he knows you.” Ivy reached out her hand but then pulled it back. “Smart and beautiful,” Vander chuckled. “It will take time, love. He has to get used to you and then he’ll let you stroke him.” He winked. “Unlike me, who wants your hand stroking me every chance I can get.” A heated flush crept up her throat and she turned and walked past the trees and shrubs in their potted plants to stand by the stone wall overlooking the precipice. She turned and leaned the small of her back on the curved top. The private sanctuary was part zoo, part garden, and completely amazing. Gauzy coverings billowed gently in the breeze, the thin white fabric hearty enough to block the desert sun without trapping the heat, yet thin enough to allow the breezes to blow. 103
Books were piled on small tables along with sheaves of parchment and scrolls tied with colorful ribbon. Even Vander’s slippers, or what looked to be, were tucked alongside comfortable chairs and matching chaise lounges. The place screamed intimacy unlike the pomp of the Royal Gardens. If any place would speak to Vander the man, this was it. “Ivy—” He beckoned and she pushed herself from the wall. “If you really want to see the sights, take a peek through this. Tomorrow I’ll take you wherever you want to go, inside the palace and out.” He spun what looked like a telescope around on a pivot. Ivy put her eye on the lens and moved the scope across the field of vision ahead. “Oh my God. You have camels!” He laughed, stroking the side of the bird’s neck. “Why are you surprised? This is a desert.” “Hey, no hating on the shock factor. Everything about this place and you surprises me. Besides, I’ve always wanted to ride a camel.” He laughed. “Of all things, that’s what you want to do?” She shrugged. “I’m easy to please.” She turned and watched his eyes darken with quick desire. “Pleasing you is something I wish to make my one preoccupation.” He tossed his arm in the air, setting Erevain free. He watched her and she watched the majestic bird take flight. “Where is he going?” she asked. “He’s giving us a little privacy,” Vander replied, taking a step closer. “I’m sure Karis told you about my dilemma.” Ivy nodded. “She mentioned something.” “There’s more to my problems than finding my true mate.” Vander expanded on the issue, telling her what was happening with their women. “My brother and my chief of security are in the outlands looking for answers. I received the first word when my steward interrupted us.” When Vander finished, Erevain cawed circling above, and he lifted a hand, but then stopped. He took the thick leather wrap off his arm and fastened it onto Ivy’s forearm. “Give it a go. If he doesn’t want to land, he’ll keep circling, but if he does—” 104
Ivy held her arm out and Erevain circled once and the spread his wings wide, his clawed feet outstretched as he slowed to a soft landing on her arm. She stiffened, keeping her arm taut as she extended it toward Vander. “Well, look at that! He likes you and only after a short while.” He chuckled. “I suppose he’s more like me than I want to admit.” Vander’s grin spread. “This is a tremendous sign. When one of my animals takes to someone, especially Erevain, it means a great deal.” He took the bird from her arm with his bare hand and took him back to the aviary. “So Erevain hasn’t liked any of your potential mates?” she asked when he returned. “I’ve brought no one here but you, Ivy. It is true Karis and the others on the elder council want me to find a mate. They’ve been looking, but with no success.” His eyes found hers and locked. “Until now.” “I told her the same I told you. I’m not here for that. I didn’t come to Galaxa as one of many in a line of potential hookups. I came to see my cousin.” He lifted her chin, rubbing the pad of his thumb across the seam of her bottom lip. “I know. That’s what makes you perfect. What is happening between us is natural.” “Natural? We’re from two different planets and basically two different species.” Vander shook his head. “Not that different. If we were, we wouldn’t fit together so perfectly in every way.” He slipped his thumb between her lips and circled her tongue with the thick pad. He cupped the back of her head and slid his thumb from her mouth, crushing his lips to hers as he took her breath and any argument she had waiting on her lips. Vander pulled his mouth from hers and swept her into his arms, his hand tracing the curve of her back to her ass. “Come,” he whispered below her ear. “If you were a shifter, you’d smell my hunger, but my hard cock against your belly is sign enough.” “Last night, we just—” He growled, biting her earlobe and the sexy sound punched through whatever was left of her defenses and her panties dampened. “Too long.” His voice was rough and low and full of desire. “Mmmm, I will never get tired of the delicious way you smell when I know you want me.” 105
Vander slid his arm around her waist and pulled her even closer against his hard length. The vibration on the tender skin below her ear made her pulse race, and when his raspy tongue licked the base of her throat, she gasped knowing one touch of his hand on her private parts and she’d come right here. “What about all these animals?” she asked, surprised she could find her voice. A deep throated chuckle fanned against her throat as he nuzzled the tender flesh. “The animals?” “Well, you were the one who said they could communicate with the people here. I took that to mean they were aware.” “They are, and see? They’ve all withdrawn from view.” He nipped the base of her ear. “You have no idea how strange that sounds tome.” A small grin tugged. “Why? Do you stare at other creatures while they mate?” “Eew! No.” She giggled. “Not unless it’s on Animal Planet.” “Mmmm, but not two-legged creatures? Not even on film?” he teased. “Uhm, maybe.” Her breath hitched at the thought of her and Vander fucking on camera. “Why?” His mouth worked its way to her cleavage, his hand cupping her breast through the thin silky fabric. “Builds tension.” “You mean foreplay,” she said, closing her eyes as his thumb teased her. “That, too.” He licked the plump rounds of the top of her breasts, pinching her nipple. She pulled back from him, her eyes finding his. “I know you want more from me, Vander.” His eyes darkened with intense need. “More.” He shook his head. “No, Ivy. I want it all. All of you. Your body, your core, you, but right now I want my cock buried so deep in your pussy, you scream for the god you believe in.” Her clit throbbed with the image of his large, corded member, and her soft cotton underwear went slick with her juice. Vander’s gaze locked on hers and 106
in a flash, he scooped her into his arms like nothing and carried her to one of the chaise lounges, laying her down. She opened her mouth to speak, but he shook his head. His mouth took hers before she could say a word, his tongue delving deeply into the moist cavern. The taste of him sent her senses reeling. “Vander, please….” Her words were a soft gasp against his lips. “That’s what I want, Ivy. You dripping wet and begging for me.” He slid one hand over her shoulder, his fingers dipping below the top straps of her dress. He pulled the garment over her body, tossing it to another chair. She leaned back on the chaise, utterly exposed under the billowing gauze of his rooftop playground. The wicked feeling tingled over her skin and a smirk took her lips. Lying against the tufted top, Ivy pulled one knee up and let it drop open, her private parts bare and open for his touch. Vander splayed his hand across her belly, his fingers fanned across her shaved mound and he growled. “Smooth.” He slipped lower, separating her moist folds to her slick entrance. “—and juicy.” He stripped from his clothes and climbing on to the wide lounge beside her, his hard length pressed against the softness of her thighs. Two fingers plunged into her slippery cleft. “So fucking wet.” Ivy sucked in a breath at the rough feel of his fingers and she clung to his wide back as he worked her spot, his thumb circling her hard nub. “I want to lick your slick juice from my palm and fingers, Ivy. I’m addicted, baby. I want to taste you and tease you until you beg for my cock.” She shivered at his words, digging her hands into his hair, her mouth taking his as she ground her pussy further into is palm. Heat exploded across her skin when Vander curled fingers further inside, the pressure forcing her toward the edge. His mouth took her full breast, his tongue taking short strokes across her stiff nipple. He bit the hard peak and Ivy’s head dug back into the chaise top. “Vander, please!” she panted “Please what, Ivy?” He pinched her nipple harder. “Tell me.” “I want you!” 107
“Want me how? Tell me, love. What do you want?” Vander pulled is hand from between her legs and licked the slick digits one at a time, moaning at the taste of her. Ivy’s heart pounded in her ears as she watched his gorgeous mouth suck each finger, taunting her more. His eyes were glowing green and feral despite the crooked smirk on his lips. “I know what you want, Ivy. Your body craves my cock as much as I crave the feel of your tight slit squeezing my shaft.” He growled at the bare mound between her legs and her pink lips glistening and swollen. “Good enough to eat.” He pushed both knees to her shoulders and buried his face between her legs. Ivy fisted his hair, grinding her pussy into his mouth. Every ounce of her body tensed and she balanced on the edge. With her own growl, she tugged his face up, but Vander shook his head. “Not yet, Ivy. I’m not done tasting you.” She bucked up, knocking him back a bit. “Yes, you are. I want your cock, Vander. Deep and hard!” He chuckled. “Is that what you want?” The question was rhetorical and didn’t need an answer. He pulled her up from the chaise. “Bend over,” he ordered. “Legs apart.” Ivy licked her lips and scrambled around, bending over the lounge, her fingers gripping the tufted ends in anticipation. “Spread yourself.” With a gasp, she arched her back, shoving her ass high and reached between her legs to spread her slick folds. Vander slid his hands over her waist to her hips, pulling her back. His hands slid over her ass and he cupped the soft flesh, kneading his fingers toward her slippery slit. He dipped his head to her pussy and lapped her lips from behind, and then with a quick jerk he straightened, driving his cock into her pretty pink pussy. He reached around as he thrust, deep and high, circling her clit from the front and she cried out as he plunged and plundered both ends, her body grinding for more. With a cry, she came hard as alien pulsations rocked through her rigid body. “Vander! What’s happening?” she ground out as electricity skittered across her skin, the feeling spreading from her core as her walls convulsed, squeezing his cock and sucking him deeper yet. 108
Ivy turned and Vander’s face was a tense mask. Every muscle in his body clenched as hers milked him. His eyes flamed a fiery green and were feral with unspent need and his mouth was a slash of pain and pleasure. He threw his head back, and the roar that ripped from his throat was supernatural. He was predatory and hungry and held her body rigid with his member buried in her hot channel. His long, corded cock swelled inside her, stretching her until she hissed at the invasive feel even as her pussy walls convulsed in pleasure, squeezing as she came again. Vander’s hands gripped the soft flesh of her hips, merciless as he drove deep. Ivy ground back, meeting him thrust for thrust and his body rocked her past climax into boneless oblivion, spasm after spasm. Engorged, his head swelled even more and spread inside her as he pumped harder, faster, until he emptied himself fully with a guttural roar. He held tightly, riding the aftershocks until the two collapsed on the chaise, the scent of sex and something ethereal mingling in the air. “What was that?” she asked, trying to catch her breath. “My essence merging with yours. My xenos. It wants you for its own and it’s not going to take no for an answer.” He kissed the tender skin at the back of her neck. “What does that mean?” He leaned his chin on the back of her shoulder. “It means you have a lot to think about.” She turned in his arms, her eyes meeting his. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” He nodded. “Come to the audience at court.” Ivy tilted her head, confused. “I already told you I was going with Gerri and the girls.” Vander ran a hand over her sweat-sheened skin to cup her cheek. “Come to the audience as mine. Please say you will.” “Yours? As in forever and ever?” He didn’t answer, she held her eyes locked. “Don’t you think we should get to know each other better before you ask me to up and leave my job, my family…hell, my planet?” 109
He let his hand slip from her cheek to her chest and he circled her nipple with his thumb. “I think we know each other pretty well already.” She covered his hand, stopping its circular track. “That’s not what I mean—” He leaned in and kissed her quickly. “What do you think we’re doing by spending all this time together?” He pulled back and looked at her face. “Come to the audience anyway, but promise you’ll give this some real thought. You said your gut is hardly ever wrong, well mine is screaming that you are the one. My true mate. Mine.”
Chapter 17 “HIS?!Who died and made him king?” She snorted, slamming the door to her room. “Mind-blowing vacation sex isn’t enough. He wants permanent.” She growled, stalking to the bed and throwing a pillow against the wall. The room immediately changed color, the walls turning a soothing green. She glanced up and laughed. “You’re a little too late with the soothing colors, babe. I’m going to need much more than moss-colored walls to calm my ass down.” She sat on the end of the bed and then slumped back, her private area still slick with aftershocks and the remembered feel of Vander’s well-endowed body. Scrambling up, she stopped short at the mirror on the wall in front of her that wasn’t there before. “Nice. Trying to make me take a look at myself, are we?” she lifted a hand to the ceiling. Sitting, she took a quick inventory, including her kiss-swollen lips and flushed cheeks. “Okay, you get no argument from me there. The man knows his way around a woman’s body, mine in particular.” The walls turned a questioning gray and she made a face. “No, it’s not more than that.” She shoved a hand through her hair. “Well, maybe a little. I like Vander. A lot. More than a lot.” The gray walls thickened to a dull black and the mirror gleamed, making her reflection shimmer as if in water. “I get it. You think I’m not looking at this clearly.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’m not. I know if I saw Vander with another girl, I’d be upset, but that’s it.” The room lights flickered. “Okay, okay…really upset. Jealous. I want him, but that’s no secret.” The walls shifted to a pale yellow and Ivy smirked at the ceiling. “I’m so glad you agree.” Chewing on her lip, she got up and paced. “I’m talking to myself and my room is answering. How ridiculous is this?” A pale blue spread across the walls and floor and Ivy smiled. “Confidence. Yup. I remember that.” She inhaled, letting her breath out in a quick huff. “Vander is unlike anyone I’ve ever met or likely to meet again. He’s funny and gorgeous, but we just met. He can’t expect me to leave everything behind, plus all that crazy talk about this xenos thing. Still, I’ve never felt this way about anyone. It’s like he’s in my blood or something.” 111
She stalked to the shower. Turning on the spray, she stepped into the hot water, letting it drench her head to toe and everywhere in between. Her mind still raced as she did a quick lather, rinse, and repeat and then grabbed a towel, stepping from the warm tile onto the floor. A soft knock had her wrapping the towel around her body. “It opens,” she called from the bathroom. “It’s only me, sweetheart.” Gerri’s voice called from the bedroom. “Oh. My. GOD!” Ivy screeched “What? What’s the matter?” Gerri rushed in to the steamy bath. “What the hell?” A reddish swirl mark had risen on the upper part of Ivy’s left breast. “Will you look at this? I’ve got a rash.” She hissed. “And it hurts, too.” Gerri crossed her arms in front of her chest and chuckled. “It doesn’t hurt, but I bet it tingles.” “You know what this is?” Ivy balked. “Do I need a doctor? Is this some kind of space sex STD?” “No, honey. It’s a marking,” Gerri replied, still laughing. “When a shifter meets their true mate, a mark will sometimes show, but only if it’s meant to be.” “Holy hell! That goddamned pool! Vander mumbled something about local folklore and your one true mate. Damn!” She hissed, touching it again. “And freaking Kari. Her, too. She went on and on about Vander’s xenos, saying its thing would give a sign, too. Damnit.” Gerri eyed her. “Stop fussing, Ivy, and calm down. Hysteria never helped anyone. Does Vander have the same mark?” She shrugged. “How should I know? This just popped up on my skin after I showered.” The older woman moved closer and reached out a hand to hover her palm over the mark. “You two had an essence pairing. I can feel the leftover power.” “Something weird happened. Vander called it the same thing. He said his xenos knows me now and wants me or some such nonsense.”
Gerri frowned. “It’s not nonsense, Ivy. This is very significant. It means Vander Kasaval is your true mate. Unless someone else was in that pool with you.” “No, just us.” Ivy shook her head and sat on the edge of the bed again. “Why so glum? You can’t deny the boy knocks your socks off, not to mention setting your panties on fire. I’m a shifter, Ivy. From the scents rocketing off your body, you, my dear, have been good and fucked.” She grinned. “I knew you and Vander were meant. It’s why I granted Cassie’s wish and brought you here.” Ivy’s eyes went wide and she got up from the end of the mattress. “So Kari was right? This was all your doing?” Gerri shook her head. “No. This was all you and Vander. I only see what’s meant to be. There’s still free will in the mix, but if I were you, I’d think long and hard about this, Ivy. Vander is a good man. A king in his own right, just and fair—not to mention hotter than hell. I said for you to think long and hard, well, he is long and hard, and I know you get my meaning. “Plus, Cassie is a transport ride away. You’re not going to get that close ever again if you decided to head back to Earth. The royal barge we took is stately and measured, which equates to slow. Maddox needs his pomp and circumstance, so he insisted. You can get to Nova from here in a half hour on a jet transport. Hell, Vander would let you live a Trekkie’s dream and use the intermolecular transport we talked about, if it would help you decide.” Ivy didn’t reply, just sat with her mouth slack. Gerri patted her hand. “Just think about it, Ivy. We meet in Vander’s audience room in an hour.” She snorted. “Wow. Tick tock, Gerri. Thanks.” The older woman smirked at her sarcasm. “You’re a girl after my own heart, Ivy Grimaldi. Don’t become a fool and let your pride rob you of an opportunity like this. You’ll regret it later. Trust me. You know what you want. You always have. Now, it’s up to you to have the strength to admit it to yourself. Cassie did. Now, it’s your turn.”
Chapter 18 Maddox banged the end of his ornate staff twice. “Ms. Gerri Wilder,” the Lord Chamberlain announced, stepping back to let the older woman approach the throne. Vander got up from his carved chair and greeted her with two hands. “I’m so glad you agreed to come. The men of Galaxa, especially my warriors, need your special talents more than ever.” She angled her head, eyeing the handsome monarch. “And what of Galaxa’s king?” The sly woman slid her eyes toward Ivy standing with the crowd alongside the other girls. Vander followed her line of sight and a soft grin took his lips. “I would say no, but that depends on the beautiful woman you brought with you from Earth.” All eyes fell on Ivy and heat crept up her cheeks. Gerri’s gaze locked with hers, and of everything the woman said earlier, one statement resounded louder than any other. You know what you want. You always have. Now, it’s up to you to have the strength to admit it to yourself. Cassie did. Now, it’s your turn. Ivy straightened her shoulders and stepped forward the moment Gerri raised her arm to beckon her. She stood beside the older woman and she couldn’t help but wonder if this was how Cassie felt when she decided to throw caution to the wind and take a chance on Talen. Ivy knew it was more than just fancy that made Cassandra choose to stay on Nova. It was love. Was it the same for her? She looked at Vander standing in his formal tunic, his robes of state draped from one shoulder and the heavy circlet around his head. The man’s eyes were intent, and she didn’t have to ask to know he held his breath same as she. The question posed again. Was it the same? Was she in love with Vander Kasaval? Sparing a glance for Henley and Riley, the women who had become her fast friends were both rapt as if waiting to see if she won the lottery. She pictured stepping into the transport and watching its blue light puddle and spread along the floor and then jumping with Gerri, thrust back where they started at the abandoned warehouse. How would she feel when she got home, dropped her suitcase, and latched the door behind her? Would the thud as it closed make her flinch?
She pictured the scene and how Vander’s face, his wit, his laugh, and every square inch of his amazing body would haunt her dreams. She would never see him again. Not in the he’s somewhere in the city and we might bump into each other at Starbucks someday kind of never. This was never ever. The knowledge hit her square in the chest, taking her breath. Her throat tightened as she looked at the man who had filled every hour for the past three days. Three days. It didn’t seem possible. She had shared more with him, had peeled herself bare for him, more than anyone else in her life. The feeling of never seeing him again nearly overwhelmed her and she knew. It was the same and the consequences be damned. Her head snapped around and her eyes met his again. She took a step toward Vander and Maddox shot forward, his staff barring the way. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell the old bugger to take his staff and play peekaboo with it where the sun didn’t shine, but she bit back the snarky response. If she was Vander’s mate, then she would be his queen and this was the first test. I’m going to be a queen? The words stunned her and she grinned as Vander took her step forward as a sign and physically moved Maddox out of her way. He took her hand and led her two steps up to the dais, turning with her to face the court. “His Majesty honors me with his request, and my answer is yes.” Ivy turned to face Vander, and following the only royal protocol she knew, she curtsied. Vander laughed and pulled her to standing, sliding his arms around her before kissing her soundly. He broke their kiss, letting his fingers grace the side of Ivy’s cheek before the two faced the court. “Galaxa is in crisis. I don’t have to tell you the illness affecting our female population is threatening the very sanity of our men and the foundation of this House and traditions. Many of you know Ms. Gerri Wilder. She is responsible for using her special talents to find perfect mates for many on Nova Aurora, including King Alyx. I have asked her to come and help us in the same way. She has found my mate, one my xenos recognizes and claimed this afternoon. I give you Ivy Grimaldi, my mate and your future queen.” The court erupted in cheers. Henley and Riley rushed forward, squealing like teenagers as they threw their arms around their friend. The dais was surrounded in seconds, so much so, Vander had to lift Gerri into their private circle, but Ivy didn’t miss the scowl on Maddox’s sour face as the man watched from the sidelines. She let it go. No one, especially not a bitter old hack, was going to ruin this for her and Vander. 115
“Gerri, you’d better keep your transport running because I have every intention of being a bridesmaid,” Henley joked. “Hell, with the size of these easy on the eyes Amazon men, I may just stick around myself.” Ivy hugged her neck. “Good. At least I’ll have one friend to gossip with.” Riley snorted. “I’m like a porcelain doll around here. Or an elf on the shelf. Take your pick, but I don’t care. If Hen stays, then so do I, and I’d love to be a bridesmaid.” “You two are putting the cart way before the camels, don’t cha think?” Ivy laughed. Henley shook her head. “Nope. Cassie will have her baby and then we can plan, right? Two bridesmaids and one matron of honor all ready and willing, milady Queen.” She faux curtsied and Ivy snorted. “Why not? To be honest, it’s been a whirlwind, so I’m grateful there’s time.” Vander laughed. “You’re all welcome, but Ivy’s right. A wedding will have to wait until we find the source of Galaxa’s grief. My brother and my chief of security are still in the outlands. Once they’re back with a full report, we can discuss timing and details.” Henley slipped her arm around Ivy’s shoulders and said to Vander, “You just hand the book of Galaxan protocol over to us, and Riley and I will handle everything. You have two jobs in this. Pay for the wedding, and show up at the altar and wait for your bride.” With a snort, he nodded. “Deal.” Turning toward the humming crowd, Vander’s eyes found Maddox and he waved him through the crowd. “Send word to Jag and Damen. I want them here as soon as they are able.” “As you wish, sire.” The man bowed his head, but when he looked up, he had nothing but daggers for the human women. Each and everyone. Ivy’s gaze followed the older man as he left the court and she exhaled. “Wow, if looks could kill.” Vander followed her line of sight and dismissed the concern. “Maddox is a stickler for tradition, but he’ll get over it. He wants what’s best for Galaxa same as I. Don’t waste a second of worry on him and his moods.” She went up on tiptoe and kissed his lips. “So, Jag is you brother and I’m assuming Damen is your security chief?” 116
He nodded. “Yes, you’ll meet them as soon as they get back.” He grinned. “This reminds me. I owe Damen a new bed considering we broke his old one.” Ivy’s mouth dropped. “That wasn’t your room?” He shook his head, giving her a sheepish grin. “I didn’t want you to know I was the king right away, and my crest is on practically everything in my quarters.” She gave him a playful shove. “Beautiful liar.” Kissing him again, she bit his bottom lip. “Promise me this is the last time you don’t tell me the truth.” His eyes held hers. “On my honor and with my blood.” She tightened her hand in his. “So, are you going to show me our rooms?” “OUR. I love the sound of that.” She nodded. “Me, too. Especially since we need to properly bless the bed.” She waggled her eyebrows.
Chapter 19 “This is palatial, Vander! We could both be here and never run into each other,” Ivy said, gawking at the size of the king’s apartment. He grabbed her around the waist and lifted her into his arms. “That will never be an option.” Carrying her to the bed, he unceremoniously dropped her onto the mattress. “Vander!” she squealed as her ass bounced on the bed. “Just plop me down, why don’t cha? We’re not even mated yet and the romance is dead.” He laughed. “Not even close.” He crawled toward her from the footboard, pulling her on top of him at the center of the bed. Ivy pushed her hair from her eyes and sat up, straddling his hips. “You weren’t kidding when you said your crest is everywhere.” She looked around the bedchamber, nodding. “I would have noticed.” “My point exactly, milady. Which is why I chose Damen’s room.” She took in the little masculine touches, but noted the pictures of his family and friends, especially his mother and Kari. A soft smile formed on her lips. “What?” She shook her head. “No seriously, what?” he asked again, sitting up with her still on his legs. Ivy shrugged. “It’s nothing really. I’m just surprised at how normal your room looks.” “Normal?” He chuckled. Nodding, she spread a hand out. “All the intimate pictures, and the fact you toss your clothes over the chair and leave your boots in the corner like any other guy. I like that.” He smiled softly. “I’m glad.” He brought his hips up, pushing the hard bar of his cock between her straddled legs. “Anything else in particular you like?” She rolled her hips and his eyes darkened immediately, that green glow flashing hot. Pressing her hands to his chest, she pushed him back and rested
her elbows on either pec. “About that—” she ran a gentle finger over the top of his eye. “What do we do about your green monster?” He slanted his head. “Green monster?” “Your eyes, Vander. Are they going to glow green like that every time you get a hard on?” She smirked. “If they do, everyone in the castle will know we’re fucking like rabbits.” He laughed out loud. “Rabbits?” “Yeah. Little furry Earth creatures that mate constantly.” An unladylike snort left her nose as she giggled and she covered her face. “Ugh. That was attractive.” Pulling her hand down from his forehead, he slid his fingers through her silky hair. “Everything about you is attractive. Especially that cute little grunt.” He bucked her off his hips and then rolled over with her in one move, slipping one leg between hers. “I have some business to attend to tomorrow, and won’t be back until the following morning. Why don’t you sleep in and then take the girls to the market. Buy whatever you want. My treat. Even buy a baby gift for Cassie.” Ivy opened her mouth, but he put a finger across her lips. “Don’t worry. We won’t have the wedding until your cousin can travel, and I’m already aware of how much you want to be there for the baby’s birth. I’ve already sent word to Alyx. He’s willing to host us both until then, so we have even more time to plan and get to know each other.” Ivy curled her arms around Vander’s neck. “Thankyou.” Slanting his lips over hers, he smirked. “Maybe you should show me just how grateful you are.” He took her mouth, delving deep into her sweetness. She broke their kiss and ran her tongue over his bottom lip. “With pleasure.” *** The market overflowed with merchants selling their wares as the three girls wound their way through the dusty streets. Old men sat in small clusters, drinking thick aromatic coffee, while kids darted in an out of merchant stalls, the owners yelling after them for whatever they swiped. The place was a burst of color and noise with everything from exotic foods and vibrant cloth to leather goods, raw nuts and spices, and everything in between available.
“Too bad Vander doesn’t use litter bearers. We could have used the manpower to carry all these bags.” Henley blew her bangs from her forehead. Riley snorted. “We can both do a little manual labor considering Vander wouldn’t let us pay for anything.” “That’s easy for you to say, you only bought jewelry.” “You could always ask one of our shadows to help.” Ri slid her eyes to the two guards set to escort the ladies as they shopped. “No, thanks. They look unhappy enough having to baby situs.” Riley shrugged. “I bought jewelry because nothing here fits me. For the first time in my life, I’m too small. Did you hear that shop keeper tell me I needed to eat more? That alone makes me want to stay forever. Especially if I could have everything custom made.” Ivy laughed at them both, her heart so full, it could burst. “What about you, Hen? Still thinking?” Her friend regarded her, hiking a stray bag onto her shoulder. “Riley might be tiny, but I’m average height. Everything fits me. No big and tall girl for me. It’s great, but I just don’t know if I’m cut out for an interplanetary move. It’s not like moving across the country, and I don’t know if clothes and shoes alone are worth the effort.” A familiar voice came from the side. “What if you met someone who melted your panties, making you shiver just skimming your body with one look?” The three girls turned, and Ivy grinned at the older woman as she pushed away from a spice stall along the line of shops. “I thought you said you couldn’t getaway.” “I can’t, really,” Gerri replied with a smile. “I’m playing hookie for a half hour or so. I can’t resist these spices. We don’t have them back home.” She lifted the soft gauze bag to her nose and inhaled. “We’re headed toward a custom shoemaker Kari said was to die for. Can you come?” Ivy asked. The matchmaker shook her head. “Sorry, love. I have a meeting with the warrior council and the elders on how to go about helping them with their issues. This is the tallest order I’ve ever had to face, so there’s not a minute to spare. I had planned to head back to Earth after Cassie had her baby, but now I 120
might have to leave sooner. I have fishing to do. Plus, I need to catch the next transport to Nova. I have business there, too.” “Not Cassie?” Ivy questioned, immediately concerned. Gerri put her hand on Ivy’s arm and shook her head. “No, honey. Cassandra is just fine. I plan to drop in on her while I’m there and let her know your news. You should call her later yourself.” “Call her? Right. Let me whip out my intergalactic cell phone.” Gerri laughed. “Just use my communicator. I left it in my room. It’s already programmed. All you need to do is run your hand over it like you did the last time.” Henley snorted. “Ha! The last time she ended up having interplanetary phone sex with the King of Galaxa.” Ivy shot her friend a look. “That was a misunderstanding.” Gerri laughed out loud. “A misunderstanding with a very happy outcome.” Riley angled her head at Gerri. “What did you mean when you said you had to go fishing?” “People email me for relationship help all the time, but nothing happens unless it clicks in here first.” Gerri tapped her temple. “I have to see what kind of net to cast.” Ivy pushed her lips into a smirk. “Like using Cassie’s baby as a ruse to get me here.” Gerri laughed, her eyes flashing. “Kind of. I love it when fate cooperates.” The older woman waved as she wound her way through the crowd toward the castle gates and the girls walked on, stopping about fifty yards ahead at a cross street. Ivy opened the makeshift map Kari had drawn and frowned, turning it back and forth. “I think we turn this way to get to the cobbler.” “Stop guessing and ask someone for directions. I don’t fancy getting lost in this mess of a crowd. Not with Vander away and everything he said about the unrest around here,” Henley said, giving the area a quick scan. “Hey, look.” She gave a chin pop toward an alley off the main street. “It’s your favorite person, Vee.” 121
All eyes turned to see Maddox talking with another man dressed the same as the one they spied from the window. “At court yesterday, the only people dressed like that were the representatives from the nomadic tribes. I wonder what’s going on,” Riley noted. Maddox gestured with his head and the man followed him into the main thoroughfare, but strangely kept back from the Lord Chamberlain as the two pushed through the crowd. “We need to follow him,” Ivy said, shoving her packages at the two guards. “Right you are, sister. After the look he gave us yesterday, I get what you mean about him being not right.” Henley glanced at Maddox moving fast and then spared a glance for the guards not happy about being made pack mules. She lowered her voice. “We need to ditch Thing One and Thing Two. When I drop my bags and scream, you two take off. I’ll catch up in a sec.” With a nod, she moved toward a stall, purposely crashing into another customer. Half the hanging goods knocked to the ground and Henley let out a scream. The two guards perked up, rushing over. She dropped her bags and in the commotion, darted into the street. “That was clever incarnate,” Ivy said with a grin. “Maybe Vander should introduce you to his security chief. There might be a job in it for you if you can think that quickly on your feet.” Henley nodded, catching her breath. “Maybe. But only if he’s drop-your-pants gorgeous. Now where did the weasel get to?” Riley pointed. “There, the side gate to the castle.” Ivy frowned. “That’s for deliveries only. Maddox is an ambassador and a noble, not to mention stuck up as all get out. He’d never use the servant’s entrance.” Henley pulled both girls to crouch behind bolts of cloth at the back of a cart. “He’s not going in. He’s buying something. Look.” The nomad dude took something from a ragged satchel and handed it to Maddox. The clear jar was small, but the contents looked nasty. Like brown slime. “Holy fuck! Whatever is in that jar just squirmed! I swear to God!”
Ivy shook her head. “My spidey senses are freaking out. Whatever that is, it’s not good.” She stepped out from behind the cloth and Henley grabbed her back. “What are you doing? You can’t let him see you!” Ivy smirked. “I’m practically Queen of Galaxa already. He wouldn’t dare hurt me and I’ve got a few choice words for Mr. Creepy.” “Stay hidden, but get closer.” Henley pointed to a stack of oil jars closer to the gate. Ivy put a finger to her lips and nodded, moving slow but determined. She tucked herself behind the largest jar. “This is only half of what I ordered!” The nomad’s eyes narrowed. “Do you know what will happen to me if my chieftain finds out I’ve been your courier in this? He hates the jungle people and refuses trade with them for standard goods, but this? He’ll have my head.” “I don’t care if he takes your balls, too. I need the rest of the shipment. The worms only live three days outside the jungle.” Maddox looked at the jar and winced, holding it out from his body as if it stunk. “Will this work on humans? Did you ask like I told you to?” The man shrugged again. “They said it might work, but they were unsure how long it would take to know. It would need to be tested.” Maddox shoved the jar back at the man. “How? I won’t have my plans ruined by a human slut or the others that follow. Take care of it! You know what to do.” The nomad shook his head, a sneer on his lips. “You can’t order me to do anything, not until you pay.” He nodded. “Unless you want a whisper in your king’s ear about your accomplishments.” Maddox kept his eyes narrowed on the man. He reached for the jar and with a cruel smile, stuck a knife in the nomad’s ribs. Maddox shoved the blade hilt higher, tearing through the desert dweller’s chest, and then held him as he slowly slumped to the ground. “Fuck! He killed him! What do we do?” Riley hissed, backing further into the jars.
Maddox slipped through the side gate, disappearing into the kitchens and the servants’ quarters. “We have to tell Vander. Whatever is in that jar is meant for us—or me, at least, and any other women Gerri brings to Galaxa going forward.” “He’s not back until tomorrow,” Henley added. “And Gerri’s probably halfway to the transport bay by now.” Ivy glanced toward the main castle gate and nodded to herself. “We wait, then. Vander will have no other choice but to take his blinders off when it comes to that old man.” “What about whatever is in that jar?” Riley asked. Henley pulled herself to her full height. “We go into the kitchens for something to take back to our rooms and take a good look around for that jar.” “Maddox could have taken it anywhere in the castle, Hen.” Ivy shook her head. “Vander said the women who died were all sick. So maybe Hen’s right and he’s poisoning them. Whatever we eat or drink from now until Vander gets back is only what we prepare ourselves.” Henley slipped out from behind the jars and smoothed her clothes. “I’m doing one better than that.” She walked into the main street and whistled. The two guards chasing after them pivoted in their search and stopped. “Sorry for the run around boys, but we’ve have decided we’ve had enough shopping.” She took her bags from them and motioned for Ivy and Riley to do the same. “We’re going to grab some fruit and bread and then head back to the castle. So,” she flashed a bright smile. “—point us to the best this market has to offer.”
Chapter 20 Ivy glanced in the mirror, running a hand over the faint smudges under her eyes. After what she and the girls witnessed in the market, no one got much sleep. Maddox was clearly working behind the scenes to undermine Vander’s plans. But why? Surely the old fop knew the king had the best interests of his people at heart. Just the thought of Vander brought a smile to her lips. Kari was right. He was just and kind. It was a blessing she found such a remarkable character inside such a gorgeous wrapper, and a romantic at heart, as well. She glanced at the handwritten note and sighed, holding it to her chest. Vander had planned a quiet rendezvous and she was to meet him at a palm spring outside the castle. He said he’d send someone for her at noon. She glanced at the holographic clock on the night table. Twenty minutes. Damn. Doing a quick touch up with the razor everywhere she needed, she slicked cream across her skin and sprayed a touch of perfume in her cleavage and behind each knee. “Okay, room. What should I wear? You obviously know the deal, so work your magic.” Ivy stood waiting and as if on cue, the armoire snicked open. There was nothing inside except for a single garment hanging at the center. It was a gorgeous cerulean blue silk wrap dress, and when Ivy held it up to the light it seemed to shimmer. The tones in the material were like a water color and the play between the vibrant hues complimented her skin perfectly. “Okay, so how does this contraption work?” No sooner had the words left her mouth than a knock sounded at the door. Soria poked her head in and smiled. Ivy didn’t care she was naked. She didn’t have the time. “Do you need help, Miss Ivy?” she asked, walking in and shutting the door. “Your radar is kind of freaky, Soria, but yes, I could use a little help with this.” Ivy held up the pretty wrap. “Do you know how to work this dress?” Laughing, she took the garment and spread it out on the bed. “It’s not a dress. It is a traditional pant wrap. Very much an outfit of our women, especially here in the Palladian. It covers everything while leaving just enough to the imagination. Very sexy. Whoever chose this did well.” 125
Ivy laughed. “The room chose it for me.” Soria looked at the ceiling with a smirk and the walls blushed. “Well, there’s your answer.” She helped Ivy into the wrap, tucking it where necessary and crisscrossing the slippery fabric over her breasts before tying the remainder at her neck. Ivy looked at her reflection and smiled. Her back was bare and with the way the pants fell, long slits billowed from both her inner and outer legs. The effect was stunning, but she turned to Soria with a raised eyebrow. “The outfit is beautiful, but how the hell do you go to the bathroom?” The younger woman burst out laughing. “You weren’t paying attention. Simply loosen the side tie at your waist. The back drops away without compromising the rest of the dress. Easy.” Ivy unknotted the thin tie just to try it and nearly unwound the whole dress. “You know—on second thought, I’ll wear my leggings.” Soria retied the narrow strips and turned Ivy around and gently pushed her toward the door. “You look lovely and will do no such thing. You are going to be our queen, so no arguments.” She pulled open the door and stood with her arms crossed. Ivy laughed. “Damn. For such a little thing, you’re pretty scary, Soria. Does Maddox appreciate how tough you are?” Ivy regretted the question the moment it left her lips, but she had to know if the girl was safe or not without tipping her hand. At the man’s name, Soria’s eyes dropped. “My apologies, Miss Ivy. I’ve overstepped myself. Please forgive my imprudence.” “No need to apologize, Soria. I was only half kidding.” She slipped a finger under the young woman’s chin and made her look up. “I don’t know what hold Maddox has on you, but if you ever need help, all you need to do is find me. Do you understand? Me, Henley, Riley, or Ms. Wilder. We will do what we can to help you.” The woman nodded. “Thank you, Miss Ivy, but that won’t be necessary.” Soria pushed past the future queen and left without another word. A hard knock on the door grabbed Ivy from her concern and she walked to open the door. Outside a single guard waited, dressed in desert gear. “Yes?” she asked, dismissing the slap of uncertainty rushing across her mind. 126
He smiled. “I’m to escort you this morning, milady.” Ivy knew she blushed at the title. It was different when Vander or the girls teased, but this was for real and the magnitude that she was to be their queen hit her hard. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him to call her Ivy, but she didn’t. It would reflect badly on Vander and royal decorum, whatever that was. “Uhm, thank you?” She made a mental note to get a book on Galaxan protocol from Vander’s library as soon as possible. “Nico…milady.” She nodded. “Nico.” The guard led her through a winding staircase at the back of the royal wing that led into the stables, but instead of horses, someone had saddled two camels. A wide smile spread across Ivy’s mouth and she clapped. “This is so on my bucket list!” How Vander knew, she hadn’t a clue, but she loved he thought of it, regardless. One of the stable hands helped her mount the kneeling beast, and when the enormous creature stood, her eyes bugged. “Holy hell! I had no idea I’d be this high off the ground!” Nico gave her a half grin. “Galaxan camels are gentle beasts. We know you’re unfamiliar with our ways, so we made sure to pick the right one.” Ivy nodded, but something about the man’s tone and his choice of words didn’t sit right. Kind of like her saddle. She fidgeted in the curved seat and tried to get comfortable as they rode out of the stable courtyard toward the keep. She waved to the girls on the balcony as they passed, ignoring the uneasy feeling. The two left the castle and instead of heading toward the main square, the guard led the camels onto the surrounding road. The sun was high and their pace slow and Ivy found herself wishing she had sunglasses, or at least a wide-brimmed hat. “Is the spring far?” she asked, trying to break the monotonous ride with small talk. “No, we should arrive shortly.” His answer was short and clipped. Maybe the man was intimidated by her soon-to-be elevated status, then again maybe he felt she was an interloper, same as Maddox. She made a note not to do 127
anything to make things worse. In other words, put her brain-to-mouth filter into high gear. The villages on the city outskirts were low-ceilinged, white-washed stucco, and in the heat, she understood why. They were on the edge of the sand ocean as Vander called it, with the mountains she saw from her window in the distance. Basically, a dust bowl with no wind unless a storm brewed on the high peaks. The road was empty as they came to a crossing. On one side was what looked to be a Bedouin type tent village, and on the other, nothing but sand as far as the eye could see. In the distance, she thought she saw a shimmer across the horizon that looked like water and dots of green, but it could just as well have been a mirage. “Are we stopping? I hope so because my butt could use a break.” The guard blinked at her and then pointed in the direction of the shimmering sand. “The spring is across the sand in that direction. If we stop now, the sun will bake the sand to such a temperature, the camels might refuse to go. Your choice.” “Wow, Mr. Saturday Night. How can I resist when you put it that way? To the watering hole, then and don’t spare the camels.” She met his waiting glare and inhaled. So much for humor. Nico steered his camel onto the sand, and immediately the heat radiating from the fine-grained carpet was intense. “Jeez! I’m sweating in places I didn’t know I could! You weren’t kidding when you said the camels would balk. I wouldn’t want to walk this.” He kicked the camel’s flank and the awkward animal took off, its stride clumsy and violent. She barely tightened her reins when her camel raced after the lead. Her body vaulted forward and she gripped the animal’s muscular neck, holding on for dear life. “Holy fuck!” she managed through clenched teeth, keeping her jaw tight so she didn’t bite her tongue. Nico’s camel tossed up grit and sand and she closed her eyes, praying her animal didn’t decide to go off-roading more than they already were. “Nico! For cripe’s sake! Ease the fuckup!”
The animals finally slowed as the palm spring came into view over the next dune. Ivy’s shoulders relaxed out of her ears and she scanned the shady palm and scrub for Vander. “Is the king here?” she asked, those warning bells going off again. Nico didn’t answer, just pulled his camel to a stop just outside the lush greenery and took her reins. He led both camels inside the oasis and then helped her from her saddle. Wincing, she rubbed her backside, turning to look for Vander again, but there was no sign of him. “Where is the king? You were supposed to take me to meet him here,” she said, her voice rising in alarm. The guard lifted a flap on his saddle and took out a skin flask, tilting the fluted top to his lips. “I’d offer you some, but that wasn’t part of the deal.” Ivy’s mind raced. Why the hell did she agree to go alone? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Why? Because she believed Vander sent the note. Now, it was clear it was a trick or a trap. She bent to fix the strap on her boot and scooped a handful of sand, chucking it in Nico’s face. The move caught him off guard and he sputtered and spit, blinded for just enough time for Ivy to grab the reins and swing onto the camel’s back. Easier said than done when the beast was seven feet tall. Nico grabbed her around the waist and threw her to the ground. “I don’t get paid if I don’t deliver, milady.” He mocked the last word. As she stared up at him, three other men walked from the tall palm grove. Nomads by their brown cloaks. “Is this the human?” one asked, and Nico nodded. The guy tossed him a sack of coins and Nico emptied the bag in his hand. “Hey, this is only half of what we agreed.” He lifted his palm. The man angled his head, surprised. He walked forward patting his pockets, but as soon as he was within range, a quick thrust of his wrist gutted the guard with a single swipe. Ivy screamed, scrambling back against the scrub. The man turned, no expression on his face as he cleaned the blade on his thigh. He shrugged the cloak from his shoulders to reveal a completely different kind of clothing underneath. 129
His partners in crime did the same, speaking to each other in a language Ivy didn’t recognize. Mountain rogues. She had heard people talking about their ruthlessness, and their rugged clothing told her she guessed right. The man took Nico’s flask and held it to his lips and then wiped his hand across his mouth before holding it out to her. “Drink. We have a long way to go.” “The king is coming. He’ll be here any minute, so I would leave while you have the chance,” she tried, only to hear his laugh as a reply. “Vander is nowhere near here, love. You are now my property and you will go to the highest bidder. If Vander wants you, he can pay, but I know a few jungle lords who would love a honey-haired beauty,” he eyed her. “Yes, I think you’ll fetch a better price than any of the goat herders we’ve taken.” “Bors, we were paid to take her to the jungle. The worm, remember? They want to test the worm on a human.” The man whirled, and in seconds, the other was on the ground beside Nico. Just as dead. Bors cleaned his knife again and frowned, shaking his head. “Killing is such a waste of my time and energy.” He looked at Ivy. “No danger will come to you if you cooperate. If you try what you did with that stupid guard, you’ll end up on the ground with your guts spilled just like him. Understood?” Ivy nodded. “Can I send word to Vander? I’m sure he’ll pay whatever ransom you ask.” He shook his head. “I will negotiate with whom I see fit. Vander’s men are on the brink of mutiny, thanks to treachery in his own ranks. Personally, I don’t care one way or the other. Money is money and that’s the only thing that holds my loyalty.” Ivy’s lips pressed in a harsh line. “That worm your friend spoke of. Does it squirm and ooze in a brown liquid?” He nodded, the corner of his mouth tipping up, impressed. “Yes.” She gritted her teeth. “Fucking Maddox. I knew it!” Her eyes flew to Bors. “Please, tell me what you know. The king will make it worth your while. There’s more at stake here than just me.” In her haste, she got to her feet, forgetting who she was dealing with.
His eyes traveled her full length and he licked his lips. “You want answers? YOU will be the one to make it worth my while.” She took a step back. “People are dying. Women. For no reason. How is Maddox using the worm? How did he learn how?” Bors shrugged, unmoved. “Show me your tits and I’ll tell you.” Ivy balked, sorry she had worn the skimpy pant concoction that barely crisscrossed her full rack. “That’s not going to happen.” He turned to put the hipflask back in the saddle. “You’ve got me and two camels you didn’t expect. Can’t you give me the answers to those quick questions for good measure?” Turning, he smirked. “No wonder Vander wants you.” He nodded, pointing her way. “You’re quick and you’re daring. No Galaxan woman would think to blind her abductor with sand.” He considered her. “Okay. The worm is an ancient parasite. It thrives in that brown slime you mentioned.” She nodded. “Okay. That much I got already. I also know it only lives three days.” He grinned and she saw his teeth were blackened and missing. “Yes,” he said. “Maddox learned about the worm when Vander sent him with Prince Jag to try and negotiate a truce with the jungle lords. He wanted them to stop paying me and my kind for raiding the Palladian.” He snorted. “Negotiate. Ha! Those men would eat their children first. He would have been better off paying us not to raid.” His eyes traveled her body again. “Maybe I won’t sell you to them. You’re clever and it would be wasted on those savages.” He turned to finish prepping the saddle. “Maddox watched the lords use the worm to torture their people. They drop the worms live into beating hearts and watch as their people died savagely. Maddox wanted a more concealed way to poison the capitol, so he set the worms loose in the women’s bath houses and spas. As you said, outside their slime, they only live three days unless they find a host to feed upon. If you ask me, he’s a coward. If you’re going to kill, then just fucking kill—don’t skulk in the shadows.” Ivy looked at the brute of a man. He was intelligent and he was honest. A savage and a mercenary, but truthful, and that gave her wiggle room and hope. “Where are you taking me, then?” He blinked, looking at her. “I haven’t decided yet.” 131
She dusted off the back of her pants and walked toward the camel and took the hipflask, draining it. “We should resupply, then. Don’t you think?” Holding her breath, she walked toward the spring with the skin thermos, Bors’ laughter following behind her. Vander was getting back today. Sometime. Gerri, too. As soon as they found her gone, a search party would be sent out. Now, all she had to do was delay enough to figure out how to leave a trail.
Chapter 21 “What do you mean she’s gone?” Vander’s anger boomed through the castle. “Where is she?” Glowing green eyes flashed with fury as he shouted for Maddox. His breath came in short, tight draws. Claw marks scored his torso from the inside, red slashes rising on his flesh. Muscles stretched and undulated beneath his skin and the roar that broke from his throat sent his court fleeing. Gerri pushed through the scattering crowd, the girls at her heels. “Vander, Ivy’s gone,” she declared, but stopped short at the king’s agitated appearance. “She was going to meet you,” Henley said, her eyes flicking to Gerri, scared. Vander spun on his heel and stalked toward the tall woman. “What?” Gerri growled, her eyes turning a wild yellow. “Back off, Vander. We are all on the same page here. Clearly someone duped Ivy into thinking she was meeting you.” Riley nodded. “She got a note last night. After you left in the morning, we went shopping just as you suggested. We saw Maddox in the market. He was with some desert looking guy. The man gave him something and then Maddox killed him.” Vander’s gaze swung from one to the other, stunned. “We overheard what he said. He was talking about something working on humans, that he wouldn’t have his work ruined. The nomad dude gave him something that squirmed in a brown slime, but when Maddox refused to pay him, the dude threatened to tell you.” Riley wrung her hands. “That’s when he stabbed him. We saw the whole thing.” “Your Majesty, I told you these human girls were too fickle to take seriously,” Maddox said, walking in, his eyes darting from the king to Gerri and the others. “They concoct fancies to fit their agenda.” Vander flew from the throne’s stairs; his hand clutched around Maddox’s throat. “Where is my mate? I will crush the life out of you right now if you don’t tell me or better yet, I’ll feed you to my dogs, alive.”
The king’s eyes seethed green and his facial bones changed as scythe-like fangs pierced his gums. His hand tightened and Maddox’s eyes bulged. “Vander!” Kari shouted, rushing forward with Jag and Damen behind her. “Stop this! Your xenos is unbound! You won’t be able to control it!” Jag grabbed his brother’s arm and pushed the rock-like muscle, loosening so Maddox could breathe. “You want to rip his heart out later, fine. Without him, we might be too late to find Ivy.” Jag’s words penetrated and Vander released his former chamberlain, the man slumping to the floor, gasping for air. Jag picked him up by his collar and Damen stuck a blade to his throat. “Where is the queen?” Maddox spat, his tongue bleeding from where he bit it. “She’s not the queen. She’s not fit to be a Kasaval. She’s a human!” Jag gave the man a shake and the tip of Damen’s dagger pierced Maddox’s skin. The old man quaked, his bravado failing. “Tell us now or you’ll beg for the mercy of Damen’s blade with what we do to you.” “I sent Ivy the note in Vander’s name. But you’re too late. Bors has her, and if I know him, he’ll double-cross me and sell her to the highest bidder.” His gaze found Vander’s. “You can always buy your human bitch back.” Vander backhanded the man, his neck snapping back as blood trickled from his mouth. “What did you buy from the nomad?” The king’s voice was low and deadly, but Maddox raised his chin, refusing to answer. “I think I know,” Jag answered. “It’s that worm the old woman told us about. She wasn’t just raving. He must have found a way to use it against us and poison our women.” “Yes!” Maddox laughed. “And I’d do more to keep you from polluting Galaxa with human whores!” “You stupid old man! If you hadn’t killed off our women, we wouldn’t need to look to Earth for mates. Why? You make no sense.” Jag shook him again. “I served House Kasaval for years and I should have been given title and wealth, not asked to fetch and carry. When Alyx of Nova Aurora mated that human girl and you talked of bringing that shifter bitch matchmaker here, I had to act. The warriors would have put me on the throne.”
“You’re delusional, Maddox. I’m glad my father isn’t here to see this.” Jag let him go, and before Maddox could find his feet, Vander grabbed his throat and crushed the life from his body. The old man slumped to the ground, his lifeless form crumpled and unnatural. “What do we do now?” Gerri asked. Vander turned to the older woman, his face like stone. “We find my mate.” Kari stepped in front of the king and put her hand on his cheek, risking the beast within. “The xenos has marked you, Vander. Find your mate before it shreds its way out.” The three men stalked from the room, Vander’s guards clearing what was left of Maddox. The women exhaled in stereo. “Will he find her?” Gerri looked at Kari, her eyes severe. Kari nodded. “He will. Or he’ll die trying.” Gerri’s mouth pressed into a harsh slash. “I should go with them. I can sense her.” Kari shook her head. “Vander’s xenos has claimed her, even if she doesn’t yet wear the mark. It will sense her far more than you could. Vander will find Ivy. I know it.” Gerri looked at the pretty silver-haired woman. “She wears the mark.” She tapped the top of her left breast. “It showed right before we had our audience at court.” A slow smile spread on Kari’s face. “He’ll find her for sure, then. I have no doubt.” Her eyes turned to the other girls. “So, what about you two?” “Us?” Henley exchanged glances with Riley. “What do you mean?” Kari curled a finger over her chin and smirked. “I may not have Gerri’s keen sixth sense, but I can smell a punch to a woman’s sex as clearly as I can smell a fresh glass of Sidaii wine. You both have that scent.” Gerri nodded with a soft chuckle. “One problem at a time, Karis. Let’s get my lost duck back into my row before we start on the others, okay?”
The regal woman inclined her head. “I’ll let you know if I hear anything from Vander or the prince.” She turned and left the courtroom. “Which one was the prince?” Riley asked, keeping her voice low. Gerri laughed. “The one with the same dark mane as Vander. The other one is their Chief of Security, Damen Iceri.” Riley nodded. “He’s not as big as the others, but damn he’s hot. Did you see him take control and calm Vander before he shred that dude?” Henley nodded. “Yeah, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the other one. He was lethal fast with that blade.” Gerri shook her head. “One at a time, ladies. Please. One at a time.” *** Vander shaded his eyes, his green gaze scanning the horizon. He hadn’t said a word in miles. “Maybe they stopped for shelter somewhere. Even a camel would need to rest at some point,” Jag said, wiping his brow. “The camels taken from the stables were pack animals. They can go for days without much rest.” Damen frowned. “When I find Nico, I’m going to slit his throat.” Vander looked at his friend. “Nico was not your fault.” Damen’s jaw tightened. “He was a member of your guard. I vetted him, so I take responsibility and I will be the one to take his life if your mate is harmed.” “The horses need water. We can stop at the tent village at the crossroads. Maybe someone there saw something.” Jag nodded toward the tents in the distance. Vander pulled his horse to a halt. His eyes moved toward the sand and the dunes beyond. “She was here.” He gestured with his chin toward the expanse. “Out there.” Jag shook his head. “No, Vander. The camels wouldn’t survive the boiling sand.”
The king’s horse reared. “I know they took her that way. The beast is coiling inside. It’s gnawing for me to follow the trail in that direction, so either you come with me or I go alone. It’s as simple as that.” Jag exhaled, raking a hand through his hair. “Then we need to leave the horses and find camels sturdy enough to make the journey, because even if it’s cooling since it’s heading to nightfall, it will be just as hot tomorrow when the sun hits its peak.” Damen clicked the inside of his cheek and the three took off toward the tent village at top speed. They pulled in front of the largest tent, knowing it belonged to the local chieftain. People gathered, surrounding the king and the others. “We need camels,” Vander said matter-of-factly. “Where is your chief?” The tent flap opened and a woman stepped out, beautiful in her desert robes and headdress. “Our chief is dead. I am his daughter.” She inclined her head. “What can we do for you, my lord?” “Camels. Stout enough to withstand the sands and the mountains.” She shook her head. “All we have is what you see. You are welcome to them, but please leave something for the exchange.” The king growled and his eyes flashed. The woman’s face paled and she took a step back. Jag moved his horse ahead and got her attention. “We will leave our horses, but if we return to find you’ve sold them, the consequences will be great. But if we return and find them well cared for, you will be rewarded ten times the worth of the camels we borrow.” She inclined her head again, and with a single swipe of her hand, three camels were brought forward. “You can fill the canteens at the spring you’ll pass on the way to the mountains.” Vander nodded his thanks and mounted, the others doing the same. With a swift kick to the camel’s flank, he took off, hooves kicking sand in a storm behind him. They stopped at the spring and as soon as jag dismounted, he stopped. “Looks like someone beat you to him, Damen.” He gestured at the two decomposing bodies. “If memory serves, one of these unfortunate assholes is Nico.” Damen stood beside Jag and nodded. “Well, at least it was a blade.” 137
Jag laughed. “Dude, you and your knives.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “Over the years, I’ve learned to multitask, and my senses have as well. We might have been occupied with Maddox, but one of those hot numbers standing with the matchmaker was creaming in her panties for you.” He laughed. “That’s funny, because the little one had eyes only for you and the way she licked her lips, dude, you need to jump on that.” Vander maneuvered his camel, the beast stomping its front legs. “Keep your dicks in your pants and your heads in the game or you can both head back to the palace for a playdate.” The two shut up and filled the hipflasks and they set off, riding to where the sand met the base of the first mirror mountain. “We’re not far. Bors wouldn’t take her back to his camp. He couldn’t protect her there, not if he’s planning to sell her in one piece.” Vander’s eyes flashed and he growled again. “Bro, keep a lid on that beast. We’re on the same side.” Jag shook his head. The sun was setting and the king pushed his camel farther. When they crested the first craggy path, he stopped. “She’s close. I can feel her.” They climbed the base steppes and as the path wound, the elevation rose. Temperature dropped and patches of snow could be seen on the cliffs above. Vander urged his camel higher until he stopped again, but this time he slid from his saddle. “We go on foot from here. She’s near. Very near.” His eyes scanned the rocky terrain and he froze. A single curl of smoke, almost invisible to the eye, poked through the thickening gloom. “There!” He raced full speed, his clothes tearing from his body as the xenos took him. With a single leap, he landed on an outcrop, and a roar unlike any other echoed against the rockface. Jag looked at Damen and the two took the rear flank. Vander needed to do this. Alone. His body shook and muscles ripped and reshaped, the xenos seizing him until he stood, majestic and lethal. An ancient cat with fangs as long as a man’s arm. Massive muscles bunched and released as the beast moved in for the kill. Its powerful neck swung back and forth, scenting for its quarry. 138
A woman’s scream sent it racing forward. It crashed through the makeshift camp, razor claws shredding men and animals in its wake. A tent flap flew back and Bors ran out, his blade dripping with blood. He skidded to a halt as he faced the great cat. “Vander!” Ivy yelled, running from the tent clutching the shreds of her top to her breasts. She stopped, her eyes flying wide with fear and she screamed again, only this time Jag and Damen moved to flank the tawny beast. “Ivy?” Jag asked, his jaw hardening at her torn clothes. She nodded. “Is tha…tha…that Vander?” Damen nodded. “Yes, and he’s not quite himself as you can see, so unless you want to die, I suggest you move very carefully. You are the only one who can tame the inner animal.” She swallowed. “Yeah, except it’s not so inner anymore.” Jag cracked a smile. “True, still. It’s you, Ivy. Even I’m not safe and I’m his brother.” Ivy’s eyes moved to Jag and she nodded. “Nice to meet you. I’m sure you never thought you’d meet your future sister-in-law like this, but hey—” Damen looked from her to Bors and back again. “Is he the reason your clothes are in shreds?” Ivy looked at the man and the glint of his blade in the moonlight. “No. The man responsible for that is dead. His blood is on Bors’s knife.” Her mouth slid into a harsh line. “Not out of concern for me, but because my value would have dropped if—” Vander’s cat roared, sinews coiled and ready to attack at the implication. Damen gestured to her gently. “Walk toward me, Ivy. Keep your movement slow.” She took a single step, but Bors grabbed her around the shoulders and held his blade to her neck. “I’ll slit her fucking throat!” Damen and Jag froze, and the cat screamed, the sound ricocheting off the mountains. The pack camels reared and stomping at the feral sound. Ivy used the distraction and sunk her teeth into Bors hand, breaking his flesh, drawing blood. 139
The man hissed, loosening his grip on her and the blade. She swung her arm back, her fist hitting him square in the balls. He dropped the knife, sucking in a high-pitched wheeze. Ivy slipped under his arm as he doubled over, racing toward Jag as the cat attacked. Hind legs released and the cat launched itself, jaws wide. His massive mouth chomped down, lifting Bors head first, its giant canines impaling the man’s skull. With a single shake, it snapped the man’s neck, shattering every bone in his spine, letting him slump to the ground. Jag stood watching, his arm around Ivy as she buried her face in his chest, her hands clutching what was left of her clothes. “I thought you said the beast took chunks out of its victim and let it bleed out before devouring it,” he said, leaning toward Damen. “I said that’s what the archives alleged.” Jag shrugged, tightening his grip on Ivy’s cowering frame. “So much for historical record.” The cat stood panting, its muzzle covered in blood, its muscles still roiling with non-expelled anger. Damen elbowed Jag. “You want to tell Vander it’s over?” The prince snorted. “Would you? I’m not sure Vander is still Vander in there.” Ivy let go of her hold on Jag and dragged in a steadying breath. Vander had come for her, and the cost was high. The mark on her breast prickled, and she knew what she had to do. She moved from Jag’s side and approached the giant predatory cat. Sinking to her knees, she reached with one hand, her fingers sinking into its soft mane. “It’s over, Vander. Come back to me, love. Please.” The cat lifted its head and turned its glowing green eyes to hers. She stroked the animal’s nose, kissing the soft top. What sounded like a low purr formed in its throat and in a snap of bone and sinew, the cat threw its head back and screamed again, but this time as the sound echoed, Vander slumped forward on all fours. Naked and exhausted. “Well. I guess we’re making camp here tonight. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be around him if he has to ride that camel in the buff. Ouch!”
“Shut up, Jag. Go find me some clothes.” He glanced over his shoulder at Damen. “And you move that other body out of the tent and toss it with this one on a pyre. We don’t want to attract wild animals.” He laughed out loud. “Attract? Dude, you’re the king of the mall.” Needing her hands to help Vander, Ivy knotted what was left of the crisscross bodice, waiting with him as the others cleared the area. She helped him up and into the tent. “Let me get water and clean you up,” she said, pouring from a large skin flask into an empty bowl. He moved to one of the cots and slumped down as she tore the side of her pants, using the cloth to clean the blood from his skin and face. “I knew you’d come for me,” she murmured. He slipped a hand behind her head. “Always, Ivy. You’re mine.” Her hand slipped over his chest to the claw marks, only now swirls had formed between the jagged strokes that matched the ones on her breast. She untied the makeshift knots at her side and let the shredded top fall to her waist. Lifting his hand, she put it on the mark. “A matching set.” She chuckled. “Like luggage.” He smirked, letting his fingers fall to cup its full weight. Grazing his thumb over her nipple, he slid a hand behind her head and pulled her close. His lips hovered over hers and his tongue traced their outline. “You’re marked, Ivy Grimaldi. My xenos has claimed you, as do I.” His mouth crushed to hers and he let his hand slip to her waist, untying what was left of her silken pants. The material floated to the floor in a satiny puddle and he lifted her so she straddled his hips, his cock slipping deeply inside. “Forever,” he murmured driving up, lifting her high. She gasped, arching back to roll her hips, her body taking every inch of him. “Forever.”
Epilogue Ivy glanced at her flowy dress with a grin. Man, it felt good to find a man who truly loved her. Now all she needed was the others to hurry up so they could leave for Cassie’s baby’s naming ceremony in Aurora. She twirled in her dress, loving how soft it felt. “Are you that happy over the dress or what happened before?” Vander said, sliding his hands around her waist and pulling her back. His rock-hard body pressed against her back, heating her insides instantly. She met his gaze through the mirror and shook her head with a grin. “You are such a perv. You’re lucky these dresses allow you to do whatever you want and don’t wrinkle.” He lowered his head, kissed her neck and whispered by her ear. “We can keep trying to see if we can get it to wrinkle.” She laughed and turned in his arms, grabbing the back of his head, pulling him in for a kiss. “That will never happen. I already know how your textile works, my king.” He raised a brow, his lips growing wide with a smile. “My king? You’ve only used that when you want to get your way.” She shrugged. “There’s something I want to tell you.” He met her gaze, curiosity sparking in the depths of his eyes. “Are you okay?” She licked her lips and glanced down at his mouth before meeting his gaze again. “I’m pregnant.” He kissed her lips, his hands around her waist pulling her even closer. “I know, love.” She sighed, giving him a playful slap on his huge bicep. “Dammit! I knew it. Gerri told me a few minutes ago and I figured if I told you right away, I might have a chance of surprising you.” She groaned and allowed him to pull her to one of the chairs facing the garden. He sat down and pulled her onto his lap. “It’s okay, sweetheart. There’s nothing I don’t notice about you. The immediate change of scent gave it away.” He cupped her chin and made her meet his stare. “I’ll always protect you, my queen. And I know it will be 142
different for you to be pregnant here, but whatever you need, tell me and I’ll make it happen. Your happiness is my priority.” She smiled, her heart swelling with love and hugged him tight. Damn. She was scared shitless of having a baby on an alien planet, but when he said things like that, he calmed all her fears and reminded her how perfect he was as a mate and how amazing he’d be as a father. Their amazing journey as a couple was just beginning. The End
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Hi! I’m Milly Taiden. I love to write sexy stories featuring fun, sassy heroines with curves and growly alpha males with fur. My books are a great way to satisfy your craving for paranormal romance with action, humor, suspense and happily ever afters. I live in Florida with my hubby, our boys, and our fur children “Needy Speedy” and “Stormy.” Yes, I am aware I’m bossy, and I am seriously addicted to iced caramel lattes. I love to meet new readers, so come sign up for my newsletter and check out my Facebook page. We always have lots of fun stuff going on there. SIGN UP FOR MILLY’S NEWSLETTER FOR LATEST NEWS! http://eepurl.com/pt9q1 For information millytaiden.com [email protected]
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