Chapter 1


Nala took a deep breath at the bar as she waited for her customer’s drink order. Of all the tables in the ship’s bar, the og’dal, with two sets of arms and dark soulless eyes, had to choose hers. She’d had more than her fill of aliens since that sleaze og’dal from the bride ship had sold her into slavery on Trinoth.

At least no one here cared about her past. She still had to earn a living to eat, but after her rescue nearly two years ago, she hoped to never see an alien again. Especially an og’dal. Yet, here she was, serving drinks to one aboard a luxury cruise ship touring the universe thousands of miles from Earth.

“Wanna trade?” Alexa said. She must have seen Nala’s reaction when the og’dal seated himself at her table.

Nala set her tray on the bar. “It’s bad enough they allow aliens aboard, but why the hell does that have to include og’dals?” Nala said.

“Aliens fly this ship, so it wouldn’t make sense to ban aliens, would it?” Alexa glanced toward the crowd of passengers pouring into the bar. “It will be quite a while before enough humans are trained to take over everything from maintenance to piloting. That’s why we get the elite jobs of waiting on and cleaning up after the passengers. I think Brady’s the only human down in engineering, and from what he said, he gets all the dirty jobs. Besides, not all og’dals are bad. Just the ones who ran the bride ships.”

“Slave ships,” Nala corrected her. “And stop being logical. I need to complain, just for a few minutes.”

“Complain as much as you need, Nala.” Alexa offered a weak smile. “And if it helps, keep in mind that some of those brides ended up married to decent aliens. We just didn’t have that good fortune.” The short brunette had a way of seeing the positive in every situation. 

Their ship, A New Dawn, shuddered briefly, causing Alexa’s eyes to widen. Nala’s cabin mate was deathly afraid of space travel, but like Nala, she didn’t have any other options open to her. Waitress aboard A New Dawn or work for a brothel on any number of planets.

This time it was Nala who shuddered as too many memories of clients on Trinoth struck. “It’s just the damn engines being temperamental,” she said, trying to hide her reaction from Alexa before the woman insisted on taking Nala’s table. She loved Alexa for watching out for her, but she had to push through situations like this or the bastard og’dals who had sold her would win. “Brady told me those tremors are nothing more than space hiccups.”

“Typical guy. Our whole generation thinks women are too stupid to learn or understand anything technical. It’s going to take years to regain all the respect and opportunities our mothers had before the Grud and Coalition practically sent civilization back to the dark ages.”

Alexa wasn’t wrong. Nala couldn’t remember the last time she’d met a guy who thought of her as anything more than a sex toy, especially out here in space. Her stomach knotted, forcing her to take a moment. Just another day, and more assholes getting drunk in a bar flying through the universe.

“The point is,” Nala said finally, struggling to force the memories from Trinoth away, “Brady assured me this oversized boat is as solid as a horse.”

“It’s a spaceship, not a boat, and certainly not a horse. An old one at that, given the wear and tear everywhere. Which means when this death trap falls through the atmosphere of some random planet, it’s going to crumble like a thousand-year-old mummy, burst into flames, and then leave nothing behind but ash.”

Nala shook her head. “I really need to find a friend who doesn’t go to pieces every time the ship creaks.”

“Says the woman who’s afraid of one little alien with an extra set of arms,” Alexa shot back.

Nala glanced at the og’dal, with his two sets of arms crossed over his chest as he glared at her, waiting for his drink. Just one alien indeed. But he wasn’t little. All the aliens she’d met on the bride ship and later on Trinoth towered over most human men. This og’dal sat in the middle of the bar staring at her. She hated how his eyes lingered on her. Similar to the aliens on Trinoth. Next would come lewd gestures, a proposition...

Nala rubbed her right palm against her leg, wishing she had a weapon. Not that she’d ever learned to use one. She had to get a handle on her fear. The og’dal couldn’t kidnap her aboard a ship in space. Especially with Frank, the bar’s bouncer, standing at the exit.

“I can handle him,” Nala said, faking confidence.

“Good, because I don’t want him.”

“I never said I wanted him. Or any alien.” The very thought of an alien touching her again turned her stomach. “As soon as we return to Earth, I’m buying a nice, quiet cabin in the middle of nowhere.”

“I always knew you were a party girl,” Alexa teased as Eddie set four shots of karthikan whisky on her tray with a tall glass of othanan beer.

Nala knew that order all too well. “Don’t tell me the captain’s drinking again.”

“Yup. I’d love to report him, but I need this job.”

“I know what you mean,” Nala said as she glanced at the og’dal who kept staring at her.

Alexa shifted to her left to block his line of sight. “That guy gives me the creeps. Are you sure you’ll be okay? I know what you went through.” Her face held a mixture of pity and concern.

Nala loved Alexa dearly for her protectiveness, but she hated being pitied. Alexa had been sold as a slave too, but had been bought by someone who immediately freed her. If anything, it proved there were some good aliens in the universe.

“I can’t change the past, so I don’t plan to live there either.” Nala grabbed her tray of drinks for the og’dal and headed to her table in the center of the bar.

The rest of the entertainment aboard A New Dawn had shut down for the night and this was the only place to escape one’s cabin until the dining halls re-opened for breakfast at five a.m. There were enough humans around for her not to worry about one alien if he started causing trouble. She hoped.

As quickly as she could, Nala set the male’s three shots of dalian tequila on the table and turned to leave. He grabbed her wrist as one of his lower hands reached for her ass and a third stroked the side of a breast, giving new meaning to the phrase being handsy.

“You should come to my cabin, Nala,” he said with a salacious grin. 

She yanked free of his hold, which made his grin widen, like he wanted her to resist. A shiver shot down her spine.

“How do you know my name?” She had intentionally not introduced herself to him when he sat down earlier.

“I watch. I observe.”

Nala gritted her teeth as she jerked her hand out of his grasp. “If you want company, disembark at Karthika tomorrow night where there are tons of brothels.”

He laughed as he downed the shots, one after the next, like they were filled with water.

One more month until the luxury cruiser returned to Earth, and she’d finally collect the last of her pay needed to buy a cabin in the New Mexico mountains. She’d never have to see another alien again, let alone endure one’s touch. The Coalition left Earth two years ago and remained embroiled in a war with the Grud. She hoped they destroyed one another and on their way to Hell took their og’dal slavers with them.

By the time Nala retrieved her next bar order, the og’dal had left. She cleared the shot glasses—no tip, of course—cleaned the table, and finished her shift. The best part of working on the luxury liner was the view she enjoyed as she walked down the corridor to the cabin she shared with Alexa. Nothing beat the beauty of space, except perhaps the painted sunsets and sparse but lovely landscape of New Mexico.

Leaning against the picture window, Nala stared out at the millions of stars and froze, spotting the yellow planet. Why the hell were they so close to Trinoth? They should be closer to Karthika by now, not riding the border of coalition space. The damn captain was probably drunk again.

A hand landed on Nala’s ass. She whipped around, swinging her fist out of reflex. The heel of her hand connected with the og’dal’s nose, breaking it.

“You drekking bitch,” the four-armed alien from the bar said, grabbing her by the throat as blood ran down his chin. “Now I’m not going to make this a painless kill. I’m going to have some fun first. He clamped a hand over her mouth.

Heart racing, Nala dug her nails into the male’s arm as he dragged her around the bend and down a maintenance lift to the lowest level of the ship. The bay where they conducted their emergency drills was empty. 

Sleek silver pods, each with its own launch tube, looked like large bullets lining the length of the ship. No one ever came down here during a cruise. The alien had picked the most isolated place aboard the ship.

He punched a code into one of the escape pods and the door swung open. “By the time they find your body, I’ll be deep in coalition space.”

She bit the hand covering her mouth.

“You bitch!” he screamed as he let go and slapped her across the face, knocking her down.

“Please don’t hurt me,” she pled, crawling backward. “I’ll do whatever you want and I won’t say a thing.”

As he bent over to grab her, she tried to kick him in the balls. He moved fast, taking the blow to his hip. One hand grabbed a fist full of her red hair, yanked her to her feet, and slammed her against the wall. While he held her in place with two hands, a third snaked under her shirt.

“Drekking right. You’ll never say another word.” He pulled a knife out of his pants with his fourth hand and started slicing her shirt open from the bottom up. The ship suddenly lurched at least thirty degrees off center. That was no space hiccup.

Bursts of light filled the bay through the starboard side windows as the ship shuddered. Outside, a battlecruiser fired at them.

“Looks like the captain drifted into coalition space,” the og’dal said. “They don’t like trespassers. All the better for me.” He set the knife against her throat.

Red light flooded the bay, distracting him, but not Nala. She’d been through emergency drills dozens of times. She wiggled a hand free and punched him in his broken nose. He roared in pain and dropped the knife. 

Nala jerked from his grip and ran to the maintenance ladders to escape.

“Abandon ship!” the captain roared over the intercom.

A crush of people poured down the ladder, knocking her off. She didn’t fall far as two sets of hands grabbed her by her shoulders and waist.

“Looks like we’re going to take a ride together after all,” the og’dal whispered in her ear as he dragged her back to an escape pod. He couldn’t risk killing her with so many people around. He shoved her into the pod. As he crouched to enter, she kicked outward with both legs, sending him flying into the crowd rushing for escape pods. 

Nala pulled the door shut, just as the og’dal reached it. She hit the master lock to keep him from opening the pod. His face twisted with anger as he pounded on the door. 

Then, with an unexpected calm, the og’dal opened the outside control panel and began tapping away. His smirk sent a chill through Nala as she wondered what he was doing. 

“Launching in 3… 2… 1…”

The force of the launch twisted her stomach in knots, but she was free of the og’dal. She’d never forget the look on his face through the porthole as her pod launched. Anger and vindication.

With shaking hands, Nala strapped into the harness, grateful it had been a smooth launch. When she looked out the porthole again, she spotted dozens of escape pods shooting by, heading to the nearest planet.

That’s when she realized her pod was heading in the opposite direction and she had no clue how to reprogram the nav panel.



Ronin elbowed Skaggs in his side and pointed to the zyanthan female with long shiny black hair that reached her ass and showed off shapely horns that curved back, but not too far to make her look submissive. “How about her?” Ronin asked as the transport tube whisked them from Goji Base toward Marpov station. “Nice deep shade of blue. And bright silver eyes.”

Skaggs let his eyes roam over the female, because Ronin expected it. Her skin was as deep a blue as his own, but he didn’t care about skin color. Never had. Nothing about her appealed to him. “Maybe tomorrow.”

“You may not see her tomorrow. Come on, Skaggs. You have less than four minutes to the next stop where she might exit. You can work your magic in two minutes. I’ve seen it. It’s been a long mission and you haven’t been yourself since we left Affinia. We’re home. Zyan. Where the females understand a warrior’s needs. Spend the night with her. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

As if she overheard their conversation, the woman glanced over her shoulder and her horns dipped back further, showing a willingness. Skaggs was tired of constantly chasing females and keeping up the façade of being a ladies’ man. He wished he could tell his teammates the truth, but he’d lose their trust and respect, leaving him with nothing.

“I’m tired,” Skaggs said. Lies took time, energy, and a certain willingness to betray those around him.

“Shall I call Vaakos?”

“Why the drekk do I need a cranky medic?”

“Because you’re sick. Nothing else explains why you’d walk away from a beautiful female. I used to think you chasing every female in sight was your way of looking for your sholani, but then I realized you don’t care about having a heartmate. You enjoy bedding females too much to want to be with only one.”

Skaggs rose and looked out the window at the scenery. If his teammates only knew what he did with all those women he supposedly bedded, they’d laugh him off The Relentless. He’d been living a lie, keeping secrets from his crew, males who risked their lives and depended on him. Some warrior... some Zyanthan... he was. He couldn’t even tell his crewmates the simple truth.

“Enjoy your week, my friend,” Ronin said as the transit tube glided into the station. “Maybe all you need is to sleep in your own bed for once.”

Skaggs dipped his horns slightly, showing respect to his friend and teammate. “I’ll see you next week.” He hopped off the tube three stops early to get away from Ronin before the pilot pushed him too much. Skaggs had a week to figure out what he was going to do. Then he’d report to The Relentless for duty.

One week to find a female to mate and claim. Forget his dream of finding his sholani. Time was too short to be picky, and he was desperate. He just needed a female. Any female.

As he walked through the transit station, he considered the fallout if he failed. His father would expose the truth and that would destroy him. If his mother had survived the war, she would have put an end to this, but Skaggs knew better than to wallow in the past. He had to deal with the present and his future, both of which his father would ruin if he didn’t meet his terms.

By the time Skaggs reached the fields which bordered his orchard, the night sky had darkened. He loved being on the plains alone, far from the city and the markets. Out here, where his home stood untouched by war, he could think and enjoy a few peaceful days before having to face the reality that in a week he’d no longer be a warrior. The council would strip him of his title and remove him from the crew of The Relentless.

Then would come the awful task of confronting his crewmates, telling them the truth. He hadn’t yet figured out what he’d say to the males who had saved his ass more times than he could remember. They deserved an explanation.

They deserved the truth.

Despite how it would hurt them.

“Horned Hounds Above, I’d do anything to keep from telling them. I’d mate any female who was willing,” Skaggs said out loud, talking to the gods, something he’d never done. He didn’t believe in the gods, but right now he was desperate enough to consider appealing to them, in case they actually existed.

The unmistakable sound of a vessel streaming by overhead caused Skaggs’s horns to straighten and his hand to reach for the blaster at his hip. To his relief, a grud battlecruiser hadn’t breached the atmosphere. Instead, a life pod streaked across the sky, losing altitude fast, heading toward the river.

Skaggs broke into a run. If the life pod crashed into the river and sank door-side down, the person inside would be trapped. Or drown if he opened the door partway and the pod flooded.

The sound of the pod crashing through trees spurred him to run faster. As he followed the path of downed, quirty trees, he found scorch marks in the ground. It hadn’t been a soft landing, but the pod remained intact thanks to its conical nose digging into the soil, stopping the vessel before it reached the water.

With the outer shell still smoking from entering the atmosphere, Skaggs typed standard commands in the outer control panel to open the vessel’s door. Nothing happened, but he wasn’t a damned engineer, trained to figure it out. He shot the panel. Amid the circuits sparking, the door popped open. It was a messy solution, but it always worked.

“Exit,” he ordered in Common and then Zyanthan. 

Nothing. But he heard breathing, so he knew someone was definitely inside, blatantly disregarding his command. Skaggs’s horns moved forward into a battle stance. This could be part of another grud strike team. Grud soldiers had entered Zyan undetected in the past.

“Last chance. Exit now or I will shoot,” he warned as he trained his blaster on the opening.


Dear Reader: Skaggs was previously published with the title Alien Tempted in the Claimed Among the Stars Anthology. Additional chapters have been added for reader enjoyment and are only available under the title of Skaggs.