“Female, get away from the ship!” a keenta with dark red skin and horns yelled at Ivy.
She scampered away from the ship, slipping into a shadow of the massive spaceship she had just escaped. Staying hidden, she acclimated to the strange alien world, a world with a purple sky and strange white trees sporting black-tipped branches that moved despite the lack of wind. Fear took hold of her and she hadn’t made it fifty feet from the ship yet.
They had landed for repairs on a world she didn’t even know the name of. At the port, she counted at least a dozen spaceships, all of different sizes and configurations. Each with a team of aliens scurrying around, making repairs or unloading and loading cargo.
Ivy drew a deep breath. She could do this. . . she could walk past everyone and flee the port before someone from her ship noticed she was missing. Perhaps it was for the best that none of the nearly two dozen women on board had escaped with her. Moving about would be easier without anyone slowing her down. Still, she wished someone had come with her. Then she wouldn’t feel so utterly alone.
She had asked, even begged, but the other women preferred the unknown of being married off to an alien rather than venturing out into the unknown. Unlike her, they had signed up to be mail order brides to aliens. Ivy couldn’t fault them given the conditions on Earth since the Grud invaded eleven years ago. Earth had survived four years of destruction by the Grud before the Coalition drove them off. Now the Coalition ruled and conditions on Earth continued to decline. Quite frankly, she didn’t see how the aliens those women were being sold off to were any better than the ones who had destroyed Earth’s military and much of the planet’s infrastructure. Or better than the Brotherhood, a group of humans who supported and helped the Coalition take over Earth.
Carson, Ivy’s brother, belonged to the wretched organization. He enjoyed the power and privilege that cozying up to the Coalition warlord gave him. It’s how she found herself on that spaceship. By selling off Ivy as a mail order bride, Carson proved that he’d sacrifice anything, do anything out of loyalty to the warlord.
An og’dal, an alien with four arms sneered at Ivy as he passed by her hiding spot. She couldn’t stay here long. With all the port workers moving around, someone would realize that she didn’t belong. The only women who left Earth did so as mail order brides. Cargo. That’s what she was. Nothing more than cattle to be sold off to the highest bidder.
To hell with Carson and whatever deal he’d made with that four-armed lecher Bu’Tay. She wasn’t going to let her brother or his Coalition buddies marry her off to anyone, least of all some horned alien.
Ivy held her head high and kept her back straight as she walked straight past the ships and into the city. The surface changed from smooth concrete to stone-lined, crooked streets that quite frankly smelled worse than a garbage dump. The structures, an odd mixture in size, shape, and color, had been laid out as if people threw the structures together without any sense of design or concern that they’d remain upright. She couldn’t even identify the construction material. A gray striated surface that looked like someone had infused wood with glass shards which sparkled in the sun provided the only bright spot on this otherwise dark and creepy world.
On Earth, the Coalition forces were made up mostly of banth, og’dal, and keenta. On this world, there were dozens of different species. Ivy struggled to keep her mouth shut and not look so stunned by some of the more unusual beings. They all had a few things in common, however. They were all humanoid, and most of them leered at her.
She shuddered as she kept walking, looking for someone to approach about a job. Despite how much this planet and its people made her shudder, taking her chances out here was still better than remaining aboard The Forgotten to be delivered to some alien husband and being forced into a life she had no say in.
A breeze chilled her. She rubbed her bare arms, wishing she’d taken her jacket when she’d headed to the bathroom aboard The Forgotten. The fresh air had pulled at her like a beacon, leading her to the unguarded plank. She couldn’t pass up the chance to escape.
The setting sun prompted her to pick up her pace. She needed to find shelter. And a job. Surviving on this planet couldn’t be much different from on Earth. She hoped.
She patted her back pocket for the knife she’d lifted from her brother when he’d shoved her aboard The Forgotten. That knife gave her some sense of security, except she’d never stabbed anyone before and she wasn’t sure she could. She lacked self-defense skills. . . all survival skills really, except stealing, rewiring security systems, and sneaking around. She’d only developed those because living with Carson left her no choice.
“Excuse me,” she said in Common at a clothing stand in an open-air market. “I need a job. Are you hiring?”
The male, a banth who reminded her of Warlord Ghazi on Earth, stepped out from behind his booth. His short sleeve tunic allowed her to see the translucent skin of his arms, neck, and face. Black blood coursed through his body, a sight she’d never gotten used to with Warlord Ghazi, but it was the way the vendor’s eyes lingered on her chest that sent chills through her.
He towered over her, making her question her choice of males to approach. But that was part of the problem here. . . She didn’t see any females.
“I have a job for you, female,” he said as his hand moved to his groin.
“Ah, never mind,” she said, backing away.
He grabbed for her, but she slid from his grasp and ran. She may not have liked her brother or trusted him, but she’d learned a few things from him over the years. The first of which was to trust her instincts.
Each street she ran down looked like the next, but she wanted to put as much distance as possible between her and that banth. Ivy shot through an empty alley. As she turned the corner onto a street, she slammed into something hard, like a wall. She fell back on her ass, slightly dazed.
A tall blue alien with horns the length of her forearm stood over her, blocking what remained of the setting sun. Every part of him was huge, from the bulging arm muscles to his thighs that were thicker than her waist. The massive alien reached for her.
“Get away!” Ivy shouted as she kicked with both feet.
“Drekk,” the male grunted as he took a hit to his chest. He quickly pinned her arms to the ground and straddled her.
“Leave me alone!” she yelled as she tried to bite his hand. He anticipated the move and quickly released her.
“Calm yourself, female. I only meant to help you up, but not at the price of getting my face smashed in by your feet.” He backed away as if to prove he was no threat.
Ivy darted to her feet, rubbing her palms on her jeans. She fisted her hands at her sides, prepared to punch him if he touched her again.
Dark blue eyes moved down her torso, almost seductively, causing her heart to speed up, but not in fear as it had with the banth. Nothing about this tall blue alien scared her, not even that insanely powerful body of his. The alien’s gaze returned to her face. That concerned look of his warmed her.
As her heart rate returned to normal, Ivy studied the alien a little closer. He was solidly built, like a brick wall. A blue brick wall. She’d never seen a blue male before.
“Fuck me,” she muttered to herself.
“Is that a request?” the male said, quirking a brow.
Her cheeks blazed, as did other areas lower. That expression, that playful, charming expression of his had no business on someone so gorgeous. It made him dangerous, perhaps more than the banth.
“Sorry, I was sort of cursing to myself.”
“Why?” he asked, with a slight pinching of his brows.
Because you’re a pretty shade of blue? No, that’s not the type of thing you tell a guy, especially one that looks like he could bend me into a pretzel if I piss him off any more than I already have.
“I might have overreacted. Did I kick you in the face?” she asked, noticing the male’s split lip. God, she could spend all day gazing into those gorgeous dark blue eyes that were slightly deeper than his skin.
He touched his bloody lip. “I had a slight disagreement with a vendor a few minutes ago. They’re thieves here.”
“Thieves?” She released a derisive laugh. “That’s a lot nicer than what I’d call them.”
“Let me guess. Someone propositioned you.”
“How did you know?”
“Karthika is not a place for a female to be wandering around unescorted.”
“I have an escort, but we got separated,” she said quickly, remembering she was alone. In an alley. With a well-built guy. Not that he creeped her out or anything, but still, she didn’t know the guy.
“Uh-huh,” he chuckled, his doubt clear.
He was all but calling her a liar, and she hated being called a liar. Granted, she was lying through her teeth, but that was another matter.
“I need to get going,” she said, edging away.
“Quinnov,” the male said, with a delicious grin spreading across his handsome face. His squared-off chin, thick dark hair, and the slightest bit of scruff made her lose her breath. And those horns. . .
God help her, she was turning into a hypocrite, but those horns were doing something to her. Long black horns stood straight above his head. The tip of his left horn was white and somewhat flattened, quite distinct. The second horn was fully black and ended in a sharp point, but both horns were thick and looked like built-in-handles for any woman lucky enough to ride this male.
Oh, God, she really needed to get laid. With those thick muscles all over him, it wasn’t hard to imagine what lay under those pants.
Yup, I’m horny. No question about it.
“Quinnov what?” she asked. “I’m unfamiliar with that word.”
“It’s my name, female. Warrior Quinnov Kaitel. From Zyan.”
“Oh, nice to meet you, Quinnov. I’m Ivy Hudson. From Earth.”
“I’ve never met an Earthling.”
“Human,” she corrected. “And I’ve never met a warrior. Or a Zyanian.”
“Zyanthan,” he said with a smile.
God, he was patient and sweet. And those muscles. . . they went on forever. His neck, his biceps, his chest. . . His thin black shirt allowed her to see the chiseled muscles beneath. Every inch of him intrigued her, even the intricate band of tattoos on his right bicep.
Her fingers itched to touch him. This attraction she felt was crazy. No one got turned on by the first alien they met. Okay, he wasn’t the first alien she’d ever met. Maybe it was because he was blue. She loved the color blue. She’d even put a blue streak in her hair, until Carson cut it out, threatening to shave her head if she did that again.
“May I touch your horns, Quinnov?” she asked, knowing it was ballsy and probably inappropriate, but the way those horns stood so tall and proud, like the male himself, intrigued her. She’d never touched an alien’s horn before. Never had the desire. But with Quinnov. . . he didn’t seem so alien to her.
“That depends, female. What do I get to touch in return?”
Ooh, she liked him. Just the right amount of playful and naughty. “What makes you think you get to touch anything?” she said, flirting with him all too easily. She should stop while she was ahead. She didn’t know this guy, and flirting with him could be dangerous.
Not the type she’d left behind on Earth, where every day she had to watch what she said and did around Carson and the men in his cadre. The wrong word could have meant death. In hindsight, she’d been rather lucky he’d sold her to that asshole Bu’Tay at the Shagwell Mail order Bride Agency. Crossing Carson got people killed, and being his sister didn’t give her a ‘get-out-of-an-execution free’ card.
“Since you asked so nicely, female,” Quinnov said, dipping his head so she could reach his horns.
While his horns fascinated her, her fingers sifted through his soft hair instead. Somehow, that seemed more intimate, like she could get to know him better. And that’s when she realized she wanted to get to know him better. But she couldn’t.
She withdrew her hand. “I think I better get going.”
“You didn’t touch my horns.” He sounded disappointed.
The sun had set, and she still had no job, no way of buying food, and no place to stay. She thought about asking Quinnov for help, but from the moment that og’dal had shoved her aboard The Forgotten, she’d sworn she’d never let herself depend on another man again.
“I think I better get going,” the female said, losing her beautiful smile.
He’d met human males before, but never a human female. She was exquisite. With such pale skin, hair the color of the sun’s rays, and crystal blue eyes, she could almost be mistaken for an eeshone on Zyan. Except she didn’t have a lack of coloring like eeshone. Her coloring was simply different from his own. A beautiful pink infused her skin, showing a depth of emotions.
Zyanthans could detect the changes in a being’s color, subtle shades that others could not see. They could often tell much about a person from the loss or gain of his color, such as whether he recently had sex or if he feared something. Or someone.
This female, she’d feared Quinnov at first, but then she stood up to him, ready to fight him, a trained warrior. For as intrigued as she was by his horns, he found her lack of horns equally fascinating. Many species didn’t have horns, and this female looked so amazingly soft everywhere, especially her breasts and lips. Zyanthan females were not as curvy, not as soft, not as tantalizing as this human.
“You didn’t touch my horns,” he said, hoping to keep her there a few moments longer while he figured out what to say or do to continue this conversation with her. He wanted to learn more about her, about the female who’d made him smile for the first time in months.
She showed no fear, no hesitation as she lifted her hand and sifted through his hair. Her touch felt amazing, especially as she neared his horns. His pleasure cock stirred. . . as did his mating cock.
He froze. His mating cock had stirred for this female. A mating cock only rose for a sholani, a heartmate. But she was not zyanthan. She could not be his sholani. And yet he couldn’t tear his eyes from her. She fascinated him. Not just her beauty—she was quite striking—but her honesty, her courage. . . her drive.
The need to touch her became too great. With the backs of two fingers, Quinnov stroked Ivy’s cheek.
“I shouldn’t have suggested it, Quinn,” she said as she stepped back. His hand dropped to his side. “Forgive me, please. I can be impulsive. Too curious,” she said, as if an apology, one she need not make. He’d given her permission and he enjoyed her honesty.
“My name is not Quinn,” he said, frowning. He wasn’t sure what to say at this point. She looked ready to run, and he couldn’t allow that. Especially not in this area of Karthika.
“It’s a nickname. A shortened version of your name.”
“Ah, yes. Family often give short names to those they are closest to. Though no one has ever called me Quinn.”
“What do they call you?”
“When they are not mad at me, Qui. Other times. . . I do not think what they call me is appropriate to share with a female. It is too vulgar.”
She laughed, her entire face relaxing as her smile reached her eyes. Oh, how that simple laugh and that sweet look on her face moved through him, stirring more than his cocks.
“You may continue to call me Quinn,” he added, proud that she’d given him a name like family would. It had been so long since anyone had called him anything other than his family name Kaitel.
“I didn’t know I needed permission,” she replied with a quirk to her mouth he found quite adorable.
“I suppose not.” The sound of males fighting nearby caused his horns to straighten. The area wasn’t safe, especially for a female. “I will accompany you until we find your escort.”
She backed away, her smile fading. “That’s okay. I’ve kept you long enough from. . . well, wherever you were going.”
Where he was going was to yet another seedy bar, looking for information about his cousin Torin, possibly his only relative still alive. The war on Zyan had ended when his people drove off the Grud, but confusion and destruction remained. Quinnov’s family as well as Torin’s had perished. Torin had been listed among the dead by the Zyan Defense Command, but recently Quinnov heard Torin’s name mentioned in several of the sketchier ports on Ayros and Celtus. Quinnov needed to find him, to confirm if Torin was indeed alive, and if he had any information on Quinnov’s missing brother. The last Quinnov had heard, Torin had headed to Karthika, though he couldn’t imagine why. The rumors that Torin had been criticizing Zyan, blaming their government for the war, did not make sense. Torin had been a loyal male, a respected warrior.
“My destination can wait.” A few minutes would not bring him any closer to Torin or whoever had been using his cousin’s name.
“But mine cannot. And you’ll slow me down, Quinn,” the female said, pulling her shiny blonde hair behind her and twisted it. The braid suited her, but he much preferred her hair down and soft, like the rest of her.
“I could not possibly slow you down, female. Your legs are shorter than mine.”
As before, her laughter reached her eyes. He wasn’t sure why she was laughing, but watching her face light up with joy pleased him.
“Are you stalling, Quinn? I get the impression you don’t wish to leave me.”
“This area is not safe, especially for a female. I wish to see you to your destination, Ivy. Please, don’t ask me to do less.”
“And if I did? Would you listen?”
“I. . . I’m not sure. It is my duty, my honor, as a warrior to protect those in danger.”
She stepped up to him, lifted herself up on her toes, and then pressed her lips to his as if she were trying to initiate mating, but he sensed she was doing no such thing.
Horned Hounds Above, she slid her tongue between his lips. Her tongue! Never had he heard of such a thing, but it stole his breath. That beautifully soft part of her traced his lips causing his cocks—both—to twitch. Drekking unreal, but so very pleasant.