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Series: The Last Alphas of Thracos #2
Genre(s): , ,
Released: November 4, 2016

Book Description

She wants to do her job. He just wants her.

Ever since being taken in by the Wargs of the Valley, my sole focus has been on curing their fertility problem. I don’t care that everyone seems to think I should accept the bite that would transform me into a wolf-like shifter. I have more important things to think about.

Then I meet him — the dead-sexy new alpha of the Hill Wargs who can’t seem to get enough of my curves. Markon stirs something in me that I’ve never felt before, and that kind of distraction is the last thing I need. Unfortunately, it’s all I can think about.

And now he’s pressuring me to become a Warg, too. Something about finding out if I’m his fated mate. Nonsense! Fated mates don’t actually exist.

Do they?

Markon’s Fate is Book 2 in The Last Alphas of Thracos trilogy. 


Also in this series:

Read the First Three Chapters

Chapter 1
Natalie

“Who wants to hear the story of how Aunty Sienna, Aunty Natalie and I came here?”

Every tiny hand within the sound of Arlynn’s voice shot up. Sienna’s dark curls bobbed when she looked up from the wobble ring game she was playing with a group. She loved telling the story, and why shouldn’t she? It turned out pretty well for her.

The children at my finger-painting table jumped up and ran to Arlynn, abandoning the paints I’d painstakingly mixed up using berries, plants and bugs found in the forest. I couldn’t blame them, really. Kids didn’t respond well to my habit of being logical, but they loved her free-spirited ways.

That was partly why she suggested this children's’ fair in the first place. The kids had all loved her the minute we stepped foot in this village, even though we were all Terran. And when Sienna became the mate of the tribe’s alpha, the kids adored her, too.

Me, not so much. At best they tolerated my presence; at worst, they looked at me like I was an alien. Which I guess was pretty accurate, from their point of view.

Even though my tall, curvy frame more closely resembled female Wargs, my long, blonde hair and blue eyes were oddities among the tribe of wolf-like shifters. Of course, they accepted Arlynn’s red and purple-dyed hair without question, even though her dark brown roots were finally growing out.

The three of us sat side by side on a log as the children gathered around us, their glowing faces gazing up at us expectantly. They all knew the story, but they couldn’t wait to hear it again.

“There we were, being loaded on a Terran shuttle like livestock,” Arlynn started in a spooky voice. Immediately, little Blen raised his hand.

“What’s livestock?”

“Oh, that’s a word for the animals that we raise. Like cabras.”

The little ones ‘aahed’ and Arlynn continued.

“The people at the Training Center told us we were going on exciting, secret missions, but they lied.”

Big amber, brown, and forest-green eyes grew wide. “How did you find out?” asked Eileah, one of the few girls to be born in recent years. Sienna had saved her from choking on our first night in the village, an act that turned Warg opinion of us ‘alien interlopers’ from fear to gratitude.

Sienna leaned forward. “I overheard the guards talking. They said we were to become slaves!

Gasps all around. Of course, it would have been inappropriate to tell them the whole truth — that we’d been destined to become sex slaves to military camps.

“So when our guards least expected it, we overpowered them and Natalie landed the shuttle in Hill Warg territory.”

All eyes turned to me, waiting for me to take over.

“You flew a sky bird?” asked another little boy, Frink. “What was it like?”

I glanced at Arlynn and Sienna. They both nodded and smiled, as if interacting with children was the easiest thing in the world.

“Well, um, it’s, um…it was like…flying.”

They blinked at me, unimpressed.

“Did you know how?” Frink pressed.

“No, but I’d studied enough aerophysics and mechanical engineering at the Center to understand the basic principles. It was a simple matter of extrapolating the dynamics between the instrumentation of the aircraft and the physical properties of its exterior, then calculating the lift produced by the sub-boosters.”

Crickets.

Way to go, Nat. You bored little kids into muteness.

“What she means to say,” Arlynn said, “is that she didn’t know how to fly it at all but she did it anyway. It was scary!”

The kids ‘oohed’ this time.

“Then what happened?”

“Well, then we ran from the sky bird — we call it a ‘shuttle’ — and right into the clutches of a great, big grumpus!”

More gasps, and this time they actually looked frightened. Totally irrational. Since we were sitting in front of them telling this tale, basic logic dictated that everything turned out fine.

“That’s when the brave, strong alpha of the Valley Warg saved us!”

“Yay!” they all shouted.

Sienna picked up the story. “But I didn’t know Solan was a good Warg at the time, so I grabbed a stick and bonked him on the nose.”

I had to admit that little kid laughter was pretty contagious.

“Of course, you all remember our early days in the village, right? Thank goodness Wargs can boost their speech so aliens like us can understand them. Otherwise, Blen, you might not have been able to teach me how to play Catch-A-Mate with the wobble rings.”

Blen nodded vigorously. “And Solan caught your ring! That meant he was your fated mate.”

I couldn’t help snorting. Sienna shot me a dirty look and continued.

“That’s right. But we didn’t know that at the time, either.”

“Is that when the mean Hill tribe kidnapped you?” Frink asked.

Sienna paused. Solan was working hard to unite the Valley and Hill tribes. They’d split generations earlier and had been feuding ever since. The task of reversing generations of hatred was proving difficult, even with the wee ones. She chose her words carefully.

“It was all a misunderstanding,” she finally said. “But yes, that’s when we were taken to the Hill tribe’s village.”

The truth would curdle their blood. Even someone as clueless as I was regarding children knew the whole story would give them nightmares for weeks.

“And that’s where Solan gave me the bite that turned me into one of you!”

They all cheered.

“And I was also given the bite that changed me,” Arlynn interjected. She conveniently left out that the bite had been administered by the Hill tribe’s alpha against her will.

More cheering. Then they all looked at me.

“Why aren’t you a Warg, Aunty Nat?” Eileah asked.

I cleared my throat. “Well, I’m currently working with Jorek on a solution to the tribe’s unusual fertility problem. We’re making progress and I don’t want to risk breaking the streak. You see, as far as I can tell, when certain chemical compounds in a Warg’s saliva mix with Terran blood, a metamorphosis of the putative central neurotransmitters in the medulla oblongata occurs—“

“What she means,” Arlynn interrupted, “is that she’s trying to find a way for you all to have baby sisters very soon. She’s worried that the change might make her brain think differently.”

“But don’t you want to find your fated mate?” Eileah asked, her tone strangely worried.

I sighed, rolling my eyes. “I don’t believe in—“

Sienna jabbed an elbow in my side. The dark look she shot me practically growled, ‘Don’t you dare.’

“Let’s just say that finding a mate—“

“Your fated mate,” Blen corrected.

“Whatever. It’s not important for me.”

Eileah’s eyes grew wide. “Don’t you want a mate?”

“Of course she does,” Arlynn said quickly, smiling. “She just doesn’t know it yet.”

The children grinned up at me, like they were in on a secret joke. As much as I liked their change in attitude toward me, I didn’t approve of lying to kids. I’d been lied to my entire life, and I refused to continue the cycle.

“No, really. I’m far too busy to worry about men and mates and all of that nonsense. Once I solve the mystery of why female offspring are so rare, I’ll accept the bite and become a Warg. If I fall in love, fine. If not, no big deal.”

Sienna and Arlynn shared a glance that spoke volumes. As if they knew better than me what I wanted from my life. Ridiculous! I’d known that I wanted to be a respected scientist long before my pathetic excuses for parents abandoned me the Training Center. Love never entered into the plans for my future, and that went double for so-called ‘fated mates’.

“Do we believe her?” Arlynn asked the kids.

“NO!” They all doubled over in giggles, pointing tiny fingers at me.

“It’s true!” I objected, but no one could hear me over the laughter. “Really!”

Why wouldn’t they believe me? Arlynn might have been desperate to find a mate, but not me. I didn’t care one way or the other.

 

Really.

CHAPTER 2
Markon

“Markon, how can our tribe follow Thrane after his humiliation in battle?”

Thrane tensed next to me, and I didn’t need to look at him to know he was grinding his teeth. It sounded like he was chewing on bonknut shells.

The tribal council stared down at us from their perch on the platform in the village’s meeting hall. Normally, my brother enjoyed that honored spot because it enhanced his position of power as the Hill tribe’s alpha. As his second in command, I always stood one step behind him.

Now we were the ones being judged. Thankfully, it was a closed session.

“Wise council of the Hill Warg,” I said, keeping my voice calm and agreeable, “it cannot be denied that Solan breeched etiquette by allowing Thrane to live after defeating him in the Holmgang challenge he called. As the alpha of the Valley Warg, Solan knew better than anyone the consequences of such an action.”

“Bastard!” Thrane barked. I shot him a warning glance.

“Since the Great Split, it has been one of the few laws that both tribes agreed on,” said Nabor, the oldest of the bunch. “If you respect the warrior you have defeated in Holmgang, you honor him by taking his life.”

“Yes, I know, but—“

Nabor talked over me. “That means even Solan, a vicious Valley Warg, couldn’t see any worth in Thrane. Why should we?”

“Don’t you fools see?” Thrane snapped. “This is exactly what he wants. By disgracing me, he hopes to sow the seeds of discord in the Hill tribe. With me out of the way, the Valley scum can wipe us out. You’re idiots if you can’t see that!”

The council mumbled to each other, whispering and casting wary glances at Thrane. He wasn’t helping his cause and, if I didn’t do something, they might vote to cast him out, leaving me in a position I never expected or wanted. Though it was the right of the tribal council to oust an alpha, it had never been done in remembered time.

“Know what I think?” Thrane prowled back and forth in front of the platform, glaring up at the council. He dragged a grubby hand through his long, greasy black hair, giving me a view of the raw scar that ran around his ear — the ear Solan had almost ripped clean off my brother’s head. I’d told him to wash up before the meeting, but he ignored me, as usual.

After the battle with Solan’s tribe, Thrane wasn’t the same. He stopped taking care of himself, letting his normally perfect appearance become bedraggled, at best. He patrolled the perimeter of the village at all hours, only sleeping a few hours a night and rarely eating. He certainly didn’t govern, leading more and more tribe members to seek my counsel.

It took a few weeks, but the council eventually caught wind of it and called this session to give him a chance to defend himself. Now I had the alarming suspicion that Thrane was about to blow it to the next world and back.

“I think someone on the council has been leaking information to the Valley scum.”

Shocked gasps echoed around the hall.

Oh shit!

I grabbed his arm to silence him, but he yanked free and continued glaring at the men who would determine his fate. Our fates.

“What are you saying, Thrane?” Nabor demanded, his pale amber eyes growing fiery.

“I think I was quite clear, Nabor. But if the words I used were too big for your tiny brain to understand, let me put it another way. One of you is a spy.”

Roars of protest and fury rang through the building. One of the younger council members, Pimmit, even tried to lunge at Thrane. The others restrained him while I shoved Thrane backward and got in his face.

“What do you think you’re doing? You can’t accuse the council of spying.”

“Well, someone tipped off the Valley scum that we had his mate,” he seethed. “Besides, I can say whatever I want. I’m the alpha of this tribe, in case you’ve forgotten. Everyone else seems to have.”

Stubborn fool! This is why Thrane needed me as his second — to smooth things over when he inevitably insulted someone.

“Just stand there and keep your mouth shut, do you hear me? I’m not going to let you sabotage yourself and leave me stuck as the acting alpha.”

He glared at me but pressed his lips tight. Good boy.

I loved and respected Thrane, but it never failed to amaze me that we were brothers. Aside from the large, muscled physiques we inherited from our father, we looked nothing alike. Thrane was very proud of his thick, black hair and flaming orange eyes. He often ribbed me about my short, brown hair and eyes the color of sunlit leaves, claiming such a ‘pretty’ man could never make an effective alpha. As always, I would smile and play the peaceable diplomat to his volatile warrior.

Just as I was doing now.

Spinning around, purposely blocking the council’s view of my hotheaded brother, I held my hands up to get their attention.

“Or,” I shouted, waiting for them to quiet down. One by one, they all turned to me, waiting. I had a suspicion that they were looking for any excuse to keep him or they would have exiled him by now. But he certainly wasn’t making it easy.

“Or,” I continued, “Solan was right about the alien interlopers wanting to destroy us.”

I let that sink in for a moment. I could practically hear hearts starting to race.

“If he is, then it would be in our best interests to agree to his suggestion to unite our two tribes.”

The council sat stunned. Pimmet’s jaw dangled open as if he was trying to capture a bug, and Simwat coughed furiously. Nabor was the first to find his words.

“Markon, are you really suggesting that we unite with the Valley scum, our mortal enemies since the Great Split?”

I rolled back my shoulders and steeled myself. “I am.”

Shouts and growls erupted again, but quieter this time. They’d never heard such a preposterous suggestion, one voice said. I was a traitor to ask this of them, said another. It was a ploy by the Valley scum, they just knew it, added a third. I let them rant until it died down to a murmur.

“Council of the Hill Warg, you have served our tribe honorably and with great mindfulness. Solan’s tribe has been our enemy for so long that nobody alive remembers why.”

“It started back when our ancestors, Tooibas and Vanter, shared the role of alpha, but then fought over which of them would take the most beautiful female as his mate.“

“Yes, we all know the folklore, Simwat,” I interrupted. “But why are we Solan’s enemy? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Of course not. It’s always been that way and it always will be, right?”

A couple of the more dull-witted council members nodded eagerly. The others remained mute, watching me thoughtfully. They were willing to listen, which was more than I could say for Thrane. He snorted behind me. I could almost see him rolling his eyes.

“So, what if he was right? What if the Terrans have plans to attack us, as he claims? Remember, he has the three Terran females who might have inside information.”

Thrane huffed again. “We had two of them.”

I barreled over him. “If what he says is true, we can’t afford to have two enemies. We just don’t have the warriors to defend ourselves. But if we join forces…”

“The Terrans haven’t tried to attack us for two generations,” Pimmit argued. “Why would they do so now?”

I shrugged. “Maybe they want to expand their territory. Maybe they want to rape the resources of the forest. Maybe they simply want to eradicate us once and for all. The reasons don’t matter. What matters is that the threat is real. We must take action before it’s too late.”

“You believe Solan’s claim, Markon?” Nabor asked.

I was suddenly and keenly aware that all eyes were on me. This wasn’t my place. My place was supporting my brother, and that’s what I’d intended to do. But now they were actually listening to me. They wanted to know my opinion. Me!

Guilt washed over me that I’d somehow stolen Thrane’s spotlight, but a small, glowing part that lived deep down inside felt even more guilty for liking it.

“I do.”

Thrane shoved me aside. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! Are you all actually considering this?”

Nabor growled and let his beast come forth just enough to show Thrane that, even at his advanced age, he was no one to be trifled with. Thrane stood his ground but didn’t advance any farther.

“Your brother makes a good argument, Thrane. Only a fool would dismiss it out of hand.”

Thrane threw his hands in the air. “Then I’m a fool. And you fools can all die at the claws of the Valley scum, for all I care!”

He stormed out of the hall, slamming the heavy wooden door behind him. My heart sank. I didn’t want to lose my brother, but even more than that, I didn’t want to be alpha.

CHAPTER 3
Natalie

“Seriously, Jorek, you should have heard them go on and on about how, deep down, I really want a fated mate.”

I reached across the tiny table I shared with Jorek, my co-researcher and…friend, for lack of a better word. Sienna and Arlynn were sure that he and I were destined to be together, thanks to some freaky genetic quirk, but I wasn’t falling for it.

I liked him, that much I couldn’t deny, but I wasn’t in love with him or anything. Even when my arm brushed against his naked torso — Warg males were almost always half naked, much to Arlynn’s delight — neither of us flinched. But every time we got started discussing the tribe’s ‘drought’ of girl babies, we barely knew the world around us existed.

“They’re only whelps, Natalie,” he said, handing me the herb sample I was trying to grab. “They meant no offense.”

“I know, I know, it’s just so absurd.”

“What is?” He swiped a wild strand of hair that fell across his soft brown eyes when looked up from the prehistoric piece of equipment he called a microscope. I’d spent my entire life in labs and had never seen anything so primitive. Salvage from some ancient shipwreck, he said. It was the best they had here in the forest.

“Fated mates, of course. I get why children believe in it, but my intelligent, worldly sisters?”

“So you still don’t believe such a thing is possible? That perhaps it’s in our genetic makeup?”

I raised a skeptical eyebrow at Jorek as I prepped my own sample. “Oh, you’ve found the gene that causes this magic, have you? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

He shrugged and returned to the microscope. “Just because we can’t see it—“ he shot a glance at me “—yet, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Even if it doesn’t, it’s so ingrained in our culture that to deny it is to deny our primary paradigm.”

“Are you really telling me that my saying I don’t believe in fated mates makes you question your very existence?”

A smirk tilted his lips as he studied his slide. “No. I know what we are, and you will too, as soon as you accept the transformational bite.”

It was my turn to shrug.

“Honestly, it seems like cheating. I want someone to love me for who I am, not because some random gene or bacteria or virus tells them to. And at the rate we’re going at solving the riddle of why your people have trouble conceiving females, I’ll have plenty of time to fall in love several times before I become a Warg.”

“You’re really going to wait until we figure it out?”

“Absolutely. We’re on a roll, don’t you think, Jorek? I don’t want to mess up my brain chemistry when we’re so close.”

He pulled the slide from the microscope with a sigh. “We’re not as close as we thought. This isn’t it either. And you have the last sample.”

I slid the chipped glass slide under the lens, taking extra care because Jorek only had a few of them. As I rotated the focus dial on the device, green and yellow blobs came into sharp focus. Keeping my eyes on the blobs as best I could, I added a drop of our control substance — an extract of a grain called reet, which we were certain was one half of the equation — and held my breath.

Tiny tan dots swirled around the blobs, spinning and zipping like crazy. This was the most activity I’d seen with any sample of the flora found on the Valley side of the river. My heart raced as fast as the dots. Could this be the missing element we needed? If so, we’d just solved a generations-old mystery.

The dots slowed, then stopped, then turned black. The breath I’d been holding whooshed out of me in a curse.

“Shit!”

Jorek sighed. I leaned back in my chair and grabbed fistfuls of my hair. Blonde strands stuck to my sweaty fingers. So close! I thought as I wiped my hands clean.

“What now?” I asked.

“I have no idea. You know as much as I do, if not more, about the plants that grow in the Valley. Are there any we’ve missed?”

“None. We even tried quadrapede silk.”

I tugged at the diaphanous material Wargs used as clothing. We were fairly sure the second substance came from a plant, but I’d been getting desperate by the time I tested it.

We sat in silence for a moment, deep in thought. When I’d heard about their ‘drought’, I immediately offered my services as a trained scientist. Not only did I want to repay their kindness and generosity in taking us in when we so desperately needed it, but I lusted for an intellectual challenge like this.

Jorek had isolated the reet compound before I arrived in the village. Together, we theorized that the reet had to be mixed with some other plant to create a completely new compound that promoted gender-balanced reproduction. Yet none of the plants in the Valley performed as we’d hoped.

The silver thread of an idea wriggled around in my brain like a kronkworm, always slipping just out of reach. The thread grew thicker and brighter until it exploded in my brain like a supernova.

“Of course!” I shouted, jumping up. My chair flew across the lab — really just one of many small huts in the village — but I paid it no mind. I barely even registered the surprise on Jorek’s face.

“We’re idiots, Jorek! How could we not have seen this?”

“What?” He latched onto my excitement and jumped up, ready to be amazed. I was about to blow his mind.

“We’ve only been testing plants from the Valley.” I stared at him expectantly. Surely he’d get it. But he just stared back, waiting.

“So?”

“So we’ve been looking on the wrong side of the river. I guarantee you that the mystery plant only grows over there.”

A crease formed between his thick eyebrows. “Why?”

“Think about it. When did this drought start? Generations before yours, right?”

“Yes. I believe it was only a generation or two after the Great Split.”

“Exactly. Once Tooibas and Vanter had their little pissing match over a woman and the Great Tribe split, boundaries were drawn. Which means resources were split, too. The Valley Warg got the reet because it only grows in the fertile soil down here.”

Jorek’s eyes lit up. “So there must be plants that only grow on the hill.”

“Right!”

I started jumping around the little hut, dancing with joy. Jorek followed for a moment, and then stopped, clouds forming in his eyes. I stopped, breathless and grinning.

“What?”

“How will we find it? Thrane can’t be happy with us right now.”

He had a point. Solan had pretty much just kicked his ass across the galaxy. A search party for some random, unidentified plant probably would be seen as an act of aggression or something. But if only one person went…

“I’ll go,” I said. “His sentries will have a hard time spotting just one person. Besides, the tribe needs you more than me, so if anything goes wrong, you can continue our work.”

Jorek took a step closer, gazing at me with wonder. “You’re truly exceptional, Natalie. Is there anything you can’t do?”

A blush crept up my cheeks at his compliment. I wasn’t used to them. Back in the city, and especially at the Training Center, I’d been shown every day just how unimpressive I was. No one had ever given me respect, even my teachers — as was proven when they sold me off as a sex slave instead of sending me on a science-based mission, as promised.

“That settles it then,” I said, breaking eye contact and grabbing a few pieces of equipment I’d need in the field. “I’ll set out right away.”

“Set out where?” asked a smooth voice behind me. I spun around to find Chorn, Solan’s second-in-command leaning against the doorway. The stealthy warrior could sneak up on a ghost.

“Oh, I’m just going to pop across the river and collect some different samples. We’re so close, Chorn—“

“Excuse me?” he said, taking a step closer, a scowl rippling across his face. “Across the river? Into the Hill tribe’s territory?”

I felt like a student being reprimanded by a mean teacher. God knows I had plenty of those over the years.

“Yes?” I squeaked.

He barked out a scornful laugh. “A Terran female is simply going to walk through our forest and not get eaten by any number of deadly creatures. Then she’s going to somehow cross a raging river without drowning. And then—“ he laughed again “—and then she’s going to wander around Thrane’s lands and not a single Hill Warg will notice her presence. Oh, and then return in perfect health. Is that what you’re telling me?”

Perhaps I hadn’t thought it all through, but he didn’t need to be so rude about it. Rather than give him the satisfaction of telling him he was right, I squared my shoulders and sniffed at him.

“You have no idea what I’m capable of.” I glanced at Jorek. “Right, Jorek?”

We stood there, nose-to-nose and glaring at each other, waiting for Jorek’s reply. When he stayed silent, I looked over at him again. His hair hung in his face, his head dipped so I couldn’t catch his gaze.

Really?

When I turned back to Chorn, his expression had softened, but was no less firm. “I’m sorry, Natalie. Your intentions are noble, but you wouldn’t make it as far as the border.”

“But you don’t understand—“

“No, you don’t understand. You’re incapable of protecting yourself here. Whatever is so important will just have to wait until Solan unites the tribes.”

He spun around on his heel and left me standing there, red-faced and fuming.

“Natalie, I’m s—“

I didn’t wait for Jorek to finish before stomping out of the lab.