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Author: ,
Series: Galactic Mating Season #2
Genre(s): ,
Released: May 22, 2016

Book Description

Love? That's for suckers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled my friend Jasmine found a hot guy who’s crazy about her but I’m not interested in that for myself. I’ve got other things to think about, such as how to pay rent.

Besides, life has taught me that trusting people only ends in heartache.

When Jasmine claims her new man is an alien…well, she’s lucky I don’t call the dudes in white coats. But I discover she’s not as crazy as I thought when another, even hotter alien snatches me away and rocks my world. Worst of all, my heart betrays my brain and actually starts falling for the guy…alien…whatever.

Now we just need to find our way out of this swamp he’s stranded us in without getting eaten by gators, snakes or panthers. 

Oh my.

A review from...

This is a rollicking, good time, laugh until you cry real tears book!! Everyone knows I'm not a big alien fan, but these guys have captured my fancy. Maybe it's their sweetness. Maybe it's their equipment! Maybe both!


Also in this series:

Read the First Three Chapters

CHAPTER 1
AKOTOLYN

“Akotolyn, have you found a suitable place to land Nyx on Jord’s surface?”

Diviak, the captain of Nyx and my commanding officer, looms larger than life from his command station. I’m still in shock that he handpicked me to be his navigator on this mission. Where the other crew are burly hulks, I’m leaner. Where their skin has matured to subtle shades of pink, mine glows with the brightness of youth.

Besides, Diviak is known for selecting only fellow warriors and, as our communications officer Entiran takes great joy in pointing out, I’m no warrior. In fact, I’ve never even been in a fight, much less a battle. But I am a good navigator.

The best, actually.

“Several, sir.”

I zoom in on the image of the planet Jord — Earth, the dominant species calls it — on our giant view screen, and tap my console to highlight several potential locations.

“All of these seem to have a low density of humans. These two—“ I zoom in on a large swath of verdant land “—are closest to the village where you found your amavar, sir.”

“I’m standing right here, Akotolyn. And I’d hardly call Tallahassee a village.”

Jasmine, Diviak’s amavar — his fated mate — perches herself on the arm of the captain’s custom sculpted chair. Diviak snakes an arm around her hips until his hand rests possessively on her round backside. My already-pink skin flushes darker, as it always does when she addresses me directly.

From the corner of my eye, I can see Entiran smirking in my direction, but I refuse to give him the satisfaction of looking at him. If I keep my eyes on the screen, no one will know that her mere presence on Nyx puts me on edge.

“My apologies. As I was saying, I believe either of these spots will provide adequate camouflage for hiding the ship.”

“Those are in the Apalachicola Forest, right outside town,” Jasmine says, her sultry feminine voice raking across my raw nerves like the claws of a sand beast. “They’re both designated wilderness areas. Basically, swamps filled with gators and giant, man-eating mosquitoes. Welcome to Florida!”

We all turn astonished eyes on her.

“The Interstellar Vade Mecum doesn’t say anything about insects that can eat an entire human,” Entiran finally spits out. The slight whiff of fear coming off him satisfies my petty need to avenge my admittedly meager honor.

Jasmine laughs and her pretty, if oddly colorless, face lights up. “I’m joking, guys. They’re just big and annoying. Besides, we’ll be beaming wherever we go, won’t we?”

“Beaming?” Diviak asks.

“You know, like on Star Trek? The watch-slash-transporter thingamajig on your wrist?”

“You mean our vityoks, my heartsong?”

“That’s it, my love. Whatever’s in the swamp won’t be a big deal because we’ll be using the vityoks.”

Their endearments cut deep into my psyche. Not because I begrudge Diviak finding his amavar, or that I dislike Jasmine in any way, but knowing I’ll never have my own amavar is as bitter as the medicine my mother used to force on me when I was a child. It also doesn’t help that the heat burning under my itchy skin means my kar chhlok, my mating fever, is quickly approaching.

It will be my first…and my last.

As the older Baiks on the crew have pounded into me, without the release of the Mot Ruom — a gathering to celebrate the mating season with wild and random couplings — we are doomed to go insane and tear each other apart. May the gods spare the life forms on Jord because none are sturdy enough to survive an encounter with a berserk Baik.

“Well, is one better than the other?” I snap. Now everyone’s looking at me. Even I’m surprised by my tone, but that does nothing to ease my irritation at having to watch Diviak’s hands slide all over his mate’s body.

“Akotolyn, are you feeling well?” First Mate Werizan eases up next to me, concern etched on his coral features. He lays a friendly hand on my shoulder but promptly snatches it away. I’m not certain why until I hear the low, rumbling growl coming from deep inside my chest.

Coughing to cover it up, I drag my gaze away from the captain and his amavar. “Yes. Thank you. I only was wondering if one was preferable to the other.”

Silence never felt so heavy, but Jasmine breaks it with a light tone. “Six of one, honestly. Raven took me hiking to Bradwell Bay once, but I think the other one is just as swampy.”

“Excellent!” Diviak shouts, jumping up and throwing Jasmine over his shoulder with a wicked grin. “Crew, prepare the ship to land. We’ll return soon.”

Jasmine swats his back and giggles. “Not too soon!”

My eyes follow every bounce and jiggle of her backside as the captain struts off the bridge, presumably taking her to his chambers to mate yet again. Jealousy simmers under the surface and it takes every ounce of strength I have to not bare my teeth in a snarl.

As soon as the door swirls closed, Entiran does it for me. “Does he have to be such a pahngar?”

“Go ahead, get it off your chest,” Werizan says with a sigh. Entiran takes a deep breath and launches into one of his classic rants.

“We’re all sitting up here hovering over this backward planet and wondering when — not if, but when — our kar chhloks are going to turn us into raving lunatics. We can’t go home for Mot Ruom until we find the princess or we’ll be put to death, and we have no idea where to start looking for her except ‘somewhere’ down there. Now he parades that pallid excuse for a female onto our bridge, groping her and gloating over the fact he’s found his amavar and is immune to the ravages of kar chhlok! Doesn’t he know how that makes the rest of us feel? Who does he think he is?”

Normally, I suffer in silence through Entiran’s rants, disgusted by his volatile temper but keeping my mouth shut for fear of retribution. This time, though, I very nearly speak up in agreement. That alone stops me cold. Something must be terribly wrong if I’m agreeing with Entiran.

“He’s your commanding officer, that’s who he thinks he is,” Werizan responds, his voice tense but firm. “Now, if you’re finished, please commence preparing Nyx to land on the surface.”

CHAPTER 2
RAVEN

I strut out of the mall like I’m Queen of the Universe. There’s nothing quite like telling your boss exactly which orifice she can shove that shitty job to send your mood into the stratosphere. Even strangers notice, like the random hottie passing by and giving me the once-over.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenty-three years, it’s that attractiveness is all about attitude. My heart breaks when I see a short and chubby girl like me dressed in drab rags. She doesn’t have to pour herself into the skin-tight bright clothes I prefer, or dye her hair platinum with hot pink streaks like me, but getting dolled up really boosts the confidence, which draws all the right kind of attention.

I wink at the hunky blond and put a little more wiggle into my jiggle.

“Want some fries with that shake?” he calls after me, walking backward so he can watch my sweet ass.

“I’d rather have a foot-long hot dog,” I call over my shoulder. I can’t help laughing when he moonwalks right into mall’s glass doors.

Hopping in my rattletrap of a car, I tear out of the parking lot feeling invincible. But the high of telling off my shitty manager rapidly fades as I drive home. Panic starts to twist my tummy into knots.

What the fuck have I done? How am I going to pay rent? How am I going to feed myself? Rather than give in to a potential freak-out, I call Stella, Jasmine’s roommate and my best friend.

“Hey, Miss Dashell, Queen of All That’s Awesome, what’s going on?” Her cheerful voice pours out of my phone’s speaker and buoys my crashing mood as I maneuver through traffic.

“Oh, not much. Although it’s possible that Jasmine and I rage-quit our jobs at Claire’s.” The long silence isn’t reassuring. “Fear not, friend. I have a plan.”

Until about fifteen minutes ago, my plan had been to hit a Halloween party, dance my ass off and have a good time. And until about five seconds ago, I figured I’d go home and cry my eyes out, but now a plan really is percolating in my brain. So, thanks, Universe, but I think I’ll go ahead and skip the tears and move directly to problem solving.

“Oh, thank God, Raven! Now tell me how you’re gonna make rent.” I love that Stella is such a matter-of-fact, no-bullshit kind of woman.

“The holiday season is upon us!”

“Girl, don’t remind me. I’m never going to finish anyone’s gifts in time. But how does that pay the bills?”

“You know Anne runs a couple of big gift fairs I’ve wanted to do. I bet she can fit me in, even though it’s so last minute. She’s been begging me to get a stall for years.”

Anne was my last foster mom and the only one who seemed to actually care about the kids under her care. Aside from Stella and Jasmine, she’s been my biggest cheerleader.

“Man, with your jewelry, you’ll clean up! What’s taken you so long to do them?”

“I hate to cash in favors,” I hedge. In reality, Anne’s offer feels vaguely like nepotism, and I hate the idea of getting special treatment. But this curvy girl has rent to pay so…

“Besides, I’m so beat after work, I usually conk out.”

Despite Jasmine’s teasing about how I’m out wilding all the time, the truth is, when I’m not working, I’m usually making jewelry. Sure, I like to blow off steam every now and again, but jewelry design is really my passion. One of these days, a bauble that originated in this crazy brain of mine will saunter down the red carpet.

“If I can make enough to stock my sadly neglected online store and run a booth for a few weekends, my savings should help get me through a lean January.”

“What happens after January and the holidays are once again a year away?”

I shrug, even though Stella can’t see it. “First, we get there, then we see what happens. Torrid is hiring, and if the fairs go well, I could always do the farmer’s market. There’s always something, if you have the hustle. And you know this bitch got hustle!”

“God, you’re not joking, are you? You guys really quit your jobs?” She tries to hide the skeptical, slightly worried tone, but I know her too well.

“Yup! You know what a monster our manager is. Excuse me...was. Long story short, Jasmine finally came out of her shell. It was freaking glorious to behold. I only wish I’d had the presence of mind to set my phone out and record it.”

Stella sighs and I can practically feel her shoulders droop. “I can’t believe both of you quit with no backup plan. I’ve been doing pretty well with the costume gig, so I can cover Jasmine’s rent for a month or two, but I’m worried about you, Raven. Let me know if you need a little cash until you get the money from selling your jewelry.”

“Stella, I love you and how generous you are.”

“But you’d rather that I stick my offer in my darkest of orifices?”

“It’s not that but…you know I’d rather live in my car than take charity. I like to make my own way.”

“I know, I know, but you’re my friend. It’s not charity, it’s paying it forward.”

My knuckles turn white from clenching the steering wheel as I pull up to my little studio apartment. I…can’t. Won’t. Whatever. I need to get off this call pronto.

“Well, you know I never let moss grow on me,” I say in a light, breezy tone. “I just got home and need to get ready for a red-hot Halloween party.”

“Fine, I’ll let you change the subject...this time. But I want a blow-by-blow about the party first thing tomorrow.”

“Got it! Bye.”

For once, I’m not coming home so tired I want to immediately pass out, although I do face plant on the bed with a sigh. I’m so happy to be done with that job, even though my immediate future promises to be even more exhausting than working retail during the holidays. A calendar of all the things I have to do fills my mind’s eye. No time to have a pity party. The work of my heart beckons. Plus, rent’s due tomorrow.

I allow myself a solitary moment of moping as I think of the long days ahead. But as I flip onto my back, excitement swells inside me. I can do this. I know it in my heart. Besides, what else is there to do but buckle down and try?

The bed creaks as my orange tabby, Bartholomeow, hops up next to me.

“Mreowr.” A cold, wet nose presses against mine. “Mreowr meow.” A single soft, white paw rests on my cheek and he huffs.

“All right, I get it. You wanna eat right meow.” He leaps off me and pads to the little kitchenette, waiting patiently until I put down his dinner.

Hunger should be rattling my cage by now since my manager totally murdered my dinner break and I haven’t eaten all day. For the first time in my life, stress isn’t sending me to comfort food. It is, however, sending me to a massive glass of wine. Greased by my beloved Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck and the giddy magic of freedom from a day job, I set out my tools on my kitchen table.

A vision forms in my head of a necklace. Specifically, a necklace for Jasmine. She was an absolute vision walking into the store in her new outfit, all the fire that I knew was buried deep inside her on display in full force.

Tanzanite would look so lovely on her, but that’s a big-ticket stone and so not in this jobless chick’s budget. Even the blue-green labradorite I pull out is pricey, but I snagged it as part of an epic eBay score. I’d been waiting for the massive focal bead to tell me what it wanted to be, and tonight it does.

It wants to be a gift for Jasmine. For helping me get my mojo back, and for shaking off her nasty energy leech of an ex, and for finding herself some massive slab of man meat.

“Barty, maybe Jas can find out if he has a brother. I could lose myself for a few days in a set of abs like those.” His rumbling purr as he settles in my lap tells me he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about hard, hot pink abs.

The night flies by until the pale petals of dawn streak through the window.

“Shit, Bartholomeow. Up all night and not a single piece to sell. Still, Jas had better freaking love this thing.”

The piece dangles in my fingers, the sun catching the iridescence in the stone and setting it ablaze. Yeah, she’ll freaking love it. I’ve seen how her hands linger over sparkly pieces. I have her number.

“Okay, my little meow-friend, we’re gonna to sleep the day away,” I say as I crawl into bed next to him. His gentle snore is the only reply. Then I, too, succumb to the soft embrace of the bed.

A terrible racket clangs in my ears, dragging me from the darkest depths of sleep. I crack open one grit-laden eye only to see Bartholomeow glaring back at me.

“What in the eighth level of hell...”

With a painful groan, I roll over and try to focus on the clock. Mid-afternoon. I need the noise to stop! Slapping my hands over my ears, I try to locate its source.

My phone. But it’s already fallen silent. With shaky hands, thanks to the bottle of wine I killed, I flip through my notifications.

“Well, well, well, Barty. My very former manager me sent quite the text begging me to come back to work.” It would be so easy to slip back into that rut but even thinking about it makes me want to puke. Happiness floods through me as I type my reply: No.

“You might have to start catching mice if you wanna stay fat, buddy.” The giggles grab hold of me for a solid five minutes before I finally listen to a voicemail from Jasmine.

“Hey Raven. Weird night. Really weird night. When your hangover passes, gimme a shout. Going to need a pretty big favor, but I think we can make it worth your while.”

Well, that sounds intriguing.

CHAPTER 3
AKOTOLYN

“Are we ready to land?”

Captain Diviak strides onto the bridge, a satisfied smile on his face and his previously hot pink skin now a cooler shade. Why shouldn’t he be happy? Unlike the rest of us, he isn’t facing insanity and death, now that he’s found his amavar.

My upper lip pulls back and quivers with rage, and a metallic taste coats my tongue. I rub at my mouth, ashamed by my reaction, and hope no one noticed. What’s wrong with me?

Diviak is a hero of mine and has been since I was a child. When he chose me for what is probably the most important mission in the history of Nova Baikonur, I couldn’t have been more honored. Even if we fail to rescue the princess from her kidnapper, and we’re put to death when we return home, there’s nowhere else in the universe I’d rather be than right here. I need to remember that. Perhaps our medical officer Kotzer can give me something to soothe my rage.

“Yes, sir,” I choke out through gritted teeth. “I’ve taken us through the debris field and am holding station one udvar above the target. Our cloaking shield will hide us from Jord’s sensors, though if they look too closely with the naked eye, they might detect a disruption. Regardless, there appears to be no human life forms currently in the vicinity of my proposed landing location, sir, so I suggest we waste no more time before beginning our approach.”

Silence falls across the bridge and the meaning of my own words sinks in. Horrified, I spin in my seat and meet Diviak’s narrowed gaze.

“Not that you were wasting…I didn’t mean to…I don’t know what I was…” My brain has been foggy for hours, making it difficult to find the right words. Finally, I dip my head and simply mutter, “I’m sorry, sir.”

“Sir,” Werizan chimes in, “I believe the approach of young Akotolyn’s first kar chhlok is, um, affecting him.”

Chhookh! My irritability, the foggy brain, the deeper shade of pink to my skin. It’s my first fever and it’s coming on fast. I suspected that’s what was happening but I thought I’d hidden it from the others. I guess not.

If the repercussions weren’t so grim, this would be a very exciting time. As it is, the black sea of hopelessness washes over me. The tension in the room shifts from wary to solemn.

“Right,” Diviak finally says, his gaze verging on pity. I spin back to my console so I don’t have to see it, but it still sets my teeth on edge.

“Good work, Akotolyn. We need to hurry anyway because my ama—“ he stops himself, for my benefit, no doubt. “Jasmine has set up a meeting with someone who might be able to help us in our search for the princess and that filthy pahngar Raftagan. Why don’t you set us down?”

Surprise whisks away any remaining irritability. “Me, sir? You usually prefer to land Nyx yourself.”

He laughs good-naturedly. “Suddenly I no longer feel the need to feed my own ego. You’re a natural helmsman, Akotolyn. I trust you. And if we make it in one piece, you can join us for the meeting. Entiran, you don’t mind letting Akotolyn take your place on the shore team, do you?”

“No, sir,” Entiran says coolly, but I can tell he’s seething inside.

“How does that sound to you, son?”

Other than his calling me ‘son’ when I’m not that much younger than him, it sounds wonderful. Junior officers are rarely allowed to join shore parties, so my excitement bubbles over when I reply. “Oh, yes, sir!”

Entiran casts a glare at me but I ignore him and focus all my attention on my nav screen. Other than a few random projectiles near the surface — airplanes, the Interstellar Vade Mecum calls the primitive form of transportation — the descent should be simple.

The landing, on the other hand…

I chose the spot primarily for its seclusion from the general human population, but also because it’s flat, relatively dry and has a treeless area a little larger than Nyx. I couldn’t care less about knocking down a tree or ten, but the booster that was damaged by space junk yesterday is still exposed. Until the ship’s engineer Chentan can fix it, I have to be very careful to not make it worse.

My fingers are a blur on my screen as I adjust thrusters and stabilizers until we’re perfectly aligned with the open space. Holding my breath, I slowly ease Nyx lower until the elevation monitor beeps that we’ve touched ground. Air whooshes out of me so loudly it sounds like a door opening.

“Locking stabilizers,” I say through a grin. Werizan slaps me hard on the back. Even Entiran gives me a grudging nod of approval.

I did it!

“Then let’s go check out our temporary home,” Diviak says. “Entiran, call Kotzer and Chentan to the loading bay.”

When everyone is gathered — including Jasmine, whose presence once more sets my nerves on edge — the captain addresses us all.

“As we’ve learned, humans are a genial species, but they’re still primitive. First contact has not yet been made, and we aren’t going to do it now. We have one mission: Find and bring back Princess Erusha. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get you back to Nova Baikonur for Mot Ruom. But first we need to scout the area to ensure the ship’s security. Kotzer, did you bring some krothnak banh?”

The ship’s medical officer steps forward and hands everyone a canister of the defense spray guaranteed to debilitate any attacker. Very useful when exploring unknown worlds…or so I understand. This being my first intergalactic mission, I’ve never had to use it.

Chentan opens the bay door, which lowers into a ramp. “Ooh, just like in the movies,” Jasmine breathes as Diviak ushers her down to the ground.

We all follow, taking in the scenery with awe. Other than this grassy patch, we’re surrounded by lush trees and vegetation. The heavy air even smells green as it coats my skin with moisture. The dense growth only allows for a few feet of visibility.

“What the hell…?”

Two human males, one as pale as the captain's amavar, the other dark as a ferrite asteroid, emerge from some undergrowth, their jaws slack and their eyes wide. Their clothing blends into the landscape, with the exception of bright orange pieces hanging from their torsos. Small hands grip long, black cylinders.

Chhookh,” Diviak hisses, shoving Jasmine behind him.

“Holy shit, aliens! It’s a fuckin’ abduction! Aw, hell no! Shoot ‘em!”

The air explodes with sound and shouts, and something whizzes past me. Then through me. Sharp pain blossoms in my leg and hot, purple rage pulses behind my eyes. I’ve never been in battle before, but I know in a heartbeat that I’m in one now. I’ve never felt more alive. I track one of the humans and I’m about to rush him when Werizan pushes past and shoots both in the face with the krothnak banh.

Almost as quickly as it started, the chaos ends as the males fall to the ground and writhe in what I hope is exquisite torment. I’m tempted to go rip out their throats, anyway, but Werizan gives me a piercing look that stops me cold.

“Akotolyn, you’re bleeding,” he says. Sure enough, three small rivulets of blood trickle down my leg and leave a purple pool to soak into the ground.

“Jeb, whatchoo put in tha’ flashk?”

The dark human lifts himself into a half-sitting position. I tense so I can spring into action but Kotzer lays his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t move.”

We all stand perfectly still as the males help each other to stand, swaying and stumbling in the opposite direction.

“Carl,” the pale one says, belching and hiccupping at the same time. “Remind me never to buy Pete’s ‘shine again. Fool’s gonna kill someone with that shit one o’ these days.”

We watch silently as they disappear from view, oblivious to our presence thanks to the influence of the spray. I’ve never seen it in action before and, while most of me is impressed, another part yearns to feel their flesh rend under my nails, to make them suffer.

“Wow, what’s in that stuff, Everclear?” Jasmine asks, gawking after the humans.

Kotzer shrugs. “Each species reacts differently to it. It’s meant to incapacitate, not to kill, although there have been a few isolated incidents…”

He trails off at the look of horror on her face. “I digress. Those humans will believe they imagined us. They won’t suffer any long-term consequences.”

Diviak approaches me, worry etched on his brow ridge. “Akotolyn, you’ve been injured.”

“I’m fine, sir.” And I am — it only stings a little when Kotzer runs a small version of his med-wand over it.

“I need to remove the metal pellets in his leg, sir.”

“Looks like you’ll have to stay behind to let Kotzer tend to you.”

“But, sir!”

Diviak clasps my shoulder and frowns. “I’m sorry, son. We can’t wait.”

And with that, he takes Jasmine’s hand and apparates to their meeting.

“No!” I shout into the thick, damp air. Frustration burns at the back of my throat. I needed to go with them. It’s irrational, and I can’t define it, but I know it deep inside.

“Come on, Akotolyn,” Kotzer says, trying to usher me back onto Nyx. I shrug off his hand and shoot a glare at him.

“He promised! He said if I landed the ship, I could go, too! It’s not fair!”

Over Kotzer’s shoulder, Entiran rolls his eyes at Chentan as they patrol the area to make sure other humans aren’t lurking. I can’t hear what he mutters under his breath, but his mocking tone is clear. Kotzer sighs and gives me a shove.

“Quit acting like a child and get to the med bay. You want to be treated like an officer, act like one.”

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