Bonded

About Earth 4040

Earth 4040. One of many colonies named for the home world for humans, it is now a prison colony for most of the sector’s galactic scum.

Pirates. Mercenaries. Killers.

One day, the prisoners broke free from their masters and destroyed the compound that had kept them caged. Any attempts to suppress them were met with fierce and violent retribution.

The Intergalactic Republic deemed the colony a no-man’s land, convinced that the prisoners would destroy themselves. Except, they didn’t.

They thrived, which was the best rebellion of all.

Now, Earth 4040’s existence was all but unknown, and the residents sought to keep it that way. They had the best natural resources in the entire galaxy. They had everything they could ever need. 

Except females.

So, when a cargo hold of females was trapped floating in Earth 4040’s orbit, old instincts flared within the ex-prisoners once more. Alliances shifted and boundary lines were drawn as they answered the primal call burning in their veins: to mate.

Finding this unexpected treasure was one thing…keeping it would be a hell of a lot harder.

And there was only one rule among alphas: to the victor go the spoils.


 

About Bonded

Talk about a bad day: This morning, I was told that I have a terminal illness, and a few hours later, I was arrested for treason. Now I’m on my way to a super max prison. 

En route, the transport gets hijacked by pirates and comes under heavy fire. Before I can process that, I’m abducted onto a living ship in search of its missing pilot.

Surrounded by mercenaries and killers, I face a surprising offer: become the ship’s soul, and I’ll be cured. The catch? I need to bond myself with the other two pilots—the ship’s mind and heart—who are convinced that I’m their mate.

I have to make my decision fast: the pirates will be back any minute to reclaim their missing bounty, and unless I decide to accept the offer and join up with a pair of criminals, we’re dead in the water. Of course, without the power of the bioship to heal me, I’m as good as dead anyway. So, what’s a doomed Earth girl to do?


Bonded is a stand-alone sci-fi romance that is full of love and hope even during the bleakest of times. It is the first book in the EARTH 4040 series, coming soon. You will find protective alpha males, strong-willed females, instalove, and happily-ever-afters.

 

Chapter 1
Priya

The ship lurched, the bolts in the metal seams shuddering from some outside force. With the right pressure, I might be able to get this cage unbolted from its tether.

"I think these fuckers are under attack."

"Good. Serves them right."

"Dude, how? If they go down, we go down."

“I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.”

The three girls penned together continued to bicker. It was I who noticed first that the ship was silent once more. The ship’s crew must have fixed something with the ship, unfortunately.

Sometimes I prayed that someone would stupidly lean against a self-destruct button.

Finally, the other girls realized that they were being louder than the ship’s internal hums, and lowerd their voices to barely a whisper. No one wanted to attract any attention from the guards.

I was alone in my own pen as it was smaller. There were a few girls in the cryopods. They must be going a long way if they were supposed to be in hyper sleep.

I preferred the pens to the pods, though it wasn't much of what I would call accommodations. At least this way, I didn't have to worry about what our “escorts” would do to me while I was unconscious. 

Since I was closest to the cryopods, I knew what happened to the cargo when the guy in charge was off shift. Three of the guards would take turns being on watch while the other violated one of the sleeping girls. They were unconscious and so were quiet and created less fuss.

Not that noise ever bothered them. The guys had no problems punishing the unruly prisoners, either, though it was only when the head guard sanctioned it.

I always curled into a ball, pretending I knew nothing and heard nothing. Tiny and small and insignificant. Some of the guards have tried to get a rise out of me. Poke me in the back with whatever could reach me. Thankfully, I never rated much more than a few leering whispers.

I might not understand alien language, but certain things—like oppression and harrassment—were universal. I should know. I ran a blog that criticized the government's inaction against protecting refugees. My peers thought it was foolish of me to be so vocal while at the same time encouraging me to do more.

I went in for a routine medical check-up a few days ago, and then in the middle of the night, a tactical squad raided my home, yelling about warrants.

Somehow, I was labeled a terrorist with a list of crimes I could barely fathom, including treason and being flagged as an enemy of the state. Even though I had been careful, masking my identity and servers under multiple aliases, I was still targeted and found. Someone had wanted to shut me up, and this was the most convenient way to do it. 

After all, who would care enough to investigate one irrelevant human’s disappearance from a colony? One the central planets, it would be more difficult. The Legion’s influence in the Intergalactic Republic allowed for that.

But, in the outer rim of the galaxy, order and civility were flexible, especially when money changed hands.

I might have chalked all of this up to really horrible luck, except the other girl in her own pen—Ryne—had a very similar story to my own. From the little she shared, she had been an office drone and was now on her way to a triple max prison on one of Jupiter's satellites. Triple. Max.

Only the most depraved and vile offenders went to one of those.

It sounded to me that she was somehow bamboozled here, too. After all, there were too many stories that didn’t make sense, where the punishment didn’t fit the crime, if there was even a crime in the first place.

The big question that keeps pounding in my head is, why? Why us? Why here? Why now?

One thing was clear: There were too many of these aliens, and not enough of us. Though given the size differential, it wasn’t like we could put up much of a fight even if we were able to somehow get free of our cages.

At this point, death was preferable to any alternative.

I didn’t want to know any of the other girls, but it helped to keep me sane after a while. Ryne was my quick favorite, equal parts sassy and sweet. There was a quiet girl, Zahra. She had a gentle nature, with large, liquid eyes that observed everything, but something told me that she had a spine of steel.

I didn’t know any of the others; Ryne and Zahra were just the two nearest me. We shared a little of how we were here, but not too loudly. Whenever anyone got a little chatty, a little too comfortable, that was when they would come for us.

I was careful. Very careful. I only shared my first name, and after, barely said a word.

So when the alien creeps came in with a little more swagger to their long-legged stride, I knew they were coming for one of us. Specifically, they were coming for me. I could tell by the way their beady little eyes focused on me, gesturing toward me with those reptilian-looking hands.

A million tiny memories floated in my head. None of them told me what I’d done to deserve any of this.

A flash of movement caught my eye, and the look on Ryne’s face was near-feral. I couldn’t let her get involved. If she moved against them now—if she made any noise at all—that would be enough of an excuse for them to take her, too.

I would not let that be on my conscience.

“Look away,” I said. “Stay quiet. Stay small. Or they’ll come for you next.”

I thought I would at least get some digs in. But in the end, they didn’t even have to drag me out.  Instead, the lead guard pointed a remote-control device at me that restrained all my movements by some invisible force.

Damned tech, ruining my plans to go out in a blaze of glory. I wanted to at least be able to get a swipe in before they broke me. These creeps didn’t even break a sweat.

I was placed inside a pod in the medical bay. Immediately my hands were bound and pulled above my head, tight enough to strain my shoulders. No sooner had I thought to fight against it, my ankles were similarly bound. A pneumatic needle pressed against my neck. One of them petted my hair, and I contemplated shaving it off. 

It was the casual touching that nearly broke me, as if they had any right to my body. They spoke as they did. I couldn’t understand them, but I knew it was about me. Guard One said something that was funny, and Guard Two answered by squeezing my nipple. I bit down on my lip, muffling the sound of my pain. They laughed at my reaction, which goaded Guard Two even more. He was the one who always poked me in the back in the middle of many nights, hoping to get a rise out of me like he had done to many other girls.

Here I was under his mercy, now. He cupped my sex, and there was nothing I could do about it but endure. He pinched the lips together, cruelly rubbing between them, and then shoving his fingers inside of me.

I couldn’t even push my legs together. Tears streamed my face as I endured this torment, unable to even squirm or fight stretched out as much as I was. They laughed in that hollow metallic way that their language sounded.

Though they weren’t human, they were still made like the average male, with an unfortunate cock that sought to be someplace it didn’t belong. Me.

Something rocketed against the ship. Tremors ran through the metal. Guard Two still held me down without any effort. Meanwhile I fought with all my strength against his hold.

Some other alien race I’d never seen before dashed into the room. I couldn’t understand their words, but their high-pitched tones sounded urgent to me. With a growl, Guard Two backhanded me. While I was dazed, he moved away, pressed a button and the entire pod covered me. I was fighting the dizzy spell, when a great shuddering rumble shook me, and then I felt a giant tug, and then I was surrounded by an explosion of stars.

 

Chapter 2
Ruzan

“The ship is screaming again.”

“I hear that,” Vryek said in his clipped tones. “What does the ship want now?”

I didn’t like the way he referred to the ship as if it was a troublesome thing. After all, we did hijack its internal processors and forced it to bond with us after we got rid of its original crew. The damned Republic thought that it could take over anything, including living ships.

Rakoths had a history of traveling the stars with cephela, the race of living bioships roaming this quadrant of the galaxy. Even then, we never forced a bond with one. We helped to pilot them as their heart, mind, and soul because we were chosen, not because we forced a bond with one.

Though it had been grateful to be free from its imprisonment, the bond between a cephela and its chosen pilot still took time to form. This poor ship had been mistreated, so its nerve clusters needed to heal first before any bonding could take place.

“It says there’s something off the port side, but I don’t see anything.” The ship had been in a funk recently, and I could only hope that it would get over its emotions quickly. As the ship’s heart, it was hard for me to filter out which feelings were the ship’s and which were mine.

I hailed the captain since Vryek was more in the mood to be annoyed than be helpful. Ithran usually had a better head on his shoulders for matters such as this one. It wouldn’t surprise me if he actually had a spare head.

A deep grumbling in my comm preceded Ithran’s response. “Yes?”

“Captain. Permission to take a prowler to scope outside. The ship screams for something.”

“Is that why we have stopped moving?” The stoic Dirsigian said in his trademark dead calm. 

“You felt that, huh?”

“It’s hard not to notice that we are floating aimlessly.”

The Dirsigian warrior was older and had more control over his emotions. A good thing because I didn’t want to have to face off to him. 

In a ship of alpha males, who were once prisoners from Earth 4040 penal colony, it was too easy to be offended and fight for dominance.

At least with Ithran in charge, it was easy to fall in line. His entire race was bred for war, with spare body parts for just that contingency. When he took the mantle of leadership, no one fought him for it.

“Permission granted. Watch your neck out there.”

I made quick work of prepping my suit then readying the prowler. With a soft word to the ship, the docking bay door opened. Maybe there was hope that it would eventually accept its new pilots.

There were a few cast offs floating in space. A bunch of debris, nothing worth salvaging. And yet, the ship was still upset. I had the feeling of both annoyance and urgency, and it made the ridges at my neck itch. 

That was always the sign for trouble. 

“There’s nothing but scrap out here. Maybe they are irritating the ship somehow?” I target the tractor beams and moved the debris I could from around the ship. 

Behind a cluster of dented paneling, there was something that looked like a pod. “I see something.”

My skin prickled, a sensation that came from the ship.

“The ship’s sensors are lighting up,” Vryek said over comms. “That must be what it wanted us to find.”

I moved the panels away. That pod was so small. I centered my beam onto it and pulled, tugging it with me back to the ship. I couldn’t move fast enough for the ship’s liking.

I felt the urgency, too.

As if that wasn’t enough, Vryek added his own commentary. “Ruzan, you must hurry.”

Now he decided for urgency. “Oh? I figured it would be a great time to take a stroll around the moon.”

“Dammit, there’s someone alive in there.”

I swallowed a growl. “Don’t act like I was dawdling. It was my idea to come out here in the first place.” Even though I was speeding my way back, I coaxed the thrusters for a little bit more.

It was a medical pod, usually designed to be part of a medical bay. It wasn’t designed to be jettisoned into space, let alone sustain a life form in it.

Where had it come from?

First thing’s first. I had to concentrate on getting back to the ship’s docking bay. I landed the prowler with barely a skip this time. I was getting better at this piloting thing. “I’m in.” I slapped the release button, and was out of the cockpit before the straps retracted fully.

Ithran came in personally to inspect the new intake. The red stripe that ran down the middle of his head resembled hair, but I knew it to function more like scales. They changed colors to reflect his mood, and now it was a vibrant red of warning. “Let’s see what the Rakoth dragged in.”

I pounded a fist over my heart in an automatic response. We untethered the attachments, and the pod was damaged enough that the release was jammed. “Nothing’s ever easy.”

“Nope,” I agreed. The fact that the pod didn’t yield to either of us was impressive.

Between a small army of jacks, piping for leverage, and the prowler’s tractor beam, we were able to pry it apart.

What was inside was the most beautiful creature I’d ever laid eyes on. The female had a glorious mane of thick black hair that served as her only covering. She had golden-bronze skin, the exact coloring of the cuffs at my wrists and the jeweled tips on my horns. Every bit of her was beautiful and elegant, even the way the fine hairs curled from her eyelids. They fanned over her cheekbones. How was she ever able to open her eyes under such adornment?

My heart nearly burst from my chest at the sight of her. Something tugged at my gut when I looked upon her. I knew Vryek would feel the same when he arrived.

“Vryek. We need you. Bring medical.”

For once, he didn’t argue or complain. He had felt a little of what I had felt, being bonded as we were to the ship.

My counterpart arrived in moments with the whirl of the ship’s medical units behind him. He was of a slimmer build, being part of Rakothian priest class, whereas I was from the warrior clans. But his muscles were corded and strong all the same, and he tensed upon nearing the broken pod.

 He met my gaze and we both knew who we were looking at.

I didn’t know her name or where she had come from. But she was our missing soul. I knew that as a hardwired truth, the same as I knew my name, my ancestors, my weapons. It was a fact as obvious as standing on this ship.

Ithran wasn’t blind. He was the captain of this ship, and beyond that, an able commander. He looked between us and the female and back at us. “What am I looking at? Who am I looking at? Talk to me you two.”

“Captain,” Vryek said without tearing his eyes away from the female who was now our entire world. “Your ship’s pilot is finally complete. She is our soul.”

Ithran’s rumbling growl was pensive, the rows of plaits on his head a more subdued red. “Where did she come from? That medical pod had to come from somewhere.”

“The mystery will be solved eventually. First, we must make sure she is healthy, inside of an actual medical bay.”

Vryek rushed in to scoop the body from the nestle of wires and ship debris. Her wrists and legs were bound. It was nothing to reach in and pull her restraints from the mangle of metal. The cuffs fell away. Vryek would probably note their significance. For me, I was happy that she didn’t sustain any obvious damage. There could have been any number of things that could have burst through the shielding and harmed her.

Thank the ancestors that it hadn’t come to that.

“Captain will you be able to act as pilot until—“

“Go, it’s not as if I hadn’t piloted this ship before. The jacks will help me, too. I’ll set the crew to start taking this pod apart and see if there are any clues that might tell us where this originated.”

“Would the Intergalactic Republic come snooping around? It doesn’t seem to be their make.” Not that it mattered. They seemed to stick their noses into other people’s business all the same.

“No but they still might have something to do with it. Not that I’m tempted to ask. No sense borrowing trouble. I’ll comm down to the colony and see if there’s been any chatter on their end about something. Meanwhile, take care of your soul.”

 

Chapter 3 
Vryek

The female in my arms was my entire world. I knew it better than I knew my own name.

“What if we lose her?” Ruzan worried out loud. The heat of his emotions prickled against my skin.

I combatted the onslaught of his thoughts with cool logic. He was aptly chosen as the ship’s heart, but now was not the time to be ruled by such chaotic feelings. “We won’t lose her. Open bay doors.” I commanded the ship.

The doors opened without a stutter of hesitation. Even the ship knew it needed to do better to get what it needed. The little insurrections over the past few months needed to stop. 

The medical bay had several healing pods to choose from. I went to the largest one, and placed my newfound soul gently on her back. Brushing her hair from her face, she seemed untroubled. I needed to get a read on her just to be sure.

Ruzan shifted nervously from foot to foot as he studied our soul. I nodded toward her feet. “Help me lay her out straight so the pod can get a proper read.” With a task he would be less anxious and I would be able to concentrate.

Tapping a few commands on the pod’s console, cuffs appeared and I placed her wrists inside the ones above her head while Ruzan placed ones around her ankles. The cuffs would take a moment to adjust to her more delicate sizing, but when they did, they would be able to administer any necessary medicines.

I wondered if that was why she was cuffed inside that pod. Had she been receiving some sort of treatment when the ship she was on was attacked?

It was extremely lucky timing if it had. I brushed her 

Cuffs went on her, and her eyes flew open. They were the most majestic shade of purple ringed in brown. My breath caught to look at them.

And then she went wild, screaming. I was afraid that she would hurt herself, and so I tightened the restraints, and she kept screaming. 

“Ruzan, the sedatives are taking too longs. We need to calm her, now!”

Where was the tranq?

“Hold her down while I find it. She’ll hurt herself if she keeps doing this.”

I rushed to find it as Ruzan moved toward her. “I have a better idea.” I heard him mutter.

I didn’t have time to listen to his fanciful notions. He always had some scheme or other.

When I finally wrestled one of the tranqs out of its case, Ruzan had stripped down to skin, and hopped into the pod. 

“What are you doing?”

“Soothing her.” He hummed, the notes of the song pitched so that it made his chest vibrate and purr.

She calmed. More so, she seemed to melt into him.

“The harmonics in our singing calms our younglings. I figured, why not try?”

Seeing them together in bed shocked me, and then wondered, why didn’t I think of that?

I set the tranq down on the medical side table, and picked up the tablet to resume my screening. “Calms the younglings while also unlocking recognition in our mates?”

Ruzan didn’t even try to look embarrassed. “It was a safe enough bet to wager.” 

“Dangerous bet, you mean. If she hadn’t been compatible for a mate, what then?”

“That didn’t happen, so it’s a moot point.”

“But it could have happened. You are too reckless by far, Ruzan.” I knew I was overstepping my bounds, and I was subordinate to him, but dammit. He could risk his life all he wanted but he didn’t have the right to risk my soul, too.

“The ship recognized her. You recognized her, though you’re too stubborn to admit it. It wasn’t that big of a leap. And once you stop being scared, you would have been the first to thank me.”

I prodded and poked at the controls governing the pod. I didn’t like that he was right. And for the first time, I didn’t like that we were linked via the ship. Even now, I could feel a shadow of emotions that weren’t mine tugging at me to understand. To forgive. To shut the fuck up.

I hated even more that I agreed with him. 

“I was scared. I don’t like being scared.” And then in an even smaller voice, I added. “I can’t lose her.”

“You won’t lose her. I won’t let it happen.” He spread his hand against her soft stomach, pressing her against his body. He was hard and ready to prove his claim, but he would never do anything so crass as to initiate bonding without her knowledge.

Ruzan had the first claim as the heart of the ship, but I would have equal claim to her afterward. She would then bind us together, and we would be the perfect pilot for the ship. Heart, mind, and soul.

For once, the ship agreed with me wholeheartedly.

“This might startle her, so get ready for her reaction. Injecting the nanotech in three…two…one…injecting.”

“How long will it take to work, do you think?”

Her body heaved, back arching so far that I was afraid she would hurt herself. Her eyes opened again, and rolled backward. 

“Hold her down! She will injure herself.”

The command was unnecessary as Ruzan had already clamped his powerful arm around her middle. He wrapped a gentle hand around her throat, keeping her head tucked beneath his chin. Her legs were captured between his. She was as immobilized as a creature could be.

I furiously tapped on the console, trying to calibrate the injections in her body. Ruzan’s gaze urged me on. Through the ship, I could feel his fervent belief that I could figure out what was wrong with our soul and fix her.

“Hold on, hold on.”

“I’m never letting go.”

The female shuddered, her breaths coming in rapid gulps. After another full-body spasm, she was finally still. 

“By the ancestors, is she—?”

“She’s alive. Sedated, but alive.” A steady beeping on my tablet confirmed my words, and Ruzan sighed in relief.

The warrior brushed his lips against her temple. He hummed some more, purring the calming harmonics against her.

“Her brain scans—all her scans—read normal, blessed be.”

“Now what?” 

“Now, we wait.” I calibrated the controls and monitors; I had to be grateful that human physiology was readily available on the ship’s records. After a few more minutes, I had her medical profile complete, and a range of biometrics for compliance. With all that, the nanotech would be able to do their work in her body.

It took a bit of convincing and a lot of lullabies later until I was able to coax Ruzan away from the female. Our soul. My soul. Even as I closed the healing pod, he wrung his hands like a new mother.

“What if she needs us?”

“Then we will be here for her. For now, she needs the healing more than our presence. There’s nothing more we can do for her. And,” I added since Ruzan looked about to speak up, “our presence might even be a distraction and take away from the healing efforts.”

The last admonishment cut through his wall of emotions, and he was finally able to listen to reason.

Ruzan nodded, a heavy furrow creasing his brow. “The faster her healing, the faster she can wake.” 

“Exactly,” I said. I steered him away, handing him his clothes so he could dress. He took them and dressed automatically, for which I was glad. I didn’t want to force his clothes on him. “Come, we need to update the captain, anyway, and connect with the ship. Not to mention, we left a whole host of work for the others, without much of an explanation.”

Even though I pushed the bigger man out of the medical, I was the one who looked back at the softly glowing healing pod. Then I did something that I hadn’t done in years, not since I was in the black depths of that prison colony.

I prayed.

Chapter 1

I leaned against the pillar behind me as I scanned the room, filled with women in elegant dresses and men in black tie. I grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing attendant and raised it to my lips while searching for my mark. Couples danced to the intricate music, the floor awash with a fanciful hologram of star bursts and twinkling lights.

The gala was alive with chatter. Bright walls glittered under the giant golden chandeliers adorned in diamonds. Ladies laughed as they gossiped amongst friends, and men, eyeing women as they sauntered by, licked their lips hungrily.

It was all a drawn-out mating ritual dressed up in expensive gowns and custom-tailored suits.

A man strode toward me. Dark hair. Brown eyes. Freckled skin and a slightly wrinkled tuxedo jacket. A beta. He bowed low and offered me his hand.

“Can I have this dance?” His voice trembled as he eyed me nervously, waiting for a reaction.

I smiled as sweetly as I could and declined with a swift shake of my head. The beta’s smile dimmed and he bowed politely as he took his leave.

I twirled the champagne flute between my fingers as I mingled in the crowd.

“Are you sure you ought to be drinking?” Latham’s cold voice could freeze the comm device in my ear. “What if the contents were poisoned?”

“First rule in the field: blend in. I’m blending in, Control. Second, I’m blending in so well that not even you realized that I haven’t been actually drinking, but merely pretending to.”

The grunt in my ear was the only sign of approval that I would get from Latham Newhelm. “Enough playing. Find your mark, Nova.” He demanded the best from his operatives; as I was his favorite, that meant he demanded even more from me.

I upended my flute and poured the liquid out into a convenient planter.

Obedience was immediate, or it wasn’t obedience.

I slowly walked around the dance floor, eyeing the alpha males who raked me over with their gazes. I was undressed and eye-fucked a hundred different ways in the length of time it took me to stroll across the grand hall. It would be so easy to take any of them, but I had a specific target—Areph Rivans. Pretty boy business man whose enterprising fingers were in lots of dirty deals. It would only be my pleasure to take him out.

“Have you found his location?”

I tucked a stray dark lock behind my ear to tap the comm hidden there. I didn’t want to call in a negative. That would count against me, and I didn’t want to fall from the favored spot.

There, in one of the atriums, I saw a tall figure cutting through the ballroom as if he owned everything and everyone in it.

“Hold on. I have a lock.” My mark was in the middle of a conversation with an elderly man and what I assumed to be his very young wife.

Areph’s dossier didn’t do him justice. He was powerfully built, as was expected of all alphas, but he had that extra bit of charm that wasn’t quite evident in his file. He managed to entertain the couple in equal measure without dimming that smile.

The conversation couldn’t have been too engaging. As soon as he caught sight of me, he bowed to the couple and excused himself. I licked my lips as I watched him stride across the room toward me, his eyes dilating as he drew closer.

A random observer would dismiss me as a beta, as I was taller than the average omega, though not by much. But there was no hiding an omega’s scent, especially from an alpha.

Alphas could scent an omega almost anywhere. It was simple biology. And this alpha, despite the rich wrappings, was as simple in his base urges as the rest.

Areph bowed his head at me in greeting. “What is a rare beauty like you doing all by yourself?” His rich, cultured tones were well-practiced, especially for one born and raised in the slums.

I angled my head, exposing the long column of my neck in a picture of innocent offering. Alphas usually took this gesture as an invitation for more, and Areph was no different. He inhaled sharply, his tongue darting over his lips as if anticipating a favorite meal.

He took the bait. Time to reel him in.

I smiled up at Areph, trailing my hand down his powerful arm to rest against the crook of his elbow. I picked out several weapons concealed under his clothing in that swipe alone. Though the man had his own personal guard, he still had the habits of a gangland survivor. I could respect that. I carried an arsenal myself, but unlike him, my weapons were a lot less obvious.

I leaned closer, and he let me, allowing me into the circle of his arms until I was barely a breath apart from him. “But I’m not by myself anymore, am I?”

“You need at least a team of bodyguards around you at all times.” His hands slid against my chin, turning my gaze back to him. “You better be careful. A big bad wolf could gobble you up.”

I shivered under his touch, a delicate move that made him draw me closer. “Oh really?” My hand touched his chest. He watched me, mesmerized as I felt his massive muscles underneath his button-down shirt. “Maybe that’s what I want.”

Areph’s nostrils flared. His hand snaked around my waist, pulling me flush against his side, nearly carrying me as he strode through the crowds. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he hauled me over his shoulder and ran. I forced my smile, nodding at the stares cast in my direction as Areph led me past the pillars and the guards.

I giggled as we stumbled up the steps, his mouth capturing mine in a deep, hungry kiss. He moaned when his tongue twined with mine. My hands pressed against his chest, slowly traveling down the expanse of his body until I was palming his hard length through his suit pants.

“Not here,” I breathed against his mouth. “Room.”

The alpha responded by throwing me over his shoulder and taking the stairs two at a time. I laughed in earnest as he kicked open a door to what I assumed was a guest room and threw me onto the bed. He slammed the door shut while I shifted myself on the bed, leaning back in invitation. I crooked my finger at him in a come here motion.

Areph loosened his bowtie and deftly unbuttoned his shirt as he strode toward me. He looked like a predator stalking his prey. He would want to sink his teeth into me, mark me as his own. I moved to my knees when his legs pressed against the bed’s edge. My hands reached for his pants, undoing his belt quickly.

Areph bit his lip, watching me as I pushed his pants down, exposing the impressive tent he made of his underwear. “You are unbelievably sexy.” His finger traced a hot trail over my cleavage. He cupped my breasts, squeezing them gently before lowering his head and licking the exposed flesh. “I want to bury myself deep inside you.”

I moaned for him, faking desire and passion with artfully timed gestures. A touch here, a stroke there, was all that was needed for this fantasy. I tossed my head back while pressing him against my chest, feigning my need for him. My hands slid through his hair, which was soft against my flesh. My nails dug into his back as he thrust his hips toward me, his cock straining against the flimsy cloth of his underwear.

His hands pulled the straps of my glittery red dress down, exposing my breasts. I gasped as he enveloped one nipple, his velvety tongue sliding against it as he gently sucked. I ground my teeth, heat flooding my core despite my revulsion. My damned biology wanted more of his alpha nature, my body aching to be filled. I needed to get this done and over with soon before my omega instincts to submit and give him everything overruled my mind and distracted me from my mission.

I reached down between us, caressing his hard length. He moaned and thrust against my hand. I let his pulsing flesh slide against me, stroking him languidly before continuing my search for the handle of the blade strapped to my thigh. I pulled it from its sheath, slowly, so as not to disturb him.

Areph lifted his head, his swollen lips parted, searching for mine. Before he could capture them in another deep kiss, I leaned back and swiped the blade between us, slicing a smiling arc across his throat.

His eyes widened in shock. His hands dropped as he looked down, gasping for air while blood poured from his throat and dripped onto his white shirt. He tried to cry out, but I’d severed his vocal cords.

He dropped to the bed, the blood staining the sheets while I stood, replacing the blade back in its sheath and fixing my attire before quickly striding toward the door. With one final twitch, Areph released his last breath, his wide eyes staring up at the ceiling while the blood continued to pool on the bed.

I opened the door slightly, peeking through the small crack and scanning the area for any guards. There was no one, which I’d suspected to be the case since there were so many guards stationed between the pillars at the main hall. No one could get past unless it was Areph himself. 

I glanced once more at his lifeless body on the bed, smiling at how quick and easy it had been to trap him and kill him. His face was turned away from me. His head hung at an odd angle while a hand reached for something that wasn’t there. Moonlight shone through the open window, illuminating his corpse.

I shut the door quietly behind me and strode down the red and gold carpeted hall toward the staircase. Steady and purposeful steps, head held high. I gave the appearance that I belonged here while angling my face away from the security camera. I ran my fingers through my long dark hair while forcing myself to walk slowly down the steps.

I smiled at the guards as I passed the pillars. One raised an eyebrow at my passing, but that was the only thing that broke his otherwise neutral expression.

I pushed through several drunk ladies and lords, keeping my head down while I walked toward the entrance of the main dance floor. It wasn’t until I was outside in the cool air that I finally allowed myself to breathe.

“Control, I’m out,” I murmured.

Latham’s voice was cool in my ear. “Are you sure about that?”

As if on cue, sirens blared behind me. I whirled around, finding several guards running through the main entrance, headed straight toward me. Of course, it wouldn’t have been that easy.

I bolted into a run, dodging blasts of energy as I swerved through the trees bordering the pathway.

“Control, I have a party train after me.”

I scowled as Latham chuckled through the earpiece. “I guess you spoke too soon.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I gasped, chancing a glance over my shoulder. The guards continued to gain on me.

“There’s a garden maze to your left. You can lose them in there.”

I looked left and found high shrubs leading to a narrow path. I dodged another blast of energy and lunged for the entrance, running through the narrow passages and turning left and then right.

“What next? Control?” I whispered while looking over my shoulder, trying to calm my breath at the sound of footsteps around me. Any wrong move and I was a goner. I stepped lightly, crouching low and keeping my head down.

“You’re close, Nova.”

I looked around aimlessly, wanting to demand more details, but knowing I wouldn’t be rewarded for asking for help. I moved forward, hearing security’s shouts for backup.

“Yes, keep moving straight.”

I crawled on the grassy path, my feet aching in the black stiletto heels I just had to wear for this lovely event. I stumbled as the point caught on my dress, making me nearly land on my face.

I paused when the alley ended, and I was faced with an either-right-or-left situation. I quickly hid myself behind a shrub when one guard entered the path on my left, thankfully looking in the opposite direction.

“You’re almost there, Nova. You need to go right, but there are several guards lurking around the corner on your left.”

I would need to make a run for it. Kicking off my heels, I tore the skirt away from the gown so I could run unimpeded.

I lunged to the right and bolted into a run. I heard shouts behind me, but didn’t bother turning around. I heard blasts, felt the heat fly by me, singeing my arm as I continued running. I could see the exit, a rectangle of light that Control herded me toward. I was nearly there. I closed my eyes and jumped, feeling my body fly into nothingness.

And then there was silence. It shrouded me in a peaceful darkness. This quiet space was familiar. I steadily became aware of a subtle beep-beep-beep, and when I recognized it, my eyelids flew open.

A sterile white ceiling nearly blinded me. I tried to sit up, but something was holding me down. I looked around, finding my body clothed in a simple white tank and pants. Long, purple hair laid limply over my shoulders. Metal straps were wrapped around my waist and chest as well as my limbs.

It always took several minutes to feel right again after coming out of a simulation. It was like waking up from a bad dream when you’re still half in the dream, half awake. Except with a horrible migraine and vertigo.

The thudding ache in my head dulled and lessened as I focused on my breathing. I gave my mind and body time to adjust from being in an adrenaline racing ordeal to convincing it that I’d been safe and secure this entire time. At least I’d stopped vomiting on myself after each simulation. The early days had been rough.

I licked my chapped lips as a medic, dressed all in white, walked toward me, clipboard in hand. Piers Travers was the head doctor on Latham’s team and his primary consult regarding me. Every bit of my health and diagnostic was under his control. He deftly removed the wires from my head, the sticky residue still clinging to my temples.

“Wonderful,” said Piers, not even bothering to look at me as he wrote something on his tablet. “We’ll have to improve your speed. Possibly your scent. It took him a bit longer to find you. Overall, your marks are impressive. With these results, you’ll be just about ready for your first mission.”

He wasn’t really talking to me. It was more like taking note of my performance like I was one of his that just performed to his specifications.

I nodded and waited for the straps to release me, but they remained fastened around my body. The door slid open and in stepped an alpha clothed in only a white pair of pants. He stared at me with red-rimmed eyes that dilated when he scented me. He licked his lips, the front of his pants tenting in obvious desire. His muscles shook, veins popping from his exposed arms. I held back a whimper while turning my head to Piers.

“I thought you said I did well,” I said, trying to keep the tremble from voice.

Piers stared at me curiously for a moment, his eyes magnified by his glasses. It was as if he had forgotten that I could talk. “Of course you did, my dear. Very well. How many times do I have to explain? This isn’t punishment. This is all part of your training. And his. You’re an omega, now, and your physical needs go beyond food and water.

“You need an alpha to be with you to break your heat so it doesn’t happen in the field. And here I have given you the best. Alpha Four beat out all the other soldiers in his unit to be with you. And now, being with you is his reward.” Piers cocked his head toward the alpha who seethed with impatience now, staring at the doctor as if he would rip him apart with his bare hands.

In my head, I knew that everyone on this vessel were part of our mission to infiltrate the enemy and tear them apart from within. But it was hard not to feel like my handlers were giving me to the enemy every time my heat approached.

“We all have our parts to play if we’re all to survive. Never forget that, my dear.” Piers patted my head as if I were a child, and strode through the door. 

Tears sprang to my eyes once we were alone. I tested my restraints, which remained immovable. I closed my eyes trying to contain my desperate breathing.

The alpha stalked toward me, quiet and fast. When I opened my eyes once more, he was right above me, breathing in my scent. “Do not fear me, omega. I won’t hurt you.” He leaned down and gently licked my cheek where a stray tear had fallen.

An involuntary shiver of pleasure quaked my body at his touch, and the alpha purred in approval...