Exile's Hunter Bonus Epilogue
She and Mad were alone in their quarters, thankfully. When they were in public, she was his exile queen and had to at least try to have a bit of decorum. Well, decorum as defined by Guerran standards. It meant she still got to stab people sometimes.
“What does it say?” Mad asked. He scowled at a stack of papers of his own, but he didn’t resist the urge to crumple one and throw it across the room.
Kenzie traced her finger over the words, barely reading them. She’d read the letter half a dozen times already. “She’s found a roommate and taken an apartment. The mysterious job she’s taken is working out well, though she still hasn’t told me what she’s doing. She says it’s nothing illegal, but…”
“Nothing’s illegal when there aren’t any laws,” Mad finished for her.
“Exactly.” Kenzie placed the letter beside the other letters she had from Carise. “Are we doing the right thing?” she asked, hating how desperate she sounded. “Should I bring her back here?”
Mad crossed the room and pulled her into his arms. “I have someone watching her, you know that. She’s safe. As safe as anyone can be on Guerran.”
Kenzie surrendered to Mad’s embrace. He was right. This wasn’t exactly how she wished life would be like with Carise, but her sister was okay. That was worth everything.
And Kenzie got a hot alien mate out of the deal.
One she had to take pity on. “How much paperwork do you have left?”
Mad groaned and squeezed her even tighter. “Too much. How does one tiny territory generate so much paper? I can’t believe that Jadirel spent this much time on administration,” he grumbled, scowling out the last word.
“Perhaps not.” Kenzie went on her tiptoes and kissed her mate’s cheek. “But you care and he didn’t. Is there any way I can help?” She pulled out of his hug and went to his desk, eyeing the stack of paper. Had it somehow grown in the last few minutes?
No. That was impossible.
Still, she eyed it warily.
Mad clamped half the papers in a hand and shoved them her way. “Figure out what’s important and what I can ignore. I’ll take the other half.”
She could barely hold her stack of papers in one hand. “Care to make this interesting?”
Mad grinned at her. “How? I doubt anything could make this busywork interesting.”
Kenzie flicked her thumb over the edge of the thick sheets. “First one done is the winner.”
He stalked even closer. “And what does the winner get?”
“I suppose you’ll find out.” She looked down at her papers and tried to suppress a grin.
Mad scooped her up around the waist and slung her over his shoulder. Kenzie let out a burst of laughter and dropped the papers. “I’ll take my prize now,” her mate declared as he marched to their bed. “Paperwork can wait.”
Exile's Adored Bonus Epilogue
“Come on!” Carise tugged on Jaek’s arm at the edge of the market. It was teeming with people, and stalls lined either side of the street, most of them busy. In the distance, she could hear the tinkling sounds of music as a performer got ready.
It was so different from the first market day that she’d been to, Carise wanted to laugh.
If she could get her giant of a mate to actually walk down a street with her.
“You take a look,” Jaek told her. “I’ll watch from over here.”
Over here being a shaded corner that was barely visible from the rest of the market.
Weeks ago, Carise might have been scared at the thought of diving into the market alone. She would have been jumping at her shadow and sure that some sort of violent exile was about to find her.
But there had been no trouble since Baryn’s failed attempt at taking Mad’s palace. Mad had dealt out the punishments as needed, and his territory seemed to be getting better—and possibly more peaceful—by the day.
Guerran would never be completely safe, but Carise didn’t need to fear for her life just from walking down the street.
“The second you lose sight of me, you’re going to come running,” she informed her mate, backing up two steps as if she was actually going to leave him in his little hidey-hole. “You need new shoes and I want a shawl. That’s it. Then we go and have lunch with Mad and Kenzie. No more than an hour in the market.”
Jaek went a bit pale at that. “An hour?” he croaked out.
Okay. This was a bad idea. Clearly exposure therapy wasn’t going to get her mate to accept the occasional trip to the market. And maybe Carise was being unkind for trying. But she wanted to experience all Guerran had to offer. And she loved doing that with her mate at her side.
“Or you could go to the palace and I’ll shop on my own.” It wouldn’t be too bad, and she could be quick.
But though Carise wasn’t actually scared of the streets of Guerran anymore, market day by herself was a bit intimidating.
Jaek firmed his shoulders. “No. Let’s do this.” He stared at the street as if he was about to charge into battle, and something unknotted in Carise.
She grabbed his hand and laced their fingers together. And they approached the market together. Just as it should be.
Zulir Warrior Mates Bonus Scenes
Synnr's Saint Bonus
“Teleportation?” Emily asked, looking at the long list she’d jotted down.
“Wait, seriously?” She shifted on Oz’s lap, pulling back so she could look at him and her list.
“Yes, of course.” He seemed confused that she was shocked. He trailed his lips along her neck. “Now how long did you want to do this for?”
“Twenty questions is traditional.” Though if he kept kissing her she might stop before then.
“Killer artificial intelligence?”
“Why would we allow something like that?” His hands cupped her waist and Emily reveled in the heat.
“Because why?” His chuckle had a sexual tinge to it and all she’d have to do was lean forward the tiniest bit to feel just how ready he was for this game to be over.
“What’s a Star Trek?”
Ok, this was serious. “It’s only one of the best TV shows ever! And there’s been a version of it on for over fifty years. I mean, not continuously, and some of it is kind of terrible. But otherwise it’s good.”
“That’s a very coherent recommendation.” He went back to kissing her.
“Sort of?” She wanted yes or no answers, not riddles.
“I’m not a scientist,” Oz grumbled. “It has to do with blood or organs. I remember learning about it in school.”
She’d have to be satisfied with that, and she hoped it wasn’t like that movie where they said they were cloning organs but it was actually people. “Mutants.”
“Mutations don’t exist where you’re from?”
No X-Men. Darn it. She’d been hoping that one was real. “Giant robots you can pilot to kill monsters?”
That got Oz to pull back. “What kind of planet is Earth? Giant monsters? Killer AI? How did you survive for decades?”
Emily burst out laughing. “That’s all fiction! But now since my life is like something out of a movie I’m trying to determine what’s real and what’s not. I promise you, Earth is incredibly mundane and boring.” And she missed it. Sometimes. But then there were the times she got to wake up with Oz holding her close, and she knew that this was the life she would have chosen, no matter what.
She wanted him. She loved him.
“Okay,” she said. “Enough of the game. For now.”
“Just wait until I turn the tables on you,” he warned.
Emily laughed. Like that would happen. She sealed her mouth over his, kissing him long and deep.
Yeah, there was nothing better than this.
Synnr's Hope Bonus
The next time his mother wanted to do a meal together, Lena was going to be sick. Really sick. Closed bathroom door and scary sounds sick. Anything to get out of it. The worst part was, she was almost certain that Lureyne had been on her best behavior. She hadn’t made any comments about Lena being human. She hadn’t suggested that Solan go out and find a Zulir wife.
She had started hinting that she’d love to have grandchildren by next summer. But that would be a battle to fight on another day.
Lena trudged up the stairs of Solan’s house and sank onto the bed. She wanted to curl up and sleep for the next three weeks. But they had meetings at headquarters and planning and parties for his brother’s wedding. She’d gone from having no connections on Aorsa to having too many.
But it was the cost of being at Solan’s side, and nothing could make her give him up.
Something jabbed into her back and Lena rolled to the side. She’d landed on a pair of Solan’s pants and there was something in the pocket. She reached in and her hand brushed against something hard connected to a chain. She pulled it out and saw one of the most beautiful necklaces she’d ever seen.
It was big, but somehow understated at the same time. A rich green stone, not quite emerald green, but darker than jade, encircled by a gold chain.
She usually only wore jewelry on special occasions, but she wanted to wear this right freaking now.
The chain was long enough that she could put the necklace on without bothering with a clasp. And once the weight settled, it felt right. Did she ever have to take this thing off?
She scrambled out of bed and walked into the bathroom where there was a mirror. And there she got to admire the way the green and gold looked against her brown skin. She ran a finger over the chain.
Solan appeared in the doorway, reflected beside her in the mirror. Lightning sparked in his eyes and she felt a flare of his power deep within her. “Do you like it?” he asked.
“I love it. Where did you get it?” They’d been at each other’s sides every moment of the last few weeks, and she couldn’t remember stepping into a jewelry shop.
“At the village. While we had our day off.” He stepped closer, right behind her, and circled his arms around her waist. “I like the way it looks on you.”
She leaned back into him, savoring his heat. “Then I’ll keep wearing it,” she promised.
His fingers danced around to the hem of her shirt and he started to pull it off. “I want to see it when it’s all that you’re wearing.”
Lena spun around and kissed him. That was an idea she could get behind.
Synnr's Spark Bonus
“I’m not sure I understand how this is going to work,” said Crowze.
“You play this for fun?” Grace added, looking down at the mat that Zac had laid on the floor.
Zac was holding the spinner board and trying not to feel affronted. He had loved this game when he was a kid. And Crowze and Grace said they wanted to know a little bit more about Earth culture. What was better than playing a game from Earth?
“It’s fun, I promise.” It was fun? Right? He actually hadn’t played the game in years, but it had been the first thing on his mind when given the chance to create something. After all, it wasn’t too complicated.
“So how does this work?” asked Grace.
“I spin the spinner thing and you get a color. And a body part. So if it says red hand you have to put your hand on one of the red dots. And if you get blue foot you have to put your foot on one of the blue dots. And we all do it together and see who lasts the longest.”
“We have many other games we can show you,” Crowze offered.
“I know it sounds weird, but just trust me. It’s fun.” It was going to be fun, dammit. It’s was Zac’s turn to plan their date and he wanted this to work.
Crowze held the spinner board out to Grace and she flicked the spinner and read the results. “Okay. Let’s do this.” She put her foot on the correct color.
Crowze approached the board with the same caution and gave it a spin. He put his hand on one of the yellow dots.
Then it was Zac’s turn. He put a hand on a red dot and found himself at eye level with Grace’s crotch.
“And this is a game for kids?” Grace asked, looking down at him with a grin.
“Adults can play it too,” he said.
They got into it after that, one spin leading to another leading to another, and before long the three of them were all twisted up together, bodies entwined in a configuration that couldn’t happen naturally.
Crowze fell first, his ass hitting the ground and his legs shooting out. That took Grace down and she landed on top of him, managing to swing out a leg and trip Zac.
But from the way their bodies were pressed up against each other, Zac couldn’t regret that they had all lost the game. And when he felt lips press against his neck he smiled.
Best game ever.
Tyral Bonus Chapter
Dorsey couldn’t remember feeling more relaxed. Travel to Honora Station had taken nearly a month, and in that time, she’d made love to Ty more times than she could count and learned as much about him as she could.
There was still more to learn. There always would be. That was the best part of a partnership, growing into a better version of yourself and sharing that with the person that you loved.
Well, and the mindblowing sex.
Though the Oscavians had given them the ride, none on the ambassador’s ship had been friendly. Unfailingly polite, but distant. And Dorsey was certain that they’d been ecstatic to see her and Ty go. Imperial intrigue was afoot and much more interesting than two minor fugitives.
They’d been on Honora for three days and still had another three to go before the cruiser to Jaaxis would arrive. Dorsey knew that Ty was going to go crazy if she asked him whether his parents would like her or care that she was human one more time. And since the worry had struck once more, she’d escaped their rooms and taken a walk towards the market.
Space station markets were the most diverse of any place in the galaxy, and this far out there were few humans. By galactic standards, Earth was still a backwater, far out of the way of most shipping routes. So Dorsey didn’t blame herself for the little sound of surprise she made when she saw the human woman in a dark jumpsuit, hand clasped with an unfamiliar alien with yellowish-green skin.
An unfamiliar Detyen alien.
“Holy crap,” she whispered.
The woman spotted her and smiled. She rose on her toes and kissed her mate's—no, maybe he wasn’t her denya—her man’s cheek and strode toward Dorsey. She was short and tanned with brown hair that hung down to her shoulders. And she absolutely glowed with happiness.
The woman waved at her as she approached and spoke once they were face to face. “Hey! I’m Lis. I hope I’m not being too weird, there just aren’t that many of us out this way and it’s nice to see a face from home.”
She spoke English. Dorsey hadn’t heard someone speak English in nearly five years. “You’re from Earth?” she asked and belatedly added, “I’m Dorsey.”
“Where else would I be from?” she laughed. Before Dorsey could respond, Lis whipped around and addressed the Detyen, who’d stepped a little closer, though he was still too far away for polite conversation. “I said give me a second, Ruwen NaNaran. Seriously!” She shooed the Detyen back and turned back to Dorsey. “My denya is trying to remind me that we’re meeting some friends for lunch.”
Dorsey’s eyes widened. “Your denya?” She wasn’t the only one? Neither she nor Ty had been willing to confront that she might be the only human denya out there. But this woman, Lis, proved that wasn’t the case.
“Oh,” Lis misunderstood the question. “It means that he’s—”
“Your mate,” she and the Detyen man, Ruwen, said it at the same time. He snuck up behind his woman and wrapped his arms around her. “And I’m hungry.”
But now Lis was studying her. “You’ve met other Detyens before?” she asked.
“Darling, don’t bother the—”
Lis reached back and covered his mouth with her hand. She tried to, at least—her fingers poked his nose and only covered a bit of his lip. But he stopped talking. “Have you?”
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “I can barely believe it. But my denya, Tyral, is up in our rooms.” Excitement zinged through Dorsey and she wanted to reach out and hug both Lis and Ruwen. This was amazing!
Lis and her denya stared at her with twin expressions of disbelief, their mouths hanging open and eyes wide. Ruwen was the first to recover. He grinned. “Join us for dinner tonight at the Starlighter Restaurant on the fourth deck.”
Dorsey agreed without hesitation, and though she wanted to talk to them for longer, Lis and Ruwen had to leave for their lunch appointment. She ran back to her room and fumbled with the keypad outside the door, chest heaving, sweat dotting her forehead. Before she could disengage the lock, Ty opened the door and she fell right into his arms, right where she belonged.
He hugged her close, any tension from their discussions about his family dissolved. They’d become so used to being around one another that it felt wrong to part. And any time they met again was cause for a celebration.
“I’m not the only one,” she said, practically shouting from excitement.
“What?” Ty closed the door behind her, but they stayed locked together. “The only what?”
Dorsey sucked in one breath and then another. The words wanted to spill out, but she needed to control it. After a third breath, she spoke again. “I met a human woman and she’s mated to a Detyen. They want us to come to dinner with them.”
Ty was stunned. He froze against her for a moment, and then his arms crushed her in a tight embrace before he reared back and picked her up, spinning her around with a whoop of celebration. His ruby eyes shone and his grin threatened to crack his face.
“You’re a miracle,” he said when he set her down.
“But it’s not just me,” she protested. “That’s the miracle.” It wouldn’t save all of them. That sober fact constantly niggled at the back of her mind. But knowing that Lis and Ruwen existed showed her that there was a chance. This wasn’t some fluke. Maybe there was something special about her and Lis, but that meant there could be other special human women out there too. And human men. The Detyen women were just as cursed as their male counterparts.
Ty pulled at the bow of her outfit, baring her throat and the top part of her chest and revealing the zipper that kept the rest of it together. “I think this calls for a celebration,” he said, leaning forward and laying his lips on her neck, right where he knew made her shiver.
Dorsey wrapped her arms around him and arched up into his embrace. “We have time,” she moaned as he kissed her again. “Dinner isn’t for hours.”
She felt Ty’s lips curve against her tender flesh. “I don’t think they’ll mind if we’re a little late.”
Stoan Bonus Chapter
Reina eyed the hard slab pushed up against the wall of Stoan’s old quarters with wary resolve. He claimed it was a mattress, but she knew better. One night on that torture device and she’d threatened to move back home. Sleeping on the floor was better than that… thing.
“What are you doing?” Stoan asked as he came into the room and grabbed a book that he’d left on his table.
“Do you think it will burn?” she asked. She couldn’t believe that he’d slept on it for years. Prisoners in the labor camps had better beds.
Stoan wrapped an arm around her and gave her a quick kiss. They were still settling into his new quarters and had decided to use the old one as an office where he could do much of the work that went into running the Detyen community of Nina City.
“Why do you want to burn my old bed?” he asked, as if he didn’t have years of evidence for just how evil it was. “We can set it up in the guest quarters so that visitors aren’t stuck sleeping on the couch.”
Reina laughed and imagined the look on anyone’s face while trying to sleep on that thing. She wouldn’t wish it on her worst enemy. Well… on second thought, if she were able to imprison Droscus somewhere, she’d make that damned cot his only piece of furniture.
“It’s not that bad,” Stoan insisted.
She pointed to where her neck met her back, “I still have a lump here from that sorry excuse for a pillow. I’m pretty sure you had some evil plan with that combo, but I haven’t quite worked out what it was just yet.”
The day after they’d moved in together, she’d dragged him to the market to find a new bed and new bedding when Stoan growled at the thought of sleeping in the bed she’d shared with her deceased husband. Now they had a nice, huge, soft, comfortable, perfect place to sleep. But the very existence of this cot offended her.
Stoan’s hands slid up and he began to massage her shoulders, working out the knot she’d pointed to. “If you wanted me to take away your pain, you only had to ask,” he said.
Reina’s eyes drifted shut and she leaned back into him, the strong feeling of his hands a pleasure she’d come to love almost as much as she loved his tongue. “If you ever need a fallback career, I’m sure someone would pay you good money for this.”
He chuckled, his chest brushing against her back. “My hands are for you alone, denya,” he said and kissed her neck right over that spot where he’d marked her and claimed her as his own.
Fire raging in her blood, Reina decided that the cot might have its uses as she and her mate lay down and gave it another try.
Cyborg Bonus Chapter
After a week on Honora Station, Inrit had a question for Max. “How in all the hells did you stay on Nina Station for so long without going crazy?” They’d rented a room in the temporary lodging quarters and splurged for one with a real window looking out into space. At first, the depths and darkness had fascinated her and she’d stared out into the inky field of stars every chance she got. But after an entire week of the view, the black was… claustrophobic.
She sat on their bed and pulled the thick blanket up and over herself to ward off the slight chill in the room. Though they had access to a sophisticated temperature control system, they’d yet to agree to a constant ideal temperature and it was Max’s turn to control the thermostat.
Max sat at the foot of their bed, his shirt tossed somewhere on the floor. Inrit’s eyes clung to him. The feel of the muscles of his broad back had imprinted themselves on her hands and there wasn’t a centimeter of him that she hadn’t tasted. Twice. Inrit leaned forward until her cheek was pressed up against his deliciously warm skin.
Max hummed and looked down at her with a grin. “Is this affection, or are you trying to leech away all of my warmth?” He pressed a kiss against her forehead and didn’t try to move away.
“Can’t it be both?” she asked. Before she’d met Max, she hadn’t known the absolute contentment that simple touch could bring. She kept finding little excuses to skim her fingers across his skin, drinking in the feel of him. She trailed her lips over the curve of Max’s shoulder and let her fingers sneak out of the covers to slide across his chest.
He leaned back into her but caught her wrist before she could get very far. “We promised that we’d see the boys off,” he reminded her.
“I know,” she murmured against his skin, her lips pressed flat, muffling the sound. It was a struggle to force herself away from him, and not just because of the warmth. But Inrit was stronger than that and pushed back, casting the blanket aside and crawling out of the bed. She kept her eyes in front of her while she strolled to the closet to choose her clothes. If she saw that silver gleam in Max’s eyes, they’d never make it.
But half an hour later they were at the terminal for long distance flights, exchanging hugs and contact information with Krayter and Kayleb. Kayleb had almost completely recovered from his wounds, the only reminder a still-healing scar on his temple and a new habit of lapsing into drawn-out silences. The station doctor had every confidence that he’d get better… eventually.
Inrit hoped it happened soon.
“Have you given up hope of your cousin showing up?” she asked. Travelers glided past them and Inrit was glad they’d found a little corner to say their goodbyes. It was too crowded for her liking.
Krayter looked over the teeming swell of people before he shrugged and turned back to her. “This is the last direct transport to Earth for a month. Ru said to go on without them if the timing didn’t work. So we’re… going on.”
Neither Detyen looked happy about it.
“We can check in,” Max offered. His hand hung casually over her shoulder and she leaned into him. “If they show up soon, they’ll know you’ve safely boarded the ship.”
Kayleb nodded but said nothing. When they’d first met, he’d been made of aggression, and now a facade of quiet calm had settled over him. Inrit hoped he wouldn’t be swept away when the dam of his emotions broke through.
“Thank you,” said Krayter. “There’s probably a simple explanation for their delay.” Worry laced his words and his brows furrowed. Inrit knew how he felt. After their brush with pirates, it was difficult to imagine innocent scenarios for the delay.
A call came over the intercom advising passengers that it was time to board. Both Krayter and Kayleb picked up their bags.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for on Earth,” Inrit said. “And when you do, you tell us. Got it?” They’d only met a few weeks ago, but the boys were family now.
“Got it,” said Kayleb. They both gave her a hug and then left, getting in the queue to board the ship and leaving Max and Inrit alone.
“Have you ever wanted to see Earth?” she asked Max. She’d seen images and vids. That planet seemed to have everything, huge oceans, verdant forests, deserts. It had survived the worst that humans could do to it and still flourished. She felt a pang as she thought of Detya. Max’s people had come from Earth, but she would never see her homeworld.
Max was quiet for a long moment. He looked out over the crowd without focusing on anyone. “Perhaps one day,” he finally said. “Once those boys have found their mates and demand we visit.”
“You’re so sure they will?” she asked. Neither Krayter nor Kayleb had ever shared their age, but they couldn’t have more than a few years away from thirty.
He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “We found each other, didn’t we?”
Heat curled low and Inrit wanted to grab him by the collar of his top and drag him back to their quarters. But she’d already done that twice in the last week and if she kept it up, they’d never get off Honora Station. So she satisfied herself with a kiss and grinned as she pulled back. “We did.”
Max laced his fingers through hers and they walked away from the terminal. "Have you thought of what we should do when we leave the station?"
Inrit had been letting the thought play in the back of her mind for the last week. Honora station was a dream world, adrift from anything real. But all dreams ended eventually. With Max by her side, she didn't dread the future. Still, she wasn't running towards it. "I suppose we could find a planet looking for homesteaders. Though I haven’t lived on a world for a long time."
She let Max lead and didn't pay much attention to where they were headed. That was one of the amazing things about having a mate. She could trust him to watch her back as closely as she watched his. They walked for several minutes and still remained near the gates leading off the station. "Where are you taking me?" She asked.
"I have an idea. You don't need to say yes, or no, or anything until you've had time to think it over." Max led her through a door that slid shut behind them. The lights overhead came on automatically, but the room was a size of a closet and the only thing of interest was the huge window that looked out into the open space. Floating just outside the station, was a small dark cruiser that had seen better days. Its hull was covered with different plates of metal ranging from bright blue to a garish pink. It was the ugliest ship that Inrit had ever seen.
She loved it.
"Is her captain looking for a crew?" She asked her mate, sending an excited glance over her shoulder. Without even realizing it her fingers were pressed up against the glass of the window.
Max grinned back. "She could be, if you want her to."
Her heart stuttered and one hand started to curl into a fist like she could reach through the glass and grasp the ship. "Even a hunk of metal like that has to cost more credits than I've seen in my lifetime."
Max coughed into his hand and two bright spots of red appeared on his cheeks. "I have a handful of Tarnian amethysts," he admitted. "We could buy the ship 10 times over and still have money to spare."
Inrit dropped her hand and turned towards him. "What?" Tarnian amethysts were some of the most sought after gems in the galaxy. And Max had a handful? "When were you going to tell me that you were rich?"
"What's mine is yours, denya." He placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her so she faced the window again. His hands slid down and wrapped around her waist and he rested his chin on her shoulder. "You and me and the galaxy, what do you say?" He said right into her ear, his lips brushing against the sensitive flesh.
Inrit looked at the ship again and let the heat of Max's arms sink into her. She leaned her head to the side to nuzzle against him and smiled. "I think that sounds pretty good."
Braxtyn Bonus Chapter
They’d all managed to squish around the dinner table for their first “family” meal since she, Brax, Manda, and Doryan had arrived on their doorstep a week ago. There’d been no progress on finding Manda’s people, and every time someone mentioned the Detyen Legion to Doryan he changed the subject. The house wasn’t quite big enough for seven people, and they were all beginning to get a little… frustrated. But Brax’s family seemed determined to make them all feel welcome and Vita wasn’t going to turn away their kindness.
“So how exactly did you end up finding Manda?” Shayn asked Doryan once they’d all served themselves the Earth food. Well, they were on Earth. It was all Earth food. But Vita had never eaten pizza before. It vaguely reminded her of the sauce-covered flatbreads she’d enjoyed as a child.
Vita tensed. They’d been dancing around the questions about how Doryan ended up a slave and prisoner, but Brax’s brothers just asked things. It was a bit unnerving.
Doryan looked at him for several moments and she was sure that he wouldn’t answer. But he surprised her. “My unit was on a mission. I was injured and fell behind. Per protocol, they left me with instructions to rendezvous or retire, whichever was possible. Before I could retire myself I was apprehended, and in the course of my capture was rendered unconscious. When I woke up, Manda and I had been held together for some time. She made sure they didn’t harm me while I was asleep.” He nodded at her, and the girl who was too old for her years nodded back just as solemnly.
“Retire?” Deke asked.
Vita’s heart sank. There were only so many things that word in that context could mean.
Doryan glanced at Manda and repeated, “Retire.”
The girl scrunched her face up, but didn’t seem to get the subtext. And Vita wondered why the emotionless warrior was still trying to protect her. “We can contact the legion for you,” Deke offered. “If that’s what you want.”
Brax and Shayn looked at their brother like he was crazy. “Did you not just hear the part where they were going to k—retire him?” Shayn asked.
Deke widened his eyes and shrugged. “Maybe those were special circumstances!”
It devolved from there. Vita took her chance to scarf down her food and was happy to discover that pizza was delicious. She saw that Manda was doing the same and they shared a grin.
Even Naomi ignored it as the brothers argued, and Doryan didn’t seem to be bothered by anything. He gingerly picked up his food and ate slowly, his expression never changing. For all he reacted, he might as well have been eating tasteless protein sludge.
“Enough!” Vita finally yelled when Deke shot up out of his chair and started pointing at his brothers. She’d tuned out most of what they’d been saying, but they looked about ten seconds away from coming to blows. “I have a blaster and I’m happy to use it. Now, Dekon, sit down. We’re not going to figure out what to do with Doryan and Manda tonight. So we’re going to enjoy this food, and stop fighting. Got it?” She put just enough menace in her words to make him know she meant it.
Deke sat down, chastened.
Brax grinned and pulled her close, stealing a kiss. “Best abduction ever,” he said.
And he was right.
Braxtyn Second Bonus
Bonus Scene (Takes place after Brax’s book and before Doryan’s):
Safety. For so long Brax had taken it for granted, but no longer. It was nice to be back on Earth, even if it hadn’t been his home for long before Vita swept him away. It was so different than living on Honora Station, with real gravity keeping him plastered to the ground and fresh air all around.
But today the air held a hint of something else.
“Do you really think I’m going to need to shoot anyone?” he asked. “I’m a mechanic.”
Vita was examining two of her blasters. Her collection numbered in the dozens and she kept them in much better repair than she’d kept her ship. But Brax was still reading up on how to repair the weapons in case it ever came up. He didn’t want his denya to suffer a catastrophic weapons failure in the middle of a fight.
Vita handed him one of the blasters and a small part of him was pleased that it was the bigger one, not that he would admit it. “You want to go flying with me, you need to be able to take care of yourself.”
There were a dozen ways he could respond to that, but his mate was holding a blaster and it seemed wisest to keep quiet. And she thought he couldn’t defend himself. Ha! “Just point and shoot, right?” He looked down at the target she’d set up on the tree. It was about five meters away. He was pretty sure he could throw the blaster at it and hit a bullseye.
“If it’s that easy, go for it.” There was a glint in her eye and Brax knew he was missing something, but for the life of him he didn’t know what. He shot.
He didn’t even hit the tree.
Vita didn’t laugh, but her lips twitched. “Want a little advice?” she offered sweetly.
Brax set his shoulders and glared at the tree. “No. I can do it.”
The second shot hit the tree. Barely. But he was counting it.
The third hit the edge of the target.
And the fourth.
“Ha! Bullseye!” He jumped in the air and grinned.
“So we’re good as long as whoever we’re fighting stands three meters away and waits for you to get it. Good.” She didn’t look too impressed.
“It’s five meters,” Brax had to defend himself somehow. “And it’s not too bad for a first time. Let’s see you do it from over there.” He jerked his head back and up a small hill. It had to be thirty meters away.
Vita gave it a look and shrugged. “Four chances?” she asked. “And what do I get?”
“We’re betting now? I thought I wasn’t allowed to bet.” He may not have actually owed the gambling debts that had brought them together, but that didn’t mean that Vita didn’t have opinions.
“Never bet for money,” she warned. “So what do I get?”
Could she really get a bullseye from thirty meters away? Brax had faith in his mate, but it was a long distance. “Anything you want.” It wasn’t like he’d deny her anything anyway.
“Anything?” her eyes lit up. “Even if it involves that vid—”
“That?” He shifted, his cock perking up even as he considered what she was suggesting. “I mean, of course.” Anything for love.”
Vita tilted her head back and laughed.
“But you have to hit bullseye four times,” he added. She was way too confident.
She leaned in and sealed her mouth over his, pulling back only when he was ready to pull her close. “Oh, love, your ass is mine.”
With a spring in her step she jogged off to where he’d indicated and Brax followed after. By the time he caught up she was already aiming. And before he could say anything she let off the shots. From the glee in her laugh he knew she’d hit her target.
The jog back to the tree confirmed it.
Four shots. Four hits.
She kissed him again. “Whenever you’re ready to pay up. I always collect my debts.”
What had he gotten himself into?
Doryan Bonus Chapter
The Legion had delivered physical files. Amy scowled at the pile, unsure what to do with it. “Why didn’t they just send the data?” she asked.
Kyla played with the edges of one of the folders. “There was something about a system compatibility issue. Apparently their top secret systems don’t like Earth technology.” She flipped open the file and then quickly closed it again. “This is weird, right?”
“Paper?” They’d divided their work into two stacks and were making notes and preparing to scan everything into their own system. “It’s a bit unwieldy, but I wouldn’t call it weird.”
“No, I mean that we’re going to be spying on these people.” She waved the folder. “I thought we were going to be monitoring a dozen people. There are hundreds of files here.”
Amy shrugged. “They wanted us to choose the subjects. So let’s get choosing.”
Kyla made a noise but Amy chose not to pay any attention. Several minutes went by before a comm call came in. The video portion was disabled, but the voice came through loud and clear.
“This is Reikal, from the Detyen Settlement. I’m looking for Amy Dalisay.”
Amy sat up a bit straighter and looked over at Kyla, who was now avidly listening in. “I’m here,” she said. “What’s up?”
“There’s a matter that I’d like to hire you to look into. Can I set up a meeting?” He sounded worried, but that wasn’t so strange when it came to their clients.
“I’m available!” Kyla jumped in. Amy sent her a strange look, but Kyla wouldn’t meet her gaze. “I’m Amy’s partner, Kyla. I don’t think we managed to meet, but I helped clear up matters at the settlement.”
Reikal paused for so long that Amy thought the call had been dropped. Then he cleared his throat. “That’s fine. When can you meet?” Kyla and Reikal set it up and then disconnected.
Amy stared at her partner until Kyla finally looked over. “What?” she asked.
“What?” Amy mimicked.
“Shut up. He sounds hot.”
Amy was about to say something about that when Doryan walked through the door and she almost swallowed her tongue. He always looked good, but seeing him in his Legion uniform was a damn fine sight.
“Ready for lunch?” he asked.
She got up from her desk and kissed him. They’d only been apart for a few hours, but it was always too long. “Yeah, I could use a break.”
Kyla snorted. “Remember to do up your buttons correctly this time.”
The hand gesture Amy shot back was anything but polite. But as soon as they were out the door, Doryan had his hand under her shirt and they were on their way to the empty office down the hall, kissing the entire way.
Lunch could wait.
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Dekon Bonus Chapter
Deke didn't recognize the little girl standing in the backyard. She was short and human and probably pretty young. Four? Three? He wasn't sure how quickly humans aged but he didn't think she was any younger. She had brown skin and huge brown eyes to go with her short, curly light brown hair.
She wore bright blue overalls and was carrying a small stuffed animal in one hand.
He looked back at the house before returning his gaze to the child.
He'd been back an entire week. No child lived in the house. But this little girl looked a little bit like Naomi.
Was he an uncle?
Did Shayn and Naomi have a baby?
Were they hiding her from him?
The girl blinked up at him and tilted her head to one side as if she was trying to make sense of him.
She didn't seem scared to see a Detyen standing in front of her, and he couldn't imagine any child of Shayn and Naomi giving in to fear.
"What's your name?" He asked cautiously. Where was Manda? She would know. Surely she would have mentioned if one of his brothers had a child. Were Vita and Brax hiding a brood of children somewhere?
The girl blinked twice but didn't answer.
Deke crouched down in a squat so he was more on her level. "My name is Dekon. I live in that house back there. Where do you live?" He didn't know what he would do if she said she also lived in the house. It wasn't that big. His family couldn't hide an entire child.
Some observant mercenary he was.
"Ashley! Ashley!" A woman yelled. She came running into the backyard, eyes just as wide as the little girl's and lungs heaving. "Ashley, what are you doing here?"
The woman glared down at the little girl.
"I was just walkin'," little Ashley said.
"You're not supposed to leave the yard." The woman looked up at Deke and grimaced. "I'm so sorry. I swear I only looked away for a second. We live right down the street."
Deke tried not to look as relieved as he felt. There was no secret baby in the house. He wasn't an uncle. "Okay." He didn't know what to say in the situation. A child that small probably shouldn't be running around but it wasn't his job to watch her.
"I'm Monica," said the woman.
"Okay." He used to understand people. He used to be good at this.
"Monica! What are you doing here?" Manda called from behind him. She had been in the house talking to Vita but came out to rescue him. Deke wanted to grab onto her and hold tight and thank her for saving him from the toddler and her mother.
"My little bandit took off," said Monica.
"Ashley!" Manda crouched down and looked at the little girl. "You know you have to ask before you come here to play."
"Sorry," said Ashley.
Manda stood back up. "Have you met Deke?"
"Can't say I have." Monica smiled and flicked her eyes up and down taking deep Deke in.
Manda wrapped an arm possessively around his waist and pulled him close. "This is Deke. He's Shayn and Brax's brother. And he's my mate." She kissed his cheek and then gave Monica a sweet smile.
Monica grinned knowingly. "I've got to get back. Food's in the oven. It was nice to meet you, Deke."
The two the mother and daughter took off.
"Thank you for saving me," he told his mate and wrapped both arms around her, holding her tight.
"Some big bad mercenary you are. You were just about defeated by a toddler. I'm terrified to know how you handle it when we have kids."
"Kids?" Was he supposed to feel that much terror the thought.
Manda burst out laughing. "Don't worry, big guy. We've got a while. Come on. Let's go back inside."
Soulless Bonus Chapter
One week. How long could it possibly be? When they’d piled onto the ship three days ago, Sierra had known that was no time at all. She’d taken vacations that went by in the blink of an eye that were a week long. Besides, she had the sexiest man in the galaxy at her side, and every moment they could steal together would just make that time fly even faster.
Except those moments were not nearly as frequent as she needed, and frustration clawed at her with every extra bit of attention that her crew, the ship, or the women required. Clearly none of them cared that she and Raze were newly mated and could have happily spent the entire time in her quarters until they arrived back at Earth.
But after that first day, it had become clear that no one was going to let them get away with that.
First, Quinn pulled her aside to let her know the women were bored and needed entertainment. Then, Jo wanted her to confirm all of the food on the ship was edible. And then Toran, Kayde, and Dryce had pulled Raze away to do Detyen things and an entire day had gone by with barely a kiss shared between them.
She was taking all of her vacation time and spending it with Raze once they got home. That was, if she still had a job. Another problem with this interminable week, every time she stopped moving and wasn’t near Raze, she started thinking about what exactly the job prospects were for a disgraced spy.
Yeah, that didn’t look good either. Maybe she shouldn’t be wishing for the week to end.
But it was the boredom of the women that had brought her to this tortuous night. And she wasn’t about to do it alone.
“It’s a human game?” Raze asked. She’d cornered him in a utility closet and after a too quick make out that only served to leave her frustrated and hot, she’d sprung the plan on him.
“Yes, it should keep the women occupied for a bit. And it’s not like we need any cards or anything. It will be fun.” Lying to her mate was a terrible sin, but some things were just necessary.
“And it only consists of asking questions and making challenges?” He sounded intrigued.
Good, that was at least one taker. She grabbed Raze’s hand and dragged him toward the kitchen where some of the women had congregated. “Good.”
Quinn, Davy, Monica, Muir, and CJ were seated around a large table and they moved to make room when Sierra and Raze arrived. Both Quinn and Davy shot them conspiratorial grins, as if they knew exactly what Raze and Sierra would rather be doing. Sierra barely kept her hand from checking to make sure her hair wasn’t completely mussed up from the time in the closet.
“This is our group?” she asked.
Muir nodded. In the past few days she’d opened up a little, now that she was sure she wasn’t about to die. “Valerie said the rest didn’t want to play.”
With you was the unspoken addition. That bit of tension hadn’t bled away and Sierra doubted she’d ever forgive Valerie for abandoning Laurel.
“This is a good number. Too many more and no one would get a turn.” The rift between the two factions of survivors and the human and Detyen crew wasn’t something that could be fixed, but at least they’d all separate in a few days. “Let’s just go in alphabetical order? CJ, you can start.”
Her eyes lit up and her gaze zeroed in on Raze immediately. “Truth or dare?” she asked him.
Raze glanced at Sierra and she nodded encouragingly. He’d agreed, after all.
“Truth,” he decided.
CJ didn’t rub her hands together in glee, but it was a close thing. “If you had to sleep with someone other than Sierra on the ship, who would it be?”
Sierra groaned. Truth or dare was a terrible game, why had she chosen it?
Raze shook his head. “I wouldn’t have sex with anyone besides my mate.”
Her cheeks flamed, but she reached out and clasped their hands together under the table.
CJ was shaking her head. “No, that’s not how this works. You have to answer. Pretend that if you didn’t choose, your head would explode.”
“Then I would let my head explode rather than betray her.” He was so earnest that Sierra couldn’t help but give him a sappy smile.
She glared at CJ and the woman got the picture. “Davy?”
An evil gleam came into Davy’s eyes. “Sierra, truth or dare.”
Worst. Idea. Ever. But Sierra wasn’t falling into the truth trap. “Dare,” she decided.
“I dare you to go the rest of this game without touching Raze.” Davy grinned.
Sierra glared, but she took her hand away from her mate and scooted a little to the side. “Easy,” she responded. “Monica?”
She and Raze had already been picked, Monica wouldn’t go back for them, right?
“Raze, truth or dare?”
This was getting ridiculous.
Her mate sighed, but didn’t back down. “Dare.”
Monica bit her lip while coming up with her challenge, and then she grinned just as evilly as Davy. “I dare you to make Sierra touch you even though she’s not supposed to.”
“How old are you people?” Sierra demanded of the group before turning back to Raze and crossing her arms. “Never going to happen.” She wanted to win this dumb game.
But she could see in Raze’s eyes that he’d gotten into the challenge. He leaned over her, crowding her space, but no bit of him touching her. The space between them heated and there was an almost physical pull between them. Sierra had to clench her fists on the armrest of the chair to keep from reaching out and placing a hand on his chest.
“Do you know what I’m going to do to you later?” Raze asked, whispering in her ear too low for the other women to hear.
“What?” She leaned in closer, but still not close enough to touch, not quite.
“Anything you want,” he promised, sin in his eyes. “All you have to do is reach out and ask for it.”
“And if I don’t?” She was strung on a wire, entire body taut and hot with pleasure.
“You don’t want to find out,” he warned.
She leaned forward, just a bit more, just trying to take more of his heat, and her cheek brushed against his.
A cheer went up behind them, Davy shooting both hands in the air. Sierra jerked back and glared. She crossed her arms again and tried to keep space between her and Raze, but he slung an arm over her shoulder.
No one said he couldn’t touch her. Ha! Loophole.
But from the wicked gleam in Muir’s eye as her turn came up, Sierra knew it was going to be a long night.
Four more days. And then this damn week would be over and she could really get to enjoy her mate.
Ruthless Bonus Chapter
“We could be spending the morning in bed, my love,” Iris tried to reason with her mate as he cleared a space in the gym for them to work. They’d spent the last several mornings busy working with their band of humans and Detyens to plan out what would happen now that Ambassador Yormas was on the run, but today they didn’t need to do anything until after noon. As far as Iris was concerned, that gave them hours to make up for all the morning sex they’d missed out on since their mating.
If only her mate were on the same page.
“I cannot make love to you if you’re being held against your will,” Toran replied in a frustratingly even tone. He’d been extra protective since her encounter with Varrow, and though she understood why he was insisting on this lesson, it didn’t mean that she had to like it.
“Varrow’s dead,” Iris began, but when Toran sucked in a shaky breath and gave her that look she knew that she’d been defeated. “Fine, let’s get this over with.”
He flashed her a smile of gratitude and finished clearing the space. After a moment, her mate waved at the space in front of him and instructed her to stand. Iris had to bite her tongue to keep from saying something. He needed to do this, to do something so he didn’t feel powerless when she might be put in danger. Iris understood, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
“We’ll just go over how to break out of a few holds, nothing too complicated. And once I’m satisfied we—”
“Can return to bed?” she asked hopefully.
Toran’s eyes flashed red and his nostrils flared. “Let’s hope you learn quickly.” He stepped closer and took hold of her wrist. “Now, when I have you like this, the weakest part of the grip is where my fingers meet. I want you to strike me with your free hand right here,” he pointed to a spot on his arm, “and pull away quickly. We’ll go slow at first.”
Iris jerked against his hold a little, testing it, but her mate had a tight grip. He tightened it even further when she didn’t try and escape correctly.
“Do it as I told you,” he said. “It’s okay if you don’t get it the first time.”
That was quite enough. Iris glared at him and did the move exactly as instructed, striking his wrist and pulling away, following through until she put a little distance between them. “Satisfied?” It wasn’t like what he was showing her was difficult.
“Again,” he said, taking on his commander tone. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her close.
Iris would much rather be close under other circumstances. This time, after striking his wrist, she stomped on his foot and used a maneuver to wrench his arm behind his back, using her momentum to gain strength she usually didn’t have.
“What else do you have to show me?” she breathed against his neck, placing a kiss against one of his clan markings.
“You know self-defense.” It wasn’t a question.
“A little.” She was no expert, but she’d taken a few classes.
“Then why didn’t you use it against Varrow’s men?” he turned and she saw the fear in his eyes. If she knew how to defend herself and couldn’t get away from a villain like Varrow, he was probably thinking, then the solution to keeping her safe couldn’t be found in a few clever defense moves.
“Because there was more than one guy and they were armed.” She wrapped her arms around his waist and breathed in the heady scent of him. She was growing addicted to this closeness and she wanted to ease his fears. “I know you want to protect me and that we’re living through dangerous times, but I promise you that I will always do my best to return to you. You’re my mate.”
He brushed his lips against her forehead. “Do you know how to use a blaster?” he asked.
Iris grinned. He was learning. “Not well,” she admitted.
“Can I teach you?”
She reached up and cupped his cheek. “Later. Right now I think we could both use a little time in bed. Together. Yes?”
His eyes flashed red and he swiped his lips against hers. “Yes.”
Heartless Bonus Chapter
Quinn wasn’t hiding. Hiding implied intent, and if she just so happened to be in a place unlikely to be frequented by the ever growing Detyen crew, that didn’t mean that she intended to stay away from them. Besides, she had her very own Detyen right with her, and there was no way that Kayde was trying to stay away from his own people.
They were safe on Earth, for now, but one day soon she knew that their safety would no longer be guaranteed.
“What do you think about a cat?” Kayde asked her, his shoulder brushing against hers while they stood at the edge of the public park, looking out at all of the families playing under the tents labeled HUMANE SOCIETY.
“A cat?” What use did she have for a cat? “I like them well enough, I guess. Why?” As they got settled back on Earth, Kayde’s curiosity was growing by leaps and bounds, as if he was making up for all the years where he’d been dead inside.
He pointed to one of the tents and Quinn had to squint to try and make out what he was looking at. One child, a girl with little brown poofs of hair on either side of her head, caught her attention. She was holding a fluffy white monstrosity that was almost as big as she was. Quinn’s lips involuntarily tugged up at the sight as she imagined what a daughter of her and Kayde might look like carrying her own monster kitten.
“I’ve never had a pet,” Kayde said. “They served no purpose at HQ.”
Her heart clenched as she imagined just how desolate even the best life on Detyen HQ must have been. Though, as she thought about it, she hadn’t had a pet growing up either. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “We can’t have a cat right now.” The world was in turmoil with the arrival of the Detyen Fleet and there was no telling what trouble they could be bringing with them.
“Right now doesn’t mean never,” Kayde pointed out.
Quinn laid her head on his shoulder. “Let’s make sure we’re going to survive the year before we start worrying about taking care of small creatures.”
“We will,” Kayde promised, his arm going around her and tugging her close. “And once we’re sure, we’ll take care of all of the small creatures we can handle.”
Quinn got the idea he wasn’t just talking about cats. And as she rested against him and let his warmth permeate her skin she realized that she couldn’t wait to find out exactly what he meant.
Faultless Bonus Chapter
Stealing the Alpha: Mel and Luke at the Museum
“You’re taking a thief to a museum?” Maya looked at Luke like he’d grown a second head. He and Mel had been together for more than two years by now, but his second in command was still slow to trust.
“I’m taking my mate to the museum,” Luke corrected. Calmly. He knew why Maya didn’t trust her. Mel had nearly destroyed the pack and she’d found flaws in Maya’s security that no one had thought were there. But it had been two years. Maya had to get over it sometime. “You could see if the witch is busy while we’re out.”
That got Maya to look away, her cheeks turning pink. She’d been dancing around the witch for years at this point and a part of Luke wanted to lock the two women in a room and wait until something happened. Mel said that would only lead to bloodshed, but maybe that was what they needed. “We’re staying the night in the city.”
“So she’ll have enough time to meet with her fence?” Maya shot back, but some of the distrust had faded and now she was just teasing.
Luke shooed her away and finished sorting the last of his work for the week. An alpha’s work was never done, but he hoped he could steal away a single day every now and then. And being mated to a thief certainly helped with that.
A knock at the door to his office made him look up and his heart lifted as a smile bloomed on his face. Mel. Shifter. Thief. Love of his life. And the sexiest woman he’d ever known. Her own smile matched his as she sauntered into the room and hitched a hip onto his desk. “Is the warden letting you out?” she asked.
“With much objection.” He leaned in and kissed her, savoring the taste.
Her hand went to the back of his neck as her fingers curled, holding him tight. She kissed him like she still didn’t believe they were forever, like they’d have a lifetime of kisses to come. Luke hoped that one day the desperation might fade away, even though he knew they’d never lose their passion.
She pulled back with a smile, one he’d seen when he caught her stealing and she thought she’d get away with it. Mel had been raised a thief and she didn’t know anything else. Luke didn’t want to take that away from her, and they’d found ways to… accommodate her skills that ended up helping the pack more than he’d realized was possible. Having a mate with moral flexibility had its own particular challenges, but he knew her, knew what she would and wouldn’t do, and he was certain that she’d never betray him. That was all that mattered.
“Cassie called. School is boring, the pack there sucks, there’s a boy frustrating her to no end, and she wants to come home,” Mel relayed the message with the breathless delivery his little sister liked to employee. It was a little scary how well Mel could mimic people.
“So no changes there,” he responded. “At least she’s going to classes.” Getting Cassie to agree to college had taken a lot of doing, especially with everything that had gone down with Ava, but now she was nearing the end and Luke had promised her she could officially join his pack when she was done, if that was what she wanted. She’d been adamant that it was, but something made him think she would change her mind.
“I’m all packed,” Mel said. “A night in the city will be a nice break. “And I’ve been wanting new jewelry.”
“You’re not stealing from the museum.”
Mel rolled her eyes and pecked him on the cheek. “You’re adorable, honey. Let’s get out of here.”
The Denver Art Museum was absolutely fine. Mel had walked through countless museums in her life and she didn’t have anything more to complain about here than she had anywhere else. And this museum had the added benefit of a tense alpha at her side, clenching his jaw every time she stepped up to a piece and made appreciative noises.
He knew she was just teasing. Or, at least, she thought he knew she was just teasing. She hadn’t exactly gone straight in the years since they’d been mated, but she’d become much more selective about her jobs, and a good portion of those jobs ended up having some tangential benefit for Luke’s pack.
Mel’s pack, too, but that was still kind of weird to think about.
It hadn’t been a smooth adjustment. Mel couldn’t remember much of her life before she’d fallen into Ava’s hands, and in the coven she’d been the lowest of the low. In the years after that, her pack had just been her, Krista, and Bob until things went south. And now she was mated to the alpha of a huge lion pack and in charge of their safety and well-being.
Things like thinking about how her jobs would impact the pack or even just being unable to go for a drive without letting someone know she’d be gone had rankled at first. But at night she went to bed with Luke and the feel of his arms around her was enough to make her remember why it was worth it to do something so strange.
That didn’t mean she wasn’t going to play with him.
She pulled a small notebook out of her pocket and made a show of measuring the size of one of the more ostentatious paintings in the museum. It wouldn’t be that difficult to purloin if she wanted to put in the effort, but she didn’t have a fence set up and she wasn’t about to pull a job so close to home.
Luke put a hand on her wrist and snatched the notebook. “Really?” he asked, his lips pressing together tight as if he couldn’t quite suppress his smile.
“What?” Mel asked innocently, eyes wide and blinking quickly.
Luke shook his head and gave her a searing kiss before sticking the notebook in his pocket and guiding her towards the next exhibit. Mel didn’t bother to try and stop her own grin. “Can’t I have any…” something moved in the corner of her eye and Mel turned to follow the sight.
“Any what?” Luke asked, oblivious to the distraction.
“Did you see that?” She took a step towards the wall and almost tripped over a wet floor sign. The room didn’t smell like cleaning products and the floor was bone dry.
Mel looked around the room again, this time actually observing instead of playing, and what she saw made her curse. “Someone’s trying to rob the museum.”
Luke might have been skeptical, might have assumed his mate was playing some kind of joke on him, but her face got just as serious as it did when things got tense at pack meetings. She tugged on his hand and led him to a bench in front of an impressionist painting, looking around as if she didn’t have a care in the world. But he could feel the tension thrumming just under her skin.
“Camera in the corner,” she whispered to him. “The angle is wrong.”
Luke looked, but to him, the swiveling camera looked just as it should. But Mel was the professional and he’d take her word for it. “Anything else?”
“Wet floor sign in front of the security panel. And the men’s bathroom was closed when we walked by it. Little things add up.” She stood and nodded towards the exit of the exhibit. “Let’s get out of here. No use getting our picture taken if we’re not doing anything wrong.”
“Let’s get out of here and warn security, that’s what you mean, right?” Mel’s penchant for larceny and her moral flexibility normally didn’t bother him, not anymore. But sometimes his sense of right and wrong conflicted with his mate’s and Luke had to remind himself that she’d been raised to be a thief.
Mel scrunched up her face and tilted her head to the side. “That seems a bit rude. How would you feel if some stranger came in and interrupted your job? It’s not any of our business.”
He really shouldn’t smile. “It’s standard procedure to report a crime when you see it.”
“What crime? All I see is a wet floor sign.” She smiled brightly and Luke gave up fighting his smile.
“We’re reporting this. If you think someone’s going to rob the place, then it’s definitely happening. And are you really going to let other thieves operate in our territory?” Denver didn’t quite fall within pack territory, but as Luke’s lions were the closest shifters to the city, he considered himself responsible.
“Art thieves don’t care so much about territory. And if we talk to the guards it’s going to raise some uncomfortable questions. We should just go.” All playfulness had fallen from her face and she was anxious to leave.
And she had a point. He believed her without doubt, but a security guard wasn’t going to take a wet floor sign and a closed bathroom as proof of a crime in progress. Besides, this wasn’t a shifter problem. The chances of the thieves being shifters was low which meant this fell completely under human jurisdiction.
But Luke couldn’t do nothing.
“We’re calling in an anonymous tip. But then I’ll drop it.”
“It feels wrong to mess with someone’s livelihood like that.”
“And the fact that someone is messing with the livelihoods of museum employees?” Really, their differences were never more apparent than when talking about crime.
“My dear mate, that’s what insurance is for. But if it will make you feel better, we can call it in.”
It would. They’d made it to the entrance when another person crossed their path. Mel was a step in front of Luke and froze in place. Slowly her head turned and Luke followed her gaze to see another man looking right at her.
“Mel?” the man asked.
“Fuck,” his mate whispered.
Mel’s gaze snapped forward and she tugged on Luke’s arm until they were through the doors and out in the bright Denver sun. She couldn’t believe it, but her nose and eyes didn’t lie. Her skin itched and she wanted to run, wanted to get as far away from the museum as she could and never come back.
“What was that about?” Luke asked. He seemed to sense her urge to run and held onto both of her shoulders, keeping her in place and offering her comfort. Only he could hold her like that and not make her feel trapped.
A few people rushed towards the museum doors as if they were racing to get inside, but otherwise the place was quiet. Still, Mel didn’t want to talk in such an open space. She tugged out of Luke’s hold and walked towards the parking lot, her mate following right behind. Once they were safely sitting in the vehicle she took a deep breath and stared out of the window. “Did I ever tell you about Belgrade?”
“With the jet-skis?”
“That was Barcelona.”
“Then no.” He reached out and laced their fingers together, grounding Mel in the present even as a ghost from her past tried to drag her away.
Her insides were shaking, even if she looked steady on the outside. She had too much discipline to give her nerves away, even to Luke. “I almost died in Belgrade and over a job that barely paid the rent.” Okay, that might have been an exaggeration. The job could have bought her a modest house in a decent neighborhood, but it wasn’t worth the blood she’d spilled. “The gallery I was hitting blew up. Killed a guard and two tourists and damn near took my leg off.” If she closed her eyes she could still see the smoke, still smell it in the air trying to suffocate her. “Back then a new player got introduced at the last minute. And he just walked into that museum.”
Luke could feel his mate’s distress and he wanted to leap out of their vehicle and run after the person causing it, to show him that no one was allowed to hurt Mel. But she placed a hand on his arm to keep him in place. “We have to warn the museum,” she said. “I know I was against it earlier, but it’s one thing to steal and something completely different to kill.”
On that they agreed. Luke pulled out his phone and looked up the number for the museum. When he dialed he wanted to growl in frustration as the number went directly to a voicemail account.
“Cops?” he suggested, following their earlier plan. If there was a possibility of a bomb, he wanted his mate far away and the museum visitors evacuated.
Mel shook her head. “That’s where it went wrong last time. He blew it the second he heard sirens.” She looked straight ahead and breathed deep several times before turning her gaze on him. “If we get the cops involved and Belgrade gets spooked, we’re dooming whoever’s left in the museum.”
“I never caught his name.” Her fingers tapped against the door as if she were desperate to get out of the car.
“Is he a shifter?” Luke hadn’t caught the scent, but Mel had been closer and she had the history with the thief.
She jerked her head from side to side. “Can’t say for certain that he’s human, but he’s not one of us.”
“Good.” A hum of danger lit a spark in his veins and Luke wanted to run toward it. Things had been peaceful in the pack for the last two years and he wouldn’t want anything else, but the lion in him was looking for a fight, and fighting a person who threatened his mate was just the kind of satisfaction he needed.
Mel’s own lips curled up into a matching smile. She leaned over and kissed him, quick, harsh, and leaving him wanting more. She jerked back before he could grab on and deepen the kiss, but given the dark heat in her eyes it was clear she wanted more. “We have to be good,” she said, her voice pure seduction. “Things are getting dangerous.”
“Then let’s show him what shifters are made of.”
As they walked back into the museum Mel could feel herself slipping into her old role like she’d never left it. Before she’d only noticed the obvious flaws with the museum’s security but now she was looking and she spotted three points of entry and four camera blind spots. She could clean this place out in a matter of minutes if she had the crew set up, but when Luke crossed into her line of sight she was reminded why she was there, and who she was now.
Sure, she still stole stuff from time to time, but she was no longer the unrepentant thief she’d once been. So she turned her mind from the weaknesses in the museum to the mission at hand, determining whether there was a bomb and getting rid of it before someone got hurt.
She pulled in a deep breath, but the scent of the visitors and cleaning products overwhelmed her and kept her from scenting anything that might have been explosive. She saw Luke’s lungs fill, but he shook his head after a moment, encountering the same problem.
“He wouldn’t want to cut off his escape,” she said, voice low. “And he’d want something more showy than destructive.”
“What does that mean?” Luke asked.
“He probably doesn’t care about getting a huge body count. This is theft, not murder.” She hoped. Belgrade had already shown he was willing to kill, she only hoped he considered the deaths collateral damage rather than the goal.
“So this is Die Hard?” her mate grinned at her and stepped close as a museum visitor passed them by. “Which one of us is Bruce Willis?”
“Yipee-ki-yay,” Mel grinned back.
They sobered when a child’s cry cut through their banter. At the other end of the gallery a young father was holding up a stuffed animal and trying to get the toddler to calm down. If Mel and Luke failed, the father and his child would have much greater worries and she didn’t want to risk it.
“We can cover more ground if we split up. I’ll take the lower level and any restricted areas. You take upstairs. We don’t have a lot of time.”
Mel had begun to turn away when Luke placed a hand on her arm. “I love you,” he said, stealing a kiss.
“I love you, too,” she kissed him back and hoped it wasn’t a goodbye.
Luke watched Mel depart and his lion roared. He wanted to chase after her, to keep her safe from would be bombers and all the dangers of the world. But she wasn’t a woman made to be protected. She was his partner in all things and capable of facing any challenge. Still, that didn’t make her fire proof, which meant he had to act quickly and thoroughly to see this mission completed before it was too late.
He passed by the elevator without pausing and headed for the stairs that led to the upper level of the museum. His lion scratched inside his skin to get out but Luke kept it caged. Now was no time to shift, not unless he was going to take down his prey. There was no reason to alarm the patrons or bring down the guards.
He breathed in deep, trying to sort through the scents all around him and find something out of place. If it hadn’t been for Mel’s tip, he wouldn’t have thought to look. Everything looked normal. When he saw a family with small children studying a painting by one of the masters he wanted to warn them to get out, but causing a panic would only make things worse, and Luke wasn’t willing to do that.
He almost passed by a sign that said the west gallery was closed for maintenance work before tilting his head and listening. He and Mel had passed by earlier and there hadn’t been a sign. No sounds came from the gallery and that only made him more suspicious. Maintenance work was never quiet.
He ducked under the sign and headed down the hall on silent feet, alert and ready to spring at any threat. The first two rooms off the gallery were empty, but Luke could hear the tiniest hints of activity coming from the third. He paused and took a deep breath, readying himself for the attack.
Luke stepped into the room and watched as the man from Belgrade confidently stripped a centuries old painting from its frame and rolled it up with the efficient moves of a professional.
“It wouldn’t be wise to alert security,” the man said without turning. “Really, no one’s been hurt and I’m nearly finished.” Belgrade had the faintest British accent that fit his thief persona perfectly. He fit the rolled painting into a tube and slung it over his back before turning around. He looked Luke up and down. “I can’t say that you’re the one I expected.”
Luke shrugged. “And yet here I am. Now put the painting down and we can both walk away.” Not that he cared that much about the painting, but Mel was looking for the bomb and she needed as much time as he could give her.
The thief rolled his eyes. “Not going to happen. Step aside.”
Luke didn’t move.
Belgrade heaved a put upon sigh and pulled his phone out of his pocket. His fingers flicked over the screen until he pressed something decisively and then flashed it towards Luke. “I’m not here to fight you. And if you want to get out with all your bits attached I’d suggest you move.” He tossed the phone at Luke and grinned when Luke caught it.
Luke didn’t want to take his eyes off the thief, but he spared a glance at the phone and saw a timer counting down from three minutes. “A bomb?” it came out more growl than words.
“A distraction. Now, shall we go?”
Luke’s heart kicked into high gear. Three minutes was no time at all, but he wasn’t letting this thief escape.
He let go of the phone and pounced.
Mel heard the beeping before she found the bomb and she knew something had gone wrong. She had to believe Luke was okay or she was never going to get this thing done. She followed the sound of the beeping and found a small device wedged behind a trash can. Was it the only one? No clue, and she didn’t have time to look for more.
How exactly did one dispose of a bomb?
And how long until it went off?
She could have really used Krista at a time like this. A little magic would have gone a long way.
When in doubt, she did the one thing she’d always known how to do. She ran.
Shifter speed had her out of the building, device in hand, in a handful of seconds, she was across the parking lot in a blink after that. A large lot stood just far enough away from anything that she knew it would have to do. She gently set the device off and ran back, covering as much distance and hoping it did the trick. She couldn’t hear the beeping anymore and she didn’t know how much time had past. But a wave of heat licked at her heels and the sound of a blast made her ears popped. Mel didn’t stop running. There could be a fireball chasing after her. She didn’t exactly know how these things worked, but she’d seen enough movies.
But no fireball appeared and by the time she got back to the museum Luke was standing at the entrance, hair mussed and a bruise blooming under his left eye.
“I’m going to kill him for touching you,” Mel vowed.
Her mate grinned, then he sniffed the air and his expression tightened. “Why were you outside the building? And why do you smell like smoke?”
She shrugged. “The bomb started beeping. Had to get rid of it.”
His eyes went wide and she waited for him to detonate, his explosion sure to be much more impressive than anything Belgrade had managed to pull off. But he took a deep breath and pulled the rage back in. “He’s tied up inside with all of his gear piled on top of him. I think security can deal with him at this point.”
“So you’re saying he’ll take the blame for anything that goes missing?” Mel’s eyes lit up at the possibility.
“No stealing!” Luke hissed. They began moving towards the parking lot as a police cruiser pulled in front of the building. They kept their heads down and moved quickly, not wanting to be drawn into the fray.
Once they were inside their vehicle and driving down a nearby street Mel couldn’t stop laugher bubbling up from inside of her. “What are we doing for our next relaxing vacation?”
Luke held it in for a minute before his own laugh joined hers. “Never a dull moment with you, mate.”
They shared a grin as he sped off towards there hotel. They’d survived. It was time to celebrate.