In the future, a man’s name is still the key to freedom and a beast can still be set free by love.
Some things never change. Fairy tales reach forward into the stars with this duo of heroes trapped in desperate circumstances. Incredible sex isn’t a magical answer, and there aren’t any magic wands. It’s up to a brave princess and a sweet baker to discover happy endings must be earned.
Commanded to Mate by Jennifer Leeland
The proud lovely colonist is bound to marry an alien beast.
Terrified Sierra Pasquel agrees to an arranged marriage to the monstrous Dormrelian ambassador. To save her family and her colony, she’ll do whatever it takes, including a four-eyed, four-armed beast of an alien.
Terek Majii is the holder of a centuries-old secret cursing his race. His people are on the edge of extinction and Sierra holds the key. As he teaches her about passion through touch, not sight, he prays he’ll be able to win her trust. Not because two colonies depend on them, but because his love for her is everything.
Bitter Gold by Mima
An innocent woman is bound to an alien slave.
Stillskin lives for the day he can rid himself of the slave clamp around his heart and leave this den of powerful addicts. Then his foul masters drag Liese to the enclave. The kind baker is the one spot of pleasure in his life, and he will risk much to help her. He is the most exotic thing she’s ever seen, dark and stoic. If only there was a way she could help free him. When she is kidnapped and taken to the enclave, she believes it means her death. But Stillskin convinces her to fight back. Now two friends are trapped in a dire race for freedom.
Sierra Pasquel stared out the conference room window, taking in the panoramic view of the colony’s skyline. The Asberek evening sky was streaked with reds and pinks, just like every night this time of year.
“I called you three here for an important request,” her father announced. Something in his tone made her nerves tighten with fear, and she glanced at his face. Adonis Pasquel, leader of the Asberek colony, hero of the rebellion that liberated them from Earth Central, had dark circles under his eyes.READ MORE
He’d been in negotiations with the Dormrela for almost six months now, desperately trying to solidify an alliance that would protect the rebels from Earth Central’s fist. So why would he call his three daughters into the conference room? As the youngest, Sierra was mostly ignored by her famous and busy father. She’d followed in her mother’s footsteps, studying the ancient Dormrelian relics left on Asberek before the colony arrived. Their presence on Asberek had been a mystery and still fascinated Sierra’s mother, even after all these years. Why the Dormrela abandoned the planet was no mystery, though. The flood of Synthetic Endorphin Xtasy, a chemical compound developed by the Ang to increase sexual activity, had instead resulted in genocide. Sierra’s mother had been one of the first humans to set foot on Asberek since the entire population of Dormrela had been decimated over a hundred years earlier.
The silence after her father’s announcement continued. Sierra focused on her father. He fidgeted, his gaze on the floor, his hands clenched into fists. Her eyes widened. He was nervous. How odd.
“Well? Come on, Dad,” Kinley prompted impatiently. “I’ve got a date tonight.”
What night didn’t Kinley have a date? Sierra bit back a sigh. Both her sisters were popular, normal, pretty. Not Sierra. She was too short, too round and too weird to be popular. Her older sisters drove Sierra’s parents crazy with their revolving boyfriends and party life. Not Sierra. She worked.
Sierra gazed at her sisters, who sat around the polished metal table, their reflections blurry in the harsh fluorescent glow. They were both beautiful and seemed to fit in this modern environment. The grey-blue walls and the black computer screens only emphasized their blonde coloring and slender features.
In contrast, she was a rather dull, washed-out copy with similar features but none of their beauty.
“When we first colonized Asberek, we relied heavily on the Ang for information about this system,” her father said. “We found a city that had been inhabited by a species we eventually discovered were humans taken from Earth by the Ang hundreds of years ago.”
Shasta shifted impatiently, but all three girls stayed quiet. This was all old information to them.
“We also discovered that the Dormrela had been spying on this human population, trying to determine what the Ang were doing so they could stop it.” Sierra’s father kept his gaze on his clenched fists on the table. “I was ... recruited ... by a Dormrelian ambassador to stop Ang domination.” Her father seemed so tortured. Sierra didn’t want to hear anymore.
“And?” Kinley demanded.
Adonis Pasquel sighed. “I was duped by both sides. Even Earth Central lied to hide their part in the whole mess. Then Earth Central sent one of their Elite Tribunal soldiers to assassinate me.”
Sierra squirmed. She’d been such a fool. The man had knocked out Sierra’s date for a colonial dance and convinced her he’d been sent by her father as a replacement. To guard. Instead, the man tried to kill her father and wounded Matthew Lestrano in the process.
“Dad, we know all this,” Kinley said.
“Earth Central wants control of the colony for our resources.” And our DNA, thought Sierra. Her father rubbed his forehead. “As you know, Earth launched an attack force about four months ago. We have three months at the most before they arrive. We need the Dormrela to help us against Earth Central.” He took a deep breath. “Something has come up in the negotiations with Dormrela that concerns you.” He cleared his throat. “One of the stipulations the Dormrela have demanded for their help is an arranged marriage with one of you.”
The silence that followed was deafening. Sierra blinked. Shasta was the first to speak. “That’s insane. This is twenty-third century Asberek, not ancient Earth. Tell them to go to hell.” Her sister’s blue eyes glittered.
“It’s completely unreasonable,” Kinley snapped. “We’re not cattle to be sold at auction.” She glared at her father’s bent head. “Do they even care which one of us they acquire?”
“They suggested one of you might volunteer. But make no mistake, this is a requirement they insist upon.” Her father’s lips tightened. “The Dormrelan culture still recognizes arranged marriages. They’ve had to because of what the Ang did to their DNA all those years ago.”
“We had nothing to do with that,” Shasta protested.
“It’s what they’ve requested.” Sierra’s father frowned. “The Ang, out of desperation, experimented on the Dormrela, on humans--”
“On us,” Kinley ground out. “This is ridiculous. They’re no better than the Ang.”
Kinley raised an imperious hand. “No. The Ang kidnapped me and Shasta fifteen years ago. We know.”
“And they had help from those fucking lizards,” Shasta snarled. “I don’t think the fact the Ang bred them for centuries excuses them.” She ignored Sierra’s gasp. “Besides, how can a human woman mate with one of them anyway?”
Sierra stared at Shasta and Kinley. Both of them were so angry, and she thought she could sense fear beneath the hostility.
Her father glared at Shasta. “That’s an insensitive statement based on ignorance. It’s exactly the kind of attitude that is blocking a peaceful solution.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I thought I taught you better than that.” His voice sounded tired and he massaged his temples. “You both have every reason to hate the Dormrela, but how can you allow our colony to fail because of the work of a small group of rebels?”
Shasta’s pixie face flushed a bright red, but her chin stayed high. “You taught us that our DNA is the most valuable in the galaxy. Haven’t we all had to keep a guard with us since we were born? And now you’ll hand one of us over to a four-armed four-eyed alien. For what?”
“Peace,” her father said. “Survival.” Sierra’s heart clenched. She’d never seen her father so tired, so worn. For years he’d kept them all at bay--the Ang, the Dormrela, Earth Central--but it was a losing battle.
“Why do they want one of us?” Sierra asked.
Her father sighed. “Your DNA is the most valuable in the galaxy. I never told you why.”
Sierra’s very soul listened.
He continued. “My DNA is a product of experiments, injections given to me by an evil man twenty-eight years ago. Let’s just say that my physiology has been altered. All three of you carry the same DNA mutations.” He stared at Shasta. “None of you are completely human.”
“So what are we?” Kinley shouted. “That’s why the Ang took us, isn’t it? You’re willing to mate us to a monster. What kind of a father are you?”
Her sisters began to yell over each other, the cacophony beating Sierra’s ears. She thought about the colony, her friends and family, the life she knew. Now the critical nature of their need for allies became clear. They weren’t just a rebellious outpost, and Earth Central wanted more than obedience. They wanted the Pasquel family DNA. This would not end well if they didn’t get help.
She thought about Earth Central and the horrible biological weapons they used to get their way. Everything Sierra knew would be destroyed if one of them didn’t--
“I’ll do it.” The words flew out of Sierra’s mouth before she thought about them.
Her father and two sisters stared at her.
She met each of their gazes. “To keep the peace, to save the colony, what difference does it make what the Dormrela want?” She stared at Kinley. “Earth Central sent a man who tried to kill Dad last year.” Then she stared at Shasta. “The Ang tried to kidnap you.” Her gaze returned to her father. “And last month, Earth Central sent a spy who blew up one of the transport bays.” She shook her head. “That’s why we have to do this. We need the Dormrela to help us defend Asberek.” Her home, her family, all hung in the balance. Never mind the fact she owed it to her family after almost getting her father killed, even if her assistance had been unwitting. “Of all of us, I know the Dormrela. I’ll do it.”
“No,” Kinley said. “Dad, don’t make her do this.”
Her sister had always been her protector. She shook her head at Kinley. Sierra had seen her father’s desperation. The burden of keeping the small colony alive now depended on the most primitive of bonds. And she was the only one who was willing.
“Sierra, are you sure?” Her father murmured.
She nodded. “I’m sure. I’ve studied the culture all my life. I’m the best choice.”
It had been a series of shocks, but nothing stunned her more than the tears that gathered in her father’s eyes. “Thank you, Sierra.” His fingers trembled as he reached across the conference table and touched her hand.
“What are the details of this marriage? How long do I have? Who am I marrying?” She asked the questions quickly before reality struck and she ran from the room, screaming.
“Terek Maji is a high-ranking Dormrelian diplomat who has been negotiating the treaty. The arranged marriage is with him.” Her father clasped her hand in his. “You’ll be married according to Dormrelian customs.” Sierra’s stomach churned when her father wouldn’t look her in the eye.
Dormrelian customs. “I haven’t studied their marriage rites.” Did that mean--“Customs ... are?” she managed to say, though her mouth was dry as dust.
He cleared his throat. “Public consummation.”
A fist clenched around her stomach and she felt nauseous. She’d known, but had to hear her father say it. She and her colleagues had discussed what little information had been discovered, but none of them had ever thought they’d know someone who would make such a custom reality. Most certainly not her.
Her father raked a hand through his hair. “Apparently, it’s the Dormrelian custom for the council to witness the mating for political alliances.”
She licked her lips. “When?” she whispered.
“Two months from tomorrow.” Her father let go of her hand and pounded the table. “The rush is my fault, not Maji’s. Earth Central has sent an ultimatum. They’re sending military force to reacquire the colony. The information we have says they’re equipped with biological weapons.” He thrust his hand through his hair. “The Dormrela have agreed to stand beside us, provided the marriage ceremony is completed.”
Numb, Sierra nodded. “I see.”
“You can’t do this to her,” Shasta protested.
Sierra covered her sister’s fist with her hand. “It’s okay.” She stared at her father. “I have two requests.”
“Name them,” her father said.
“I want this Terek Maji to contact me every day for the next six weeks. If I’m going to be his mate, I want to know who he is.”
“Done,” her father snapped. “And?”
She took a deep breath. “And I don’t want to see him. Audio only.”
Her father studied her face and then nodded. “I’m sure he’ll agree to that.”
“Has he seen what I look like?” She wasn’t exactly every man’s dream. The audio protected her from rejection as well.
“I don’t know. You are all well known in this system,” he said slowly. “He may have.”
She nodded. “Well, hopefully he will be satisfied.”
This was not how Terek Maji had anticipated acquiring a mate. High above Asberek’s atmosphere, he rubbed his hands on his flight suit and perched on his chair. That one of the Pasquel women agreed to be mated to a Dormrelian warrior was difficult to wrap his brain around.
After all, he’d been taught early in life that the Dormrela were a superior race, and better off without alien influence. His mother--but he wasn’t going to think about her right now. He had to think about Sierra Pasquel.
He knew very little about this human female to whom he was about to be bound to for life. Surprisingly, he couldn’t find images of her anywhere in the vid streams, unlike her sisters who cluttered the airways with their inane activities.
Not that he could judge them. He, of all people, understood the necessity to show a different face to the world than the one he studied in the mirror.
The irony of Sierra’s request that they communicate, but blindly, wasn’t lost on him. It concerned him that she might find him ... frightening. Most humans did. Was it the extra set of eyes? Or the extra arms? Or perhaps it was the scales that covered their bodies? Whatever the reason, humans were uncomfortable around the Dormrela, though the ones from Asberek were less overt about it.
“Transmission signal activated.” The computer intoned.
Terek forced his pulse to slow and kept his hands unclenched. She would hear his tension, even if she couldn’t see it. He had to remain calm.
“You don’t have to do this,” Terek heard a whisper.
“I want to do this, Shasta,” a warm, female voice responded clearly. “I’ll be all right.”
“Do you want me to stay?”
“No, I’ll be fine.” Sierra’s firm voice never wavered, but Terek wondered if that was an act for her sister. “You go.”
Terek heard a rustle and then, silence. A moment later, Sierra said, “Terek Maji?”
“I’m here,” he answered.
“I apologize. I didn’t realize the transmission line was open.” She cleared her throat. “I suppose you think I’m a coward,” she said in a louder tone.
Interesting opening. “No. I don’t. There is no precedent for this, Sierra Pasquel. There’s no manual for how to behave.”
“Too bad,” she said dryly. “I could use one right now.”
He snorted. A sense of humor? She would need it. “You can write one.”
She laughed, a warm sound that melted a little of Terek’s tension. “I’ll take notes.”
“Tell me what you’d like to know.” Of course, Terek was aware there were many questions he couldn’t answer, but he wondered what she’d ask.
“I know very little about Dormrela, just what I’ve learned from your ancient ruins,” she said slowly. “My father said you have a council that runs the government.”
Ah, a safe topic. Politics. He smiled, glad she couldn’t see him. “Yes. We have a council of ten. They are both appointed and elected.”
“How can they be both?”
“To be eligible for election by our people, the seated council members must appoint a candidate. Usually, they appoint two and let the population decide.”
“It sounds controlling,” she said dubiously.
“Compared to the type of government on Earth, it is controlling. There is no campaigning, no trying to convince the people to vote one way or another.” Terek had seen the footage from Earth Central’s political atmosphere. The vicious verbal attacks and disinformation had shocked him. But then, his government specialized in lies too.
“And they require public fucking.” Her voice wavered and he heard the doubt and fear in it.
“Yes. It may seem barbaric to you, but it’s one way the council ensures that the mating is a real one.” Again, the irony of his statement didn’t escape him. Yes, this public consummation made a mating “real”, but it didn’t save them from the coldness, the ugliness, of political distance. Hadn’t he seen that firsthand? “We are lucky, you and I.”
“Oh? How’s that?”
“We both have the best interests of our people in our hearts.” Would that be enough? He wasn’t sure. The council had been adamant. A Pasquel daughter must become part of the inner workings of Dormrelian politics and the only way they would trust her was if she was publicly mated to him.
“I don’t see what benefit your government receives from this.”
“Trust.” He struggled to find the right words. “How familiar with Earth’s ancient history are you?”
“My father told me a story that he’d heard from his father and so on.” How far back did their memories go? Not far enough. “Once political marriages were commonplace on your home planet.”
“Yes. But we have had one central government for decades.” She sounded confused, but she was listening.
“Long ago, my father said two countries that were constantly at war arranged for one leader’s daughter to marry the other leader’s son.” Isabella and Edward II. Probably not the best example since Edward II was enamoured with one of his favorites and Isabella ousted her husband from the throne with the help of her lover. But Terek pressed on. “Those two countries were able to stave off war for many years because they were connected by blood.”
“Your people have no reason to fear us.” She sounded suspicious.
“War drains our people. We already have conflicts with the Ang. Why would we want to continue misunderstandings with another planet?”
Well, it sounded good. What would she say if he told her the truth? If he explained that his people were dying, that something was wrong with the DNA on his planet and she was their only hope?
He knew what she’d say. That it was their own fault for isolating themselves all these centuries, for their aggression, their suspicious nature. He knew they hadn’t handled relations with Earth Central very well, and their attempts to disrupt the Ang’s influence had led directly to this day, this conversation.
The facts were clear and public knowledge. They’d sent Kliro as an ambassador, but he’d had his own idea of how to gain the upper hand on their old enemy, the Ang. The injections he’d given to Adonis Pasquel had almost killed the man.
How ironic that the Ang saved Pasquel, creating the one thing the Dormrela had sought for over a hundred years.
A solution to their DNA dead end.
“It seems too simple,” she finally said. Perceptive.
“Nothing about a political match is simple.”
“Why do I get the feeling there’s much more behind this?”
“Would it change anything?” The words slipped out. Wasn’t this difficult enough? He didn’t mean to sound bitter, but he was as trapped as she was.
She was silent for a moment. Then, “No. I love my colony. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect them.”
“And I promise you, I will too.”
“You would?” She sounded stunned. “I thought--” The following silence was filled with her unanswered questions. “I thought this was about my commitment.”
“It’s about both of us. This will be a partnership.” He hoped for more, but would live with less. For his people.
She cleared her throat. “With benefits, I hope.”
The husky quality of her voice sent electricity through him. Would she be willing to--“Only if you desire it.”
“I don’t like deception, Ambassador.”
It was at that moment Terek knew. He didn’t know how he knew, but his soul cried out for its missing part, the part that Sierra Pasquel apparently had. “You have my promise,” he said, his throat suddenly tight. “Our partnership will be equal in truth.”
“Even though I’m human?”
“No matter what, Ashani.” He said the words softly, wanting nothing more than to reach his hand through the screen and touch her, reassure her.
“I hope you don’t regret that promise.” She sounded so unsure. Of him? Or of herself?
“Tell me what you’re afraid of.”
She was quiet for a long time. Finally, she said. “Did you know it was my fault my father was almost killed?” Her voice cracked on the last word. “I was deceived, charmed by an Earth Central Tribunal soldier. Because of me, he got close enough to take a shot at my father and wounded Matthew Lestrano instead.” She inhaled, her breath audibly shaky. “I’m not exactly a good judge of character.”
So, that was it. Understandable. “Do you trust your father?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“He loves you. He wouldn’t give you to someone he didn’t trust. Not for any treaty.” Hell, he almost hadn’t agreed to the mating because he wanted his daughter to fall in love. And now, as Terek spoke to his future mate, he understood why.
“Do you think I’m being ridiculously female?”
“No. You’ve had your trust betrayed. I understand completely.”
“I feel as if this is the only way I can make up for what I did, for what happened.” Tears were in her voice.
“Ashani, you were deceived by one of the best trained soldiers in the universe and his whole purpose was to do just what he did.” He clenched his fists. The bastard. How could someone use her like that? Good thing the pakhtash was dead. “No one could have known. No one.”
She sighed. “That’s what Daddy said, but--”
“No buts,” he said sternly.
Her laughter rang over the com. “You do sound threatening.”
“It isn’t working, is it?”
“No,” she said softly. “Thank you, Ambassador.”
“Call me Terek.”COLLAPSE