Cedroc: Sneak Peek


“I swear to God, if you post that picture, I’m going to launch you into the black!” I cackled and lunged for the phone in Constalatia’s hand. We sat across from each other on the plush white leather seats of my driver’s car. The sun was just starting to peek up over the horizon. It had been another successful night for us.

We’d started at dusk with the newest, hottest, and most exclusive restaurant in town. From there, we’d moved to a cute little bar for our first round of cocktails. After that, everything blurred together. I knew we’d gone dancing at two different locations, maybe more. All I knew for sure was that, like always, I’d had the time of my life.

“Shut up!” she shrieked back. “You look so pretty in every photo! Don’t pretend you don’t think so.”

“Yeah, I know I look pretty.” I tossed my waist-length hair over my shoulder and made another grab for the phone. This time, I managed to snag it. “I’m just trying to keep a low profile with all the partying.”

I quickly deleted any photo evidence of our rambunctious evening.

“Your dad?” Constalatia asked.

“Yeah. He’s gotten it into his head that I’m out of control. I promised him I’d slow down, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” I said, winking.

She rolled her eyes. “I just don’t get why he’s still trying to control you. You’re a grown woman! You’re allowed to do whatever you want!”

“Right? He pays for my apartment, my car, and pretty much everything else, but why does that mean I have to change who I am?” I huffed. Thinking about my father and the weight of his ridiculous expectations was killing my buzz. 

Why was it so bad that I wanted to spend my nights having fun surrounded by people who liked and admired me? Every night, I came home with a smile on my face. Didn’t that mean anything to my father?

“No frowning!” Constalatia shouted and shoved a bottle of something bubbly towards me. “Drink until you’re smiling again.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” I chuckled, and took a long swig. Before long, my buzz was back. The world whizzing by outside of our car was blurry and glowing. Nothing looked real. Nothing felt real. That was how I liked it.

“I never wanted to follow in his footsteps,” I muttered.

“Enough about your dad. Thinking about him stresses you out too much.”

“You’re right. You’re right,” I waved her off. “You know what sounds great right now?”

“What?” She leaned forward with an eager gleam in her eyes.

“A pile of pancakes the size of my head,” I giggled.

“Oh my God! You’re right!”

“We should get some.” I looked out the window of the car. The world outside came to a standstill. “Hey, what’s going on?”

“We’ve arrived back home, Miss Sinclare,” the driver said.

“Oh,” I pouted. “Well, I won’t make you drive us back out to get pancakes.”

“That’s literally his job,” Constalatia scoffed.

“It’s okay. We can order pancakes from my suite!”

“Good idea!”

We stumbled out of the car and through the door of my building. My father owned the entire building of course, which was why I had the penthouse all to myself. He lived at his estate on the other side of the city. I had rooms there, of course, but I liked my independence.

An elevator attendant was waiting to take me to my floor, and thank goodness he was. All of the buttons looked too blurry. I wouldn’t have been able to find the right button on my own. When the elevator started its ascent, I nearly fell over. I clutched Constalatia for balance, but that didn’t do me any good. She was falling over, too.

The elevator door opened right into the foyer of my luxurious multistory penthouse. Standing in the middle of the foyer with a huge scowl on his face was my father, Erikson Sinclare.

“Ooh,” Constalatia winced. “Maybe we can get pancakes another time.” She awkwardly patted me on the shoulder before stepping back into the elevator. I stood still as a stone, alone with my father.

“Hey, Dad,” I said, trying to sound casual.

“Where have you been?” he snapped.

“I went out with Constalatia.”

He winced when I said her name. He’s never liked her. Or her name. “I can see that plainly,” he said.

“Then why’d you ask?”

“Don’t get smart with me,” he snapped. “I checked with the doorman. You’ve been out all night. Winston saw you going into multiple locations of the most unsavory nature–”

I held up my hand.

“Winston? You sent your secretary to spy on me?”

“I sent him to make sure you weren’t making a fool of yourself! The Sinclares have a reputation in this city. It has to be protected! How many times do we have to have this conversation?”

“I’m not willing to let a last name I didn’t ask for dictate my life!” I snapped.

“What life?” he shouted. “All you do is sleep all day and party all night. What are you even wearing? How can you go out like that and expect to be seen as a respectable woman?”

I looked down at my short black dress covered in dark, shimmering sequins. The dress was completely backless. I was starting to feel the chill in the air. I wasn’t sure if that was because I left the air conditioning on or if my father’s cold gaze was the culprit.

“This dress cost more than your entire suit,” I sniffed. “And I don’t believe that how I dress is a reflection of who I am as a person.”

“It doesn’t matter! How you’re perceived matters.”

“Oh, that’s such bullshit,” I snapped.

Behind me, the elevator dinged and the doors opened. Three doctors in white coats and blue gloves toting what looked like an entire lab on wheels stepped into the foyer.

“What the hell is this? What are you doing in my apartment?” I demanded.

“It’s my apartment,” my father corrected me.

“But I decorated it, my furniture is here, and all of my clothes are here. That makes it mine.” I folded my arms across my chest. My father gave me a blank stare.

“They’re here because you have no concept of reality,” my father sighed. “You’re never going to accomplish anything if you don’t get your life together.”

“I have a great life,” I argued. “I’ve accomplished so much! That new club in the city? Carnage? I’m the one who gave the interior decorator my opinion on the awful color scheme. Guess what happened? They changed it! Now the place is the trendiest in the area and that’s all because of me!”

“Oh my God.” My father pressed his hand over his eyes.

“I don’t see what these doctors have to do with reality,” I pointed out.

“They’re here to register you for the matchmaking database.”

My buzz crashed to the ground and shattered into a million pieces. I was now uncomfortably sober and starting to panic.

“What?” I laughed. “That’s crazy, Dad. You’ve kept me out of the database for my entire life. Wasn’t your whole thing that your only heir can’t be at risk of being whisked away to an alien planet?”

“You don’t understand the way the world works. I’m having you put onto the registry. With any luck, it’ll ground you and remind you that the type of life you’re living now will not be like this forever. Eventually, you’re going to have to learn a trade. You’re going to have to make a name for yourself. You’re my heir. I refuse to let the Sinclare legacy die because you refuse to be responsible!”

“You’re joking, right?” My throat grew tighter with each syllable I uttered. He wasn’t seriously going to let me be put on the register, right?

He looked to the doctors. “Do what you need to do.”

“You can’t do anything to me! I’m an adult. You can’t do anything without my consent.”

“It’s the law, ma’am,” one of the doctors, a woman, said in a gentle voice. “All childless women of age have to be registered as per our treaty with the Mahdfel.”

“I didn’t think it was that serious!” I scoffed.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” my father snapped. “I know you were too little to remember much about the invasion, but we almost lost everything. The Suhlik killed my brother. They killed your grandfather on your mother’s side. Your mother would’ve been taken away from me if it weren’t for the Mahdfel.”

“Yeah, I took a history class in school. I’m not totally clueless.” I groaned. A doctor pricked me with something while I had my attention directed on my father. “Hey! Don’t you dare do anything with that sample!”

“Coralie,” my father sighed. “This is happening.”

“Fine,” I grumbled.

I remembered from that history class that the odds of getting matched weren’t high. A human woman had to be a ninety-eight percent match or something like that. The Mahdfel were just a big genetic melting pot. I was going to be fine. By this time tomorrow, I’d be partying with Constalatia. This would just be a bad memory in a sea of happy times.

An anxious voice in the back of my mind whispered to me. I suddenly remembered the fun little tidbit about what happened to women who weren’t perfectly suited to their genetic matches. Not often, but every once in a while, a matched woman experienced complications during her pregnancy. In those cases, the mother and baby rarely survived.

Fear formed a hard pit in my stomach as my sample was loaded into the portable lab. I had no idea this kind of test was portable.

It’s fine, I told myself over and over. The chances are slim. You’ll be fine.

I took a deep breath and immediately felt better. Everything in my life had worked out in my favor so far. Why would this be any different? Bad things like this didn’t happen to me. They simply didn’t.

The machine beeped and lit up green.

“Green’s a good thing, right?” I smiled.

My father looked at me with an expression of horror. His face drained of all color. The doctors’ exchanged a tense look.

“What’s happening?” I asked softly.

“There must be something we can do,” my father said. I realized he wasn’t speaking to me, but the doctors. “She wasn’t supposed to be a match.”

“Wait, I’m a match?” I exclaimed. “That’s impossible! I can’t go to another planet.”

“I’m sorry,” one of the doctors said to me. She reached out and placed a gentle hand on my arm. “We can teleport you from here. You won’t have to go to a testing facility.”

“Daddy, do something!” My eyes filled with tears as I looked at my father. I’d never seen him look so helpless.

 “There’s nothing he can do,” a male doctor said. “The law of the treaty dictates you  must report to your match.” He brought out another odd device and held it to my temple. “You might feel a little pinch.”

Fucker! That wasn’t a pinch.

I glared at him, but he just raised an eyebrow. “You’ll want the translator once you get there.”

“I’ll fix it,” my father assured me as the doctors prepped the teleportation pad.

“It’s calibrated. It looked like there’s a teleportation link near your match.” They said it like it was supposed to make me feel better. I couldn’t speak. I must’ve gone into shock. Nothing felt real.

I didn’t say anything when someone grasped my arm and gently led me to the teleportation pad.

I still didn’t say anything when harsh blue light glowed all around me. The last thing I remembered seeing was my father’s face, filled with sadness and guilt.

Then I was falling.


“Who’s reporting the big nothing we’ve found?” I muttered to Jarvik as we slogged through endless tunnels to get back to the surface.

The Calliope had landed on Gravum IV weeks ago and we were still no closer to finding the damned artifact Command had sent us out here to find. It would have been easier to find it if they’d given us more information than “it’s underground” to go on, but that was beside the point.

Kyre, our genius engineer, had rigged up an underground radar device with the help of his human mate, Ferne, to assist us in our search. It was accurate at detecting anomalies beneath the surface of the planet, but unfortunately couldn’t provide precise details as to what was buried, so that’s where our team came in.

We were responsible for the dirty work, quite literally, of tunneling down through the dirt and soil to figure out what exactly was buried there.

So far, Kyre’s device had indicated anomalies in three underground chambers.

In the first, we’d discovered a giant rock, almost like an altar, set up in the middle of a vast, glittering cavern. In the second, a large crystal, much like the ones Kyre had mined to fix the comms systems when we’d first arrived, in an underground swamp.

Two interesting finds, but apparently not what we were looking for.

The third chamber was a combination of the first two, deep, deep underground and stretching for what felt like miles beneath.

I’d gone down with Jarvik, the Calliope’s medic, while Kyre remained at the mouth of the chamber with Lila, the mate of our captain, Rekker, and Ferne to monitor our position. Jarvik and I had to squeeze through various tunnels and through more underground tributaries, only to find another of the same crystals we already had in surplus.

It was maddening.

“I took the lead last time,” Jarvik answered mildly. “That would make it your turn now.”

The trip to the third chamber had also taken the most amount of time of the three.

We’d spent two nights underground and were both cranky, filthy, and exhausted as we trekked back to the beginning of the chamber.

Supplies and morale were running low and although I didn’t mind the challenge, I wanted nothing more than to return to the surface, have a hot shower, and see the sun.

To be honest, the work wasn’t that bad. The only thing I really minded was Command continuing to keep us in the dark.

Rekker had agreed to this mission on the promise that he and his crew would receive a two-week furlough at the end of it, and we were all living for that. We’d been on various missions for well over a year and were all craving some downtime. Command had advised this one would be a quick in-and-out and had failed epically on delivering their end of the bargain.

We quickly discovered it would be anything but ‘a quick in-and-out’.

Our comms went down the moment we’d landed, so we’d had no way to communicate with Command. Kyre had gone out on a recon mission for supplies to fix it, but ended up being gone days longer than he’d originally planned, returning with Ferne, his human mate, and a wild tale of how they’d been matched in the middle of the desert.

With Ferne joining us, that made two out of our crew of five Vaznik warriors who’d been matched by the treaty between the Mahdfel and the humans.

“Dibs on the shower, then,” I insisted. “Even a short one would be welcome after the last two days.”

The two mates, welcome as they were, had unexpectedly increased our numbers.

Which meant we were running out of supplies faster than we’d originally planned. Showers were, by default, fast on a ship, but until we could reliably purify the local resources, we’d need to be careful with our water supply.

I didn’t have the energy right now to run the calculations, but I was sure it meant we had to find that artifact quickly and get off this rock before we starved.

If Command was content to leave us to play guess-and-check with every underground cave on Gravum IV, I doubted they’d send a supply ship out here to restore our cache of food, ammo, and tech.

And it would have to be a supply ship. They’d never spring for the cost of teleporting that many supplies or even the base matter for the replicators.

I never minded being sent out on missions—it was in my blood, after all—but I did mind being left in the dark.

“You’re assuming Rekker and Lila haven’t tried to ‘save water’ again,” Jarvik added. “That wasn’t a particularly well thought-out experiment.”

I couldn’t help but snicker at the memory of our usually stern captain’s burgundy skin darkening even more at the realization that the entire crew had heard the results of that particular attempt at water conservation.

The addition of the human females to the crew, although logistically problematic, was actually a positive to the mission.

They weren’t as durable as Mahdfel males—especially not Mahdfel males who also happened to be Vaznik—but they were both friendly and funny and turned out to be exceedingly capable crew members.

Lila, Rekker’s mate, was skilled in healing and worked in the Calliope’s infirmary with Jarvik. Ferne was an extremely fast learner and easily took to assisting Kyre in his workshop.

The rest of the crew and I had taken to them almost like sisters, bound by the honor of the Vaznik to protect and defend them.

It was interesting to see Rekker and Kyre with their mates. We’d been a team for so long that we worked together almost as a singular being—most of the time, we didn’t need to verbalize our next moves because we anticipated them by virtue of our bonds alone. It was strange to see both males divert their attentions to the non-Vaznik females, but they were well-suited to being mated.

Lila and Ferne complimented them and enriched their lives, and some males flourished under those conditions.

I was not that type of male. I enjoyed working with my team and spending time with them, but I also craved solitude.

As the pilot of the Calliope, I was used to working alone—no one else could fly the ship but me, and that was the code I lived by, as well. No one else was in charge of piloting my life, and I liked it that way. Even though neither Lila nor Ferne dictated what Rekker and Kyre did, it was plain to see that both males were easily influenced by their mates’ desires, and I didn’t want that for myself.

Plus, the entire universe was going to shit, and I’d rather not take on one more thing to worry about. Not even if that one thing came in the form of a beautiful human female.

No thanks.

When Jarvik and I finally crawled out of the last tunnel and met up with Kyre, Lila, and Ferne, we were both sweating, stinking, and parched. Kyre eyed us both, holding onto the tracking device with a ridiculous, hopeful look on his face.

“Anything?” he asked.

“Do you think we’d look this annoyed if we’d found what we were looking for?” I deadpanned.

I pulled myself up out of the hole and held out a hand to him, wordlessly indicating he should hand over the canteen of water. He pushed it into my palm and returned to reviewing the screen of the device.

“I need to figure out how to make this thing track the substance of the anomalies,” he said. “Going down blind is a waste of time.”

“You don’t say,” I muttered.

I took a deep pull of water from the canteen before shoving it off into Jarvik’s waiting hand. He finished the water off as I watched, using the last trickles to wash the dirt from his face.

“What did you find in there, anyway?” Kyre asked.

“Just another stupid crystal,” I said, dumping my pack on the ground and pulling the damn thing out.

“You brought it back? This thing weighs a ton!”

“Of course I brought it back—we need all the supplies we can get. I’m sure there’s something you can do with it. Don’t thank me or anything.”

“I’m grateful, Cedroc. You know that.”

I wasn’t usually so ornery with my teammates, but the last few days had been rough. I desperately wanted a meal that wasn’t out of a ration pack and a good night’s sleep.

“Can we head back to the ship now? I need real rest before we start this all over again tomorrow,” Jarvik said, voicing my exact desires.

Kyre nodded. “I’ll let Rekker know we’re on our way.”

He pulled out a comms radio and powered it on, waiting as it crackled to life.

“Rekker. What do you have?”

Jarvik nodded towards me, and I sighed. “Nothing you want, I’m afraid.”

A long pause, and I could almost imagine the captain glaring at the map. “You did your best, I’m sure. Get back to camp and we’ll decide on the next one.”

Kyre put the radio away, and yet another of the many devices on his person began beeping incessantly. It was a shrill, annoying sound that I very much wanted to cease immediately.

“What the hell is that and how do you make it stop?” I asked him.

“That’s strange—it’s the device that’s tied to the teleportation pad back in the workshop on the ship. It’s telling me the pad is online and trying to activate, which is weird because it’s not in commission. Ferne accidentally broke it last week when we were…never mind,” he said, his voice suddenly trailing off.

I looked over to where Ferne stood with Lila, unable to prevent myself from rolling my eyes at her.

“Hey, I’m not sorry about it. It was a good time,” Ferne replied with a grin.

“I can’t fix the other pad from here, but I can reroute the signal to the one we have with us,” Kyre said, fingers flying over the screen of the device.

Once he finished inputting the rerouting data, he crouched down and pulled his personal teleportation pad from his overloaded pack. He placed it carefully on the ground and powered it up, waiting as it hummed to life before he stood.

A set of coordinates flashed onto its screen once it came online.

Coordinates I recognized from reviewing the previous logs.

Since I’d seen it before, I knew exactly what was about to happen.

Seconds later, a human female teleported onto the pad.

The first thing I noticed were her shoes.

They were the most painful looking shoes I’d ever seen: shiny black things with a high arch, thin, dagger-like heels, and overly pointed toes.

The dress she wore was black, too, but it was more akin to a scrap of fabric, leaving not one inch of her body to the imagination. It sparkled in the bright lights Kyre had set up for us to see by, nearly blinding me.

Despite her smudged makeup, she was stunningly beautiful, with long, honey-blonde hair that fell down her back nearly to her waist; golden, tanned skin, that looked soft to the touch; big, blue eyes that reminded me of Earth’s sky on a cloudless day; and the plumpest lips I’d ever seen. She was gorgeous, yes, but she looked as exhausted as I felt.

The five of us just stared at her, waiting for her to say something, when Ferne suddenly drove an elbow into my side.

“Looks like this one’s yours, Cedroc,” she said with a chuckle.

She was right. The tattoo on my left shoulder—the one that only lit up when my true soulmate was near—was burning white.

Well, fuck.


It was bad enough returning to my apartment to find my father had practically broken in and organized the testing without even telling me about it. It was much worse to discover I was a 99% match with an alien male I’d never met.

I didn’t think Daddy really thought I’d actually be successfully matched—I think he was just trying to scare me onto the straight and narrow path he thought I should be on.

Boy, did that plan backfire or what?

I didn’t even have time to process the whole thing before the treaty doctors hustled me onto a teleportation pad and shipped me off. I’d never teleported anywhere before and it was absolutely terrible. It felt like I was being sliced and torn and twisted every which way, like trying to squeeze a size ten girl into a size two dress. It was simply awful.

When I opened my eyes, I had no idea where I was. My surroundings made me think I was underground, but the light was so bright it couldn’t possibly be so. I blinked over and over again, trying to clear the spots from my eyes, desperate to orient myself to my new surroundings.

When my vision finally cleared, I saw I was surrounded by five people. There were three massive alien males, all of whom towered over me.

Although they looked similar to one another, with curling horns topping their heads and tattoos swirling over the entirety of their bodies, they didn’t match one another. Their horns, skin, and tattoos were all different colors. Two of them looked at me with knowing expressions, while the other—the green-skinned one—had no emotion on his face whatsoever.

Standing alongside the males were what could only be two human females—they looked exactly like me, except for their clothes. Both were beautiful and looked friendly, with wide smiles on their faces, but since I had no idea where I was or who these people were, I wasn’t trusting anybody. My own father had betrayed me, so I wouldn’t put any faith in a group of strangers.

None of them seemed particularly willing to divulge any information, so I guessed it was up to me to figure out what was going on.

“Where the hell am I? Are we—am I underground? Is that why those lights are so damn bright? Can you turn them down a notch, I’m going blind!” I said angrily, unable to contain my emotions.

I’d always been a spitfire, never truly happy unless things were going my way, and whatever was happening now was the exact opposite of my way.

“Why don’t you tell us who you are? We have a pretty good idea, but we can confirm our suspicions if you’d enlighten us?” one of the women said.

She was a pretty redhead with wide blue eyes and a sweet expression. The sound of her voice nearly put me at ease, but not quite.    

“I can’t believe Daddy actually tried to bluff me with that treaty! What kind of game was he playing at? All my life he’s tried to protect me from that stupid agreement, just to throw me to the wolves himself? Of all the stupid, idiotic ideas…he’s supposed to be one of the smartest billionaires on Earth! Well, all he’s done is prove he’s a complete moron!” I raged.

The males just stared at me with wide eyes, smartly keeping their mouths shut. As I stared back at them, my history lessons about the treaty came flooding back to me and I remembered what the Mahdfel looked like, which was nothing like the males standing before me.

Sure, they were tall and heavily muscled, but I had a half-memory of maybe some blue ones? And I didn’t remember the horns at all.

Then the other half of the memory popped up. They didn’t all look the same.

Which would make it even easier to fake.

“So, if this is real, which one of you am I supposed to be for, huh? If you think you can just take me from my home and keep me here, you’re dreaming. I’ll never, ever stay—”

At that point, the two women rushed at me, pulling me forcefully away from the males. Despite my trying to get away from them, they hung on tight. Although they were roughly the same height and size as me, they were strong, and I couldn’t fight them off.

It seemed like we were in a small underground cavern, without much space for them to take me somewhere more private. They ushered me as far away from the males as possible and settled me down onto a large boulder, offering me a canteen of water and what looked like a protein bar.

“Here,” the redhead said. “Teleportation is taxing on humans. I’m sure you feel awful. If you eat something, it’ll help. These rations leave a lot to be desired, but it’s better than nothing.”

I eyed her suspiciously for a moment, but took what she offered anyway. I was suddenly starving, so maybe she knew what she was talking about. I wolfed it down, even though it had a texture of pure sawdust, and waited for them to speak again.

“I suppose we should introduce ourselves. I’m Lila and this is Ferne. We’re part of the crew of the Calliope. My mate, Rekker, is the captain of the ship and Kyre, Ferne’s mate, is the engineer. Kyre is actually right over there—he’s the teal-colored male,” the redhead, Lila, said.

“Great to meet you, Lila and Ferne. I’m Coralie Sinclare and I want to go home, right now, immediately, post haste. Do you have a phone or a radio or whatever so I can get in touch with my people so they can arrange to get me the hell out of here? Party’s over, the jig is up—this was all something stupid Daddy organized, I get it. I’ll be good from now on and go like, get a job or whatever to make him happy,” I told them with a wave of my hand, causing my collection of diamond-encrusted bracelets to jingle and flash in the light.

I watched as Lila and Ferne exchanged confused glances. Not only were they strong, they were really, really good actresses. The problem was, I didn’t believe for one second that my father would actually send me away, treaty or no treaty.

It would be just like him to pay some poor, unassuming people to act like I’d been shipped off to the Mahdfel. I was certain he’d paid these two women to teach me a lesson. I probably hadn’t even left Earth—just been teleported to some film set close by, done up to make it look like we were on some alien world. There was no way he’d really send me—his only child —away.

“Uh, Coralie? Sweetheart? What exactly are you talking about?” the brunette, Ferne, asked.

The tone of her voice made me pause. She seemed really, truly confused by what I’d said, but her face was amused. Like she got some sort of sick pleasure from my situation, which only further enraged me.

“Like I said, I’m done with this act. I know my father wouldn’t really send me away. I don’t want to play this game anymore, so just tell whoever’s in charge that I’m ready to go home now.”

Where there was amusement on Ferne’s face, there was nothing but sympathy and concern etched onto Lila’s. She smiled down at me kindly before kneeling in front of me and taking one of my hands in hers.

“Coralie, you’re on Gravum IV,” Lila said. “It’s an uninhabited planet, pretty much as far out in the black as you can get. You were tested for the treaty, right? It’s the only explanation for why you suddenly showed up here. It happened to Ferne a few weeks ago, too.”

I instantly looked over to Ferne, happy to see the smug expression had left her face.

“Is that true?” I asked her.

“Sure is. I was working as an alpine tour guide on Earth and took a nasty fall,” Ferne explained. “I’d worked pretty hard to avoid documentation, so when the hospital couldn’t find a record of me, they figured something was up and tested me right away. I matched with Kyre, so they healed me and shipped me out and here I am, just like you.”

No. There was no way that was true. There had to be some sort of…integration process to the treaty. They couldn’t just test a girl and ship her off like freight! I wasn’t a package, I was a human being, for crying out loud!

“I don’t believe you. My father is one of the richest men on Earth and I’m his only child —the heiress to his fortune—there’s no way he’d just…send me away! Who will run his empire? Who will inherit his money if I’m not there to do it?” I asked, aware of how spoiled I was making myself sound but unable to help it.

“Coralie, we’re from Earth, too. We all learned about the treaty. You have to understand that this is real. This isn’t a joke,” Lila told me, clearly the more empathetic of the two females.

“Well, that’s all well and good, Lila, but I still don’t believe you.” My breaths were coming faster and faster. “Daddy would never do something like this to me. I know I haven’t been exactly the best daughter—I party too much and sleep too much when I’m not partying and I don’t have a job—but he’d never, ever do something like this to me. He loves me. He wouldn’t send me off to a total stranger, possibly never to be seen again. I know he wouldn’t!” I cried.

I realized I was becoming dangerously close to hysterical, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t be anywhere but Earth, it just wasn’t possible. I couldn’t have become the property of some alien male I’d never even met. What if he was awful?

What if he was rude and unkind and…and ugly? None of the males I saw earlier were ugly. In fact, they were the opposite, but none of them stepped up to play the role of my match. Obviously, they were all actors, too. I bet they weren’t even real aliens. Those horns had to be fake.

Before Lila or Ferne could say anything more, I took off, brushing past them and running toward what appeared to be an opening in the wall at the far end of the cavern.

If they weren’t going to tell me the truth—that this was all just a stupid setup—then I’d figure it out for myself.