Rekker wasn’t expecting to be matched.
On the eve of being sent to retrieve a mysterious artifact, he’s sent something just as enigmatic.
A human woman, lush and curved.
Even worse, she wants nothing to do with him.
His blood burns for her, but the need to make her happy overrides everything.
He’ll find a way to set her free, even if it means he’ll be alone. Forever.
But when danger comes from an unexpected source, they’re thrown together. And when his mate turns to him, he’ll protect her.
Lila Kanes never wanted any thing but a quiet life on her family farm. She certainly didn’t want to be claimed by a massive alien mate.
Thrown into the stars, she’ll do whatever it takes to find a way home.
Back to Earth.
Back to her family.
She couldn’t possibly want to stay with the hot, horned alien with the amazing body, who made her feel like the most precious thing in the universe, could she?
Rekker is the first book of the Warriors of Vaznik, a stand alone series in the Warlord Brides universe. There’s no cheating, and a guaranteed HEA for each couple!
Keep reading for a sneak peak!
“Lila, it’s time!”
My sister Nora’s voice echoed through the old wooden barn. The little lamb I was trying to bottle feed squirmed in my arms and I muttered under my breath.
Of course it was time. Every Friday, just about now, it was always time.
“Lila!” Nora called again and I heard the squeak of the barn door opening.
“You’d better shut that tight behind you,” I yelled, even though I wouldn’t mind the distraction of having to round up the rest of the flock.
I scratched behind the little guy’s ears before withdrawing the empty bottle.
“I’ll be back in just a few minutes,” I promised and stood, brushing straw from the knees of my jeans.
Nora leaned over the stall door, rolling her eyes.
“You’re going to be late,” she chided.
“There’s not any way to be late,” I grumbled. “The lottery is going to happen if we’re there to listen to it with bated breath or not.”
The late spring evening wrapped the farmhouse in gentle shadows, still just a touch chilly from the last frost. Alfalfa had already started to come up, and the farm would be in full swing soon.
“What if you don’t know? Are you packed? What would you bring?” She bounced beside me as we left the barn and crossed the yard towards the house. “I’m packed. Just in case.”
Nora was the only person I knew who was excited about the lottery.
She was excited at the idea of going to strange new worlds, meeting aliens, having adventures.
All of that.
I was excited that we weren’t all dead or slaves at the hands of the Suhlik, but a treaty that involved my body, made without my input, that could turn me into a broodmare for some alien Mahdfel warrior I’ve never met?
I had other plans. The farm had other plans for me, even if I didn’t. I did my best not to even think about the lottery, the treaty, the testing.
Any of it.
Nora tugged me into the house, ignoring my grumbling. As usual.
“Come on, girls.” Mom’s voice drifted in from the family room, tight with worry as it always was on Friday.
If it weren’t for the superstitious taboo that kept anyone from talking about the lottery, her friends probably would have teased her that she was tempting fate.
With six daughters, the likelihood that one of us would be selected, have our birthdate pop up on some random Friday, was higher than normal.
But the odds of being matched were the same for everyone, I reminded myself as I kicked off my filthy workboots in the mudroom and followed Nora in.
Our other sister, Jane, was already on the sofa, arms wrapped tightly around her waist.
As the third oldest, she’d just become eligible. just realized how quickly her life could change.
Posey, Farah, and Kate were too young. At fourteen, eleven, and nine, respectively, they could ignore it. Hell, I wanted them to ignore the whole thing.
Until they didn’t have a choice.
The government comms unit crackled to life and my mother froze, eyes fixed on it.
My father stopped mid-rock in the old rocking chair across the room, watching us all with the same hazel eyes I’d inherited from him.
Normally, we counted on the government communication unit for information about tornadoes, nasty hailstorms, the sort of things that you needed to know about on a rural farm.
But every Friday was lottery day.
“Good Friday, citizens,” the announcer said.
His voice was far too cheerful. Every single week, it grated on my frayed nerves.
Who on Earth had told him that this was even vaguely appropriate for the thousand, probably millions listening, waiting, hoping?
“Those lucky females born on February twenty-first should report to the testing facility nearest you.” My heart froze in my chest, as Nora’s wide eyes swung towards me.
“I repeat, February twenty-first is the date selected for this week’s lottery. Thank you for your attention and adherence to the treaty. Good luck, everyone!”
My luck had run out.
February twenty-first was my birthday.
Nora bounced up and down.
“You’re going!” she squealed. “You’re really going! Are you packed? I’ll bet you’re not even packed.”
I tuned her chatter out, my eyes focused on the bleak expression on my father’s face.
“Maybe you won’t be a match,” Jane whispered, reaching down to take my hand.
“Probably not,” I agreed, squeezing her fingers.
It was true. You had to be at least a 98.5% perfect match to be sent away. It was a crazy high level.
Still, it would mean being sent away to somewhere I’d never been, probably somewhere I’d never even heard of, to be the mate of some alien.
I’d spent my life training to be a veterinarian. It was all I’d ever wanted to be, the most wonderful future I could imagine.
Between that and growing up on my family’s farm, there was very little doubt in my mind what being someone’s mate would entail.
Would I even have a choice in the matter?
I swallowed hard, feeling faint.
“I know this wasn’t in your plans, Lila, but what have I always told you?” my father asked.
There was so much kindness and love in his eyes that I forced myself to look away.
“Never give up on your dreams, no matter what,” I recited.
The words he’d told each of us girls all our lives, that no matter what happened and no matter where we ended up, our dreams should never die. And despite my anger at being selected, I knew he was right.
Earth couldn’t be the only planet in the universe with animals that I could care for. I was sure I could be a vet anywhere, on any world out there in the black, even if it wasn’t on the farm that I’d poured my blood, sweat, tears, and love into my entire life.
I couldn’t imagine a life without this place or my family. I couldn’t imagine going even a single day without my sisters.
But I quickly pushed those thoughts from my mind. If I dwelt on them, I’d never leave, and it was that thought alone that broke my heart.
At that moment, a thought hit me. It was imperative that I report to the facility, but did I have to stay there?
What if I went and just . . . didn’t sign in? I was sure I could find somewhere to hide out for a week and then make my way back home. I’d just tell everyone I wasn’t successfully matched.
Hell, most women weren’t a match.
It seemed plausible enough, right?
“Lila, honey.” My mom’s voice broke, just a bit. “They’re here.”
Damn, I was tired.
It had been a long mission.
Actually, it’d been long mission after long mission, so many of them that they blurred together.
I stretched, wincing a bit, as I headed down the halls of the Calliope to the med bay.
“What are you doing back here, Rekker?” Javik snapped.
He was a good medic, and a better science officer.
But not really one for the niceties of social interaction.
“Checking to see if you were done tormenting my pilot yet,” I snarled.
Alright, maybe I wasn’t at my social best, either. The day had nearly gone very, very badly.
Javik adhered a patch over Cedroc’s eye, the sterile white disturbing against Cedroc’s hunter green skin.
“Don’t tell me you lost one,” I joked, keeping my voice light in case Cedroc actually had.
The last battle against the Suhlik raiding party had been nasty.
Luckily, Sector Command had sent the Walkandro, a mobile command hub, as well as a dozen ships all our size or larger, to take care of the bastards.
Sure, the Suhlik hadn’t attacked Earth proper since the Mahdfel had driven them away, but that didn’t seem to stop them from sniping at the edges of every system they could find, looking for easy prey for their trafficking cells and breeding centers.
We’d taken superficial injuries, but no casualties, better off than some of the other ships that had been part of the operation.
The Calliope had taken damage, but nothing more than Kyre, my engineer, would be able to handle now that we were docked with the Walkandro, like a sleek spoke radiating out from a giant wheel.
A few other ships were still docked, as well, but the rest had already departed for new missions, or if they were lucky, some downtime.
“His eye will be fine if he quits squirming,” Javik spat.
Cedroc gave a tiny shrug. “Just a laceration around the socket from where that panel came loose. Doc wants me to keep it covered to avoid infection,” he answered, finally giving me the information I needed. “I’ll be ready to go when you give the order, Captain.”
“You’ll be ready to go when I say,” Javik corrected.
I watched as the tattoos on the science officer’s shoulder heated from gold to vermilion, indicating his annoyance.
All Vaznik Mahdfel had the same tattoos, broadcasting our emotions to the rest of our crewmates and families.
Not that one usually needed to guess.
“How long do you estimate it will take to heal?” I asked, not really caring that the vermillion now was a full-blown crimson against Javik’s natural deep blue. “You do realize I’ll need my pilot to get us out of this damn system, right?”
He snorted. “A week would be ideal. If you want your pilot not to lose that eye after all.”
A week, I thought grimly.
“Maybe I can make a deal,” Cedroc said, grinning. “I’ll take it easy for the next two rotations, and then he rigs up something that just covers the wound, and not half my vision?”
I left them arguing the details.
They’d figure it out.
They always did.
In the corridor outside, I came across Kyre, who was holding a thick wad of bandages over a pretty deep gash on his left arm, and Derrix, my weapons specialist, who had quite a nasty lump rising over his right eyebrow just below where his horn began.
“Shouldn’t you be in med bay, not waiting outside?” I asked them both.
“Doc’s in a cranky mood,” Kyre answered.
“He needs to find something new to poke and prod that isn’t us,” Derrix elaborated. “Maybe some nice rock would keep him busy.”
Kyre shook his head. “We’re taking on supplies from the hub, should be able to have most of the damage repaired in a day, maybe two.”
“Biggest hassle is, the teleport is down.” Derrix leaned back against the bulkhead. “We keep having to run and ferry the stuff into the cargo hold the old way.”
“We’ll take as long as we need to,” I decided. “We don’t have anything pressing, and I think Cedroc might be on restricted duty for a bit.”
Sure, we could all pull a shift at the helm, if need be.
But Cedroc was a damn master at it.
“Do you think you’ll be able to complete a systems test sometime before tomorrow morning?” I asked Kyre.
“Absolutely. Once the Doc gets me stitched up, I’m on it,” he reassured me.
“How’re the guns looking?” I asked, turning my attention to Derrix.
His eyes were a little glazed over, but he responded quickly enough that I wasn’t worried.
“One sustained heavy damage, but the other five are still operational. I’ve already put in the request for parts to get the damaged one running,” he said. “Would be faster if the teleport was working, though.”
“Thanks, Derrix. I’ll keep that in mind,” I answered.
Once I’d spoken to every crew member, I returned to the bridge and took a seat in the captain’s chair. A beam had come down near my cabin in the firefight, and while I had temporary quarters assigned on the Walkandro, it wouldn’t be the first night I’d slept sitting up.
I stretched my long legs out in front of me and folded my hands behind my head, creating a cradle against the headrest for my curved horns.
I couldn’t help but curse whoever designed this ship.
It wasn’t a Vaznik, that much I knew. If it had been, more accommodations would have been made for our anatomy, that’s for sure.
Whenever I got enough money to build my own ship, I was going to make damn sure the chairs conformed to the horns of every one of my crew.
My eyes lingered for a moment on the massive viewport before me.
Outside, the Milky Way was burning and alive.
Meteors raced through the dark sky, sprinkling the frozen vacuum with even more shards of ice. I couldn’t help but pause for a moment to take it all in.
In all the time I’d spent out here, I’d never tired of the infinite wonder of space.
Pluto was the only dwarf planet in Earth’s solar system and was also the farthest away from its only sun.
It was the perfect location for stationing the mobile hub, convenient, but not close enough to set off Earth’s alarm bells.
The small amount of light that did reach this far orbit was muted and barely visible, but enough to set the tiny planet sparkling far below our orbit. It was eerily beautiful and even though I wanted to get my ship away from this hunk of ice as fast as possible, I couldn’t help but appreciate the frigid beauty of it all.
The blaring of the comms system interrupted the peaceful moment.
“Captain Rekker?” a gravelly voice demanded. “If he’s not there, get him on.”
Thank the void the comms was audio only.
“I’m here, Commander Strygan.” I tore my eyes from the glittering mountains. Strygan might not be able to see me, but I was certain he’d sense any lapse in attention. “Was there a problem with my report?”
“No, not at all. From all signs, looks like the Suhlik are running scared. Maybe we’ll have a break from them for a while.”
“That would be nice, sir.” But not likely.
“You mentioned the damaged cannon and teleport. Anything else structural? Anything major?”
And . . . that was strange. Commander Strygan wasn’t exactly known for checking up on his officers. He assumed we’d get in, get the job done, and get out.
Repairs weren’t really his focus.
“No, sir,” I answered without asking about anything else. I might be curious, but I wasn’t stupid. “My engineer reports that we’ll be able to leave in a day, possibly two, tops.”
The old man was working his way around to something. I just didn’t know what.
“I’m planning on sticking around the Walkandro for a day to fix the gun and give the crew some rest before we take off for the homeworld,” I reported.
“Actually, I have another mission in mind for you and your team,” Strygan said.
My face fell. I had been looking forward to returning home—we hadn’t been back in months.
“Is this an offer or an order, sir?” I asked, choosing my words carefully.
“A little bit of both,” he said.
“You’ve got my attention.”
There wasn’t really any choice, but I was starting to get curious.
“It’ll be an order if you refuse, Rekker, but after hearing the details, I think you’ll agree to take it,” he said.
“It’s a retrieval mission. If you and your team complete it successfully, you’ll earn a two week furlough, as well as striking a blow the Suhlik aren’t expecting,” Strygan told me.
My team had just gone through hell and I wanted to decline, but I knew every single one of us could use a break.
“Just yesterday, the main comms team deciphered chatter on the Suhlik channels about an ancient and powerful device. We’re not yet sure what it’s for, just that it’s important. If they want it, we can’t let the Suhlik retrieve it before we do. We have the location, and the comms crew is trying to decipher the rest of the message now.”
“What’s the catch?” I wondered.
“I haven’t finished.”
I was pretty good at taking orders, but I was also no stranger to getting ahead of myself.
“The catch is that the device seems to be located in a cluster of planets in a relatively uncharted area. We don’t know what’s out there, other than what appears to be three large gaseous planets with four moons orbiting each, as well as two dwarf, moonless planets. You’d be going in pretty much blind,” he explained.
The crew of the Calliope was one of the best teams the Vaznik people have ever assembled.
Our victory today only proved how capable we were and, even though I would’ve liked to have provided them with more rest, I knew they’d follow me anywhere.
“Permission to make a request, sir?” I asked.
“What is it, Rekker?”
“After this recon, my crew gets a two-week furlough back on Vaznik. They need time to recoup and spend time with their families. It’s been a long six months.”
“Granted, Rekker. So, you accept?”
“Yes, sir. Send through the coordinates—we’ll set course as soon as the cannon is back online.”
“Excellent. I knew I could count on you, Rekker. I look forward to seeing you back at base soon. Over and out,” Strygan said before the comms line went dead.
I sat back in the chair, looking out the viewport to the frozen wasteland below, but not really seeing it.
Here we go again.
“We’re here, Miss Kanes,” the older soldier said gruffly.
I noticed that he hadn’t met my eyes throughout the entire trip, even though he’d sat in the back of the transport with me rather than up front with the driver.
What did soldiers think about this particular assignment? Escorting women to be tested, possibly sent away from their families, maybe forever?
The allied Terran forces had fought bravely, desperately, in the war against the Suhlik, but they’d been horribly overmatched.
Peace had been hard won.
It must have annoyed some soldiers to realize that women bought that peace with our bodies, not the military’s strategies.
“Thank you,” was all I said though.
It had been a two hour journey from our farm to the testing facility.
The entire ride, my mind had whirled, trying to come up with plans, anything that would get me out of this.
I’d visited the testing facility once, every girl did in high school. I think it was supposed to make it less scary, but that wasn’t exactly the result.
Every girl I knew had nightmares for weeks.
I looked through the thick, reinforced window at the facility as we approached the low building.
It was larger than I remembered, but that made sense if this was the central point for all of the population of this area.
Dozens of other vehicles were lined up in front of it.
“Seems like May was a busy month,” commented the driver.
An unreasonable thrill of hope ran through me.
If there were lots of us, maybe that would make it less likely that I would be the one chosen.
I knew that’s not how it worked, I really did.
But peering out the window at the facility, all I wanted to do was to cling to irrational hope.
“I’m sorry, Miss Kanes, we’ve got to go.”
I met the soldier’s eyes for a moment, and just for a moment, I wondered if he’d let me go, if I could twist away from his hand under my elbow.
I was in good shape from working on the farm.
I could do this.
Irrational hope was one thing.
Downright delusional was something else.
I grabbed the small bag that I’d hastily packed, to Jane’s disbelief, and followed him down the stairs.
I repeated the number to myself over and over with each step.
It was a ludicrously high percentage. I’d never known anyone who was matched.
I wasn’t sure my parents knew of anyone who had.
I had nothing to worry about.
Until the soldiers stationed outside the facility opened the door and I saw the bedlam within.
I was obviously the last to arrive, and the driver had been right.
May must have been very busy. There must have been thirty or forty of us in the small waiting room, and for some reason, there seemed to be a delay.
Nerves already tuned to a breaking point had shattered and hysteria ruled the hour.
“I don’t want to go!” a buxom blonde sobbed. “You can’t make me!”
I agreed with the sentiment, even if not her method of achieving her goal.
I glanced around the room. All eyes were on the blonde as she sagged to the floor.
Next to her, a brunette wailed, “I’ll never see my home again!”
“Oh, brother,” my escort muttered. “It only takes one. Stay here, Miss Kane.” And then he waded into the sea of young women.
Quickly I glanced at the door we had just come through. No salvation there, though, the steely faced guards maintained their post.
“Quiet down, ladies,” my escort shouted, rounding up the other soldiers to try to gently tug their wards back into line.
“No one is sending anyone anywhere until you get through the test.” He tried to dislodge a third woman from his leg, but she refused to let go.
“What are you going to do if you are matched and you don’t have any tears left?” he asked. “Or if you aren’t matched, and you got all worked up for nothing?”
The line in the wall was faint, but surely that was a slightly recessed door to the side of the room.
I slid over to it, and with my hand behind my back, wedged my nails into the crack.
It slid just a bit.
Then a bit more.
Finally, it was wide enough for me to dart inside and I dashed through the narrow hallway.
Obviously, this was an employee-only area of the testing facility, but I didn’t really care. All I wanted to do was find a way out.
Maybe find a storage room, some corner where nobody would find me.
Sure, someone had picked me up, they’d have a record of that, but surely they wouldn’t find me yet.
It could be someone else’s day.
Three more turns, and I found myself in a narrow stairway. It looked like an access staircase, with dim lighting and military olive-green walls.
My heart beat nervously, but I didn’t have time to be scared. I took a deep breath and made it down two flights of stairs before a blaring alarm sounded, nearly deafening me.
I quickened my pace, but heard doors burst open from both above and below me and I knew I’d been caught.
There must have been cameras somewhere for me to have been seen.
Of course there were.
I froze on a landing as footsteps closed in on me from both directions.
I knew I had no choice but to go with them, but my brain had set too hard into fight or flight mode.
And if I couldn’t run, I’d fight.
Four of the younger guards took hold of my arms and legs, while my original guide shook his head.
“I really had hoped you wouldn’t, Miss Kanes,” he said sadly. “But I figure it’s always the quiet ones that make a dash for it.”
I kicked out as hard as I could, but with two of them holding my legs, it was no use—there was nothing I could do to throw them off me.
They brought me to a room I recognized as a testing room. I kept struggling so hard it took all four of them to secure me in one of the chairs. Thankfully, it was a comfortable one, cushioned and made of leather.
“This will be so much easier on all of us if you stop fighting, dear. You really have nothing to fear,” one of the approaching nurses said.
“Swap places with me then,” I snapped.
“All we’re going to do at this stage is take a little blood. It’s the easiest, most non-invasive way to tell if you’re a match,” she said, completely unruffled. “You do have your paperwork on file, correct?”
I wanted to fight her more, but I knew I’d only injure myself when she tried to stick me, so I allowed it.
Of course I did. Every woman eligible for the lottery kept their forms updated. It wasn’t exactly a choice. And it was the one decent thing out of this whole deal.
The dowry. Every matched woman was given a million credits, in exchange for the “disruption” to her entire life.
Or it went to her family, in case she didn’t survive the birth of the child.
98.5%. It was close. But not perfect. Things could happen.
I shuddered. I’d filled out my paperwork the day I turned eighteen. My family would get the money no matter what. It would help make up for missing a set of hands at the farm.
Maybe hire more workers.
But I couldn’t hope for it. That would mean the impossible had happened.
“This will only take a moment,” the nurse said cheerily, as if struggling women were brought to her every day. Maybe they were.
She was right—the blood draw was over quickly, and she swept across the floor to load the vial into a machine attached to a computer.
“This should only take five minutes to come up with a result. If it’s inconclusive, we’ll try something else,” she told me.
She was wrong this time.
It took less than a minute for the machine to emit a high-pitched, positive-sounding chime.
“Well, I’ll be . . . that’s the fastest we’ve ever gotten a match in this facility. And it’s perfect,” the nurse said, beaming.
Perfect wasn’t exactly the word I would have chosen.
It was my worst nightmare.
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