Earth had known two life-altering cataclysms—the Ice Age and the Great Event. Both had decimated life as it was known before. Primitive man rose from the remnants of the first, the Coalition of Nations from the second.
When the alien race known as the Arcans arrived, they offered their human ancestors a deal. In exchange for advanced technology and knowledge, the Coalition would supply them with genetically compatible females for brides. An appeal went out far and wide for volunteers. They extolled the luxuries and privileges of living on Terra Arcus and demanded that only the best of the best apply. Families of those accepted into the program would receive an endless supply of food, clothing, and medical care.
But the promised paradise of Terra Arcus was not what it seemed…
A Polar Second Chance by Pepper North
Ruth automatically squirmed closer to the frigid wall as Nale walked in. “No!” She made a proactive denial before he could even say anything. Why did this man feel so wrong?
“I don’t care how much you spent on me,” Ruth spit out. This creature had bid on her in the auction. Her face heated as she remembered being nude in front of all those Arcans. Even if she’d been closer to twenty instead of pushing thirty-six, Ruth wouldn’t have enjoyed being the center of that kind of attention.
“Ruth, come away from the wall. You must eat or you will sicken,” Nale invited, holding out a bowl of food.
“My derriere is staying right here. You’re not going to have another chance to spank me.”
“You will submit to my care soon, Ruth. It is our way to discipline when it is needed. Throwing an object at my head is not behaving appropriately,” he reminded her with a sigh.
The sound she responded with didn’t require the translator. “Why don’t you just send me back? I won’t cause you any more problems,” she promised.
“Ruth, going home is not an option. You’ll adapt in time. Now, come. Have something to eat,” he invited. His tone had softened from his initial approach. Heaven knows she hadn’t responded well to his commands and hands-on correction.
“No, thank you.” Her stomach growled with hunger. Ruth dropped her head down onto her knees. She wanted to eat, but her body wouldn’t move from this protected spot. Please, don’t let me die here. All I want is to find my one. Surely on such a big planet there’s someone perfect for me.
She couldn’t sleep while he was inside the den. Making herself as small as she could, Ruth tried to remember her favorite books from home. She’d read them so many times, she had many at least partially memorized. Pulling up her favorite in her mind, she began to tell herself the story of the loving but stern daddy who loved his little girl intensely. His hands-on care didn’t seem like the abuse she’d experienced from Nale. Ruth was stubborn as she vowed, “I’ll never forgive him.”
Nale didn’t understand the woman’s reaction to his dominance. It was their way for the male to take complete care of his mate. Mate? He repeated that word in his head. Even with a severe shortage of females, Nale couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t his mate.
After eating his meal alone, Nale stood and shed his clothing to shift. His movement captured her attention. Feeling her eyes scanning his nude form, Nale paused to allow her to see him. One of the strongest in the polars, he was confident in his appearance.
“Would you like a tour of our territory?” he suggested. Maybe getting her outside would help her acclimate.
“I want to go home. I didn’t sign up for this.” Ruth punctuated her words with a gesture of her arm encompassing the den in front of her.
Nale noticed that the sweeping motion also included him. Thank goodness there was a clan meeting tonight. He would have a reason to leave the uncomfortable atmosphere in his den. It would not be a pleasant gathering. There had been rumblings of dissenters who disagreed with their clan leader, Turi. He had chosen one of their allotted females as his own mate. A few disgruntled men who had not had the opportunity to choose had alleged abuse of power.
A short while later, Nale warned Ruth, “It is frigid cold tonight. Your body is not accustomed to the temperature. Stay inside.”
“I’m not a fool,” she answered snidely without raising her head to acknowledge him as he spoke.
Shaking his head, Nale stalked down the narrow entry tunnel. It was worn smooth by the heat of his passage in polar bear form over the years. He shifted at the entrance and pushed the large ice barrier into place to keep her restrained. He didn’t trust Ruth not to endanger herself by running into the unforgiving countryside of Terra Arcus.
Standing with his clan members, Nale studied the Earth female who Turi had claimed. As clan leader, he had been present at the auction of the arriving women. His new mate clung to his hand for reassurance as she stood in front of the assembled clan.
One dissident stood to challenge Turi as clan leader. “Turi, I accuse you of abuse of power. We were awarded a choice of five females. By your own decision, you removed yourself from the candidate list. Therefore, you were not chosen by the clan to care for an Earthling. Your mate should belong to another.”
The clan remained almost completely still, except for three men who stood to support the speaker.
Turi nodded his understanding of the claim. “Vede speaks the truth. I was not one chosen to take part in this inaugural pairing. In my role as the clan leader on the planet Earth, I assisted a young woman who was falling. Catching her in my arms, my body reacted to her immediately. Marisol still bears the mark that I scratched on her arm. It hasn’t faded.”
The movement of Turi’s mate caught Nale’s gaze. Marisol looked down at the mark Turi referred to as if it had reacted in some way. Looking agitated, she obviously struggled to understand what was going on. Finally as she shook her head, Marisol rose to stand next to Turi. Extending her arm to anyone who wanted to see, she clung to her mate.
“I belong with Turi. He has claimed me.”
“Her body recognized me at our first touch. Our compatibility instantly asserted itself. There was no doubt our marriage would be fruitful to renew our clan,” Turi explained.
Discovering that other couples had not bonded as successfully, the clan debated what they should do. Kerda, one of the elder females, rose to address those assembled. “I was allowed to choose my mate, the one who drew me to him at a slight touch. Others were forced into matches that did not produce children for the tribe.”
Swayed by this proof, the crowd began to chant, “Let them choose! Let them choose!”
Nale battled his pride in having a mate with the realization that she wasn’t his. Finally, he returned to his den to escort Ruth back to the clan meeting.
Nearing the entrance, he found barefoot tracks leading into the darkness. A large shelf from the wall of the den lay abandoned in the snow, attesting to her desperation to get away. She’d chiseled through the edge of the thick barrier to dislodge it. He raced after her. “Ruth! Ruth!” It did not take long to find her crumpled body in the snow, her fingers clinging desperately to the furs wrapped around her body. As Nale lifted her into his arms, the Earth woman fought instinctively. He pinned her arms to her sides to protect himself.
“I am taking you to the clan meeting. There are others too who have not been matched with the correct member of the Thorben clan. You will have your chance to choose another,” he assured her as he held her close to his body. “Let me warm you by holding you close on our way.”
With her lips sealed in a straight line, Ruth held herself stiffly against him. As they neared the gathering, the sound of the large number of boisterous polars grew in volume.
“Why are you helping me?” she finally spit out.
“I know you aren’t my mate. The future of the clan depends on you being placed with the correct polar. I never meant you any harm, Ruth,” he said truthfully.
Her body relaxed against him for the first time as Nale carried her into the empty space respectfully created by the clan before Turi. Before allowing her to run to the other Earth females, Nale removed the furs from his body and fastened them around her feet as shoes. “Go, Ruth. Find your happiness.”
Ruth hesitated only a few seconds before nodding to him and dashing to reunite with some of the other passengers on the ship. Hugs abounded as they all celebrated being back together. All spoke of their abductors negatively.
“Marisol!” Ruth greeted the young woman who rushed to join the group.
“I’m so glad to see you,” Marisol said, embracing each one tightly. “I’m sorry I didn’t know that your matches were not like mine.” She looked over her shoulder at the enormous man who stood on the ice shelf above to talk to the entire clan.
“What do you mean?” Ruth asked.
“I knew at his first touch that Turi was something special. Look, he caught me when I was about to fall back on Earth. The mark is still here… It’s arousing,” she confessed, turning different shades of red. Gathering herself, she continued, “You should feel the same.”
Quickly, Marisol explained that they would all have the chance to choose their own mate. Marisol instructed, “Touch their skin and see how you react. You will know when you find him.” With one last hug, she turned to hurry back to take her place next to Turi.
Ruth saw the fierce clan leader wrap an arm around Marisol and hug her to his body. He leaned down to kiss her lips softly before straightening. The difference in his body language transformed as they watched him address the crowd.
“Earth women,” Turi called for their attention in his booming deep voice. “Our apologies for not allowing you to find your true mate. Going home is not a possibility. Remember the reasons that provoked you into volunteering to come to Terra Arcus.”
One by one, the women dropped their gaze to the ground and nodded. They needed to be here for their families to survive. Their faces were etched with hopelessness.
“Men will form a circle around you. They will hold one hand out for you to touch. Allow your senses to tell you the one who is right for you,” the clan leader directed.
The four women watched as the men formed an irregular circle. Dispersing in different directions, the first woman walked directly to one of the older men. His face was wrinkled but he had laugh lines around his mouth. She reached out a hand to touch his and froze. Almost everyone heard the sizzle. Soon she was tucked to his side as he backed from the circle. It was obvious to all that she was his.
The second woman was more methodical. She stopped before each male and studied their face before touching a fingertip to their skin. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. She moved through a quarter of the men before turning and crossing the circle to the other side. Pausing before one man who had been matched with one of the other women, she slowly placed her hand on his. Her eyes widened as her mate lifted her hand to his lips to press a soft kiss to her skin.
Ruth’s gaze shot to the leader to judge his reaction. Turi nodded as his clansman backed out of the circle. She sensed that as an Arcan who loved his precious mate, he sympathized deeply with the men who had failed to bond with their potential mate. Now that one had been chosen by a different woman, they had the proof that their process had been gravely flawed. Ruth had gleaned from Nale that the women were Terra Arcus’ only hope for the future. They needed to be with the mate who meshed with them. Glancing around the crowd, she noted that everyone looked hopeful now.
That left only two women in the center of the ring. Ruth’s heart went out to her companion. She looked petrified as her body vibrated with fright. A very large male stalked forward. His gaze locked on his target. Everyone looked at Turi to see how he would deal with the one who ignored the stated process. She watched Turi open his mouth as if to call him back, but Marisol laid a hand on his arm and shook her head.
Reaching the petrified woman, the hulking male picked her up to hold her tightly to his warmth. Without hesitation, she wrapped an arm around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. Her eyes closed and her body visibly relaxed, instantly asleep. The crowd silently celebrated the obvious match as the Earthling finally relaxed her guard to rest in the arms of someone she trusted.
The final one left, Ruth eyed the circle around her before muttering, “I always hated going last.” Looking at Marisol, she asked, “What if no one here is my match?”
“Try,” Marisol encouraged.
She was older than the other women from Earth. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a match for her. Ruth forced herself to straighten her back and gather her courage. Turning to the first man, she brushed her hand over his. Nothing. Shaking her head, she apologized and moved to the right. Her path went the opposite direction from everyone else.
One after another, she passed. When the next in line looked too young, Ruth smiled in embarrassment and moved to pass him by. There was no way he would want someone as old as she was. To her surprise, he stepped forward to block her way and held his hand out.
When she hesitated, he encouraged softly, “Try.”
She placed her fingers on his palm. Instant heat built inside her core. Staring at the young Arcan in disbelief, she whispered, “You?”