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Claimed: A Sci-Fi Alien Romance by Ivy Barrett – Sample

Chapter One

Palpable tension hung over the dining hall as Eden crouched behind an overturned table and waited for the invasion to begin. Black Bear Island, Alaska was tucked away in a nearly impassible inlet of Sitka Sound. Cruise ships sailed by within sight of the island, but no one bothered the occupants of Still Water Farms. No one gave them a second glance. At least no one on Earth.

Eden, and the other forty-five residents of the island, had listened in stunned silence as Director Ratan warned of the impending attack by space bounty hunters. He’d claimed they were fugitives from a planet called Altor and they possessed the latent ability to manipulate magic. Eden wasn’t sure which claim was more ridiculous. If they were aliens, why had the founders waited more than twenty years to tell them? If they had the ability to ‘manipulate magic,’ why hadn’t any of them ever done anything magical? And what kind of bounty hunter took twenty-some years to find a target?

They all thought the director was having some sort of mental breakdown, but then strange cylindrical pods started landing on the beach and armored spacemen climbed out. The invaders jogged toward the rocky hill on which the founder’s house had been built and the young women sprang into action. They overturned tables and arranged them into circular barricades. It wasn’t much of a defense, but it was better than sitting there passively and waiting to be rounded up like cattle.

A crash in another part of the house made everyone gasp and whip their heads around toward the door. Someone started crying.

“I can’t do this,” Amy sobbed. She was the youngest and least mature of the residents. “Where is Mistress Neeva?”

The others in her circle barricade tried to comfort and calm her.

This wasn’t the time for hysterics, but it was a damn good question. All six of the founders had been present when Director Ratan dropped his verbal bomb, yet Eden hadn’t seen any of them since they passed out the weapons. She glanced around the dining hall, hoping to spot Neeva or one of the dorm counselors. The counselors didn’t know as much as the founders, but they knew a hell of a lot more than the residents.

“If we shoot at the hunters, they’re going to shoot back.” Kendra knelt to Eden’s right, nervously tucking a strand of auburn hair behind her ear. She always became talkative when she was upset. Her rounded cheeks were flushed and unshed tears shimmered in her gold-green eyes. “They have to be better shots than we are. None of us have held a weapon until today.”

Kendra had a point. Eden’s initial instinct had been to defend the only home she’d ever known. But wouldn’t resisting trained mercenaries result in unnecessary bloodshed? Clearly, she wasn’t the only one second-guessing the decision to fight.

“Where did the founders go?” Director Ratan should be here. So should Neeva and the others. Her confidence slipping with each tick of the clock, Eden looked at Kendra. “You’re right. We don’t know what the hell we’re doing. This strategy doesn’t make sense.”

A set of floor-to-ceiling windows formed the outer wall of the dining hall. Six hunters casually walked up to the windows. They were tall and heavily muscled. Their sleek, charcoal-gray armor flexed and bent with every move they made. Multicolored blasters were braced against their shoulders and pointed into the dining hall. Opaque visors hid their faces, making them seem almost robotic.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” Susan babbled from Eden’s left. “We’re all going to die.”

“We’re not going to die,” Eden insisted. Then on impulse she said in a loud clear voice, “I’ve changed my mind. We’re no match for these creatures. Lay down your weapons.” Eden put her pulse rifle on the floor, then raised both hands. Would the hunters understand that this meant surrender?

“You fucking coward!” Jessie shouted. She huddled inside a table barricade a short distance away. “Do what you want, but I’m fighting these bastards!” Her determination would have been admirable if it wasn’t so foolish. Besides, Jessie argued with everyone about everything. Being a pain in the ass was her way of dealing with stress.

The hunters blew out the windows in front of them with their energy weapons and hurried into the dining hall. Broken glass crunched beneath their boots and the women crouching behind the tables nearest Eden started screaming. Several of the women laid down their rifles, but others were too terrified to think clearly. They yelled and fired wildly, most of the shots arching over the hunters’ heads. The hunters simply yanked the weapons out of their hands and ordered them to kneel with their hands on their heads.

Eden watched it all in a sort of surreal daze. Surrender was the right choice, the only choice. Fighting these monsters was pointless. Kendra sobbed once then covered her mouth with her hand. Eden wrapped her arm around her frightened friend, but she still felt nothing.

Doors were kicked in at each end of the hall and soon the females were surrounded by armed soldiers. Screams quickly gave way to sobs as the women were systematically disarmed. Jessie and her followers fought the longest and most aggressively, but they were overpowered in a matter of seconds.

“I am Commander Jobek Sanion, First Officer of the Madelle.” All of the hunters were big, but the commander was half a head taller than any of the others. “Cooperate and you will not be harmed. Resist this evacuation and you will be restrained and sedated. Either way, you start your journey home today.”

Home? He meant Altor or one of the other planets in that star system. But they were just meaningless words to Eden and the other residents. She had never even seen an image of her home world.

“What if we don’t want to leave?” Jessie called out belligerently, dark eyes flashing.

“I already answered your question.” The commander walked right up to her and clasped his hands behind his back. “If you resist in any way, you will be restrained and sedated.”

Earth is our home.” Her voice rose, turning shrill as fear pushed her closer to hysteria. “I’m not going anywhere with you. This is kidnapping!”

The commander motioned two of his soldiers toward Jessie with a nod of his head. The soldiers caught her under the arms and lifted her over the makeshift barricade. Jessie kicked and twisted, her screams echoing off the walls of the dining hall.

“Let her go!” Eden pushed the table in front of her out of the way and rushed toward the disruption. “Please, she’s just scared. We all are.”

They ignored Eden and carried the struggling Jessie across the room. Eden tried to follow, but the commander caught her arm. “They will not harm her.”

His tone was filled with warning, not reassurance, so Eden reconsidered her interference. Jessie had brought this on herself. She never knew when to keep her mouth shut.

Near the outer doors, the guards stopped and set Jessie down. Her hands were pulled in front of her and bound in what looked like thin metal tubes. She continued to fight like a wild animal, but it made no difference. The hunters were bigger and stronger, easily overpowering the enraged female. A small device was held in front of Jessie and a cloud of mist puffed into her face.

“What was that? Are you sure it’s safe for…?” Eden had almost said humans. But they weren’t humans. Eden wasn’t sure what the hell they were, but it was getting harder and harder to believe that they were humans.

Jessie went limp in the guards’ hold, so one draped her over his broad shoulder and strode out of sight.

“Where is he taking her?” Eden asked the commander. He’d said his name was Jo-something, but her fear-addled mind hadn’t quite locked on to it.

“To the Madelle, our ship,” the soldier next to the commander answered as the commander turned and walked away. “You will all be taken there, but the evacuation must be done in stages.” After delivering the semi-ominous statement, he followed the commander across the room.

The tables were pushed over to one side and the chairs arranged into rows. The residents sat down and quietly waited for their turn as the evacuation began in earnest. They’d all seen what happened to Jessie. Fighting these monsters was pointless, had been from the start. Some of the residents were ‘beamed up’ to the ship. Eden borrowed the phrase from television because she didn’t know what real aliens called the technology that instantaneously moved people from one place to another.

Ten minutes later, Eden and Kendra were led onto the commander’s shuttle. It was bigger than the two-person pods that had appeared on the beach, but it was clearly not the ship he’d mentioned earlier. He piloted the small craft while his companion kept an eye on the six passengers. Once the shuttle left the ground both males took off their helmets. Eden felt her eyes widen as she saw them clearly for the first time. She’d expected bug people or maybe reptilian scales. Both males were ruggedly handsome and shockingly similar to humans. The commander could have strolled around Sitka and no one would have realized he was an alien.

“Many believe that Earth and the four planets in our star system were all colonized by the same species,” the friendlier male said. Had he noticed her surprised stares or was he reading her mind? “That is most likely why the leaders of your group chose Earth as their destination. It was easier to blend in.”

Or it would have been if the founders ever allowed us to leave the island, Eden grumbled silently.

“My name is Tandor, by the way. Will you tell me yours?”

She dragged her gaze away from the commander and drew in a slow, deep breath. With red streaks in his dark hair, mahogany eyes, and golden skin tone, Tandor was even better looking than the commander. His features were sharper, more exotic.

“Are you mercenaries, or were you dispatched by a military leader?” Despite his friendliness, she still felt too vulnerable to tell him her name.

Tandor shrugged. “A bit of both, I suppose. We’re mercenaries who are being paid by a military leader.”

“Which one? Which planet wants us so desperately that they will send mercenaries to another star system?”

“All of them.” His expression sharpened as his gaze searched hers. “Every planet in our star system is desperate to find you.”

Eden’s best friend Ansley had been chosen as Mistress Neeva’s assistant, so Ansley knew things the other residents didn’t. Before she ran off on some mysterious errand, Ansley had tried to explain what was going on. Unfortunately, she’d crammed months of research into a five-minute lecture so the information dump had left everyone with more questions than answers.

“Are we being taken to the Citadel or to Altor?” Eden tried again when Tandor evaded her question.

His brows arched. “Do all of the females know the truth about your origins? We did not expect that you would.”

“An hour ago we didn’t, but a lot can change in an hour.”

“No doubt.” The commander asked Tandor a question in a language Eden didn’t understand. He turned his seat back around as he spoke with the commander.

Eden was disappointed, yet relieved. She needed a few moments to process the rapid-fire events that just took place. She’d been kidnapped by aliens. But were they aliens if they were all the same species?

“Why do aliens from a distant star system speak English with only a faint accent?” Kendra’s gaze narrowed on the males’ broad backs and she crossed her arms over her chest. She’d taken the evacuation better than most, but the tension around her mouth revealed her stress, her lingering fear.

“I thought the same thing about their appearance,” Eden lowered her voice to just above a whisper. “Tandor doesn’t look quite human, but the only thing about the commander that would draw attention is his size.”

“And his spaceship.” Kendra tried to ease the tension but failed.

They arrived at the Madelle a few minutes later. Eden wasn’t sure how to judge the ship. She was intimidated and impressed, but she’d never seen a spaceship before. Was this one large or small, sophisticated or simple? She honestly didn’t know. The shape was more submarine than flying saucer, with smoothed-out edges and rounded corners. The levels, or decks, were staggered, creating contrasting slopes in the front and back. Needless to say, Eden had never seen anything like it before.

The shuttle glided into a small, enclosed area near the back of the ship. Tandor triggered the hatch and a set of steep stairs descended.

“Off load in an orderly manner,” Jo-something directed without bothering to get up. “You are safe here. No one will harm you.”

An armed guard motioned them down and across the small shuttle bay. More guards waited in the corridor. Unlike the hunters, these men were not in armor. They wore tight black shirts and gray pants with multiple loops and pockets. Even without the guns, they would have looked paramilitary.

The women were led along an unmarked corridor, no insignias, no images, just silver-gray walls and floors that felt rough beneath Eden’s boots. One guard led the small procession, another followed behind. If no one meant them any harm, what was with all the guns?

When they reached a large, open area, likely meant for cargo rather than women, both guards remained in the corridor. A tall, leanly muscled male was counting everyone as they entered. His long, red-streaked hair and shimmering reddish-brown eyes made Eden wonder if he was related to Tandor. For just a moment their gazes locked and heated tingles dropped down her spine. Her surroundings blurred and her entire being focused sharply on the handsome male. Tandor was better looking, but something about this male attracted her, intrigued her, made her want to explore. He appeared to be a few years older and less friendly than Tandor, so why couldn’t she look away? Were they brothers, maybe cousins? Or did all of the males of their species look similar?

“Move toward the back wall,” he directed, breaking the spell. “Make room for the others.”

Eden and Kendra did as they were told, but Eden’s gaze drifted back to Mr. Bossypants again and again. He was issuing orders not just to the females, but to the other males. Everyone responded immediately, so he clearly possessed legitimate authority. Jo-something said he was the first officer, so Bossypants was likely the ship’s captain. Did she dare ask someone his name? Why the hell should she care? His crew had just kidnapped her.

“That one looks downright dangerous,” Kendra whispered as they looked around for a place to sit down. There were no chairs, not even a crate, so it didn’t much matter where they went.

“They’re mercenaries,” Eden reminded. “They’re all dangerous.”

There was a large stack of blankets and a case of bottled water. At least Eden hoped it was water because she was really thirsty. She picked up a bottle and draped one of the blankets around her shoulders. The water wasn’t labeled, but the bottle looked exactly like the ones found on Earth. How odd. Was this more proof that Earth was a colony of some distant species or had the aliens emulated the design? She twisted off the cap and took a tentative drink. The liquid was room temperature, but it was definitely water.

She meandered closer to the back of the room, Kendra shadowing her. There were only nineteen females in the room right now. The shuttle or shuttles must have gone back for more residents. Unless some of the females were being held in a different room. Damn it. There were so many unanswered questions. Where was Ansley? She was the only one Eden could think of who might possibly know the answers.

A pathetic whimper drew Eden’s attention to her left. Amy was sitting on the floor in the corner, legs drawn up to her chest. Someone had wrapped her blanket around her so only her head was visible, but she was alone. Alone in a room full of people, but still alone. Eden went to her and sat down. She wrapped her arm around the younger woman and Amy immediately turned toward her and cried against Eden’s shoulder.

“This can’t be real,” Amy said in between gasps and sobs. “Tell me it’s not real.”

Lying to her, even to calm her down, felt wrong. “You’re going to be fine, hon. We’ll get through this together.”

Kendra slid down the wall and sat on Eden’s other side. “I’m with Amy. This doesn’t seem real.”

Rather than torturing herself with speculation, Eden watched carefully as more and more of the residents joined them in the hold. Those who came off the shuttles arrived in clusters of five or six. Those who had been ‘beamed’ aboard arrived four at a time.

In between each group of new arrivals, her gaze returned to Mr. Bossypants. He was clearly directing the activities in the hold and seemed to be talking a lot on his communicator. Even with all the distractions, he looked at her over and over, assuring her that he was feeling it too. Whatever the hell ‘it’ was. Infatuation? Lust? Animal attraction?

Her reactions were obviously a combination of stress and direct exposure to virile males for the first time. Why her body had focused in on that male above all others, she didn’t know.

Jessie and two of her friends walked in a short time later. Apparently, the sedative the hunters gave her had been mild and wore off quickly. She looked annoyed, but unharmed.

Half an hour later Lynette, one of Eden’s dormmates, spotted her in the corner and walked over to join their small group.

“That was so bizarre.” Lynette seemed shockingly buoyant given the situation.

They were all in shock, Eden supposed, and dealing with the stress in different ways. Besides, Jessie had demonstrated how futile it was to throw fits and struggle.

“Were you teleported over?” Kendra wanted to know.

Lynette nodded. Her expression was still slightly dazed. “I felt like I was being sucked out of my body and then I passed out for a second, only to wake up somewhere else. I still feel like I’m going to throw up.”

“Please don’t,” Kendra said with a playful smile. “I’m sure they would make us clean it up and the ventilation is not that good.”

“If they have a transporter, why bother with shuttles?” Eden didn’t expect an answer. She was just thinking out loud.

“One of the guards told me that the ‘molecular teleportation engine’ pulls energy away from the ‘refraction shield generators,’ which increases the chances of someone seeing the ship.” Each time Lynette came to an unfamiliar term she accented the words with finger quotes.

Eden only had the vaguest idea of what all that meant, but it made sense. If two power hungry systems were fighting for energy, one or the other could fail. “Have a seat. It sounds like we’re going to be here a while.”

“This ship is just temporary,” Lynette told them as she sat down. She faced them, legs folded in front of her. “Another much bigger ship is coming to pick us up.”

“The guard told you all that?” Kendra guessed.

Lynette nodded. “He was a talker.”

Eden estimated that it would take at least an hour at the current rate to evacuate the entire island, so she was shocked when all of the remaining females walked in a short time later. She looked closer, then repeated her head count. “Where’s Ansley?” The last time Eden saw Ansley, she was talking with Mistress Neeva. Ansley had looked at Eden and had waved goodbye then walked out of the dining hall. Did the hunters realize she was gone?

Kendra tensed and looked around as well. “You’re right. I don’t see her.”

“What about the founders and the dorm counselors?” Eden wondered. She didn’t really give a shit after the way they had lied to everyone, but it was curious that they weren’t here. “Are they being held somewhere else on the ship?”

“We’re the—what did Ansley call us—conduits. Maybe the hunters only wanted us.” Lynette stood and moved to the wall so she could see the entire room.

Eden’s mind stuck on the strange word, refusing to let go. Conduit. According to Ansley, she was a conduit. They were all conduits. Conduits were one third of a power triad. The other two parts were the source and the controller. Controllers and sources were always male, and conduits were always female. When the three bonded they were able to manipulate magic and manifest energy as various forms of matter. Ansley had sworn she’d seen videos of the abilities being demonstrated, so she knew they were real. Eden had no reason to doubt her best friend. Still, she couldn’t imagine doing any of the things Ansley had described.

Feeling restless and anxious, Eden stood as well.

Soon they all stood huddled in the corner.

“Should we tell them that Ansley isn’t here?” Amy asked, uncertainty widening her eyes. “Does she want to be left behind?”

“I don’t know,” Eden admitted. “She didn’t tell me where she went or why.” Eden didn’t want to risk leaving her best friend on Earth, but she didn’t want to alert the hunters to Ansley’s absence if she’d disappeared for a reason. Damn it. Why hadn’t Ansley taken a second to let her know what was going on before she took off? If the males thought everyone was onboard, the ship would be departing soon.

Tandor and Jo-something walked into the hold a few minutes later. They spoke with Bossypants for a moment, then he faced the room and shouted, “Everyone shut up!”

Amy cried out softly and pressed against Eden’s side. Others started sobbing as well, but Eden just shook her head. Most of the women had started to calm down, then Bossypants decided to put his commander hat back on.

“As you are counted, sit down and remain silent.”

The technique was patronizing but effective. It also answered one of their questions. The hunters knew someone was missing. Eden sat down as she was counted. So did the others in her corner.

The room had grown so quiet that Eden could hear the males talking. They spoke in their language, however, so it didn’t do her any good. The conversation ended with something that made Bossypants smirk. Then he turned on the ball of his foot and left the hold.

Eden had the irrational urge to run after him. She had no idea what she’d do if she caught up to him, but her heart was thudding regardless.

Apparently, he’d just transferred responsibility of the missing female to his first officer.

Jessie, who had been holding court on the other side of the room, walked over to start shit with Eden. Eden knew that was what she intended because that was all Jessie knew how to do.

“Why didn’t you end up in restraints?” Jessie sneered as she closed the distance between them. “I mouthed off and they sedated me. You mouthed off and they casually answered your questions.”

“You did more than mouth off and we all know it,” Eden pointed out.

Before Jessie could launch her next volley, Jo-something and Tandor made a beeline for their crowded little corner of the room. Amy started sobbing even louder than before so Eden urged her toward Kendra and moved to stand in front of the others. No one was going to bully poor Amy. She was precariously close to a complete breakdown.

“Move aside,” Jo-something ordered.

“Why? What do you want?” Eden’s legs were shaking and her pulse pounded, but she managed to meet his gaze.

“One of your companions is missing. That female is going to tell me her name and current location.” His long arm lifted and he pointed at Amy.

Amy let out an alarmed cry and pressed back into the corner. “Please, don’t let them take me.”

Goddamn it. Amy had just calmed down and now she was even more hysterical than before.

“Not going to happen,” Eden insisted. “If you can’t do your job without terrorizing women, then question me.”

“Tell me what I need to know and I will spare her.” How had she ever thought his asshole was handsome? “What is your name?”

“Eden. What’s yours?” She didn’t really care what his real name was. Jo-something was working just fine.

“Commander Jobek. Now tell me the name of the missing female and tell me where she’s hiding.”

Did they just want to make sure they had everyone or did they want Ansley specifically? “What did you do with the founders?”

“Answer my questions and I might answer yours,” Jobek shot back.

“‘Tell me the name of the missing female’ is a command, not a question,” Eden challenged, suspecting that it would annoy him.

Jobek glared at her, but Tandor offered a soft smile, clearly trying to deescalate the situation. “I am familiar with this sector of your planet,” Tandor warned. “The temperature drops drastically once the planet’s rotation takes you beyond the star’s warmth. Do you want your friend to freeze to death?”

It would be a valid point with anyone but Ansley. Ansley was an avid hiker and had spent many nights in the forest alone. Still, Eden didn’t want to leave Earth forever unless her best friend was onboard. She didn’t know what to do because Ansley hadn’t bothered to tell her where she was going.

Deciding to make it appear as if she were cooperating, Eden said, “Her name is Ansley, but no one knows where she went. We’re as surprised by her behavior as you are. She’s probably hiding in one of the dormitories or a storage shed. She couldn’t have gone far.” Hopefully that would buy Ansley some time, allow her to finish up her mysterious errand while the hunters searched every building on the island.

“You’ll never find her,” Jessie sneered in her bitchiest voice. “Ansley knows our island like the back of her hand and sleeping in the woods is nothing to her. She loves the wilderness.”

“Oh, my God, Jessie. Can you ever just keep your mouth shut?” Eden glared angrily then turned away. If she continued to look at Jessie, Eden was sure to punch her in the face.

Tandor touched Eden lightly on the arm. “Everyone over the age of twenty-five is locked in a different holding area. No one has been harmed. Do as you’re told and that fact will not change.”

The males turned and walked away.

“Where are you taking us?” Eden called out.

Jobek looked over his shoulder as he said, “Home. We’re taking you home.”

Eden and her friends stared after the males in stunned silence. Earth was the only home they had ever known. How could these hunters dismiss the connection so casually?

“What the hell does that even mean?” Jessie grumbled, arms crossed over her chest. A bit of her combativeness subsided as reality set in. “If Earth is no longer our home, where are we going?”

“I’m not sure,” Eden admitted with a sigh. “He could have meant Altor or the Citadel.”

“Or the bottom of the ocean.” Jessie rolled her eyes. “Just admit it. You don’t know a damn thing.” She motioned her followers back to their corner of the room.

“Someone needs to beat the shit out of her,” Kendra muttered once the others were out of earshot. “Maybe then she would learn some manners.”

“I suspect I will oblige you, but not right now,” Eden said, leaning her back against the wall. “Everyone needs to calm down and adjust to what’s happening. A fight will have the opposite effect.”

“I wasn’t serious,” Kendra defended. Her gaze shifted to Eden with concern.

Eden shook her head and glanced at her nemesis. “I do my best to ignore that bitch, but she better stay away from me right now. I’m down to my last nerve.” She was worried about Ansley, yet angry with her for taking off without explanation. Kendra and Lynette were sweet. They had been assigned to the same dormitory as Eden, but they weren’t Ansley. Eden and Ansley were as close as sisters. They told each other everything. Which was why Eden felt betrayed by Ansley’s disappearance.

Jessie stayed in her corner for the next couple of hours. She gathered her followers around her and only glared at Eden occasionally. Eden couldn’t decide if she was relieved by the other woman’s passivity or disappointed. Emotions had been twisting Eden in knots ever since this nightmare began. She really needed to reset her composure and the only way to do that was to allow herself some sort of release. Strenuous exercise often worked, as did an orgasm or two. Unfortunately, the current situation didn’t allow her either choice.

Maybe she should go find Bossypants and ask him to give her a hand—or a mouth. The naughty thought made her smile and filled her mind with erotic images. She was sprawled across a bed naked and the handsome commander knelt on the floor. Her legs were draped over his broad shoulders and his mouth devoured her pussy. She’d never experienced the act, but she’d seen others perform it on the internet. She’d been shocked at first, but the image lingered in her mind and became her go-to fantasy whenever she touched herself. What would it feel to have a man’s mouth—no, his mouth—centered over the most intimate area of her body?

A sudden commotion snapped her out of her fantasy and drew her attention to the center of the room. Individual packages of food had just been dumped in a pile on the floor. “There is plenty for everyone, so help yourself whenever you are hungry,” one of the guards announced then returned to his post by the door.

Kendra walked to the pile and returned with four packets. She handed one to Lynette, Amy, and Eden, keeping one for herself. Everyone thanked her but their enthusiasm faltered when they opened the bag and saw what was inside.

For a long moment, Eden just held her package and stared off into space. She was hungry, ravenous, but not for food. She longed to be touched, to be kissed and caressed, then overwhelmed with blinding passion. Her nipples tingled and her core clenched as the fantasy surged back into her mind.

“What is this?” Amy asked, sounding confused, not resentful. “Are they sure it’s safe for us to eat?”

“If it’s safe for them, it’s safe for us,” Lynette told her. “We’re not humans. We’re whatever they are.”

Curious, Eden looked inside her bag and cringed. The tri-folded item might be some sort of sandwich, but she had no idea what the other two items were. One was bright pink, the other so dark a green it appeared nearly black. They were likely fruits or vegetables, but Eden had never seen anything like them.

“How are we supposed to eat this alien shit?” Jessie cried out angrily. She threw the green item as hard as she could and it barely missed Eden’s head. The fruit exploded as it hit the back wall and splattered the side of Eden’s face with juice and yellowish pulp. Jessie and her followers burst out in laughter, and Jessie threw the pink fruit too.

Not pausing to wipe the sticky mess off her face, Eden ducked the second missile then charged across the room.

Neloff scanned the central control panel of the Madelle, refusing to be lulled into a false sense of security. He didn’t just command the ship. He also owned a controlling interest in the vessel, so he never took unnecessary chances. They were tucked away behind the small red planet waiting for the arrival of Cylex, the Altorian hybrid who had funded the hunting expedition. Cylex would arrive in approximately six hours and take possession of the females now crowded into the hold.

It would be a relief to complete the mission and turn the women over to someone else. The Madelle was not a passenger ship. They simply didn’t have the facilities to deal with all those females. Also, his crew was not accustomed to comforting victims. They were warriors and bounty hunters. The vast majority of the beings they dealt with were hardened criminals.

On the other hand, six hours was less time than Neloff had anticipated and one of the conduits was still unaccounted for. He’d sent Tandor and Jobek after the runaway, but even they would be hard pressed to locate the young woman that quickly.

Neloff had every confidence in the hunter team. If time were not an issue, Neloff wouldn’t give the runaway another thought. Tandor and Jobek were the most successful hunters on this or any ship. Their abilities were unmatched and Neloff had a personal connection to both. Tandor was his biological brother, and Jobek had been taken in by their family as a child so their bond was just as strong. They would find the runaway. The only question was would they succeed before Cylex arrived demanding all forty-six of the missing conduits?

A strange tingling washed over Neloff’s body, warning him of some sort of psychic event. Closing his eyes and tuning out his surroundings, he opened his mind to the images. He heard a soft moan, then felt silky skin beneath his palms. He knelt on the deck at the foot of a bed, head between a female’s thighs. Her long legs were draped over his shoulders and her lithe body undulated in front of him. He gazed upward along her belly and rounded breasts. She tossed her head from side to side and for just a moment he could see her face. It was the gray-eyed conduit.

Her scent muddled his thoughts, refocusing his attention on what he was doing. His lips framed her slick pussy and his tongue alternated between deep thrusts and teasing circles around her swollen clit.

What the fuck? Was this a vision or did he just need to empty his balls really badly? He licked his lips and swallowed. His mouth tasted like pussy. This had been no ordinary fantasy.

He blinked his eyes open and forced the image to the back of his mind. He took a deep breath to regain his composure, but her face lingered. He’d felt connected to her the moment she entered the hold but what did this vision mean?

A guilty smile curved his lips. It meant he wouldn’t mind devouring her pussy and then fucking her senseless. Was there really any mystery here?

Not only was she beautiful, exactly the sort of female he favored, but her protectiveness of the others spoke well of her character. It didn’t matter how appealing he found her. She was not for him. There were rules surrounding conduits and all of them would keep him from ever getting close to her.

You can get close to her now, his mental voice challenged. Mark her tonight and Zevon himself won’t be able to tell you no.

He shook away the temptation. More than likely such a rash act would land him in prison. Besides, these females were terrified and confused. The last thing they needed was an aggressive male making sexual demands.

Trepidation ran its icy fingers down Neloff’s spine and he quickly looked around. The command deck was quiet. Everyone was calmly doing their jobs. He’d long since learned to pay attention to his instincts, so he checked the overview display. There were no sensor alarms anywhere on the ship. That left two possibilities. A disruption with a crewmember or the misbehavior of his passengers. He knew which one was more likely.

He stood up and motioned to his second officer. “I’m going to go check on our guests.”

Neloff left the command deck and jogged toward the cargo holds. The ship wasn’t that big, but the two areas couldn’t be farther away. The command deck was on deck five in the forward section of the ship. The holds were on deck one, aft.

Female voices yelling and cheering confirmed his suspicions as soon as he stepped off the lift on deck one. Even hearing the melee before he saw it, Neloff was shocked by the utter chaos that greeted him. The women had formed a ring near the center of the room. They were shouting encouragements and cheering whatever was going on in the center.

He rushed across the room, pushing women out of his way as he went. Two females were going at each other every bit as violently as any fight he’d ever broken up among the crew. He grabbed the back of one of their shirts and dragged her away from her opponent. One of the guards quickly grabbed the other.

“Enough!” Neloff roared when the wildcat in his grasp continued to kick, twist, and claw in an effort to continue the fighting.

“She started it,” the troublemaker insisted as she smeared blood across her face with the back of her hand.

“She did not!” a redhaired beauty shot back. She squared her shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “Ask anyone. Jessie started it when she threw fruit at Eden’s head.”

“I didn’t throw it at her. I just threw it. I insist that she be—”

“Take her to the clinic and get her patched up. Then let her cool off in a holding cell,” Neloff cut in. “This isn’t the first time her temper has gotten her into trouble but I guarantee it will be the last. At least on this ship.”

“And what’s going to happen to Eden?” the troublemaker demanded to know, tugging against the hold of the guard attempting to lead her toward the door. “It takes two people to fight.”

“Focus on your behavior,” Neloff advised. “I will worry about hers.”

“She better be punished too.” Not waiting for her to finish her arguments, the guard started for the door, dragging her behind him like an obstinate child. “She threw the first punch! Everyone saw it. If I’m guilty, so is she. I think she broke my nose.” The final phrase echoed down the corridor.

Neloff released his grip on the back of Eden’s shirt and looked down at the disheveled female before him. He hadn’t known her name until the others used it, but he’d noticed Eden the moment she walked into the hold. Streaked with intriguing gold strands, her brown hair fell in soft waves to her shoulders. Her soulful eyes were a shade that mixed gray and green. She wasn’t the most beautiful female in the room, but she was by far the most appealing. Her features were well-balanced and delicate, her body softly rounded yet undeniably feminine. Had his vision been accurate? Would her breasts perfectly fit the palms of his hands?

“Come,” he ordered and headed for the door. Her steady footfalls assured him that she’d obeyed. Good. He had trained as a source, but his controller instincts were unusually prevalent right now. If she challenged him, he would take control and she wasn’t ready for that sort of aggression.

Many hybrids qualified in both disciplines, controller and source. The pure bloods liked to insist that qualifying in both diluted one’s abilities in the discipline eventually chosen. That argument was proven false when hybrids started forming power triads with each other. The hybrid triads found they could combine abilities and transform one form of energy into another. These were rare and highly coveted gifts and only hybrid triads had been able to master them.

Neloff released a frustrated sigh. He shouldn’t be thinking about power triads, hybrid or otherwise. The female silently following him was not his to court, much less claim. She was not just a conduit, but a second-level conduit. Her genome, which was already engineered, had been edited for a second time to ensure that she perform to her full potential. Planetary leaders were fighting over these conduits. She was so far out of his reach that it was laughable to even imagine them together.

And yet the image came to him spontaneously, indicating some sort of metaphysical link.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked softly as they stepped into the lift. She appeared composed, but Neloff could sense her uncertainty mounting.

“I am well aware that the other female is a troublemaker, but she is not wrong. That fight was clearly interactive.”

“I don’t deny participating in the fight, but she had been goading me all day.”

“That is not an excuse.” They exited the elevator and he paused. “Do you require medical attention? I’m pretty sure you broke Jessie’s nose. Did she damage any part of your body?”

Eden shook her head, but her lips lifted in a smug little smile. “It wasn’t a fair fight. My dormmates and I found a bunch of martial arts videos on the internet. We’ve been sparring with each other and have gotten pretty good.”

“Apparently.” He didn’t allow himself to smile until his back was turned again. Her feistiness pleased him, but he was commander of this ship. He could not afford to encourage bad behavior.

He said nothing more until they reached his cabin. He scanned open the door and motioned her inside.

She took one step into the room then her eyes widened and fear spiked through what was left of her composure. She turned around, clearly meaning to leave, but the door slid shut in her face.

“You do not need to be afraid of me. I have never forced myself on a female, and I will not start with you.” He motioned toward the sitting area. “Have a seat.”

She turned to face him, but her gaze darted around the room, looking anywhere but at him. “May we please go somewhere less private? I’m not comfortable with this situation.”

“Eden.” He waited until she dragged her gaze to his face. “No harm will come to you. You have my word.”

Licking her lips nervously, Eden walked across the room and sat down on the small sofa. “I’m sorry I got in a fight. I’m usually better at ignoring her.”

“I didn’t bring you here to talk about the fight.” He pushed the chair facing her closer before he sat down. “I’d like to hear about what you were doing right before the fight broke out.”

Her brows drew together for a moment, then her eyes widened and she sucked in a breath. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

He chuckled. He hadn’t been sure if she’d triggered his vision or if he was entirely to blame. Now he knew that she had been involved. Unintentionally, but involved. It also confirmed something that he hadn’t dared to imagine. He’d found his soulmate. Not just a female that he found attractive, but his actual soulmate. The regular rules no longer applied. Eden was not leaving this ship without some sort of mark protecting her. It was too soon for a scent mark. That would be obvious to everyone. It made more sense to employ something more subtle, something stealthier. A trick he had learned from his father’s people, Tribe Sulato of Houkdi.

His courtship of Eden would be unconventional, but it began right now.

“I have the ability to join other people’s dreams and to draw other people into mine,” he told her. “Occasionally, I will ‘dream share’ with another person’s fantasies. Do you understand why I am telling you this?”

She nodded, bright color breaking out across her cheeks.

“Tell me what you’ve concluded,” he urged. “I need to make sure there are no misunderstandings.”

The tip of her tongue swept over her lower lip again and she forced herself to meet his gaze. “You saw what I was imagining before I lost my temper with Jessie.”

“I didn’t just see it, Eden. I could feel you and smell you. I still taste you on my tongue.”

She gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. “I’m sorry. I had no idea that would happen.” She lowered her hand to her throat as she added, “I didn’t know things like that were possible a few hours ago.”

“I’m not angry. I’m intrigued.” He pressed back into his chair and crossed his legs at the ankle. “I have a proposition for you.”

She started shaking her head, easily guessing the nature of his proposal.

“There must be a consequence for your outburst in the hold, but I am willing to offer you a choice.”

“I won’t barter with my body to avoid punishment.” She stood up and started for the door.

“You haven’t heard your options.”

She stopped walking but didn’t turn around.

“You can sit in a holding cell until the other ship arrives and you are no longer my responsibility. I will warn you that the detention center is small. There are only four holding cells. You will be able to see and hear Jessie the entire time.”

A heavy sigh escaped Eden as she turned back around. “Or? What is my other option?”

“You willingly submit to a hand spanking. It is the least I will accept for the physical altercation. In addition to the spanking, we will act out your fantasy. You will remove your clothing and get on my bed. You will open your thighs and invite me to touch and taste you. Once I have had my fill of your sweet pussy, you will be free to go.” He paused, allowing her imagination to reignite. “However, I fervently hope you will spend the entire night with me so we can fully explore the attraction we feel for each other. Any and all of this is entirely up to you.”

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