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Home / Stormy Night Publications Newsletter / Controlled: A Sci-Fi Alien Romance by Ivy Barrett – Serialization (Part Four)

Controlled: A Sci-Fi Alien Romance by Ivy Barrett – Serialization (Part Four)

Did you miss Chapters 1-2? You can find them here.

Did you miss Chapters 3-5? You can find them here.

Did you miss Chapters 6-7? You can find them here.

Chapter Eight

Hobak dropped them off at the Citadel half an hour later. They went directly to their apartment and ripped off her dress before the door even closed completely. Draven went to the couch and sat down, releasing his cock with nearly frantic urgency.

“Give me your mouth now,” he ordered.

Flora did not hesitate. She took him deep and began to suck, needing him just as badly as he needed her.

Noratu stood behind her and thrust into her pussy. Each of his firm strokes jostled the anal insert and rocked her forward onto Draven. Their passions had been smoldering since before the mission, so no one lasted long. Draven came first, then Flora as she greedily sucked and licked his cock clean. Noratu lost control a few moments later, spilling deep inside her pussy.

Draven chuckled as he righted his uniform. “That lasted all of two minutes. We will have to do better than that.”

“We will make it up to her when we get home,” Noratu agreed as she licked him clean as well.

Once everyone was satisfied, Draven took out the anal insert and tossed it in the recycler. Then he told Flora to dress and help Noratu gather up their belongings.

While Flora and Noratu packed, Draven went to update Zevon and officially accepted his invitation to become a fulltime member of the Citadel staff. Governor Draven Aldar had a nice ring to it. Flora just hoped he wouldn’t miss being his own boss too much. And more important, she hoped that he was doing this because participating in the board interested and challenged him, not because joining a triad made the change necessary.

Draven was waiting for Flora and Noratu when they reached the departure bay half an hour later. Both males were capable of piloting the small craft, but Draven preferred to do so. Noratu usually let her sit beside Draven so she could enjoy an unobstructed view. Today, however, Noratu chose the front seat, explaining that he had several tasks that could not wait until they reached Altor.

Flora relaxed in her seat and tried to meditate, but concerns and speculation would not allow her to concentrate. Reaching out, she touched Draven’s arm, squeezing lightly until he looked back at her. “Am I the only reason you chose to join the board of governors?”

He shook his head as he pivoted to face her. “I have known Zevon for many years. The attack on the new Citadel fired up everyone, so they elected a soldier as president. Unfortunately for Zevon, the existing board came with the position and all of the governors are career politicians.”

“He’s recruiting reinforcements?”

“Exactly,” he confirmed with a faint smile.

“And you’re just helping out a friend?” She wasn’t sure she believed him. Helping out a friend wasn’t a compelling enough reason for most people to make such a drastic change.

The shuttle was largely automated, so he moved to the seat beside hers. His expression was tense, his mind heavily shielded. “My security company gave me freedom like I’d never experienced before, but it lacked the driving purpose I need to feel truly fulfilled.”

Not wanting to rush him or interfere with his thought process, she just nodded. Everyone wanted to feel like they had accomplished something important, but few she knew were lucky enough to achieve that goal.

“I have more reason than most to hate the Torretians,” he stated solemnly. “I told you that I came to live at the Citadel when I was twelve, but I never explained why.”

She stilled, sensing that he was about to reveal something important. “I thought your powers just developed sooner than usual.”

He looked away from her and sighed. “My family lived on one of the lunar outposts. They were part of the initial peacekeeping force but liked the community so they decided to relocate once their rotation had finished. I had two siblings, a younger sister and older brother.”

The pain in his expression told her that she was about to learn about the dark times Noratu had mentioned but refused to explain. “The outpost was attacked?”

His head dipped once and then he said in a tight, low voice, “The Torretians slaughtered everyone. No one was spared.”

“Then how did…” She couldn’t find the words to ask why he wasn’t dead along with his entire family.

“I was at the Citadel being assessed. That is the only reason I am still alive.”

She went to him, kneeling between his legs. “I am so sorry, my love. I can’t even begin to imagine that sort of pain.” She quickly fit the rest of the pieces together from what she already knew. He lived at the Citadel after he was orphaned and joined the military at seventeen. Azar must have befriended Draven during those early years and helped him work through his anger and grief. When Draven returned from the military, he was accepted for training and Azar became his mentor. No wonder they were close. Azar had become a surrogate family to that lost and tormented youth.

Draven took her hand between his and slowly let her into his mind. His being ached, the pain still present yet distant, bearable. “I have had many years to process those emotions, but I want no secrets between us. I also want you to understand why the war is so important to me. The emperor is the driving force behind the destruction, but the Torretians have been lashing out at innocent colonists longer than we have been alive. It must stop.”

“I agree with you, but how many triads are there? A dozen?”

“Including us, there are seven,” Noratu told her.

“How can twenty-one people hope to end a war that has been going on for decades?”

Draven’s shoulders squared and his chin came up. Even in the privacy of a shuttle, this controller resented being challenged. “Rebalancing the power of the triads is our only hope. They were an effective deterrent in ages past. We must return to that concept.”

“Which means neutralizing Emperor Jevara,” Noratu pointed out.

She didn’t want to end up over Draven’s lap again. Her bottom was still sore from the caning and the anal insert. Still, she couldn’t help pointing out the obvious. “What’s to keep the Citadel from becoming the tyrannical force we are attempting to curtail?”

“We are,” Draven insisted. “I trust Zevon. However, I trust him more if I am there to back him up.”

That made Flora smile. “How many are on the board?”

“There are six governors and the president,” Noratu answered.

“Are you Zevon’s only ally?”

“For now,” Draven admitted. “The president is allowed to replace governors but only if they have done something egregious. So far, they have been careful to stay just this side of that line.”

“We are starting our approach,” Noratu told them as a planet came into view. “Come up here so you can see better. This is your new home world.” He moved to the back so Draven and Flora could move up.

Altor appeared orange at a distance, but other colors developed as the shuttle neared. Aqua and gray, then reds and golds, but all of the colors appeared in long, narrow bands that seemed to wrap around the entire planet. “Where are the continents and oceans? What is making it look striped?”

“A land mass on Altor is called a tepio,” Draven told her. “The tepios are separated by bodies of water call aquinas. Our geography is very different from Earth.”

Draven magnified the view so she could make out more details. The aquinas ranged in color from pale green to vivid turquoise, while most of the tepios were some shade of orange. There were vast forests and rolling hills, but all the plant life was covered in red or orange leaves, giving the entire planet a subtle glow.

The center tepios were more heavily developed and many had long bridges or causeways that spanned the aquinas. “Is it more temperate near the middle of your planet?”

“There is a longer growing season and the temperatures are more constant,” Noratu explained. “Agriculture is focused there as well as most of our big cities. Much of our manufacturing is automated, so the facilities are built in harsher climates where nothing grows and people prefer not to live.”

“Isn’t that hard on the machines?” She was just making conversation as she drank in the unfamiliar view.

“The buildings are well insulated.”

She glanced at Draven to see if he was mocking her, but his smile was warm, not sardonic. “Where will we live?”

Noratu slipped his hands into the control matrix and zoomed in on a city situated on one of the middle tepios. He gave her a moment to comprehend the general area, then zoomed in even farther. “This is Hanoto. It is the largest city on Tepio D. Most consider it the capital even though the planetary government is headquartered elsewhere.”

“Do any of the tepios have names or are they all simply labeled with letters?”

“Different cultures call them by different names. The alphabetical labels are the universal way of referring to them.”

She just nodded. Draven circled Hanoto, allowing her a few minutes to take it all in before they headed to their final destination. It was cluttered, like any big city, but the office and residential towers were sleek and graceful. It seemed cleaner than most of the big cities on Earth. Trams zipped between buildings and sped off to other areas of the tepio, but there were also individual conveyances. The technology was clearly more advanced than Earth’s, but the basic arrangement was not all that different. People still needed places to live and a way to get wherever they were going.

They headed away from the skyscrapers, but they didn’t go far. The rolling hills surrounding the city were covered with houses. No, the properties were too large and grandiose to be termed houses. These were mansions.

She looked at Noratu, suddenly feeling nervous. “You own one of those?” She motioned toward the mansions.

“His family owns half of the planet,” Draven said casually. “I thought your grandmother told you.”

Her grandmother had mentioned that Noratu was wealthy when they were talking about the bride price, but Flora had been focused on trying to avoid the match, not picturing what life would be like married to a millionaire. Or was it billionaire?

Draven put the shuttle down beside a house that had been constructed entirely of stark white stone. The roofline sloped to a nontraditional angle, making her wonder how the interior spaces worked. The upper level curved into a wide U forming a courtyard in the middle. Overlooking the courtyard was a railed balcony that spanned the entire second level. Not surprisingly, the architecture was unlike anything Flora had ever seen before.

They crossed the courtyard and Noratu scanned open one of the doors. “Welcome home.”

Wariness clouded his golden gaze and his psychic shields intensified. Was he concerned that she would reject his lifestyle? How odd. Her grandmother’s house had been so small that her sisters had to share a bedroom. Even so, they had been grateful to have it.

She walked into a cozy living room with a wet bar along one wall. Beyond the living room, the ceiling slanted dramatically, creating an arched hallway. Now the strange roofline made sense. The hallway ran the entire length of the house. Light, airy rooms were situated to either side of the passage, but there were also fully enclosed rooms and halls leading to other parts of the house.

“It’s lovely.” She looked at Noratu to make sure he understood how much she liked it. “This is much nicer than anywhere I’ve ever lived.” A faint smile relaxed his expression and she could sense his emotions again. “Why were you worried that I wouldn’t like it?”

“We have been monitoring human media ever since we learned that you might be on Earth. There seems to be a growing resentment of wealth.”

“Most humans want more than they have, so they complain about those who have more than they do. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. I insist that the rich could do more while I covet the freedom and comfort found in financial security. Ignore what the cyber trolls say. This,” she motioned around her, “is a dream come true.”

His smile brightened. “If anything does not please you, we can change it. This is your home too.”

Draven chuckled. “He did not make that offer to me.”

“I am still deciding if I will let you live here,” Noratu joked.

The entire house was immaculate. Noratu either had a large staff cleaning up after him or he didn’t spend a lot of time here. The decorating was equally impressive. Everything was coordinated and elegant, likely the work of a professional.


Flora snapped her head to the side and her breath caught in her throat. Raina ran down the hallway from another part of the house. Aspen and Iris rushed along behind her. Thrilled, yet confused, Flora looked at her mates. “How did you convince her parents to release her?”

Raina reached Flora and hugged her so tightly that Flora laughed. “I missed you too.”

Aspen hugged her next, but her embrace was not nearly as enthusiastic. “My parents wouldn’t tell me anything and Iris is being just as cagey.” Aspen shot the older woman a resentful glower before looking at Flora again. “Do you know why we’re here?”

“Your parents were horrible to you,” Raina objected, clearly annoyed by Aspen’s attitude. “Would you rather stay with them?”

“That’s not the point and you know it.”

“Girls, let’s try to—”

“You lied to me my entire life,” Aspen snapped. “I am through listening to you.”

“Aspen, I know you’re upset, but—”

“My name is Cara. Aspen was a fabrication forced on me by two liars who claimed to love me! I reject your bullshit, and I hate all of you!” She ran back down the hallway, sobbing.

Flora started after her, but Draven caught her arm. “Let us explain what is going on. It will be easier to calm her down.”

He was probably right, but Flora hated seeing her sister so upset. Being surrounded by supportive people had helped Flora accept her new reality. Both Raina and Cara had been thrust into hostile environments. They had to feel abandoned and betrayed.

Noratu led them into the living room and encouraged the females to sit. Iris sat in the middle of the sofa, her granddaughters on either side. Raina scooted as far over as the couch allowed and crossed her legs, creating even more room between her and Iris. Clearly, she was almost as angry as Cara. Flora didn’t blame either of them. Iris and their mother had not only lied. They had also taken away all sorts of choices.

Standing beside Draven, Noratu began, “I know Iris told you about us, but we have not yet officially met. I am Noratu Skore and this is Draven Aldar. We are your sister’s mates.” Raina just nodded, so Noratu went on, “Altorian females with mystic abilities are generally contracted around their fifteenth birthday. It is considered the height of recklessness if their abilities activate before they are claimed by a mate or mates in the case of a conduit.”

“Does that apply to Altorian males?” Raina’s eyebrows arched in challenge.

“Absolutely,” Draven told her. “Un-bonded mystics can, and frequently do, become unstable. These rules are in place to protect everyone.”

“How old are you?” Raina persisted. “Flora has only been here a month. Why didn’t you and Noratu become unstable?”

Draven crossed his arms over his chest. Controllers did not respond well to defiance. “Training and mental discipline. We both had exceptional mentors and plenty of opportunities to blow shit up.”

Whenever Flora became belligerent, she ended up over Draven’s lap. Raina didn’t have a mate, so who was going to deal with her defiance? It was an interesting predicament.

Noratu cleared his throat, drawing Raina’s attention, Flora’s too. “You and Cara are on the verge of activation. Iris has done what she can to slow down the process, but her efforts will only last so long. Your parents’ solution to the urgency was to auction the right to bond with you. The practice is not considered shameful and it is not unusual. Your unfamiliarity with our customs is what made it seem punitive. So, Draven and I negotiated with your parents. We paid a sizable fee for the right to become your representatives. We will screen your potential mates, and together you, Flora, Draven, and I will decide which offer makes the most sense.”

“And if I don’t want to bond with anyone?” The fear in Raina’s eyes made it clear that she knew the answer.

“That is not an option,” Draven said firmly. “Your power must be controlled or you will become dangerous to yourself and others.”

“I understand that,” Raina insisted, yet she continued to argue. “Is there a way from me to learn how to control my abilities without involving anyone else?”

Noratu shook his head. “You were genetically engineered to be part of a triad. Without a source to draw from, you will literally starve to death. And without a controller, you will be consumed by your own energy.”

Raina looked at Iris, her expression a mixture of anger and disbelief. “Is this true? Did you know about it when you dragged us off to another planet?”

Iris fiddled with her hands, trying to hide the trembling. “Your mother was powerful, one of the most powerful mystics ever produced by the Citadel. She honestly thought that she could permanently bind your powers and allow you to live an ordinary life.”

“Maybe we didn’t want ordinary lives,” Raina said angrily.

“We should have been allowed to choose,” Flora added.

Before Iris could respond, Raina turned on Flora. “And we should be allowed to choose now. I’m not sure I want a husband. I sure as hell don’t want two.”

“Draven explained why it is necessary, and I know from experience that he is telling the truth.” Her mates had done a good job of presenting the facts. Now it was time for some personal insight. “My abilities had started to activate on Earth. That’s how Draven and Noratu found me. It will happen to you. It is only a matter of time.”

“Well, when and if that happens, I’ll reconsider.” She lifted her chin and averted her face, but her shoulders shook with suppressed emotion.

Raina’s stubbornness was starting to irritate. Any choice was more than Flora had been given, not that she was dissatisfied with the outcome. “There is no point in postponing the inevitable. We are not human. It is foolish to keep pretending that you are.”

Dragging her gaze back to the males, Raina asked, “How long will I be given to make my decision?”

“One month,” Draven told her.

“A month,” she cried. “I have to make a decision that affects the rest of my life in four weeks? That’s ridiculous.”

“Noratu and I can simply make the decision for you,” Draven warned. “We intervened because our mate was upset by your predicament. If you refuse to view this with the appreciation it deserves, I will find another way of rewarding Flora.”

Raina lowered her gaze with a sigh. “I apologize, and I’m grateful for your intervention. This is a much better solution than what my parents had in store for me.” She shuddered, clearly thinking about the humiliation of being auctioned.

Flora stood up and went to her mates. She kissed Noratu and then Draven. “Thank you. This is a wonderful surprise.”

“Go talk to Cara and explain the situation,” Noratu suggested. “She is likely in the guest house. That is where they are staying.” He motioned toward the door at the end of the vaulted hallway. “Just follow the path. You cannot miss it.”

“We’ll make sure she doesn’t get lost,” Raina volunteered.

“You may go with her, but I need to speak with Iris,” Draven said.

Flora and Raina hurried down the corridor, but didn’t speak again until they were outside. Again, Flora was struck by the alien-ness of Altor’s plants. The shapes and colors were all so different from those found on Earth. She felt like she was at a themed resort at one of the parks in Orlando. None of it seemed quite real.

“Iris said you’re doing well.” Raina didn’t sound convinced. “How are you really?”

“It hasn’t been easy, but I’m adjusting.”

“You’re adjusting to having two mates? Adjusting to being bossed around night and day, and having no control over your own body?” Raina shook her head, tears suddenly welling in her eyes. “It doesn’t matter who they make me bond with. I will never get used to any of this.”

Flora didn’t bother arguing with her. Until Raina started experiencing life as an Altorian, nothing that was said to her would have much impact. Raina was still clinging to her human upbringing.

The path led to massive swimming pool, through a colorful flower garden complete with fountains and holographic scenes that activated as they strolled past. Finally, they came to a grove of trees. How much land did Noratu own? The property seemed to go on forever.

The guest house was a three-bedroom bungalow with a wraparound porch. It was charming and unassuming compared to the sleek elegance of the main house. They entered through the front door and found Aspen—make that Cara—sulking in one of the bedrooms.

She sat up when she saw that Flora was not with her mates. “How brainwashed are you? Can you get us out of here? I might not belong on Earth, but I want no part of what goes on at the Citadel!”

When had Cara been to the Citadel? What had she seen?

Cara sat up and scooted to the edge of the bed, lowering her feet to the floor. “Will you help us escape?” She sounded desperate, but her expression was hard to read. Shoving her sleeves up past her elbows, she started to stand then sat back down. Her breathing was fast and ragged. She didn’t just seem angry or afraid, she seemed agitated.

Flora knew this restlessness well. She’d experienced it every time Draven kept her teetering on the brink of orgasm but wouldn’t allow her to come. “Have the dreams started yet? Do you feel feverish, especially at night? Are you finding it hard to sleep?”

Cara stared back at her in rebellious silence, but Flora knew she was right. Cara’s abilities were starting to activate. They might not be able to give her a month.

“It’s stress,” Cara insisted, but there was no conviction behind her claim. “My parents were abusive. You wouldn’t believe the things they allowed to happen to me. On Earth they would be arrested.”

Flora moved closer to the bed. “What sort of things? Altorians approach many things differently than humans do, but there are strict laws against abuse.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Cara shot to her feet and darted away, putting distance between her and Flora.

“My mates represent you now. They are your advocates. If you were harmed in any way, they will see that the culprits are punished. Even if those culprits are your parents.”

“I… you might not think it’s as bad as I do.” She looked at Raina warily. “You both seem pretty accepting of all this shit.”

“Tell me what happened,” Flora coaxed.

Cara had backed herself into a wall. She crossed her arms, then uncrossed them. “My parents narrowed down my suitors to three teams of two. They showed me pictures and detailed resumes. Then they took me to the Citadel and let all six finalists examine me.”

It didn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what that meant. “They undressed you?”

“They didn’t need to,” Cara said bitterly. “I was stripped naked by Citadel staff and strapped down to a table designed for these examinations. It was obvious that this sort of horror goes on all the time. Women are treated like breeding stock, and you don’t seem concerned about any of it.”

Flora was concerned. If the examination had gone beyond pushing boundaries into abuse, Flora would insist that those responsible were held accountable. However, Altorian practices had to be judged by their cultural standards. Flora paused and glanced at Raina. She hadn’t said a word, but she was intently following the conversation. This would soon happen to her. It might be easier for her if she understood what to expect.

Turning back to Cara, Flora chose her words carefully. “I need you to be brutally honest about this. Did you enjoy what was done to you, and not just your body? Did at least part of you respond to being dominated?”

Cara looked at her then averted her gaze. “I didn’t want to enjoy it.”

“That’s not the same.”

“I know,” Cara cried, sounding helpless and confused. “I was humiliated and angry, utterly helpless, and they made me feel things I didn’t want to feel. So many things.”

Cara had just described Flora’s first night with Draven and Noratu. Except her mates hadn’t stopped at triggering unwanted orgasms. They had claimed her in every way a woman could be claimed. The memories made her shiver and ache, her body immediately preparing itself for more of their demanding passion.

Just to be sure they were talking about the same thing, Flora asked, “They aroused you?”

Cara shot her an annoyed look. “It was more than that.”

Flora knew exactly what that meant. “They turned you on in ways you didn’t expect to find arousing.” It wasn’t a question. She had no doubt that it was true.

“Did they spank you?” Raina sounded intrigued and her cheeks pinkened. “Oh, my God, did the spanking get you hot? Is that why you’re so freaked out?”

Knowing that Raina’s fascination would upset Cara further, Flora tried to smooth things over. “The physiology of Altorian females makes us naturally submissive. Living on Earth taught us to be—”

“I knew you wouldn’t think this was a big deal. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.” Cara stalked over to the window and stared out into the gathering twilight. “You might enjoy being humiliated and having absolutely no control over your body’s responses, but I hated it.”

Flora recognized what her cousin was feeling. She’d held on to the same denials until her mates stripped away all of her excuses. Altorian females needed to be dominated or they couldn’t be completely fulfilled. But Cara wasn’t ready for that sort of honesty.

The first thing Flora needed to do was to find out who the finalists were. Draven likely knew them. If any of them were honorable males, that might be a good place to start their search for Cara’s mates. A month really wasn’t a lot of time.

Cara was clearly in no mood for long explanations, so Flora summarized what Noratu and Draven had told them. “My mates are now the official representatives for you and Raina. They will assess the potential mates and screen out anyone who is unacceptable. Once they have narrowed down the list, the final choice will be up to you and Raina.”

“How is that any different from what my parents did?” Her shoulders shook, but she continued to face the window.

“Did your parents give you a say in any of it?” Raina asked from the doorway.

Cara finally turned around, tears streaming down her face. “I don’t want to choose my mates,” she cried. “I hate it here. I hate everything about it.”

Flora skirted the bed and wrapped her arms around Cara. “I know this is scary and it all seems so wrong, but you won’t believe how fast that changes. Your power is stirring whether you want it to or not. Very soon you will need help controlling it.”

Shaking her head as she wiped away her tears, Cara whispered, “I don’t want to live the rest of my life on my knees, taking orders from two domineering males.”

Flora chuckled, trying not to be insulted by her cousin’s attitude. “Do I seem subjugated? You’re here because my mates want me to be happy and they knew I was really worried about you and Raina. Does that sound like males determined to keep their female on her knees?”

Cara glanced at Raina then back at Flora. “I’ll think about it.”

“There is nothing to think about,” Raina stressed. “We have one month to decide who we want to bond with. That is the only choice we are being allowed. We both need to buckle down and make the best decision.”

“I don’t accept that,” Cara insisted.

Raina threw up her hands. “You have never been rational. I don’t know why Flora expected this to be different. I’m going for a swim.” She spun on the ball of her foot and hurried off down the hallway.

Cara glared at Raina until she disappeared from view, then moved to the foot of the bed and sat down. “Why did you give in so easily?”

“My reasons would not make sense to you right now. Once you’ve decided on your mates, ask me again. I’ll explain the emotional evolution I have been through.”

Cara made a face. “That’s a copout.”

“I’m going to ask a personal question. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.” Cara just looked at her expectantly, so Flora asked, “Did you react more strongly to any of the males? Was one team more interesting than the others?”

Cara looked as if she would deny it, then she took a deep breath and nodded. “There was an informal reception when we first got to the Citadel. All the finalists were there and I really clicked with one of the teams. But when the examination began, they didn’t try to keep the others from touching me. In fact, the controller was the worst of all of them. It felt like a betrayal.”

“You are hurt and angry, and yet you can’t stop thinking about them?” The fear in Cara’s eyes confirmed Flora’s suspicion. “What are their names?”

“I don’t want to see them again,” Cara insisted, but the flush on her cheeks and increased breathing told a different story. “The controller is an arrogant jerk.”

“I just want to ask Draven if he knows them. Draven grew up at the Citadel. He knows everyone.”

Cara hesitated. She licked her lips and ran her hands along her thighs. “The controller’s name is Tovastine Nee. The others called him Tov. The source was Merrik something. I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”

“Let me find out more about them. Clearly, there is some sort of connection between you. Let me see if they’re worth a second look.”

With her arms crossed over her chest, Cara rubbed her upper arms. “As long as looking is all they do.”

Flora just smiled. That was highly unlikely if Tov and Merrik had set their sights on Cara, but the first step was to find out if they were mate material. She made it to the door when Cara stopped her.

“How long did it take you to choose?”

Flora looked back at her. “I wasn’t given a choice. I was claimed moments after the spaceship left Earth.”

Cara’s jaw dropped. “Then how can you possibly be so calm, so well adjusted?”

“Call it luck or fate, destiny. All I know is I love my mates with all my heart and feel as if we have been together forever.”

Despite fucking Flora before leaving the Citadel, Noratu was still restless. He wanted to bury his cock deep inside his mate and keep it there for the rest of the night. He wanted his cum dripping from all three of her holes and he wanted to hear her screams of pleasure as Draven did the same. Carnal hunger was common after a mystic battle and one quick release had just left him anxious for more.

“Raina and Cara must be taught Altorian ways,” Draven was saying to Iris. He stood facing her as she sat on the sofa, looking annoyed.

“I am aware of your expectations.” She managed to keep defiance out of her tone, but her gaze communicated clearly. “My granddaughters were taught to think for themselves. Presenting them with information about this antiquated society is not going to change their perspective.”

Draven clasped his hands behind his back. Never a good sign. “Do you want to supervise Cara and Raina until their mates have been chosen or shall I send for a mentor from the Citadel?”

“I prefer to stay.” Her features were suddenly expressionless, as was her tone.

“Then adjust your attitude. Your granddaughters are conduits. They will be claimed and become part of a power triad. Will you commit to helping them make that transition or must you be forbidden from seeing them?”

She glared at him for several seconds before stating, “I will teach them what you want them to know.”

Draven stared at her silently for a long moment. “Your resentment is counterproductive to their success. They are part of this society now whether you approve or not.”

“I’m aware.”

“If you encourage their misbehavior rather than giving them the tools they need to adjust, I will remove you.”

Her posture relaxed and her expression softened, somewhat. “I understand.”

Despite her apparent acquiescence, Noratu was not convinced that she intended to cooperate. “The guest house is equipped with continual surveillance.”

“You make it a habit to spy on your guests?” she challenged, head tilting back as their gazes locked.

One of his recurring guests had requested the additional security, but he refused to explain himself to a traitor. “It is not my intention to review the recordings, but that can change without warning.”

Hostility flashed in her gaze, but her only response was a tense nod.

“Go,” Draven dismissed. “And tell Flora to return. We have need of her.”

Iris rushed from the house as fast as her arthritic limbs would carry her.

“She is going to be a problem,” Noratu predicted.

“I know, but I’m not sure what else to do with her. She has already contacted several of her friends. If she leaves, she could become even more of a problem than she is right now.”

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?” Noratu paraphrased the human adage.

“Something like that.” Draven moved to the sofa and sat down. “Flora would have been my choice to mentor her cousins if our triad were not so new.”

That surprised Noratu. “You don’t trust our mate?”

“Of course I trust her, but bad attitudes are contagious. If her cousins spend the next month complaining about Altorian rules, Flora’s rebellious nature could resurface.”

“And we would have to break her all over again?” Noratu arched his brows. “I’m surprised you are considering any other option.”

Flora walked down the main hallway a few minutes later, her expression troubled. “We can’t trust Iris with my cousins,” she announced as she reached the living room. “She started running her mouth before I even left the guest house. She promised Cara that her lessons on Altorian history would be very different from what is taught at the Citadel.”

Noratu looked at Draven. They had taken responsibility for the old woman’s behavior. They could not allow her to stir up resentment of Altorian customs, even with her granddaughters. “I can dispatch a security drone, make it obvious that they are being watched.”

“She won’t care,” Flora stressed as she moved to stand at Noratu’s side. “Everyone blames my mom for taking me and my cousins to Earth, but I’m starting to think Iris was the true radical.”

Noratu wasn’t sure what to make of that. “What changed your mind?”

“I was led to believe that my mother was devastated by the loss of her husband. But her years of depression also make sense if Iris convinced her that hiding on Earth was the only way to protect us and later Mom regretted the decision to leave her mates.”

“Iris did not need to be the instigator for that,” Draven pointed out. “Autumn could have regretted her own decision just as easily. From what I have heard, your mother was very much in love with her source.”

“Iris and Autumn likely reinforced each other’s resentment,” Noratu added.

Flora nodded. “Nadis told me all the things Iris suffered before she chose to leave the Citadel. Her past is filled with tragedy.”

“Tragedy does not excuse criminal behavior,” Draven stressed. “And kidnapping Raina and Cara was a crime.”

“I wasn’t trying to excuse what they did, just understand it.”

Draven acknowledged the clarification with a nod then fell silent.

As usual, Draven’s emotions were closely guarded, but Noratu could sense Flora’s sadness, her longing for all that she’d lost. Her life on Earth had been innocent and uncomplicated. There was no way to return to that calm simplicity, and he didn’t think that was what she wanted. But power came hand in hand with responsibility, and Flora was feeling the weight of her new reality.

“If Iris has been indelibly radicalized,” Draven resumed after a long, thoughtful pause, “she cannot supervise Cara and Raina. I think keeping them apart would make all three needlessly hostile, but Iris cannot be their mentor.” He pushed to his feet and moved closer to where Noratu and Flora stood.

Flora considered the options for a moment, then asked, “Will I have time to mentor them?”

Noratu shook his head. “Your new skills have created a strong foundation for your abilities, but you need practice and experience. You can’t undertake missions while you are mentoring two challenging females.”

She nodded. “I guess the safest move is to send Cara and Raina to the Citadel and request Nadis as their mentor. She is smart and compassionate. If she can handle me, she can handle them.”

Noratu looked at Draven. “Citadel politics is your territory. Do you think Zevon will allow us to choose their mentor? That is usually the role of the board.”

Draven grinned. “I might have made retaining complete control over their training a stipulation when I accepted the position.”

Flora threw herself into Draven’s arms, pushing up to her toes so she could kiss his mouth. “Thank you. This means the world to me.”

He framed her face with his hands and smiled. “Do you finally accept that we want only your happiness, and we will always protect those you care about?”

“I do.” The words made her shiver and sigh. She shifted her head, gently dislodging his hands, then took a step back so she could see them both. “I can sense how much you guys want to take me together. I’ve been waiting for it to happen for at least a week.” Her voice was soft and slightly uncertain, but her gaze met theirs boldly. “Is there a reason you’re holding back?”

“On Altor that act is rather like a human’s marriage vows,” Noratu told her. “It symbolizes a permanent commitment to the relationship.”

“But we’ve already done that, haven’t we?”

Unable to resist his need to touch her, Noratu stroked her back. “The night we claimed you, you surrendered because you had no other choice. Your affection for us has grown, as ours has for you. But the psychic link is still new enough that it can be severed.”

Draven tensed, glaring at him. “That is not what we want,” he stressed. “And the window of opportunity is closing fast. Are you content as part of this triad? Can you see yourself bonded with us for the rest of your life?”

She licked her lips and glanced away, her mental shields intensifying. “Why are you bringing this up?” She looked at Noratu, her expression tense yet unreadable.

He chuckled, easily guessing the reason for her hesitation. “We traveled halfway across the galaxy to find you, love. We’ve always known exactly what we wanted.”

“You wanted a conduit,” she argued. “You’d never met me.”

Draven turned her to face him. “Let me make this perfectly clear. I love you, Flora, not some random conduit. I love my smart, beautiful, compassionate mate, and I want to spend forever at your side. Your upraising makes you unique. I love your spirit and curiosity. I love everything about you.”

Noratu pushed his hand into the back of her hair and guided her head around until she looked at him. “I knew I would love you forever the first time I looked into your eyes. I believe we are destined to be together, but the final decision is yours. We both choose you, now and forever. What do you choose?”

His heart thudded wildly as he waited for her to speak. She smiled then eased his hand out of her hair. He still couldn’t sense her emotions so her movements sent his pulse racing even higher. She took several steps back and slowly removed her clothes. Little by little her body was revealed to them. First her lush breasts with their responsive pink nipples, and then her belly and curvy hips. Her legs were long and supple, but his gaze lingered on her pussy. They’d directed her to remove her body hair weeks ago so they could clearly see her responses.

“Turn around,” Draven ordered, his voice low and growly.

She obliged him, presenting her back and the nicely rounded ass that they both loved to spank and fuck. Perfect. There was simply no other word for her.

Facing them again, she sank to her knees and opened her thighs then raised her hands to the back of her head. Her breasts were thrust forward by the arch of her back and her pussy was displayed. “This body is yours. I choose to give you control because I know I am safe in your keeping. I will obey you and love you for as long as I live because I know you will protect and adore me as only my masters can.” Then she lowered her gaze and waited for them to take control.

Chapter Nine

“I will obey you and love you for as long as I live because I know you will protect and adore me as only my masters can.” The vow thrilled Flora, made her pulse race. Her breasts rose and fell, her nipples tight and needy. Her spread thighs framed her warm, wet pussy. She wanted their cocks inside her, filling her, stretching her, using her. Her mind was open too, emotions feely flowing across their psychic link. She offered them everything without reservation. She wanted to be wholly theirs. Forever.

Draven moved first, but Noratu was slightly faster. He drew her to her feet and claimed her mouth with his. Draven shifted her body, giving him access to her breasts without forcing Noratu to stop kissing her. Noratu’s lips slid over hers, his tongue lightly teasing. Draven’s mouth latched onto her nipple, sucking hard enough to make her gasp. The combination of demanding pleasure/pain and light teasing had her head spinning in no time. Contrast and combination, her mates were a perfectly balanced recipe.

Noratu kissed his way down her neck and they switched places. Noratu lavished attention on her breasts while Draven tasted her mouth. This kiss was dark and demanding. Draven thrust his tongue deep, possessing her mouth as he liked to possess her pussy. Noratu toyed with her nipples, using his fingers, lips, and tongue with skillful thoroughness.

She pushed her fingers into their hair and returned Draven’s kiss. Noratu straightened and guided her face toward him. He kissed her for a moment, then returned her to Draven. Back and forth, they took turns kissing her while their hands roamed freely over her naked body. They squeezed her breasts and fingered her clit, building her arousal right to the edge of orgasm.

“Not yet,” Draven told her firmly.

“Yes, Master D,” she whispered, loving the title almost as much as she loved the male.

“Get that lovely ass upstairs. We’re not doing this in the living room.”

Draven’s order cleared the sensual haze from Flora’s mind and made her smile. She’d been so lost in them that she’d literally lost track of where they were. Sunlight bathed the main floor of Noratu’s mansion. The floor-to-ceiling windows offered spectacular views of the city, but it also meant that anyone could see her standing there stark naked and offering her body to two males.

Leaving her clothes where they lay, she walked across the room and headed up the main staircase. She could sense their gazes on her as she moved. Her clit tingled and her pussy ached. Soon they would fill that empty ache and overwhelm her with intense pleasure.

“Down there,” Noratu guided. “Last door on the left.”

She went to the threshold he indicated and opened the double doors. The room was massive. It had to take up half of the upper story of the house. There was a sitting area, workstation, and the biggest bed she’d ever seen in her life. She moved to the foot of the bed then hesitated. Draven hadn’t told her to get on the bed, so she just stood there and waited for their next order.

Draven and Noratu were right behind her so she didn’t have to wait long. They pulled off their boots and took off their shirts before they continued, however, and seeing them bare-chested was a treat. Draven’s chalk-white skin made Noratu appear even more metallic. Draven’s torso was heavily muscled and starkly defined. Noratu was leaner, more compactly built. Together they were a stunning combination.

“Don’t stop on my account.” She looked pointedly at their pants. Occasionally, they would sleep naked, but more often they only undressed to get into the shower.

“We did agree to indulge her,” Noratu reminded and took off his pants.

She sucked in a breath as her hungry gaze roved over his entire body. His hips were narrow, legs long and lean. Her gaze lingered on his cock and her mouth began to water. He was rock hard and waiting for attention she was eager to give. His balls, like the rest of his body, were hairless and drawn up tight, indicating the urgency of his need.

She dragged her gaze away from him and looked at Draven. “Are you going to indulge me too?”

“Perhaps, but not yet.”

Disappointed but not surprised, she lowered her gaze. “Yes, sir.”

“On your knees,” Draven ordered. “Suck Noratu’s cock. He looks like he’s about to explode with or without you.”

She sank to her knees and crawled the short distance to Noratu. They both loved to see her crawl, so she took her time about it, making sure her legs were far enough apart to give Draven a clear view of her pussy and ass while her breasts swayed for Noratu.

Noratu stroked her face and then slipped his hand into her hair. She wet his cock with her tongue then took him into her mouth. Draven preferred that she remain passive while he fucked her mouth, but Noratu liked to be teased. She sucked on his tip and dragged her tongue along his length while she stroked his balls with her hand.

He reveled in her attention for a few minutes, using their link to share his pleasure. It was dizzying to feel his desire as well as her own. His other hand pushed into her hair and he drove his cock deeper into her mouth. She felt the shift in his need and moved both hands to his hips. He fucked her mouth in long, slow strokes, bumping the back but not thrusting into her throat. She tilted her head back, offering him whatever he needed to find release.

His depth didn’t change. He slid in and out of her mouth, content with the wet heat and the snug circle of her lips. He rocked his hips, panting softly, eyes tightly closed. She watched his face, reveling in the need she saw on his features. He was lost in the pleasure and it thrilled her to know she was taking him there.

His pace sped and his eyes opened. Their gazes locked and they both sucked in a breath. Their link electrified, sending tingling heat all through her body. Noratu fucked into her faster, his expression growing fiercer. Each firm thrust began to jostle her breasts. He reached down and pinched her nipples, one side and then the other, but his gaze remained locked with hers.

Pre-cum coated her tongue, spiking her arousal. Please, she cried silently. May I come?

“Together,” Noratu ordered. “Share my pleasure.”

She rode the wave of desire, but held back her orgasm until his seed hit the back of her throat. He shuddered beneath her hands as his cock jerked on her tongue. Then pleasure exploded through Flora. She cried out around his cock and sucked greedily as she swallowed and swallowed again.

He pulled back slowly, smearing his seed across her tongue. She moaned as a fresh wave of pleasure washed over her. She licked and sucked as he pulled out of her mouth, then licked her lips to make sure she savored every drop. They both tasted so damn good, and pleasure was always prolonged by their cum.

“My turn,” Noratu told her as he urged her toward the bed. “On your back, legs bent and wide open.”

More than happy to comply with that order, she positioned herself as he directed. He knelt on the floor and buried his face between her widespread thighs. His lips sealed over her slit and his tongue pushed into her core. She moaned and lifted against his mouth, taking his tongue deeper.

“Do you like it when your master licks your pussy?” Draven sat down beside her on the bed and pinched and pulled on her nipples.

“Yes, sir. I like it very much.”

He caught her nipple, twisting it cruelly while Noratu gently sucked on her clit. She moaned loudly. The combination confused yet aroused her.

“As soon as he makes you come, I’m going to spank you with a strap. Would you like to know why?”

“Yes, Master D. Why are you going to punish me?”

“It isn’t punishment. Your body is mine, correct?”

He released her nipple, but moved to the other side and twisted it just as hard.

“Yes, I’m yours.”

“Then you will submit to the strap because it pleases me.”

“Yes, Master D. What pleases you pleases me.”

“Glad to hear it.” He bent and sucked on her nipples, echoing the sensation Noratu created around her clit.

She wiggled and arched as tension gathered in her lower body. Noratu slipped two fingers into her pussy and fucked her as his lips and tongue worked her clit.

“Come for us,” Draven ordered. “Come right now.”

Like the obedient slave they had made her, she arched and shuddered as hard pulses of sensation rippled through her core, radiating out to other parts of her body. Streaks of pleasure shot down her inner thighs and her toes curled.

“Good girl,” Draven praised.

Noratu withdrew his fingers and brought them to her mouth. “Taste your pleasure. Combine it with mine.”

This was such a frequent request that she’d gotten used to the taste. She liked theirs better, but this no longer bothered her and they both enjoyed humbling her in this way.

Draven waited until she’d licked Noratu’s fingers clean then he held out his hand and drew her off the bed. “Turn around and bend from the waist. Support yourself on your forearms.”

“Yes, sir.” She faced the bed and bent over, resting her folded arms on the bed. She moved her feet apart and rolled her hips so her ass was up as far as possible. The only thing that hurt worse than the strap was a rod. Her heart thumped and she tried to slow her breathing, but failed. He was her master. She had offered him control over her body. This was testing that control. If her body was truly his to do with as he wished, she would willingly allow anything he asked of her.

Draven stroked her bottom, his touch slow and tender. “Your entire body is lovely, but this ass.” He smacked her with his hand, one side and then the other. “Who wouldn’t want to spank it?”

He accented the question with several more slaps. She stayed still and breathed through the sting. He was warming her up, warning her nerve endings that more intense sensations were on the way. She pressed her lips together as tears blurred her vision.

“Do you want the strap, sweet slave?”

“No, sir. I want you to fuck me.”

He chuckled and spanked her some more. “No doubt that is true, but we both know it will change.” He moved to a different angle and swung the strap for the first time.

The synthetic leather landed across both cheeks with a shocking thud. For a millisecond her senses didn’t register the pain and then her ass exploded with burning sensations. She cried out and twisted her hips, unable to remain still.

“Breathe through it,” Draven coached. After a short pause, he swung the strap again.

The impact was lower and the pain hit faster. She cried out again, but fought the need to twist her hips. Heat sank through her ass and bloomed in her abdomen. Her clit twitched and her core tensed; already her perception was shifting from pain to pleasure, or at least pleasurable pain.

He stroked her bottom then eased his fingers between her thighs. He teased her wet folds, sliding over without parting them.

The next two spanks came without pause, dragging a strangled cry from her throat. He pushed two fingers into her core and fucked her twice before removing them again. “Not wet enough yet. Ask for more.”

Telling him to stop wasn’t an option and they both knew it. “Please, Master D, strap me some more.”

The strap connected again and again until tears ran down her cheeks and sobs shook her shoulders. Her core clenched down tight and her clit throbbed in time with her abused bottom. She lost count of the smacks and her surroundings blurred as endorphins flooded her system.

He paused again and pushed his hand between her thighs. “Oh, yes.” His fingers slipped easily into her core, so he added a third finger, fucking her slowly while her clit and ass throbbed in unison. “Come for me, firebird. Come because you love my strap.”

Intoxicated by the overwhelming sensations, she let her body have its way. His fingers shuttled in and out, his thumb teasing her asshole at the apex of each thrust. Her bottom cheeks continued to burn and throb, but it all blurred into one consuming maelstrom of sensation.

She cried out then sobbed loudly as an orgasm tore through her. Hard, rippling spasms tightened her muscles around his fingers. Her knees nearly buckled and her entire body felt flushed and oversensitive.

Draven withdrew his fingers and kissed his way from the nape of her neck to the small of her back. “You are so precious to us, so precious to me.” He pushed affection into her mind, reinforcing the whispered claim.

She sobbed even harder, but she couldn’t explain her reaction.

He scooped her up in his arms and Noratu wrapped her in a blanket. Draven sat on the foot of the bed and carefully settled her on his lap.

A low moan escaped her parted lips as the pressure on her bottom amplified the pain. She wasn’t cold, but she couldn’t stop shaking.

They stroked her hair and arms as Draven rocked her in his arms. “I’ve got you, love. Take as long as you need.”

She pushed the blanket down so she could wrap her arm around his back. He was shirtless for a change, so she snuggled into his warmth. Noratu sat beside Draven and pulled her legs onto his lap. He kept her bundled up, but slipped his hands under the blanket so he could massage her legs and feet.

No one spoke as she calmed down, but their minds were wide open. Their concern and devotion was what helped her stop shaking. She finally raised her gaze and looked at her mates. They both watched her carefully, assessing her mood and her needs.

“Almost there,” she assured them with a smile.

“We are in no hurry,” Draven insisted, but she could feel his erection pressed against her hip.

“You’re the only one who hasn’t come yet,” she pointed out as she let the blanket slump around her waist. “We need to do something about that.”

“I want your mouth first, then your pussy,” he informed her in a throaty growl.

She climbed off his lap and started to kneel, but he shook his head.

“Bend from the waist so Noratu can reach your pussy. We both need our mate.”

Licking her lips in anticipation, Flora bent over and reached for Draven. He pushed her hand aside and fisted the back of her hair, taking control of the situation. Trusting herself in his capable hands, she let him guide her. She opened her mouth as soon as the tip of his cock brushed her lips and instinctively moved her hands to the small of her back.

Noratu grasped her wrists as he positioned himself between her thighs. They were in control now. All she had to do was surrender. They sank inward together, filling her up at both ends. She closed her eyes, savoring the fullness and Draven’s evocative taste.

“Eyes on me,” Draven ordered and she immediately lifted her lids.

Their gazes locked as he pushed more of his length into her mouth. She tilted her head back and he accepted the offer, not stopping until his pelvis was flush with her nose and he controlled her breathing.

His night-black gaze bore into hers for one breathless moment, then he pulled back and let her inhale. Trust. She had to trust him to take care of her, trust him to protect her, trust him to love her as much as she loved him. Over and over, he stole her breath, his cock growing harder with each languid stroke.

She kept her gaze raised to his, submitted and still.

Suddenly he pulled out, trailing pre-cum across her tongue. She shivered, her nipples and clit tingling as one. Noratu withdrew as well, leaving her empty and aching. She licked her lips and looked at Draven, confused for a moment.

He lifted her off his lap then stood to shuck off his pants. So, he was going to indulge her after all. She let her gaze run boldly over his body. His cock had just been in her mouth. She was intimately acquainted with his size and shape, yet seeing him like this, combined with all his other body parts was a rare treat indeed.

“You approve?” His brow arched in challenge.

“You’re breathtaking.”

“As are you.” He grasped her waist and pulled her onto his lap.

She folded her legs under her and straddled his thighs. He positioned himself at her entrance, but stopped her when she started to descend.

“You get what I’m ready to give.”

The reminder made her smile. The tip of his cock held her folds open, teasing her with what she wanted most. He palmed one breast while he bent and sucked on her other nipple. She relaxed, accepting what he gave her, knowing she had no other choice.

As soon as her spirit settled, he brought her down onto his waiting cock. She tightened her inner muscles, thankful for the sweet fullness.

“Ride me, mate. Slide that pussy up and down my cock.”

Flora raised and lowered her hips, providing the friction they both needed so badly. Draven felt wonderful buried deep in her pussy, but she wanted Noratu also. And she knew where she wanted him.

She rode Draven’s cock, trying not to let her restlessness show. This was his time. She should be focused entirely on him.

Chuckling softly, Draven lay back, drawing her down with him. “We both know you are dying for this to happen, so offer Noratu that tight little ass.”

“I’m sorry, Master D. I don’t mean to be impatient.”

He stroked the side of her face and ran his thumb across her lips. “We want this as badly as you do. Now, do as you are told.”

Resting on Draven’s chest, she reached back and carefully spread her sore bottom cheeks. “Please, hurry. This really hurts.”

Noratu brushed her hands aside. “The offer is symbolic. You do not need to hold yourself open for me.”

She breathed out a ragged sigh and snuggled into Draven’s warmth, her cheek pressed against his chest.

Something cool and slippery was smeared around and into her bottom hole. They had prepared her well for this final act, the ultimate intimacy. She licked her lips, feeling a little nervous.

“Relax, firebird,” Noratu coaxed. “We’ve done this before.”

They had, but they hadn’t. Noratu had never fucked her while Draven was in her pussy. He pressed against her puckered opening, then moved his hands to her hips. She exhaled and relaxed, lightly grasping Draven’s upper arms. Noratu pushed, opening her slowly until she stretched around his tip. Another firm push and his entire tip was inside.

She panted helplessly. The stretch stung just a little, but the fullness was overwhelming. Both her mates were larger than the average human. The two of them together took her breath away. Noratu drove steadily inward until she’d taken his entire length.

They gave her a few moments to catch her breath, then Draven eased her up and cupped both her breasts. Noratu pulled nearly out then drove in fast. She cried out. The thrust hadn’t hurt. She was just surprised by his sudden aggression.

Noratu showed her how to move, to roll her hips so her body was drawn off one cock and onto the other. She braced her hands against Draven’s chest and rode both their cocks, filling her pussy and ass by turns. The stimulating rhythm shot her into another orgasm before she had time to ask.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped out as the pleasure echoed through her entire body. She pushed the sensations across their link, sharing it with her mates.

“Spank her later,” Noratu pleaded. “I can’t stop.”

“Me either.” Draven moved his hands to her hips and bucked up into her. She leaned forward, bracing her hands on his shoulders and arching her back to give them both a better angle.

They fucked her together then, driving in and out as one. She came and came, not caring if they punished her for it later. Her body was finally getting what it needed most and her system couldn’t stop coming. She cried out as they filled her over and over, their thrusts nearly violent.

Noratu lost control next, shuddering against her back as his cock bucked inside her bottom. She felt a rush of hot seed and echoed his pleasure with a barrage of hard spasms. She was floating in blissed-out peace when Draven arched, driving his entire length deep into her pussy. His cum jetted and her orgasm just kept going. She soared higher and floated beyond reality for what felt like days. Her mates were there with her, but the rest of the universe had faded away.

When reality returned, she found herself on her side sandwiched between her mates. Their legs were hanging off the side of the bed, but no one seemed to care. “I didn’t think making love with you two could get any more intense, but that was… perfect.”

Draven smiled at her and Noratu kissed the side of her neck. “You are pretty damn perfect too,” Noratu told her.

“You cannot escape us now,” Draven said with a sexy smile. “The fabric of our souls is woven together.”

“I haven’t even thought about escaping you for weeks. There is only one thing that would make me happier.”

“And what is that?” Noratu asked, sounding sleepy.

“If my cousins were as happy as I am, then I would be content.”

“We are working on it,” Draven promised. “Once we have narrowed down the field, we will start interviewing the finalists.”

“Do I get to participate in the interviews?”

“Of course,” Draven told her. “Now, stop worrying about your cousins. That is an order.”

Crouching in the woods beyond the landing site, Cylex activated the subdermal communicator on his inner arm. He looked around anxiously as he waited for Emperor Jevara to respond. This training mission was largely routine. Relocating the Citadel was no longer an option, it was a necessity. So Cylex and five other trainees were protecting the team of scientists and engineers who were conducting a feasibility study of this planet and several others. On the outskirts of their star system, the planets were much more remote than the Citadel’s current location but their budget was nearly nonexistent, so they would take what they could get.

The comm finally activated and Cylex let out a sigh of relief. “I do not have much time, but I wanted to give you a quick update.”

The emperor’s image was slightly distorted. Still, his thin face and angular features were unmistakable. “Continue.”

“I have confirmed that there are more conduits on Earth. Autumn Hays was one of six rebels who fled and each is believed to have at least three conduits in their care.”

“There could be eighteen or more unclaimed conduits on Earth?” He sounded wary, but greedy interest burned in his eyes.

“That is the common belief, sir. My investigators have yet to locate even one. They will keep trying.”

“Good. As long as we find them before Zevon, I will be satisfied.” His gaze shifted away then snapped back toward the camera. “Have they accepted your alias? Are those trees behind you? Where are you?”

The immediate need for relocation was the most damning piece of information that Cylex had learned, but he couldn’t bring himself to report it. Jevara was a craven fool who put no value on anything or anyone that did not serve him. The Citadel had been caught unaware the first time. They would be prepared if Jevara attacked again. Cylex tensed, a sick feeling dropping into the pit of his stomach. Would preparation, determination, and a handful of power triads be enough against Torretian warriors?

“This is some moon in the middle of nowhere. They store sacred relics and who knows what here. It was a long trip for nothing, if you ask me.”

Jevara rolled his eyes. “Mystics are like that. Not a practical bone in their bodies.” Cylex was about to end the conversation when Jevara asked, “Have the other two Hays girls been claimed? If they can manifest multiple elements like Flora can, they might be worth risking an abduction.”

Their images formed within his mind. He had seen them shortly after they returned to the Citadel two weeks ago. Raina with her golden-brown hair and soft green eyes looked as if she’d been crying. Cara’s hair was even lighter, a pale sun-streaked blonde. She argued with everyone as her sky-blue eyes flashed with defiance. Provost Nadis would have her hands full with those two.

“They have not been claimed, but I doubt they are worth the effort. They are not generating much interest and there are no secrets at the Citadel. If they were anything special, I would have heard about it.” The last was an outright fabrication. The Citadel was buzzing with interest surrounding those two females.

“Understood, and carry on.”

The comm disconnected and Cylex deactivated the implant with an impatient swipe of his fingers. He straightened and stretched out his back. He risked discovery every time he contacted the emperor, but keeping the bastard informed was the reason he was here.

Tromping through the underbrush, he assessed his option for the future. The emperor’s word was law on Torret. To his knowledge, it had always been that way. Many had tried to install a more democratic form of governance, and many had failed. The Torretian people were powerless, literally subject to the whims of their rulers. The burning desire to change that, even to some small degree, was the only thing that kept Cylex loyal to his planet. He circled around the ship and emerged on the other side of the small clearing from where he made the comm.

“Cylex!” Commander Tov Nee yelled as soon as he spotted Cylex. “Where the hells have you been? We are ready to depart.”

“I apologize.” He jogged to the ship and hurried up the stairs leading to the hatch. “I thought I saw something in the trees.”

“You disappeared without telling anyone where you were heading,” Tov boarded right behind him and closed the hatch. “If it happens again, I will leave you. Understood?”

“Yes, sir. It will not happen again.”

“Glad to hear it because we’ve been given another mission, and this one is complex and important. Report to the armory. Merrik is going to brief everyone.”

“Yes, sir.” Cylex went directly to the armory. Anything that drew attention to him was counterproductive for a spy. He had reined in his abilities, performing only well enough to pass their tests. He needed to blend into the background and be as forgettable as possible. Until now, he had been succeeding nicely.

He was the last to arrive, so he stood against the wall just inside the doorway. The other five trainees formed a semicircle around the workbench in the middle of the room. Merrik, the second in command, stood at the head of the table. He was tall and thickly muscled. According to ship gossip, Merrik was working with Commander Tov to form a triad. Tov was definitely a controller, so Merrik was likely a source. Odd, if Cylex had been asked to guess he would have said Merrik was a controller too.

“Our target is this shipyard,” Merrik began as soon as the door slid shut behind Cylex. A holo-display had been activated above the workbench featuring a detailed image of the shipyard. “The complex is largely automated. However, it is located on a developed moon. Traditional explosives would risk too many lives, so we are working with three power triads. They will surround the target and consume it with Altorian fire. This method will contain the destruction and minimize the damage to the surrounding facilities.”

“If the triads are going to attack, what is our role?” one of the trainees asked.

“Hopefully, observers,” Merrik said. “The triads are being transported to the staging site via one ship. Two additional ships—one being ours—will await their arrival. All three ships will jump to the moon on which the shipyard is located and the triads will attack. If all goes well, the entire endeavor will be over in a matter of minutes.”

The mission Flora’s triad was about to undertake wasn’t that different from the other ten missions they had been assigned over the past two weeks. Her mates said she needed practical experience and President Zevon seemed determine that she get it. They had blown up manufacturing hubs and boarded supply ships, forcing them to destroy their own cargo. It was exhilarating and Flora was proud to say that as of yet, she had not taken a life. Altor was at war with Torret, so she wasn’t sure how long she would be able to maintain nonlethal status, but she would hold on to it as long as possible.

She’d met with Nadis to strategize about activating the power exchange, but Nadis insisted that it was something Flora needed to find within herself.

“Don’t be fooled by the rarity of this gift,” Nadis cautioned. “It is a mystic ability like any other. Use the same techniques to access it. Visualize what you are trying to do and then bring it into the material world.”

Nadis made it sound so simple, but Flora knew it was not. She meticulously constructed a visualization, a small, square building with doors on either side. She channeled mystic energy into the building through one of the doors. It swirled around for a moment, then exited through the other door as a different type of elemental magic.

The visualization was simple by design, allowing her to concentrate on the actual transformation. She wasn’t sure how she flipped it on, but three days ago she felt something stir. A strange surge of power rushed through her body and new awareness unfurled within her. Curious, she fed Altorian energy, fire magic, into the psychic building and moments later it flowed out as water.

Her excited screams brought her mates running and she demonstrated her new ability. The next two days had been dedicated to expanding her control over the power exchange. She still tired quickly, but Noratu and Draven were thrilled that she’d been able to activate the ability at all.

Shaking away the distraction, Flora refocused on the coming mission. President Zevon had found out this morning that the shipyard opening had been moved up by several weeks. An emergency meeting of the board followed so Draven, Noratu, and Flora flew to the Citadel. The framework of a strategy had been in place for weeks. All that had to be worked out was the timing.

After a detailed briefing, the nine members of the triads gathered in the ship’s small dining area. Flora sat back and watched the males interact for a while. They clearly knew each other well enough to joke and tease. The other two females were less friendly, but seemed fairly well acquainted. After the initial introductions no one spoke to Flora. That was to be expected, she supposed. She was an outsider, a stranger raised on a strange world.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Gwala, the older of the two conduits, asked Flora. She was a statuesque female in her late forties and had been rather rude even during their introduction. Flora was pretty sure she hadn’t done anything wrong. The woman just seemed to be unpleasant by nature.

“She is stronger than she looks,” Noratu said with a charming smile.

Gwala glanced at him then fixed her hostile stare on Flora. “Is it true that you can manifest water?”

It felt like a trap so Flora hesitated. There was a reason, beyond the obvious, that this bitch was asking. Flora just wasn’t sure about her true motivation. “This mission calls for fire, so it wouldn’t matter if I could.”

“Can you?” Gwala persisted.

Tired of the attitude, Flora raised her chin and stated clearly, “Yes. Fire is my primary element, but I can also manifest water.”

The bitch spit at her. The disgusting phlegm didn’t come anywhere near Flora but the disrespect shocked her.

“Torretian dog,” Gwala sneered. “I have lost half my family to your people and now I’m expected to fight alongside you. This is intolerable.”

“I have never been to Torret, and my people all live on Altor.” Why was she defending herself to this bitch? People like Gwala didn’t deserve an explanation. In truth, they were never looking for information. They were just full of hate.

“I might have no choice but to aim at the same target as you, but you better never expect me to cover your back. I would rather—”

“Gwala, that’s enough,” her controller snapped, silencing the female with a look. He shifted his gaze to Flora and his expression softened. “I apologize for my conduit. Her losses have been recent and grief is wagging her tongue right now.”

The apology would have meant more if it had come from the woman, but Flora acknowledged his efforts with a tense smile. “We won’t even be on the same ship. I hope my involvement won’t be too much of a distraction for your triad.”

“I will ensure that it is not,” the controller said then turned his attention to his misbehaving conduit. They got up and moved to a table on the other side of the room.

Draven reached over and interlaced their fingers. “I should have prepared you for something like this. We have been at war for a very long time.”

“So much of this still doesn’t seem real to me,” she said softly, wishing she was alone with her mates. “I’m still learning about Altor. Torretians are ruled by a bloodthirsty dictator. That is literally the only thing I know about them.”

Noratu ran his hand down her back and passed warmth across their link. “I will make sure your knowledge base is expanded as soon as we get home.”

She looked at him and smiled. “I appreciate it, but I doubt it would have helped with her. She just needs someone to hit.”

“Her controller will spank it out of her,” Draven predicted.

Sympathy squeezed Flora’s heart and she glanced at Gwala. “She was incredibly rude to me, but I hope spanking isn’t his only strategy. She is clearly in pain.”

“They have been bonded for twenty-four years. Doubtlessly, her mates know what she needs and will ensure that she gets it.”

Flora nodded and pushed the conflict to the back of her mind. This was the most important mission she’d been on to date. She needed to focus on the objectives. There was so much that could go wrong.

They arrived at the staging area twenty minutes later. Flora was anxious to move to the other ship, and not just to get away from the surly conduit. The ship to which they had been assigned was commanded by Tov Nee and his source Merrik Lilika. They were one of the teams still being considered as Cara’s mates. Flora was anxious to meet them and see how they interacted with their crew. Seeing them in action would tell her more about their basic character than any detailed dossier.

A large, muscular male with strange multicolored hair and burgundy eyes was waiting for them when they streamed onto the ship. Was this the commander or someone unrelated to Cara’s potential mates?

“Merrik,” Noratu greeted. “It’s been a while.”

“Two years. No, it might have been three.”

Flora studied the newcomer as the two caught up. According to the dossier, he was a source. He was also the ship’s second-in-command. Flora narrowed her gaze. He looked more like a controller. Except for those incandescent eyes. As if sensing her thoughts, he suddenly looked at her and one corner of his mouth quirked.

“I heard that your cousin is being trained by Provost Nadis,” Merrik began. Clearly he knew who she was, but it still felt rude to start conversing without introducing themselves. “Wasn’t Nadis your mentor also?”

“She was. That is largely the reason we chose her for my cousins. I was very impressed by her.”

Merrik looked at Draven, brows arched. “You were allowed to choose their mentor? Was this before or after you joined the board of governors?”

“It was a condition of my acceptance of the president’s offer,” Draven admitted. “Those two require careful handling and I am doing everything I can to ensure that they get it.”

“I see.” He glanced at Flora then shifted his gaze to Noratu, the member of the triad that he seemed to know best. “Did you get our proposal? Tov and I are anxious to continue courting Cara.”

“We are working our way through a large number of proposals.” Flora spotted the subtle quirk at the corners of Noratu’s mouth. He was fighting back a smile. “We will be contacting the finalists soon.”

“Will we be among them?” Merrik asked hopefully.

“If I told you before the others it will seem like favoritism.”

“Fair enough.” He motioned toward the corridor. “Our ship has an observation platform that will give you an unobstructed view of the moon. We thought it would be less distracting than the command deck.”

Draven didn’t look pleased by the decision. “I’m familiar with the ship’s layout. The observation platform will leave us completely exposed.” He walked at Merrik’s side, so Noratu walked beside Flora.

Merrik smiled, apparently having anticipated the objection. “We have a class of trainees aboard. They will serve as lookouts, and bodyguards if the need arises, which I don’t believe it will.”

After a tense pause, Draven asked, “Is Cylex among the trainees?”

The question surprised Merrik. “He is. Why do you ask?”

Now Draven seemed confused. “Of all the trainees we assessed, Cylex was by far the most impressive. Has he not lived up to his potential?”

“His performance has been mediocre at best. There is nothing impressive about him.”

Draven and Noratu exchanged disbelieving looks.

Why would he hide his true abilities? Noratu responded to Draven’s confusion.

We need to find out, Draven agreed.

“Is he holding out on us?” Merrik correctly read their expressions.

“We believe so,” Draven told him. “Don’t confront him. I’d rather see if I can figure out why he’s doing it.”

“You’re the governor.” Merrik grinned, clearly amused by the development.

“How well do you guys know each other?” Flora asked as they reached a wider hallway.

“We went through training together,” Merrik told her.

“Different mentors, but we were at the Citadel at the same time,” Noratu clarified.

“I had already completed my training, but had yet to move out,” Draven added.

They took an elevator to the top level or deck of the ship. She was still working on all the terminology. The main corridor ran perpendicular to the one leading to the observation platform. Merrik scanned open the door, but motioned for them to enter without him. “Your ident-codes are activated in our system so the computer will respond to your voice commands. If you need anything, just comm me. The trainees will join you shortly. Feel free to boss them around.”

Flora stepped out onto the observation platform and felt her jaw drop halfway to her chest. There were no walls of any kind, just the floor on which she stood. A transparent dome or some sort of force field held out the vacuum of space and her gaze was immediately drawn to the planets in the distance. Stripes of orange and green identified Altor, but Flora had never seen the other planets. They appeared smaller, which likely meant they were farther away. One was barely visible and its features were shadowed by its angle to the system’s star. The other planet was primarily blue. But Flora didn’t see any greens or browns indicating land. She didn’t see any other colors at all, in fact.

She was so captivated by the beauty that her mind didn’t register the impossibility of the view. “Aren’t we still in hyperspace?” she asked Noratu.

“We are.”

“Then what am I looking at?”

“A projection, an image from the ship’s media library,” he explained.

“Is that Torret?” Her voice was hushed, almost reverent as she gazed out at the overwhelming beauty.

Noratu stepped up beside her and wrapped his arm around her waist. “It is.”

She looked up at him but he offered nothing else. “I know the planet is mostly water, but are there no land masses at all?”

“There are a few. Most of the cities either float or access the seafloor for stability.”

Flora tried to imagine what that would look like, but the closest she came was Florence, Italy and that really wasn’t the same. “It is too bad we are at war. I would love to see a floating city.”

“There are a couple of immersive tours in my media library at home. I’ll take you through one or both if you like.”

The door behind them slid open and both of them turned around. Six Altorian males dressed in black-on-black uniforms walked into the room. Most looked rather uncertain. Two immediately took up a militant stance, hands clasped behind their backs.

Draven approached the untidy line, openly assessing them. “How many of you can manifest Altorian fire?”

Four of the six raised their hands. Were all of them sources or could some controllers manifest fire without being bonded with a source? She had been so focused on learning about her abilities that she’d never asked about un-bonded males.

“Center your minds and get ready to fight. There is a damn good chance this is a trap,” he warned them.

“Then why continue with the mission?” one of the trainees asked.

Draven silenced him with a disapproving look. “Should we tuck tail and run every time the enemy shows up to a fight? This shipyard cannot be allowed to open. But the Torretians desperately need new ships. They know we will attack and they will protect their property. So, what is the solution?”

“We prepare to fight,” the same trainee amended.

“Exactly.” Draven motioned one of the trainees forward. He had raised his hand when asked if he could manifest fire, but he was not the one who spoke out of turn. Rather than speaking with him in front of the others, Draven led him over to where Noratu and Flora stood.

“I do not know why you are restraining your abilities, but I need an honest answer. If we are attacked, which is likely, will you use the full scope of your power to protect my mate?”

His shoulders squared and he lifted his chin. “Of course, sir. I would never allow anyone to harm a female.”

Draven’s gaze narrowed thoughtfully then he nodded and motioned toward Flora. “This is Lady Flora. Flora, this is Cylex. His one and only responsibility is to keep you safe while Noratu and I are distracted.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Cylex.”

He dipped his head respectfully. “It is an honor, Lady Flora.” With shaggy black hair and vivid blue eyes, he had a rakish charm that Flora found interesting.

Draven spoke with each of the trainees in turn, making sure they knew what was expected of them. None were armed with conventional weapons so how were they going to protect anyone against a Torretian attack? The question made her smile. The same way triads blew up targets without being anywhere near them. These males could likely manipulate magic as well, perhaps better than she could. The only advantage she had over them was the experience and fully developed power of her mates.

Knowing things would need to move fast as soon as they emerged from hyperspace, Draven and Noratu took up positions on either side of her. Triads were ambush predators. They sneaked up on their targets, attacked fast and furiously, and then disappeared, often before anyone realized that they had been there.

All three of the ships carrying triads flashed into view at exactly the same time. As Draven feared, Torretian fighters were waiting, anticipating the attack.

“We have to move fast,” Draven snarled. “Take out the target, so Tov can get us out of here!”

Flora opened her mind, going nearly limp between her males. Noratu’s arm tightened around her back and Draven’s fingers squeezed her neck. She drew energy up through her body, accessing Noratu’s deep well. Draven guided the flow, forcing it out through the middle of her chest. She screamed as the searing flood arched toward the shipyard.

Similar streams flowed out of the other two ships, but the Torretian fighters were nearly upon them.

Flora glanced at the fighters and felt her concentration slip. Draven carefully, but firmly pulled her back into the meld.

Increase the intensity of the flow. Finish it!

Draven’s order was for Noratu, but Flora braced for the deluge of mystic energy. She dilated the conduit, opening her being as wide as she knew how. Draven surrounded her, reinforcing her efforts while he kept her from being consumed by the intensity. Energy gushed from her so bright that it hurt her eyes.

The shipyard burst apart, rocking the ship with the force of the explosion. Before the bridge crew could gain control and jump to hyperspace, the fighters reached them. Blasts of energy knocked the ship this way and that. The trainees attacked, some throwing fireballs, others manifesting streams of energy. The ship’s weapons echoed the mystic attacks while the shipyard burned.

Flora braced her hands on her knees, panting harshly. All three Altorian ships were being swarmed by Torretian fighters. The Altorian weapons were more powerful, but the fighters could shoot faster, and there were a hell of a lot more of them. The trainees continued to pelt the fighters with mystic energy, but they just kept coming.

Gradually, the Altorian ships worked their way toward each other. They positioned themselves in a circle. They were protecting each other’s backs, Flora realized.

She had barely caught her breath and was preparing to join the trainees when a blast from one of the fighters knocked one of the Altorian ships out of control. It spun, then dipped, then spun some more.

“Shit,” Draven cried out. “They must have hit navigation.”

The fighter’s next shot ignited something inside the ship. Flames leapt from the hole in the hull, quickly spreading in all directions. Flora’s alarmed gasp was echoed by the trainees. They focused on the fighter, bombarding the vessel with new intensity.

“We have to put out that fire!” Draven ordered. His tone was sharp with concern. “If it reaches their weapons systems, that ship will explode.”

Flora was exhausted, but it didn’t matter. She centered her being and opened her mind, accessing her Torretian energy. Her mates steadied her, encouraged her, until the water began to flow. Her personal store was exhausted quickly and she felt a moment of panic. The fire wasn’t out. She had barely managed to slow down the spread.

“They are evacuating to the other ships,” Noratu told her. “Just contain the blaze until everyone is off.”

Flora trembled. She had no energy left. “Power exchange. I can’t hold it on my own.”

It was a brand-new skill. They had barely begun to explore her new aptitude. Draven took control of the meld, soothing her with his confidence and calmness.

You can do this. We can do it. Just open the conduit and trust your mates.

It was more complicated than that, but she didn’t argue. She silenced her insecurities and backed off her emotions. Noratu fed her energy, a thin ribbon of fire to begin with, then stronger, hotter, more intense. Draven guided the energy into the conduit, but paused, waiting for her to signal that she was ready.

Flora quickly pictured the square building. Hot and combustible, the Altorian energy sizzled and glowed. She cooled it, gradually transforming one element into another. Steam rose as the flames began to liquefy.

Now! she urged. I can feel the power exchanging.

Draven pushed the energy out through the conduit. Silver-blue light arched toward the other ship, transforming into water a millisecond before it made contact with the damaged area.

“What are they doing?” one of the trainees asked, his voice hushed with awe. “What is she doing?”

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

She tuned out the distraction and assured her mates, I’ve got it. You can go faster.

Energy flowed in a steady stream, the power exchange smooth and instantaneous. Flora released the visualization and focused on the feeling. It felt natural now, a visceral part of who she was.

“They are all off,” Noratu told her. “We did it. No, you did it! Everyone is safe.”

Draven pulled back, easing out of the meld. The silver-blue energy sputtered out and Flora’s legs buckled. Noratu caught her, kept her from collapsing completely.

The wounded ship exploded as the other two jumped to hyperspace. Flora watched the ball of fire disappear as hyperspace closed in around them.

“That was amazing,” one of the trainees praised.

Flora’s vision blurred. Noratu sat down on the platform and pulled her onto his lap.

“If she’s from Altor,” someone else was saying, “how did she manifest water?”

Draven shooed most of the trainees from the room. He allowed Cylex to stay and told him to stand guard by the door.

“They are right, firebird.” Noratu brushed the hair back from her face and smiled at her. “That was amazing.”

“I wasn’t sure I could do it.” She blew out a shaky breath. “We’d only practiced it a few times.”

“Necessity is often the best teacher.” Draven joined them on the floor, sitting so he could see her face. “It usually takes conduits years to achieve the sort of control that you displayed today. And that doesn’t include the power exchange. That is a skill that most triads can only dream about.”

She just smiled, too damn tired for any other reaction.

“Once word spreads about this, and thanks to the trainees it will, we are going to be flooded with proposals for Cara and Raina,” Noratu predicted.

“They all have different mothers,” Draven reminded. “There is no guarantee that they will have this sort of power.”

“They won’t care,” Noratu said. “They will not be able to resist the possibility of bonding with someone this exceptional.”

Draven nodded then climbed back to his feet. “Raina and Cara are going to need a higher level of security.” He approached Cylex. “If I ask permission to train you personally, are you willing to change mentors?”

“Yes, sir, but may I ask why?”

“I would like to hire you as a bodyguard for my mate’s cousins. It would become your primary responsibility and I will train you at an accelerated rate in my spare time.”

Cylex stared at Draven for a long, silent moment. His features were expressionless. “Why are you so sure you can trust me?”

“I am well aware that you are not who you pretend. I hope when you realize that you can trust me you will explain who you are and why you are here. But even with that mystery in place, I am sure that you will keep my mate’s cousins safe. Are you interested in the job?”

“I would be honored, sir.”

“Then rejoin your class for now. I will make the arrangements.”

“Thank you, sir.”

By the time they returned to the Citadel, Flora could stand on her own again. She still felt weak and shaky, so Noratu kept his arm around her waist.

President Zevon and a male Flora did not recognize were waiting in the landing bay. “I heard that you had quite an adventure,” Zevon said as Noratu helped Flora climb down from the ship. “Congratulations on another successful mission.” Before she could respond, he motioned to the man next to him. “This is Commander Polot and he had a few words for you.”

Polot stepped forward and cleared his throat. “I lost my ship today, but thanks to you, Lady Flora, my ship is all I lost.” He covered his heart with his fist and bowed from the waist. “You will always have my thanks. If you need anything, you have only to ask.”

“You are welcome, sir,” she said softly, embarrassed by the praise. “But I could not have done this without my mates.”

Noratu led her out of the landing bay and Flora found the corridor lined with people. Each person she passed repeated the gesture and said thank you. Even grumpy Gwala offered her thanks with a show of respect. Flora was blinking back tears by the time they reached the end of the line of people who had showed up to honor her.

“I didn’t do anything any mystic wouldn’t have done,” she said quietly as the crowd started to disperse.

“Perhaps not, but you did something that most mystics could not have done,” Draven pointed out. “You are extraordinary, mate. Whether you like it or not.”

Flora was still feeling unusually emotional when they left the Citadel an hour later. President Zevon saw them off, reinforcing how proud he was of her performance. She tried to stress that the mission had been accomplished by a team of nine. Even the power exchange required the assistance of her mates. Everyone dismissed her protests and focused on her dramatic rescue. She was pleased by all the praise, but hoped the other triads wouldn’t resent her abilities once their shock wore off.

“I hope the president won’t need us for at least a week,” she said as Draven set their ship in motion. “I’m pretty sure I can sleep that long.”

“You’ve earned it,” Noratu said, squeezing her hand.

“You better sleep now.” Draven shot her a smoldering look. “As soon as we get home, I am taking you to bed. If we make it to the bedroom.”

Anticipation tingled through her body. She thought she was too tired to care, but apparently not. “What did you have in mind? I’m awfully tired.”

“After we’ve fucked you into oblivion, then you can sleep for a week,” he promised with a wicked smile.

“Missions always make him—what is that human word? Oh, yes, horny.”

Draven looked back at Noratu, disbelief scrunching up his brow. “You just made that up.”

Noratu laughed. “No, it is a real word.”

Draven looked at her for confirmation. “Humans refer to needing to fuck as horny?”

She laughed, embarrassed to admit it. “Yeah, they really do.”

“Well, my love, you better take a long nap because I am seriously horny.”

It sounded even sillier in his deep, slightly accented voice. She laughed as her heart filled with joy. She loved her new life and her amazing mates. She closed her eyes, a smile still bowing her lips. “I’m charging my batteries, Master D. I can’t wait to blow your horn.”

The End

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