Graven – part 4

Sorry I didn’t post on Wednesday. This week escaped me.


“Because you will always be beautiful to me.” He responded stepping closer.

The man tried to back away from the prince but unfortunately for his mate the wall stopped him from going further. “You were supposed to mate with my sister.”

Tilting his head, Graven took in the covered figure. “Why is that?”

“Our prophet said that the last one of my family would be your mate.”

“But the last one is you brother.” A familiar woman’s voice spoke behind him. A little startled that she got so close without him noticing, Graven moved away from her and nearer to the male. He only wanted one person close to him now. To inhale the scent of the one meant to be his. Excitement pulsed through his body at the thought of having someone all his own for the very first time.

“But you were supposed to be the one.” The smooth velvety voice said with a hint of a pout. “Father’s not going to like this.”

Damn, would the man’s lips be full and lush pursed in a sulky expression? Just the image in his mind was enough to make Graven hard.

Tinkling laughter came from the girl. “Father will have to adapt. The seer said the last of our line. If you take out the male/female quotient you are the last.”

Irritated with the lack of attention from the other man, the prince grabbed his mate’s arm.

“Come with me and we will discuss this in private.”

A sigh came from beneath the veil. “Is there any way to convince you this is all a big mistake?”

“No.” The prince made sure his voice was solid and firm he didn’t want any misunderstandings. This man would be his mate willing or no.

“Okay but could you have one of your men escort my sister to our hotel. I don’t want her out there alone.”

Pleased that his mate was so considerate of others Graven ordered two of his men to escort the woman.

He watched with simmering impatience as the pair exchanged hugs and the girl was sent on her way.

“Did you catch yourself a little mouse, cousin?” Dail’s voice was cold and hard but nothing could ruin this moment for Graven. His cousin yearned for Graven’s throne with an unseemly lust. Vampires couldn’t ascend the throne until they were mated. But now that he found his fated one nothing would keep Graven from his crown.

“No,” He said smugly, “I found my mate.”

“Well don’t hide her in the corner bring her on stage so we can all see. I’m sure the others want to meet your soulreen. You’ve waited so long after all.”

Damn. Visions of his family frightening off his mate filled Graven’s mind. He would kill them all if they harmed what was his.

“Sure let’s present him to the family.” He agreed with a smile as sincere as his cousin’s.

He felt a flash of pleasure when Dail missed a step. It was rare for a prince to find a male mate. In the vampire kingships’ long and rich history it had only occurred twice. Both times led to reigns still upheld as being the strongest ever.

The goddess did well by him and he hadn’t even seen his mate.

“Tell the others they can meet him later. We’ll do a presentation in an hour or so.”

After marking the man as his. No one was going to take this man away.

* * *


Steerl replayed the prophet’s words over and over in his head as he stood next to the prince. Delilah was right. The woman did say the youngest of them. The whole family just thought it was his sister since she was the last female.

That will teach them to assume anything.

Fire raced up his arm where the vampire prince touched him. He could feel the man’s warmth through the thin cloth. If the prince’s touch had this much affect on Steerl when there was fabric between them he was eager to find out what it would be like skin to skin.

The prince groaned. “You’re going to kill me if you don’t stop projecting. I’m holding on by a thread here.”

Images of fucking the vampire prince filled his head until a low growl brought an end to his fun. “I think you have things in the wrong order, my sweet.”

“No.” Steerl said. “If we’re mates and fated to be together you’re going to have to receive sometime. I’m not spending the rest of my life as your bottom boy.”

His father always said to start negotiations as you plan to go.

Graven – part 3

Prince Graven smelled the hint of his mate and everything in his body seized. After all the fruitless years of searching, his mate was in the room. He could feel it in every pour of his body. Dormant hunting instincts surged into overdrive as the mating urge overtook him.

“Close the doors. Seal the room.” He roared, his deep voice echoing off the walls.

Damn it was hard to focus with his body vibrating like mad. Four hundred years old and he was as anxious as a guy on his first date.

Too impatient to wait for the procession to come to him, Graven leapt from the throne and worked his way down the line not even trying to hide that he was taking in their scents.


After Graven finished with each group he motioned for the guards to release them. Most were reluctant to go, eager to see who would be the prince’s new mate. However a show of arms from the stone-faced warriors kept them on the move.

Frustration gave way to anger when an hour passed and he was no closer to finding his mate. There were still too many people around and his mate remained hidden.

The elusive scent slapped him in the face again. Grabbing the arm of a tall figure he leaned in to sniff.

Disappointment speared through him when he felt the soft upper flesh of the arm.

A woman.

Somehow it was a man he always dreamed of when he thought of his mate. But if this was what fate decreed he would bow his head to a higher authority.

Leaning over he breathed in the woman and caught a scent of his mate.

Not her but someone close to her, someone who had touched her recently.

“Did you touch someone before coming to me?

“Just my brother. He gave me a hug.” Her voice had a go to hell tone that Graven appreciated. All the fawning got to him after a while. His heart slammed against his chest at the word brother.

“And where is this brother of yours?” Graven purred, pleased when he saw a shudder go through the woman. He might prefer men but it was always nice to know he had an affect on both sexes.

“Over in the corner.” The woman waved a hand towards the northern side of the room.

Not giving his prey time to move, Graven leapt through the air and landed in front of the only figure standing between a potted plant and an upholstered bench. “Hello beautiful.”

A warm, nervous laugh came from the veiled figure. “What makes you think I’m beautiful?”

The voice was smooth and sweet, a seductive siren song, luring the prince forward. Graven leaned closer inhaling the man’s scent, his cock hardening so fast he felt lightheaded.



Graven – part two

Sorry this is my first post of the week. I’m still battling this horrible cold. Hubby blames the children for the infiltration of germs. LOL

* * * *

Steerl shrugged tossing the thought from his mind as he focused on his true purpose. “My sister here is concerned that a mate wouldn’t find her attractive. Perhaps you could set her at ease.” He whipped back her veil for the knight to get a good look at his attractive sibling.

The soldier’s smile had a kindness at odds to the huge sword strapped to his hip. “You would appeal to many, dear lady.” He said in a deep voice “Whether you’ll appeal to the prince I don’t know but if you’re still available after visiting his chambers I’d be happy to escort anywhere you wish to go.”

It would take a bigger person than Steerl to resist digging his elbow into his sister’s rib. “See baby girl I told you we’d find you a mate.”

“Shut up.” His sweet sister said kicking him with unladylike force. Wrapping a hand around his arm she repositioned her veil and dragged him off.. “I can’t believe you did that.”

Steer laughed. “Well at least we know you’re attractive to vamps and now you have a backup groom.”

Delilah giggled, poking him rudely in the ribs to let him know that she wasn’t mad at his interference. After all if a beloved brother can’t cause embarrassment where was the fun?

The line to the throne room was long but it went quickly since each person was only given a second with the prince. Apparently it some sort of karmic association let the prince know his mate when he found her. Since the prince was four-hundred years old and they did this ceremony every year Steerl thought it might be time for the man to try something new.

As soon as they entered the room all Steerl’s attention went to the man on the dais. Even sitting he looked huge. Ropy muscles strained the seams of the silvery shirt stretched across his chest, while black leather pants outlined the man’s thick muscular thighs.

A need so strong it almost buckled his knees hit Steerl like a boulder to the gut. He felt a compelling urge to run up there and lick his way across that muscular chest. It took more effort than it should to hold back from leaping up to the throne and throwing himself at the gorgeous prince.

Steerl wondered if others felt the same level of want and need currently pulsing through his body. Was this a long line of horny women waiting to fling themselves at the muscular feet of the stud on the throne?

Barely restraining a laugh, he followed his sister as they moved up the line. The veils prevented him from viewing other petitioner’s faces but he could almost see the pheromones drifting through the air.

“I’ll wait in the corner by the door. Come get me when you’re done.” There were more than enough guards to see to his sister’s safety. With all of the hormones rushing through his system it was a good idea to put more space between him and prince stud if he wanted to keep his dignity and not ruin his sister’s chances.

Delilah nodded her head before turning back towards the prince. “He’s really handsome isn’t he?”

“Sure if you like the gorgeous, green-eyed immortal type.” Steerl teased.

Exchanging a quick hug he left her to go hide in the corner out of the way of the stampeding herds.


Wednesday (Bonding with Graven)

A million years ago I wrote a short story titled Bonding with Graven. For the next few weeks I’m going to be posting it here to give you something to read while I work on other things🙂


Steerl didn’t know what he expected to see at the castle of a vampire prince, but this wasn’t it. Where were the blood-soaked walls and drained bodies lining the walkway? It was anti-climatic to see caramel veined white marble covering the floor and strong, healthy men standing as guards. He’d half expected pale, drained bodies stacked from floor to ceiling. He pushed back the twinge of disappointment. His dreams of using the king’s unsuitability against him slipped through Steerl’s fingers like fine sand. His sister deserved a real marriage not the figurehead position they had mapped out for her.

He’d been against dragging Delilah to the vampire castle but their father had been adamant. She’d missed the last few years because of family drama. Delilah had caught a cold right before the last call and had escaped having to present herself. Even an immortal didn’t wish to be sneezed on.

Forced by his father to accompany his sister, Delilah, walked through airy hallways glancing with surprise at the numerous priceless objects scattered about with artful precision. Not the cold cave-like walls he had imagined in his dreams. Maybe Delilah’s future wouldn’t be as dark as he’d imagined.

A bit of tension toppled away, like heavy snow sliding off a boulder. So far it was an easy, if unsettling, assignment. It was difficult to protect his sister from unwanted attention while wearing a veil covering his face. Attention she was unlikely to get in the middle of the vampire prince’s palace, but it was the job assigned to him and he took his responsibilities and his sister’s safety seriously even if he didn’t agree with the final goal. Maybe their seeker had been wrong and she wasn’t fated to be a vampire king’s mate.

He glanced over at Delilah in her black captia garb and felt her knowing gaze watching him from beneath her veil. She knew how much he hated this. The captia, a traditional full body scarf worn by marriage petitioners, swathed her head to toe in black silk lace. Although the fabric was transparent enough to see to walk, it didn’t allow a great deal of motion. Steerl’s outfit was almost the same except his scarf ended at his shoulders and he wore a pair of black flowing pants made out of some silky material he didn’t recognize and a fitted black shirt.

Steerl’s father had presented him the outfit that morning and insisted he wear it out of respect to the royal family’s traditions. All the escorts he saw in the crowds around them wore the same garb so he suspected his politically savvy father knew what he was talking about. Good thing he hadn’t rebelled and wore his comfy jeans. It wasn’t like anyone would be looking at him anyway. All eyes would be on the female candidates. Rumours whipped around the castle that maybe the king was too picky and had turned down the only eligible mates and hoped to find someone different. What he was seeking no one knew.

As Steerl understood it the clothes he wore were to prevent distracting the prince from the prospective brides. Bare flesh was enticing to the vampires and they didn’t want anything distracting the senses from finding the proper mate. If the king did anything to hurt his sister, king or no king Steerl would knife the fucker. He might not be a big, bad vampire but he knew enough to stab a man in the most vulnerable locations.

Steerl loved few people. His bond with his sister surpassed his love for anyone else. He didn’t need his father to tell him he affection like his beloved sibling. With her blue-black hair and tall form Delilah favored their father, while Steerl took after his petite golden mother. There was only a hair’s length difference in their heights, which made it easy for him to match his stride to Delilah’s as he escorted her in slow smooth steps ready to catch her if she stumbled in her heels. As well as he could, through the black veil, Steerl scanned the people on either side of the walkway. His gaze swept back and forth, ready to step forward if his sister needed protection.

“Relax baby bro, no one is going to jump me.” Amusement slid through her tone.

“Damn right they aren’t going to jump you.” Rage, barely checked, vibrated his normally smooth voice to just above a growl. “I may not be much of a guard but I’m not going to let anything stop you from meeting the prince. Larel has never been wrong and if something prevents this marriage father will blame me. He still hasn’t forgiven me for not marrying the baron’s daughter.”

Last week Larel, the family seer, pronounced that the last Raisel of this generation would bond with the vampire prince. The thought of his sister so well set up still sent tremors of joy down Steerl’s spine. Money wasn’t a concern with their family, but he always worried about his gentle older sister. Not a great thinker, Delilah was the last to get a joke but the first to rush to a friend’s side. He could tell from the gleam in his father’s eyes that Delilah was his next matchmaking victim. If this didn’t work Steerl might send her to a Northern galactic nunnery.

Anything was better than his father’s plans. Their father arranged matches for his first three children and as far as Steerl could tell each of them was more miserable than the last.

After seeing the unhappy unions of his other two sisters and only brother, Steerl was determined not to let the same thing happen to the only one of his siblings he actually liked. Even his preference for men didn’t stop his father from trying to arrange a match for him every few months. Matches he refused to honor but annoying all the same. After all according to his father his love of men was just a phase he would grow out of as soon as he met the proper woman.

“What if he doesn’t like me?” Delilah’s voice trembled with nerves. Steerl shook free of his musings and focused on his nervous sibling.

“How can he not like you?” Steerl asked giving the question the brief attention it deserved. His sister was pretty, even tempered and open hearted. “Any man would be lucky to get you.”

Delilah continued, talking over her brother, her voice getting more and more distraught. “I’m not beautiful like you Steerl, the prince might not find me attractive.”

“Nonsense.” He stopped her in the middle of the procession and walked her up to the first knight who didn’t give her an inappropriate leer. “Excuse me sir.”

The knight went to attention, his back going so straight Steerl was certain a ruler would align with it perfectly. “What can I do for you, mateseeker?”


“Oh no. I’m just here for support. My sister is here for the mating.” Curious he couldn’t stop himself from asking. “I didn’t know they allowed male seekers?”

The guard shrugged. “Male, female it doesn’t matter we go by soul bonding not sex or appearance.”

Tuesday’s Tortuous Teasers

As you know I like to post blurbs of things that will one day be a reality. *snicker* However I am sharing today the beginning of my short story Protecting His Soul. I will be republishing this book in a few months after some revision. I haven’t determined yet how much.


I thought I saw him yesterday, Cullen, my Irish lover with his big hands and wide muscular chest. Construction work kept his body hard but his eyes were the kindest I’d ever seen. After going through a lot of men I’ve seen more than my share of eyes, and other things.

To say I knew my way around a man’s body was like saying Picasso dabbled in paints. I adore men. I love their smell, their strength, and their hard grip on my hips when they fuck me against the wall.

Before Cullen, I flitted from man to man like a butterfly on meth, unable to settle, but hopelessly addicted to collecting as many experiences as possible.

After Cullen, I craved only one man.

He changed everything. Endlessly patient, he put up with my chatter, my fidgety ways, and my complete inability to be on time for anything, with a sweet smile and a smoldering kiss. No one could get me from cold to burning hot faster than my Cullen, but it was his gentleness that pulled me back and always prevented me from leaving his bed for another’s. I couldn’t do that to him. I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointment or betrayal crossing his face when he looked at me.

Three blissful years we lived together, the happiest I’ve ever been. Deep down I knew I couldn’t have seen Cullen walking around yesterday, or any other day for that matter. As much as I longed for his touch, his smile, and his body it couldn’t be him. They buried my beloved Cullen in a grave right outside the city a year ago. An accident at a construction site sent him tumbling to his death. Internal bleeding killed him according to the red-eyed doctor who delivered me the news.

One slip and my world had ended.

Completely certain I’d imagined the entire thing I pushed the incident out of my mind, until two days later I saw him again. In a crowded restaurant, while having lunch with a friend I looked up and caught the gaze of a man who looked so much like Cullen that my heart clenched with pain. As I sat there gasping for breath, the man turned and walked away, quickly swallowed by the crowd of people filling the sidewalks.

Oh Hell no.

There was no way I would let him get away this time.

I tossed money on the table not caring where it landed, or that I’d over tipped. Rushing out the door I abandoned my luncheon companion without another thought. Jim might be a good friend, but Cullen held my heart.

I followed my dead lover’s doppelganger, pushing recklessly through the crowds and nimbly dodging all obstacles in my path. It took my best efforts to keep him within my sights. The busy street challenged my amateurish tracking skills, but I still kept him in view until he walked into an affluent neighborhood and disappeared into an enormous white mansion. Since when did my working class man live in a ritzy neighborhood?

After a quick glance up and down the sidewalk I saw no one else around. Even the streets were suddenly eerily empty compared to the crowded sidewalks of before. With another quick look around, I tentatively pushed on the intricately detailed iron gate. I half expected the hinges to screech as if I were the “to dumb to live heroine” in a horror flick, but whoever designed the ironwork must not have seen the same films as I had because it swung open without a sound.

My nerves jittered, causing my hands to shake. I hoped whoever lived here would take pity on me and not call the police before I made it to the front door. No one peeked out at me from behind the white lace curtains covering the window as I approached, at least that I saw.

I don’t know what I expected. It wasn’t as if zombies were going to jump out from the perfectly trimmed hedges or ghouls pop up like springs between the daffodils, but my spine had a shivery chill running up and down it. A sensation I knew from experience didn’t bode well.

Reaching the entrance I stopped in surprise. The man I followed hadn’t completely closed the door, a gap showed and although I knew I shouldn’t, I did it anyway. With a gentle press of my fingers I pushed open the front door.

Voices reached me. I should’ve backed out and went on my way. Really, what business did I have walking into a stranger’s house? Unfortunately, curiosity is the one sin the nuns were never able to beat out of me in Catholic school, and I hadn’t improved over time.

“You were supposed to keep an eye on him!” a female voice screeched.

I was glad I hadn’t fully entered the room. The woman might have endangered my eardrums.

A calm male voice answered the accusation as if her harping hadn’t threatened to make him deaf. “You know he finds a way to get free. He can’t stand the separation.”

“He shouldn’t feel any separation!” the loud woman snapped.

I felt sympathy towards the hapless, unseen man, but I still needed to know what the hell was going on. Why did this man look so much like my dead lover? Who was he?

“But he does. That’s my point. When father grabbed him he didn’t take into account Cullen’s Soul Keeper.”


Surely I’d heard wrong. They couldn’t be talking about my Cullen. I had almost convinced myself that I had mistakenly come here by following a daydream, or maybe a wistful shadow, but that wasn’t true if they were using his name. There couldn’t be that many Cullens out there who looked exactly like my dead lover.

“He can’t have given his soul to a human!” The harsh woman proclaimed.


If you weren’t a human, what were you?



Moon Pack Monday!

Sorry I’ve had such a long hiatus. I can’t promise every Monday but I will try to post more regularly.

Jager sometimes wonders what his life would have been like if he had mated with one of the wolves instead of his big, arrogant tiger shifter. If Dare had been the only tiger shifter he met he would have sworn they were a laid back friendly group. His mate, Ryder, was a different kind of cat. Big, aloof and prouder than the fae king Jager knew, he still wouldn’t trade his mate for anyone.

The front door slammed breaking into Jager’s thoughts

“Hey babe,” Ryder leaned over the back of the couch and kissed Jager until every thought vanished from his head.

“Hi!” Jager replied, smiling. He couldn’t stop his instinctive joy at seeing his mate even if he wanted to.

“What are you up to?” Ryder leaped over the furniture, landing on the cushion beside him.

Jager lifted a photo. “I was reviewing my portfolio.”

“Why?” Ryder tilted his head like one of the wolf pack not that those words would ever cross Jager’s lips.

“I got a call for a cologne ad. The money is really good.” Jager might have almost given up on modeling didn’t mean he wouldn’t snatch a fantastic opportunity if it presented itself.

“If you need money, I’ve got some.” Ryder frowned. “Just because I’m not a fancy model doesn’t mean I’m poor.”

Jager sighed. “I’m not saying you are. I just like to make my own way.”

Life had taught him caution and to have backups for his backups. If something happened to him he wanted both his sister and his mate to be taken care of.

“Then why do you want the money?” Ryder persisted.

Jager closed his eyes then took a deep breath before opening them again. “Modeling isn’t a long term career. I don’t know what I want to do next and I’d rather have a good nest egg if I have to live on it for the rest of my life.”

“Or you could live off of me,” Ryder said.

Jager tried to collect his thoughts. How could he say this without upsetting his mate? “It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I’ve had a lot of bad luck with people I’m supposed to depend on. I’d feel more equal in our relationship if I could bring something to it.”

Ryder cupped Jager’s face between his hands. “You bring the best thing possible, my beautiful mate. You bring yourself. No money, or gold, or big mansion could be better than your smile welcoming me home.”

Jager didn’t speak for a few minutes he didn’t know what to say. Ryder wasn’t usually the romantic type. “Thank you.” He shoved his pictures mindlessly back into their transparent jackets.

Ryder rubbed Jager’s back in slow soothing circles. “What would you be wearing for this job you were looking at?”

“Hmm?” Jager looked up from his task to find Ryder’s staring at his photos. “Oh, it’s for a cologne ad. I’d be wearing a tux.”

Ryder cleared his throat. “I suppose if you really wanted to do it there’s no harm in one more shoot. I don’t want you to have self-esteem issues or anything.”

“You just want to see me in a tux don’t you?” Jager asked not bothering to hide his amusement.

“Fuck yeah,” Ryder wrapped an arm around Jager, pulling him close. “You look amazing in jeans and a T-shirt I might shoot my load if I see you all dressed up.”

He couldn’t stop the laughter from bursting out. “You are such a romantic.”

“Damn straight.” Ryder’s self-satisfied grin almost set Jager laughing again but a kiss cut off his snickers.

Jager melted into his mate’s embrace. If given the chance to pick anyone else in the world he’d pick his prickly tiger all over again.




Dragon Men 5 Available

Mate Call jpeg Large

Amazon | Amber Kell Books | ARe

For those of you who haven’t gotten a chance to purchase Mate Call yet. I thought I’d help you choose your weekend read🙂

Chapter One

Colton Lanx clenched his fingers around the console, clinging for his life as the starship shuddered through a meteor field. The large planet quickly growing closer on their right sent tendrils of fear through him. This wasn’t the course he’d set. Somehow they’d strayed far from his original coordinates.

“We’re too close!”

“Don’t be an idiot!” Captain Jael snarled. “I did those calculations myself.”

Colt’s short temper spiked. “What do you mean you did them?” Anger pushed down Colt’s fear. He’d spent hours making sure they had the proper trajectory to make it safely through the narrow slice of space between Dragait and the planets, moons, and meteors surrounding it. The slightest error could result in being pulled into a planet’s gravitational field. Any change in Colt’s numbers could be catastrophic.

“I didn’t trust your calculations, so I entered my own.”

Jael’s smug tone had Colt biting the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood. His self-control, never strong on a good day, broke under the pressure. “Do you have a degree in starship navigation, Captain?”

He didn’t bother to keep the sharp edge out of his voice. As far as he knew, the captain only had degrees in starship management and tooth whitening. Neither skill gave Captain Jael the ability to properly compute the correct passage around any spot in space.

The captain bristled. “Watch your tone, Lanx. Any idiot can type in a few numbers. The ship does all the real work. I don’t need any fancy papers to do your job.”

Colt had suspected the captain’s stupidity before, but it had never been so clearly exhibited as then. He brushed off Jael’s slights on his training. After two months on board, he was no longer surprised over the captain’s opinion of navigators.

Colt was careful not to look at his hands as he discreetly slid his right index finger beneath the console to press the record button. Despite changing the coordinates, Jael would blame him if they crashed. Jaw clenched, he made a quick examination of Jael’s numbers… he’d need dental surgery after this flight, if the crash didn’t kill him first. “You entered the wrong trajectory!”

“Then fix it! What the fuck do we have you for?” Captain Jael’s shout reached ear-splitting levels.

Colt winced and frantically tried to input new coordinates. Before he could tap more than a few keys, however, warning lights lit the panel brighter than the fire planet Freil.

The proximity siren blared, alerting the crew of their dangerous closeness to the planet Dragait.

If the captain had listened to Colt yesterday, they wouldn’t be in this situation. He’d told Jael over and over that they were too close to the planet’s gravitational field, but as usual, Jael had ignored his advice. Colt should’ve jumped ship at the last port. Instead he’d ignored his instincts for the chance to see Dragait, the planet where his father had grown up but never returned to. Now, instead of a nice flyby with a few memorable photos, they would all be crushed by the ship’s kiss with Dragait’s gravity. Maybe his father had been right when he called it a dangerous planet.

Colt’s father, Seltin Lanx, had left Dragait as a young man and always claimed he’d gone because of a compulsive need to explore the stars. Maybe Colt would’ve believed him if his father didn’t always change the subject when Colt asked why he never returned.

Colt’s parents had been planetary travelers since before his birth and had continued their journeys after Colt left them to pursue his own schooling. He’d never met any couple as in love as his mother and father. Dragon-bonded, his father had declared them. Maybe one day Colt would find a bondmate of his own. Even if he couldn’t shift into a dragon like his father, he longed for the same connection his parents shared. But none of the men or women he’d dated came near to inspiring any kind of devotion.

Colt joined the Exploration Guild fresh out of training, eager to continue his space study. The Guild’s stated mission was to act as mediators between worlds in order to smooth out shipping lanes and political differences. Unfortunately, Captain Jael didn’t have the sense of a Mecrofilian mud bunny. How Jael had reached the rank of captain baffled Colt on a good day and irritated him on the other ones. Jael must be related to someone influential, otherwise his crew would’ve stripped him of his duties years ago, or beaten him to death.

“Bear left,” Lieutenant Phelps, Jael’s right-hand man, ordered.

Colt privately believed the lieutenant had his lips surgically attached to the captain’s ass. Not once had Phelps contradicted any of Jael’s orders, no matter how idiotic they were.

“I’ve got it!” Colt snapped. Typing madly, he tried to counteract Jael’s coordinates. Now wasn’t the time for Phelps to try to learn how to navigate.

“You’re going to crash us, you fool,” Jael shouted.

“I’m trying to countermand your ridiculous orders!” Colt banged on the console when the computer beeped its disdain over his input.

“Address me with respect, Navigator!” Jael’s blustering demand rolled off Colt’s emotional shield of indifference.

“I will when you earn it.” Colt typed in another set of coordinates, barely holding back a scream when it had little impact. Nothing he entered appeared to make too much difference. “Right now I’m trying to save us from crashing and dying.”

“Phelps, take over. Ensign Talword, go lock Navigator Lanx in the brig for his insubordination,” Jael ordered.

“Are you fucking crazy? We’re about to crash, and you’re worried about protocol!” Colt shouted.

Jael’s blotchy face turned redder in his fury. “Remove him!”

Colt glared at Phelps, then Jael. “If you get us killed, I will haunt you both into the afterlife!”

Phelps paled.

Talword grabbed Colt’s arm and dragged him away.

“When I’m done reporting you, you’ll be lucky if they put you in charge of a barge!” Colt shouted as Talword pulled him off the bridge.

Guild Admiral Killan Stanforth would demote Jael to scrubbing ship floors after he heard the recording. Uncle Killan had been the reason Colt joined the Guild instead of going independent.

“You should’ve kept that threat to yourself,” Talword warned. “You don’t want to have an accident while in the brig.”

“If I’m killed, my uncle, Admiral Stanforth, will destroy everyone on this ship. You don’t want to know what happened to the pirates who attacked my parents’ vessel. They were begging to die in the end.” Colt didn’t usually like to name-drop, but he’d reached the end of his patience with this crew. A bunch of sheep, led by an idiot, who would be Colt’s downfall.

Talword opened the door to the brig, then pushed Colt inside, making him stumble and topple onto the only bunk.

“Brace yourself, Tal, we’re going to crash. You’d best go find an escape pod instead of going back to the bridge,” Colt warned.

Talword made a scoffing noise in the back of his throat. “We’ll be fine. Captain Jael will get us out of this. You’re just trying to scare everyone.” But Talword’s worried expression didn’t match his words.

Colt snorted. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“I won’t.”

Talword’s scornful glare didn’t reassure Colt. People who depended on others to think for them were dangerous. But even with his blind belief in the captain, Talword didn’t deserve to die—none of them did.

Talword programmed the door shut before walking away; his stomping steps echoed against the metal floor. Colt hoped Talword would pass the news of their imminent demise to the rest of the crew. The sooner people headed for the crash pods, the better their chances of escape before the ship collided with Dragait. The crew’s survival rate would plummet if the pods were sucked into Dragait’s atmosphere.

It wasn’t ego that had Colt declaring he was the only one who could fix the navigation problem. He had been running his father’s ship long before the legal age to fly. Colt’s flying skills saved more than one mission. Navigation school had been an easy pass, and he had graduated with honors with little effort.

But now it was time to abandon ship and use the survival instincts instilled in him by his father.

“Computer, release lock.” Colt could almost hear Seltin’s calm voice in his head: Expect nothing, but anticipate everything. After meeting Captain Jael, Colt reprogrammed the ship’s computer to accept his orders. He hadn’t anticipated this exact event, but he’d suspected Jael’s ego would eventually put them in a situation where Colt would need to escape.

A shudder shook the ship.


“Command acknowledged.” A loud click reverberated through the small cell before the door slid open.

Colt peeked through the doorway, but no one stood outside his prison cell. No doubt Talword expected him to stay put and had gone to save his own ass instead. Colt couldn’t blame him. The culture on the ship was to save yourself first; there was little honor among the crew. They all wanted to be the one to discover a new species or planet, or to bring back a new alien contract to the higher-ups. They might claim to be a pacifist company formed to spread interplanetary peace, but underneath all the hype lived a soulless corporation that wanted to reap whatever it could from other civilizations.

Since all the people who knew of Colt’s incarceration were on the bridge, he didn’t bother hiding. He nodded to other crewmembers as he passed, but he didn’t speak. He couldn’t risk them putting him back in the brig.

Colt wished there was another way he could warn the others, but he hadn’t grown close to any of them during his time as a crewmember. As far as he could see, they all thought the captain knew what he was doing. None of them listened when Colt tried to tell them otherwise. After enough scornful looks and whispers that he was trying to start a mutiny, he stopped cautioning the rest of the crew and left them to their self-inflicted blindness.

The corridor split before him. Colt headed right. He might be court-martialed for this, but he refused to go down with the ship. Emergency pods were at the end of the corridor, and Colt planned to be on one when the ship broke apart. He’d just reached the first stairwell when the ship-wide emergency announcements began.

“Prepare for impact. Prepare for impact,” the ship’s computer blared.

Colt ran back to the computer panel he’d just passed, and activated the preparation of the pods. He doubted the captain would think of emergency procedures during an actual emergency. Jael had no common sense, and Phelps didn’t seem to have any either.

Pods prepared for evacuation.” The computer’s voice echoed through the hallway, repeating the phrase over and over, accompanied by flashing arrows lighting the way to the transports.

The escape pods would drop from the ship as soon as they reached capacity. Colt’s conscience assuaged, he continued to the stairs and toward the hatchway. He would bet good money that Jael had already abandoned the ship. The captain kept a small shuttle to fly to other planets and scout before the official parties landed. It was an open secret, but Jael thought his sly maneuverings went undetected. Colt didn’t trust him not to flee and leave the crew to deal with the aftermath.

The starship tilted again. Colt’s foot slid on the metal stair, sending him tumbling to the bottom. His face slammed against the steel floor, his ears rang, and liquid trickled down his right cheek. In shock, he grabbed the railing to pull himself upright. He wavered for a moment before stiffening his spine and releasing his grip from the support.

He didn’t have time to deal with minor injuries or possible head trauma; he could worry about the damage after he got off the ship and avoided imminent death.

The thunder of footsteps above propelled Colt farther down the corridor. If he didn’t hurry, all the pods would be taken. No one cared about courtesy during an evacuation.

Proximity alarms blared louder. They were getting closer to Dragait.

“Fuck!” Colt’s ankle throbbed, and a stabbing pain speared his head with the agony of a thousand fiery knives. Sucking in a breath, he hobbled to the pods. With his luck, he’d be the one who missed out on escaping because he’d tried to alert everyone else to danger.

Dragait’s gravitational field must have completely taken control of the ship’s trajectory despite Jael’s bravado. Sweat trickled down Colt’s spine as he limped as fast as he could toward the escape hatches. Blood dripped from his cut and slid down his face. Each siren burst added to the brutal pounding inside his skull. Only his survival instinct kept him moving instead of giving up. His parents hadn’t raised a quitter, and he wouldn’t shame them now.

Even with a pod, the odds of surviving weren’t great. Colt was counting on his half-dragon-shifter genetics to help him through his injuries. He’d always been quicker to heal than ordinary humans had. Now, it might be the only thing keeping him alive—if he avoided Dragait’s pull.

He purposely headed to the last section of escape ships. The other bays would empty first, and he didn’t want anyone seeing him before he escaped. If Jael and Phelps hadn’t already abandoned the vessel, he didn’t trust them to prevent him from leaving.

A door slid open as he approached. Colt stumbled through the opening, collapsed against the wall, and didn’t move again until he caught his breath. A few minutes and a couple of siren alerts later, he gathered enough energy to slide along the wall and reach the keypad. He activated the external camera, looking for stragglers, but didn’t see anyone else heading his way.

Evacuate ship. Collision imminent,” the computer warned once again.

“Computer, is anyone entering the hallway?” Colt wouldn’t release the pod if someone remained behind.

“No other life forms remain on board.”

As he’d expected, no one had gone looking for him.

He strapped in. With the crew evacuated, his conscience was clear. “Release the pod.”

“Command acknowledged.”

A loud snapping noise had Colt gripping the handrails mounted on either side of the seat. The tiny ship must have broken free from the main vessel. The pod’s jets activated to push away from the larger ship. Colt focused his attention on trying not to hurl as his headache caused his stomach to swirl uneasily.

Heartsick with dread, he lifted the window flap, revealing a sea of stars. Abruptly the pod spun, and before Colt’s horrified gaze, the main ship crashed into Dragait’s atmosphere. The explosion wasn’t any less terrible for the lack of sound.

A lump of terror grew in his chest as he watched a string of pods sucked into the planet afterward. Flares of bright red around the emergency shuttles weren’t reassuring.

“I hope someone finds me before I join them.” The pod had limited jet capacity. Unless he floated closer to the atmosphere, he wouldn’t waste the little craft’s energy.

Colt leaned against the headrest, trying to breathe through the pounding in his head.

Would anyone come looking for him and the rest of the crew when the ship didn’t make contact? Had Jael pressed the emergency tracking button and ejected the beacon? Captains were responsible for alerting the authorities if a ship was going down so rescuers would know where to look for survivors. Colt couldn’t depend on Jael to be that responsible.

He pulled open the small cabinet beside him, revealing dozens of energy bars and rows of bottled water. “At least someone did their job.”

His fear of being in an unstocked pod faded. If he rationed his supplies, and barring a collision, he could survive for a few weeks.

Coordinates?” the computer asked.

“I don’t know,” Colt whispered.

What the hell did he do now? Pods weren’t meant for long-range travel. The most he could hope for was to make it to the next space outpost, but without the larger ship’s computer, he had no way of knowing which direction to travel.

Colt gripped the safety harness, clinging to his sense of security. His gaze kept drifting back to the other pods. Dozens of orbs floated in space around him. How many of them were going to survive?

A large eyeball appeared outside the window, and all his thoughts derailed.

Whoa!” Colt jerked back, only to be held tight by the safety harness. The belt allowed him a mere few inches of movement, and he’d used them all when he tried to scoot away. He resisted the urge to unbuckle and flee to the other side of the pod. It wouldn’t do him any good if the creature decided to attack.

“What are you doing so far from home, little dragon? You should be down below.”

The words whispered in his head like a warm, calming breeze and vanished his panic.

“Who are you?” The beast outside must have sensed Colt’s dragon-shifter blood. The fine scales around the visible eye reminded him of a dragon, but he’d never seen one so large before, and how could it survive without oxygen?

“I am Baroy, Duke Tor’s bonded space dragon. You must go down and find your mate. Shifters shouldn’t be alone.”

“I don’t think I have a mate, and I’m only a half shifter.” Colt didn’t have enough dragon DNA to transform into a dragon. “Besides, entry into the atmosphere may kill me.”

Escape pods were meant to remain in space and keep you safe until help arrived. According to the studies he’d read, pods had a 50 percent chance of survival when crashing through a planet’s atmosphere. Colt didn’t like those odds. He preferred a 100 percent survival rate.

“I will keep you safe.”

Colt didn’t know what to say to Baroy. What limited information he knew about space dragons rattled about inside his head with less content than a particle of space dust. He’d never met anyone who’d seen one before, not even his parents, and they’d traveled across several galaxies. “Thanks. I’d appreciate your help.”

Any other response could get him crushed in his tiny space pod, like a walnut in a nutcracker. He didn’t know why the large dragon wished to save him, but he was short of options or a proper plan at the moment. He would take any help offered.

A low rumble rolled through Colt’s head. It took him a second to recognize the sound as Baroy’s laughter.

“Be safe, little dragon.”

Colt didn’t know how he was a little dragon, since he’d never transformed, but he didn’t plan on arguing. If Baroy wanted to call him a little dragon, he’d take it. Most creatures in the universe were little compared to a space dragon.

The pod jerked and shook like a boat on rough waters. Colt tightened his grip on the handles on either side of his seat and swallowed back a scream. It wouldn’t matter if he made it to the surface if the descent killed him. The pod’s sensors blared a proximity siren as he plummeted toward Dragait. Colt’s stomach roiled, his knuckles turned white from the force of his grip, and his hands went numb.

“Please don’t let me die, please don’t let me die,” he whispered to any higher power that might be listening.

Fear chilled him, twisting him up inside. He’d never known true terror until right then, and he barely remembered to breathe. For countless minutes there was nothing but spinning and falling, and his fear only grew as he kept tumbling. He stayed focused on the window, but all he could see was clouds and more clouds. Was he passing through a storm, or did the planet generally have clouds around it? Just as he got used to nothing but clouds and blue sky, areas of green came into view. Lush vegetation passed by the window and caught Colt’s imagination as he pictured all the animals that could be living there.

He didn’t get much time to wonder before the pod slammed into the ground.

Colt’s teeth rattled in his head, and his body shook as the pod slid across the ground then rolled over and over until the lunch Colt had eaten earlier threatened to decorate the inside of the ship.

Finally the pod crashed against something hard. Colt smashed his head against the metal wall.

Then everything went black.