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His lust could devour them.
Her love will free them both.
After being left for dead by her people, Aliena wakes up under the care of alien pirates. She escapes, only to be captured by a creature straight from her darkest nightmares, bent on the destruction of everything she holds dear.
An Eok warrior turned outlaw, Kamal is one to be reckoned with. He is on a mission for the Eok nation, and his only goal is to find and save the humans before he can return to his old life. He has no intention of allowing a headstrong human female to get in his way.
As Aliena embarks on a mission to rescue her uncle from Minister Knut’s clutches, Kamal is at a crossroads. If he chooses help the human, the price might well be his own life.
When the Mating Venom unleashes its torment, Kamal has to decide. Will he change his ways and claim Aliena’s heart, or is the life of an outlaw too hard to leave behind?
Publisher’s Note: This steamy, thrilling sci-fi romance is the second in the Eok Warriors series, however it can be read and enjoyed as a standalone.
A low buzz just at the reach of her hearing. A pinching cold on the back of her hand.
Aliena fought the heavy curtain standing between herself and the world, but her eyelids were like stone and refused to obey. The darkness was thick and sticky, refusing to relinquish its hold.
Where am I?
Memories hovered close, but as soon as one became clearer, it vanished. Tired, she was so tired, but she was done sleeping. She had to wake up. Aliena held on to her fading consciousness with desperation.
Sounds reached her ears. Something moved beside her. Steps, heavy on a hard floor, resonating around the space like in a cave, making the hair on her arms stand up.
Wherever she was, she wasn’t there alone.
Struggling against the enclosing dark, Aliena realized she wasn’t cold anymore. Instead, she basked in a comfortable warmth, enclosing each of her limbs without the confining weight of blankets or furs. The cold had been a constant companion for so long, it felt strange to be warm again. It surprised her that she hadn’t immediately noticed.
I’m not outside anymore. And I’m not alone.
She breathed, deep and slow. No cough racked her ribs, no searing pain stabbed through her lungs as they filled with oxygen.
A memory came to her, foggy and misshapen. The hunger, the cold, the long wait. The fever that ate through her bones. She was fighting for breath, cold sweat covering her brow and shivers agitating her limbs. Her body was racked with rib-cracking coughing fits, bringing up bloody phlegm that leaked out of the corner of her mouth.
Martin, wrapping her in furs and walking through the knee-deep snow to leave her atop the rocky peak for the aliens to find, despite her objections.
The wind had been so cold, it had penetrated the bear skin she was wrapped in, coiling into the folds of the furs, making her teeth chatter and the sweat freeze on her brows. She rode the waves of her fever, in and out of the slimy dark. Then he had come, lifting her from the rocks, carrying her away with hurried steps, shooting her disbelieving looks.
Yes, she knew where she was.
Fear crawled through her veins. Adrenaline spread in her body with every heartbeat. The curtain lifted on the world around her and Aliena opened her eyes. The white light sent shooting stabs up her optic nerves and she blinked the pain away furiously. She couldn’t afford not to look.
As her eyes adapted to the light, she frantically looked around the unfamiliar setting. She was in a small, all-white room, with a series of harsh round lights embedded in the ceiling and a panel of blinking lights and other equipment beside the small bed that stood in the middle of the space. A word came to her and she knew it was right.
Medical pod. I’m in a medical pod.
Her already fear-filled mind almost exploded with crazed panic. She was in a medical pod aboard the aliens’ ship. The same aliens who had tracked her village and forced its inhabitants to flee their homes in the heart of winter. The same aliens who had enslaved her entire people hundreds of years ago and forced them to live their lives in the confines of a breeding facility.
The same aliens who had captured her cousin, Rose. Martin had been wrong to leave Aliena out to be discovered. The aliens might have cured her, but what awaited her here was a thousand times worse than death. She was going to be sold to the highest bidder—like a luxury pet—to some fabulously rich alien somewhere in the far reaches of the Ring, the intergalactic government that also controlled Earth. It was a hopeless life, a life without life inside it.
Tears came to her eyes, but anger gave her courage to hold on to consciousness. She wasn’t going to be so easily defeated. Her gaze wandered and found the other occupant in the room.
At her side was a tall figure, his slim back turned to her. The creature was definitively not human, with chalky gray skin and too long, sinuous limbs. His long, black, shiny hair was tied at his nape, showing two pointed ears. He fidgeted with strange medical equipment, lined in precise order on a steel table in front of him. As she turned her head, a sharp pain behind her ear made her wince.
She inhaled sharply, and realized her mistake when the creature’s back stiffened. Turning her head on the pillow, she squeezed her eyes closed, not wanting to betray her awakened state.
Aliena lay still, not moving a muscle as hot, acrid breath brushed her face. She resisted the urge to turn her head away.
“Are you awake?” The creature’s voice was high-pitched and nasal.
A few moments passed in still terror as the creature breathed close to her neck. A hand flattened on her stomach, with long, bony fingers digging into her flesh. A jolt of revulsion traveled along Aliena’s skin but still she didn’t move. Whatever the creature wanted, it was more likely to be emboldened if she woke.
“You’re quite the sight, I have to give you that.” The words came—so close, the creature’s lips could have touched her ears. “I bet that sweet hole of yours is worth every unit it costs.”
A hand closed around her right breast, fingers digging into the delicate flesh.
Aliena was too shocked to stop herself from opening her eyes. She met the light pinkish-purple stare of the creature, his vertical pupils shrinking and dilating as he watched her reaction to his touch closely. The creature—no doubt a male—smiled, and the motion stretched his thin lips, revealing a series of small, wickedly pointed teeth. His vertical pupils retracted to fine lines as he stared into her eyes.
“A human female.” His smile broadened and turned cruel as he squeezed her breast. “You’re lucky to be alive after the state we found you in.”
“Take your fucking hand off me!” Aliena stirred, relieved to realize she was able to move.
The alien chuckled and removed his hand, but not before pinching her painfully. She stifled a yelp of pain, understanding instinctively that this was exactly what the male was after. Hurting her gave him pleasure.
“Don’t try to move,” he said, straightening up. “You still need medication, and the nutrient solution we’re feeding you will help. You’re too damn thin, you’ll look better with a bit more flesh on those pretty bones.”
The alien turned his back, seemingly uninterested in her for the time being. Aliena’s eyes went from the back of her hand, where a long, shiny needle dug into the tiny vein visible under her translucent skin, to a long series of tubes hanging from the ceiling. A nutrient solution and medication to cure her lung infection was being fed directly into her bloodstream.
As she turned her head, the sharp pain behind her ear came back and she reached up to touch it. A small scar ran along the skin of her skull, the length of her earlobe. This explained why she could understand the alien male as he spoke to her. She had been fitted with a universal translator, like all slaves to be sold. Her mouth went dry and a solid lump settled in her throat.
She had to get out. She had to get away.
Her eyes latched onto the various objects lying on the table in front of the alien creature. Nothing meant anything to her, not the vials filled with liquids, not the shining objects that lay in precise order. There was nothing there she could use to defend herself.
She gritted her teeth as she slowly pushed herself to a sitting position, her mind running wild in search of anything she could use as a weapon.
“Don’t move,” the alien snapped, turning around to face her. “This is going to make you sleep for a while. But first, tell me where the others are.”
“The human village.” He lifted an object. It looked like a gun but was attached to a liquid-filled vial. “Captain Kamal won’t leave this dump until we find it. Some sort of honor duty bullshit to his family. I have a full ten thousand units in this shipment, and I’m not going to let some sassy piece of ass get in the way of my money. So tell me where the other humans are hiding.”
Aliena stared at him, fury coursing through her mind like a trapped animal looking for an exit. The lives of everyone she had ever cared about was hanging in a precarious balance, and all this male was thinking about was the money he had in some kind of cargo hold aboard his ship.
“I will never tell you where my village is.”
The alien’s mouth twisted in anger and he took a step closer, hovering right over her. His vertical pupils reduced to slits as he studied her. Then, quick as a snake, his hand reached out and closed around her throat.
“You little human whore.” He squeezed, not enough to staunch the flow of air to her lungs, but enough to set her heart beating fast and frenzied. “You’re going to tell me exactly what I want, or else there’s no saying what’s going to happen to that sweet little body of yours when you’re sleeping. Captain Kamal said you were off limits, but what he doesn’t know can’t hurt me.”
“I don’t know who your Captain Kamal thinks he is.” Aliena forced herself to sustain the poisonous glare of the alien, and her voice was surprisingly steady as she spoke. She had never been good at bluffing before, but then again, she had always been a quick learner. “But he’s not going to be happy when he finds out that you let me escape.”
The alien’s brows rose at her threat, then he chuckled, his chin lifting for just an instant, breaking their eye contact.
An instant was all she needed.
Aliena jerked her fist up, hitting the gun device straight into the soft skin underneath the alien’s chin. A fast, swooshing sound preceded the release of the vial’s contents directly into the bloodstream of the creature. The fingers around her throat clenched, cutting the flow of air to her lungs. Fear fluttered inside her, but soon they loosened and his arm fell to the mattress altogether.
“You whore…” the alien muttered, his words sluggish and muddled. “I’ll kill you for that.”
“You’re going to have to catch me first,” Aliena answered, glaring at him from the bed.
The alien’s eyes shone with instant, furious hatred, then his knees buckled and he lost his balance. He fell to the floor with a limp thump, and the room was once more engulfed in silence.
Carefully, Aliena swung her legs over the other side of the bed, then stood on shaky feet. She looked down at the needle still embedded in the back of her hand, then yanked it out, not bothering to staunch the flow of bright red blood that followed. Her eyes locked on the door, and she was halfway through it when she paused.
She looked down at her synthetic cotton hospital gown and her bare feet. Even if she managed to get out of the ship, she wouldn’t last long. Weak as she was, she could barely walk a few hundred feet before collapsing.
With a cold, calculating resolve, she walked to the other side of the bed and stared at the unmoving form of the alien male. She had no idea what race he was, and he was a lot taller and stronger than she, but there was no other option. His clothes would have to do.
It was hard work, but a few minutes later, she rolled up the hem of his synthetic leather pants and tied his heavy work boots around her ankles. His coat was too long and too wide, but she didn’t have the time to fiddle anymore. As long as she could walk in the snow, it would have to do.
Aliena carefully stepped outside the room and headed down the long hallways in search of the exit.
The Eok warrior facing Kamal on the high-resolution screen scowled. He was angry, and it wasn’t hard to understand why.
“She will wake up soon enough,” Kamal answered through clenched teeth. “If you had seen her, you would understand why I can’t risk waking her up from meta-sleep.”
“This human female has information vital to the survival of her entire species,” the other Eok warrior countered. “Surely it’s worth taking a small risk.”
“You wouldn’t say that if the risk was to your mate.” Kamal stared hard at the other male. “You might be the Commander in Chief of the Eok armies and my brother, Karian, but I won’t put a defenseless female at risk, even for you. She will tell us the location of her village when she wakes up.”
Kamal’s younger brother pursed his lips, reducing them to a thin pale line. Against all odds, after a decade as a prisoner to some Cattelan slave merchant, Karian had met a human female, then made her his bloodmate, starting a chain of events that threatened to shatter the wealth of the most powerful male in the Ring council after Prime Councilor Aav. Trade Minister Knut was a formidable enemy, and not one Kamal was about to underestimate.
“The Ring’s next session is in two weeks,” Karian continued. “Minister Knut will stop at nothing to get his hands on them. Those people are the only irrefutable proof of the free human community’s existence. As soon as he finds them, he will have them either killed, or captured. Time is our only advantage, and it’s running out.”
“My men are out there, searching every day, from dawn to dusk. I had to renounce my share of the cargo to make them agree to do this. They’re not your soldiers. They follow me because I’m the strongest, the one who can assure them the best bounty.” Kamal straightened. Trying to explain the way his crew was thinking was like teaching a rock to fly. Karian would never understand. “The human female will be able to tell us everything we need soon. The medication should taper off sometime today.”
Karian nodded, grim-faced and silent, then ended the communication.
Kamal stared at the black screen for a few seconds. Answering the call from his brother had been a matter of family honor, and one he never gave a second thought. His crew had been another matter.
He was traveling back from a supply run to the Relany rebels who had colonized a distant moon on a disputed territory, the bowels of his cargo hold full to the brim with goods they would sell for three times the price he’d paid for them. Or the price he would have paid, if he had bothered paying. As it was, he’d jumped a Cattelan merchant ship, stripping them of their cargo and freeing their slaves on a busy commercial moon.
This run was a good opportunity but his merchandise was perishable, and lost value with every passing day. The only thing preventing a full-scale rebellion amongst his crew had been the considerable fear he struck in the heart of every male aboard the ship.
Finding the human village had been easy. It was well hidden under the cover of the forest, but the information his brother’s mate, Rose, gave him had paid off. Kamal and his crew had found the small cluster of homes, made of dried mud and grass, after only a day of searching, but it was empty. The humans were gone. They’d obviously left in a hurry, leaving most of their possessions behind, but without a single clue as to their destination.
Then the real search had begun.
After a full week of looking, his crew was restless, and frustration was plain on every grim face. Every inch of snow-covered land in a two hundred mile radius had been turned over, without any leads as to the humans’ location.
The males had been starting to doubt and resent Kamal. It was a dangerous situation, one he couldn’t ignore forever.
Then he’d found her.
Closing his eyes, Kamal was brought back to the memory of the day he’d found the small human female.
He was on his way back from a six-hour tracking session, shuffling through the knee-deep snow, frustrated and angry. Those humans had to be somewhere close, but they were as elusive as a killkon on the Eokian plains, slipping through his fingers every time he went near.
The recent storm hadn’t helped. The night had brought two feet of white, powdery snow, blanketing the forest ground, erasing any tracks humans could have left behind.
His crew’s patience was running dry. Already, half refused to go out, claiming the humans must be dead by now. It was too cold, too harsh for such a fragile species to survive.
Kamal went out alone as soon as the snow stopped falling, against his second-in-command and best friend Marmack’s advice. He needed to cleanse his mind, and nothing worked better to calm his anger than physical exhaustion.
As he followed his tracks back to the rocky top of a small mountain, Kamal froze. There, where a few hours before was only pure, undisturbed white snow, lay a small form, wrapped in the brown fur of a large animal. He knelt in the snow, then opened the folds of the fur.
Her deathly pale skin was smooth and taut, but it didn’t hide the fine delicacy of her bones. Her eyes were closed, and curtains of dark lashes licked the velvet of her high cheekbones. Long, smooth, almost black hair hung around her thin face, highlighting the dark blood red of her cracked lips. Exquisite and fragile, the creature was clearly female, and clearly very sick. Even if he’d never seen the likes of her before, he knew what she was. She was human. Kamal stared at the face of the female, and there and then he understood why the entire species had been hunted down, driven to the point of extinction by the males of other nations. She was the very essence of female—enticing and delicate.
As he cleared her head of the protection of the fur, a moan escaped her lips, a pitiful little sound, full of need and pain.
Something roiled and coiled inside him, a base instinct that had been dormant all his life, just waiting for a reason to wake up.
He needed to protect the fragile creature. Take her to safety.
Carefully, he cradled the human female in his arms. Something tore inside him at how little she weighed, little more than a youngling. As he moved back on his knees, she broke into a coughing fit. He stared in shock as a thin trickle of blood slipped through her lips. The shock of seeing the red blood against her pallid skin set him in motion.
He ran. Cradling her to his chest, his legs pumped in the snow as fast as on the training sands of Eokim, despite the cold, the exhaustion. He didn’t slow down until he reached the ship, meeting his second-in-command, Marmack, who watched, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, as Kamal carried the barely alive little female to the medical room.
Kamal opened his eyes, pushing away the memory and all the unwanted feelings it brought back. This had happened four days ago. Her condition was even worse than he had initially thought. Pneumonia was eating away at both her lungs, and her body was in such a state of deprivation that her heart was about to give out. His medical technician, Wyol, had been treating her day and night, making sure she didn’t let go of the thin line that tied her to life.
None of them had ever seen such a fragile creature holding on to life so fiercely.
Each day, Kamal visited the medical room, sometimes staring for hours at the female’s face while she slept the deep, dreamless slumber of the medicated. Slowly, over hour after hour, her cheeks had regained color, her skin had lost its gray, paper-like texture. The nutrient solution filled her veins, padding her bones with a thin cover of flesh.
His desire grew and grew… until he could barely stand to look at her.
No matter his initial attraction to her, he wouldn’t touch the human female. His only goal was to honor his familial ties by ensuring the human’s safety until his other brother, Khal, arrived with an entire Eok contingent. After that, he would leave Earth and not come back.
He would leave her behind, and put her out of his mind for good.
Kamal got to his feet, vaguely intent on visiting the medical wing to assess the condition of his charge.
“Kamal!” Marmack rushed into the control room, his eyes wide and his breath short. “Come, quick. The human escaped!”
Kamal wasn’t even aware of running as his steps echoed in the steel hallways of the ship.