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Opis ebooka Jaguin’s Love - S.E. Smith

USA Today Bestseller! A human woman recovering from extreme violence and an alien male finally given hope. In this steamy story of love and comfort, what will it take to break free of the past? Jaguin is one of the finest trackers on Valdier. To date, there is only one thing he has never been successful at finding – his true mate. That failure is eating away at him and his dragon. Even his symbiot is feeling the drain as the centuries crawl by with no end to the emptiness gnawing away at them. When the Lords of Valdier find their true mates on a distant planet, the discovery of a species compatible with their own brings hope to the warriors of Valdier where females are few and true mates almost non-existent. Sara Wilson is a botanist whose love of plants and their potential for medicinal uses consume her life. She feels confident she is on the verge of a breakthrough when she is kidnapped by a cartel boss with only one thing on his mind – revenge. After a fruitless search for his mate, Jaguin accepts one last assignment to guard Lord Creon’s mate, Carmen, during a mission to seek justice against the man who murdered her husband. Instead, he finds his true mate barely clinging to life. Sara is no longer on Earth, but the terror still haunts her. She needs time to discover who she is again and whether this is a life she can accept. Can Jaguin’s Love heal the scars on the inside or will his true mate believe she has traded one monster for another? Internationally acclaimed S.E. Smith presents a new action-packed story full of romance and adventure. Brimming with her signature humor, vivid landscapes, and beloved characters, this book is sure to be another fan favorite! Main Content: 173 (6x9) pages, 57,728 words

Opinie o ebooku Jaguin’s Love - S.E. Smith

Fragment ebooka Jaguin’s Love - S.E. Smith

Jaguin’s Love

Dragon Lords of Valdier Book 8

S.E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Copyright

Synopsis

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Sample of Touching Rune

Love S.E. Smith?

Additional Books and Information

About the Author

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my husband Steve for believing in me and being proud enough of me to give me the courage to follow my dream. I would also like to give a special thank you to my sister and best friend, Linda, who not only encouraged me to write, but who also read the manuscript. Also to my other friends who believe in me: Julie, Jackie, Christel, Sally, Jolanda, Lisa, Laurelle, Debbie, and Narelle. The girls that keep me going!

And a special thanks to Paul Heitsch, David Brenin, Samantha Cook, Suzanne Elise Freeman, and PJ Ochlan—the awesome voices behind my audiobooks!

—S.E. Smith

Montana Publishing

Science Fiction Romance

JAGUIN’S LOVE: DRAGON LORDS OF VALDIER BOOK 8

Copyright © 2016 by Susan E. Smith

First E-Book Published June 2016

Cover Design by Melody Simmons

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the author.

All characters, places, and events in this book are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations are strictly coincidental.

Summary: An alien warrior discovers his mate close to death and will do whatever it takes to heal her, even if it means setting her free.

ISBN: 978-1-942562-93-1 (Paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-942562-94-8 (eBook)

Published in the United States by Montana Publishing.

{1. Science Fiction Romance. – Fiction. 2. Science Fiction – Fiction. 3. Paranormal – Fiction. 4. Romance – Fiction.}

www.montanapublishinghouse.com

Synopsis

USA Today Bestseller!

A human woman recovering from extreme violence and an alien male finally given hope. In this steamy story of love and comfort, what will it take to break free of the past?

Jaguin is one of the finest trackers on Valdier. To date, there is only one thing he has never been successful at finding – his true mate. That failure is eating away at him and his dragon. Even his symbiot is feeling the drain as the centuries crawl by with no end to the emptiness gnawing away at them. When the Lords of Valdier find their true mates on a distant planet, the discovery of a species compatible with their own brings hope to the warriors of Valdier where females are few and true mates almost non-existent.

Sara Wilson is a botanist whose love of plants and their potential for medicinal uses consume her life. She feels confident she is on the verge of a breakthrough when she is kidnapped by a cartel boss with only one thing on his mind – revenge.

After a fruitless search for his mate, Jaguin accepts one last assignment to guard Lord Creon’s mate, Carmen, during a mission to seek justice against the man who murdered her husband. Instead, he finds his true mate barely clinging to life.

Sara is no longer on Earth, but the terror still haunts her. She needs time to discover who she is again and whether this is a life she can accept. Can Jaguin’s love heal the scars on the inside or will his true mate believe she has traded one monster for another?

Internationally acclaimed S.E. Smith presents a new action-packed story full of romance and adventure. Brimming with her signature humor, vivid landscapes, and beloved characters, this book is sure to be another fan favorite!

Main Content: 173 (6x9) pages, 57,728 words

Chapter One

With growing apprehension, Jaguin moved down the long interior corridor of the building he and his companions had just entered. His gaze swept warily over the area, searching for danger. This mission was supposed to be simple: protect Prince Creon’s mate, Carmen Walker-Reykill. The trouble was that there was never anything simple when it came to the unusual human female. Personally, he would have felt much better if Creon had simply tied Carmen up and left her on board the spaceship or back at the ranch belonging to their human ally, Paul Grove.

Pushing down the feeling, he once more scanned the interior walls of Javier Cuello’s house, searching for any type of detection equipment, or weapons, that might warn the human that they were there.

There was nothing but polished dark wood and off-white walls. A few paintings hung to brighten the décor, but that was all as far as he could tell.

The human male they were seeking was ridiculously overconfident, believing the few men he had hired would protect him. It might have worked – against other humans – but the number of soldiers patrolling the area or stationed in the tall towers outside were no match against Jaguin, Gunner, Creon, and their symbiots.

They were not from this world, but from Valdier, an alien world light-years away. The Valdier were a dragon-shifting species known in their star system for their fierceness in battle. It did not take them long to take care of the men outside before moving to the interior of Javier Cuello’s home.

Each Valdier warrior was made up of not one, but three components that made him a deadly force against their enemies. The first component was the man, the secondary form was his dragon, and the third component was his symbiot. They worked as a team to overcome any threat. It was the Goddess’ way of balancing them. Their curse was that all three needed to accept a female if she was to be their true mate.

An almost impossible task given how hard-headed and picky my symbiot and dragon are, he thought with a sigh of resignation and acceptance.

Jaguin’s gaze moved once more to the female beside him. A wave of envy swept through him for a moment. He and many others on Valdier had given up hope of ever finding their true mates. Unmated females on Valdier had grown fewer and fewer over the centuries, leaving most warriors with a growing feeling of despair that they would never find a mate. Without one, their dragon’s need to mate would drive them mad. They could only hope to die in battle before that occurred. Jaguin understood those feelings and the growing concern all too well.

The fact that he was having difficulty controlling his dragon at this moment proved he was nearing the time when he would have to return to his home in the mountains. He would have to admit to the elders that his time had come to move on to the next life.

Jaguin had hoped to find a true mate among the humans, just as Creon and his brothers had. He had searched for the last few weeks, but none of the females he had seen from a distance stirred the dragon in him or excited his symbiot. It was time to admit that it was not his destiny to find a mate in this lifetime.

This was not the Valdier’s first trip to this planet, though it was for him. Zoran Reykill, the leader of the Valdier, had discovered this strange, beautiful world after escaping captivity from a traitorous group of individuals intent on restarting the war between the Valdier, Curizan, and Sarafin. The next trip was to retrieve Paul Grove, the father of Kelan Reykill’s true mate. This trip was different, though. This time they were on Earth so that Carmen Reykill could find closure against the man who had killed her previous mate and unborn child.

Jaguin understood Carmen’s need for revenge. He also knew the dangers involved in such a mission. Emotions often ran high in situations such as this and they could lead to deadly mistakes. It was Jaguin’s and Gunner’s responsibility to make sure that nothing happened to Carmen. If she died, then so would their prince. No one survived the death of their true mate.

What made it even more challenging was the fact that Carmen was obviously pregnant. The man in him wanted to protect her, while the dragon wanted to lock her in a padded room where nothing could touch her.

The wave of unease flowing through him increased, clawing at his insides like his dragon shredding the flesh of his prey. He could feel both his symbiot and his dragon pushing against him. Something was wrong. He felt the sensation growing the closer they got to the compound. Scales rippled over his skin beneath the cover of his shirt, a visible sign of his dragon’s agitation.

Something not right, his dragon suddenly growled inside of him. I smell blood.

Jaguin could almost taste the coppery-scent in the air. Concerned, he shot a sharp glance to Creon Reykill. Creon returned his wary look with a barely perceptible nod. He smelled it as well.

Jaguin felt his symbiot’s agitation as it moved beside him. Its body shimmered, reflecting the colors of the hallway, and it continually shifted from one form to another as if it wasn’t sure what to expect. That in itself heightened Jaguin’s concern for the delicate yet fierce female between himself and Gunner.

“I don’t like this,” Gunner mumbled under his breath. “Creon, I think one of us should escort Lady Carmen out of here.”

“No,” Carmen hissed, staring at the door at the end of the corridor that a young human female had silently pointed to when they entered the building. “I have to finish this.”

“Stay close,” Creon growled under his breath. “Remember your promise to me, Carmen.”

Jaguin saw Carmen’s gaze soften for a moment when she turned to look at Creon. “I will. I promise,” she whispered.

“At the first sign of danger, get her out of here,” Creon muttered to him before turning back toward the door. “Open it!” he ordered with a wave of his hand to his symbiot.

In a flash, the golden body shot forward, bursting through the thick double doors at the end of the corridor. The symbiot’s body shifted, forming long tentacles that reached out and wrapped around the men inside the room. Jaguin moved forward to cover Carmen’s body with his own while Gunner took the position behind her.

The first thing that struck Jaguin when they entered was the overwhelming smell of blood. His symbiot surged past him and he felt a sharp pain lance through his body at its distress. The intensity of it left him stunned and he actually stumbled a step before recovering. His gaze swept the room before it froze in horror on the figure hanging limply from a roughly constructed frame. The body of the slender human female was covered in blood. Her head was bent forward, allowing the long, thick braid of blonde hair to partially conceal her face. Her arms were stretched at a painful angle, supporting her body and making the torture that much worse.

A suffocating rage struck him hard followed by an intense wave of unexpected grief. Shock held him motionless for a moment. The rage he could understand… but the grief? He drew in a shaky breath when his symbiot turned to him. He could feel its plea for help. His dragon strained to get to the woman. In that moment, he understood their powerful reaction. He had finally found the one thing he had spent centuries searching for.

Our mate! his dragon roared in grief.

Sara Wilson clung to the small thread of life like a starving dog to a bone. She had passed beyond pain, her mind in a dazed fog. She knew enough about the human body to know that her body wasn’t ready to give up yet. Her heart was still young and strong. It was her spirit that was slowly fading.

She was barely conscious. A part of her was afraid to give in to the darkness clouding the corners of her vision. She was afraid if she did, she might never wake up again. She wanted to live, despite what was happening to her.

Her arms ached from holding her weight. There was nothing she could do about it; her legs refused to support her any longer. A part of her wished she had been a little more vocal when she called the men in the room sick cowards who didn’t have the balls to face her one at a time. The sane part of her brain chided her for provoking them in the first place.

Emma had warned her. The younger girl had given Sara broken and tortured words of caution not to fight against the men.

“They’ll kill you like they did the other girl,” Emma had whispered. “They’ll beat you and let you heal before they beat you again. Don’t fight them. They killed her when she fought back.”

Emma had grown quiet after that, refusing to talk. Sara understood why now. This was Sara’s second session with the insane bastards. The first session, she had listened to Emma and kept her mouth shut.

They had laughed when they beat her the first time. Her face, arms, and torso still showed the marks of that beating. As Cuello struck her, he had called her by another woman’s name – Carmen, Carmen Walker. Sara didn’t know who the woman was, she just hoped to hell that the bastard never found her. The hatred in his gaze, his words, in his every action made it easy to understand that he wanted to kill Carmen. She and Emma were, unfortunately, a poor substitute.

Sara had tried to keep quiet when their guard shoved them into the room, she really did, at least until she had seen what they were planning. The guard had grabbed Emma first. Sara couldn’t stand the thought of the younger, more delicate woman being whipped. She’d fought – and lost.

Sara had cursed them, struggling to break free of the bonds. When the first licks of the whip had slashed across her flesh, she’d screamed, but she had sealed her lips together after realizing that the more she cried out, the more Cuello laughed.

Her silence had infuriated the man, but no matter what he did, she had kept quiet, using every bit of her astounding level of stubbornness.

Sara had cultivated that particular characteristic during a childhood surrounded by ten male ‘cousins’ – only half of which were actually related to her – in a home from hell. Her mom had been young when she had Sara. It had been easier to dump Sara on her older sister and pretend that the birth never happened.

Her aunt had five boys of her own, but being a foster mom had earned her extra cash. The only girl, Sara, had been shuffled to the attic of the old farmhouse along with all the discards and forgotten pieces of junk.

Sara had learned two important things during her time in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains: stay outside as much as possible and never show your fear. She’d grown up fighting for leftovers at the dinner table, among other things.

When some of the boys, two of which were related by blood, had thought it’d be fun to play doctor, Sara had learned to fight with her fists, feet, and anything else she could use.

When she complained to her aunt and uncle, they had both called her a troublemaker looking for attention, and had marched her up to the attic to think about her wicked ways. Sara had snuck out of the window and climbed down the old water tower next to the house.

When she was sixteen, Sara left and never looked back. A teacher during her tenth year at school had introduced her to the freedom she could have if she focused on her education. Sara did that, not stopping until she reached her dream of independence.

She achieved a Doctorate in Herbal Medicine and Botany. That was the only good thing to come of her childhood – the time she’d spent around plants, cultivating a fascination for what they were and what they could be used for.

Sara didn’t know what had stopped the agonizing torture, but she was thankful. The sound of an explosion pulled her back from the brink of oblivion. She tried to raise her head, but it took more energy than she had left inside her. Instead, she vaguely hoped that it was the Colombian army invading to stop Cuello. She doubted that was the case, but a detached part of her brain held to the stubborn wish.

The soft sound of claws against the polished wood caught her attention. Forcing her eyelids to open, she thought she saw a flash of gold. A barely audible moan escaped her as she sagged, causing even more of a strain on her already stretched arms.

“Cut her down,” a voice said behind her.

The stubborn hope flared once again. Her session was over. She only hoped that it didn’t mean it was Emma’s turn. Fear rose inside her and she weakly struggled against the restraints.

“No,” she protested, her voice a faint thread of sound.

“You’re alive!” a husky male voice responded.

Another moan escaped Sara as her wrists were gently freed and she fell into hard, muscular arms. Something soft and warm moved over her skin and covered her shredded back. Almost immediately, the pain dissolved.

“Don’t…,” she forced out, unable to open her eyes to look at the man holding her.

“Don’t what, my mate?” the voice whispered.

Sara’s foggy brain heard the words, but couldn’t comprehend them. It was taking everything inside her to remain conscious despite the soothing feeling along her back. Whatever they had decided to place on it was taking all the pain, burning, and stinging away. She wondered if it was a type of plant found locally.

“Don’t… hurt Emma,” she finally finished, forcing her tired brain back to her current situation. “I… can take… it.”

A warm, soothing hand ran down along her face, brushing the loose strands of hair back. She wanted to turn her cheek into it. Fear pulled at her. What if this was another trick? What if they wanted her to think they were stopping only to start all over again? Her mind shattered at the thought and she released the slender hold she had on her consciousness.

Warmth surrounded her as she fell into the inky darkness. For the first time in her life, for a few brief seconds, Sara felt safe, protected. Then she let go and everything went blissfully silent.

“Never, my fierce flower, never again,” the voice said.

Sara didn’t hear the words. If she had, she would have been even more frightened at the hard edge to them. It wasn’t directed at her, but for her. It was a promise of things to come.

Chapter Two

Jaguin paced outside of the sick bay. His symbiot remained inside with the healer, working to save their mate. He had wanted to stay, but Tandor, the ship’s chief medical officer, had kicked him out, telling Jaguin that his symbiot was helpful but Jaguin was just getting in his way. It would take both of them to keep the female alive.

Turning, he walked ten paces to the left before swiveling on his heel to retrace his steps. He kept the door to the medical unit within his sight at all times. His fingers automatically went to the golden cuff on his forearm every few seconds as he impatiently waited.

“How is she?” he demanded in a husky voice, stroking the golden living metal.

Images of the woman suddenly appeared in his mind. She was lying on her side. Her back was covered with a thin layer of his symbiot’s gold body as it worked on healing her. The layer dissolved and he could see the thick ridges of sealed, red flesh before it was covered with another layer. The healer was working on her other injuries.

Pain, anger, and grief poured through him. He raised his head when he heard the sound of footsteps. He watched as Gunner walked down the corridor toward him. His friend’s lips were pressed into a thin line.

“How is she?” Gunner asked as he came to a stop next to him.

“Alive… barely,” Jaguin replied, dropping his hand from the symbiot band on his arm.

“What of the other female?” Gunner asked with a heavy sigh of relief.

Jaguin shook his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I have focused only on the one I brought on board.”

“It is understandable. She was the one with the worst injuries,” Gunner responded with a tired sigh. “I do not understand the human males. How can they treat something so precious, so fragile, like this?”

“I don’t know,” Jaguin said again, leaning back against the wall. “Where did you get that bruise? I don’t remember seeing it before.”

Gunner reached up and rubbed his jaw, wincing when he touched the sensitive spot on the right side. The wound looked new. A mischievous gleam lit Gunner’s eyes.

“From the precious, delicate human female that I brought back. I tried to steal a kiss,” he chuckled with a shrug. “Audrey dared me to try. How could I resist such a challenge? For a healer and a female, she can hit very hard. I will listen to her when she warns me next time.”

Jaguin shook his head and a reluctant smile curved his lips before it faded and an intense look came into his eyes. His gaze moved back to the door of the medical unit. The memories of his mate’s words haunted him.

“The female is my mate,” he stated in a husky voice.

“What?!” Gunner’s shocked tone ricocheted through him. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Jaguin replied in a soft voice. “My symbiot is with her. My dragon is on edge, just as I am. It is… difficult not to be with her.”

Gunner rubbed the red spot on his chin and grimaced. “Yes, it is,” he muttered, straightening along with Jaguin when the door to the medical unit opened.

“Is she…?” Jaguin started to ask before his throat tightened. He drew in a deep breath before he continued. “How is she?”

Tandor’s expression was grim when he nodded to both men. Jaguin watched as Tandor ran his hand tiredly down his face and rubbed his chin before his hand dropped to his side. He motioned for Jaguin and Gunner to follow him into the medical unit.

Jaguin started forward, his gaze automatically moving to the woman lying silently on the bed. He could see the thick bands of living gold on her neck and wrists. His symbiot sat on the far side of the bed resting its head on the pristine white sheets. Small threads of gold wove outward from it, replacing the narrow ribbons still moving over her body.

“It is a good thing you are her mate,” Tandor replied in a quiet voice, walking past the two beds toward the office area to the left. “She would not have survived without your symbiot’s ability to heal her. Our medical advancements are far greater than most, but nothing can heal the body the way a symbiot can.”

“What of the other woman?” Gunner asked with a frown. “She is not mated.”

“She had a concussion, as well as other injuries,” Tandor admitted with a shake of his head. “I was able to heal most, but not even our symbiots can heal a broken mind or soul. The female was awake, but she never spoke or responded. It was as if only her body was here, nothing else. I can see the injuries inflicted to the females on a physical level, but can only guess at the damage done on a mental one. Time will tell if they will survive.”

“This one has to,” Jaguin retorted, turning to glance again through the clear glass where his mate lay. “She… She is mine.”

Tandor’s gaze followed Jaguin’s to the peaceful face. “I know,” he murmured. “You will need to be patient, Jaguin. Until she wakes, I can only guess at the damage that was done to her mind.”

Jaguin’s gaze remained locked on the young woman’s face. He didn’t even know her name. She looked like a pale statue. Her breathing was so slight that he could barely see her chest rise and fall. His symbiot moved closer, nudging one slender arm.

Hope and determination flared inside him when her arm slid over the golden head. He knew that it was the nudge of his symbiot that caused her arm to move, but not her fingers. Warmth flooded him when the woman’s fingers curled ever so slightly into the silky smooth body of his symbiot.

“I will wait however long it takes,” Jaguin replied, the promise resonating deep within him.

Sara was locked in the nightmare of her memories again. A small part of her brain was telling her that it was only a memory, not real, but she swore she could feel the ripping of her flesh with each slash of the whip. Her jaw locked so tightly that her teeth ached, but she refused to give Cuello the satisfaction of hearing her scream.

Her body stiffened in surprise when a wave of warmth suddenly engulfed her. It was a golden flood of liquid, washing away the pain and soothing her. For a moment, she couldn’t catch her breath. It was as if she were being torn apart. One part of her was locked in the horror of her captivity, while the other part was free as another world rose up to surround her.

Confusion swamped her as the vivid images exploded in her mind. She expected the memory to take her to a time either when she was a child or back in Columbia when she was working at the university there. Instead, the world was strange, different, in a good way, from anything she had ever seen before.

Her fingers involuntarily spread as she reached for the tall grass. It was purple! She had never seen grass like this before. Her hand brushed over the tops. Her lips curved upward as it tickled her palm. The faint smile turned to a frown when another wave of warmth filled her.

What is going on? Am I dead? she wondered, gazing around the meadow.

No, elila, you are not dead, merely sleeping, a husky voice responded.

As she tried to take everything in, her heart pounded so hard that she thought it would explode. The faint sound of a soft murmur brushed over her a moment before she felt something cold against her neck. Within seconds, her body relaxed. Whatever she was given was pulling her deeper into the vast pit that she had unwittingly stumbled into.

I’ll hide here, she thought as her body landed in a soft bed of gold. He’ll never find me in the dark.

Chapter Three

Three days later, Sara moaned softly. She forced her eyelids to open a crack. Her fingers curled into the covers. She was surprised at their softness. Cautiously, she opened her eyes a bit more so that she could get a better look at where she was.

When she turned her head, she saw Emma sitting in a chair in the corner. The younger girl looked even paler and more fragile than before. Sara shoved her own feelings of weakness aside and pushed up until she was in a sitting position. A soft growl of annoyance escaped her when her arms trembled.

“Damn it,” she muttered, lifting a shaky hand to brush her hair back from her face.

Sara’s hand froze in surprise when she realized that while she might be weak as a kitten, she wasn’t in pain. A confused frown creased her brow. How long had it been since Cuello had her strapped to that horrible wooden frame?

She slowly lowered her hand and gazed around the room. It was stark in some ways, almost futuristic. On the other side of a clear panel, there was a wide door that looked like it might lead out to another room. There were two beds in the room she was in and several chairs that looked comfortable.

Her gaze moved back to Emma. Worry pulled at Sara when she saw the haunted look in Emma’s eyes. Pushing the thin sheet covering her legs to the side, Sara paused for a moment. There were no bruises marring her skin. She rolled her shoulders and waited for the pain, but none came.

Emma’s eyes cleared for a moment and she silently shook her head. The look in them didn’t reassure Sara. Instead of relief, a look of terror flashed through her eyes before they glazed over again and turned dull. Sara could almost feel Emma pulling away from the world.

Sara tightened her jaw in determination. She hadn’t spend half her life fighting for her freedom just to kiss it goodbye. Her gaze flashed past Emma to the doors before they moved to the office. She could see that the door to it was open. Maybe, just maybe, whoever it belonged to had left a weapon of some type inside.

Sara straightened and stiffened her spine. The first mistake the bastards made was to allow her to heal. She didn’t know why they’d left her alone long enough for her to heal so completely, but she certainly wasn’t going to trust that whoever it was that had them now was done with them. She and Emma would never be tortured ever again, Sara would make sure of that. The second mistake was leaving them alone. If there was a way out, Sara would find it, and whether Emma wanted to go or not, she wasn’t leaving the other woman behind.

Turning back to Emma, Sara gave the other woman a look that used to send more than one of her cousins running for cover. When Sara decided she wanted something, nothing stopped her. This time, she wanted her freedom.

“Let’s go,” she ordered in a harder voice than she’d intended. “I need you here with me, Emma. We are going together or not at all, do you understand?”

Emma nodded and rose to her feet. Sara saw the younger woman sway, but there was also a quiet resolve when she pulled her shoulders back. Sara smiled and reached her hand out. Her fingers closed around Emma’s hand and she gently squeezed it.

“We’ll make it,” Sara promised. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Emma’s lips parted and she looked like she was about to say something before an overwhelming look of sadness darkened her eyes and she shook her head. Sara could tell the other woman was struggling to say something. It was almost as if Emma had forgotten how to speak. She was about to ask Emma what was wrong when the double doors slid open.

Sara’s lips parted in surprise and shock when a huge golden creature trotted in, carrying something in its mouth. Her throat worked up and down when it suddenly stopped and dropped the soft fabric figure. Sara unconsciously pulled on Emma, tugging the other woman behind her when the creature tilted its head to the side and stared back at her.

Sara’s right hand rose to her throat. Her fingers froze when she felt a delicate rope of metal hanging around it. The moment she touched it, a sense of déjà vu struck her, and the familiar wave of warmth flooded through her fingertips and down her arm.

“It was you…,” she whispered.

Her eyes jerked upward when the shadowy figure of a large man suddenly darkened the entryway. Her eyes widened as recognition dawned on her. It was the man from the forest in her dream.

“No…!” Her angry cry echoed in the spartan room.

Her mind shattered, no longer seeing that she and Emma were not in the cells in Cuello’s compound, just recognizing that they were once again captives. Her gaze flew around the room, searching for a weapon. Not seeing any, she clenched her fists and relaxed her shoulders.

“Emma, when I tell you to run, you run and don’t look back,” Sara hissed, her eyes narrowing on the man in front of her.

She could feel Emma’s hand on her lower back tremble in response. All she could do was try to delay the man long enough for Emma to find a way to escape. Drawing in a deep breath, Sara started forward – only to be intercepted when the huge golden creature stepped in front of her, carrying in its mouth the object it had dropped earlier.

Sara paused in confusion when it raised its head and pushed the object toward her. Her gaze moved back and forth between the creature and the man. She wasn’t sure what to do.

“My symbiot… It wishes for you to have this,” the man said. “I searched for human objects that are given to the sick. This came up. My symbiot saw this as your favorite.”

Sara didn’t say anything; she just stared warily at the man. Her brain picked out words in his sentence that didn’t make sense to her… symbiot… human object… sick…

“I wasn’t sick, I was… beaten,” Sara bit out in a husky voice.

“I know,” the man replied in an accented voice that she couldn’t place.

“Where are we?” Sara demanded, glancing up at him. She still couldn’t see him very clearly from the dim light inside and the brilliant light of the corridor shadowing his face. “Are you with the military?”

The man hesitated before he responded. “You are on board the Horizon. You and the other female needed immediate medical attention. I am a warrior, one of the best trackers for my people.”

“Cuello…,” Sara started to say, stopping when the man took a slight step forward.

“The male and his companions are dead. You need never fear them again,” the man replied in a calm, hard tone. “I would have preferred to have killed him myself, but Lady Carmen completed that task, as was her right.”

Carmen…, Sara thought fuzzily. She started when the golden creature nudged her hand. She had forgotten all about it. A frown creased her brow and she trembled. She was fast losing the small amount of strength she’d had when she first woke. Between the beatings and lack of food, her body was running on empty.

“What is this thing?” she asked, staring down into the golden eyes. When it first came in, it had looked like some kind of huge cat. Now it looked like the sloth figurines that she loved to collect. “It was a cat a minute ago.”

“Yes, it can change shape. It knows you like this creature and it wishes to calm you,” the man said.

Sara’s hands automatically reached out when the creature leaned toward her and dropped a fabric replica of a sloth. It fell into her outstretched palms. Tears burned her eyes when the creature slowly sank down until it was sitting and stared at her with wide, golden eyes. Her gaze lifted to the man again. This time the soft light shining down illuminated his face.

“Where… Who… are you?” Sara asked in a faint voice.

“You are aboard the Valdier Warship Horizon. I am Jaguin, a warrior from the east mountain region of Valdier. I am… your protector,” he added, taking another step closer.

Sara could feel Emma’s hand violently tremble. It was a reminder that she wasn’t alone. Her body swayed as her mind tried to comprehend what the man was and wasn’t saying. Her lips parted and her throat moved up and down. She tried several times before the words finally came out.

“What are you?” she whispered, staring at him with wide eyes. “What do you want with us?”

The man paused in front of her. She already knew the answer. There were no creatures on Earth like the golden one watching her intently. There were no human men that looked like the man standing in front of her. Unless she was in some strange movie set, something very, very strange had happened back at Cuello’s compound, something that involved golden tentacles and bizarre lights.

“I am an alien,” the man finally replied. “You are my mate.”

Sara’s eyes widened even further before the last of her strength dissolved. She knew she was done when the darkness that was pushing at her continued to grow. She felt Emma’s hands wrap around her, but there was no way the other girl could hold Sara up.

“Oh, great,” Sara forced out as her eyelids fluttered several times.

Once again, she felt the rush of warmth surround her. This time, it wasn’t soft and soothing but hard and muscular. Her head rolled to the side and her cheek rested against the coarse material of the man’s shirt.

Out of the frying pan…, Sara vaguely thought as the darkness consumed her.

Chapter Four

Jaguin rolled the small stuffed creature he had replicated for Sara nervously between his hands. He wasn’t sure how to approach his mate. He’d always thought that when he met her they would instantly recognize each other and everything would be perfect. That was the way it had worked for his parents. At least, that’s what his father had told him.

When Jaguin was a youngling, he had asked his father how he would know when he met his true mate.

His father’s reply had been short and to the point. “I saw your mother, she saw me, and we knew. You don’t have much choice. When your dragon and your symbiot want something, there’s no use fighting it. They will make your life miserable if you do.”

“But, what of mother? Did she feel the same?” Jaguin had innocently asked.

He remembered his father’s grin. The more he thought about it, the more he realized he should have noticed that it had wavered a bit before he answered.

“Eventually,” his father had replied.

Jaguin had always meant to ask his mother, but there just never seemed to be a good time to question her about it. He had listened to the other boys in the village, but their fathers had pretty much said the same thing. The few females his age had been closely guarded by their families, so it wasn’t like he could have asked them.

“Jaguin,” a soft voice called from behind him.

Jaguin turned and watched as a slender but very pregnant Carmen waddled down the corridor toward him. He glanced over, expecting to see either Cree or Calo with her. His eyebrow rose when he saw she was alone.

“Lady Carmen,” Jaguin replied politely, cupping the stuffed sloth in his hand and pressing it to his side.

Carmen’s gaze flickered to the stuffed animal and a smile curved her lips. Another wave of envy coursed through Jaguin. He couldn’t wait until his mate smiled at him.

“How are the women?” she asked, glancing at the door to the medical unit.

“Tandor wants them to stay a few extra days. He is concerned about their mental health. The youngest still has not spoken, even to my mate. He thought a few extra days would allow them to get acclimated to the ship and what has happened to them,” he explained.

“Has the other woman woken up?” Carmen asked with a concerned frown.

Jaguin nodded. “Yes, yesterday, but not for long,” he admitted. “I am hoping that she is awake. I would like to know what her name is.”

Carmen’s gaze softened when she saw his uneasy smile. “Would you mind if I went with you?” she asked in a slightly husky tone.

“No,” Jaguin replied, stepping to the side. “It may calm the females to see another human of their gender.”

Carmen chuckled. “Yes, it might,” she agreed, stepping around him to the door.

Jaguin followed Carmen into the room. He was surprised to see Emma sitting on the bed. His gaze immediately went to the woman behind her. Sara was brushing Emma’s hair with slow, steady strokes. There was a soft glow to her face that had been missing the day before. Her hand faltered when she saw him enter behind Carmen.

“Hello,” Carmen greeted, walking toward the bed.

Sara’s gaze jerked from his face back to Carmen. A confused frown creased her brow as she stared at Creon’s mate. It was like she was trying to figure out if she was real, an alien like him, or a figment of her imagination. Jaguin realized at that moment that his mate had very expressive eyes. He quickly stored that information.

“Hello,” Sara replied in a slower, uneasy voice.

Jaguin quickly reached for one of the chairs in the corner and carried it over to set it next to the bed. He watched Sara with a heated gaze as she glanced back at him before her gaze settled on the stuffed sloth.

“This is for you,” he quickly muttered, holding it out to her. “It is slightly different from the other one. I discovered that there is more than one type of this creature on your world.”

A soft giggle escaped the younger woman before she dropped her gaze to the bed. It took a moment for his mate to reach for it. He stepped back and glanced toward the office where Tandor was watching him with an amused grin on his face. Jaguin scowled at the healer.

“I’ll leave you alone for a few moments,” he said with a slight scowl. “I will speak with Tandor.”