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USA Today  Bestseller!  New York  Times  Bestseller! Among the  Valdier, twin  dragons  are  feared above  all  others. Within  a  prison  camp  on  a  mining  asteroid,  Melina  has  disguised  her  gender for  years…. Cree  and  Calo  have  earned  Creon’s  trust,  but  the  infamous  insanity that  besieged  the  first  twin  dragons  is  now  beginning  to  take  over  their senses,  just  as  all  the  Dragon  Lords  have  found  their  true  mates.  After so  long  without  a  mate  of  their  own,  their  dragons  are  pushing  them  to do  something  that  would  surround  them  with  devastating  death  and  a bitterly  waged  war.  There  has  never  been  a  woman  who  can  handle  a lifetime  with  two  dragon-shifters,  and  they  don’t  expect  that  to  change now  when  they  desperately  need  a  partner  to  save  their  sanity.  Hope can  spring  from  unexpected  places  however,  and  the  rescue  of  an  old man  and  his  suspiciously  mysterious  grandson  from  an  abandoned mining  asteroid  launches  the  twins  into  a  confused  and  conflicted journey  to  a  distant  planet  called  Earth  at  the  behest  of their…true  mate. 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!

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Twin Dragons

Dragon Lords of Valdier Book 7

S.E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Copyright

Synopsis

1. Centuries earlier:

2. Two Centuries later:

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

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Epilogue

Sample of Gracie's Touch

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, Lisa, Sally, Elizabeth (Beth) 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

TWIN DRAGONS: DRAGON LORDS OF VALDIER BOOK 7

Copyright © 2014 by S.E. Smith

First E-Book Published September 2014

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 resemblances to actual persons living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations are strictly coincidental.

Summary: Melina and her grandfather are rescued by a group that includes twin dragons who are very confused to find their true mate in what they believe is a human boy.

ISBN: 978-1-942562-42-9

ISBN: 978-1-942562-06-1 (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! New York Times Bestseller!

Among the Valdier, twin dragons are feared above all others.

Within a prison camp on a mining asteroid, Melina has disguised her gender for years….

Cree and Calo have earned Creon’s trust, but the infamous insanity that besieged the first twin dragons is now beginning to take over their senses, just as all the Dragon Lords have found their true mates. After so long without a mate of their own, their dragons are pushing them to do something that would surround them with devastating death and a bitterly waged war. There has never been a woman who can handle a lifetime with two dragon-shifters, and they don’t expect that to change now when they desperately need a partner to save their sanity. Hope can spring from unexpected places however, and the rescue of an old man and his suspiciously mysterious grandson from an abandoned mining asteroid launches the twins into a confused and conflicted journey to a distant planet called Earth at the behest of their…true mate.

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: 256 (6x9) pages, 82,095 words

Centuries earlier:

“Stay with your mother,” Creja instructed as he turned to his mate. “Don’t let them out.”

“I won’t,” Lyla replied in a soft, concerned voice. “You will be careful?”

Creja’s eyes softened and he reached out to run the back of his fingers along his mate’s soft cheek. His grim face spoke of the dangerous and difficult task ahead of him. He stepped back when he heard the sound of the horns again. His eyes swept to his two young sons. They watched him with eyes filled with wonder and excitement as their father’s symbiot began to dissolve and form a protective armor around him.

“What is it, father?” Cree asked curiously. “Is the village under attack?”

“We can help,” Calo said with a grin. “Cree and I are very fast.”

“No,” Creja replied sharply as he opened the door to their small home. “Stay with your mother. I need you both to protect her.”

Calo nodded in disappointment while Cree fingered the knife at his waist. Their father had given each of them a finely honed knife with a special forged blade and intricately carved bone handle with matching dragons wrapped around it for their twelfth year of life last month. He and Calo had been practicing with their father on how to use it. They would both protect their mother with their lives.

“We will,” Calo said with a quick glance at his twin. “We won’t let anything happen to her.”

“Creja,” Lyla started to say before she reached up and brushed a quick kiss across his lips. “Come back to me.”

“I will,” Creja promised as he stepped out of the cottage. “Keep the boys inside. I don’t want them to see this.”

“I will,” Lyla whispered, watching as her mate shifted into his dragon form with a heavy heart.

“Mother,” Cree called out from behind her in a low voice. “What is wrong? Why are the horns blowing? Is the village under attack?”

Lyla turned to look at her oldest son by a mere minute. “Yes, it is under attack. Your father and the other males will take care of… the situation. Come, let us go back inside,” she said.

“Who would attack us?” Calo asked, peering out the window. “Why would they?”

“Move away from the window, Calo,” Lyla instructed. “Come, help me clean the kitchen.”

“That’s women’s work,” Calo groaned. “We should be helping father and the others protect the village.”

Lyla turned and scowled down at her youngest son. Placing her hands on her hips, she stared at him until he shifted from one foot to the other. Her lips were tightly pressed together in disapproval.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Calo muttered, bowing his head. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Cleaning and cooking are skills that are just as important as knowing how to fight,” Lyla admonished in a soft, but stern voice. “You will be living your daily life more than you will be fighting if the Goddess blesses you. Your father would be disappointed to hear you say such a thing.”

“I said I was sorry,” Calo protested, glancing at Cree for support.

“We’ll clean up,” Cree volunteered. “Come on, Calo.”

Calo opened his mouth to complain, but nodded when he caught the calculating look in his brother’s eyes. He glanced at his mother and gave her an easy, lopsided grin. It was the one that always made her smile.

“If you are sure,” Lyla replied, looking at the two boys with a slightly suspicious stare. “I have some mending to do. You two are rough on your clothes.”

“We’ll clean it up in no time,” Calo promised.

“Very well, if you are sure,” Lyla replied. “Thank you.”

Cree and Calo watched as their mother walked out of the room and up the polished wooden steps that curved upward to the second floor. Cree grabbed Calo’s arm and pulled him into the kitchen. Once he was sure they were alone, he turned to his twin.

“We’ve got to hurry,” he muttered.

“Why? And why did you say we would clean? You know I hate cleaning,” Calo grumbled, kicking one of the chairs. “What do you think is going on? Why would anyone attack our village?”

“I told her we would clean the kitchen to save your butt from getting chewed out by Father,” Cree pointed out as he grabbed the empty plates off the table.

“I didn’t mean it the way it came out,” Calo muttered defensively.

They worked in silence for the next hour, cleaning the kitchen until it sparkled. Their eyes kept moving to the window where large, black billows of smoke rose above the trees and mist. The village was several kilometers away from their cottage, yet the plates rattled from the explosions that shook the ground. While the horns that had sounded the alarm earlier were now silent, the roars of dragons fighting could be heard through the closed windows.

Calo had started to sing one of the warriors fighting songs to help cover his nervousness. He broke off when a loud explosion shook the ground. This one was more powerful than any of the others. His eyes widened for a moment before he rushed to the window.

“What was that?” he asked, looking over his shoulder at Cree.

“I don’t know,” Cree responded, pushing Calo to the side so he could look out as well.

Both of them turned when they heard a low sound behind them. Their mother stood in the doorway, her face taut and pale. Her hand trembled as she pushed a stray strand of black hair back. One of Calo’s shirts hung limply from her other hand.

“You must both stay here,” she whispered.

“Mother, what is it?” Calo asked hesitantly.

“Your father.... I must go to your father,” Lyla responded in a dazed voice.

“Father,” Cree started to say, but their mother had already turned back toward the front door. “Mother…”

“Protect each other,” their mother whispered, before she opened the door and transformed into a soft lavender scaled dragon.

“Cree,” Calo growled in frustration. “Do you think something happened to Father?”

Cree looked at his twin with dark, gold eyes filled with worry. Calo’s eyes reflected the same emotion. Both of their symbiots, not yet full grown, came to stand next to them.

With a silent nod, they both turned and hurried out the door. Within seconds, identical topaz and black dragons covered in gold armor lifted off the ground. The dragons moved as one as they flashed through the thick mist-covered forest along the base of the Great Northern Mountains heading toward the sounds of battle.

Creja twisted as the thick, jagged claws of the dragon he was locked in battle with tried to rip his stomach open. He already had a long, deep cut along his left thigh that was soaking the ground with blood. His symbiot was working to stop the flow.

He grunted as the huge dragon swung his tail around and wrapped it around his ankle. A curse exploded from him as he felt his body lifting off the ground. His body slammed into a large tree, stunning him. Shaking his head, he snarled as eight other dragons fought to contain the deranged green and white dragon. Shifting, he roared out for more men to come to their aid.

“Bring the chains,” Creja ordered. “Make sure their symbiots are contained.”

The green and white dragon blew a molten stream of fire toward three men trying to get around him. The net they had finally thrown over him was holding, but it wouldn’t stop the outraged dragon for long. Creja’s eyes glanced over to the other green and white dragon that lay lifeless in the ruins of the smoldering cottage. A gaping wound across its neck and three long, broken shafts from spears protruded from its chest.

“Creja, we have their symbiots contained. We need to move them,” Bane called from the other side.

“Get them out of here,” Creja ordered, unable to look at the anguish tearing his friend apart. He did not want Bane to witness the death of his other son. “Have your symbiots return them to the Priestess. Only Lady Morian, or the Goddess herself, can control them now.”

“You heard him, get them out of here,” Bane yelled hoarsely. His eyes glancing briefly at his oldest son before moving to his twin brother. “Goddess, forgive them and take them into your care.” Shifting, he focused on preventing any more deaths from occurring.

Creja spared a brief glance at the cluster of symbiots locked together in an effort to contain the two symbiots fighting to get back to their Twin Dragons. His eyes shifted back in time to see Barrack swing out in a deadly arc toward one of the men trying to hold him down.

Creja surged forward to push the man to the side. The move saved the other warrior’s life, but Creja’s wounded cry echoed over the village as the spikes on the dragon’s tail sliced through the tendons and muscles along his side. He knew that his symbiot was already weakened from the battle and from being divided. He had left half of it to protect his mate and sons.

“Creja!” Mata shouted hoarsely.

Creja rolled onto his back and stared up at the hazy, smoke filled sky. He could feel his life force slowly draining away as his blood soaked the ground. A low cry echoed through his mind. Warmth surrounded him as Lyla reached out for him.

It is too dangerous for you to come to me, he whispered. Cree and Calo…

Need both of us, Lyla insisted. Without you, I cannot survive. They would be lost before they are grown.

Creja’s head turned so that he was staring into the dark, crazed eyes of Barrack. Barrack had shifted back into his two-legged form. His loud cry for his dead twin sent chills down Creja’s spine.

“This is what you have to look forward to, Creja,” Barrack yelled as a brief moment of sanity broke through his grief and madness. “Your sons will end up like Brogan and I. Have mercy on them, kill them now. Kill Cree and Calo before their minds are eaten up with the pain, the anguish, the eternal darkness that sucks the life from their bodies,” Barrack’s voice broke as he turned his gaze from his dead brother back to where Creja lay. “Neither our symbiots nor we could control it. The constant ache of loneliness destroys the soul of the dragon. It needs its mate. Never has there been a true mate for a set of Twin Dragons. We live only to fight, and pray to die in battle before the darkness swallows us. You’ve denied my brother and me that. Do not deny your sons. If you do, you have cursed them to the same madness. Twin dragons are destined to die a violent death. Have mercy and spare them, Creja. Slay Cree and Calo now before you have to do it later. Do what our father could not do.”

“Put him out of his misery,” Creja ordered weakly, turning to stare back up at the darkening sky.

Barrack’s loud roar was cut short. Creja blinked several times to push back the burning in his eyes. He knew deep down that Barrack was telling him the truth. He knew the future his own two sons faced. He also knew that one day, he might have to give the same order to end their lives.

But not yet, Lyla’s soft voice whispered as she knelt by his side. The Goddess might have mercy on them and gift them with a true mate.

Creja sighed and turned his cheek into the palm of his beautiful mate’s hand. The symbiot, reunited with its other half, settled over the devastating wound to his side and leg and began healing him. He could feel the warmth and energy flowing through him. He could also feel his mate’s essence wrapped around his own to hold him to this world until his body healed.

“Cree, Calo?” Creja asked in a husky voice.

“Cleaning the kitchen,” Lyla whispered as she leaned over her mate and tenderly stroked his brow. “Calo is learning that cleaning is not women’s work.”

Creja grimaced as a brief chuckle escaped him. He had once told his mate the same thing, right before she set him straight on the matter. His eyes softened as he breathed deeply. Even after their many years together, he still felt the pull of his true mate. It pained him to think his sons would never know the feeling of being whole.

“We don’t know that,” Lyla whispered.

“You saw…,” Creja started to say before stopping as Lyla laid her fingers gently against his lips.

“I know deep in my heart that they will find their true mate,” Lyla insisted.

“I hope you are right.”

Creja relaxed back against the ground and allowed the warmth of Lyla and his symbiot’s touch to work on saving his life. He was weak, and if his mate and symbiot had not arrived when they did, he would have been dead.

His mind drifted to the twin brothers that lay lifeless just feet from him. They were only a few centuries old. He had been there with Bane the night they were born. He had also promised that if it became necessary, he would stand in Bane’s place should something like this happen.

Bane had made the same promise when his own twin sons were born. Both of them feared they would not have the strength to order the death of their own younglings. Now, Barrack’s words haunted him. Twin Dragons were almost unstoppable in battle. The destruction the two had wrought against the village warriors was testament to that. They had been vastly outnumbered. Even so, it had taken all of the men of fighting age in the village to finally stop them.

Guilt plagued him. He had known that the brothers were getting increasingly unstable. The Village Council, which he led, had discussed the situation. The twins had recently turned their attention on Mula, one of the young girls in the village.

Brogan had confronted the girl’s father, insisting that she was his and Barrack’s true mate even though their symbiots would have nothing to do with her. The girl and her parents, frightened for her safety, had asked for protection against the twins. Creja had confronted the brothers when Brogan tried to approach Mula and explained that she had requested protection. Brogan had become agitated. Only Barrack’s intervention had prevented violence that day. Still, Creja had seen the trace of madness in Brogan’s eyes.

Today, the thin thread of sanity had snapped for Brogan. He had attacked Mula. Grief swept through him as he turned his head to the burnt out remains of the girl’s home. She and her mother had fled while Mula’s father had held off the enraged dragon. Barrack had no choice but to protect his brother when the men of the village came to help.

Several men had been wounded and four had been killed, including Mula’s father. It would not be long before her mother passed to the next world to join her mate. A man or woman may live if their true mate dies, but not the dragon. The dragon would mourn for his or her lost mate until death stopped the pain. Only if they were not true mates would Mula’s mother have a chance of surviving. He seriously doubted that was the case.

He turned to look back at Lyla, who sat holding his hand. “We must protect the boys,” he forced out. “Others will want to kill them now.”

Lyla turned defiant eyes to those standing around looking at them. “Then we will leave,” she whispered. “We will go where they will be safe.”

Calo leaned back against the side of the cottage. He looked at Cree who was staring at the remains of the twin dragons. They had arrived in time to hear what Barrack told their father. They watched as he was put to death, his head severed from his shoulders. They heard the murmurs from the other villagers agreeing with Barrack.

“Do you think…?” Calo whispered, staring at the smoldering remains of the green and white dragon.

“No,” Cree answered as a grim determination filled him. “You heard him. We will die in battle, like warriors, before we let this happen to us. We will do the honorable thing before we hurt another.”

Calo turned his suddenly older gaze to his brother. He could see the tightness around Cree’s mouth. He could feel the quiet sadness that mirrored his own. For as long as he could remember, their father had told them the legends of a warrior one day earning the right to be blessed with finding his true mate. Now, he realized that was all it was… stories.

“We will die in battle,” Calo agreed, watching as their father’s symbiot healed him. “Or we will take each other’s life before we hurt another.”

Two Centuries later:

The Asteroid Prison known as Hell

Cree wiped the blood from his face. He nodded to his brother. The Great War had been going on for too long, but there was finally hope. He, Calo, Prince Creon Reykill of Valdier, and the Sarafin King, Vox d’Rojah, were on a mission to rescue the Curizan Prince, Ha’ven Ha’darra who had been kidnapped in a bid to prolong the conflict. The traitors hoped to blame the Valdier and Sarafin for the act. Only this time, it wouldn’t work.

“Kill them all,” Creon ordered as he stepped over the body of a Valdier traitor. “Ha’ven should be in one of the cells. We need to find him before re-enforcements arrive.”

Cree nodded before he froze as his dragon growled in warning. His eyes darkened and a snarl curled his lip. Calo felt the threat, as well. More traitors were coming.

“Go, my Prince,” Calo growled under his breath, glancing in warning at Vox. “Cree and I will make sure that no traitors live. You and… King d’Rojah find the Curizan and get him out of here.”

Creon noted Calo’s hesitancy when he mentioned the Sarafin King. Vox was coated in the blood of the men they had just fought. He knew it would take time for his people to learn to trust the Sarafin and Curizan again.

His partnership with their former enemies was still new to him, but he knew who the true enemy was now. He had discovered the depth of the deceit and betrayal from his ex-lover who had sold her soul for power. He had wrung every betrayal from her before he killed her. Even so, his own soul was now as black as his dragon. If Ha’ven was dead, it would prove that there was no saving him from the darkness inside him.

Creon nodded before he called out to Vox. “There is only one more level. Cree and Calo will make sure no one else gets through.”

Vox shook for a moment before he shifted back into his two-legged form. His eyes ran over the two identical looking men. He had a better appreciation for their skill after this mission. They had taken out three times as many traitors as the rest of them put together.

“Make sure they don’t kill any of my men,” Vox warned. “My warship should arrive at any moment.”

“You’d better order them to stay out of our way,” Cree grinned, fingering the knife at his waist. “Especially Viper. I owe him one.”

Vox’s eyes narrowed at the underlying threat. A low rumble shook his chest as he sensed the danger to his younger brother. There was no love lost between the three species after a century of fighting.

“Be careful, dragon,” Vox warned. “I could use new curtains for my windows. You and your brother are about the right color in your dragon form.”

Cree began to shift when he felt Calo’s hand on his arm. A slight shake of Calo’s head and a glance at the door told him that now was not the time to challenge the young King. Instead, Calo pulled the knife from his waist and pointed it at Vox for a moment before he turned and followed his brother out of the room.

“They should be caged,” Vox comment to Creon as he watched the twins leave. “They are just shy of being insane. Especially the one known as Cree.”

Creon glanced from Vox to the empty doorway before he turned. He had felt the darkness in the brothers as well. That was why he had them with him. They were the deadliest warriors he had.

When they appeared at the beginning of the Great War and offered their allegiance to the Royal family, he had eagerly accepted their services. He knew the legend of the Twin Dragons. He knew they expected to die in battle. It would not be against the Sarafin or Curizan now. It would be against those that sought to divide and conquer the three royal houses through deceit and treachery.

“I know,” Creon replied as he started down the stone stairway. “But so are we.”

Present Time:

“So, how long do you think we will be on babysitting duty?” Calo asked as he rolled his shoulders to relieve some of the tension, and soreness, from being around Carmen Walker all day. “Remind me to volunteer for the night shift next time.”

Cree grinned at the look of suffering on his twin’s face. “What did she do to you today?”

“Besides kick my ass?” Calo ruefully laughed. “She had me showing her some different moves. Lady Carmen is a quick study.”

“I know,” Cree said, holding up his knife. “It took me a week to get this back. You’ve been showing her some moves that we use. Keep to the ones that others use next time.”

Carmen Walker was an enigma to the two men. Creon Reykill, the youngest of the five Valdier Princes, had assigned them as her personal guards. They had been slightly insulted at first, especially when they first met her. Of course, they should have considered it an honor to be asked to do something as important as protecting the Valdier Prince’s true mate, they just expected her to be… bigger… less fragile looking.

Cree shook his head as he remembered their first meeting. Both he and Calo had taunted her. They should have heeded Creon’s warnings, or at least taken them more seriously. He fingered the strands of slightly shorter hair on the side of his head.

Calo had an identical missing section. Carmen had taken his knife from his waist and knocked them both on their asses. To add insult to injury, Ha’ven Ha’darra, had joined in. He and Calo had ended up with the Curizan Prince across their chests, knocking them to the ground again, before Carmen had sat on the three of them and taken a swath of each of their hair in victory. Of course, the fact that she was in her dragon form had helped.

Since that day, both he and Calo had developed a growing respect for the human female. Her intelligence, skill, and a haunting sadness pulled at their need to protect her. The only problem was, it also emphasized the growing emptiness that their dragons were feeling.

“She is an amazing female,” Cree murmured as he slid his thumb over the carved dragons on the handle of his knife. “I wish…”

Calo sighed and rested his hand on his twin’s shoulder. “I know. We have talked about this,” he said quietly. “I can feel the darkness as well. My dragon is getting more difficult to control. He hungers for a mate and refuses to be satisfied anymore with the females I try to use to slake the restlessness that is eating at me.”

“Mine is the same,” Cree acknowledged. “It is getting worse, Calo. I’m not sure how much longer I can control him. I…” He looked away from his twin, ashamed to admit what he had come close to doing.

“It almost happened to me as well,” Calo said. “I came close to fighting Creon for Carmen as well. Each day gets harder. My dragon knows she is not our true mate, but he is to the point he doesn’t care anymore. He is attracted to her fierceness, to the sense of frailty that clings to her even though she fights to conceal it.”

“Perhaps we should tell Creon, just in case,” Cree suggested before he ran both of his hands through his hair and groaned as a shaft of pain swept through him. “Goddess, my dragon is raking my gut. He needs a mate, Calo.”

Calo closed his eyes as his own dragon snarled and raked at him as well. A shudder went through him as it pictured taking Carmen. As a man, he liked Carmen, but he was not attracted to her in a sexual way.

Want a mate, his dragon snarled, pushing against him. Need mate. Take female.

She is not ours to take, Calo snapped back, pushing down on the restless creature buried inside him.

His eyes opened when he felt the soothing warmth of his symbiot as it pressed against him. He had not even heard it enter their living quarters. It must have sensed his distress. He dropped his fingers to the smooth, golden creature. A strained smile tugged at the corner of his mouth when he realized it had taken a form very similar to Creon’s that stayed at Carmen’s side.

“What did she call this form again?” Calo asked as he looked at Cree’s which had taken an identical shape.

“A dog,” Cree said gruffly. “When this mission is over, I am done, Calo. I… It is getting to be too dangerous. I am sorry, brother. I have reached the end.”

Calo didn’t argue. He had made up his mind the day before and was just trying to figure out how best to tell his brother. A wave of relief and sorrow filled him.

“I want to see Mother and Father one last time,” he said in an emotionless voice. “I promised Mother.”

“Just as I promised Father,” Cree responded. He held out his hand. “Together.”

“Forever,” Calo murmured, gripping his brother’s hand and pulling him closer. “We go together, brother.”

Cree’s throat tightened and he nodded, embracing Calo before stepping back. “Get some rest. I spoke to Creon earlier. We will be at the Antrox mining area on the outer edges of the Cardovus star system in a few hours. He wants both of us to remain close to Carmen while he and a team search the asteroid.”

“Perhaps it would be better if we went,” Calo suggested tiredly. “We could…”

“No, I already suggested it,” Cree interrupted. “Creon was insistent that we stay with Carmen. He says he trusts no others.”

Calo gave a short, bitter laugh. “If he only knew,” he muttered before he pulled off his shirt and started walking toward the cleansing unit. “I’ll be ready.”

Cree watched as his brother slammed his palm on the access panel to the door of the cleansing unit. Calo’s admittance that he was losing control of his dragon was alarming. His brother had always been the easier-going one out of the two of them.

He fingered the knife at his waist. When it came time, he would slit his brother’s throat before Calo knew what was happening. He knew his twin thought that he could follow through on their agreement, but he also could feel the reluctance.

Pushing the dark thoughts to the back of his mind, he pressed the comlink linking him to Carmen. He sighed when it showed she was in her and Creon’s living quarters. He hoped she stayed there for the rest of the evening. He was barely hanging on and needed to work out. Perhaps he could talk Ha’ven into a match in the training room.

Chapter 3

“We don’t have much left, Mel,” Cal said in his scratchy voice. “A couple day’s food, a few days longer of water if we conserve it. The replicator that you found has finally died.”

Melina looked at the defeated curve of her grandfather’s shoulders. He had been working on the lone replicator for the past three days, trying to get it to work again. They were living on the things that Melina had hidden over the past couple of months in various nooks and crannies that she had found wandering the maze of tunnels throughout the asteroid that had been their home for the past four years.

“It will be alright, Gramps,” she replied, laying her hand on his shoulder. “I can search again. There has to be something they left behind.”

Cal looked grimly at his twenty year old granddaughter. She wasn’t wearing the oversize hat that she normally wore to hide her rich, dark brown hair. It was growing longer and showed off how beautiful she was becoming, just like her mother and grandmother at that age.

For years, he had been forced to cut it short to hide the fact that Melina was a girl. It helped that she was small-boned. He knew the last few years she had started binding her chest to hide her developing figure from the creatures holding them.

It was dangerous enough with the damn aliens thinking Melina was a male. It would have been deadly for her if they had suspected she was a female. She would have been used in ways that Cal refused to even think about.

His tired eyes swept over the small cave that had been their living quarters since they had been kidnapped from Earth. The trader that had taken them had sold him and Melina to the Antrox, a reptilian species known for their greed for making profits. They used slave labor to mine the ore from asteroids. Once the ore ran out, they abandoned the asteroid taking everything of value with them.

He and a handful of other men had been considered too old and feeble or too ill to take when they left two months ago. They had been given a few days of food and water between them. Cal suspected that was done to speed along their deaths. The guards who delivered the items knew that those left behind would fight to the death to secure the small amount of food and water for themselves.

The guard had been right. Cal watched as the remaining men attacked each other. He was more worried about finding Melina. His fear that she had been taken overrode any other thoughts. He eventually found her hiding in one of the abandoned tunnels along with an infant Pactor that had been born with a birth defect.

“They would have killed it, Gramps,” she had told him as she stroked the beast that would grow to the size of a small elephant. “Just because its leg isn’t right. She is such a sweetheart, I couldn’t let them kill her.”

He remembered the pleading look in her eyes. He had been so relieved that she had managed to escape being taken away from him, he didn’t have the heart to tell her there wasn’t any food for them, much less a Pactor that could eat their weight in food in a week.

She had surprised him with her resourcefulness, though. She had found an old replicator that had been tossed aside to be fixed. She had also stashed parts, dried food, and water and hidden them around the mine. That resourcefulness had given them the ability to survive longer than any of the others.

Now, their luck was over. If they killed the Pactor, they could survive for a few weeks longer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure the environmental system would last that long. The bastards had left that because there was a chance they could sell the asteroid to another business. What they didn’t leave were the parts to clean the filtration system. One by one, he had been closing off sections as the air became unstable.

A human couldn’t survive long without food, water, and fresh air. He cleared his throat. He wouldn’t give up until there was absolutely no hope at all. It was Melina that kept him going. He was determined to find a way to get her back to Earth so she could live a normal life.

“I’ll help you,” Cal said, straightening his shoulders. “We can start in the discard area. We’ll see if there might be another replicator.”

Melina smiled and nodded. “Then we can move up. There are miles of tunnels still open. I’m sure we’ll find something. We always do.”

“Yeah, we always do,” Cal mumbled. “We can start in the morn….”

Cal broke off and his eyes widened as the lights flickered. The faint sound of an alarm warning that an outer door was about to open sounded in the distance. It was the door leading to the landing bay.

“Gramps?” Melina whispered, her voice filled with hope and fear. “Do you think they’ve come back?”

“Hide, Melina,” her grandfather ordered. “Don’t come out unless I call you.”

Melina nodded as she picked up her hat and slammed it down over her head. She ran her hand under the chin of the Pactor and tapped the small beast to show she wanted her to come. She paused at the entrance to their living quarters and bit her lip.

“Gramps,” she said, turning to look at him again. “Be careful.”

Cal’s eyes softened as he saw the vulnerability in Mel’s eyes. It wasn’t right for a beautiful young woman to have to live like this. She had so much love to give. So much life ahead of her to live for. If there was a chance, any chance, of giving her back a normal life, he would risk it.

“Go, child,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”

Melina nodded her head again and hurried down the passageway. There was a section that was long and dark not far from the landing bay. She scooped up a long metal pipe as she hurried by. If her grandfather needed her, she would be there.

“You’ll help us too, won’t you, girl?” Melina asked under her breath. “You’ll show whoever it is not to mess with us girls or we’ll kick some serious ass.”

The Pactor snorted in agreement as she hobbled after Melina. Mel couldn’t stop the small giggle that escaped her. She knew she was small for her age, partly due to genetics, but mostly due to not having a lot to eat over the last four years. The image of her and the lame Pactor being any kind of an adversary was hilarious. Whoever they confronted would more than likely fall over in a fit of laughter than fear.

“You should have let Cree and Calo come,” Ha’ven commented as he rolled his shoulder.

Creon glanced at Ha’ven with a raised eyebrow. He knew that Cree, Calo, and Ha’ven had developed an unusual friendship after the Great War. He paused when he thought of his own relationship with the Curizan Prince.

Maybe not too unusual, he thought as he noticed Ha’ven rolling his left shoulder again.

“You been battling them again?” Creon asked with a grin.

Ha’ven answered Creon with a grin of his own. “Cree needed to let off some energy. Your mate has taught him some new moves.”

Creon’s laughter echoed through the cavernous landing bay area as the platform on the attack shuttle lowered. All scans from the Horizon showed that there were no transports on the asteroid and minimal life support systems. He doubted that Vox, the cat-shifting Sarafin King and a close friend of his and Ha’ven’s was here. Still, the Horizon had picked up a couple of heat signatures. Whoever was manning the station might have information that could help them.

“I told you she was incredible,” Creon responded as his eyes swept the area. He nodded to several other men to spread out and began searching the mine. “You should see if you can find a mate like her.”

“Me? A mate?” Ha’ven replied in horror. “Never! There isn’t a woman alive in the universe that could capture my heart.”

Creon paused and looked at his friend. There was more behind his words than the lighthearted joking. He had felt an increasing restlessness and something else, almost like suppressed energy about to explode, in his friend.

“Is everything alright?” he asked quietly, studying Ha’ven closely.

Ha’ven laughed and punched Creon in the arm. “You aren’t getting soft on me, are you? Mates can do that to you if you aren’t careful.”

Creon studied his friend for a moment more before he shook his head. “No, I’m not getting soft,” he replied, turning his attention back to the empty landing bay. “If I did, Carmen would kick my ass.”

“I can believe that,” Ha’ven muttered. “There is someone here.”

Creon nodded. He had smelled the faint odor as well. He waved his hand and several warriors moved out to fan the sides of the landing bay as a figure slowly stepped through the doorway cut into the rock. He relaxed his stance when he saw it was an older version of a male with features similar to his mate.

“Now I’m really shaking,” Ha’ven said, raising an eyebrow. “An old man with a shovel? You should have brought your mate.”

“Shut up, Ha’ven, before I tell Carmen on you,” Creon muttered.

Cal gripped the shovel firmly between his hands. These creatures were different from any of the others he had seen before. The Antrox had dealt with a wide variety of slave labor, but these looked like they could snap most of the ones working in the mines in half.

He swallowed. They would kill him or they would help. Either way, he was committed now. He had to find a way to save Melina.

“Who are you?” he called out, wincing when his voice echoed loudly in the near empty bay. His eyes darted to the dark figures moving up on either side of him. He turned and swung the shovel out in warning for them to stay back. “What are you?”

He heard the one that had punched the other man sigh loudly as if he was bored. His eyes flickered to the huge male with the gold eyes. The dark haired male was staring back at him with a calm, concerned expression.

“I am Creon Reykill, of the Valdier,” the male responded.

“Prince of the Valdier,” the male beside him corrected, dryly.

“This is Ha’ven Ha’darra, Prince of the Curizan,” the male named Creon added with a smirk. “Ignore him. He is a pain in the ass, as my mate likes to say. What are you called, human?”

“Cal, Cal Turner. How the hell did you know I was human?” Cal asked suspiciously.

Creon grinned. “My mate is the same species as you.”

“You kidnapped her and forced her?” Cal bit out as rage burned through him. “You sorry ass son-of-a-bitch.”

“No, no,” Creon said quickly, raising his hands up so that Cal could see that he meant no harm as he walked slowly toward him. “I did not kidnap her.”

“His brother did,” Ha’ven offered behind him.

Creon threw Ha’ven a pained expression as he turned back to the old man. He shook his head when he saw the man raise the shovel that he had started to lower. He was seriously going to kick Ha’ven’s ass when they got back on board the Horizon.

“You are not helping matters, Ha’ven,” Creon growled under his breath.

“I know,” Ha’ven grinned. “But you have to admit, Zoran did kidnap Carmen.”

Creon turned and glared back at Ha’ven. “He did not! She had been stabbed by the human lawman. She would have died if Zoran hadn’t demanded she be brought back to the warship,” Creon hissed.

“What about the other women? They were not hurt,” Ha’ven pointed out, enjoying watching Creon’s frustration. He hadn’t had this much fun in a while. “Although, you have to admit that your brothers might be regretting that. I think I heard Kelan mention something about beating Zoran’s ass. Or was that Trelon?”

Creon turned back to Cal and ran his hand down over his face. “Remind me to challenge him when we get back on board the Horizon,” Creon said with an exasperated look. “Once you meet my mate, you will see that she was not forced. Ha’ven is just mad because she kicked his ass.”

“She did not,” Ha’ven protested, folding his arms across his broad chest.

“Who is missing a chunk of hair?” Creon replied with a grin at Cal. “She sat on him and took a piece of his hair in victory.”

Cal glanced back and forth between the two men, trying to keep up with the conversation. The playful banter and obvious friendship between the men, both confused and amused him. His eyes went back to the huge male with the brilliant violet eyes before moving to his hair. Sure enough, there was a length on the side that was shorter than the rest.

He slowly lowered the shovel again. Mixed feelings poured through him as he glanced behind him toward the dark tunnel where he knew Melina stood. Resolution swept through him.

For the last four years, he had been able to convince the Antrox that Melina was a mute boy with limited mental capability. If he could convince these men of the same thing, maybe they could live long enough to find a way home. He didn’t really have any other choice.

“Can you help us?” Cal asked suddenly. “My grandson and I, we are the only ones left here.”

Both men’s expressions suddenly changed and they studied him with a serious, intense frown. Cal swallowed again. He refused to show just how scared he was about admitting he and Mel were alone.

“Did you see any others like us?” Creon asked quietly.

“Or a huge ass male with spots and a bad attitude?” Ha’ven added.

Cal shook his head. “No, most of the miners were Tiliqua. The Mining Manager liked to have smaller inmates. He said that they were easier to manage and ate less. The Bastard was cheap. He worked the two-headed creatures until they dropped. Then… then he fed their remains to the Pactors. There were a few other species, but none any bigger than me.”

“You said there was just you and a boy left?” Creon asked, glancing toward the dark tunnel behind Cal.

“Yeah. Listen, if what you say is true, you know about my planet. I… I want to take the boy back. He… he’s young. This is no place for him,” Cal said, waving his right hand out. “We just want to go home to our farm and forget all this ever happened.”

Creon heard the slightly desperate plea in the old man’s voice. His thoughts turned to Carmen. He had a better understanding and appreciation for the man’s desire to protect and care for his family now that he had one to call his own.

“I will do what I can to return you and the boy to your world, but I can make no promises right now. You understand that if I do, you cannot mention anything about what has happened,” Creon said. He held up his hand to stop the old man when he started to speak. “It will also be a short time before I can consider it. We are on a mission that must be completed first.”

“I don’t care as long as you think about taking us back home,” Cal muttered. “Neither Mel nor I would say a word. The folks back home would think we were crazy if we did. We just want to be left alone to live our lives in peace.”

Melina pressed back against the rough stone running along the sides of the tunnel and gently rubbed the small pactor’s nose as she waited in the darkness. She closed her eyes and embraced the inky atmosphere. The young Pactor seemed to sense her fear and nibbled on the rough, threadbare material of her shirt.

“It’s okay,” she whispered as she rested her forehead against the animal. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

A tremor ran through her as the cooler air in the shaft and the rock behind her back easily absorbed through the thin fabric of her clothing. She was wearing the ‘newest’ discards from some of the other prisoners. She refused to think about what might have happened to the previous owner.

Tears burned her eyes when she thought of everything that had happened over the past four years. Drawing in a silent, calming breath, she pushed back the tears. They were a waste of time and precious energy.

If whoever had landed on the asteroid didn’t kill her and her grandfather, starvation and lack of water would in a few weeks. Hopelessness swept through her as she leaned her head back against the rocky surface behind her. The only ones left on the asteroid were her, her grandfather, and the lame Pactor. The six other prisoners that had been left had died over the past two months from a combination of killing each other and illness.

She straightened when she heard voices echoing further down the tunnel. Her grandfather was talking to someone. Melina was torn between going to his side and following his directions. The Pactor must have sensed her indecision because it pushed her back against the wall and moved between her and the direction of her grandfather.

She didn’t care what horrible things all the prisoners said about the creatures, they were intelligent and very loyal if treated right. She had learned a lot about the strange, alien equivalent of a workhorse over the last few years. The Pactors she cared for and her grandfather had been her only companions since they were taken from their farm back on Earth. She jerked when she heard her grandfather’s voice call out to her.

“Mel! Come here, boy,” Cal yelled. “It’s safe.”

Melina shivered again as she straightened. ‘Safe’ was a matter of opinion. The fact that her grandfather called her a boy was enough to warn her that all was not as it seemed, or at least her grandfather was still being cautious.

“The boy don’t speak,” Cal said loudly. “He’s not all there in the head. He stays with me at all times. No one touches him.”

“I have assured you that we will not let any harm come to you or the boy,” a deep male voice replied.

“There’s one more thing,” her grandfather said in his gritty voice. “He don’t go nowhere without the beast.”

“The beast?” The voice asked.

Melina blinked several times as the light from the landing bay blinded her dilated eyes. She kept her chin tucked so that it was more difficult to see her face. Her fingers tightened around the long metal pipe she held in her hand as she and the Pactor stepped out of the dark tunnel.

She saw the look of distaste flash across both men’s faces before the one that had been talking to her grandfather curled his lip. She automatically moved in front of the small Pactor. She dropped her left hand so that she could reassure it that everything would be alright.

“I said we would take you and the boy,” the male said. “There is no way that… thing can go. It will have to remain here.”

Melina shook her head furiously when her grandfather glanced at her. She knew that this might be their only chance, but the idea of leaving the small defenseless creature to die of starvation was more than she could bear. She had been there when Hobbler had been born. She had brought the young Pactor into the world when the mother struggled during the birth and cared for it when the mother rejected it.

“Mel,” Cal said, turning and walking over to her. “Mel, this is our only chance. We’ll die if we don’t get off this rock. They have another human on board their ship.”

Melina heard the soft plea in her grandfather’s voice. She had never disobeyed him before, but the feel of Hobbler nibbling on her fingers suddenly was too much. She couldn’t just abandon the creature knowing that she was sentencing her to death. She would be no better than the Antrox.

She glanced up into her grandfather’s worried eyes and slowly shook her head again. A touch of exasperation and admiration crinkled the corners of his eyes. He knew she wouldn’t leave the Pactor behind. He had seen the same stubborn look in his wife and daughter-in-law’s eyes.

“The creature goes,” Cal stated, looking down at Melina’s bent head.

“That is not possible,” Creon replied in a firm voice before turning back toward the shuttle. “There is no reason to search the mine. Vox is not here. Everyone return to the shuttle.”

Melina backed up, pressing against Hobbler when her grandfather turned to argue with the male. She could tell by the man’s voice that he wouldn’t change his mind. With a wave of her hand, Hobbler turned and started moving back toward the dark tunnel they had just left.

“We aren’t going,” Cal called out behind Creon.

Creon turned in surprise. His eyes widened when he saw the back of the boy and the Pactor as they headed back into the tunnel. With a wave of his hand, he barked out a short order for the two men closest to the young boy to stop him.

“This is not open for debate,” Creon stated coldly. “You and the boy will come, the beast will stay. My mate would not be happy if she discovered I left you two to die here.”

“No, she would probably kill him,” Ha’ven added.

“Ha’ven! You are not helping the situation,” Creon growled, glaring at his friend.

The startled shouts of the men had Creon, Ha’ven, and Cal turning to see what was going on. The boy had attacked one of the men with the long metal pipe in his hand while the Pactor rammed the other, knocking the warrior down. Both of the warriors trying to stop the boy had shifted to their dragon forms in self-defense.

What surprised Creon was that the men’s symbiots moved between their dragons and the boy who was waving the pipe in front of him. It was as if the symbiots realized that the boy might not be completely aware of the danger he was placing himself in. By placing their bodies between the two, they could protect their men and the boy at the same time.

The move gave both Mel and the Pactor time to disappear into the tunnel. A loud, foul curse echoed through the landing bay as the old man swung the shovel he was still holding around, barely missing Ha’ven’s head. Creon jerked back when the old man swung again as he stepped backwards.

“I don’t know what the hell you are, but leave us alone,” Cal snarled. “Go on, get out.”

Ha’ven raised his hands and shook his head. “Sounds good to me,” he said.

“Ha’ven,” Creon muttered.

“This is just like at the bar on Teristan IV,” Ha’ven commented. “Remember that Octopod that was swinging the chairs?”