Triumph

At A Glance

Tribute #3
Futuristic Erotic Romance
Riptide Publishing
November 2, 2015

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THE TRIBUTE SERIES

Triumph

Rehz Akran has had enough of the Tribute program and its sadistic overseer, Palk. When Palk captures Rehz’s mate, Anna Lee, and offers her and Aled Price to the Ungrich for further research, Rehz is ready for rebellion. But first, with the help of Kai Mexr—who wants Aled back just as much as Rehz wants Anna—he must break into the Ungrich world, rescue Anna, and discover why they want her so badly.

The chilling answer to that question lies in Anna’s forgotten origins—origins that Aled shares. To save their lovers, Rehz and Kai must take on Palk and a government that is more than willing to sacrifice Anna and Aled to keep the peace.

The two couples join forces—in more ways than one—and together they discover that they may be capable of defeating two civilizations and changing the course of Mitan history forever.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Planet Mitan

He was having a nightmare about Ungrich space . . .

Aled Price reminded himself that it wasn’t real, and that if he just woke up, all would be well. He’d be tucked up in bed with Kai Mexr, who would be hard, naked, and more than willing to start the new day with some lazy lovemaking.

He forced his eyes open.

And screamed.

* * * * *

“Rehz . . . just hold up a minute.”

Ignoring Kai Mexr—because damn, he had to get to Anna before anyone hurt her—Rehz Akran increased his speed and charged out into the street, scaring several pedestrians as he turned to find his vehicle. The alarms inside the military admin building were still wailing, but no one had followed them out. They were probably all still fussing over fucking Palk. He really wished Kai hadn’t laid Palk out with a single punch, because he’d wanted to deal with the bastard himself.

A few hours earlier he’d returned home from buying groceries to find the door of his apartment blasted off and signs of a struggle. It hadn’t taken him long to realize that Anna must have been taken, and exactly who had taken her and why. He’d decided to start searching at the military hospital and had run into Kai, who was searching for Aled.

Rehz!” Kai grabbed his arm and hauled him to a stop, dragging him around a corner into a less populated street and slamming him against the wall. “This isn’t going to work. We need to slow down and think about what we’re doing here.”

He tried to shrug off Kai’s hold. “Anna is in fucking Ungrich space. That’s all the fuck I need to know. I’m going in there and fucking destroying it.”

Kai shoved his hands flat on Rehz’s chest. “If you go in like that, you know they’ll kill you. This isn’t like you. Think.”

“Better to die together than let those fucking bastards touch my woman!” Rehz snarled. He didn’t feel like himself anymore, didn’t care how much damage he did as long as he got to Anna.

“That’s fucking stupid,” Kai said patiently. “I want to get Aled out as much as you want Anna, but I don’t intend to be a martyr.”

Rehz gave a deep, shuddering breath. “Okay. Okay. What are you suggesting we do? Turn up and knock at the door with a bunch of fricking flowers?”

“I think they’d let us in. They know us. They let us live twice.” Kai swallowed hard. “We’re going to have to use our wits rather than our fists, agreed?”

Rehz scowled at his best friend. “I’ll try it your way first, but I still prefer mine.”

Kai exhaled. “Good. Now we need to find out whether my security clearance for the Tribute facility still works.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“I have a few friends who still work there. If they won’t let me in, I’ll threaten to kill them. But first I suggest we pay our good friend General Palk another visit.” Kai’s smile was lethal. “I bet he can tell us exactly what’s going on.”

* * * * *

Less than an hour later, he and Kai were back inside the military medical center, where everything seemed to have calmed down. Kai had used his tech skills to get them in the door and find out exactly where Palk was being treated.

“Floor thirteen. We’ll use the stairs.” Kai severed the link into the main data center. “I’ve turned off the alarms in that sector. They won’t be expecting us back here.”

“Because they’ll assume we’re at the training facility.” He cut Kai a frigid look. “Which is where we fucking should be.”

“Palk knows something.” Kai kept climbing the stairs, his breathing easy, his weapon ready. “He took Aled right out of here and no one stopped him. That either means the government is complicit in his actions or he’s fooling everyone.”

They paused on the thirteenth level, and Rehz took a quick recce of the white hallway. “He’s got to be in the room with the two guards stationed outside.”

“You think?” Kai raised his weapon. “I’ll stun them. We won’t be there for long.”

Even as Kai fired the second tranquilizer shot, Rehz raced toward the two men. He removed both their weapons, propped one of the guys on the chair beside the door to make it look like business as usual, and searched the other.

“Door’s not alarmed. Neither are the men.”

“Then let’s go and see Palk.”

Rehz opened the door, and Kai dragged the unconscious guard in with him and dumped him unceremoniously on the floor to keep the door jammed shut.

Palk lay half-upright in bed, surrounded by several machines. When Rehz smiled at him, he made a strange gurgling sound and his pupils dilated. His fingers groped for the call button that Rehz had already disabled.

Rehz tutted. “Did you break his jaw? Nice job, Kai—except now he can’t speak too well.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage to get the information you want out of him somehow.” Kai fixed his attention on the hallway. “Just hurry the fuck up.”

“Palk.” He strolled toward the man in the bed. “How are you feeling?”

The machines around the bed registered the increase in the patient’s heartbeat and started to flash various alarms. Rehz shook his head.

“Get a grip or we’ll have the whole medical staff in here to watch you die.” He pressed his weapon to the injured side of Palk’s scalp. “And you are going to die if you don’t start giving me some answers. You put Anna and Aled back into Ungrich space, didn’t you?”

Palk stared straight ahead.

Rehz wrapped his hand around the man’s throat. “I asked you a question.”

“Had no choice,” Palk wheezed.

“Fucking liar. You gave them up. But for what?”

Palk licked his swollen, bloodied lips, like something scaly from the desert.

“For what, Palk?”

“Security.”

“They’re not coming.”

“My security,” Palk whispered.

“You traded my mate to protect yourself? From fucking what?”

“Rehz.” Kai spoke from the door. “There are more guards approaching.”

Rehz’s fingers tightened, and Palk gave a ghastly smile, then slipped into unconsciousness. For a second, Rehz contemplated intensifying his grip even more and breaking the bastard’s neck. But that could wait. Being a Tribute trainer had taught him a lot about delayed gratification.

With a curse he shoved Palk back onto his pillow and went toward Kai. “Can we get out of here?”

“If we leave now.”

“Then let’s go.”

* * * * *

The journey out to the training facility was accomplished with such ease that Rehz was suspicious. Palk must know that he and Kai would be coming after their trainees. Or was Palk stupid enough not to have noticed the bonds that had been formed? Perhaps he was planning an ambush at the base, or there was some other reason he was willing to let them get so far. Rehz glanced over at Kai, who was checking his weapons. They’d both donned full body armor under their clothes and had locked and loaded every single firearm they possessed.

It was taking too long to get to her. He wanted to fight something so badly now, wanted the smell of blood and the sound of someone else’s pain . . .

The doors of the transporter slid open; he and Kai remained concealed to either side. There were no hurrying feet or guns being charged. A female voice intoned the name of the facility. He risked a quick peek and saw nothing unusual.

As the current training season had recently concluded, the place was quiet and shouldn’t come back up to strength for several months. But it always paid to be careful.

“Cover me.”

Kai stepped forward, his weapon shouldered and at the ready, and stopped the doors from closing as Rehz sprinted for the first piece of cover. Still nothing. He beckoned Kai to join him, and they stayed hidden as the transporter moved on down the track and into a tunnel. Kai raised his eyebrows and Rehz shrugged.

“Nothing. Not even the usual guard.”

“Let’s keep moving.”

Eventually they reached the “welcome” center, where the new Tributes were unloaded, medically examined, and processed into the program. The lights were on, and Kai had no difficulty using his codes to access the system to allow them entry.

The place felt strange now that he’d been out of the program for a cycle. He’d thought he was free from the horror of it all—thought Anna was too, but fucking Palk had interfered again. Palk had always had a thing for him, and an unholy fascination with Anna.

Unsettled by the silence, he grumbled at Kai. “If Aled Price did blab about the human DNA, I’m going to kill him.”

Kai squared off with him, his green eyes blazing. “You are fucking not going to touch him. He’s mine. We either do this together and get them both out, or we don’t do it at all.”

He met Kai’s determined gaze. “All bloody right.”

“Palk didn’t say where he’d gotten the information from. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d already known and had specifically hooked Aled into the program because of his DNA.”

“Still trying to protect your lover’s ass?”

To his annoyance, Kai grinned. “It’s a damn fine ass. But think about it, Rehz. Two Tributes with human DNA in two consecutive cycles? That’s one hell of a coincidence when we’ve all been told that planet is a myth.”

“That reminds me: let’s access the medical records first.”

Kai started moving again, his gaze alert and his attention on the silent, empty, gleaming halls ahead of them. It was downright eerie. Rehz shook off his sense of unease and followed.

The antiseptic smell of the medical treatment room made him shudder with too many bad memories. As a Tribute—and later as a trainer—he’d spent too many hours there being patched up or watching trainees being pieced back together.

Kai placed his weapon on the table and imprinted his thumb on the pad beside the screen, which immediately came to life. “What do you want first?”

“Anna’s records.”

“Specifically?”

“Her last medical after she returned from the Ungrich.”

“Hold on.”

He kept his gaze on the open doorway as Kai clicked away at the keyboard.

“Here you go.” Kai hesitated. “Maybe you’d better read it.”

“No, go ahead.”

“Looks like she was dehydrated, had lost weight, and her nervous system was firing too fast—all pretty common aftereffects of being submerged in alien goo. Her heart and lungs were okay.”

“Keep going.” He lovingly fingered his weapon and imagined not wasting a shot on Palk but using the weight to slowly and painfully smash Palk’s skull to a pulp. He wished he’d choked him to death in that hospital bed.

“Her ovaries . . .” Kai paused. “Significant decrease in stored eggs. One ovary completely cleaned out.”

He let that settle over him and realized his hands were shaking. “She asked me to find out if that had happened. And I didn’t fucking get around to it. I fucking let her down.”

“You didn’t know it was going to be important, Rehz. It was only when Aled told me about the male-female thing the Ungrich were interested in that it made any sense.”

He didn’t bother to answer. He knew he was at fault. He was fucking cursed . . .

“I’m accessing Aled’s files now. There’s not so much here, just a note about his genetic differences.” Kai shut down the files and erased the link. “What do you want to do now?”

“Find a way in to Ungrich space.”

“What about Palk?”

Rehz picked up his weapon. “We’ll talk to him again when we get back.”

* * * * *

Aled tried again. “Why am I here?” The tentacles wrapped around his torso tightened like a hrel snake, and he fought back the urge to struggle. “Why? What do you want from me that I didn’t give you freely last time?”

“Female.”

Aled tried to gather his scattered thoughts. “I’m not female.”

“Human.”

“I have human DNA.” He tried to swallow and gagged on the thick column stuffed down his throat. “What do you fucking want?”

This time there was no answer, and he slipped back into the void, felt the coils of the two connected Ungrich support his weight, then knew no more.

* * * * *

“Why isn’t Palk stopping us?” Kai asked.

“I have no idea. Maybe I killed him.” Rehz shrugged. “I damn well hope I did. All I know is that we are getting close to getting through, and that’s all I care about.”

They had moved on from the main training facility to the inner area where the second stage of development took place. It was close to the only known entrance into Ungrich space below the planet surface.

Kai sighed. “Your single-mindedness is admirable.”

“Whatever Palk wants will have to wait. If we get back here alive, we’ll find out, won’t we?” Rehz surveyed the armory. “Is there anything here that can hurt the Ungrich?”

“Plenty, but nothing they won’t detect as soon as we enter their space.”

He considered that. “What about a bluff?”

“Like what?”

“I’m not sure.” He started looking through the archive material on the screen. “I’ll get back to you.”

“I’ll check out the Ungrich portal. We’ve both had access to the security code sequences to open the portal. Let’s hope they still work.”

“You can do it manually, right?”

“Yeah, if we have to. They designed it that way in case the power ever failed, but it’ll take a while.”

* * * * *

“Human.” Aled was gently shaken awake by his hosts. “Come.”

He didn’t waste his breath arguing, and was soon drawn deeper into the goo, past many other Ungrich, and finally into an area bathed in bright light.

“Don’t fight.”

He was suddenly catapulted forward through a thick membrane, leaving only one tentacle wrapped around his neck like an umbilical cord. The thick soup dissipated, and for a few seconds he forgot how to breathe air and floundered on the spongy floor like a grounded fish.

Curled up beside him was another person. He crawled over to her and touched her face.

“Anna Lee?”

She opened her blue eyes, and he flinched at the combination of terror and anger within them. “Aled. What happened?”

“I don’t know. One minute I was having my final medical, the next Palk turned up and everything went black.”

“Did you tell him?”

“No! Gods, no!”

“Then why the fuck am I here?”

He stared at her helplessly and reached for her fisted hand. “I don’t know, but I reckon we’re about to find out.”

“Mate.” The Ungrich controlling him thrust the thought into his mind like a spike through the tentacle embedded in his brain. “Human male and female.”

“It doesn’t work like that,” he thought back.

“Mate.”

He cried out as pain stabbed through his entire body, and the single tentacle wrapped around his throat multiplied into a hundred narrow cords that swarmed over his torso, wrapping tightly around his cock and penetrating his ass. His cock kicked against the confines of the tentacle, reacting as he’d been trained to any stimulus. He wanted to rip the Ungrich away from him, but he knew it was pointless.

“Mate.”

“Anna. Can you hear them?”

“Yes.”

He groaned as he was forced to his knees. “I’m sorry. I—”

She caught hold of his shoulders, her gaze now defiant. “It’s okay. We have to survive this. We have to stay alive.” She opened her legs and he surged forward, buried his cock deep inside her, and started to thrust.

* * * * *

Anna opened her eyes to find Aled still slumped over her, his hips now still, his breathing uneven. Her hand rested on the back of his neck, just below his now-soaked auburn hair. Gods, she hurt everywhere. She didn’t dare wake him up, because he’d have to start fucking her again and she didn’t think she could stand another round. She wanted to cry, but suspected she had no moisture left for tears. The Ungrich environment badly dehydrated her.

And she wouldn’t cry. She’d been here before and survived. She could do it again. Oh gods, but she wanted Rehz so badly . . .

The Ungrich she identified as the dominant member of an integrated pair who were currently inside her spoke in her head. “Where is the offspring?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Offspring. You mated.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Explain.”

“Mating doesn’t always achieve conception.”

“Where is the fetus?”

She sighed. “It’s complicated.”

Pain lanced through her skull.

“Explain.”

Grimly, she attempted to marshal her thoughts—difficult when her head was crowded with fucking aliens and speaking out loud didn’t seem to register with them. “In order to create a fetus, the male sperm has to fertilize the female egg. The egg has to be in the right place to meet the sperm and start to divide and attach itself to the interior of the uterus. Eggs are only available to fertilize for around five days every month. The baby takes nine Earth months to reach maturity before it can be born.”

Blessed silence followed her explanation and she fell into a doze, only to be awakened by Aled rearing up over her again.

* * * * *

“Mate.”

Aled held himself still over Anna, his muscles straining as he fought the command. “No. She needs to rest.”

“Give her your seed.”

The implacable voice of the Ungrich set his teeth on edge. “I don’t have any left. We both need to recuperate.”

“Offspring.”

He groaned as the thin net of tentacles covering his body began to pulse with energy, inflicting numerous small shocks to his entire nervous system. His teeth chattered as he fought to stay still over Anna, who was watching him intently.

“I can’t . . .”

The tentacles hardened, trapping him inside them like prey caught in a net, and moved his body despite him. His arms bent at the elbows and he was shoved forward, his cock disappearing inside Anna. He wanted to shut it all out, but he refused to close his eyes, needing to see Anna, to make sure she was all right.

“I told them we can’t produce a baby in one day,” she whispered as his hips rocked back and forth, plunging his cock in and out of her. “Tell them the same thing. You have to think it. They don’t do speaking.”

He gathered his thoughts and concentrated. “We can’t produce offspring in one day. Conception is not guaranteed. Do you understand?”

There was no reply from his hosts, and anyway he was too busy trying not to scream as his cock tried to come and had nothing left to give. Silence fell in his head, but the pulsating chamber around them filled with his desperate moans. He let his eyes close, and only Anna’s soothing hands on his shoulders maintained their emotional connection.

He had no idea how long they were left in the darkness until lights flashed on and something inserted itself through the membrane into their space. He instinctively tried to put Anna Lee behind him as the tangled mass of reddish tentacles settled in front of them. Two probes whipped out, capturing them each around the throat.

“Tell me about the process of procreation.”

He repeated his story, and Anna joined in with the pertinent information about female cycles and the likelihood of conception.

“You need more eggs.”

Anna shook her head. “We can only release one or two unfertilized eggs every cycle. You took my eggs, didn’t you? Why haven’t you replicated a human in your lab?”

“Unsuccessful.”

Aled put his arm around her. “We cannot be expected to endure this every day. It is pointless. If a female isn’t ovulating, all the seed in the world won’t make a baby.”

Anna nudged him hard and he shut up, letting her continue. “And you haven’t taken in consideration that humanoids procreate more successfully with their other halves—just like you.”

“We do not require a ‘mate’ to procreate. It is a primitive function.”

“But you are two entities that work together, yes?”

“Other.” The two distinct Ungrich voices spoke as one.

“Aled and I are not Other. We cannot share our thoughts, and we can’t survive for very long without our other halves. We will die. We belong with Rehz Akran and Kai Mexr. They are our Others.”

“We know of these males.”

“If they were here, the chances of Aled and I successfully mating and producing offspring would be far higher.”

Aled let out his breath as the Ungrich released the mind lock and disappeared back through the thick membrane protecting their air.

“Do you think it will work?”

Anna curled up against his side. “I don’t know. Rehz will be coming for me anyway. I just hope that if they believe us, he might be allowed to get through alive.”

* * * * *

Kai turned to see Rehz coming up behind him. He positioned himself by the controls to the door of the vault.

“I’ve rigged it up to let us in and then automatically close, but not lock.” He frowned down at the control panel. “Well. I think that’s what I’ve done. According to the schematics, there is a manual override on the inside of the door as well, so we can technically get out either way.”

“Good.”

“I’ve also sent a secure message to the head of the military and the president about what has happened. I don’t know if the whole government is in league with Palk, but if they aren’t, they might come looking for us. It certainly can’t hurt.” He looked up to see Rehz stripping off his weapons. “What happened to your arm?”

“I did a little doctoring on myself.” Rehz inspected the line of black stitches where the blood was still oozing out. “Let’s just call it our insurance policy.”

“You’re attempting to conceal a weapon?”

Rehz’s grin was lethal. “It’s not really a weapon. It’s something I got out of the military archives. It’s old tech and might not be spotted.” He continued to take off his clothes. “Come on, we need to do this. We’re already hours behind them, and Ungrich time moves differently.”

Kai stripped off, shivering in the cold confines of the rock cavern. He tapped in the prepared codes and walked slowly up to the portal, which was beginning to open. “I don’t fucking want to go back in there.”

“Then don’t. I’ll get Anna. You can stay here and let us out.”

He raised an eyebrow at his friend. “And leave Aled?”

“You really like that male, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do. Why do you think I’m standing here?”

Rehz slapped him hard on the back. “Then let’s do this thing.”

The portal opened to reveal the metal floor of the entrance chamber. The only difference he could see since he’d last been in there was that the walls of the room weren’t glistening pink.

“They aren’t here.”

Rehz paused to fiddle with something on the inner side of the door and then came to stand with him in the middle of the platform. “Don’t worry. Shut the door and they will come.”

He watched as the door swung slowly closed, and braced himself for impact.

 

Chapter Two

Rehz noticed it first, the slight increase in temperature and the way the previously clear walls clouded over and pulsed with alien energy.

“They’re coming. Let me do the talking.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Kai murmured.

“I’ll be nice.”

“You’d better be.”

Rehz tensed as the wall behind him undulated, releasing a tangle of tentacle-like probes, one of which immediately wrapped around his neck, neatly puncturing the old scar on his throat and creating the telepathic connection.

“Why are you here?”

“You have broken the treaty and taken more than your allotted Tributes. The Mitan government respectfully demands the return of its citizens Anna Lee and Aled Price.”

Kai yelped as a second probe shot out and attached itself around his throat.

Rehz said nothing as the tentacle tightened around his neck.

“The treaty is secure.”

“No, it is not. You were provided Tributes and returned them to us, only to take two of our people again. This is an act of aggression toward our race. Return our citizens immediately.”

He caught his breath as the wall in front of him exploded outward, gathering him and Kai within a writhing mass of probes and pulling them deep into Ungrich space. He gagged as his throat was filled, stopping his breathing and compelling him to rely on the Ungrich to survive the murky soup.

Forcing his eyes to stay open, he focused on a square of brighter light that they appeared to be heading for, which eventually turned out to be a series of transparent cube-like structures. He and Kai were unceremoniously thrust through the thick membrane of one of them and dropped to the floor.

Kai grabbed at his throat and started coughing. “There’s oxygen in here.”

Rehz took a cautious breath. “Yeah. Who knew? At least they didn’t kill us outright.”

“There’s still plenty of time.”

He went to the side of the cube and tried to peer through the thick, rubbery film. He could see nothing but the glow coming from what he assumed were other cells, and the floating shapes of entwined Ungrich. He had to assume they couldn’t insert themselves completely into the air-filled cubes. His bare feet sank into the floor, which had the consistency of gellac.

“I wonder how they are getting the oxygen in here?” he mused. “It must come from the surface.”

“Or they can manufacture it.”

“Why would they need to do that when they don’t need to breathe?”

Kai’s smile was all teeth. “Good question. It goes right along with the one about wanting human DNA.”

The wall quivered and Rehz turned toward the dark red coils of the Ungrich who appeared. He stood still as the creature’s probe found his throat and passed through his skin. Yeah, it looked as if he was right. The Ungrich couldn’t come into the cube completely. He wondered how long the Ungrich could survive in the dry atmosphere without needing to return to their more familiar liquid environment.

“Return our citizens.”

“They are well.”

“I didn’t ask you how they were. You have no right to hold them. If you do not release them, you will face the consequences.”

“You would go to war again over a series of experiments?”

“I would.”

“We have not invaded the surface world.”

“You have taken what does not belong to you. That is enough.”

“These test samples are not from your planet. The treaty does not, therefore, cover them.”

“You’re wrong. They are both full Mitan citizens. We will protect them as our own.”

“They are safe.”

“I don’t believe you.” He focused all his energy into his reply. “Return our citizens.”

The thought had hardly left his mind before the Ungrich moved in a blur of speed, wrapping both him and Kai within its heaving mass and catapulting them through the floor. He didn’t even have time to scream as he ended up in a tangled heap on another sticky floor.

“Humans.”

He opened his eyes and found himself staring right at Anna Lee. She looked exhausted, her body pinned under Aled Price, who seemed to be asleep. Emotions crowded his throat and he forced them down, only reaching out his hand toward her.

“Aled Price is not human.” Kai was speaking now.

“He has sufficient DNA.”

“For what?” Kai demanded.

“For our purposes.”

Kai crawled over to Aled and drew him away from Anna, cradling him on his lap. “What the fuck did you do to him?”

“He says he has no more seed.”

“And he won’t have any unless you rehydrate him,” Kai snapped. “What the fuck are you trying to do?”

While Kai argued, Rehz went over to Anna Lee, who was still watching him as if she couldn’t actually believe he was there. He touched her damp hair and then the corner of her swollen mouth.

“Anna.”

She turned her head and nuzzled his palm, tears shining in the corners of her blue eyes. “You came.”

He gathered her into his arms and simply held her tight, the complexity of his emotions threatening to choke him tighter than an Ungrich tentacle. The tang of Aled Price’s come curled around them, and her thighs were sticky with it. He didn’t fucking care. She was alive and he was with her. That was enough.

“I told you I would never let you go,” he murmured into her tangled hair. “Whatever happens next, we’ll face it together.”

She burrowed into his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around her, rocking her against him. Her hand came to rest on his chest, and she nuzzled his ear.

“They only understand what we’re saying when we communicate in thought, so we can still talk,” she whispered. “We told them that we were more likely to conceive if we were reunited with our indispensable, mated pairs. Our equivalent of their Other.”

“That’s probably why they let us live. Good thinking.”

He turned his attention back to the Ungrich who had brought them into the cube. “We will leave with our citizens now. Do not try to stop us.”

“You will not leave.”

He set Anna behind him and stood, as did Kai. “We will take our citizens home. You have no authority to conduct experiments of any kind on them.”

“Palk.”

“What about him?”

“We have authority.”

“Palk doesn’t speak for the Mitan government.”

“You cannot leave. We will keep you alive as long as you serve our mating purposes.”

“That is not acceptable.”

“Then we will kill Kai Mexr. He is the least useful one.”

Kai yelped as he was lifted off his feet, his face contorting as he tried to tear off the tentacles that were strangling him.

“Put him down,” Rehz yelled in his mind. It was becoming easier the more he tried it. “Aled Price will not function if Kai is not present.”

“He will function. You know we can force him to perform. If necessary, we will keep Kai Mexr in stasis and only produce him when required to ensure Aled Price’s obedience.”

“I will not!” Aled shouted. Clearly the Ungrich controlling him had let him hear the threat through their telepathic connection, so he continued in thought mode. “I’ll fucking kill myself if you take him away from me.”

“Don’t worry, Aled. I’ll kill you myself if Kai is taken away,” Rehz snarled. “Leave Kai here. If you won’t release Aled and Anna, we will all stay. But I warn you that our government has been informed of your actions and will be coming after you regardless of what Palk has said. He does not speak for the entire surface.”

Kai fell to the floor, his chest heaving as he sucked in deep lungfuls of air. The dark red Ungrich retreated, leaving them comparatively alone. Aled had come up on his knees and was staring at Kai and Rehz as if he didn’t believe they were real.

“Kai?” he whispered.

Rehz averted his gaze as the two males locked in an embrace that seemed destined to last forever. He turned back to Anna.

“I’m sorry I can’t get you out right now. I didn’t know what else to do,” he confessed. “I need Kai alive. I can’t do anything until I understand what’s going on here.”

She stroked his cheek. “We’re together. We’ll find a way.”

He bent his head and kissed her, threading his fingers through her hair and just breathing her in. “I’ll die before I let them hurt you.”

“I don’t want you to die for me.” She pulled away from him and looked him right in the eye. “If we can’t get out, we go down together and we take them with us, okay?”

He smiled. “That’s my Anna Lee. A troublemaker to the end. What do you think they want?”

She pressed her mouth against the side of his throat and whispered, “They want offspring—human offspring. And Aled says the pair inside him really get off on humans mating.”

“We need to find out as much as we can. Can you stand it for a while longer?”

“Being fucked? I was trained by the best. Of course I can.” Her mouth quivered. “And with you here next to me, I can stand anything.”