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Dark Fire

Cynthia Sax

What the Beast wants, the Beast gets.

Dare’s savage nature has made him an outcast among his kind. The silver-scaled Dracheon warrior can’t control his inner beast. It’s too strong. When his primitive instincts told him his destined mate was on Carinae E, he had no choice. He had to travel to the outlaw planet. There, he hoped to meet a female powerful enough to survive his Drache.

He finds Faylee, a delicate little human.

Faylee is the best thief on the planet. Everyone she encounters mistakes her for a young boy…except for a tall, shiny warrior from off-planet. When she gazes into Dare’s flame-filled eyes, he makes her feel, for the first time, like a desirable female. The fire-breathing male has her yearning for hot kisses, fierce embraces, and a future filled with love. She doesn’t realize mating with him might be the last thing she ever does.

Dare’s beast isn’t the only danger on the planet. An enemy from the past has returned and he’s determined to stop Dare and Faylee…permanently. They’ll need luck and the assistance of every warrior in the Refuge to stay alive.

* * *

Dark Fire is a STANDALONE SciFi Romance set in a gritty, dark world.

Dark Fire

Published by Cynthia Sax at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 Cynthia Sax

Ebook design by Mark's Ebook Formatting

Cover Design by Amanda Kelsey at Razzle Dazzle Design

Discover more books by Cynthia Sax at her website

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this story are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

First edition: June 2018

For more information contact Cynthia Sax at

Table of Contents

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


Also by Cynthia Sax

Excerpt - Dark Warlord

About The Author

Chapter One

Dracheons prided themselves on having two things – honor and absolute control.

Dare was a being of honor. He didn’t lie, didn’t cheat, fought fiercely yet fairly, had earned everything he possessed.

What he lacked was control. His humanoid side couldn’t restrain his inner Drache. The beast was too strong, always prowled at the surface, was visible to all.

Dare stood at the top of the Refuge’s white stone walls where he wouldn’t be disturbed. The space was quiet, occupied only by one guard—a friend.

Squaring his shoulders, Dare held up his silver scale-covered fingers. That would be his focus, his everything. He shut down his other senses, narrowed his view to the tip of his right index finger.

His beast fought him, snarling, clawing, clinging to its position. He ignored that part of him, concentrating on the curve of a single scale.

The Drache became bored and gradually retreated deeper inside him. His scales faded from view.

Expanding his sphere of awareness, Dare observed the blue of the sky, the heat of the sun’s rays. His skin remained human-like.

He could do this. Satisfaction flared within him. He would learn to restrain his beast and would no longer be seen as an outcast among his kind. His fellow Dracheons would accept him, would welcome him back to his home planet.

His mate, whoever she was, would be proud to claim him as her male. When he finally found her, she would gaze at him with warm admiration, with lust, with caring. He—

Carinae E’s arid breeze blew over him, bringing with it the scent of blood. It was faint yet strong enough to provoke his Drache.

The beast roared, surging to the surface, prepared to fight, to maim, to kill. Dare’s scales shone, lit by the solitary sun.

He’d lost control. Again. Fraggin’ hole. He curled his fingers into fists, frustration flaying him.

He was running out of time. His female was somewhere on the small outlaw planet. They would eventually meet and his instincts would drive him to bond with her.

Mating was savage and extreme. It provoked even the most docile of Draches.

His much more primitive beast would tear her apart. He grimaced, staring down at the beings swarming around the Refuge’s main gates.

Dracheons’ emphasis on control existed because in the ancient past, precious females had been killed during the mating process.

Dare, a genetic throwback to that time, had been the focus of debates. Some believed he should be put to death. Many, including his parents, supported a movement to ban him from ever mating and possibly passing his affliction on to his offspring. All had considered him to be an outcast.

That made it easier for him to leave the planet undetected and travel to Carinae E. His Drache had located its mate. It would not be denied.

He was her male. He could also be the being who would cause her death. Hoping not to find her, yet driven to look, Dare searched the crowd below him.

All of his senses, including his vision, were more enhanced than any human’s. He studied every female’s eyes, lips, other facial features, seeking to feel something, anything.

He experienced only relief. She wasn’t one of the newcomers. The identity of his mate, the female he’d traveled across the universe to meet, continued to be unknown.

He had more time to learn how to master his beast.

Before trying again, he would fight, burn off some of his excess energy. On Dracheon, physical confrontations were frowned upon. In the Refuge, they were embraced.

Especially if the skirmishes were with the Humanoid Alliance.

A group of those males approached the main gates, guns in their hands. The Humanoid Alliance had tortured many of Dare’s friends, the fellow warriors guarding the Refuge. The humans weren’t welcome in the settlement, knew that, were clearly planning to create trouble for Balvan, the giant green male positioned at the entrance.

Dare leaned forward. The males would give him the fight he yearned for.

Balvan can handle those males. Kralj, the settlement’s all-knowing, all-powerful Ruler, pushed that thought into his head. The modified humanoid monitored the thoughts, speech, and actions of everyone within his wide range. He was aware of the situation. Meet me in my working chambers. Now.

Duty called. Dare perused the activity before him one more time, noting the newcomers. None of them belonged to him, and for that, he was grateful.

He turned and stomped down the stairs. Gazes lifted to him as he descended. Warriors greeted him warmly. They didn’t view him as an outcast.

Females smiled and waved at him. He smiled back. They tittered behind their hands. He didn’t stop moving.

They weren’t his female. Although he was in no hurry to find his mate, he wouldn’t be untrue to her. She already had all of him – his beast, his humanoid, his body, his soul.

He stalked through the settlement. Merchants called out, trying to attract customers for their containers, weapons, and other goods. A pleasure worker negotiated with a bearded male, flashing her three breasts in a bid to increase her price.

Metal clanged against metal as two males fought, sparks flying from where their swords connected. Blood dripped on the white sand, the scent exciting Dare’s Drache. The males’ forms were covered in gashes and cuts. One of them limped, his thigh cut to the bone.

As long as they didn’t kill their opponent, Kralj would look the other way, allow them to work out their differences. If someone did die, breaking one of the Refuge’s few rules, the killer’s body would be added to the display of corpses impaled on spikes outside the settlement’s walls.

Kralj’s justice was swift and inescapable.

Dare respected that and his Drache enjoyed the violence, the wildness, the unpredictability. It was now awake and fully aware, pacing inside him. The scents of battle and sex filled his nostrils. Blood rushed through his veins.

He neared the beverage outlet, which served as the Refuge’s command center. A presence barreled toward him, detectable only by the air being displaced.

Dare extended his claws, raised them to block the assault. Another set of claws caught his. His attacker grunted, tried to push him forward. Dare, being bigger and stronger, propelled him backward.

“Your speed is increasing.” He softened the boy’s defeat with praise.

Hulagu’s scrawny form came into view. The boy was a Chamele, had the ability to disappear into the background. “I almost defeated you.”

“Almost.” Dare retracted his claws. He, and many of the other warriors in the settlement, had been training the kid. “Build your strength and you’ll be a worthy opponent.”

“I’m already a worthy opponent.” The boy swaggered, his bare feet kicking up sand. “I’m the greatest Warlord”—he paused—“in the settlement.”

Dare swallowed a laugh. The kid was currently the only Chamele Warlord in the settlement.

“Kralj asked me to meet with him.” Hulagu’s chest puffed with importance. “That’s how much he values my skills.”

Dare lowered his eyebrows. “Kralj asked me to meet with him also.” Why would the Ruler require both of them?

They entered the beverage outlet. Warriors lingered around the entrance, chatting, polishing weapons, their presence adding an extra layer of protection to the structure.

“We’re part of the same mission.” Hulagu grinned, his dark eyes lighting up. “It must require tearing the enemy apart.” The bloodthirsty Warlord-in-training spread his fingers, having not yet retracted his claws. A passing warrior turned his body to the side to avoid being gouged. “I like that.”

If the kid was correct, part of Dare’s mission would be ensuring Hulagu didn’t maim innocent victims. The Chamele was still learning how to use his natural weapons.

The doors to Kralj’s working chambers opened.

“I asked the two of you here for separate reasons.” The Ruler of the Refuge clarified that point right away.

Kralj was seated behind a horizontal support. Shadows shrouded his scarred face. Dita, the Ruler’s tiny human mate, sat beside him. The two of them were always together.

As Dracheon warriors and their mates were always together. A male without his female felt incomplete. Dare knew that truth well.

But he’d rather feel incomplete than guilty. His female had a better chance of remaining alive if they didn’t meet.

He was accustomed to the solitude, would survive it.

“Hulagu.” Kralj turned his focus on the kid.

“Yes, sir.” The Warlord-in-training straightened, pride and excitement radiating from his slight form.

“Your older brother, Oghul, communicated with me moments ago.” The Ruler relayed the information without emotion. “He and his warriors will be arriving in two planet rotations.”

“He’ll take me back to Chamele 2.” Hulagu wrinkled his nose. “Azalea won’t want to accompany me and I can’t leave without her. She’s my gerel, the light to my darkness.”

The kid’s mate had been brutally attacked outside the Refuge’s walls. Since then, she refused to leave the settlement.

But Hulagu, like Dare, had no choice about leaving. Their traditions dictated what they could do and what they couldn’t.

And one of the things they couldn’t do was stay on Carinae E.

“You and your gerel have a decision to make.” Kralj’s voice was flat.

What decision did Hulagu have to make? Dare pressed his lips together.

The kid’s assignment on the planet had ended. He had to return to Chamele 2. When Dare found his mate, he would also have to leave Carinae E, return to his home planet.

If his female survived the bonding process.

Tension crept across his shoulders. He would control his beast. He would.

“I don’t give assignments to warriors lacking control.” The Ruler kept his attention on the kid while addressing Dare’s thoughts. “And the expected decision is not always the right decision.”

It wasn’t expected. It was law. If he didn’t leave Carinae E less than ten planet rotations after mating, he and his female would be permanently exiled from Dracheon. They would be cut off, not have any support from his home planet.

“Hulagu, you have two planet rotations to determine what you will do next.” Kralj ignored Dare’s unvoiced response. “Speak with your gerel.”

“I will, sir.” The kid’s head bobbed. “Your mission has to be more enjoyable than mine.” He looked at Dare, envy reflecting in his eyes. “You’ll probably get to decapitate someone and I am stuck—”

“Speak with your gerel now.” The Ruler boomed. A wave of air swept across the space, blowing the kid’s long hair back.

“Yes, sir.” The Warlord-in-training snapped to attention. “Right away, sir.” He hurried out of the chamber. The doors closed behind him.

Dare was left alone with Kralj and Dita. The couple leaned into each other, their connection palpable, accentuating his loneliness.

He squared his shoulders. The emotional isolation was tolerable if it meant his female lived.

“The Rebels are sending another agent to retrieve the World-Ender plans.” Kralj relayed that unsurprising piece of information.

“They’ve already tried three times to retrieve it.” Each of those agents had been stopped and killed by the Humanoid Alliance. The enemy surrounded the Refuge. “What makes them think this attempt will be successful?”

“It won’t be successful…if they aren’t assisted.” Kralj pushed coordinates into Dare’s mind. They were the location of a small settlement called Mirage, a play place for high-credit beings. “The Rebels have varied their approach. Instead of traveling here directly, the agent is stopping at the settlement first, picking up some of their locally stationed informants.”

That strategy made no sense to Dare. “The Humanoid Alliance will merely kill the agent there.”

“Which is why you’ll meet their agent in Mirage.”

Why did Kralj care about the Rebel’s retrieval of the plans? Dare stared down at the floor tiles, perplexed. What happened outside the Refuge was none of his concern. That was the Ruler’s stance.

“If it concerns one of my warriors, it concerns me.” Kralj answered his unspoken query. “You’ll meet her there.”

“Her?” Dare lifted his head. Was the agent his mate?

An image of a human female filled his thoughts. She was beautiful, had red curly hair, pale skin, green eyes, was the type of mate a Dracheon would dream of deserving.

His beast yawned. His body didn’t respond.

He relaxed. She wasn’t his female.

“Interesting,” Kralj murmured.

You had better be there or I’ll kick your ass. The words floated through Dare’s brain, the voice female.

His Drache didn’t pay it any attention.

“If she is the reason you’ve chosen me for this mission, sir, you’ve made a mistake.” The female held no appeal for him.

“I rarely make mistakes.” The Ruler smacked him with a blast of air, punishing him for his insolence.

Dare, undaunted, widened his stance. “The Rebel agent isn’t my mate, sir.”

“The Rebel agent isn’t the only female in Mirage.” Darkness swirled around Kralj’s countenance.

The male liked to know everything and, in this particular case, his knowledge appeared to have gaps in it. That must irk him.

“There are other warriors, more discreet warriors I could assign to this mission.” The Ruler’s tone was dry.

Dita, Kralj’s mate, gazed pointedly at Dare’s silver scales.

His face heated. Enemies could spot him from half a settlement away. His beast wasn’t designed for subterfuge.

That wouldn’t have been an issue with another of his kind, a warrior with restraint. Normal Dracheons could change their appearances, could seem almost human.

But he was far from normal, his beast uncontrollable.

“I didn’t choose those other warriors for this assignment.” Kralj continued. “I chose you. There’s a connection between you and this mission. That I know.”

Dare didn’t question him further. Dracheons had instincts. His beast had led him to Carinae E. The Ruler’s instincts were more refined. Kralj often sensed events before they occurred.

If the male believed it was important that Dare lead this mission, he’d accept that role.

“I don’t believe it. I know it.” Kralj hit him with another burst of air. “You’re leading this mission. Ensuring the Rebel agent arrives at the Refuge safely is your responsibility. The Humanoid Alliance is monitoring the space outside my terrain but they aren’t blocking beings from entering it. The challenge will be to avoid detection.”

“That’s doable.” Dita’s eyes glowed.

“I’ll be asking your advice on how to do it.” Dare told her. Kralj’s mate was a skilled assassin. Her knowledge would be invaluable. “Am I bringing a team?”

“My advice is to limit the number of beings.” Dita answered for the Ruler. “Convince her to leave her associates behind also. It’s easier to sneak two beings into the Refuge than thirty beings.”

The two beings were the Rebel agent and himself. There was no room in that equation for a third being, his mate.

Dare exhaled deeply, relieved. He wouldn’t be meeting her on this mission.

“What do you plan to wear?” Dita eyed him. “You have to conceal every expanse of bare skin, including your face.”

His Drache rumbled with discontentment. It didn’t like excess garments, was annoyed by the ass coverings Dare insisted upon wearing. “I haven’t—”

The doors opened. Three tiny beings flew into the chamber so quickly their forms blurred. Smack. Smack. Smack. They hit Kralj’s leather-clad chest, their arms and legs flattening against him.

The winged offspring slid down his form, falling. The Ruler caught them in his arms. They chortled with glee, flapping their wings, gripping his jacket with their chubby fingers.

Their father was the next to enter the chambers, flying through the doors at a more controlled speed, his expression harried. “Sorry, sir.” Orol apologized. “They figured out the new locks and escaped.”

“They are modified humanoids.” Kralj had little tolerance for failure. “I’ll have the locks upgraded. You work on their landings. That was…undignified.”

One of the male offspring, Dare couldn’t distinguish between the trio, rubbed his face against the Ruler’s neck, cooing happily. The other two squirmed as they slugged each other, flesh slapping flesh.

Orol pried them one by one off Kralj’s jacket. They howled with distress.

“They know they shouldn’t be coming here without permission.” The winged warrior put two babies on his shoulder, tucked the third under his left arm. “We’ve discussed—”

“Did you find them?” Rhea, Orol’s mate, entered the chambers, her face red, her chest heaving. “Thank the stars.” She took one of the offspring from her male. “I turned my back for a moment and they were gone. It was like they synchronized their escape.”

That was probable. The babies would have a sibling bond and they were enhanced beings, would be fully grown within a solar cycle.

Dare gazed at the little warriors with a tinge of envy. He wanted offspring…and a mate.

But that came at a risk, a risk he was unwilling to take.

Orol and Rhea worked as a team to manage their small family. As the couple wrestled with the tiny males, they plotted ways to restrict their charges’ movements.

Which was counterproductive as their babies could hear them.

They were three modified humanoids versus one modified humanoid and one extremely skilled human. And the babies were motivated. They clearly wanted to be with Kralj, around whom much of the action happened.

The couple should concede defeat now.

Kralj and Dita bumped shoulders, relaying information through touch. They had the power and ability to evict Orol, Rhea, and the three little males from their working chambers, yet they didn’t.

That told Dare they enjoyed having the babies close to them. The tiny warriors, the first of their kind, had given all of the modified humanoids hope.

They wouldn’t be risking their females’ lives by mating with them. Dare quietly slipped out of the chambers, headed toward the settlement’s gates.

There were tasks to complete before he left for his mission. He had to seek Dita’s expertise on how to remain undetected. Weapons and garments had to be retrieved. But first, he’d take one more look at the beings waiting outside the walls.

He couldn’t quash that impulse. His more rational humanoid side dreaded meeting his female, knowing it could end in her death. His Drache, driven by its primitive urges, had to find her, was growing increasing restless.

Perhaps his female, whoever she was, would have the strength to handle his beast. He lacked control. She could have it in surplus.

She’d be a female with the highest integrity. He was certain of that. She would be his match in that area.

The combination of honor and control would cause his mate to be appreciated and admired by other Dracheons. They would embrace her. Not with open arms. That wasn’t their way. But with polite approving nods.

And because she was his and he was hers, they would be forced to accept him as well. They would include him, welcome him, respect him.

There would be no more discussions about whether or not a genetic anomaly such as himself should be allowed to mate, to exist. They would see the proof in his mate’s humanoid-like face.

He didn’t fit into their society but his female would.

She’d be a paragon, the perfect Dracheon.

His beast yawned yet again.

Chapter Two

Faylee, one of the best thieves in a settlement filled with thieves, hid in the shadows, waiting, waiting for her mark. This score wasn’t high value.

It was about sating her curiosity. Her target, a Rebel female, had been carrying around a memory chip in the front pocket of her ass coverings since she arrived at Mirage. Every so often, she’d touch it, ensure it was safe.

Faylee wanted to know what data the other female carried. Information was power. Three-eyed Mak, the male she owed an obscene number of credits, valued knowledge more than credits. She might be able to buy her freedom with the memory chip, leave this fraggin’ place, go somewhere no one knew her, live as a grown female.

Fuck the muscles off some male.

She wiggled. Pretending to be a boy had kept her safe her entire lifespan— especially as everyone knew she belonged to Three-eyed Mak, a being no one messed with—but it was lonely, isolating. The Rebel female’s memory chip could be the score to change all that.

Faylee slid her hands in the folds of her chest covering. Carinae E was a hot, desolate planet, but it wasn’t warm enough for her. She was always cold, chilled to the bone.

Her future home would be hotter than Carinae E. Her stomach growled. And it would have plenty of nourishment, free nourishment. She’d eat and fuck and talk, be free, gloriously free.

The doors to the structure opened and the Rebel female strolled out, laughing and chattering loudly with two males.

According to the conversations Faylee had overheard, the female was on a secret mission and was trying to be covert. She didn’t wear the Rebel uniform. Her weapons were concealed. A head covering shaded some of her face.

But the pale skin that was visible was clean, too clean for a being residing on the dusty, dry planet. Strands of vivid red hair curled around the Rebel female’s nape. Her boots were polished to a shine and she walked as though she was invincible, her hips swaying, her breasts barely constrained by her chest covering.

She attracted too much attention to move around unnoticed. Every male looked at her, wanted her.

No one looked at Faylee.

She smothered her envy. Her invisibility protected her, kept her safe.

The Rebel female’s higher profile, in contrast, would result in death. The Humanoid Alliance already searched for her.

Faylee touched the handle of a gun. It had been stolen from the Humanoid Alliance commander. Focused on his interrogation of a merchant, he hadn’t noticed her sliding by him. The gun had been shiny. She had to have it.

The Rebel female also didn’t detect her presence.

Faylee scurried from shaded spot to shaded spot, following her mark and the female’s entourage. They merged with the crowd. Several of Three-eyed Mak’s minions were working the pathway, lifting credits, weapons, decorations from oblivious beings.

She pelted forward, slipping through the gaps between males, females, offspring. Short, small, and thin, she fit into the tiniest of spaces. Because she was ragged and dirty, no one truly looked at her. She was one of the many poor. Wealthy beings had taught themselves to ignore her kind, to not see her.

She bumped against the Rebel female, using that contact as a distraction. Her hand delved in and out of her target’s pocket, unnoticed.

“Hey, boy.” The female frowned. “Watch where you’re going.”

Faylee bobbed her head, keeping her eyes averted, and dashed away, as though continuing to an imaginary destination.

The males laughed. “Even boys are attracted to you, Vicuska.”

The Rebel female’s reply was too quiet to hear.

No one chased Faylee.

She placed the memory chip in one of her many pockets. Her chest and ass coverings looked like layers of rags. The garments, in reality, served two purposes. They concealed her form from curious gazes and they held her pilfered loot.

She was a thief and knew no hiding place was safe. All of her precious objects were carried on her body.

She spotted the Humanoid Alliance commander ahead of her. The brutal male held a pleasure worker by her neck, had raised her until her booted feet dangled high above the ground. The female spluttered, kicking, her face turning blue.

“Did. You. See. Her?” The commander shook the female.

Wishing to avoid him and the conflict, Faylee abruptly turned right and sprinted along a quieter pathway. The sun touched the roofs above her.

Frag. She was late. Three-eyed Mak wouldn’t be happy with her.

The caves, her boss’ domain, were situated at the edge of the settlement. She ducked her head as she hurried into the darkness. The coolness and the stench hit her, as effective as any wall, separating the poor from the credit-rich.

No one entered the caves if they could avoid it.

She squinted, navigating the tunnels by memory. Trash and grime oozed around her boots. Liquid dripped. She doubted that moisture was precious water.

“Three-eyed Mak is looking for you, boy.” Overclocked peered down from his ledge. Dimly lit viewscreens and other devices surrounded the boy.

She issued a low grunt, not trusting him with her voice. Overclocked was the closest being she had to a friend but even he believed she was a male and younger than she truly was.

She would give the memory chip to him. Although the information was likely protected, he should be able to read it. No one in the caves knew more about technology than Overclocked.

But not now. She’d deal with Three-eyed Mak first. He’d want his payment.

She reached into one of her pockets, pulled out a sunstone, placed it on the lip of the ledge.

“You don’t have to give me that.” Overclocked scowled. “I can earn my own credits.”

The boy had a damaged foot that had never healed, couldn’t move quickly enough to be a thief. He begged instead.

The Humanoid Alliance commander had kicked a begging boy to the point of death the previous planet rotation. Faylee preferred Overclocked stay in the cave until that male was gone.

She grunted and ran along the tunnels, passing more and more beings.

“He’s waiting for you, boy.”

“We tried but could distract him for only a few moments.”

“There’s no avoiding the beating this time.”

The boys relayed information as she passed them. They were right. Her tardiness would earn her a beating. Three-eyed Mak didn’t appreciate being kept waiting, viewed it as a sign of disrespect.

She turned and entered the cavern he’d designated as his working chamber. It was crowded with boys, her fellow thieves pandering to their master.

Three-eyed Mak sat on a huge chair at the far side of the space. Mounds of glittering objects were piled before him.

Her fingers twitched. She was attracted to shiny things, always had been.

“Yer late, boy.” The male squinted all three of his eyes at her. He was hideously ugly, half of his nose missing, his face scarred and craggy, a patchy excuse for a beard only partially covering his chin. His fingers were folded into great fists, a forewarning of the beating to come.

She dipped her head, acknowledging she was late, and kneeled before him. Wetness soaked through her ass coverings.

She placed decorations, credits, other objects before her, revealing the goods in order of value from credit light to credit heavy, giving him the show he enjoyed.

Having been Three-eyed Mak’s boy for twenty-one solar cycles, far longer than any other being in the chamber, she knew what he liked. She, more than anyone else, could manage his volatile moods.

The pile of sunstones garnered a reaction from the crowd. They were extremely valuable and easy to spend, coveted by species all over the universe.

Three-eyed Mak’s scowl didn’t waver but his fingers loosened, his way of conveying he approved. He couldn’t allow her to escape without any reprimand, however. That wasn’t his way.

“That all ye got, boy?” He spat, the goober landing on the toe of her right boot. “Whatcha been doin’? Spendin’ yer time gazin’ at the stupid cunts again?”

Some of the older boys sniggered.

Her face heated. She had been watching the females, not lusting after them as the boys believed, but wishing she had their freedom, yearning for a time when she could reveal herself, be who she truly was.

She had one more offering for her boss. Her fingers curled around the handle of the gun she’d stolen from the Humanoid Alliance commander.

Three-eyed Mak would secretly value that prize but he would have to punish her for obtaining it. Very few of his boys had the skills to steal from the enemy without them knowing it.

Bracing herself for the pain, she set the gun on the stone floor.

Boys gasped. Three-eyed Mak’s eyebrows lifted. He gazed at her and she saw the flash of excitement, of pleasure in his eyes.

Then it was gone. His ugly face screwed up with feigned fury.

“Ye stole from them?” His voice echoed off the walls. “From them?”

He jumped to his feet. The other boys scrambled backward, moving out of range of his huge fists.

“Ye stupid arse.” He stomped forward, his boot heels ringing against the rock. Faylee flinched with each step he took. “Them Humanoid Alliance bastards got Erinomean Green Fire ’n fuckin’ World-Enders ’n whatcha do? Ye bring yerself ’n all of us to their damn attention.”

“They didn’t see me, sir.” She lowered her head and her voice. Speaking at the unnatural deeper tones grated her throat.

“That be the only fuckin’ reason we still be breathin’.” He swung his left arm.

She saw the blow coming, didn’t try to avoid it. Pain exploded in her jaw. She was tossed backward, her body smacking against the stone.

“Steal from them again ’n ye won’t be breathin’.” He cracked his knuckles and looked around him. “Whatcha all gawkin’ at? Get!”

The chamber emptied, the boys rushing to lighten the pockets of the settlement’s wealthy. Faylee pushed herself to her feet, her head spinning.

Three-eyed Mak picked up the Humanoid Alliance gun. “This be a fancy piece.” He grinned, revealing a missing front tooth. “Them bastards musta’ been right pissed.”

“I expect they were pissed, sir.” She hadn’t stuck around to find out.

“Upset.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Ye ain’t to use the word pissed. Ye know that, boy.”

He didn’t like it when she talked like him. “Yes, sir.”

Her jaw ached but she didn’t show it. He didn’t like for her to display weakness either.

“There be too many of them Humanoid Alliance bastards skulkin’ around.” His forehead furrowed. “The squawk in the settlement be them bastards be huntin’ the fuckin’ Rebels.” He looked at her. “Leave them alone, boy, ‘til the dyin’ be done.”

“Yes, sir.” She touched the memory chip in her pocket. He would be pissed…upset if he found out about her latest score.

She couldn’t involve Overclocked in her secret project. It was too risky for the boy.

Her solar cycles with Three-eyed Mak had earned her some leniency. He beat her for misdeeds he killed others for undertaking. Her friend hadn’t built up that goodwill.

She had to find another way to access the information on the memory chip.

“Get.” Three-eyed Mak waved his hands. “Ye won’t make payment by sittin’ on yer arse.”

She hurried out of the chamber, not wishing to spend more time in his company. Three-eyed Mak was the only being in the settlement who knew her secret.

They never talked about it, but he, despite his rough speech, was highly intelligent and prided himself on tracking all information flowing through the settlement. She assumed that included her true identity.

Being around him made her nervous. He could reveal her secret at any time. If that happened, she’d be a dead human walking.

Females didn’t last long in her world. They were used and discarded, less valuable than a piece of debris.

She exited the caves, blinked at the brightness of the sun. The air was dry and fresh. She kept her head down, her hair partially concealing her face, and she shuffled forward as a boy would, stuffing her hands in her pockets, kicking rocks.

Her movements were aimless at first. Being still was dangerous, made one a target. It was better to figure out her plan as she walked.

Three-eyed Mak had brought a new boy into the caves two planet rotations prior. That kid wouldn’t make his quota. She would have to earn double if she was to cover his portion.

It was time to work.

She returned to the main pathway, the most crowded thoroughfare in the settlement. The credit-heavy visitors often frequented the site, wishing to spend some of their wealth on useless trinkets and garments that could only be worn once.

Dashing from shadow to shadow, she scanned beings as she passed them, looking for her next mark. The scent of fabricating nourishment bars teased her nostrils. Her stomach rumbled. She ignored it, intent on her task.

The shine of metal caught her attention. A loud-talking, big-haired female meandered along the route, gazing at stalls filled with goods. Over fifty gold-colored bangles decorated her right wrist. She wouldn’t notice if she lost one or two of those decorative pieces.

That was the trick to a long lifespan as a thief—steal what others wouldn’t miss. Take their least valued possessions, items they were unlikely to realize were gone. Faylee increased her pace, brushed against the female, relieving her of two bangles.

She had broken the rules with the memory chip, but she planned to return it before the Rebel female could make a fuss about it.

Not that the female was likely to do that with the Humanoid Alliance hunting her. What was on that memory chip? Was that what the gray-haired commander truly wanted?

The thought of thwarting him appealed to Faylee. She placed the bangles in her pocket, searched for another mark.

Silver flashed. She turned her head.

A huge being loomed over the edge of the pathway, standing between two permanent structures in front of a darkened, rarely utilized route.

Black fabric draped over the being’s head, covered most of his body, but he was unmistakably male, his shoulders wide, his hips narrow, his booted feet spread in a dominant warrior stance.

Her nipples tightened, pressing against the strips of cloth she used to confine her breasts. She wanted him, and that was unfortunate because she couldn’t have him. She couldn’t have any male. It was too dangerous.

He was too dangerous. She should give him a wide berth. The warrior scanned the crowd, clearly looking for someone, and she doubted that someone had a long lifespan ahead of him or her. The glint of silver was likely a weapon.

Her curiosity was piqued, however. She had to know what the object was. Faylee slid behind a merchant’s stall, watching the warrior as he watched everyone else.

He reached under the fabric, revealing the shine of metal. It wasn’t a weapon. It was flat, scaled, like body armor.

Her fingers twitched. What would that feel like? Would it be smooth or covered with indents, cool or warmed by his form?

She liked warm. She liked shiny.

Before rational thinking could stop her, she moved toward him. She’d take one quick feel and then she’d leave. He wouldn’t detect it. She was the best and he was preoccupied with his search.

As she crept closer, she breathed deeply, inhaling his scent. Frag. He smelled good, like smoke and male and fucking.

She slipped her hand under the black fabric covering him, glided her fingers over smooth, enticingly warm…skin. She was touching the warrior’s bare form.

A jolt of awareness surged up her arm, across her chest.

The warrior must have felt it also. He jerked, swung his head toward her.

Shit. She pulled her hand back.

He caught her wrist. Fuck. The male was quick.

She wiggled her fingers.

“No.” He placed her hand on his stomach, flattening her palm. His muscles rippled, a living thing under her fingertips.

He was enticingly hot, the warmth of his body engulfing her. She splayed her fingers over his skin, enjoying the contact with another being, touch a rare experience in her solitary lifespan.

“I’ve found you.” His voice was low and deep, coiling around her like a strip of cloth. “You’re not going anywhere.”

He was searching for her? She stiffened.

“Look at me.”

She started to lift her face, instinctively responding to his command. Then she realized what she was doing and stopped.

He was a stranger and she was owned by Three-eyed Mak, owing him more credits than she could steal in over a dozen solar cycles. If she met the warrior’s gaze, he might see her, the real her, and that exposure could end her lifespan.

She shook her head and tugged on her hand.

He wouldn’t release her, holding on to her with an unrelenting grip.

She glanced around them. Beings could be watching them.

As though reading her concern, he backed up, taking her with him, concealing them both in shadow, away from the noise of the busy pathway. “Look at me, female.”

She gasped, glanced up at him, surprised that he knew, that he had detected what so many other beings hadn’t. Their gazes locked and her mouth dried.

Flames lit the warrior’s dark eyes, the rest of his face shielded by darkness.

According to the whisperings of the pleasure workers, only one type of being had eyes like that.

He was a Dracheon warrior, one of the fiercest males in the universe. His kind, according to rumors, ripped their enemies on the battlefield apart, using their sharp teeth and deadly claws. Then they burned the remains to ash.

This lethal male had her captured. He had been looking for her, realized she was female, no doubt viewed her as the criminal she was.

Despite all of that, she wanted him. Her pussy dripped with need.

Fuck. She was in big, big trouble.

Chapter Three

His mate was tiny, fragile, human.

She wouldn’t survive bonding with him and he couldn’t restrain himself. One touch of her slender fingers had almost caused him to blow metal-melting fire over her extremely flammable form.

His beast bellowed inside him, fighting for dominance, demanding to claim her now. Not even the stench clinging to her dissuaded his Drache. It perversely liked the foul aroma, found it primitive, dirty. Arousing.

His cock pressed against his ass covering.

His mate was equally unhappy with him and also sought to be free. He held onto her wrist as she twisted and thrashed, struggling with a ferocity that excited his beast and belied her size.

She was a creature of contrasts. Her delicate face was covered with dirt. Her short, shaggy black hair looked as though it had been cut with a dull-bladed dagger. The rags she wore concealed her shape.

But she had the most beautiful big brown eyes he’d ever seen. He could stare into them forever, the mixture of innocence and world-weariness enchanting him.

For one heart-wrenching moment, he’d thought she was a child, but his desire and the cynicism in those eyes had eased that concern.

She was a grown female, ready for their bond. The issue was…

He wasn’t.

He’d lose control and his beast would tear her apart. That would destroy him also.

He couldn’t let her go, however. She was his.

“I’m Dare.” He introduced himself to the exquisite being he’d spend the rest of his lifespan with. “What’s your name, female?”

She glanced to the left and to the right, shook her head.

There was no one close to them but he approved of her caution. It must have kept her alive up to this point.

“You can whisper.” Being a Dracheon, he could hear an inhalation from three domiciles away.

“Boy.” Her voice was light and breezy and purely feminine, at odds with her reply. “Call me boy.”

Did other beings believe her to be male? He tilted his head, studying her.

“I won’t call you that. You’re female.” It was impossible to see her as anything other than that. She enthralled him, all parts of him. His balls ached with wanting.

She pursed her lush lips. “Then call me…child.”

She was no child either, but he had to meet her halfway, build her trust. “I’ll call you child…in public.” He agreed to that proposal. “If you tell me your true name.”

She shook her head again, sticking out her dainty chin.

“Very well.” He sighed, regretting having to use tougher tactics with her. “Girl.”

“No.” Her eyes widened. “You’ll get me killed.”

“I won’t allow anyone to hurt you.” He made that vow. She was his to protect. “Tell me your name. I’ll only use it when we’re alone.”

She looked around them again, fidgeting, tugging on her captured wrist.

“We’re alone.” His tone was dry. “Tell me.”

Her gaze lowered, her submission pleasing his beast. “Faylee.”

Faylee. Her name was as delicate as she was.

“Thank you, Faylee.” He brushed his thumb over the inside of her wrist, caressing her skin back and forth, back and forth.

She stared at his hand, appeared captivated by the movement.

Moments passed.

He stroked her, reveling in that physical connection, in the knowledge he’d located her, his mate, his one and only. His Drache rumbled with satisfaction, his beast surprisingly docile, content with the innocent touching.

If it stayed that way until they returned to the Refuge, his female might survive. He would then ask Kralj for assistance with their bonding. The all-powerful male could monitor his thoughts, stop him if he lost control.

His mate would be safe.

He continued to rub his thumb over her skin. She gradually relaxed. Her shoulders lowered and her breathing leveled.

“You’re no longer alone.” He kept his voice soft. “You are mine and I am yours. I will safeguard you. Always.”

Instead of calming her, as he had intended, his words revived the fight within her.

She shook her head vigorously, twisting out of his grip.

He stepped toward her. “Mate—”

“Child.” His mate corrected as she fled, pelting away from him, her small form flying along the pathway.

Dare chased her, his blood pumping. He was a Dracheon, was faster than any human, could catch her easily.

But his beast was outraged she’d escaped him. It needed to burn off some of its excess energy before touching his female again.

And she was heading in the direction he’d planned to take her. He’d purchased chambers in a structure for the upcoming rest cycle, had intended to share them with her.

She turned right and right again. His mate was quick, her tread light and silent. He kept her in view, tracking her by sight and by scent. She navigated the pathways with an ease founded in familiarity.

His mate, Faylee, was as wild and as savage as his Drache. That excited him…too much. He huffed, exhaling smoke.

She reached another intersection of pathways, chose to head left. That was the wrong way.

He propelled himself forward, gripped her shoulder, spun her around. Objects fell out of her garment, pinged against the stone. Her back smacked against the side of a structure.

She gasped. He lifted her until their gazes met. She kicked, her booted feet connecting with air.

Her movements excited his Drache. Claws pricked at his skin. His cock threatened to burst from his ass coverings.

“Unless you want us to mate here and now, be still.” He growled that warning, holding onto his restraint by a strand of her fine black hair. One brush of her body against his would break it. He wanted her that badly.

She froze, her eyes widening.

He breathed in, counted to five, breathed out, breathed in, counted to five, breathed out. His chest pushed against her with each inhalation.

His beast calmed. “Don’t run from me again.” He leaned his forehead against hers. “You belong to me and I belong to you. Resign yourself to that truth.”

“I’m not free.” Her words were barely audible. “I owe credits to Three-eyed Mak.”

He looked at her, at her garments, her scuffed boots. What had she purchased with those credits? “I’ll repay what you owe.”

“The amount is too great for that.” Her breath was surprisingly fresh.

His gaze dropped to her lips. What would she taste like?

No tasting. He mentally shook himself. Tasting led to mating and mating could kill his tiny mate. “Let me worry about the credits.”

Being a Dracheon, he had collected a reasonable-sized hoard over the solar cycles. He carried some of it on him, that weight comforting.

She jutted her cute little chin. “Let me go. There are other beings you can buy, less expensive than I am.”

“There are no other beings for me.” He would never release her. “I’m bringing you back to my chambers.”

“I’m not going with you.” She patted her ragged garments. “And I’m not leaving this pathway without my things. I need them back.”

What did she have? He crouched, maintaining a grip on his mate’s arm, and examined her loot. “Your things? This is a Rebel memory chip.” He picked it up, recognizing the design.

“Give that to me.” She snatched it from him. “It’s mine…for now.”

She plucked two bangles, a tiny knife, and two credits from the ground, stuffed those into her pockets also.

He doubted any of those objects truly belonged to her.

“You’re a thief.” Disappointment filled him. “You have no honor.”

Her eyes narrowed.

He lifted one of his eyebrows. “Am I wrong?”

She spat in his face.

Surprised by her response, he loosened his hold on her. She yanked her wrist out of his grip, turned, took two steps away from him.

“I told you not to run from me.” He hooked his arms around her waist and hauled her backward. She battled to be free. Her body rubbed against his.

His beast roared, grasping control. He bit her nape, puncturing her fragile skin with his sharp teeth. Her blood filled his mouth, the taste intoxicating.

She went limp in his arms. “Don’t.”

The fear in her voice pierced the cloud of lust, appealed to his Drache’s primitive need to protect. He became still.

What the frag was he doing? He had been one wiggle away from ravishing her.

“Don’t run.” His voice was hoarse with emotion. He licked the wound on her neck. His saliva should soothe his mate’s pain.

“I won’t.” She made that promise without hesitation.

He doubted his little thief meant to keep her vow. “I can’t control my beast around you. Don’t provoke it.”

He flipped her around to face him, hefted her over his right shoulder. She weighed nothing, was lighter than the weapons he carried.

“We’re returning to my chambers.” He strapped one of his arms over her legs, securing her to him. “You will follow my lead and remain silent.”

“Or you’ll call me girl in public?” she whispered against his back.

“We’ve already agreed I would call you child in public.” He had honor, kept his vows. “If you make a fuss, the owner of the domicile will evict us. Then I will be forced to strip you and clean you in a pathway like this one, where anyone could wander by, see you.” The mere thought of viewing his mate naked made his cock bob and his beast rumble. “Everyone will know you’re a female.”

“I’ll obey you.” The fight in his mate had temporarily evaporated.

It would return. His instincts told him that.

Seeking to relocate his mate to a space he could control, he carried her toward the domicile. “Who is the true owner of the memory chip?”

“I heard some males call her Vicuska.” She lifted his chest covering, skimmed her small hands over his bare back, her touching driving his Drache wild. “You can’t miss her.” Her tone was derisive. “She has red hair, pale skin, big breasts. You’d like her. All the males do.”

His mate had located the Rebel agent. “Where can I meet with her?”

She slid a dagger out of the sheath strapped against his spine.

“That blade won’t pierce my scales.” He told her before she could use it. “Put it back and answer the question.”

She sighed heavily, as though not being able to stab him had ruined her entire fraggin’ planet rotation. “If I take you to the Rebel female, will you let me go?”

“I’m not letting you go.” He lifted her higher as he merged into a main pathway. Beings rushed around him. “But you will take me to her.”

She sniffed, not answering him. No response seemed to be his mate’s default.

It wasn’t his. “I’ll assume that is a yes.”

She didn’t return the dagger to its rightful place but she didn’t attempt to use it against him either. Her busy little fingers continued to flit over him, her touch lighter than a breath, enthralling his beast.

He increased his speed. If she caressed any lower, his Drache would desire more than the brush of her fingertips. Once they reached his chambers, he could put some much-needed distance between them.

Dare entered the domicile. Heads turned. Some beings, upon seeing Faylee, curled their top lips in disgust.

That was the same response he normally evoked from his fellow Dracheons. They judged him based on his appearance also.

The owner of the structure, a tall, broad Palavian female, hurried toward him. Rings sparkled on the fingers of all of her four hands. “Your chambers have been tidied, sir.” Her smile faded as she spotted his dirt-covered cargo. “This is a respectable establishment. Cave dwellers—”

“Will be respectable once they are tidied.” He handed a sunstone to the female, paying for her tolerance. “I require a delivery of nourishment bars, containers of beverage, a small flight suit, and two more cleaning cloths for the child.”

“The boy is your child.” The owner pressed her palms together, the sunstone tucked discreetly between two of her hands. “That changes everything, sir.” She beamed. “We’ll bring those things to your chambers right away.”

He grunted, not correcting her multiple misconceptions, and walked toward the chambers he had purchased for the rest cycle. If beings thought Faylee was his child, fewer would dare to harm her.

He placed his right hand on the control panel. The doors opened. He carried his mate into the chamber.

It was a utilitarian space with a sleeping support, a horizontal support, one chair. A medium-sized viewscreen hung on one of the walls. Not trusting the owner or the locks, he had left none of his belongings in the space.

He set his dirty female down far from the horizontal support. “I’m removing your garments.”

She predictably shook her head. His mate’s first response was always no.

Undeterred, he reached for the rags covering her form.

She batted his hands away from her. “Turn around. I’ll remove them myself.”

“If I turn around, you’ll dash out of the chamber.” He wasn’t a fool. “I’m removing your garments and cleaning you. That’s it.”

Those two tasks would test his control. Desire for her flowed through his body.

His mate opened her mouth, a protest written all over her filthy face.

“That wasn’t a question.” He looked sternly at her.

She dropped her chin and held out her arms, looking delicate and fragile.

He firmed his resolve. She trusted him not to hurt her. He wouldn’t abuse that trust.

Dare gripped the bottom of her chest covering. The fabric was slightly moist. Swallowing a grimace, he lifted it over her head and tossed it on the floor beside the doors.

His dagger, two flashy rings, the memory chip and other items skittered across the chamber. His lips flattened. His little thief had added to her illicit bounty.

His gaze returned to her and all of his irritation evaporated.

His female was exquisite, her form subtle slopes and gentle dips, dainty and feminine. He wanted to both ravish and protect her, bathe her in his fire and wrap her in his arms.

She wasn’t completely bare from the waist up. Strips of cleaner fabric had been wound tightly around her chest, ruthlessly confining her curves.

She was shapelier than he expected.

He stared at her, both parts of him riveted by the deep valley between her breasts. “You bound your chest.”

His mate gazed at him as though he was lacking intelligence, which he might be, his brains rattled by her near nudity. “Boys don’t have breasts.”

The rags, the stench, the hair, the dirt had all been a disguise. The universe was a harsh place for a female on her own. His mate had survived by acting like a boy.

She was clever…and beautiful.

His gaze drifted over her once more. His fingers twitched.

“I can control my beast.” He told himself.

“Your beast wants to eat me.” She smelled of fear, the scent bothering him.

He was her mate. Even his primitive Drache didn’t wish her to be scared of him. “My beast wants to mate with you.”

Her gaze lowered. “Ohhh…” She gaped at the bulge in his ass coverings.

His cock, liking her attention, bobbed. Her eyes widened.

“When you bit me,” she whispered. “I thought…”

She thought he wanted to kill her. His heart twisted.

He couldn’t assure her he wouldn’t have ended her lifespan. His beast had been free. There was no predicting what he would have done. “Biting is a part of mating for a Dracheon.”

A normal Dracheon ensured the bite wasn’t too deep, that there was no slashing, no ripping. He might not have that restraint.

“I won’t take you. Not now.” He would wait until they returned to the Refuge, where Kralj could help him. “I told you I’d clean you and that’s all we’ll do. I always keep my word.” Even if it killed him. “The bindings will stay on.”

“There are bindings around other places.” She skimmed her fingertips across her hips.

His mouth dried, his mind mentally removing the fabric. “Good.”

He wouldn’t unwrap her. The bindings would remind him of the areas not to touch, put a visual barrier between them, a chain on his beast.

She gazed at him for several moments through her long black lashes, her expression doubtful.

He didn’t move, waiting, waiting, waiting.

“You can clean me.” She finally gave him the permission he desired.

“Thank you, Faylee.” He crouched before her, removed her boots.

They were too large for her feet. The left boot contained a dagger. He set that aside and straightened.

“Turn around.” He instructed, his voice husky.

She obeyed him without a sound.

The silence must be part of her disguise. No one, after hearing her talk, would mistake her for a boy.

“You can speak openly when you’re alone with me.” He tugged her ass coverings downward. More fabric was wrapped around her hips, flattening her curves. “I know your secrets.”

“I’ll try,” she whispered. “I’ve watched my words all my life. It feels strange to speak freely with someone.”

He stared at her. “You’ve been disguised as a boy your entire lifespan?”

She dipped her head. Her shaggy hair fell over her face, partially concealing it.

Frag. Maintaining that act for that long required willpower…and intelligence.

He grasped two cleaning cloths, gave one to her. “Tidy your hands.”

She brushed the fabric over her fingers, revealing brown skin and too many scars. His mate had known pain.

She didn’t say anything.

“The proper reply to that is ‘I will.’” He pushed her for a response.

“I will.” She recited it dutifully.

That pleased him…a bit too much. Dare pushed back his desire.

Starting at the top of his female, he tidied her hair, snapping the cleaning cloth to refresh it. The strands, once clean, were gleaming black, straight, fine, and decadently soft.

“Your hair is beautiful.” He sifted it through his fingers, reveling in that experience.

“I cut it myself.” She looked down at her dirty fingernails.

He smiled. “I wasn’t admiring the style.”

Her lips twitched.

He cupped her chin, lifted her gaze to his. Humor added gold specks to her brown eyes. He flicked the cleaning cloth, converting the dirt to oxygen, and then skimmed it over her forehead. “Why are you on your own? What happened to your parents?”

“I don’t have parents.” Her slender shoulders raised and fell.

“Everyone has parents.” He smoothed her eyebrows. “Mine live on my home planet.” He hadn’t seen them in solar cycles. They refused to associate with him.

His mate pursed her lips. “I’ve belonged to Three-eyed Mak as long as I can remember.”

She belonged to him now. He kept that comment to himself, snapped the cleaning cloth, ran it down her nose. “Why do you owe him credits?”

Her gaze lowered once more. “I wasn’t always as skilled as I am now. He protected me, ensured I ate, drank.”

Three-eyed Mak had done that for a price. Dare’s lips flattened. “He forced you to steal for him.” He rubbed the dirt off her chin.

A dark bruise colored the skin along her jaw. He growled, a red-hot rage coursing through him. Someone had hit his mate.

Not trusting himself, he retreated to the far side of the chamber, putting a safe distance between him and Faylee. His claws extended. Fire burned in his chest. His beast wanted to punish, hurt, rip the being to pieces.

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