Once More: A Warlord Brides Short Story
Starr Huntress & Nancey Cummings
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas ran through my head the entire time I wrote this.
Half the story is very fluffy, the other half a bit more serious. The whole thing is very baby-centric with a generous helping of missing your dear ones even when circumstances keep us apart.
How fitting for 2020.
Daisy’s section looks a bit grim. I’m sorry. It deals with fertility issues and miscarriage. Daisy and Mylomon are my most requested couple for these short stories but they were in a tough spot in my head, so I was reluctant to write about them. (Nothing to jeopardize their HEA.) It took me awhile to figure out a solution to their problem, so I have a plan. We won’t get a resolution for another two books, I think.
Chapter One: Rosemary and Mene
Five minutes’ peace. All Rosemary needed was five minutes alone with her husband but no, apparently that was too much to ask for.
The entire Rhew family gathered every year for Golau, the holiday that marked midwinter. Hazel, her alien husband Seeran took the guest bedroom. Their son, Gavran, shared with Michael. Tani and Oran—the parental in-laws—basically lived in Rosemary and Mene’s house, only leaving to sleep. In fact, Rosemary heard the clanking of pans in the kitchen which meant Tani had left herself in and was making breakfast.
Hopefully, it was pancakes. The older woman had gotten quite skilled in making Earth food and pancakes were one of Michael’s favorites.
One more day. Hazel and company would return to their spaceship, and Rosemary might find the quiet moment to speak to Mene.
The day started with a hectic pace and did not relent until she was halfway up a mountain, trudging through the snow because someone had the bright idea to go sledding.
Michael carefully held his cousin Gavran’s hand. The toddler—he was nearly three, even if he looked twice his age—appeared surprisingly human. Rosemary shouldn’t have been surprised. The Mahdfel looked like their mothers. But Gavran looked so much like Michael when he had been that age. Okay, not exactly that age. Michael had not nearly been that tall, but the blonde hair and round face made the resemblance uncanny.
Gavran bounced with excitement. Snow crunched and little plumes shot into the air. Mene and Seeran flanked them on either side, dwarfing the children and carrying snow sleds.
“It’s so cold my boogers froze,” Michael announced loudly, his voice drifting above the crowd.
“Mine too!” Gavran bounced in agreement.
Rosemary closed her eyes and groaned internally. Boys.
“That is unlikely,” Seeran said. “Your body temperature is too warm and prevents mucus in your sinus cavities from freezing.”
“I dunno,” Michael said dubiously and scrubbed a gloved hand at his nose.
“An interesting fact,” Seeran continued, “when your body temperature drops, your body redirects blood to your vital organs to keep them warm. This raises your blood pressure, which prompts your kidney to filter out fluid, making you urinate.”
“Cool,” both boys crooned in unison.
“I have to pee right now!” Gavran’s voice carried. A few people in the crowd appeared startled.
Rosemary touched her abdomen.
“Seeran, can you take care of him? I’ll wait for you over there.” Hazel pointed to a pavilion complete with a hot drinks bar, tables and heaters.
“Good thinking. My old bones don’t enjoy the cold,” Tani said. Bundled in a heavy coat and a thick scarf that dwarfed the woman, her violet complexion peeked out from the white wool. Gray hair whipped in the wind.
Rosemary shivered, feeling that wind cut through all her layers. Getting off her feet and drinking something hot sounded amazing right then.
Her thoughts must have been all over her face because Mene lightly touched her shoulder. “Rest. Seeran and I will entertain the young ones.” He paused, as if inspecting her for a weakness. “Are you well?”
Mene removed her sunglasses, holding her gaze. She woke that morning with a headache and queasy that never went away. She knew the reason and was desperate to tell him, but she wasn’t prepared to blurt it out in the middle of a crowd of people on the side of a mountain.
Rosemary snatched the sunglasses back and slipped them back on. “The sunlight is not helping my headache. I think I’ll pass on the sledding.”
He nodded. When Seeran and Gavran returned from the facilities, the group continued up the hill with their sleds.
Hazel ordered a rich, chocolate-like drink topped with cream and chunks of crystalized honey and an equally frothy pastry. Normally such a concoction would be Rosemary’s preferred poison, but the decadent aroma did not sit well with her stomach that day. Tani ordered a mint and ginger tea for herself and Rosemary.
She accepted the tea, giving her mother-in-law a cautious look. Nothing got by the older woman. If she suspected the cause of Rosemary’s upset stomach, she was playing close to her chest.
“For your headache,” Tani said. Then winked.
The trio found a table near a heating unit that offered a magnificent view of the slope. Spotting Mene and Seeran in the distance proved easy as they stood a good head taller than anyone else in the mostly Sangrin crowd.
“I miss weather,” Hazel said. Bundled up in a thick scarf, sweater, parka, heavy fleece-lined boots and topped with a knit hat, she looked like a picture perfect snow bunny. Her cheeks flushed rosy from the cold. “Rain. Snow. And twilight, like when the sun is just about to go down and the cicadas start to sing.” She gave a dreamy sigh. “It’s all the same on the ship.”
“I bet you don’t miss freezing your butt off on a winter morning waiting for the car to warm up,” Rosemary said.
“Fair. I also don’t miss hurricane season or vacuuming up sand every day. Living by the beach sounded a lot nicer than it turned out to be because of all the dang sand.”
Rosemary curled her hand around the mug, letting the heat seep into her fingers. The scent of mint drifted up, soothing her stomach. She had her suspicions—all right; she knew—why she felt queasy, but she wasn’t ready for confirmation yet. If she told Mene she thought she was pregnant, he’d go into over-protective mode. He’d swaddle her up with bubble wrap and she’d never be allowed to leave the house.
She had been looking forward to their family day on the slopes as much as Michael. When she and Hazel had been Michael’s age, their parents did not have the money for vacations in the mountains. Then the invasion happened and no one took vacations for a while. After Michael was born, taking a day off work to play in the snow was a luxury she couldn’t afford.
“Oh my god, this is amazing.” Hazel shoved half a sugar and fruit covered pastry at her. “There’s honey and nuts and something like strawberries.”
The thought of strawberries made her stomach turn. “Not right now. Too sweet for me,” she said.
Her sister looked at her with suspicion, rightly so. Rosemary had a sweet tooth and never passed on dessert. “Are you alright? You look peaky,” Hazel said.
“When I was pregnant with all three of my males, all I wanted was salt,” Tani said with a nod.
Hazel’s eyes went wide.
“Too bad Lorran couldn’t come,” Rosemary said, deflecting.
“That was the plan, but he wasn’t on the shuttle this morning. He must have a mission.”
Hazel shook her head. “Seeran doesn’t tell me the details. Lorran leaves, Lorran returns in a few days. That’s all I know.” She picked at her pastry, pulling off pieces. Eventually, she said, “Seeran is worried about Lorran, I think.”
“Lorran?” Rosemary had difficulty imaging her perpetually cheery and good-natured brother-in-law being anything to worry about.
“He hasn’t said it in so many words, but he gets that look.” Hazel demonstrated with a sort of disapproving frown mixed with a look of confusion.
“Oh my god, Mene has that look, too. It’s his why-are-humans-so-weird look.”
“Well, it’s a why-is-Lorran-so-weird look.”
“But Lorran? He’s the most easy-going guy I know,” Rosemary said.
“No, he’s great, and did we luck out on a brother-in-law, but I think Seeran’s right. Something’s up with Lorran. He’s not the same.” Hazel finished her pastry.
“Oran believes he needs focus,” Tani said.
“Seeran, too,” Hazel agreed.
Seeran thought everyone needed focus. Rosemary liked Hazel’s husband, she did, but he was a bit… tightly wound. The guy just couldn’t relax. She once thought that of her own alien husband, Mene, but knew better now. Mene could be playful in private moments. Perhaps Seeran was the same.
“It can’t be easy working with your brother,” Rosemary said.
“Mene works with their dad.”
“Mene works for the Council, not Oran,” Tani corrected.
“And it’s not all peaches and cream,” Rosemary added. The thought of the sweet fruit, the fuzzy texture of the skin, soaked in rich cream made her stomach lurch.
Her discomfort must have shown because Hazel said, “Are you sick? What’s wrong?”
“No, she is pregnant,” Tani said, her eyes sparkling. “Yes? I am correct?”
Rosemary nodded. “You’re correct.”
“What?!” Hazel jumped up and rushed Rosemary for a hug.
“I mean, I think I am. I haven’t taken a test yet or seen a doctor,” Rosemary managed to say around a mouthful of her sister’s hair.
“Does Mene know? No, of course not. He’d be babying you if he did.” Hazel pulled her chair closer before sitting down.
“No, I’ve been waiting for the right moment to tell him. And don’t tell him or drop hints,” she said, leveling her best mom-stare at Tani.
The older woman held up her hands. “You have my word. I will keep secrets from my son for you.”
“It’s not a secret. I just haven’t had time and everyone is packed in the house for Golau—” When she shared her news with Mene, she wanted that moment to be just for them, not Michael, Hazel, Seeran, Gavran, Tani, Oran and Lorran and the neighbors and ransom strangers. Just her and her alien. “I keep expecting him to figure it out. Like, can’t the Mahdfel smell a pregnancy?” She swore she heard the rumor somewhere.
Hazel made a dismissive noise. “No. Oh, but once the baby’s heart is formed, he can hear the heartbeat. Seeran could hear Gavran when he put his ear on my belly. He said our hearts beat together like we were having a conversation.” A gooey smile crossed her face, and honestly, it was a bit weird.
“Was it difficult?” Michael hadn’t been the easiest pregnancy. Her morning sickness was an all-day affair and never went away. She worried about vitamins and high blood pressure and all the complications that happened. She carried Michael when she was twenty. Now that she reached thirty, her knees ached in the morning and gray had the audacity to show up in her hair. Having a pregnancy now had to be more stressful on her body.
“Only at the end, when I was enormous. You know this, we talked every day.”
“Maybe you were holding back the gross stuff. I didn’t share the gory details of Michael with you.”
“You did! I held your hair when you puked,” Hazel said.
“Mene was a strong baby. Big. Kicked me all the time.” Tani sighed. “I enjoyed being pregnant. I miss having a baby in the house.”
Hazel tapped on her wrist communicator. “I’m ordering a pregnancy test. It’ll be waiting for you at home.”
“Will a Sangrin test work on a human?”
“Oh, good question. We’re compatible, right, so probably?”
“No, the Mahdfel are compatible with humans and Sangrins, that doesn’t mean humans and Sangrins are compatible with each other.” The two people had plenty of similarities: bipedal, similar size, similar sized planet, and diet. Even the atmosphere on Sangrin was similar to Earth’s.
Hazel shrugged. “The product description says it works for humans. We’ll find out.”
Hours later, her men wore themselves out in the snow. During dinner in which Tani made several ominous comments about vitamins and proper nutrition, but only Hazel seemed to notice. The family gathered in the chilly night air, lit and released lanterns for another year of luck and good fortune.
“I know what I’m wishing for,” Tani said, jabbing Rosemary sharply with her elbow.
So subtle. Still, her mother-in-law had kept her word and did not blurt out the news of Rosemary’s pregnancy, even though she practically vibrated with excitement.
Rosemary wished for the health of her family and a healthy baby.
Michael and Gavran only went to the bed with the promise that Santa would arrive in the night and they’d open presents in the morning and made them settle into sleep. Or something like sleep. Tani would only leave until Hazel promised to drink more herbal tea. Seeran and Hazel retired to the guest room.
Curled up on the comfy chair, she sipped another mug of ginger tea. It seemed to be the only thing that actually kept the nausea at bay. Snow fell softly outside the window. It wasn’t Christmas Eve—not according to the universal calendar—but the night had that peaceful feel.
Tomorrow morning would be the chaotic cacophony of presents, grandparents, and the entire family shoved into her home—minus Lorran. There’d be too much food, the family’s special ice wine, too many people talking all at once, and she loved every minute. When darkness fell, it snowed lightly. They lit lanterns and let them float into the night, carrying wishes for the coming year.
Rosemary found it hard to believe how her life changed three years ago, when Hazel twisted her arm to get to her visit for the Sangrin midwinter holiday. She had been mistrustful of aliens, of the Mahdfel, and leaving Earth was the last thing she wanted.
She was big enough to admit she had been wrong on every account.
Mene had not been her friend—or even friendly — when they met, but their love grew from moment to moment, slow and steady and solid. There was no one she trusted more, respected more or loved more. Well, excluding her son.
She needed to make an appointment with a Mahdfel medic, and soon. If there was a prescription that could ease her nausea—
“Rosemary, what is this?”
Mene held a plastic stick in one hand.
“You dug that out of the trash?” His mate snatched the device from his hands.
“No. It was on the counter in the cleansing room,” he said.
“Tani,” she muttered. “That conniving woman. I made her swear not to tell you.” She grabbed the throw blanket off her favorite chair and wrapped it around herself. A lumber Earth animal native to the cold climates decorated the blue and white fabric. Mene never really understood the point of adorning a covering meant to keep a person warm with a cold animal. It made no sense, but the blanket was his mate’s favorites.
“Let’s go outside. Sound goes right up the stairwell, and I’d rather the entire family not listen in,” she said.
He did not wish to speak outside in the cold, but he followed his mate to the back patio. “Rosemary—”
He faltered for words. Suspicion and hope flared bright in his chest.
She stepped into his arms and laid her head against his chest. “We’re going to have a baby.”
“That’s the only way you make them.”
His arms tightened, and he lifted her up with a whoop of joy. He spun her around, snow landing on her pale hair. The blanket fluttered to the ground.
“Oh my god, put me down. I’m going to barf,” she said.
Mene set her down but did not relax his hold. He felt too full, like his chest would burst from the joy of the news. “This is wonderful! Why did you not tell me immediately?”
A window rattled open. “For the love of the stars, some of us require rest.” Seeran’s voice drifted down, gruff from interrupted sleep.
“We’re having a son!” Mene shouted up.
“Congratulations, but be quiet. If you wake my son—”
A second window rattled open. “Mom? Dad? Am I really going to have a brother?” Michael asked.
Mene’s heart warmed every time Michael called him father. He would never grow tired of that gift.
“Yes,” Rosemary said.
“That’s so cool. Can we get a puppy, too?”
“Yes,” Mene said at the same moment Rosemary said no.
She eyed him critically. “We’ll talk about it in the morning. Now get back to bed or Santa won’t come.”
“Don’t ruin Santa! Mike, hurry!” Gavran said in hushed tones.
Mene’s comm unit chimed with an incoming message. He recognized the melody as being the one assigned to his mother.
His mate recognized the tune, as well. “She swore she wouldn’t tell.”
“Apparently your sister informed her that the feline has been released,” he read. “She’ll be over in the morning.” The tone of the message implied that his mother had no intention of leaving. She would be on hand for the duration of the pregnancy. That was… troubling.
Rosemary buried her face into his chest. “That is why I wanted to tell you in private. This place is a zoo.”
“It will only grow more chaotic.” He nuzzled the top of her head. She smelled of cold, melting snow and floral soap. His mate. Three years ago Golau delivered him a precious gift, greater than he dated hope for, and the wonder of the season delivered again. “We’ll fill the house with children.”
“Yeah, back it up, sugarplum.” Rosemary tilted her face up to meet his gaze. “I’m excited and so happy, but I’m thirty. I’m worried about complications.”
“Tomorrow we will speak with the medic. You will do no work. None. You must rest. Do you hunger? I noticed that you did not eat well this evening, which is unacceptable. You need to keep your strength up.” There was so much to do.
“There’s the bubble wrap. I’m fine for now, but I’ve been nauseous.”
The window rattled again. “Mom? Dad? I really think a puppy is a good idea. If we get one now, I can practice being a big brother.”
Rosemary laughed softly. “Go to bed. Santa can’t come if you’re awake.”
“Mom, I’m not a baby—”
“No, Mike! Don’t ruin Santa!” Gavran squeaked.
The window rattled shut again.
Mene retrieved the fallen blanket, shook off the dusting of snow, and placed it over his mate’s shoulders.
“Say something,” she said. Snowflakes melted the instant they landed on her head.
“I am too fortunate. I often worry that I will wake and discover I’ve dreamed the last few years.”
“No. There’s no way I’ve dreamed—” The window rattled again, and Rosemary rolled her eyes. “Michael Rovelli! I will personally tell Santa to take us off his delivery route if you do not get back in that bed, mister.”
“Why is my son worried we will trade him for a juvenile canine?” Seeran asked.
“Oh my gosh,” Rosemary groaned.
Mene laughed, overcome with joy. The darkest days of winter had gifted him with a mate and her child. He loved them with such ferocity that it shook him to his core. He loved the chaos, his meddling mother, his grumpy brother, his excitable son, and soon there would be more.
More noise. More laughter. More bedtime stories, even if the Earth fables were disturbing. More hugs and sticky kisses from his son. Sons. More chaos.
He couldn’t wait.
Chapter Two: Daisy and Mylomon
Mylomon inspected her winter gear. He zipped the coat, adjusted her hat and wrapped the scarf around to cover most of her face. He nodded, wordlessly deciding them adequate, but still he frowned. “You should rest. I do not like this cavorting in the snow.”
“It’s a market. Literally walking and shopping. Zero cavorting,” Daisy said. Already sweating, she unwound the scarf and unzipped the coat.
“You have not had time to recover.”
“I’m fine and Kalen gave me the all clear. Plus, he’ll be there.” Honestly, Daisy would scream if she had to spend one more day on bedrest. A trip down to the planet’s surface might be ambitious but there was nothing wrong with her.
“Kalen will be distracted by his mate,” he said, sourly.
True. Meridan monopolized a lot of his attention, justifiably so.
“I’ll be fine. We’ll have a wonderful time and you’ll go off and do your super secret whatever.”
“It’s a bit more technical than whatever. I apologize for breaking our plans. I would be with you if possible.”
Daisy gave it her best fake smile. She was a touch disappointed but consideration for her feelings was the last thing on the warlord’s list of concerns, and what was one more disappointment? “Hurry home.”
“I will never be far and you are always with me.” He lightly touched the small tattoo on his chest, her namesake. He carried her with him, wherever the warlord sent him.
Daisy stretched up on her toes and planted a kiss on his chin. “I’ll take it easy and buy you something pretty.”
Mylomon crouched down and leveled a serious look at Estella. “Warrior, watch over your mother and aunt. Assist your father in this.”
Estella nodded. Her light brown hair had worked its way out of its braid. Wisps and curls framed her face. “I will not fail my mission.”
She grabbed Daisy’s hand and tugged her up the ramp. Nearly ten, she was small for her age but surprisingly strong. “Hurry up. Why are you so slow, Aunt Daisy?”
“Don’t be rude, mija,” Meridan said. She made her way up the ramp as quickly as her very pregnant belly allowed, which was glacial. “We’re all moving slow today.”
Laughing, Daisy waved once more to her alien husband. Estella shared a grumpy disposition with Kalen, which delighted her.
Inside the shuttle, she buckled her safety harness and waited for Kalen to finish fussing over Meridan. She blinked, distressed to find her lashes wet. The air was dry. It wasn’t because Mylo had to ditch their plans at the last minute and he just said goodbye.
This wasn’t goodbye. Just a come-home-soon.
The words tore through her.
It wasn’t even really Christmas. It was the Sangrin midwinter equivalent: Golau. Sure, there were lights and decorations and special treats, but it wasn’t Christmas, so it didn’t matter if her husband had to ditch her. She wasn’t alone for the holiday; she thought stubbornly, despite sitting next to her sister, because it wasn’t a proper holiday.
“Do you think they’ll have something like coquito?” Daisy asked, craving the rich and creamy beverage.
“They have a mulled wine,” her sister answered.
“You can’t drink wine.” Not with Meridan being super pregnant. “Remember how Mama made coquito without rum and then Paper would add it behind her back?”
Meridan laughed. “Mama kept saying that it was just as good without and no one could tell the difference!”
The sisters smiled at the memory.
The shuttle gave a small lurch as they entered the Sangrin atmosphere. In short order, they arrived at the mountain town and Kalen fussed over Meridan.
Cold air braced against her skin. Despite the exhaust fumes, the air smelled fresh. At least, different from the recycled and filtered atmosphere of the ship. She adjusted her scarf, looping the length around her neck.
“Enough. I’m fine,” Meridan said, batting Kalen’s hand away.
“You are in discomfort,” Kalen answered.
“And who’s fault is that?” She rubbed her stomach. “Exercise is good for me.”
“You will rest and not overexert yourself.”
Daisy looked away from the squabbling couple, focusing on the colorful stalls and the wonderful smells of food in the air. Because she wasn’t jealous and everything was fine. She was fine. So what if Meridan was a few weeks away from giving birth and Daisy desperately wanted a baby and it just wasn’t happening? She was happy for her sister. So happy.
“Papa, look!” Estella grabbed Kalen by the hand and dragged him to a sweets booth.
A light touch at her shoulder snagged her attention. “You okay?” Meridan asked.
Daisy forced a smile, because now wasn’t the time to throw herself a pity party. “Just wish Mylo was here. The warlord always sends him away and no one can tell me anything about it because you know, he’s all Kitty Pride.” Daisy wiggled her fingers.
“I have no idea what those words mean in that order.”
“You know. Estella goes bamf like Nightcrawler and Mylo walks through walls like Kitty Pryde.”
“X-Men? I know we watched those movies.”
“Oh. Oooh,” she said, as if she remembered. Then, “You lost me.”
Daisy huffed in amusement, her breath steaming in the air. “How is that going? Mylo stopped her lessons last month.” Both Mylomon and Estella were foundlings, children stolen by the Suhlik and used for experimentations. The warlord assigned him the responsibility of teaching Estella control. She knew they shared a special connection but the private lessons stopped to allow him to focus on her care.
From the first moment of her last pregnancy until the miscarriage, he had been at her side, urging her to rest. Every fluctuation in her blood pressure had been scrutinized. He monitored what she ate, what she drank and insisted that she stay off her feet as much as possible.
For all the good it did them.
“She doesn’t do that much anymore,” Meridan said, breaking Daisy’s maudlin spiral.
“What? Like Estella refuses?”
“I think she can’t,” Meridan said. “It got harder and harder and then it just vanished.”
“But Mylo’s ability never vanished?”
“He’s Mahdfel. Estella’s human. Maybe whatever the Suhlik did to her didn’t take or needs a booster? Maybe she just outgrew it?” Meridan shrugged. “Handmade soap. Let’s go check that out.”
Daisy felt scandalized that Meridan never mentioned this ground shaking revelation about her niece, but she swallowed her natural impulse to poke at that feeling like a sore tooth. Meridan had her reasons—however wrong they were.
They entertained themselves wandering from stall to stall, admiring the handcrafted wares Daisy insisted on frequent rest stops, claiming the new boots hurt her feet, because she knew Meridan would never admit that her back hurt or she was out of breath.
Estella ran back and forth between her parents, begging for treats or to play games or presents. Eventually a bright blue stuffed animal with a lopsided grin and button eyes captured her imagination. She begged to play a ring-toss game. When she failed, Kalen did what was necessary and tossed rings. Using the distraction, Daisy very sneakily bought a pair of fluffy monster—well, she thought it was a monster but it could have been some sort of Sangrin animal—slippers with matching pajamas that Estella had made eyes at.
The stall with mulled wine also sold hot chocolate. Daisy stood patiently in line. The entire time, Meridan kept trying to pump her for information about Med Bay. Daisy took over Meridan’s patients a few days ago when Meridan’s high blood pressure required that she stop working and rest.
“Did you schedule—”
“Meridan, no,” Daisy said.
“What about monitoring—”
“Stop talking about work. You’re on maternity leave.”
“God, I know. I’m sorry.” Meridan played with the buttons on her coat. “It’s just, you know, I feel I’m rubbing your nose in it.”
Daisy jerked, nearly dropping the hot chocolate. “You’re not. I’m happy for you.”
“I just wish it was you. I know you want this.” Meridan rubbed her belly. “I feel like I have to keep a brave face on, for you.”
“Oh, that is the dumbest thing you’ve said in years. Now go sit your behind down while I order us those things that look like churros.”
Meridan groaned, a look of ravenous hunger on her face. “If they have a dipping sauce, get two. And those pickled radish things!”
“Your pregnancy cravings are so gross.” Daisy once watched Meridan dip an entire pickled radish into a jar of caramel and munch through it like, well, anything but a giant pickled radish.
Meridan fiddled with the lip on her hot chocolate when Daisy returned with two plates of powdered sugar covered almost-churros and a variety of dipping sauce. She didn’t ask about the pickled radish, but Daisy could tell it disappointed her.
“I asked. The guy said no,” Daisy said.
Meridan took a bite and groaned. “Not a churro but still good, like an eclair with no filling.”
Estella materialized at Daisy’s elbow, not with a Nightcrawler bamf but the old-fashioned draw of a child to sugar. She was all enormous eyes, wild hair and clutching a massive blue stuffed animal. “Can I have a bite?”
Daisy melted inside, because while she was a teensy bit jealous at the amazing family that Meridan was making, this was also her family.
“Absolutely, you may. Let’s split this one.” Daisy scooted over on the bench to make room for Estella and her new companion. “Who’s your friend?”
“His name is Ramon, and he’s for my brother.” She patted the toy’s head, leaving a bit of powdered sugar in the synthetic fur.
“Excellent choice. Ramon looks like he’d be the best friend for a little brother.”
“Now I don’t have to share Watson,” she said with a sag nod, speaking on her ancient and much loved teddy bear.
Meridan coughed, choking on her non-churro. Daisy laughed and planted her own sugary, sticky kiss on Estella’s head.
The atmosphere changed, and the crowd drifted from the stalls and concessions to the center square. Kalen cleaned up their snack and herded them to the center.
Lanterns, more lanterns that Daisy could imagine, were arranged in a geometric pattern on the ground. By some unspoken rule, the crowd moved forward and people selected a lantern for themselves.
Daisy and Estella retrieved enough lanterns for everyone and returned to the bench where Meridan wait. A small stick of wax sat at the bottom of the paper lantern. Kalen showed them how to crack the wax stick, which started a chemical reaction, and explained that the lanterns carried wishes of good fortune to Eternal Mother and Father.
The soft glow spread through the lantern. Estell whispered to the lantern, then smiled in delight. The light cast shadows across her face. Eventually, the lantern lifted from her hands and floated away. Daisy’s followed, joined by the rest, and whispered her own wish. Lanterns drifted into the sky, creating a bright cluster that slowly dispersed.
Meridan slung an arm around Daisy. She sang the words to their mama’s favorite carol, the one from the old movie. The song had been popular during a world war and became popular again that first Christmas during the Suhlik invasion.
Daisy joined in, her voice shaky. When they got in the line about being together soon, she choked up. She wiped gracelessly with gloved hands, frustrated that she always got choked up on that line.
“I will not ask what you wished for,” Meridan said.
“Good, because if I told you, it won’t come true.” She eyed the way Meridan’s stomach bulged out from her coat. There honestly was no reason to ask what she wished for. It was obvious.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Estella’s… change,” Meridan said. “You have so much on your plate right now with taking over my patients and Mylomon doing whatever it is for the warlord.”
A tired chuckle escaped from her lips. “You’re worried about me? You look like you’re going to pop.”
“I can be pregnant and worry about my sister. I am a complex, multifaceted woman,” Meridan said with a wry grin.
“I’m not worried. I mean, okay, I am. I love her. I worry. Those go hand in hand. But Kalen won’t let anything happen to her,” she said, knowing the truth of those words in her heart. Kalen wouldn’t allow anything to befall his daughter. He’d move the stars in the sky if need be. She saw exactly what he did to save Meridan’s life back when they were stationed at the moon base. “He’s probably taking scans while she sleeps,” Daisy teased.
“Oh my god, I was joking.”
Meridan huffed with amusement, her breath fogging in the air. “I worried that you’d get caught up in the what-ifs.”
Daisy leaned against Meridan, her head resting on her shoulder, and watched the night’s sky. A group of kids started a snowball fight, and Estella dashed off to join. Kalen tossed them a concerned look before following.
She pondered Meridan’s words. What if? If Estella’s Suhlik engineered abilities could vanish, could Mylo’s? Was it because she was still growing? Who knew what puberty would do when it finally arrived. Hormones plus genetically engineered abilities could not be a stable mix. Mylo was very much grown.
Daisy let go any idea that his ability would magically disappear. There wasn’t a miracle solution, other than patience.
Her most recent pregnancy lasted the longest, nearly three months. Kalen had monitored her progress closely with exames twice a week. She took a regimen designed for organ transplant recipients, all to keep her immune system repressed and give the unborn fetus as much time to develop as possible.
It didn’t take.
Whatever extra genetic tinkering the Suhlik subjected Mylomon to when he was a child affected him still. Kalen speculated that his abilities were passed onto the baby.
Getting pregnant: easy. Staying pregnant: tricky.
He felt confident it could be done but he still gave her a six-month birth control shot to give her body time to recover.
“How much as Kalen told you about our problem?” Daisy asked.
“Nothing,” Meridan answered, which earned a snort from Daisy. “Honestly, nothing. He respects patient confidentiality.”
“It’s difficult. Everything is all systems go on my side but Mylo is complex.” She thought back to the bloodwork, taking her temperature, blood pressure, monitoring the fetus and waiting. Always waiting. “I have to be patient. I know. I know.”
“But it’s hard.”
Daisy let out a deep sigh. “So hard. And I’m 98% happy for you and 2% envious mixed with a smidge of woe-is-me.”
“Such a drama llama,” her sister said.
Daisy grinned at the tone because it wasn’t pity, fake optimism or empty platitudes about how things will work out, it was just Meridan being Meridan. “I miss Mylo when he’s away doing whatever for Paax.”
“I know, carina.”
“He’d be arguing with Kalen about the silliest things.”
“Yeah, I don’t miss that so much. They’re both so stubborn and always think they’re right.”
Snow fell gently in thick, fluffy flakes, which melted as soon as they hit her face.
Daisy had so much to be thankful for. It was easy to let the shadows crowd out the light, to focus on what she lacked, and ignore what she had.
She had an amazing partner that she loved with every breath in her body and knew he felt the same.
She had her family; her sister, brother-in-law, niece and soon a nephew. Even better, she had the privilege to watch Estella grow. Chance and a random genetic match could have taken Meridan to any part of the galaxy, but it planted her in the same place as herself. She had challenging work that she enjoyed. She was privileged enough to stand on another planet and watch winter wishes float away in the night.
Daisy lifted her face to the sky, reveling in the gentle dusting of snow that melted as soon as it touched her. A slow smile spread across her face. What she had was precious and worth waiting for. A child with Mylomon would come, with patience and love.
After all, the people dear to her were never far and would return once more.
Mylomon watched as his mate boarded the shuttle. They had planned the trip to the holiday Night Market for some time, but a situation arose at the last minute that required his unique talents. He could not tell the warlord no, as much as he disliked disappointing his mate. She had not spoken the words, but he heard it in her voice.
He could not give Daisy what she wanted. He could not give her adequate time, only the time he snatched from between missions, and he could not give her a child.
She never complained, but he saw the longing on her face when she looked at her very pregnant sister.
Frustration shimmered inside him. Daisy gave him so much and asked for so little. She celebrated the moments they had together and loved him beyond measure—which continued to baffle him.
And he could not even give her a simple evening on Sangrin’s surface, let alone the other issue.
“The sooner started, the sooner done,” he muttered.
Of course, his partner for this mission was not waiting in their ship. Why would anything go according to schedule? Mylomon had arrived early, ran through the pre-flight checklist before taking a break to bid his mate farewell.
He checked the schedule. Departure would happen soon, with or without his assigned partner.
Mylomon switched on the comm link. “Lorran, status update.”
“On my way. I’ll be there before the seat warmers get toasty,” the male said, his voice distorted by the comm link.
“I will leave with or without you on board,” he warned.
“I’ll be there. Can’t have you go off on a mission without my smiling face.” The male’s breath was labored, as if running.
Good. He should be running. But also shameful, as the male was so unfit as to be short of breath. He would have words with Seeran about his staff’s training regime.
This mission would be nothing but a headache. He rubbed the base of his horn, already feeling the discomfort.
Footsteps pounded up the ramp.
“Initiating launch protocols,” Mylomon said, pressing a command to raise the ramp and seal the hatching.
The male tossed himself in the seat and fastened the safety harness.
“You are late,” Mylomon said.
“Cookies, Mylo, and I brought enough to share.” The male produced a half smashed paper bag and gave it a shake. He held out a chocolate chip cookie to Mylomon. “Yes?”
“No. I do not enjoy sweet foods.”
“More for me.” Lorran shoved the entire disk in his mouth and grinned, as if pleased with himself. “You’re missing out,” he said, chewing and speaking and generally being disgusting all at once.
Crumbs sprayed on the console.
Mylomon had enough.
“Warrior, I do not want you here,” he said, his voice low and in that threatening tone he used to put fear into the stubborn. “I can perfectly conduct this mission on my own, as I have done several times before. You are only here as a favor to your brother, who is concerned that you lack focus. I see his concern is justified.”
“I have focus,” Lorran protested, crumbs falling from his mouth like a child.
“That is the incorrect response.”
Mylomon huffed. “Not a compliment. I see that you do, indeed, lack focus, but also discipline. Your brother has coddled you and I will not.”
“Seeran does not coddle me.”
“Spoken like a coddled youngest male of three brothers.”
“That attitude wins you a lot of friends?”
Mylomon paused, not amused by the insubordinate’s male attempt at deflection. “I do not need friends.”
Lorran opened his mouth, no doubt to illuminate Mylomon some bit of wisdom—or worse, offer to be his friend— but an alert from navigation interrupted him.
Mylomon released the clamps and eased the ship to exit the hangar.
“I am the pilot. I should do this.” Lorran wiped a hand across the chest of his armor. “Give me the helm.”
“No. That is unnecessary.” Mylomon would be damned before he gave the helm to that irresponsible fool. He promised to return to his mate and did not like the probability of that occurring if Lorran piloted the ship.
Grumbling about ego, Lorran pulled out a tablet. “I see the pre-flight checklist has been completed.”
“We would not have departed otherwise.” Stars help him. He thought of pleasant things, like how his mate hummed under her breath while doing menial tasks.
“What about this delivered item? The manifest does not list the contents.”
“There was no delivery,” Mylomon said. Perhaps it occurred between his completing the checklist and seeing his mate off at her departure. He had only left the ship for a few moments.
“Hmm, well, I will focus and verify the delivery. Hopefully, it is a pleasant surprise and not doom.” Lorran unfastened the harness and disappeared into the back of the ship.
“It is not doom,” Mylomon muttered.
While not overly large, the ship had room enough for two warriors and sleeping berths. Soon Lorran would grow bored with his company, and Mylomon could enjoy the quiet. He disliked being away from Daisy, but he enjoyed the isolation and peace of working on his own. On the Judgement, too many people required his attention and Paax always had some task.
He did not require a pilot, as he demonstrated. Lorran was there as a failsafe in case Mylomon was too injured or otherwise impaired to get himself home. Returning to Daisy was his top priority. He could tolerate Lorran for her.
Lorran’s voice came through the comm. “Um, sir, we have a problem.”
Lorran and Mylomon’s adventure picks up with in the next book in the Warriors of Sangrin series, now available for preorder.
Checklist for a top secret mission:
Pack your favorite knife
Befriend your fellow badass
Ensure that you have plenty of explosives
What’s this about a stowaway?
Lorran has wanted nothing more than to find his mate for years. Now fate unexpectedly delivers a luscious human female in the midst of a dangerous mission.
His warlord says he lacks focus and discipline. He’s never been more focused in his life but it’s hard to stay on task with an invasion fleet headed his way. Even more troubling, his mate refuses to believe that he wants everything with her.
He’ll win the female’s heart, save the day and the whole damn galaxy.
Wyn knows all about good-looking, charming guys.
Lorran is no different. Well, other than being a massive purple alien. He promises forever but the last man who promised her that got bored and left.
She won’t risk it. The alien may possess her body, but he won’t claim her heart.