I’m sharing another chapter of Lorran.
“Oh, goody. The patriarchy.” Sonia stood in the front door, her arm braced against the doorframe. A profoundly serious soldier stood on the other side, not impressed with Sonia’s attitude. “It must be someone’s birthday,” she said dryly.
“It’s my birthday!” Wyn threw her hands in the air and nearly fell over. She grabbed at the counter’s edge and hauled herself upright. She barely slept last night from nerves. Exhaustion made her slap happy, but never off-balance. “Hey, what’s in this coffee?”
“Miss Davies?” The soldier stared down at Sonia. Wyn sort of wished she could see Sonia’s face because it had to be epic, but she really wanted to finish her breakfast before the patriarchy took her away for testing.
“No, you want the birthday girl.” Sonia hooked a finger over her shoulder.
“That’s me,” Wyn said. She drained the cup and shoved half a donut in her mouth, the epitome of elegance and adulthood.
“Careful now,” her mother cautioned. Alana arrived a week ago to help with the preparation and to spend as much mother-daughter time together as possible. Wyn smiled warmly because her mom was the best. Her mother had also been baking cookies nonstop for the last week and packaging them up for Wyn’s trip.
Wyn slid off the bar stool and weaved through the boxes in the apartment. This was it. Over the last three weeks, they’d been packing up what she wanted to take, selling what could be sold, and giving away the rest.
Alana was at the door, discussing the details of shipping all Wyn’s boxes. Blue nylon boxes arrived a few days after her match. Everything Wyn wanted to take went into a blue box. Currently, two uniformed men were hauling the boxes into the vehicle.
Sonia watched from the porch while Alana gave directions.
“Thanks for the birthday donuts and, you know, being amazing,” Wyn said. She wasn’t going to cry. This was an exciting new chapter in her life, and there was an alien hottie waiting for her and she was not going to cry.
“Shut up, I know.” Sonia tossed Wyn her favorite cardigan, messenger bag, and the suitcase.
“If I come back, but that’s unspoken. Oh,” Wyn said, her words trickling through the warm and cozy glow of Sonia’s special birthday coffee, “I said the quiet part out loud.”
“Are you drunk, Miss Davies?” the soldier asked.
“Am I?” She spun to face Sonia, but she must have turned too quickly because the room refused to stop moving. She clutched the door frame for support. “Sonia, what was in the coffee?”
“Just a little bit of whiskey.”
Wyn gasped dramatically. “You got me snockered! I knew birthday going-away breakfast was too good to be true.”
“You know how you get when you’re nervous,” Sonia said.
“Barfy. My baby is so barfy,” Alana said.
“Yeah, and you know how I get when I’m tipsy. Chatty,” Wyn added, for the guard’s benefit. “I’m not a morning drinker or much of a drinker. At all.”
“A total lightweight,” Sonia agreed.
“Being impaired will not delay your departure,” the soldier said, sounding unimpressed.
And looking unimpressed too. All frowny and serious.
He was such a baby, all pink cheeks and smooth skin. He never had panic attacks the night before his birthday and had to be trotted off to a government facility to be teleported across the galaxy to be married to a stranger. An alien.
Nope. He had a wiener, so he got to be master of his own destiny.
“I’m thirty, ma’am,” he said.
Oh. She said the quiet part out loud again. “I’m thirty too. Also. I mean also, not thirty-two. Apparently, I’ve had a little whiskey in my coffee this morning because I might have been freaking out because I’m excited but also terrified.”
“You volunteered.” He checked his tablet computer. “You have no reason to be nervous.”
“You’d think, but I only volunteered because waiting was killing my soul. My soul,” she stressed, suddenly filled with the urgent need to make Soldier Baby Face understand. “I was engaged for ages and ages, but Oscar ditched me to follow his muse. His muse.” She made a dismissive noise. “Boys are dumb. Sorry, you’re probably a boy. Do you ever smile? All that frowning isn’t good for your heart.”
“Sorry you insulted me or sorry I’m a man?”
She reached out and patted him on the arm. “Your choice.”
He grabbed her bag and headed to the waiting vehicle.
Wyn hugged her mother, soaking up the strength from that embrace. “Watch yourself, baby.”
“I’m fine, Mom. It’ll be fine.”
“I know it’s too late to tell you to keep those expectations realistic—”
“Mom.” Wyn felt herself blush. Her expectations might have been so far beyond sky-high they were orbital, but she had been practical and realistic with so much in her life. She got a day job to pay the bills because being a starving artist was bullshit, even if the day job left her drained. She could be realistic, but she knew the Mahdfel were great and no one could tell her otherwise.
“If he doesn’t treat you right, you come on home.”
Alana released Wyn with a kiss on the forehead like she was still a little girl. Sonia immediately hugged Wyn with everything in her being.
“I’m so mad at you right now, and there’s nothing I can do,” Sonia said, voice muffled by Wyn’s hair.
“Everything will work out,” Wyn said. “This was going to happen. Better for it to happen on my terms.”
“Good on you for taking back your power, but this still sucks. I miss you already. You’re still here and I miss you.”
Her heart couldn’t take it. “Go spend all my alien booty money on something silly or don’t. Quit your job and make art. Make me some kickass art.”
Sonia pulled back, wiping at her eyes. “I’m going to art so hard. It’s gonna be like pow!”
Wyn smiled, because if she hadn’t mustered up the courage, they wouldn’t have had this moment. Wyn would have rushed out the door, nervous and slightly tipsy, without so much as a wave to her best friend.
It was better this way. Still sucked, though. There was no one in the whole universe like Sonia Redford and Wyn would miss her friend. Plus, she made coffee and brought donuts, so an all-around good person to have. Well, unless the coffee and donuts were a trick, which they were.
“I’ll call when I get there,” Wyn said.
Sonia made a skeptical noise. “Please, you’ll be too busy choking on alien dick to call.”
“From your lips to God’s ears.”
“Bronwyn Davies, how dare you speak that way in front of your mother,” Sonia said, but Alana was right there laughing.
“Call us when you get there, baby,” her mother said.
Wyn gave a final wave. “Everything is going to be okay. It’s going to be like a luxury star cruise. I’m totally getting vibes from a muse. Maybe not mine, because the idea of a muse is so out there, but inspiration, which hasn’t happened in too damn long.” Was she smiling? Her face hurt from smiling.
“Ma’am, please sit. You don’t have to explain,” the soldier said.
“Sorry. I’m a nervous talker. You probably get that a lot. And crying.” She could totally picture the vehicle packed with wailing women. Fortunately, she had the back all to herself.
“Just so you know, they still teleport you even if you’ve been drinking.”
“Just nerves. Not looking to bend the rules.” But Sonia had. She pored over the network, sending Wyn article after article about 10 Failsafe Ways to Trick the Test! One Simple Trick the Mahdfel Don’t Want You to Know.
They were all the same, clickbait titles with no real content. Surprise, surprise. Last night she hadn’t wanted to trick the test, she just wanted to get it over with. She wasn’t worried. Statistics were on her side. After all, Sonia got tested every year since she was eighteen and she hadn’t been matched.
The whiskey wore off by the time they arrived at the testing facility. The soldier transferred Wyn into the custody of massive red alien who looked physically incapable of smiling. He stayed by her side as her ID chip was scanned at the entry point and escorted her to a waiting room.
Wyn spotted a water cooler with teeny-tiny paper cups. She downed two easily, because the cups barely held enough for a mouthful.
“Bronwyn Davies?” A woman in medical scrubs and holding a tablet computer scanned the room. Wyn raised her hand.
Escorted back into a room, the red alien stayed as the nurse verified her information and instructed Wyn to sign the tablet.
“Alcohol does not delay your teleportation,” she said. “That gum doesn’t work on the test either, no matter what the packaging says.”
“I’m not normally a drinker. I’m nervous.”
“The contract says you have to give consent, but between you and me, they don’t give a rat’s tookus if you’re drunk or tripping balls. They want you breathing and awake. That’s the legally mandated minimum.”
“I’m not trying to get out of going! I want to go.”
The nurse gave her a dubious look and approached with a wicked-looking needle.
“Wait, no. I pass.” Wyn scrambled backward, slamming into the red alien’s massive chest. She ached, like she hit a brick wall.
“You already signed the consent.”
“Not for the jabby-pokey!” Wyn flinched away from the needle.
“It’s the translator chip, and you need it to talk to your match. It will only take a moment if you stop squirming.”The nurse grabbed Wyn roughly by the ear and yanked her head down.
Honestly, the ear grab hurt worse than the pinch of the implant. Well, not as bad as the bitter betrayal of misinformation, but that wasn’t personal. The nurse manhandling her felt personal, though.
“There. You may experience vertigo and a headache while the interface interfaces,” the nurse waved a dismissive hand. She then shoved a tablet toward Wyn. “Sign this. And this. And here. Congratulations. Step this way and you’ll be whisked away to meet your mate.”
The nurse grabbed her by the elbow, and there was no arguing while they marched down the hall.
“But—” Wyn’s mind swam, muddled with the new information and the interfacing. That couldn’t be healthy.
The nurse administered a second injection in her arm. The sting barely registered. “Inoculations,” she explained. “You may experience lethargy and nausea.”
“Fantastic. My favorite things.”
“You shouldn’t let what people say about the aliens scare you,” the nurse said, totally misreading the look on Wyn’s face. “They’re not all bad, the Mahdfel.”
Wyn nodded. She wanted to explain that an alien had saved her life when she was a kid, but she just wanted to get this over with. “I hope he’s nice. He looks nice.”
The Volunteer Center had sent over a one-page brief on her match, consisting of little more than a photo and his name. Wyn may have stared at that photo every night before bed, trying to suss out her alien’s personality.
His complexion was a vivid purple, almost magenta. Two tall horns curled back from his brow. His features were a bit too broad, the jaw a touch too blunt, to be human, but his eyes sparkled. He looked as if he liked to laugh.
Wyn tried not to build him up too much in her mind because the reality would only disappoint her, but she felt that she could fall for someone who laughed easily.
The nurse ushered her into a joining room dominated by very impressive and expensive-looking equipment.
“So this is why there’s no funding for the arts?” Wyn wanted to touch all the buttons.
“Stand on the x. There. Don’t move. It helps if you breathe in,” the tech said, barely looking up from the screens.
“Is this safe? For me? Will my medication affect—” Wyn ached from the double punishment of the implant and the inoculations. She clutched the inhaler, still in her cardigan pocket.
The lights in the room went dark.
“I wouldn’t worry. Side effects are rare,” the nurse said, voice barely audible over the electric hum of the machinery.
The lights embedded in the floor glowed, luminosity increasing until the point of blindness.
“Wait, what side effects?” Wyn asked.
Reality stretched and dissolved.
The warlord stood over Lorran, lips pressed tight and an unreadable expression on his face.
“Sir.” Lorran scrambled to his feet.
Gavran followed his example. “You’re Drake and Axil’s father.”
“I am,” the warlord said.
“They won’t let me play with them. They say I’m too little.” Gavran planted his hands on his hips in a move so like Hazel that Lorran committed the image to his memory and vowed to horribly embarrass Gavran about sassing the warlord when he was old enough to be embarrassed by such things.
Lorran knew the warlord’s twin sons were little more than a year older than Gavran, but Mahdfel children grew quickly. In terms of physical development, a year was several inches of growth and increased mass. Lorran remembered his own frustration with being the youngest brother, always too small to join his brothers when they did anything interesting.
“Do they?” Paax took in the rock wall, his gaze lingering at the spot from which Gavran fell. “I believe the warrior is too young for such activities.”
“I’m not little,” Gavran protested.
“Apologies, young warrior, but perhaps you should start with a more suitable training exercise,” Paax suggested.
Yes. Lorran should have suggested that, rather than drag Gavran up a rock wall when his reach had insufficient span and he lacked the arm strength to keep himself from plummeting to the ground.
“Training is hard work. Fetch water for us all, warrior. We will need three. You must be mindful and not drop the water.” Paax pointed to a stall at the far end of the shooting range that provided hydration and nutritional supplements. “Can you complete this mission?”
Gavran’s chest puffed up. “Yes! I know how many three is.” He held up three fingers, then took off at a run. He tripped over his feet, picked himself up as if he had not stumbled, and continued to run.
Paax turned his attention to Lorran, an easy smile on his face. He blinked, and a hard expression settled over his face. Lorran stood up a bit straighter. “We received a distress signal from a small Mahdfel vessel, the SRV-P11. I’m sending you out with Mylomon, immediately,” the warlord said.
Immediately. That meant he’d have to cancel his plans to spend the holiday with his family.
The warlord nodded, as if sensing his thoughts, and repeated, “Immediately. Seeran claims you will be ideal.”
Lorran had often been deployed on information-gathering missions, but never to answer a distress signal and never directly assigned by the warlord. Usually, Seeran or another officer handed out mission assignments. “Sir, would a medic be better to send?”
“Ideally, but I haven’t the medics to spare, and half of my crew is on the Sangrin surface. We must be creative, and you are good with creative problem solving,” the warlord said.
Lorran’s chest puffed up with pride. He possessed many skills that his brothers lacked and felt gratified that the warlord noticed. Still, there was a reason the warlord sought him out rather than deliver the orders via the comm. He awaited further information.
“I am unsure what you will discover. The signal did not specify, but I know the crew. The vessel was tasked with conducting a survey on the fringe of Sangrin space. The vessel likely suffered a mechanical failure,” Paax said.
“But only Mylomon and myself? If we encounter anything beyond mechanical difficulties—”
“With the disruption in communications, it is unknown when the message was first sent. It is being broadcast on repeat.”
A repeating distress signal from the deep reaches, playing on loop for who knew how long.
Lorran nodded. The crew most likely had already perished. This was not a rescue mission but recovery.
“The warrior who sent the signal is known to me. If he still lives—” Paax scrubbed a hand over his face. “Ulrik is a friend. Do not leave him alone in the deep black.”
Definitely a recovery mission. No medics necessary.
Paax continued, “There may be another on board. He is also known to me. A slippery creature with a unique skillset, much like you.”
Lorran did not know what to make of that statement. He had some surface knowledge of several skills, but he excelled in gathering intel from people who might not realize they parted with said information. He teased out information from casual conversations and let the intelligence officers make of that what they would.
Some warriors did not regard his skills as honorable. They only saw lies and deception and did not consider that situations were complex with gray areas.
If anyone understood gray areas, it was the warlord. His second-in-command had served as assassin and continued to act as the warlord’s hand in many ways.
“Caldar has his uses, but he has been too long without a clan, I think,” Paax said.
“Do you have use for him here?” Did the warlord select Lorran to recruit another intelligence officer?
“If he is not too slippery to catch, yes.”
Well, that was ambiguous.
“When is departure?” Lorran asked, already mentally preparing what to bring for the mission. Too slippery? Did that mean bring this Caldar back by force? Or bribery? He doubted a straightforward offer of a place on the Judgment would be enough.
“Now. You are already late.”
Gavran reappeared with a handful of water cubes. The warlord praised his efforts and declared him a fine young warrior.
Lorran slung the equipment bag over his shoulder. He had little time to prepare and much to accomplish.
Can you even stand the wait?
Coming April 15th!
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.