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Table

of Contents
Epilogue
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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
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
HER DRAGON EVERLASTING
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Part V
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Part VI
NAGO: HIS MISSISSIPPI QUEEN
(The Brothers Nightwolf Trilogy, Book 1) 50 Loving States,
Mississippi
THEODORA TAYLOR
Copyright 2017 by Theodora Taylor
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical
means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written
permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Created with Vellum
C ONTE NTS

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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
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
HER DRAGON EVERLASTING
Part I
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
Part II
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Part III
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Part IV
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Part V
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Part VI
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Epilogue
About the Author
Also by Theodora Taylor
S U B S C R IB E T O T H E IR W E E K LY B E S T S E LLE R LIS T

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1

MISSISSIPPI, 18 37

S he fled through the forest with nothing but the bright


light of the full moon to guide her.
She carried on her person a map given to her by the
traveling tinker man two falls ago after she agreed to mend his
pants and darn his socks. Back then shed only just begun to
think about running from Briarleaf. The map had been a test of
sorts. To see if the Jewish tinker would tell on her to the Massa.
If shed get caught for merely thinking about running.
But the tinker man had given her the hand-drawn map and
moved on down the road without telling a soul. And now that
thought from two years ago was a thing doing.
The dogs bayed in the distance. She had no time for the map.
Running was all she had time for now. Shed snatched the folded
paper from beneath her thin straw mattress and given it a quick
glance to see where to head to escape the plantation. And the
body of Massas son.
She should have taken the knife. She scolded herself like the
mother she never knew for dropping it. With the knife, shed at
least be able to take her life if they caught her. Slitting her throat
would be a far better ending to her story than what would
happen if the patrollers caught up to her anyways.
The dogs were getting close. There was no time for regrets. No
time to shake her fists at cruel fate. No time to even pull out the
map to make sure she was running in the right direction.
But she ended up doing just that only a few seconds after
deciding against it.
Because quite suddenly there was a river in front of her. Not
as wide or grand as the Mississippi, but as impossible to cross for
a slave woman whod never learned to swim.
She stopped, pulling up short. And she took out the map
because she didnt know what else to do. She squinted at it under
the light of the bright moon.
But the river wasnt on the map.
Her heart thundered in her ears. Not because of the running,
but because of this new obstacle, one she could not even begin to
fathom how to surmount.
She raised her eyes to the North Star. It glittered in the dark
sky, beckoning to her. Come to me, sweet freedom called from
the other side of the impossible-to-cross river. Bitter tears
sprang to her eyes at her inability to answer the bright
summons.
But there was no time for crying.
She had to keep moving, or the dogs would soon be upon her.
She considered the dark river for a long moment. If all else
failed, shed have no choice but to throw herself in. Because if
she didnt
Massa would make an example of her if she were caught. He
would take her back from the patrollers, and then whip her into
a bloody mess on the Hanging Tree. He might even let his son do
the honors. If his son survived what shed done to him.
An image of the knife shed left behind taunted her again. She
should have kept it. Should not have dropped it just cuz she
hadnt known she could do such a thing to a body before she
did it.
She shook the awful memory from her head. There was no
time to dwell on the horror of the blade sinking into flesh. Not
while the dogs barked louder in the distance
In a moment of quick thinking, she snatched the rough
kerchief from her head and tossed it onto the muddy bank of the
river. There was always the chance they might believe shed
drowned trying to cross. Maybe her pursuers would see it. Maybe
not. But it was something to do. So she did it.
Then she stuffed the useless map back into her smock and set
off again. Heading east. Maybe thered be a bridge. A log to float
on. Something, anything to get her across to the North Star
which was now following her along the river as if to say, Hey,
where you going, slave girl?
Lord, she was tired. Exhaustion from running so long
splashed over her like water from the washing bucket. But she
had to keep moving. Had to keep trying until she could try no
more. Then if it came down to it, shed jump into that river and
kill herself the way she was trying to make the patrollers believe
she already had. Run. Run. She had to keep runn
Her ankle caught on something. Before she could get her
hands beneath her, she pitched forward, hitting the ground so
hard all the desperate thoughts disappeared straight out
her head.
Well, theres that explaintwhat folks mean when they say a
body got the wind knocked out of it, she thought on a wheeze.
Nothing felt broken. But the air took its time coming back to
her, and her body screamed in pain when she flipped over onto
her back to see what had sent her flying.
She blinked hard at the braided rope, at least twice as thick as
the ones they used for the Hanging Tree and whipping post. It
was coiled like a snake around the base of a magnolia tree. The
tree was in bloom; she could smell the heady fragrance of its big
flowers perfuming the night air around her. She peered more
closely at the rope and noticed it had been knotted several times.
As if whoever had tied it needed to be sure about its hold.
Thats when she realized it was stretched taut across her field
of vision. As if it had been patiently waiting to turn her escape
into a pratfall.
Her brow furrowed. Why would a rope be out here in the
middle of the woods, tied to a tree?
But that, as it turned out, was the wrong question to ask.
What she really should have wondered is whoor whatwas at
the other end of the rope pulling it tight?
Yes, that would have been a better question. Because a low
growl suddenly erupted to the left of her.
And when she looked to where the sound came from, she saw
what she at first mistook for an oversized dog. Until the shrill
voice of fear shouted a single word in her head: wolf! And so it
was. A large, menacing wolf with eyes that glowed brightly under
the light of the full moon.
2

A BOU T TWO CENTU RIES LATER

O h good, youre here! called a muffled voice when


Nago walked into Camp Nightwolfs industrial
kitchen. It sounded like a girl, but he couldnt tell
where it was coming from.
Over here! the muffled voice called again.
He followed the direction of her shout to the camps conveyor
belt dishwasher. The thing was ancient, and Nago was pretty
sure it dated back to the last millennium.
It also had a set of thick, dark legs sticking out of its back end.
Later, hed tell her it was love from the moment he saw her
face. But that was a lie. He knew herreally knew herfrom the
moment he saw her rear thrusting out of that machine.
And that was even before he got close enough to discover how
amazing she smelled to his wolfs nose. Her scent was the
opposite of his Colorado home. Lush and warm with an
undertone of flowering trees.
Can you grab the smallest wrench from that toolbox? she
asked.
Another quick scan and he found an old-fashioned, red metal
tool box sitting open on the ledge of the cafeterias service
windowright next to a haphazard stack of dirty trays waiting to
get washed. An assortment of mismatched tools had been piled
into the boxs main section, while a bulk-sized bag of gummi
bears sat on top of its open lid. Nago loved gummi bears. And it
said something about how intrigued he was by the girl inside the
dishwashing machine that instead of grabbing a fistful of the
soft bear-shaped candy, he remained 100% focused on granting
her request. After securing the smallest wrench he could find, he
pushed it through the machines front curtain of rubber strips.
Thanks! the voice said. Her hand brushed against his as she
took the wrench from him, sending tingles up his arm. The belt
is out of alignment. I thought tapping the bolts would set it
right, but turns out all the bolts need to be retightened.
Who was this girl? he wondered while he asked, Can I help?
Yeah, sure! Just stand right there and make sure none of
those idiot rich kids out there turn on the switch. Its next to the
service window.
Nago glanced to his left to find the machines old-fashioned
on/off switch exactly where she said it was. Beyond the service
window, he spotted one last table of teenage campers lingering
over their empty trays.
Hey! he called out the window. Need your trays!
The group looked up, faces already set to protest. But then
they saw who was doing the asking.
By the time the girl said, All done! five minutes later, the
trays were piled in neat stacks on the service window counter,
and there was no danger of anyone pushing the button because
Nago was the only person left in the mess hall.
He turned just in time to watch Dishwasher Girl scoot
backward out of the machine.
Hi, she said with a wide smile. Im Halle.
And that was how after 17 years spent choosing video games
or engineering projects over girls, Nago suddenly understood
what all the fuss was about. She was, hands down, the cutest girl
hed ever seen in his life.
Halle had a pretty, round face framed by long old-school box
braids. They were the kinds of braids that hadnt been
fashionable for decades, but to Nagos eyes, they looked perfect.
She couldnt have been more than 16 or 17, but she already had
the full curves of a grown woman. And her skin
His feminist history professor mother had warned all three of
her sons about objectifying girls. As she put it, never describe
women in terms of food as if they were put on this earth solely
for your consumption. But damn if dark chocolate didnt
immediately come to mind at his first full sight of her.
Nago stuck out his hand, his body vibrating with the need to
touch her. To keep her there with him. Though he wasnt sure
how to do it. After all, he wasnt classically good looking like
Rafes, or a girl-magnet like Knud.
Nago NotHotWolfhed heard what a lot of the girls called
him behind his back. Over the years, hed become well-liked by
his fellow campers thanks to his easygoing personality. But as
far as girls were concerned, Nago was the kind of guy you friend
zoned, not someone you snuck with up the mountain to kiss.
Usually, he was alright with that. Hed just gotten a bioware
upgrade, and his new games werent going to play themselves.
But this girl
She was new in every way. About the same age as him, but not
one of the regular Camp Nightwolf attendees. Probably a
scholarship kid, he guessed. Or she wouldnt be fixing the
dishwasher.
He did not want to be just friends with this girl. He knew
that from the moment she accepted his handshake.
Im Nago, he said, shaking her hand. And not letting go.
Cool, she said, awkwardly tugging her hand back. Its real
nice to meet another scholarship kid finally. I was beginning to
wonder if I was the only one.
She had a thick southern accent, and she sounded like she
smelled. Like maybe a flowering tree was growing inside her.
She wasnt from up north like him and most of the other
wolves attending camp. Louisiana withstanding, most of the
southern kingdom packs didnt have enough solvency to apply
for a credit card, much less send their princesses to the summer
camp his Aunt Tu and Uncle Grady started for royal teenswith
a generous donation from the Nightwolf Foundation.
I like your accent, he told her, too unpracticed at flirting to
come up with anything better than the truth to say next. Where
are you from?
Her smile wobbled a little. UmIm the Princess of
Mississippi, actually, she said like it was a huge confession.
So that was where her cute accent came from. But he didnt
understand why she said it in such a confessional toneuntil he
recalled the last story hed heard about Mississippi a few
months ago.
The one about a Nigerian wolf from 1980s-era Canada. Hed
been a janitor at a Canadian university and had made the
mistake of reading aloud some words hed found on a professors
desk while cleaning out a wastebasket. That professor had been
the father of one of his mother Alishas grad school buds, so the
story had made the academic dinner party rounds.
As it turned out, the words had been a fated mate spell, and
it sent the janitor hurtling forward through time to current day
Mississippi. As if that wasnt crazy enough, his fated mate had
turned out to be the queen of the state pack. They ended up
running off together, leaving behind her mate and daughter
He cut off his mental recall with the realization that the cute
girl in front of him must be the abandoned daughter from the
story.
Yeah, thats me, she confirmed, without him having to say
a word. Which is pretty ironic because the only reason Im at
this camp is my mama made me apply for one of those Nightwolf
Foundation scholarships to come here. She thought itd be a
good way for me to meet a prospective rich husband, which is
crazy because look at me!
Nago was looking at her, and he had no idea what she was
talking about.
I mean, obviously Im not spending my weekends getting
beauty treatments and wearing expensive clothes like everyone
else here. Im just a mange state princess who nobody would
ever look at twice. Plus, my dads a total mess right now. I really
should be home with him, helping him run the kingdom now
Mamas gone
She fretted at her lip, but then blew out a breath and said,
You know what? None of that has anything to do with all these
dishes, so I guess we should get to it. You like gummi bears?
Nago was thrown a little off balance at the sudden change of
subject. Uh, who doesnt like gummi bears? he asked.
I dunno, she answered, opening the bag and taking a
handful before holding the package out to him. The criminally
insane?
Puppy kickers? he suggested, reaching in and grabbing a
handful from the proffered bag.
Criminally insane puppy kickers? she suggested back.
They laughed and stuffed the gummi bears in their mouths
before tying on the black vinyl aprons hanging on the wall just
behind them. And though Nago had never washed a dish in his
life, he soon fell into a comfortable routine with Halle. She used
the hanging spray nozzle to get the worst of the food off the
trays and silverware, before feeding them into the noisy
machine. He plucked the cleaned dishes out on the other side,
stacking them neatly on the kitchens counter.
So, Hallethats an interesting name, he said, once they
turned the machine off and could hear each other again.
Never heard it before, he said as they put the trays and
silverware away on the other side of the kitchen.
Im named after a popular actress from back in the day. I
guess my dad had a huge crush on her growing up and my mom
looks just like her. It was love at first sight when he spotted
Mama at a beauty pageantI mean, at least it was for him.
Thats why Dad married her even though she didnt come from a
royal background or anything like that. When they found out
they were having a girl they decided to name me Halle, figuring
Id look like her, too. But surprise!
Yeah, you dont look a thing like her, hed said, despite
having no idea what the actress looked like.
Yeah, well I realize that, she answered with a wry chuckle.
But thanks for pointing it out.
Youre way cuter.
Halle stopped. Crooked her head, then finally chuffed as if
shed decided to find him charming rather than strange. Youre
funny, she said, shaking her head. A smile almostbut not
quitelanded on her lips.
He chuckled right along with her, basking in the glow of her
almost-smile. But as soon as the laughter died down, he said,
The funny part is, Im not even joking.
She stared at him. And he stared back. Broadcasting as best as
he could without speaking that in the case of Halle the
Dishwashing Girl, he, Nago NotHotwolf, was not remotely
interested in being her friend. Because he wanted more.
See, this right here is why my mamas plan for me to catch a
rich prince wasnt ever going to work, she said after what had
to be a full minute of them staring each other down. I like you
better than any of those spoiled-ass rich kids Ive met this week.
And youre chubby and a scholarship kid like me.
Yes, he was in! Nago inwardly cheeredonly to wince a
moment later. It was true he was chubby and had way more in
common with Halle than any of the mostly privileged wolves at
Camp Nightwolf. But he didnt want to start what felt like the
most important relationship of his life off on a lie.
Um, Halle
He took a deep breath, but before he could get out a full
confession, a wiry wolf with a wispy beard came rushing through
the door. Nago recognized him immediately. His name was
Justin. A mange state prince from Kentucky, hed been coming to
camp free of charge for three years thanks to his knowledge of
ASL which meant he could assist the camps deaf co-director
who also happened to be Nagos uncle.
Sorry, Im late! he said, breathing hard like hed run all the
way there.
Thats okay, Halle answered, throwing Justin what Nago
eventually would come to think of as a quintessentially Halle
look: chin tipped down, eyes twinkling, but expression totally
straightin other words as amused as a face could get without
cracking a smile. But what are you late for?
Nago grimaced, already knowing the answer.
Justin shook his head at Halle as if she should already know.
Mr. Grady sent me over. Said something about you needing an
extra hand with the dishes? He squinted at Nago. Hey,
Nightwolf, whats up? What are you doing here?
Nagos stomach dropped, his toes curling with
embarrassment inside the hiking boots Uncle Grady required
every male camper to wear.
Uh he said, unable to form a response to Justins
questionor look in Halles direction.
But he didnt have to see her to hear the girl hed just fallen
head over heels in love with say, Your last name is Nightwolf?
Like the Nightwolf on the camp sign?
3

T hree months later, Halle still couldnt believe it. She


knew someone whose family was rich enough to have
their last name attached to the camp she was currently
attending and plastered all over the scholarship forms shed
filled out to come here. Not to mention several university
buildings and hospital wings across the nation. He was that kind
of rich. Halle not only knew him, but she had fallen head-over-
heels in summer love with him nearly from the moment he
apologetically dipped his head and said, I was going to tell you,
but I got too caught up talking to you.
Oh, they saw each other again.
And any thoughts shed had about holding his Richie Rich-
wolf background against him vanished within twelve hours
which had been right around the time a delivery drone showed
up at her cabin with a bulk-sized package of Haribo Happy Cola
gummi bears. Even the three wealthy princesses she shared a
cabin with squeed over Nagos super sweet gesture.
And as it turned out, Nago, not Justin, showed up for kitchen
duty again that night. Later shed find out he paid the mange
state prince to let him take over his dishwashing duties.
Nago was everything her runaway mother could have ever
wanted for her less-pretty-than-expected daughter. And
unexpectedly more. He was funny, easy to talk to, and
disgustingly wealthy. His father was the King of Colorado, and
there was already talk of Nago taking over the Alaska throne in
another decade or so. And since those states were number three
and four on the list of the richest wolf kingdoms in the country,
that meant no matter how Nagos life played out, it would come
up billions.
But the best part was that Nago Nightwolf was by no means
your typical spoiled royal. He treated her like she was the most
fascinating girl on earth and honestly seemed to believe washing
dishes with her was a privilege worth twice what hed paid the
mange state prince for it. But as far as she was concerned, he
was the fascinating one. For a series of TV-drama-level
complicated reasons, hed been born and spent the first four
years of his life in Viking Age Norway. So instead of defaulting to
the usual cuss words like other boys his age, hed often exclaim,
What the Fenrir Wolf! and By Fenrir!
Also, Nagos parents were fated mates, and while most wolf
parents counted themselves lucky to bear two children
successfully, not only was Nago a triplet, he had twelve-year-old
twin sisters who were already taller than him.
To most girls, Nago wasnt the best looking of the Nightwolf
triplets, which explained the ridiculous NotHotWolf nickname
hed been saddled with. His brother Rafes was tall and lean, so
crisp and pulled together that other princesses eyes just about
flashed dollar signs whenever he walked past. As for Knud,
Nagos other brother, he was the camp bad boy. Scruffy and
muscular with the kind of devil-may-care attitude that made
girls swoon. All Knud had to do was crook his finger, and just
about any girl at camp would follow him wherever he told them
to, no questions asked.
At only a few inches over Halles five-foot-six, Nago was the
shortest of his brothers. He was also the portliest. But Halle
didnt care. She loved him just the way he was. He carried no airs
like Rafes, and didnt seem to have ulterior motives every time
he talked to a girl like Knud.
Making out with Nago felt like being encased in a warm, soft
blanket made of 100% love. For that reason and more, Halle
knew from the start how lucky she was to catch his eye rather
than the eyes of his two brothers. He was like a romcom hero
dream come true and in her opinion, way more interesting than
his obnoxiously good-looking brothers combined.
At the beginning of the summer she thought she might not
survive three days at a spoiled rich kid camp that looked like it
had been cast by a modeling agencymuch less three months.
But by the last night of camp
I wish this summer would never end, she told Nago as they
held hands on top of the sleeping bags hed laid out for them
underneath the stars.
They werent supposed to be out here like this. Girls and boys
fraternizing after curfew was against camp rules. But this being
the last night of the summer session, Nago had insisted the rules
didnt apply to them when he made a case for sneaking up the
mountain that night while they washed dishes. Also, he doubted
Uncle Grady would be doing his usual checks, and
Nago held up a bulk package of Haribo gummi bears and
another of sunflower seeds. Her two favorite snacks in the world!
And what better place to eat them than under the stars with her
true love.
But really, he hadnt needed to bribe her with gifts to
convince her to join him. Because Halle would have followed him
anywhere. Even if it got her in trouble.
Now they were alone beneath a sky blanketed with stars as far
as the eye could see. And contrary to what her cabin mates
probably thought when she snuck out with him after midnight,
they were not sealing the deal. Unlike Knud, who wouldnt spare
a second look at a girl who didnt put out, Nago seemed as happy
to hold her hand in the starlight as he was making out.
She-wolves were a little different when compared to their
human counterparts. Most had extremely low to non-existent
sex drives before they entered their first heat. And the North
American Lupine Council had at one point even declared it illegal
to have sex with an unheated she-wolf. But that law had been
overturned years ago with the introduction of the heat control
shot, which meant she-wolves could now postpone their first
heat for as long as they liked without worrying about becoming
pregnant or being tied down with a mate before they were ready.
In many states, it also meant consensual sex was legal after a
certain age. In most southern states the age was 18, but here in
Kansas where Camp Nightwolf was located, it was 16.
However, despite the much-needed change in laws and
attitudes towards shifter sex, the act itself wasnt any more
appetizing to unheated she-wolves than it had been before.
Shifter biology had not caught up with 21st-century progress. So
hot as Knud Nightwolf was, Halle was positive the girls whod
snuck out with him probably had to drum up some seriously fake
sexy feelings to do the deed.
But Nago never made her feel like spreading her legs was a
prerequisite for being his summer camp girlfriend. He seemed to
like her, and to genuinely enjoy her company. However, he
wasnt only interested in being friends. Hed made that clear
when hed walked her back to her cabin after their third
dishwashing date and asked, Can I kiss you? at the
front door.
Nago desired her. She might be young and inexperienced, but
she could tell. It was how he looked at her. And how he brushed
himself against her thigh when they kissed for longer than a
minute or two. But he could wait. He told her that over and over
again. Never pressuring her, content to let the relationship
percolate until it felt like her heart might boil over with love for
her crazy romantic, super sweet summer boyfriend.
He was so amazing that she regretted she couldnt feel
anything stirring below when they kissed. Only the fluttering of
her heart whispering, I love you! I love you! I love you, Nago
Nightwolf!
Just like it was whispering now when she told him she wished
summer could go on forever.
Me too, he said, squeezing her hand on top of the
sleeping bag.
It was a sweet moment. A dear oneuntil he said, Why dont
you come home with me?
What? she asked, turning her head to look sideways at him.
Come home with me. You said you hate it in Mississippi.
Socome home with me.
I dontI dont hate it. I mean, not really. Its justwell,
things are real difficult right now.
Understatement of the year. Her parents had been miserable
as far back as she could remember. Thats what happens when a
beauty queen marries a prince simply because she had girlish
dreams of what it would be like to live the life of a real-life
princess. At the time of their fairytale wedding, her mother,
Keri, had no idea about her new husbands predilection for
riverboat gambling. But nearly as soon as King Arnold took over
the throne, it became clear that his seemingly annoying-but-
harmless little riverboat trips were the signs of a full-blown
addiction. Because of her fathers gambling problem, her
parents were barely able to scrounge up enough to pay the
utilities, and her mother was left living far below the lavish
lifestyle shed hoped for when they married.
And now with Mama gone, life at the antebellum-era
kingdom house had become nearly unbearable. Her father spent
most days moping around like a despondent ghost, railing
against the woman whod left him saddled with a teenage
daughter she was supposed to be raising.
Arnolds only relief appeared once a month in the form of his
stipend, which he promptly cashed in and took to the riverboat
casino, excitedly declaring hed double, maybe even triple the
little bit of rental money the Mississippi kingdom coffers paid
out to the royal family. Then three, sometimes five days would
pass without word from himwhich Halle frankly enjoyed
because it meant not having to listen to her father moan about
how Mama abandoned them both. But then eventually hed
show back up at their worse-for-the-wear kingdom house,
penniless and cursing. He cursed the small monthly checks, the
unlucky slot machines, her motherpretty much anything and
everyone but the riverboat that continued to take every cent of
his paycheck each month.
You could stay in our guest house. My twin sisters will love
you! And my mom will be really impressed youre so good at
math. Of course, my dad will probably insist on talking to your
dad about it. But thats not a big deal. If I bring you home, I know
hell figure out a way for you to stay with us...
Nago painted such a perfect picture, Halle had to wonder how
long hed been thinking about thisand if she could possibly
love him any more than she already did. Right then, she
imagined a future with Nago and his family in Colorado. Like her
own personalized version of that old Beach Boys song. Wouldnt
it be nice to live with Nago? To eventually marry him? To go into
heat with him? To live happily ever after with him?
But they were only 17.
And unlike him, she wasnt wealthy and free to do whatever
she wanted with whoever she wanted.
Nago, thats so dang sweet of you. I wish I could, Gummi
Bear. You dont even know how much but Even though she
knew she was being completely reasonable, it felt like something
was tearing inside her heart as she said, I cant. My dadhe
isnt in a good place. And our people need me. Leaving them
with a king whos not doing his job would make me, like, the
hugest and most irresponsible asshole ever. Plus, youre joining
the Special Wolf Forces at the end of the school year. That means
Id be living at your house without you after May. No, it wouldnt
be fair to my dad or my kingdom. But thank you. Truly, thank
you so much for offering.
For a moment Nago looked at her with disappointment writ
plain across his face. But then he pushed a few of her box braids
behind her ear and said, I kind of figured youd say that. But I
had to offer.
He understood. Of course, he did. Even though his family was,
from what shed heard, nearly perfect, he understood why she
still had to return to her small, wretched life in Mississippi
instead of going home with him. He was a royal after all. And he
knew a thing or two about responsibilities.
Just remember, even though you cant come with me now,
doesnt mean my offer goes away. Whenever you want, wherever
I am, you always have a home with me, Halle.
A totally stupid, and unexpectedly poignant romantic
comedy, she thought to herself as she fought hard not to make
the sweet moment weird with tears.
But she managed not to cry. For Nago, she pasted a smile on
her face and leaned over to kiss him.
Mmm. You taste like gummi bears, he said, smiling against
her lips. Promise me well bio every night no matter what?
I promise, she whispered against his lips. I promise.
And Halle kept her promise. Sometimes cutting her father off
mid-Keri rant or staying up the night before her college
assessment tests so she could take one of his calls. No matter
what was going down in her life, she kept her promise to Nago
Nightwolf because thats how much she loved him. And because
she didnt understand back then that promises kept were still no
guarantee of a happy ending.
4

THIRTEEN YEA RS LATER

N ago woke at 3:30 A.M. trying not to think about it. He


hauled his body through his usual morning routine as
prescribed by Uncle Grady after Florida: an hour of
mind workor as he liked to call it, reminding that fucking life
ruiner inside him who was in charge.
An hour of shoving weights around while some algorithm in
his GoGen bioware blasted a carefully curated set of songs to
drown out the wolfs protests. Then came the 15K run through
the untouched rainforest of a habitable planet Earth had
tentative plans to colonize someday. Humid and teeming with
otherworldly insects, the scene he ran through at a fast but
steady clip was the exact opposite of what lay beyond the Alaska
kingdom houses totem-flanked doors. Snow, and lots of it.
Mountains covered in more snow. And a lake still filled with ice
floes because it wasnt ready to admit it was already summer.
Usually, the wolf had heeled by now, leaving Nagos mind free
to work on the engineering project NASA had recently tasked
him with. Well, technically theyd asked his start-up to handle
it: Local Integrated Future EngineeringL.I.F.E. for short and a
somewhat ham-fisted ode to Steve Jobs. But hey, he was an
engineer, not a poet, and it had been the best way for him to pay
homage to the icon whod inspired him to dream beyond the
golden handcuffs of his kingdom throne.
But today the wolf gave him no peace. It refused to quiet down
during meditation. As it turned out, what Nago was trying hard
not to think about was the only thing the wolf wanted to discuss.
It pushed at him so hard to do something that he was forced to
cut the session short.
But even his workout music wasnt enough to drown out the
wolfs voice.
He could feel it unraveling his mind. Making extremely
explicit threats about what would happen if Nago kept refusing
to think about the thing hed vowed not to think about.
By the time Nago cleared the fifth kilometer on a planet only
high-resolution cameras had navigated, the wolf had let him
know loud and clear that hed be getting no visionary thinking
done today
Hear about this Chivaree shit? KNWF
Nago came to a dead stop when the unmarked number
flashed across his bioscreen. Not just because of the message
so close to what hed been trying not to think aboutbut also
because of the tag attached to it: KNWF.
The message was from Knud, the brother he hadnt heard
from in years.
Nago almost responded with a return bio. But the unmarked
number and five-word question didnt exactly scream, Yeah, bro,
get in contact so we can gossip about your fucked-up obsession.
Even if they hadnt spoken much since Alarus, Nago still
understood his brother better than most. Knuds question was
an FYI, not an invitation to connect.
Nago stared at the message on his bioscreen, the
technological equivalent of a minds eye.
After a moment of indecision, he elled his fingers.
His brother Rafes, President of the North American Lupines,
popped up on his viewscreen. Whats up, Nago? he asked,
sounding rushed.
Nago blinked, then forced the wolf down enough to say. She
agreed to a Chivaree.
Lots of cursing, then, Who told you? Knud? I specifically sent
him a message not to say anything to you!
Knowing Knud, that was exactly why hed messaged Nago. As
his mother used to say back when they were teens, if Knud and
Rafes had been twins, they would have killed each other before
adulthood. Nago was their buffer, the brother who kept the other
two from tearing each other apart. At least thats how it had
been before Alarus.
Did he say where he was? Rafes asked.
No, he was using an unmarked number.
Impressive, since Nago was considered the technical genius of
their triumvirate. He wouldnt have suspected his lethal brother
even knew how to run a hack. But then again, Knud had
remained in the Special Forces a hell of a lot longer than Nago.
Who knew what he was capable of now?
More cursing from Rafes. Then, Well, now you know.
Nothing to do about it but deal.
Make them call it off.
Nago
He watched Rafes rub a hand over his face on his ell screen.
As if Nago was ten times more annoying than anything he had to
deal with in his presidential role. Normally Nago was sensitive to
his brothers moods. He, more than most, knew the kind of intel
Rafes was dealing with these days. Much to their historian
mothers horror, Nago had even overseen the design for the
black box project which would severely limit fated mate travel to
and from North America through the time portals.
But right now Nago wasnt remotely interested in playing the
loyal brother. Youre the president, he argued. And Im the
one who designed your fucking black box system. Do this for me.
Make them call it off.
You understand being president isnt the same as being an
alpha king, right? I dont have absolute power like you up there
in Alaska.
But you could sign an executive order
And it would still take two weeks to get it processed. At
least. From what I understand, this hillbilly event is taking place
tomorrow morningyou know, when were supposed to be
installing the first black box in North Dako?
Rafes suddenly cut off. Not because hed finished speaking,
but because Nago had balled his hands into fists, effectively
ending the ell chat.
Nago stood there, the holograph shivering around him as it
waited for him to resume his run. Shivering like him. Despite the
heat hed worked up while running, his body felt ice cold. As if
the snow swirling outside the kingdom house had somehow
snuck in past the double-paned insulated windows and invaded
his chest.
Dont do it. Cmon Nago. Just let her go, his human advised,
tone set on beg.
But the wolfit said nothing. It had gone completely still
inside him.
As if preparing to pounce.
5

W hats wrong?
Nothings wrong, Halle answered, not
bothering to paste on an everythings fine
expression as she shoved a snaking cable down a hole at a Wolf
Hills house whose toilets and sinks were currently backed up.
They were bio-talking the old-fashioned way since Halle
needed her mindscreen free. Also, this plumbing repair, while
necessary, was a lot more distasteful than her usual fix-it jobs
around the kingdom-town. Definitely nothing to smile about.
Whats wrong? Nago asked again in her audio-only feed.
Nothing! She turned up the volume on her bioware, flipped
on a switch, then watched the old machine shed found a few
years ago in the former town caretakers cabin feed cable into
the little houses main drainage line. Im just snaking Mrs.
Lupos main line...
Again?
Yeah, Ive got to ask Pastor Connery for some tips because
my sermon on the evils of flushing baby wipes didnt get taken
to heart at the last pack meeting.
Halle pushed the reverse button, but the machines motor
was barely kicking. She pulled her work gloves back on and
began to manually help the machine retract the snaking cable.
Im just hoping its only baby wipes this time. Remember that
time I found a rat out at the Ethelwulfs?
Nago chuckled, Yeah, I dont think Im ever going to forget
that story. So his voice suddenly became more serious, is
this what youre doing tonight instead of going to prom?
Yup, living the princess dream, she answered. Dont be
jealous.
Im trying not to be, Nago answered. But the only rats I
ever get to see are in biogames.
I know, right? Poor Nago. You rich Colorado folks dont
know what youre missing!
He laughed.
And she said, Yay, no rats! when the cable came back with a
dozen plus baby wipes attached to it. Lemme go get my
payment from Mrs. Lupo, then Ill bio you right back.
After collecting her pay, which consisted of a sorta promise to
cool it with the baby wipes and a bulk bag of Cal-Mart gummi
bears, Halle bioed Nago on her walk back to the kingdom house
from the main residential part of Wolf Hills.
Talking to him was a much better alternative to worrying
about all the broken streetlights that needed fixing on her way
home. Or feeling sorry for herself because she didnt have
enough money to buy a dress for prom since Dad had
disappeared with the monthly check from their rental
properties. Again. Or thinking about the text bio shed received
earlier
There were many problems in need of fixing. So she called
back the one person in her life who needed no fixing at all.
But the first thing Nago said upon answering was, Ready to
talk about whats wrong yet?
Nothings wrong! she insisted.
I can hear it in your voice.
Its stupid. Too stupid to talk about
She waited for him to let her off the hook. But he stayed silent
until she quietly admitted, You know that bio I sent my mom a
few months ago asking if I could visit her?
The one she never returned?
Yeah, that one. Well, I guess she wants me to stop trying to
fix our relationship because she finally sent me an answer this
morning. She said shes moved on with her fated mate and will
be starting another family soon. So, you know, probably best for
me to move on, too, and not write her anymore. Actually, she
didnt say probably. It was more like, Stop writing me. Stop
asking to see me. Real clear. Yeah, real clear.
Babe She couldnt see Nago, but she could hear the sad
look on his face. By the Fenrir, thats shitty news to get two
days before your birthday.
I know. Thats why I didnt want to talk about it. Swiping
angrily at the tears that had formed in her eyes, she said, Lets
talk about you, okay? I mean, youre the one shipping out first
thing tomorrow morning. Are you all packed?
Yeah, I got my duffel right here.
Are you scared? she asked. I mean, this is a pretty big
change in lifestyle from biogames.
Yeah, it is, he agreed quietly. Then, So youre really not
going to prom?
Nago, its a stupid human thing, she replied with a roll of
her eyes. And I dont even have a dress, so whatever. Im
almost home. Ill go take a shower, put on some music, and
dance alone in my room.
You sure about that?
Real sure. You dont have to feel sorry for me just because
Im not going to prom.
No, Im not feeling sorry for you, babe. Im feeling sorry for
me. Because if you dont want to go to prom, that means I came
all this way for nothing.
She scrunched up her face. What do you mean?
But Halle trailed off when she saw the figure standing under
the dilapidated front portico of the Mississippi kingdom house.
It wasnt her father. She sensed that right away since Dad wasnt
the type to await her arrival outside anyway. Could it be?
The wind down shifted, carrying the visitors scent to
her nose.
And thats when she discoveredit was!
Nago! she yelled, breaking into a run toward the house.
Toward him.
Only to stop short when she saw him up close.
He was wearing a tux and holding a hanger with an evening
gown on it. Shed later discover he borrowed it from one of his
twin sistersright before hopping in a drone to Tallahassee,
Florida, where drones were legal, then hiring a bullet car to take
him to her house.
The dress fit perfectly. But even if it hadnt, just seeing him
standing on her kingdom house steps, ready to dance the night
away even though hed need to be in California by 5:00 A.M. the
next morningwell, that was already enough to make this her
best night ever.
6

TWELV E YEA RS LATER

H alle walked down those same kingdom house steps


already knowing it would be her worst night ever.
Holding with tradition, shed spent the day before
her Chivaree being prepared by some of the packs older she-
wolves. Theyd escorted her into a warm bath scented with
magnolia bath salts and sprinkled with magnolia petals where
she soaked for a good half hour. After which the women applied
just enough make-up to her face to make her skin appear dewy
and make-up free. Then they dressed her in the white shift worn
by Chivaree brides since the early 1900s, before dressing
themselves in white to escort her out to the gazebo that sat on
the property behind the house.
It would have been faster to leave out the back door, but
tradition. On the eve of her Chivaree, a Chivaree bride always
leaves by the front door to signify her departure from her
fathers house.
And even though the gazebo was behind the house, she could
hear the celebration as soon as she stepped foot outside.
Loud, raucous hick-hop assaulted her ears, and even that was
nearly drowned out by the roar of the crowd waiting for the
spectacle to begin. Hundreds of wolves had driven into the
Mississippi kingdom-town for the big event. Halle supposed she
couldnt blame the gawkers. Mississippi hadnt thrown a
Chivaree since the 1980s.
And it wasnt like there was a lot to do in this part of wolf
country. Save for Louisiana, most southern states were mange
states like hers. Which the rest of wolf society defined as either
completely broke or dependent on illegal businesses to keep
their coffers full.
Mississippi was the former. Her father didnt have the
stomach to deal in the big three mange state money makers:
drugs, guns, and/or sex.
Well, at least she didnt think he had the stomach for it. As it
turned out, he could handle the last one, if not the first two. As
evidenced by her Chivaree.
Dont think too hard about it, Mrs. Lupo said beside her,
gently patting her hand. I saw a few of them back in the 70s,
and they werent too bad.
There are worse ways to start off a marriage, Mrs. Chinua, a
little old black lady said on her other side.
Sure are chimed in a bunch of other ladies in white.
Though they were all she-wolves, as a group they represented
what Wolf Hills had become after the Civil War. A kingdom-
town mostly made up of whites and Latinos with a decent
number of blacks thrown in. All dedicated to keeping the
everythings fine faade on a kingdom-town that had
managed well enough until her fathers line took over.
A new king will be good for this place, Mrs. Connery said,
seeming to speak for all of them. She cast a disparaging eye
toward the portico columns. So much of the white paint had
fallen off that they were now nothing more than red brick
columns dotted here and there with flecks of white that hinted
at their former Greek Revival grandeur. And maybe that Ohio
Prince of yours will fix up this house after he marries you.
And refill the town caretaker position! Mrs. Lupo added.
At that, Halle grinned. But I like being the town caretaker.
Its the only way I get to see all of you on a regular basis. Plus,
cookies and cakes.
At that, many of the white-clad ladies tittered. During the
past decade, the joke around town was you knew whose house
Halle was fixing if you followed your nose. Because wherever the
scent of baked goods was strongest, youd find Halle.
Technically, shed received her associates degree in accounting,
but she was better known throughout the state as the Handy
Princess from Wolf Hills. And fixing everything from ancient
plumbing to senior citizen taxes was how she earned her happy,
but meager living.
Still, its not right for a girl your age having to do all the
fixin up round here, Mrs. Lupo insisted. A real king will be
just the thing this place needs.
Speak of the devil a voice said behind her.
Halles eyes lifted to see her father waiting at the edge of the
front lawn in a suit. It was the same one hed been married in,
she noted, recognizing it from the framed wedding portrait that
used to sit on the mantle in the receiving room before Keri
ran off.
Hi, Daddy, she said.
Hi, sweetheart, he answered, his face more jovial than
Christmas. Ladies, you ready to see our girl finally secure us a
king? Its going to be a real nice time. Real nice!
Halle could smell the alcohol on his breath and felt the
pitying stares of the kingdom-town women who stood with her.
Instead of responding directly, Pastor Connerys wife spoke
the traditional words. We are handing this princess over for
Chivaree. May the moon bless her catching. And may God bless
her life.
Hmm, yes, thank you kindly, Mrs. Connery, answered her
father whod never been anywhere near as religious as his father
whod gone to seminary instead of college, or his grandfather, a
preacher whod won the kingdom unexpectedly in an old-
fashioned kingdom fight.
There had been no Chivarees during her grandfathers fire
and brimstone reigns. But all that ended tonight.
Special delivery, her father said, handing her a bouquet of
flowers, as was tradition.
Thank you, Daddy, she said dutifully, careful not to make
eye contact with any of ladies in the escort party.
As was tradition, the women in white preceded her across the
lawn to the gazebo. Leaving Halle to trail behind on her
fathers arm.
Erics family paid for those flowers, he proudly whispered
as they walked. Obviously, he couldnt deliver them himself,
but I told him Id pass on his good wishes.
Yes, obviously She fingered the bouquet and reminded
herself how lucky she was to have this opportunity. The Chivaree
wasshe pushed away the words humiliating and barbaric
to finally settle on old-fashioned.
And Eric was an old-fashioned guy. She liked that about him.
Along with his clear, no-nonsense intentions. Nothing
passionate like Nago had been when they were young. We were
just kids, she reminded herself for the billionth time, trying to
get around the cracking feeling that happened inside her chest
whenever she thought about him. Just dumb kids.
But Eric was a man. Practical with a vested interest in adding
Mississippi to his familys collection of kingdom-towns.
While most wolves mated for life, Erics father had somehow
managed to go through not just one, but two wives. And he was
currently on number three. Eric was the youngest of six boys,
and the four brothers between him and the current alpha king of
Ohio had already married into kingdoms. So Mississippi would
be their familys crowning achievement. One king with six
king sons.
To that end, Eric had courted Halle for nearly six months.
Coming down to Mississippi at least twice a month to get to
know her better. He claimed himself lucky to have found a
sensible mate in Halle.
Your company is a true pleasure, hed told her. Unlike the
experience I had with Ola Greenwolf. Or should I say the
experience I endured? I dont know what I was thinking. Could
you see me in North Dakota? Dancing and waving rainbow
flags?
Ola was one of Nagos younger cousinsone of the twin
daughters of a famous game designer. Halle herself knew of but
never met the younger she-wolf. And yes, she had quite a
reputation with her bad girl antics often landing her in WolfNet
gossip round-ups.
But she was also one of the few princesses in the world slated
to inherit a throne without a king at her side. And the North
Dakota throne shed soon be inheriting currently belonged to her
uncles whod made North American history as the first gay
couple to preside over a kingdom throne. For those two reasons
alone, Olas legacy boiled down to more than waving rainbow
flags around.
But other than some questionable differences in politics, she
and Eric got along fine. And sure, it felt more like a merger than
a love connection. But shed done the no-holds-barred love
thing with Nago, and look where that got her?
The patch Halle wore rubbed against her skin as she walked
across the field with her father. Reminding her of the price shed
once paid for following her heart.
With a determined mind, she bent her head and smelled the
flowers. Theyre beautiful, she said, smiling over at her father.
He looked good in his suit. Younger. And though she knew dye
and concealer were the reasons for the disappearance of the gray
in his hair and dark circles under his eyes, his spirit seemed
lighter. Almost buoyant at the prospect of handing over the
Mississippi throne to Eric.
Yes, Erics a good one, her father said as if confirming her
thoughts about his satisfaction with her soon-to-be-mate.
You're lucky one finally came through after all those others
didnt. Id almost given up hope...
Somehow Halle managed to hold on to her pleasant
expression, even as her father pointed out how poorly shed
done the one job assigned to her at birth. Even after shed finally
forced herself back into the dating pool after what happened
with Nago, none of her relationships worked out, always fizzling
out around the six-month markuntil Eric came along.
She had Eric now. Eric whod do just about anything to fulfill
his legacy. She was lucky, she decided. Even if his troth came
with a strange condition.
Stop looking so sad emoji, girl! her father commanded.
You cant blame the boy for wanting to have some fun with
your mating.
No, she supposed she couldnt
As an only child, she didnt quite understand the whole
sibling rivalry thing. But shed gone on enough dates with Eric to
know how much he resented growing up in the shadow of five
older brothers. And winning a Chivaree would definitely make
him stand out.
So she continued her barefoot walk through the half acre of
thick brown grass dressed in nothing but the traditional
Chivaree shift. Moving forward despite the river of dread in her
stomach.
Its okay, her father kept saying, squeezing her elbow.
Everythings going to be fine.
Finally being the father shed wished for after her mother
ran off.
For this.
The noise from the Chivaree crowd was getting louder. Soon,
theyd have to shout to hear each other.
But it didnt come to that. Her father said nothing else, just
escorted her up the gazebo steps past all those cheering and
jeering spectators, as if she were a pageant queen like her
mother had once been. Halle only glanced briefly at the crowd.
Not long enough to lose her nerve, but enough to see the women
in white toward the back of the crowd. Arms crossed with tight
lips, despite their encouraging words.
She knew many of them didnt approve of this Chivaree. How
had one woman put it before the others shushed her? Everybody
already thinks Mississippi is the most backward state in the
council. Why prove them right?
But her father insisted this would be a good thing for the
kingdom. And Hallewell, Halle loved her people and knew
pretty much anyone would be a better king than her father. So
shed gone along with it. And now she was standing on a stage,
getting cat-called by a bunch of men, most of whom shed never
met before.
She knew Eric stood among them. He was a gentleman and
wouldnt participate in the catcalls. But theyd agreed ahead of
time not to acknowledge each other during the ceremony. It was
common knowledge that they were dating, but he didnt want to
make the whole thing seemed rigged with too much eye contact
beforehand.
So she stood there, not looking at anyone. And the yells
seemed to get louder and louder. Like some unseen force was
turning up the volume.
Her father only laughed, like this was all good fun. And then
without any further ado, he said, Alright, alright, alriiiiight,
gentlemen! We got five chasin spots open to heat my daughter,
the Princess of Mississippi, tomorrow. Remember, fellas: the
winner will automatically become the Alpha King of Mississippi!
This Chivaree is truly the chance of a lifetime, so bid accordingly,
yall. Chasin Spot One bidding will start at five-hundred dollars.
Five hundred dollars! Going once! Going twice!
7

I t took everything in Nago to control the wolf. Every. Single.


Fucking. Thing.
Watching her on that stage. Looking so vulnerable in a
white shift. It was probably supposed to come off as innocent,
but someone had shone a spotlight directly on her, and every
male could see the outline of what her father had put on display
as he took bids for the first spot in tomorrow mornings
Chivaree.
Ell from your brother, Rafes, his bio-ware suddenly
bleated. Ell from your brother, Rafes.
Hell. He doubted Rafes was calling to go over last-minute
black box details. Nago subvocalized a decline command; his
hands curled so tightly with rage, he doubted he could have
taken the ell even if he wanted to. And he didnt want to.
Going once. Going twicethe first Chasin Spot is SOLD for
$12,000! Halles father called out, pointing at the winner. Some
dumb fuck whod worn a hunting cap to the auction. A goddamn
hunting cap.
The beast inside him reared.
And suddenly it was ten years ago, and he was back in a drone
copter trying to control the thing inside him before it set down
in a Tallahassee drone field.
Usually, people waited inside the little metal building on the
outskirts of the field that had been commissioned by the Florida
panhandle city as soon as Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia
declared themselves no-drone zones. But to his surprise, Halle
was waiting for him when he stepped off the copter, right
outside the yellow safety lineas close as you could get without
setting the proximity alarms off. She wore a rose-colored
sundress and held a package of gummi bears in her hands. It was
the industrial Cal-Mart size and had a red sticky bow attached to
it. By the Fenrir Wolf, if she wasnt the prettiest sight hed
ever seen.
But as surprised as he was to see her, she looked way more
surprised to see him.
Nago? she asked when he came over to her. She sniffed the
air hard, doing a nose check.
The wolf stopped growling at the sound of her voice. And it
felt to Nago like it was staring at her from inside him.
Yeah, its me, he answered, struggling to keep his voice
light.
But Halle shook her head. No, it cant be, she answered
carefully. My Nago is about this tall, she raised a hand just a
short distance past her forehead, and gives the best hugs
because hes really soft. But you...youre
Oh, he said, glancing down at himself in his fatigues and t-
shirt. Blame it on a last-gasp growth spurt. Plus, they didnt let
us eat any junk food. And we had to work out every day during
basic training. Then Rafes got to trash-talking Knud and me
about which of us could make the most gains. So I couldnt let
him get away with that...
He trailed off when he saw the way she was looking at him.
Wary. Like hed swallowed her boyfriend whole. Like maybe she
could feel the wolf staring at her. Hard and intent.
Nago shook his head, insisting, Most girls would be happy to
see their fat boyfriend come back looking like this.
But apparently, Halle wasnt most girls because she tilted her
head with a sad look and said, Its like youre a totally different
person.
His face hardened. Babe, its me. You know that.
She continued to hesitate.
Thisnew look. It doesnt change anything. It changes
nothing.
She clamped her lips.
And suddenly he could no longer hold on to both the wolf and
his temper. Are you fucking with me, Halle? I come all the way
here, and you dont even say, Hi, Nago. Did you have a good
two-leg twenty-hour flight to get here? Instead, you come after
me for growing and putting on some muscle! What the hell kind
of homecoming is that?!
Halle visibly startled. Probably because the Nago shed known
had never yelled at her. Hell, that Nago didnt even have a
temper.
He closed his eyes. Getting a grip on himself. Telling the wolf
to stay the fuck back. Then he said, Im sorry.
No, noIm sorry, she rushed in to say before the words
were fully out of his mouth. Youre right. I was surprised is all.
Then she gave him the most beautiful smile and said, Hi,
Nago. Did you have a good 20-hour flight? You know, Im still
crazy in love with youeven if it feels a little weird to call you
Gummi Bear now. I mean, do you even like gummi bears now?
And then it wasnt the wolf he was fighting. But tears. Still,
he somehow choked out, Who doesnt like gummi bears?
Well, criminally insane puppy kick
He dropped his duffel bag and pulled her into his arms,
engulfing her so tight, it felt more like he was holding on for
dear life than giving a hug.
Maybe it felt the same for her, too, because she said, You
okay, Gummi Bear?
I am now, he answered, nodding into her shoulder. I
am now.
And at the time, he thought he was telling the truth.

oing once, going twicesold for 20,000!


Lots of hooting and hollering all around as that Ohio prince

G
with five brothers won the fourth spot in the
auction. Nago was surprised the tool had waited
this long. But hed probably wanted to up the
drama factor by not putting in a bid until the second-to-last
auction round. Fucker.
And the three wolves whod won the first auction wouldnt be
much competition for Eric. Even the guy in the hunting cap
looked like he was more suited to office work than running down
a female in heat. Nago wouldnt be at all surprised if Erics
megalomaniac father secretly funded the other three bids.
The further south you got in the States, the poorer the
kingdom-towns tended to become. So the chances of a fit, young
person who 1) actually wanted a marriage of convenience with a
she-wolf he barely knew, and 2) had up to $20K in disposable
cash lying around, and 3) was oh-so-excited about taking over a
bankrupt kingdom with nothing but one falling-apart southern
colonial house and a few acres with a half dozen pre-Civil War
rental units on it, and Wolf Hills, a town with a population
consisting of wolves who were either too poor or too old to move.
No, princes like Eric and his a-hole father didnt come along
every day. And they didnt seem like the kind of family who was
dedicated to fighting clean and fair.
Nago looked back toward the gazebo, as her father started
taking bids for the fifth and last Chasin Spot. Watched Halle
keep herself still in front of the jeering men. And though her
skin wasnt his skin, he could feel it crawling. Could feel the
crack in her chest like it was his own.
525, one of the catcallers said. Like he was doing her a
favor.
One hundred thousand, another voice said, shocking the
crowd into silence.
As it turned out, that voice was his.
That made her look up.
But Halles eyes didnt light up like they used to. Her face
didnt relax into that familiar smile.
And he knew she didnt have any gummi bears waiting for
him this time. But he could smell them in the air as he moved
forward without will or intention. Like a magnet drawn through
the crowd.
She watched him approach with wide eyes, just as shed
watched him that day when hed stepped out of the drone
copter. How had she described him?
A totally different person.
She blinked down at him from the gazebo stage as if he were a
hallucination.
Ahthank you for your generous bid, King of Alaska, her
fathers voice said in the distance. One hundred thousand.
Going oncegoing twice.
One million, Nago said. Outbidding himself just so he could
keep staring at the woman in the linen shift. The gown looked
both old and new. A style no one wore anymore, but lightweight
and damn near disposable like the clothes of this century.
Hi, Nago, he wanted her to say. How was your flight? You
know, Gummi Bear, Im still crazy in love with you.
But that was not what she said upon seeing him for the first
time in ten years.
Going oncegoing twice her father was saying in the
distance.
And suddenly she animated, yelling out, No! No! Not
him! No!
Nago never took his eyes off the she-wolf he used to call his.
But he heard her father say, Against the rules. Cant stop
anybody from buying a Chasing Spot. Thats the whole point of a
Chivaree.
And then she was coming toward him, her hands balled into
fists. Her brown eyes locked on his. She was yelling something
over and over again.
Why?!? Why are you doing this to me?! he realized she was
sayingright before she punched him square in the face with
one of those balled-up fists.
8

MISSISSIPPI, 18 37

S he was either going to be eaten alive or whipped to death.


Both possibilities throbbed in her chest. While the
deep scratch across her torso and the bite on her leg
burned. But despite the wolf, shed made it into the tree. To the
highest branch she could reach without fear of it not holding her
weight.
At first, the wolf had growled loud and rough, bouncing its
front paws off the tree trunk and shaking the entire tree with its
intent to reach her. But now it had gone silent. Stalking back and
forth beneath her branch.
Like one of Massas dogs waiting for something to drop from
the table.
Or someone.
She shifted her focus to those others who wanted to kill her.
Their swaying lanterns poking holes in the distance. And them
dogs barking in a near frenzy. Getting closer.
Throwing her head rag down by the river had been stupid, she
realized. One more thing the dogs could use to track her.
Closer. They were getting closer.
She looked down at her palms and saw dark streaks. Not dirt,
but blood turned black under the moonlight. His blood. And
shouldas flooded into her head.
She shoulda been expecting it. Shed been bleeding for four
Christmases now. She knew what that meant. Any day now, a
few of the other woman had warned her.
She shoulda just let him do it. But she hadnt expected him to
come at her in the kitchen. While she was cleaning up after
Massas dinner party, and thinking about all the pretty dresses
shed seen when she poked her head into the dining room.
Hadnt expected him to try with his guests and parents right
there in the next room.
More than anything, she shoulda thought it through smart
and proper before grabbing one of them meat knives out the
pitcher theyd been soaking in.
If shed thought bout it first, she woulda let him do it.
Woulda closed her eyes and let her mind wander someplace else
until he was done. Then she woulda finished up her work and
gone home to her cot in the slave quarters.
But thats not what she did.
And now she was up a magnolia tree in a real fix, with all
manner of things trying to get at her. She could hear the mens
voices now. Think they got something musta picked up her
scentthis wayover there
But then all of a sudden she heard growling. Not the dogs, but
the wolf below. Which maybe wasnt a surprise since the dogs
were getting close to the meal it was smacking its lips for. The
surprise came when the whole wood lit up with growls. Growls
like those of the wolf below rose out of the dark and into the
trees from every direction, including the low hills beyond.
So many, it sounded like the night was made of them.
Quick as ever, the barking stopped in the distance, cutting off
in a flurry of whimpers.
Wolves she heard the scattered voices say. Not safe
better not risk it only got one gungettin late anyways
probably drowned in that rivercaint swimbetter death than
she deserved no howcome back when its light.
Then the voices receded, and just like that, her troubles were
down to one. One enormous wolf.
Shed never seen a wolf in all her born days, truth be told. But
even in her worst imaginings, she wouldnt have thought up one
this large. Were they all like this? If so, no wonder folks was so
scared of them. And if her ears were telling truth, these woods
were filled with wolves. She should maybe count herself among
the blessed that shed made it this far without getting ate up by
one of them.
But blessed wasnt exactly the word she was thinking of
right then.
Her eyes skittered away from the wolf to the sky. It was
purple now. Twilight as she heard it called. She recognized
this sky because its the one that usually greeted her when shed
roll out of her cot to eat first meal. Cornbread and salted pork.
Her stomach growled at the thought of it.
And down below the wolf growled at the thought of her.
While she continued to bleed from two places.
To make matters worse, she had a strong need to pee now the
patrollers had gone off.
Shed been willing to die only a few hours ago she reminded
herself as the wolf growled up at her. But not now. Now she
found herself clinging to this pitiful life. Wanting to live, mostly
cuz it felt like she never had.
The North Star was no longer visible in the rising dawn, but
she could still hear it singing to her like the memory of a song
you might have heard once before you was born.
Also, the need to relieve herself was becoming urgent.
Maybe she could piss on the wolfs head, she thought darkly.
It would be so surprised, she could maybe jump out this tree and
limp awayright before another wolf attacked her and ate her
right up.
She shivered at the thought and glanced back down at
the wolf.
Only to freeze, her whole body going cold. Not because of the
morning dew dampening her smock dress, but because the wolf
was no longer down below.
In its place wasa man? Yes, a man laid where the wolf once
stood. Naked as the day he was born. He had long black hair,
near down to his butt. Like that of a woman. But she knew he
was a man for sure because of the thing between his legs. He
wasnt white, exactly. His skin was darker than that, like
burnished copper. Indian? Shed never seen one before. But
Jedediah, who had lived longer than most and liked to tell
stories, had described one he met who looked just like this.
The rope shed tripped over earlier was wrapped around his
neck. In all her born days she had never encountered a
circumstance like this. Who was he? Then a darker, more
disturbing question arose. What was he?
All thoughts of who or what he might be fled her mind when
he suddenly staggered to his feet. His hands went to the rope,
and with a tug, the loop around his neck became wide enough for
him to pull over his head and toss to the ground.
She watched from her perch in the tree, frozen between the
need to run and the instinct to stay as still as possible, so as not
to be seen by the manwolfwhatever demon thing he be
below. He did not see her far as she could tell. And there was still
a chance he would turn and go away without spotting her in
the tree.
But his head jerked up, and he sniffed the air hard, nostrils
flaring same as shed seen animals do. Then as if the air had
spoken directly to him, he looked straight up at her in the
magnolia tree.
9

T echnically, it was all her fault.


Thats what Halle told herself afterward. When she
was looking for someone to blame. When she was still
so heartsick that blaming herself felt better than blaming the
boy she loved. The boy she thought had loved her
It was just like shed learned in the accounting classes shed
been taking her first year of community college. Wrong
numbers, wrong calculations.
People never truly got how important the numbers were. In
finance, but also in life. People died when someone got the
numbers wrong. Rocket ships blew up and pension plans
imploded. Lives could be ended and destroyed by numbers.
And her numbers had been wrong from the start. Later when
she audited their relationship, when she stopped mooning
around and did the math, she could she see Nago for what he
was: a cruel, rich boy whod liked having a hick princess as an
admirer.
But shed been too young to see that. Shed believed every
word he told her, up to and including, you always have a home
with me.
But that had all come to an end the weekend he visited.
Even before then, the numbers had stopped adding up. In the
year since prom, Nago had been in contact less and less. In
contrast to their first year apart when theyd spoken every single
day, during the second year it often took him days to return her
bios. Once even two months. But Nago had apologized profusely
when he finally bio-ed her back and had talked so sweetly about
how much he looked forward to seeing her and hearing about her
first year at the local human community college, that shed
forgiven him in an instant.
Just send me a bio to let me know youre ok next time,
shed told him. I was scared to death.
Sorry, babe, Nago had murmured over the audio feed. I
just want to see you. Ill make it up to you when I see you.
Never once mentioning the massive changes hed undergone
in the year theyd been apart.
But she should have known that Nago, the Gummi Bear shed
fallen in love with, was gone as soon as that muscle-bound
soldier stepped off the plane.
As hed said, most girls would have been thrilled at the
transformation, but to Halle, he seemed older than the
nineteen-year-old nerd shed been expecting. Weary, with dark
hollows under his eyes. Hed also become ridiculously
handsome, which meant he looked exactly like all those perfect
specimens from summer camp with a body builder overlay.
It was bad enough when hed been wealthier and smarter
than herthe old fear of him no longer liking her returned like a
boomerang, hitting her in the stomach. Because how could he
still want her when he looked like that, and she was the same old
Halle with box braids she did herself? So many numbers were not
adding up
But then he pulled her into his arms and enveloped her in a
hug so tight she couldnt wrap her arms around him in return.
And she forgot the numbers. At least until they got to the hotel
where theyd be staying the night, before taking a bullet car to
Wolf Hills the next day.
The hotel room was not as nice as the ones on those shows
that followed the rich and famous around. But Halle had never
stayed in a hotel before this one, so it felt perfect to her. Plus, it
overlooked the pool.
But it wasnt perfect for Nago. As soon as the door closed
behind him, she knew it. He was too big for the small space. And
though he wore fatigues, Halle couldnt shake the feeling that
these lodgings were squalid in comparison to the kind of hotels
where he usually stayed.
He doesnt belong here, she remembered thinking. And it was
all she could do not to say the words out loud as she watched him
take out his expensive leather duffel and unpack every single
item into the dresser drawer.
She told herself not to think that way. Nago had never said
one arrogant word to her. Never once acted like she was less
than him because his future kingdom coffers measured in the
hundreds of billions, while hers was lucky to end the year with
three figures in its account.
Also, there was tomorrows drive to Mississippi. Shed done
what she could to fix up the kingdom house before his visit, but
there was only so much painting and cleaning could cover up. If
this hotel room wasnt good enough for him, how could she even
think about letting him enter her dilapidated home?
You look tired, she said out loud, grabbing the backpack
hed carried up for her off the bed where hed dropped it. I
should probably go, let you get some sleep.
He flinched at her words as if shed slapped him. Then he
moved to block her before she could head down the short
hallway toward the door with her backpack slung over one
shoulder. Look I know I was an asshole earlier.
No, its not that. I understand, really
But do you think I came all this way to spend my first night
back on North American soil without you?
He crooked his head and chased her eyes until she tentatively
answered, No?
Hell no, I didnt! Im just tired, Halle. Exhausted. And I know
youre probably feeling done with me right now, but can you take
this nap with me? Just for a little bit?
She looked at him, worry and doubt filling her head like a
helium balloon. He had eyes like Nago. And he spoke to her as
Nago used to, but
But nothing, she decided, pushing the unsettled feeling away
as she said, Im kind of tired, too. I mean not twenty-hour-
flight-after-a-year-out-of-the-country tired
He groaned. Dont listen to me, babe. Im an asshole when I
get tired. Stay with me. Youll see I didnt mean it when I
wake up.
It was so easy to let herself believe. And Nago did look tired as
all get out
She unzipped her dress and let it fall to the floor before
quickly changing into the old t-shirt shed brought along as
pajamas. Theyd never slept together in a proper bed, she
realized as she quickly dived under the covers. It had been
against the rules at summer camp, and on prom night, hed had
to leave right after dropping her off at the Mississippi kingdom
house to make his 5:00 A.M. flight check-in.
Sleeping together would be different but nice, she assured
herself as she watched Nago strip down to his briefs on the other
side of the bed.
Even if he looked like an underwear model. Though
something was going on with the front of his briefs, she noted
with a frown. They poked out, rather than staying fitted against
Nagos contours like they were supposed to
Comprehension flooded Halle with the suddenness of a
flipped switch, suffusing her face with heat as she realized
exactly why his underwear was hanging so funny.
He followed her gaze down the front of his body. Oh, hell.
Dont pay any attention to that, Halle. Trust me; Im way too
tired to do anything anyway. He shook his head, like the thing
between his legs was a foreign object that had nothing to do with
her tired boyfriend.
And Nago climbed into the bed fast, as if trying to cover it up
and get it out of her line of sight, before leaning over to turn off
the light and settle against his pillow with a heavy sigh.
He really was tired, she noted. She could practically feel the
exhaustion pouring off him as his eyelids dropped shut.
But that thing underneath his briefs? It pulsed between them.
Sending its own kind of signal. Making it difficult for her to relax
enough to fall asleep.
They still hadnt done it. Or even so much as talked about
doing it. What had he said when their post-prom make-out
session on the front steps of her kingdom house got too heavy?
No, not yet, babe. Youre not legal, and I want our first time to
be in a real bed.
Well, they were in a real bed nowand with more curiosity
than intent, her hand snaked down between their bodies and
pushed past the waistband of his briefs.
At first, he didnt say anything, just went completely still.
Hes waiting, she realized after a breathless moment of resting
her palm on the rigid piece of flesh she found inside. Waiting to
see what she would do next.
She stilled, too. Taking a moment for her lungs to catch up
with her reality. And then she made the tentative decision to lift
Nagos rod from where it lay flat against his stomach, and she
began stroking her hand up and down it.
Nago stayed quiet, but she could feel his eyes on her in the
rooms dim light. Watching her closely as she carefully worked
him down below.
At first, it felt to Halle as if he was indulging her. Letting her
explore his body even though he was tired because he was a nice
guy. But then he suddenly inhaled on a hiss, as if hed been
holding himself back and couldnt take it anymore.
Halle, he whispered her name like a ragged prayer.
And then things began to feel very different. Like by stroking
faster, she was giving him something he needed.
Now it was her turn to watch him. He bit down on his lip, and
his eyes fell closed as she moved her hand up and down. Halle,
he whispered again.
She would have kept pumping her hand just to hear him say
her name a few more times, but he pulled her to him, one heavy
thigh bumping against hers as he kissed her long and hard. Not
like the sweet boy shed met at summer camp two years ago, but
like a man who wanted to do things to her. With her.
Then he caught her wrist down below and took over, using her
hand to slowly stroke himself, while he kissed her.
Its me. Its me. Im okay, he whispered against her lips.
Im okay
He cut off sharply, and in the next moment the thick length
hed been pumping with her hand pulsed. Pulsed so hard, Halle
could feel the surge right before he spilled, warm and viscous
over their joined hands.
Silence, charged and heated, dropped down between them in
the aftermath. And she waited. To see what he would doif hed
take things further now that she was eighteen and legal
according to both wolf and human laws.
Halle was both ready and not ready. Scared, and yet her body
was on fire with curiosity.
You okay? he asked her softly.
And for a moment, just a moment, it felt like the old Nago
was with her in the dim room.
She nodded. That was cool, she whispered.
He rumbled. Couldnt have been better for me.
Really?
And he answered her with a kiss, pressing his lips to hers as
he gently disengaged her hand from around his unit. Pulling her
close to push her away.
Shed think about that kiss for a long time afterward. Because
it ended up being their last.
Soon after, he exited the bed and disappeared into the
bathroom. And she started feeling bad the moment the door
closed behind him.
The fever of curiosity took on a new tint, and suddenly her
wolf reared up inside her. Needy and desperate to have him back
in the room.
As if answering her mental call, Nago returned from the
bathroom with a washcloth. He took the hand shed used to jerk
him off and cleaned it, handling it as if it were made of dark
brown porcelain.
You okay? he asked again as he slipped the towel between
her fingers.
She wanted to say she felt fine, but the truth was, I dont
feel so good. I feelweird. Like I have a fever, but my heart is
racing. I dont knowI dont know whats going on.
He frowned, a worried look passing over his face.
But her ignorance of what was happening with her body only
lasted for a few more secondsthen the smell released.
Sharp and piercing, it was the equivalent of an olfactory
tornado siren going off between her thighs. And suddenly she
could feel something making her slick below.
Arousal. The word came to her in an instant. Followed by the
minimal factoids shed learned about she-wolves going into heat
during that one summer at camp. That it came on suddenly. That
it rendered a she-wolf Godless, willing to open her legs for
anyone and anything. That it would fill her with such need, she
wouldnt be able to think of anything else until she was
mounted. Not just mounted. But pregnant. The tingling arousal
wouldnt stop until then.
Youre not on heat control? Nago asked, his voice guttural.
He still held her hand in his, but his grip had changed. No longer
tender, but squeezing tighter than a vice.
Its illegal in Mississippi, she answered on an outward
gasp. I thought you knew!
Oh Lord, she had never experienced anything like this. She
could feel her sex clenching in and out, desperately searching,
and the urge to touch herself with her free hand came on more
like a biological imperative than an inclination.
Oh, God! she gasped, rubbing at her sex. It was slippery
with arousal. Oh, God!
Halle, stop. Stop! she heard Nago bite out, his voice so
coarse it was nearly unintelligible. Youve got to stop.
Yes, she did. This wasnt how a southern lady behaved. Her
mother had warned her that she needed to not act like a hillbilly
when she went to camp. She had to be genteel and gracious. Like
she had both good sense and manners. And Halle had tried to
hold on to that in the years since her mother left. Even when she
was doing handy work around town, dressed in overalls, she
maintained the manners shed been brought up with.
But this need didnt allow for dignity or even the most basic
of manners. She rubbed the itch, trying to make it stop. But that
only made it worse. The more she rubbed, the more her body
throbbed, her wolf screaming with need. Nago! Nago! it
sobbed.
Or maybe that was her. She couldnt tell anymore. But
somebody was begging out loud. Oh, God, Nago. Please,
please!
No answer. And for a second she thought he might deny her,
say no
But in the next moment, he was upon her, flipping her onto
her stomach as if she weighed nothing. Large hands with
callused palms and long fingers viced down on her hips,
and then
She screamed out in a near agony of relief when he filled her
up from behind. It hurt a little, but only a little. Like a tiny bee
sting in a swarm of pleasure.
This was nothing like before. There was no cat-like curiosity
this time, just Nago fucking her. Pounding into her from behind
like shed asked.
And then her homemade box braids were swept aside, right
before Nago bit down on her neck, hard and more vicious than
expected. At that point the sex lost all control, taking on an ugly
tinge as Nagos strokes became unhinged and sloppy. But it
didnt matter. Her wolf didnt care. Didnt care about anything
except having a baby fucked into her by this man
With that thought, she came with another scream as an agony
of all-consuming pleasure wash over her. And just as she was
floating back down to earth, he yelled out, right before releasing
into her in a rush of seed. But then he started to swell where
their bodies were joined. Oh, God
Shed heard about it. But what the girls at summer camp had
said had not been enough of a warning. Their giggling
suppositions of what it might feel like to have a wolf knot inside
you didnt remotely prepare her for the reality.
Nago! Nago! she screamed, as intense back-to-back
orgasms started slamming into her without any mercy
whatsoever.
Maybe if she hadnt been such a virgin, her only experience in
life making out with Nago during those long summer nights and
after prom. Maybe if shed touched herself down below like a few
of the girls in her cabin at camp had said they had done. Or used
a vibrator eventhen maybe she wouldnt have reacted so
wildly.
But as it was, she screamed and screamed like a banshee
before passing out. The last thing she remembered was her sex
continuing to milk his knot as blackness overtook her like a
reprieve from madness.
That night, she dreamed she was wearing a cream-colored
wedding dress, marrying Nago beneath a flowering magnolia
tree. Strangely, his brothers were also therenot as best men,
but as grooms, pledging their troth to brides of their own. It was
a beautiful wedding filled with family and friends. She dreamed
of saying vows to him with a baby in her womb. Her and
Nagos baby.
Such a beautiful dream.
But then she woke to a nightmare.
It smelled wrong.
That was the first thing she noticed upon opening her eyes.
She sat up in bed, blinking against the morning light as she
sniffed and sniffed, trying to figure out what was wrong with this
olfactory picture. The room was saturated with the smell of old
heat, but there was also something that shouldnt be there. No,
someone. Someone who smelled like Nago, but wasnt.
With a start, Halle turned her head to find a man seated in a
chair in front of the rooms built-in desk.
Rafes? she asked, blinking some more as her eyes strained
to adjust to the bright morning light.
But no, it wasnt Nagos brother, she realized in the next
second when her eyes finally adjusted, and she could see the
salt-and-pepper at the edges of the mans otherwise Ken Doll
hair. He was also lighter than Rafes. A Latino Ken as opposed to
the triplets extra special Pantone mix of four different races.
No, Im Rafe Nightwolf Sr., Nagos father.
Oh. Oh!
Halle looked down and was relieved to find she was still
wearing her t-shirt, despite what had happened last night.
Thank God, because this wasnt even close to how shed
imagined her first meeting with Nagos father. Like not at all
Her embarrassed thoughts ceased with a new realization.
Nago was gone. Wheres Nago? she asked looking around the
room. Is he okay? Did something happen to him?
No, hes fine, Rafe Sr. answered. But he has
The older man looked down as if the hotel rooms plush
carpet might reveal the words he was looking for. Ah, well, hes
decided to leave.
Hes decided to leave, she repeated. ButIm in heat.
Yes, well Mr. Nightwolf continued to gaze at the carpet.
Then at the window, and the old-school desk lamp. Pretty much
everywhere in the room except where Halle sat half-naked
underneath the covers.
Where is he, Mr. Nightwolf? Can you please just tell me that,
sir? she asked, her respectful tone straining under his alarming
announcement.
Imnot at liberty to say.
Every word that came out of his mouth sounded carefully
calculated. Like they were at a Senate hearing rather than a hotel
roomthe morning after she and his son just had heat sex.
No, this doesnt make any sense. Nago wouldnt justleave
or whatever youre calling it.
She threw back the covers; modesty be damned. But then
stopped when she felt something foreign on her stomach. What
the? She lifted the bottom of her shirt.
And felt her entire body seize up with shock when she saw the
white square patch layered over her stomachs dark skin.
Now, this she recognized. Mainly from the warning posters in
the kingdom clinics office. It was a HeatAway patch, designed to
stop the estrous cycle of a she-wolf whod already gone into
heat. And like heat control, it was highly illegal in Mississippi.
She didnt understand. Any of it. Why was there a HeatAway
patch on her stomach?! Where was Nago?
As if in answer to her question, Mr. Nightwolf informed her,
Nago has decided, as is his legal right, not to finish the mating
process with you and accordingly, he has left the state.
He haswhat? she whispered, not believing him, wanting
him to stop talking. Stop talking right now.
But he continued, We werent sure how to handle this. Im
aware of your states ban on HeatAway, but since were in
Florida, we took the liberty of staying your heat so you could
make some important decisions with a clear mind. As you may or
may not know, that patch is only a temporary stay, but one that
can be extended as long as you wish. You can replace it with a
new one every twenty-four hours. And if you ever wish to go into
heat with another wolfanother more suitable wolfall you
need to do is remove it. If you do decide to go with the patch
option, we will provide them to you for as long as you wish since
we know its currently not possible to purchase in your home
state
Nagos dad had fallen out of focus again. Gone blurry. But this
time it wasnt because of the morning sun. It was because of the
tears in her eyes.
What do you mean gone? she asked, interrupting the older
mans lengthy speech. Why would he do that? He loves me. I
love him! He said
Im sorry, Princess. He didnt share those details with me,
Rafe answered, perhaps as gently as could be expected from a
father whod been sent in to tell the she-wolf his son abandoned
in a hotel room that not only would she not be mating his son
but shed need to switch out her illegal-in-Mississippi heat
patch every twenty-four hours until she learned to love again.
10

W hich she never had.


Ten years. Ten years shed been trying to get
over him. Ten years of trying to forget. Ten years of
putting herself out there again and again for relationships that
never worked out until she finally found a mateship that was all
but guaranteed. And now he was back?!
Why?! Why did you do that? Halle screamed, running
toward him.
She punched him. The first time shed seen Nago in ten years,
and she punched him like a crazed animal. Why did you
do that!?
He didnt answer. Only stared at her like she was the ghost
and not him.
Take it back! Not you! Not you! She shoved him, pushing
with all her might. But he was bigger now. Wider with muscles
packed on top of muscles. Like he lived in the gym. He didnt
budge.
He just continued to stare. His face hard. His eyes kind.
This was the Nago she last recalled seeing. But he wasnt the
one shed fallen in love with.
Why was he here? Why had he done this to her? After all
this time?
Why are you doing this to me? she demanded. Shoving
him. Slapping him. Kicking him.
Not seeing. Not caring about all the witnesses to her behavior.
A few who were probably recording her outburst this very
moment to post on WolfNet.
Halle hated him. More than she hated her mother. More than
she hated racism and rats in drainage lines and numbers that
didnt add up and pretty much any other shitty thing she could
think of. She hated him more than all that combined. And
despite that, he was here.
Bidding for her.
Upping his bid to a million fucking dollars, so it wouldnt and
couldnt be matched by anyone in the crowd, including Eric.
What the hell?! Why did he do that? Why?!?!!
She hit and hit him. But it was like wailing on a wall. He stood
there. Taking it. Without response.
Nago. Who used to compete with her to see who could get the
last sleepy word in as they drifted off on late-night bio calls.
Nago, who could go on for hours about his aunts latest video
game, but who also listened to her like he really gave a fuck
when she told him stories about all the old things around town
shed taught herself to fix.
Halle punched at him. And he stood there like a wall. While
distant voices called her name and told her to stop, get ahold of
herself.
She swiped a hand across his face, drawing blood. And even
then, he only watched her with his kind brown gaze. His
trickster eyes wide with what looked so much like sorrow, it
made her want to scratch them out of his goddamn lying face.
She lifted clawed fingers, prepared to do just that. But
suddenly a pair of large hands clamped around her wrists, and a
dark voice growled, I tried. I tried to leave you alone. But if you
are going to give yourself away, Halle, then I will be the one to
make your claim.
The voice was loud, but his lips hadnt moved. And for a
moment she struggled to comprehend what was happening until
she rememberedthe mate bond. It allowed for a kind of
telepathy. And though theyd only mated once, ten years ago,
without a new mate bond to replace it, theirs had remained
intact. Halles mind bonded to his. Her emotions bonded to his.
Like they were one and the same.
Just calm down, Halle, said a different male voice directly
behind her.
It was Bill, her fathers long-time beta, dragging her away
from the wolf inside her head. Oh God, he was in her head!!!

B ill didnt say much on their way back to the house. This
time she was escorted to the back door without
ceremony. Now that shed calmed down, she noticed
how tired her fathers long-time beta looked. Besides serving as
the Wolf Hills beta, which meant all policing duties were on him,
he also had a part-time construction job with the humans. And
unlike her dad, he hadnt used dye and concealer to cover up all
signs of aging for tonights event.
Im sorry I made you do that, she said, a wave of guilt
passing over her. I know you already got a lot to do with
keeping the Chivaree folks in line all by yourself.
That I do, Bill agreed with a weary sigh. Cant say Im not
looking forward to another beta coming on in my place.
I bet, she murmured, glancing toward the gazebo where the
loud hick-hop was playing again now that the main event
was over.
Her scene with Nago probably riled the crowd up that much
more. Sorry, she repeated. I justI just wanted this to go to
plan. And its not now that hes bought a Chivaree spot.
Yeah, well, aint much we can do about it now, Bill pointed
out with a shake of his head. You already done took the pill.
Wolf Hills was small, and Dr. Lowes wife, and head nurse,
Janet, was the worst gossip.
Which is why Halle wasnt at all surprised Bill, and probably
the entire town, knew shed taken a Heat Kickstart pill earlier at
the clinic before returning home to prepare for the auction.
However, what Bill didnt know was how true taking the pill
had made his words. If not for that, shed be able to put another
HeatAway patch on and stop the whole process in its tracks.
After all, she still had a half-years supply left from the last
shipment sent by Nagos father.
But the Heat Kickstart pillwhich had not been declared
illegal by her grandfatherwas much more powerful than the
HeatAway patch, and it was designed to kick-start a she-wolfs
heat no matter how long shed gone unmated.
So it didnt matter what Halle wanted now. Because shed be
going into heat tomorrow. Giving her hand in marriage, and the
Mississippi throne, to whichever wolf caught her first.
A minute after saying good-bye to Bill, Halle walked into her
bedroom in a complete daze. Her room was exactly as shed left
it. The dark green paint. The threadbare carpet. The old canopy
bed shed been sleeping in since her mother bought it brand new
when she was fourteen.
It was all still there, still the same. But everything had
completely changed.
She sat down on the edge of the bed and stared down at the
bouquet of flowers Erics family had bought her.
She couldnt stop thinking about what had just happened.
The bid called out in the darkthe parting of the crowdthen
Nago in her head. In her head.
She stayed there for a very long time. Staring out the window.
The music from the event got louder and louder, and then there
was a flash of blue and red light in the distance. Bill yelled
something through a bull horn and the music abruptly cut off.
Then everything became quiet. And eventually, the night was
filled with the rising and falling hum of cicadas, or katydids as
shed called them as a child. It was a sound Halle usually found
soothing. But not tonight.
Nago was still out there. Close enough that she could sense
him through their mate bond. She needed to do something. She
had to fix this. But how?
The answer came to her in a flash, and she sent an emergency
bio to bypass the bioware sleep function of the person she
wantedno, neededto connect with.
Halle? Erics voice sounded sleepy. Most guys werent used
to getting bios over their audio feeds these daysmuch less
emergency ones in the middle of the night. Whats going on? I
need to rest up for the Chivaree.
Meet me at these coordinates in fifteen minutes, she
answered.
She sent a set of coordinates directly to his bios gps system.
Then she ended the bio before he could ask her why.
11

A
better.
n hour later, Halle and Eric walked back toward the
house after shed explained her plan to him. Now that
shed figured out a way to fix this whole mess, she felt

Also, it was a beautiful evening for a late-night stroll. A


crescent moon hung high in the sky, adding its luminous glow to
the firefly light show blinking in and out of the trees. A soft
breeze plucked at Halles braids, briefly surrounding her in the
heady scent of magnolia blossoms. And it was all set to the
familiar soundtrack of a Mississippi summer evening: buzzing
cicadas, peeping frogs, and chirping crickets.
This is almost romantic, Halle thought as she walked beside
Eric. And pretended not to feel Nago on the other side of the tree
line they were fast approaching. Not to sense him scanning for
her, trying to get back inside her head.
Anything to do with that man will come to an end tomorrow,
she reminded herself. But the memory of the first words hed
spoken to her in over ten years continued to haunt the edges of
her mind: I tried. I tried to leave you alone. But if you are giving
yourself away, I will be the one to make your claim.
We should part here before anyone sees us, dear, Eric
whispered since unlike Nago, he couldnt push words into
her head.
Yet, she reminded herself, forcing a smile as she stopped and
looked up at her soon-to-be mate.
Eric was perfect for her. He was only a few inches taller. And
easy on the eyes, but not a freaking model like a lot of royals.
And maybe he was a littlewell, skinny wasnt the right word
for it. Maybe a bit too in-between. Neither chunky nor cut. Just
average. And yeahmaybe he was a little pastier than she
usually liked. But at least he wasnt downright Hulk-like, and
didnt tower over her, or look like hed been cast in the next
Viking Shifters bio-game
Halle stopped, cutting off her litany with an inner ugh! Why
was she still comparing every guy to Nago even ten years later?
So, weve got a plan in place, she said to Eric, once more
shoving the ex-boyfriend who ran away from her mind. And
you know exactly where to find me tomorrow.
Yes, thank you for that, Eric answered. Not that I wouldnt
have won your claim fair and square without this information.
But it was kind of you to provide me with this extra bit
ofinsurance.
Its the least I could do after the way I acted tonight. Again,
Im sorry. Nago and Iwe dated for a little while when I was a
teen. But hes nothing to me now. Nothing.
Shed said this to herself so emphatically over the last ten
years that she almost believed it when she said it now. Almost.
Eric gave her a stiff smile. No need to apologize, dear. Your
father explained that the drug you took to kickstart your heat
has someside effects. I understand thatno matter what
people are saying on WolfNet. And thats what I told my father,
as well.
Oh shit. Had it made it to WolfNet already? Given how
concerned Eric was about his familys reputation, she could only
imagine how awkward the conversation with his father
had been.
Im so sorry I put you in that position, she said, trying to
ignore the nip of guilt in the back of her head as she said this.
Yes, it was true the heat kickstart had the potential for awful side
effectsones her fathers father had blithely ignored when hed
declared it legal while continuing to forbid the use of the
HeatAway Patch and heat control shots. So Halle could easily
blame her behavior on the drugs. But it somehow felt like lying
when she said, I probably should have read the list of side
effects more carefully.
Eric patted her shoulder. At the end of the day, all that
matters is our alliance. As I explained to my father, the story will
read even better when it comes out that I competed against a
Nightwolf in the Chivaree, and won.
Yes, it would make a good story, wouldnt it? Halle shifted,
uncomfortable with the idea of being splashed all over WolfNet,
and not just because of the Chivaree, but also because of her
billionaire ex-boyfriend.
Mistaking her discomfort for continued remorse, Eric reached
down to cup her shoulders as he said, You should know, dear, I
dont blame you in the slightest. I tried to be open-minded, but
that whole family is more than a little odd. I told you about my
experience with his cousin, Ola Greenwolf, didnt I?
Yes, he had. More than once. To the point where it almost
seemed like maybe his one date with Nagos cousin had been the
most exciting thing that had ever happened to Eric in his
otherwise completely planned life.
Well, that and this Chivaree hed insisted on
Not liking the road her mind was going down, she turned her
fake smile up a few more watts and said, Well, guess Ill see you
tomorrow.
Yes, see you then, dear.
He leaned down to give her a quick peck on her cheek. Like a
true gentleman. Perfectly polite, her human pointed out.
Perfectly boring, her wolf shot back as she watched him
walk away.
But boring was fine, Halle reminded her wolf. Better than fine
it was great. Really great, she told herselfwhile doggedly
ignoring the myriad emotions she felt over the old mate bond
she still shared with Nago.
N
ago watched Halle scurry up the crumbling brick stairs of her
rundown kingdom house from the shadows of one of
the estates flowering magnolia trees. Where had
she been?
He suspected but didnt want to know for fear of what the
thing inside of him might do.
So he hung back in the shadows, willing her to give him a
sign. Willing her to look his way and acknowledge she could feel
him out here. Just as he could feel her.
But she didnt acknowledge him in the least. Leaving Nago to
watch her duck back into the kingdom house without so much as
a glance in his direction.
Ell request from President Rafesson Nightwolf! Ell request
from President Rafesson Nightwolf! his bioware bleated.
Again.
With a heavy sigh, Nago elled his fingers to accept the call.
What the hell do you think youre doing? Rafes demanded
inside his elled fingers. Now that Rafes was president of the
North American wolves, all he could do was ell since hacker-
proof bioware had yet to be invented.
Nago leaned against the side of the magnolia tree that
smelled so much like Halle, almost instantly regretting his
decision to take his brothers call. But then again, it wasnt like
hed had a choice. Rafes was the most powerful wolf on the
planet. If he refused one more hail from him, hed probably send
a drone in, Mississippi law be damned.
I dont know.
You dont know, his brother repeated as if Nago were an
idiot and not a world-renowned engineer. Are you telling me
you just spent one-mil of your kingdoms money on I
dont know?!
My money, Nago corrected him. Id never take a cent from
my kingdoms coffers for something like this. And I wouldnt
need to since before I became King of Alaska, some douchebag
paid me a shitload to design his unpopular blackbox system.
The blackbox system that you should be here installing
with me.
Yeah, Rafes had a point. As the lead engineer on the project, it
was inexcusable for Nago not to be there to install the
technology that would probably define his legacy. And as a
brother, bailing on Rafes was a shit move of the most
unsupportive kind.
Listen, Rafes. I wish I could be there, but
Do you know how far Mom is up my ass? Her latest protest is
all over the WolfNet, and Im pretty sure Im going to walk up
the mountain tomorrow and find her chained to a tree or
something crazy like that!
Yeah, probably, Nago agreed with a sympathetic wince.
Their mom had gone into full-on battle mode after Rafes had
announced the projects start date. Shed led protests across the
nation, the biggest and most intense of which had been at the
North Dakota kingdom gate where the first black box would be
installed.
Great, glad were in agreement about that. Im sure you can
also agree it would be better to have you here by my side to do
battle against her. Especially since youre her favorite.
Im not her favorite, Nago answered, completely deadpan.
She just likes me more than you and Knud.
As usual, Rafes didnt laugh at his joke. Listen, Im going to
level with you. Knud is still M.I.A. Dads staying out of it. And
you know the twins are, like, mini-Alishas. I could use your
support.
Yeah, I get it, man. And I wish I could be there, Nago
answered.
Dont wish, Rafes all but growled, baring his teeth. Get
your ass to Tallahassee, and Ill have a drone meet you.
The thing inside him growled low at the mere suggestion of
leaving his she-wolf behind. Of letting her be mated by another
male while he was off playing the dutiful little brother.
I cant, Nago answered. Ive got to see this through.
Why? Rafes demanded. Then before Nago could answer, he
said, Youre acting crazy. You know that, right? This is all going
to blow up in your face. And when it does, Dads going to have to
come down there and clean up your mess. Againeven though
youre supposed to be your own alpha now.
Strange, Rafes was only older than Nago and Knud by an
untimed minute or two, but at moments like this, Nago felt very
much like the younger brother in their relationship.
Look, I wont call Dad. If this blows up in my face, Ill fix it. I
promise.
How can you promise that? Rafes demanded, his voice cold
and clipped. Last time
RafesI know what happened last time. I know I scared you
guys, butIm better now. And Ive got to work this out.
Why? his brother started to ask again.
Only to have Nago shoot back, Fuck the why of it, Rafes! Do
you think Id be doing this if there were any other way?
Rafes went silent for a long time before he finally said, Fine.
But know this, Nago. I am not Dad. I will not drop everything and
rush down there to rescue you when all this blows up in your
face. Ive got bigger shit on my plate than whatever drama
youve got going on with that she-wolf.
On that note, Rafes ended the ell, having apparently had it
with his brother.
Nago couldnt blame him.
Rafe Sr. was particularly close with his oldest triplet, so Rafes
had probably heard the full story of what happened in
Tallahassee. Dad had never told Nago any of what went down
after they pulled him out of that hotel room, just that the she-
wolf didnt take the news well. Which was probably an
understatement if her reaction to seeing him here tonight was
any indication.
You shouldnt be here.
The words lifted Nagos head, but he knew better than to turn
around right away. First, he put his wolf in a very deliberate
chokehold. And only then did he turn to face Eric Maccon, the
youngest prince of Ohio.
But getting a hold of the wolf didnt help much. Even his
human had trouble not going after the smug-faced prince.
Just for wanting her.
Just for touching her.
Just for fucking looking at her.
So Nago remained motionless, not trusting himself to say
anything to the wolf whod seemed a-OK with putting his
girlfriend up for Chivaree.
Im not sure what the history is between you and Halle. She
says its nothing. That youre nothing to her now, but Eric
glared at Nago across the dark space between them. Youre
aware she doesnt want you here, yes?
Yes, Nago was aware of thisand suddenly he realized there
was something he could trust himself to say to the Ohio prince.
12

I m asking you nicely, one last time, to go.


It wasnt an excuse to talk to him, Halle told herself
the next morning as she stood on the other side of the
cage Nago had been voluntarily locked in earlier.
The large metal eight-by-eight cages were custom-made for
Chivarees back in the 70s when they reached the height of their
popularity. And over a half century later, they looked it. From a
distance, the cages appeared to be painted dark red, but that was
just the thick layer of rust covering the surfaces. The cages also
had a strange blue mold growing in the corners. The kind that
made Halle want to stop the proceedings and put in a call to the
CDC to make sure the kingdom wouldnt be sued for exposing
the Chivaree bidders to some type of biotoxin.
But in Nagos case, she didnt feel sorry for him at all. She
just wanted him to go.
You wont win, she informed him. Youre just going to
embarrass yourself. And me.
Much like yesterday, he didnt respond. But unlike yesterday,
she could feel him disagreeing over their mate bond. Feel his
resolve to win, as if the determination was her own.
God, she couldnt wait to get rid of this link once and for all.
Just a few more hours, she promised herself. And then the bond
would be transferred to Eric.
Speaking of which
H alle stomped away from Nagos Chivaree cage over to
Erics. Unlike Nago whod just been standing in his
cage looking cocky as hell, Eric was cycling through
what looked like a Krav Maga routine. He wore fatigues and a
white tee, like a soldier preparing for battle, and had a crossbow
attached to his back, since a bow and arrow were the only
weapons besides a tranq gun that Chivaree chasers were allowed.
She supposed the king who came up with this ritual wanted it to
feel potentially lethal, with entertaining fights among the
contestants, without it turning into a complete bloodbath.
Hi! she said, raising her voice a few octaves and giving him
a beatific smile. You look Kravnificent!
Good one, dear, Eric said, pointing a finger at her as he
continued with his routine.
And she ignored the little spike of irritation that sometimes
popped off in the back of her mind when he said something like
good one or oh, how funny instead of, you know, laughing
at her jokes.
How does he feel about you talking to me before you went
over to talk to him? Nagos voice suddenly piped up inside
her head.
Instead of giving him the satisfaction of an answer, Halle said
in a voice pitched loud enough for Nago to hear. I tried to
convince him to leave. But hes obviously a psycho. Im so sorry
you have to put up with this.
Really, dear, its no problem, Eric answered, seemingly
more interested in finishing up his routine than having this
conversation with her.
And whats up with him calling you dear. What is he,
like, 80?
Eric was twenty-eight. A year younger than her. But she
refused to give Nago the satisfaction of an answer. Especially one
delivered over a mate bond she wished to God had never
happened.
But I know youll win, she assured Eric.
Me too, Eric answered with a tight smile.
You know, you should try beating me up again when I catch
you. That was kind of hot. I mean, not as hot as gummi bears.
You got any? Could use the sugar right about now.
Halle fought the urge to scream at Nago to get the hell out of
her head. Because no, she didnt have any gummi bears. Mainly
because hed ruined them for her. They used to be her favorite
treat, but she hadnt been able to so much as look at them since
what happened in Tallahassee
A familiar tingling sensation cut off her bitter thoughts. And
a flush came over her body with a suddenness that was
surprising but not unexpected. Twelve hours at least and
twenty-four hours at most, the doctor had told her when he gave
her the pill yesterday morning.
Suddenly Eric wasnt so consumed with his Krav Maga routine
anymore. He came to a standstill, nostrils flaring as the scent of
her heat filled the air.
And as if to announce what had just happened, there soon
came a great cheer from the crowdalong with a series of loud
metal bangs. BANG! BANG! BANG!
Not Eric, she quickly realized. He still stood before her, his
pupils dilated. His face stark with intent.
No, it was another wolf. Another wolf who wasbased on all
the noisethrowing his massive body against his cages rusty
bars in an I dont give a damn about lockjaw bid to get out.
Halle didnt have to look to know who was causing all the
clamor.
Nago. Trying to get to her.
Run! she heard a lady in white call out to her in the
distance.
Thats right. She had to run, she remembered belatedly. It
was as if her mind was trudging through a sea of sludge while
thoughts slipped through her fingers like so much sand.
Buttwenty minutes. She only had twenty minutes before
the wolves would be uncaged and allowed to come after her. But
that was okaybecause there was a plan. A good one Wait,
what was it again?
The cabin!
She grabbed on to the thought like it was a piece of driftwood
in a roiling sea. And she ran north, toward the river.
13

W ho are you?
Samuel Odessi.
Punch straight to the gut. Which like most
violence was worse than the stuff you see on T.V. The pain sliced
out in all directions, and his stomach rolled. He didnt throw up
this time. Mainly because there was nothing left to throw up. But
hed take his pride points where he could get them.
Whats your name? his torturer asked again. Accent thick
with menace.
Sam
This time he was only allowed one syllable of the carefully
prepared lie before another punch came. Youd think hed have
become numb to the pain by now, but noby the Fenrir wolf,
that gut punch hurt like a mother fucker, too.
He coughed, tasting blood. And then concentrated with all his
might on not violating the first rule of Wolf Force. The one that
had been drilled into him the moment he, his brothers, and a
handful of other 18-year-old wolves from across the nation had
been sequestered from their human counterparts.
The first rule of Wolf Force: dont let anyone know youre a
wolf. Yes, seriously. Despite the obvious label, not shifting was
their prime directive. They were to stay hidden and spread the
Marines larger than life ethos without ever letting anyone know
what they were.
Day three after his capture. Maybe. Probably not. Theyd fed
him so little, who knew how much time had passed. A baby was
crying in the next room. Its wailing sliced through his mind,
worse than the ropes at his wrists.
What is your name? the voice asked again. Clipped and
efficient. Like an administrator who needed to fill out a form.
Somebody feed that baby. His voice sounded funny, he
realized. Jumbled like Rockys at the end of the movie. But hed
won nothing. Hadnt gone any distance. Just taken the hits.
Hits that could easily be healed by shifting.
Dont shiftdont shiftdont shift He thought of Halle.
Visualized calling her and hearing her sweet voice when all of
this was over. He fixated on her. And suddenly his vision of her
held a baby in her arms. It was crying. Their baby was crying.
Babe he said. The baby needs to be fed. Feed the baby.
Halle only looked at him sadly.
Finally, the baby in the next room stopped crying.
And then his torturer punched him in the face.

L ookit her run! someone somewhere he couldnt


see called out.
Nago watched Halle sprint away. Watched her
disappear past the tree line, leaving a trail of her scent behind.
Well, his human watched her go. The wolf who had
completely taken over his body was too busy throwing himself
against the bars to track anything.
This would be the hardest part, he realized, separating
himself from the wolf the way Grady had taught him to. Not
shifting. Going after her, but not letting the wolf take over. Dark
memories swirled in his head. The growl of the wolf. The cry of
that baby.
Florida. The hotel room.
He remembered being so surprised when shed taken him in
her hand. Stroked him. Made him forget what happened in
Alarus for five minutes. The longest hed gone in months. For
those five minutes, shed given him what he needed without
knowing how much he needed it. Soothed the beast hed been
trying to keep at bay without saying a word.
Cleaning her up afterward had felt like a form of gratitude.
And he remembered thinking that after he was done cleaning
her right hand, hed go over to his duffel bag to retrieve the ring
he had hidden there and put on it on her left hand.
He knew he should ask her fathers permission first.
Mississippi was old-fashioned. You couldnt even fly a drone
over the state without worrying about one of those redneck
assholes trying to shoot it down. So hed planned to wait until
tomorrow; until he could speak with her father face to face. But
fuck it. He knew what he wanted, who he wanted to spend the
rest of his life withand he wanted Halle to know it, too.
Later, what would hurt Nago the most was the optimism hed
had then. The absolute belief that because he loved Halle with
everything he had, they could be together. That the thing
residing inside him hadnt completely ruined him and he had a
real chance at happiness after all.
He believed this for a full minute while he cleaned her hands.
Then her heat scent filled up the room.
Just like it seemed to fill up the entire world now.
It had surprised him back then, but now the scent was
familiar after ten years of being haunted by it. However, this
time he was stuck in a cage. Separate but thrall to the wolf.
Feeling like he was hovering somewhere above it all as the wolf
lost its goddamn mind.
Disengagedisengagedisengage. That was the only way to
keep himself from turning before the twenty minutes were up.
An electronic sound rent the air, and all the cage doors slid
open. Thank fuck! Nago braced himself to re-enter his body, to
take back the reins so he could track Halle over their mate bond.
Get to her first before anyone else could.
But then he saw the other male wolves running in the
direction she had gone. North. And when he tried to follow
Pain. Pain that registered to his human. Because his cage door
was still closed.
What the?
Oh no, a voice said outside his cage. Looks like theres
something wrong with the unlocking mechanism on this one.
Sorry about that. But not a thing to worry about, I got the key
right here. Just hold on, I know youre eager.
Halles father, nebbish and squat, appeared in front of his
cage door. He reached down to his belt and made a big show of
trying to find the key on the loop.
First, he tried a small key that came nowhere close to fitting.
Oops, thats not it, he said.
It wasnt the next two either.
Or the two after that.
Maybe only one minute passed. Or it could have been ten. But
it didnt matter because Nago felt every second like a liter of
blood dripping from his veins.
Dont kill him, he prayed to the seething wolf. Dont kill him.
She wont forgive me if you kill him.
The crowd had turned against the King of Mississippi now.
Booing, with a few chanting to let the boy out.
The King chuckled, like the bumbling fool hed convinced
them all he was.
But Nago wasnt convinced. At all.
The locked cage had nothing to do with the failings of an
oafish King. And everything to do with strategic planning. Yes,
this unworthy alpha knew exactly what he was doing.
And by the time Halles father released Nago, he was no
longer in danger of being killed by Nagos wolf. Because Nago
was too far gone in the memory of his mates heat scent to act on
his rage and frustration. He burst out of the cage as soon as the
king unlocked it.
Only to stop when he reached the border of the woods.
Several expletives echoed in the trees surrounding him when he
realized
Halles heat scent had completely faded. And as for the
mating bond, that familiar tingle had disappeared as well.
14

T he waiting was horrible. Halles heart beat with the


thunder of a thousand numerical typepad clicks as she
lay on the bed of her ancestors cabin. Waiting for Eric.
Despite the already sweltering summer heat, Halle wore thick
sweatpants over a pair of leggings shed placed in the cabin last
night. Shed also positioned herself under a sheet with two thick
quilts on top. All to contain her heat smell. Shed run as far as
she could in twenty minutes. To the cabin that had belonged to
that long ago ancestor on her mothers side.
As a child, this cabin had been Halles refuge. And unlike her
bedroom at the kingdom house, this place didnt take heroic
effort to keep up. Everything from the walls to the furniture had
been made by hand over two hundred years ago. So that meant
everything could be kept up by hand, too.
It was peaceful here, and even now she could hear birdsong
outside the windows along with the high-pitched drone of
cicadas and the babble of the river. It had always been the
perfect refuge. And now it had become the perfect place to hide.
But the quilts covering her body hurt. As did the clothes.
Having anything resting against her body other than a male was
akin to torture. The urge to throw off the blankets, and tear off
her clothes was almost overwhelming. And she wasnt sure how
much longer she could hold out.
It had all seemed so simple the night before when shed
guided Eric here, and did just about everything but give him a
handdrawn map detailing exactly where she would be. But now
Nowshe found herself wondering about her mother. Her
mother whod clawed her way up in the pack from the poor
daughter of kingdom house servants to a beauty queen who
landed the prince. Back then Arnold had been the most practical
choice Keri could have made for herself given her humble
background. And she took pride in her royal statuseven if it
was only mange-state royalty.
Because of her background, Keri had fought an uphill battle to
groom her less-pretty daughter to marry well. Yet how easily her
mother had abandoned them both when her fated mate
appeared at the kingdoms gate.
A janitor. Her mother, whod always seemed so snooty and
above her station, had left Halle and her father behind in the
middle of the night without so much as a note. All for a Nigerian
janitor by way of Canada. And all because her tactical marriage
had, in the end, been more miserable than triumphant.
And now here was Halle trying to seal a tactical marriage of
her own.
But her life wouldnt turn out that way. She would make
certain of this.
Halle would finalize this important alliance with Erics
family. Shed have Erics baby. Erics baby. Not the baby of the
boy whod left her behind without so much as a note of apology
or explanation. And shed never be stupid for love again.
As if to punctuate her resolute decision with an exclamation
mark, the door to the tiny cabin crashed open.
It was Eric, breathing hard. Both the neckline and the armpits
of his white t-shirt were soaked through with sweat.
I found you! he declared, raising both arms to strike a
triumphant pose in the doorway.
You found me, she agreed, tacking on a smile. Because she
was happy. As she should be.
No thanks to the weather, he said slamming the door shut
behind him. Dear God, its hot out there! How do you people
live like this?
Well, most of us Mississippi wolves dont feel the heat like
you northern ones do she started to explain.
Only to trail off when she saw Eric had his eyes raised to the
ceiling in the universal sign of someone using his bioware.
Are youtrying to bio someone? she asked.
Yesbut my chip wont establish a connection, he
answered with an annoyed frown.
Wolf Hills doesnt have a BiFi tower, and the houses
network doesnt extend this far.
Erics frown deepened, Well, thats something well have to
fix when Im king.
But then he smiled cheerily. No worries, dear. My father is
tracking me, so hell let our followers know I found you and send
them coordinates.
Now it was Halles turn to blink, but for a different reason.
Hes going to make an announcement about our mating? Like
an official announcement?
Eric shook his head. Isnt that how Chivarees are supposed
to go? Guy hunts down his mate then all the people who came to
watch have a party outside while he seals the deal?
Well, technically yes she admitted, But
Wait, is this it? Eric suddenly asked. He was looking around
the cabin as if hed walked into a one-star motel room. Just a
bed and a table?
Its a pre-Civil War era cabin, she pointed out. Built by
hand for a single man. I dont think my ancestor was necessarily
thinking about much more than the basics.
I dont mind rustic, mind you. But this place is verging on
squalid. Eric huffed. Please at least tell me your family made
some upgrades, and theres a bathroom.
She squinted at him, not exactly sure what he didnt
understand about the term pre-Civil War era cabin.
Instead, she strained to use her most polite tone to ask, Do
you need to go before we do this? Because theres an outhouse
around back
Erics nose wrinkled, his disgust evident even as he seemed to
consider the possibility. But then he said, Nah, lets get this
over with and then Ill find a tree or something. I mean, I hunt
with my dad and brothers all the time. Really, its no big deal.
And here came another whisper of doubt. This cabin was one
of her favorite places on Earth, and Eric was acting like he was
doing her a favor by deigning to stay here. It unsettled her. But
she knew she hadnt made a mistake. Eric and her added up. She
reminded herself of that even as his, lets get this over with,
comment echoed in her head.
Not exactly the heat night you imagined as a teen, her wolf
sullenly pointed out as they watched Eric sit in one of the hand-
crafted chairs and start removing his big, black boots.
A silly, love-struck teenager, her human countered. And
remember how that turned out?
Yes, yes, Eric was so much better than Nago, her practical
human insisted, forcing another smile when Eric came to a stand
in nothing but his boxer briefs at the side of the old but still
sturdy bed.
Are you planning to get out from under those sheets, dear?
he asked with a teasing smile.
Oh, rightthis was supposed to be her big moment, and she
was still in bed beneath a ton of blankets.
So now Halle needed to throw off the quilts, and remove her
extra clothes because she was crazed with lust, and wanted more
than anything to get matedby Eric. Yeah
She pushed the blanket and sheet down, revealing her top
half. And for once proving he wasnt as reserved as shed
previously thought, his eyes heated at the sight of her naked
breasts.
Good, goodthis is going to be good.
Yeah, its going to be so good, she agreed. It was going to be
fine. Theyd mate, and that would solve everything.
So?
She looked up at him, not understanding the question.
You still need to come outall the way out from underneath
those covers, silly.
Oh yeah. Of course. How could she have forgotten that part?
Again
She was in full-on heat. She should be beyond desperate to
have sexwith any male wolf who would have her. But here she
was, making casual conversation with Eric and forgetting to
throw herself at him. A kernel of concern sprouted in the back of
her mind as she wondered if the mate bond shed stupidly
established with Nago was interfering with the one she wanted
to establish with Eric.
It doesnt matter, Halle assured herself as she climbed out
from under the covers, awkwardly wiggling her hips as she
pushed the double layer of leggings and sweatpants down her
thighs.
As uncomfortable as it was doing this in front of him, she felt
somewhat vindicated when her heat smell erupted inside the
room, and more of Erics reserve fell away. Good girl, he said.
Now on your hands and knees so I can claim you.
Exactly what needed to happen next, she agreed. So why did
she feel like a sacrificial lamb when she turned to do his bidding?
And why did her wolf cringe hard when she felt the bed depress
behind her. Cringe so hard she had to focus all her concentration
on not pulling away when Erics sweaty hands found her hips.
Just like Nagos had that day in the hotel
She bit the memory off, refusing to think about that time.
About him
Squeezing her eyes closed, Halle dropped to her forearms,
raising her ass higher in the air. To present to Eric for his claim
because she wanted to please him. Wanted to live an average life
with him. And have his average babies.
He rubbed a hand over the small of her back. Ive been
waiting for this, he said with a chuckle.
So had she, she reminded herself even as she squeezed her
eyes shut tighter.
But then the cabin door suddenly crashed open, hitting the
wall behind it with a crack. And a new scent violently filled
the room.
Nago!
By the time Halle turned to look toward the door, he was
already at the foot of the bed. Grabbing the Ohio Prince by the
shoulder and spinning him around.
Nago, no! she screamed.
But it was too late. A sickening, bone crunching sound
ricocheted around the small room as Nagos fist smashed into
Erics face.
15

MISSISSIPPI, 18 37

Y
below.
ou can come down from there, the naked Indian
said. Theyd been staring at each other for a long
stretch by then. Her on her branch, him down

He didnt look angryor growly like before. In fact, she


sensed laughter lurking behind his words even though he wasnt
smiling. But she didnt answer. Didnt move. Just clung to her
branch, shivering in the morning dew.
You stuck? he asked after another long while of her staring
down at him. Need me to come up and get you?
He had a Mississippi accent like the working class white folks
shed seen. But it was flatter as if he was still getting
comfortable with it.
All right then, he said when she still didnt answer. And he
turned his back on her to pick up a pair of trousers. She
crouched, preparing to climb down and sprint away while he
wasnt looking.
But he only wasnt looking for a tick or two. Sooner than
expected, he had the trousers pulled up and then he came right
back to the tree.
Youre bleeding, he said as he finished buttoning his
trousers and pulled the suspenders over his tanned shoulders.
Come on down. Let me have a look. My mother was a medicine
woman.
How did he know she was bleeding? As balled up tight as she
was in this tree, he shouldnt have been able to tell from all the
way down there.
Still, she gave no answer.
But her stomach had not received the message about not
talking with the now half-naked man below. It grumbled a tale
of skipped meals, louder than her voice ever could.
You hungry? he asked, another smile almost, but not quite
making it to his lips. I got suppawn brewing. All ready to eat.

S he was hungry. Shed skipped both the morning and mid-


day meals on account of helping the house staff prepare
for Massas dinner party. And then his son had come at
her before shed had the chance to pocket a hunk of bread and
some of the leavings from the plates she was washing.
And thats why her empty stomach refused to stay quiet on
the subject of whether it wanted the corn porridge the Indian
offered. Which was how she came to be seated at a small table in
a one-room cabin she hadnt noticed only a few steps beyond the
tree until the Indian offered to share his suppawn with her.
The interior of the cabin was surprising to her. Small but
neat, considering it was only him living there. None of Massas
sons were ones for picking up after themselves, but this mans
floors were bare and well swept, with a hearth set up for cooking
and a made bed at the back of the single room.
Go head and sit, he said, nodding towards a little table with
one chair. She wondered if hed built them himself. Both the
chair and table were made of rough-hewn wood and looked more
like sticks tied off with strong twine than the fine pieces in
Massas house.
But at least he had furniture. The slaves at Briarleaf ate
outside on the ground, without Massa giving them so much as a
stick of wood to make tables and chairs. The Indians spindly
chair did her just fine. Though
Her eyes wandered to the large bed in the corner, wondering
what hed be wanting in exchange for the hospitality he was
showing her.
Probably same thing Massas son wanted just because she was
in his daddys house.
She shouldna have stabbed him. Shouldna fought back. She
werent nobody or nothing. And life would find a way to teach
her that lesson before all this was through.
However, all thoughts of shouldna dones left her head fast
when the Indian set down a bowl of corn porridge in front of her.
He even produced some honey in a small beehive-shaped
container to go with it.
She gave him a quiet thank you, and then set herself to the
business of eating, taking the spoon in her left hand on account
of the right arm shed used to fend off the wolf still hurt
something fierce.
She expected the man to eat with her. Maybe while standing
since hed given her his only chair. But he went back to the
hearth and started fussing with a collection of jars on the shelf
above it. A few minutes later, he returned to the table with a
strip of cotton in one hand, and a tin bowl filled with water from
the large clay pitcher in the other. The strip of cotton cloth was
slathered thickly in corn porridge and a whole bunch of plant
speckles she didnt recognize.
Keep eating, was all he said as he set the cloth aside on the
table and took her right arm.
His touch was firm, and he pulled her arm all the way out,
even when she gasped in pain. But it was also gentle when he
dipped the bottom of her overskirt into the bowl of water and
cleaned the wound with it. Next, he took the strip of porridge
cloth off the table. He had fashioned her a bandage, she realized,
her eyes widening as she watched him wrap the cloth remnant
around her arm, porridge and all.
The porridge and whatever else he put in it burned, then
soothed as it settled in on top of the wound.
Then he left to make another porridge cloth.
Leg, too, he said when he returned to the table with the
second bandage. But how could he have known it was hurt,
hidden as it was under her skirts?
Shed finished off her bowl of porridge. It had disappeared in
a fury of ravenous hunger. This meant she had nothing left to do
but watch as he cleaned the deep gash on her leg. The words
angel and demon swirled around her head, and she couldnt
tell one from the other.
So which one is it? she asked him.
His eyes raised to meet hers. A question asked without words.
You a angel or a demon? she demanded, the food and
easing of her pain making her bolder than was likely wise.
Another smile that never fully appeared. More a lone wolf,
he answered.
And they stared at each other some more. What happened in
the night sitting between them.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
She jumped in her seat and then looked to the cabins door.
The Indian had a visitor.
Her first thought was to hide. Then her second thought was
but where?
The cabin was neat but small. And the bed wasnt raised high
enough for her to fit under.
And then it was too late to hide because the Indian was up on
his feet and pulling open his door.
A white man in a fine waistcoat and wearing shiny black boots
stood on the other side.
She abruptly jumped up from the table, but the Indian raised
his palm at her. Bidding her to stay with one motion as he said to
the white man, How ya, King.
Good, my thanks to you for inquiring, Joseph, the man the
Indian had called King answered.
The white mans eyes strayed to her crouched by the table,
then back to the Indian. It would seem we had visitors from
Briarleaf last night. A search patrol, from what I understand.
They were looking for an escaped slave girl.
She could only see the back of the Indian from her vantage
point at the table, but he still hadnt put on a shirt, and his back
tightened beneath his suspenders before he answered, Full
moon. Not a good night for visitors.
No, it was not. Do you know anything about this woman they
were looking for, Joseph?
The Indians answer came in a lazy instant. No, King, I have
not seen her.
The white mans eyes shifted then. Off of the Indian and on to
her. Are you sure about that? he asked. They are still looking
for her.
I am sure and certain, the Indian answered. I have seen no
one matching that description around here. The Indian moved
then, lowering his hand. Which at first she thought might be his
way of telling her to run. But nohe bent down. Grabbed a
stoneware jug from the floor.
I offer you this to take back for your kingdom house table.
The white mans eyes stayed on her.
A few moments ticked by. Each one seeming to swing her life
back and forth on a pendulum.
But then the white mans gaze finally dropped away so he
could take the stoneware jug the Indian offered him. They seem
mighty determined to find her, is all. I have some concerns about
them coming back with their dogs, asking more questions if they
do not like the results of my investigation.
Well, now that I think on it the Indian said.
Her body tightened, preparing to run even though she
doubted she had a hen in a fox dens chance of getting past
them both.
I did not see my canoe in the river this morning.
Somebody must have taken it.
Hmm, the white man said, looking over his shoulder in the
direction of the river. Then I suppose she must have made it
cross the river. They will not be happy to hear the news of a
stolen canoe, but I cannot account for their happiness, can I?
No, you cannot, King, the Indian answered. You did as you
said you would. Looked into it. Got them the answer they
needed.
That I did, the white man agreed.
He glanced at her again, the wide-eyed black woman in the
Indians cabin
Then he tucked the stone jug under one arm and walked away.
She did not have any notion of having held her breath until it
rushed out of her mouth. So fast, it made her head light, and she
had to sit a few moments after she had been prepared to run.
Want another bowl of suppawn? the Indian asked. He
closed the door and walked back over to the table for her answer.
She raised her eyes to his, too weak with relief to do anything
but nod.
He grabbed up her bowl and went to the hearths black pot to
fill it once more. Eat, he said, setting the bowl down in front
of her. Then we must walk to the river and see about that
canoe.
You going to give me your canoe? she asked, truly shocked
at his continued generosity.
But the mans faced darkened. No. But I will need your help
to push it out into the river. Then I will flip it over, and give the
patrollers something to find.
He shook his head. It is a shame. That canoe took me two
moons to make.
She shook her head, too, not understanding. Even a little bit.
So you aint going to let me go?
The Indian regarded her with solemn eyes. I cannot say for
sure yet. We will have to see what happens at the next
full moon.
At the next full moon? What does me going north have to do
with the moon? she asked carefully, so as not to offend.
The Indian did not answer. This question or any of the others
she put to him about his full moon notions over the next four
weeks.
16

TWO CENTU RIES LATER

D ont kill him. Please, dont kill him!


Somewhere in the distance, Nago heard Halle
begging for the life of the male he was currently
wailing on like a horizontal punching bag. The worthless fuck
whod tried to mate his she-wolf. HIS she-wolf!
What would have happened if the idiots father hadnt sent
that message to WolfNet? With the exact coordinates for the
Chivaree party? Nago had run full out, but what if he hadnt
made it here on time? The thought had him raising his fists
again, even though hed already beaten the overstepping prick to
a pulp.
Only Halles scream of No, Nago, please! made him pause.
For once he and the beast were in agreement. They both
wanted to ignore her. They both wanted to end this bag of shit
right now.
Nago she pleaded again, her voice trembling in horror.
And Nago lowered his fist. Deciding instead to reach behind
him to the waistband of his pants for his gun.

alles breath caught when Nago brought out a gun. It was old-
fashioned, like those shed seen in historical dramas.

H
Oh, God, Nago dont, she begged.
Nago regarded her for a cold moment and pulled the
trigger.
She screamed but cut off abruptly when what looked like a
small dart hit Eric square in the chest.
A tranquilizer, she realized in the next heart-stopping
moment, as Erics bloody face lolled sideways onto the cabins
rough wood floor.
The hick-hop soundtrack from earlier started up outside
again.
The Chivaree party had roared back to life. Just like Eric
wanted, she thought to herself as she watched Nago grab the
Ohio prince by his sock-covered feet.
Not seeming to care about the way the young princes head
bumped against the floor planks or how many splinters his back
might be collecting, Nago dragged him toward the cabins
entrance. Then callously tossed him out the front door, like so
much garbage. More of the obnoxiously loud music poured into
the cabin before Nago slammed the door shut.
He then turned back to her, his face a mask of cold rage. This
is what you signed up for, he snarled. To be hunted down like
prey. To be claimed by whoever caught you. And Ive
caught you.
His words caused her heart to thunder with fear. Nago
she choked out. But then
Oh God, then her body betrayed her by releasing a fresh round
of heat into the air.
She didnt have a chance to finish the sentence.
This time there was no invitation for her to get into position.
Nago came across the roomgrabbed herand she was in
position. Elbows down, ass up, presenting her arousal covered
sex whether she wanted to or not.
And then his voice was back in her head, growling. I caught
you. I caught you. That means youre mine.
Halle wanted to protest. Wanted to tell him to just do it and
get the hell out of her head.
But her wolf went crazy at his words, whimpering with its
need to be mated.
You waited too long, the voice pointed out inside her head.
And now youre hurting. How bad do you need me to fuck you
right now, baby?
Babynot babe. Like he used to call her. A growing up, she
sensed. And she could feel the swollen head of him at her
entrance
Her human wanted to scream with frustration and anger. But
her wolfher wolf released another wave of heat. Answering the
question without Halles permission.
Inside her mind Nago chuckled, low and cruel. Then
choose, he commanded. Choose me right now.
What? She didnt understand.
And that was when Nago showed her how cruel he really could
be. Because instead of taking her as was his right, he said, Im
not a fucking hillbilly, Halle. Im not going to take you against
your will. If you want me, baby, you got to choose me.
Over him.
Oh, Godno. She didnt realize how much she wanted to be a
victim in this situation until that option was taken off the table.
Her wolf screamed inside her. Begging her to say the words.
Give Nago whatever he wanted if it made this painful heat
go away.
Fine, she bit out. I choose you.
Over him?
Over him, she agreed through clenched teeth.
I cant hear you, Halle.
So she repeated it, louder.
But once again he said, I cant hear you.
She yelled it. I choose you over him, okay? her voice ten
kinds of desperate as the arousal heat dripped down her thighs.
But despite her shouted acquiescence, he said, I cant hear
you. Again. This time snarling the words.
And that was when she realized exactly what he wanted. Her
words inside his head.
Im a mated wolf, he informed her. Ill only seed
my mate.
This time, even her wolf had trouble with the request. Theyd
both been left behind in that hotel room. Both humiliated by the
male now demanding that she establish the most intimate
connection a she-wolf could have with a male.
Neither of them wanted to make themselves that vulnerable.
And the fact was, shed already chosen. Ericshed chosen Eric.
Not Nago. Eric. And saying otherwise felt equivalent to bearing
her neck to a predator.
But he remained frozen behind her. His physical presence
letting her know hed settle for nothing less than full
acquiescence. And from somewhere deep down in her soul a
word pushed out through her mind. You.
One word. One word was all she gave him.
But one word seemed to be all he needed.
With her broken You still echoing between them, he
flipped her on her back. Then his heavy body fell on top of hers,
his thick waist pushing her legs apart, right before he
They both moaned. Like starving people whod been denied
food for too long.
Nagos hips began to move between her legs in a controlled
roll. You choose me. You choose me as your mate. Me as the
father of your children.
Anyone would have assumed he was gloating over her
complete surrender. But to Halle, it sounded like a chant. Almost
like he was prayingfor what? She couldnt begin to guess.
Yet she found her mind whispering to his, You. I
choose you.
You chose me! You chose me!
His head fell to the bed, just above her shoulders. And his
mouth captured hers as his hips began circling faster.
His kiss was familiar, and that somehow made it even worse.
Her entire body lit up with it, like old sticks set to flame. And a
few seconds later, the orgasm hit. Shutting down her mind,
scrolling back the years, and obliterating the countdown clock so
it read zero. Zero years, days, moments since the last time they
were together like this.
She was a teenager. She was grown. She was young. She was
unimaginably old as the orgasm exploded inside her. Blasting
away both pride and regrets.
Inside her mind, Nago began a new chant, She chose me
she chose meshe chose me, he said over and over, voice feral
as his hips continued to roll in her afterlight.
And then his body went rigid, the chant cutting off with a
rough grunt right before his release flooded into her.
Halle, baby, Im so
Instead of finishing that thought, he kissed her again, his
cock still pulsing inside her, warm and thick. This kiss almost
felt sweetuntil he swelled inside her.
She now understood why people often preferred to stick
exclusively to wolf position during heat sex. In the otherwise
staid missionary position, his knot pushed into a secret spot she
hadnt known she hadand cue the back-to-back orgasms.
With lots and lots of screaming on her part.
Halle lost track of time, but eventually, she came back to find
herself wrapped in Nagos arms. Apparently, Nago had
repositioned them side by side, adjusting himself, so the knot
didnt feel nearly so extreme.
Sssh, he soothed, gathering her close. Cmon breathe.
There you go. Thats how you do it.
She breathed against his chest, and eventually, the stars
faded as did the ringing in her ears. Which made it easy to hear
the party going on outside.
It appeared their sex had gone viral. What sounded like a dirty
South club before had turned into a bacchanal, thanks to the
overload of heat pheromones floating out of the cabin.
Under normal circumstances, wolves did whatever they could
to get out of the vicinity when a she-wolf went into heat. Heat
pheromones werent mutually exclusive, and any wolf within
scenting distance would fall into a similar sex thrall if they
didnt run at first sniff. But the party attached to a Chivaree
mating was an excuse for its otherwise conservative attendants
to have themselves a good old orgy.
Halle could hear couplesmany of whom might only have
met for the first time tonightcopulating as voices called out
encouragement, Yeah, girl, you take that wolf! And to the
males, Get er done.
They werent addressing her and Nago. Halle knew this. Yet it
felt like they were.
Try to tune them out and get some sleep he advised,
drawing her closer into his arms. Trust youre going to need
your rest.
He was right.
So she closed her eyes, nuzzling the chest of the man she was
fairly sure she hated when he showed up here less than twenty-
four hours ago.
But nownow shed chosen him.
She wanted to care about the choice shed just made. She
really did. But she found herself unable to grasp any of the
worries sidling around her afterglow. Maybe because no matter
what her rational mind put forth, she was here in this bed with
him. Her sex still milking his as she fell into a deep and peaceful
sleep.
17

H alle should have had nightmares. Her firstbut


technically second heat mating should have been filled
with dreams of waking in that Tallahassee hotel room.
But she slept deeply and peacefully. If she had any dreams, she
didnt remember them. And she woke up in a bed made by a
long-ago ancestor, feeling blissful and fully restored.
Which was why her calm heart tripped over a few beats when
she found Nagos side of the bed empty. Then stopped altogether
when she sniffed and got nothing but the smell of an old heat.
She climbed out of bed and glanced down at her stomach. No
HeatAway patch. Also, no Mr. Nightwolf sitting in either of the
cabins two chairs. The chairs were empty with nothing but her
white shift hanging over the back of one.
Halle sniffed again. The cabin was completely empty, save for
her and the questions she was asking herself: How could she
have been so stupid? How could she have let herself fall for him
again?
The breath returned to her body only to release in short,
panicked spurts as she tried to figure out what to do now hed
left her a second time. How to feel. What to think And wow,
she thought shed done a pretty good job of encasing her heart in
a hard, protective layer over the years, particularly where Nago
Nightwolf was concerned. But as it turned out she hadnt
because here it was, breaking all over again
The door suddenly banged open. And Nago appeared with two
plastic bags hanging off one arm, and a flat case of bottled water
under the other.
Hey, youre awake, he said when he saw her standing next
to the bed. Babe, can I tell you how much I like this place? Just
the fact that you got opposite of Alaska hardcore nature going on
out hereI fuckin love it. I meditated under that magnolia tree,
then took a run into town along the river to get us some
groceries.
Halle watched him come further into the room and set the
flat of water down on the little rough table, before heading over
to the hearth with the grocery bags. I think I can figure out how
to work this thing. From the looks of it, its useable. But if not,
got us plenty of junk food to tide us over until I can go back out.
And your kingdoms people are really nice. This one lady, Mrs.
Lupo, offered to drop off lasagna. And the clerk at the grocery
store gave me the number of an old-fashioned pizza delivery
service he said will deliver for free since its for you. Like, a guy
drives it out to you and everything! No drones requirehey, why
are you crying?
Was she crying? She didnt realize it until he asked the
question.
Nago dropped the groceries like they were a pile of trash and
rushed over to where she stood beside the bed. Hey, hey, whats
going on? he asked, stroking a hand over her box braids as he
pulled her into his arms. Tell me why youre crying.
She shook her head against his shoulder. Not wanting to
explain.
But he wasnt having any of it. No, dont shake your head,
baby. Youre scaring me. Then he leaned back to ask her, Did
something happen? Did that Eric fucker come back? He was gone
this morning when I cleared out all the Chivaree stragglers. I
thought itd be safe to leave you here alone. But if he
came back
She spoke only because she was almost positive Nagos next
step would be to leave again to hunt Eric down if she didnt
explain. No, he didnt come back. I was just scared.
Scared of him? Nago leaned back. Babe, Im here now. You
dont ever have to be scared again. I protect you from now on.
From him. From life. All of it. Im your man, now.
She stopped, liking the sound of that but
You dont believe me, he guessed off her silence.
How can I? she asked, her voice barely making it above a
whisper. I believed you before, and when I woke up, you
werent there. Just like this morning.
He stared at her. Not comprehending. Until suddenly he did.
By the Fenrir wolf, Im stupid. He pulled her back into his
arms, rocking her back and forth. I wanted to do something for
you. Take care of you. But I should have thought about how it
would look before I left out of here.
He cupped her shoulders. Im sorry. Sorry for scaring you.
Sorry for all of it. But Halle if you dont believe anything else I
say to you, know Im not leaving you again. Youre stuck with me
now, okay? As long as you want me, Im here.
Such amazing words. Such lovely promises. But how could
she trust anything that came out of his mouth?
Her heat scent chose that moment to crash the conversation,
blaring out like a siren. And that was when she found out the
hard way that her wolf didnt give one damn about any of the
valid reservations she might have about trusting Nago.
It wanted him. Like, right now, and that was all that
mattered.
Nagos hand suddenly stilled on top of her shoulders, but
other than that he gave no sign he was affected at all by her heat.
He didnt grab her or throw her down on the bed or even try to
kiss her. Instead, he stood there staring down at her. And that
was unsettling enough.
He was still looking down at her. Still breathing. But there
was something different about him now. A sort of absence she
couldnt quite put a label on. Like the Nago shed just been
talking to before had left the building.
But then just as suddenly as hed disappeared, he blinked and
was back, his hands once again massaging her shoulders. But not
like when he was trying to reassure her that hed stick around.
More like he was holding on to her. For dear life.
Nago, she said, voice scared. Not for herself, though. For
him. Something inside her was afraid for him, and she couldnt
say why.
But then he bit out, Choose me.
I already have she started to remind him.
But he cut her off with another, Choose me. Halle, baby,
please. Just choose me.
I choose you, she said, getting her face in front of his so he
could see it.
But he just shook his head, hands still kneading her
shoulders. Like he was barely holding on. To what, she
didnt know.
Then remembering the day before, she pushed into his mind,
I choose you! Look at me, Nago! I choose you.
Halle his voice appeared in her head. Faint and distant.
And on instinct, her hands dropped to his belt buckle.
Undoing the latch, yanking the fly off its button and shoving
down the zipper. I choose you, she pushed into his mind,
breath catching on desire, as she pulled him out. I choose
His kiss swallowed the rest of her words. In a way, it felt like
the rest of her was swallowed by him as well. Because she lost
time, lost herself in that hungry devour. And all she knew for
minutes on end was the desperate wanting, and then
They were somehow back on the bed. Lying across it sideways
as if theyd just fallen inbut who cared? Because in the next
moment, he slung her legs over his shoulders and entered her in
one long, filthy push.
And this time his chant immediately filled her mind: You
chose me. You chose me. Cant ever hurt you. Wont ever hurt
you again. Like a vow. Like a prayer. As he thrust into her wet
heat with relentless force.
Demanding she choose him. Demanding she believe him.
Demanding she
Halle came on a scream. Her hand instinctively reaching up to
curl around his neck, trying to pull him closer. Seeming to
understand, he pushed her legs from his shoulders and collapsed
on top of her, completely covering her body with his.
Nago! she screamed his name as she came beneath him,
her pussy thirstily milking, begging for his seed.
He gave it to her, releasing with a nasty yell and knotting
soon after, which sent her right back over the edge.
She had no idea how long the orgasms continued after that,
only that they pummeled her into a hazy daze before finally
releasing her into the black sea of sleep.
Better this time, he murmured inside her head.
Was he talking about her or him? Or all of it? She didnt know
and didnt have enough energy to ask as she faded off to sleep.
18

B io from Halle Parkswolf.


Nago woke with a start. His cock no longer
embedded within Halle, but his bioware bleating
with a message from her.
Which made no sense since she was sleeping peacefully next
to him. Also, Halle had mentioned before that the houses
system didnt extend all the way to the cabin.
A dream? If so, it was a weird dream, he decided, swinging his
legs over the side of the bed. He tried to blink the message out of
his head, but the message indicator on his mind screen
remained. Flashing blue to indicate one of his VIP contacts had
left a message.
Hed never taken her off his VIP list, he remembered now.
Never stopped hoping. And now here he was, mating her ten
years later.
Play message, he subvocalized to his chip.
Okay.
And Nago frowned because this had been the last bio hed
gotten from Halle after nearly a year of not returning her
communications.
Hed missed a lot of bios that year. From his family, from
Halle.
Except in the case of his family, those calls hadnt been
missed. More like immediately deleted if they were from Rafes,
one-word answers back if they were from his parents. And as for
the dozens of calls hed gotten from Halle?
Hed listened to or read every single one of her bios before
putting them in a special folder marked for the save pile. Kept
them safe, even when the system cleared his cache. Which was
why he remembered her last message so clearly. Okay.
One word, which hed immediately understood as a final
goodbye. Okay, Ill leave you alone. Okay, I wont bio you
anymore. Okay, Ill forget you as you deserve.
Which from what he could see, she had. Dating other guys. A
few of the relationships had gotten serious, but petered out. This
Eric guy had been different, though.
Wily. Knew what he was doing with Halle from the start. How
to handle her. And then the Chivaree
Nago looked back over his shoulder at Halle. And her sleeping
innocence pierced his heart. He could feel the wolf, pacing back
and forth inside him. Watching her, too. Wanting her. Nago
fucking hated the thing. It had taken everything from him. Okay,
not everything. His father and Rafes had seen to that. But Halle.
It had taken Halle. And that felt like everything.
She was the only thing, Nago thought to himself. The last
piece. The only panacea that would ever fix what happened in
Alarus. All of it.
But he still didnt feel ready. He wished hed had more time
before the Chivaree forced his hand.
But fuck if this could have gone any different. From the
moment he received that first alert, what hed do next was set in
stone even if he hadnt gotten that nudge from Knud or the no
from Rafes.
He was always going to be with her. It was just a matter of
when. And how.
A wail suddenly split the air. A baby was crying. Right outside
the door.
Nago stopped. Looked around. Then thought, nothis cant
be happening.
But it was. The wails were getting louder and louder. The baby
screaming for its mother.
His gut burned with punches.
Something was bleeding inside him now. And somebody
Somebody had to help that baby. Somebody had to help it. It
was calling out
Halle, he said in a choked breath. But when he looked to
the bed, she was gone. The bed was empty.
No, wait. Someone was there. But it was a small someone.
He went over to the bed and looked down at it. Its hands and
legs sliced the air, the little body helpless to do anything else in
its furious upset.
A baby. It was a baby. And its little body was splattered with
blood.
What did you do?
Nago turned. Rafes and Knud were behind him. In fatigues.
They held their guns out, at the ready for any hostile threat. As
theyd been trained.
All of them. Even Nago, just in case. Though technically Knud
and Rafes were the bad asses. Nago was just the guy they sent in
to install surveillance tech where the government thought the
possible bad guys might live and/or work.
What the fuck did you do? Knud asked again; his eyes flared
as he looked around the room.
Nagos gut hurt so bad. And the baby was squalling. By the
Fenrir Wolf, where was its mother. Why wouldnt she feed it?
And where was Halle?
Halle? he yelled. Halle? Where are you?!
Nago, a voice cut through all the squalling and the pain.
Nago, Im right here. Wake up.
Halle! Halle! he called her name. Trying to find her, but not
seeing her in the room. Covered in blood. Why was there so
much blood?
And bodies. Where had all the bodies come from?
Fuck! Fuck! Knud was cursing. Taking pulses. And yelling,
FUCK, over and over again.
Hands shook him. Nago, wake up. Please, Gummi Bear,
wake up!
He did. His eyes popping open to daylight.
Daylight. But how? He hadnt stayed in bed past sunrise in
over ten years. He always got up before the sun to start his
routine. It was the only way to keep the wolf at bay.
Nago
Halles voice again. Along with the smell of her heat.
He blinked, turned. And there she was. Sitting next to him in
bed. Concern writ plain across her beautiful face.
Nago, she whispered again, and she reached out to
touch him
DONT TOUCH ME!!! he roared, leaping out of bed. DONT
FUCKING TOUCH ME!
Something was growling in the background. And only after a
long beat did Nago realize it was him.
Its okay, Nago, its okay, she said. Her heavy breasts
swung as she rose up on her knees to face him. Youre awake
now. Whatever happened in the nightmareits done. Its
over now.
He shook his head. But it wasnt over. It was never over
especially if he didnt get up early like he did yesterday. Get in
front of the wolf
Another wave of her heat scent hit the air.
He nearly shifted right there. Male and female wolves werent
biologically programmed to shift for a full year after their first
matingnatures way of giving the species the best shot at a live
birth. But Nagos wolf ignored all the natural rules with its
voracious appetite. It wanted her and was jealous of the human
whod been holding it back.
Stay in front of the wolf, N. You must stay in front of the wolf.
Somewhere in the recesses of his memories, his Uncle Grady
signed to Nago what to do. Reminded him to pull the mental rip
cord, like his uncle had taught him to do ten years ago when they
delivered him to his home for troubled wolves in a cage. All but
frothing at the mouth.
So that was what Nago did. Pulled the rip cord. Because it was
the only way to handle the wolf without anyone getting hurt.
Nago he heard her whisper.
And then her face appeared in the distorted distance. At least
thats what it looked like to him. As always when he had to pull
this trick, it was as if he were looking out at the world through a
fish-eyed lens. Like she was farther away from him than
she was.
He watched her reach up to touch his face. But he couldnt
feel her touch when she made contact. He could hear her voice,
thin and reedy with fear as she repeated his name. But he
couldnt respond.
She was scared. He was scaring her like hed promised
himself hed never do again. But there was nothing he could do
about it. Because the wolf
The wolf would only scare her more.
But even in this detached state, he could smell her heat.
Smell that she needed him. Needed the man she had chosen. Yet
in this state, he was as useless as a fucking statue.
And at that moment, Nago wanted to kill the fucking the
wolf. Kill it, even though he knew he and the thing were
symbiotic. If you killed the wolf, you killed the man. They were a
package deal. But still
If hed been given the choice of doing whatever it took to wipe
the fear off her face right then, he would have.
Nago, can you hear me?
Her voice cut through his self-castigation like a crack of
sunshine on the darkest Alaska day.
I dont know whats going on here, but if Im this scared, Im
thinking you must be, too. So Im going to tell you a story my
mom use to tell me. Its about the magnolia tree in front of this
cabin. Did you notice it outside?
Yeah, yeah, he had. Hed meditated under it during his
morning routine yesterday. Why the hell hadnt he set an alarm
clock for this morning? Why had he trusted his natural cycle just
because it had always worked before? Before was before. Now
was now, here with Halle. And he fucking knew what happened
when he didnt stay in front of the wolf.
However, he couldnt risk coming back into his body to tell
her that or to apologize.
But she continued speaking after a beat of waiting for an
answer that wouldnt come. Apparently, living around here
before the Civil War was a real nightmare for runaway slaves.
Well, life as a slave was a nightmare no matter what. But for
runaways The gulf to the South, the Mississippi River to the
West, the Pearl to the East, and the Big Black River blocking the
way to the North. As you can probably imagine, those slaves had
an awful hard time escaping. Pretty much had to be guided out in
groups with access to safe houses. And that took a while to
set up
She began to undress his body. Slower than before, but it still
went faster since all he was wearing was a pair of underwear and
a t-shirt.
Dont undress me! He wanted to scream. Afraid of what the
wolf might do to her.
But to Nagos surprise, instead of going crazy as he thought it
would, the wolf only stood there. Panting heavily as it waited to
hear the next part of her story.
So imagine my great-greatlike a ton of freakin greats
grandfathers surprise when he woke after a full moon night to
find what looked like a runaway slave in his magnolia tree
She broke off when his arms suddenly wrapped around her.
Im sorry, he said, holding on to her like she was a buoy in a
turbulent sea. Im sorry.
What are you sorry for? she asked, her arms wrapping
around his waist.
I yelled at you. Scared you.
Oh, Nago. I wasnt scared for me. I was scared for you, she
answered. Then as if theyd rewound the script of to ten years
ago, she said, You all right, Gummi Bear?
Right on cue, he answered, I am now.
And as if in reward for a well-delivered line, her heat scent
released into the air. Letting him know how much she wanted
him. Still.
Despite seeing him at his worst.
And as if to confirm it, Halle pushed the words into his head
without being asked. You. I choose you. You to be my mate. You
to be the father of my children. Its always been you, Nago. You,
and only you.
Okay.
Okay.
This fucking girl
And then another voice invaded his head. It was his great-
grandfathers 70s-era Detroit accent telling him, Fuck your
scaredy-ass feelings, boy! Claim your female. Claim that gal
right now, I tell ya!
There was no more back and forth with the wolf after that.
This time he didnt just put it in a chokehold. He commanded it
to heel. Pushing it down with a force that brooked no argument.
And then he lowered his woman to the bed with the thought
that he would never leave her again. No matter what it took, hed
stay with her. And from this day forward, nothing would come
between them. Not even a thousand wolves would tear him away
again.
19

N ago was still there when she woke on the third


morning of her heat.
Halle couldnt believe it. She watched him sleep,
taking in the lines of his face. Sharply planed and only bearing a
passing resemblance to the boy she fell in love with at summer
camp. But that boyshe could still see him in there. Could still
feel him.
Especially now. When she could watch him without
reserveor heat.
She was pregnant with his baby. Shed figure that out last
night when she got up to use the outhouse and hadnt felt
compelled to jump his bones upon her return.
Speaking of the outhouse
She reluctantly slipped from the bed, and for the first time in
days picked up the shift shed shed when she first came into this
cabin. It still smelled of her frantic 20-minute run and her heat.
But both scents were stale now. Also, it was the only thing she
had. So
She slipped the shift over her head, not disliking it as much
as she had four days ago when shed run from the boy whod
broken her heart.
That boy was a man now. Hed come back, and whatever had
happened ten years ago, theyd talk about it now her heat
was done.
Maybe over breakfast. She scanned the boxes hed put on the
mantle above the hearth. Instant oatsshe could heat some
water, and they could eat them in the bag for breakfast, just like
theyd done at summer camp. There were also a ton of the junk
foods she remembered him liking back when they could spend
hours on scintillating topics like Doritos vs. Cheetos and
whether Coke or Mountain Dew was the greatest soda of all time.
She almost grabbed a box of chocolate chip cookies as a morning
snack. All that heat sexshe was starving.
But then her eyes spotted something even better
A pack of Haribo gummi bears.
She froze, the old hesitation coming over her with Pavlovian
effect. Then she rememberedit was a new day now. Nago was
back. Not only had he finished what he started ten years ago, but
when she woke up, he was still there.
She took the pack of gummi bears off the mantle and shoved
a handful of them into her mouth. And then inwardly cursed in
ecstasy. The gummi bears tasted even more awesome than she
remembered. And just like in years past, nearly the entire bag
was gone by the time she left out the cabin for her outhouse
visit.
But then she stopped dead in her tracks.
Because instead of the usual pastoral nature scene she
expected to see in the distance. There was Eric, standing beneath
the cabins magnolia tree.
I tried to bio you, he called out to her. But then I
remembered you cant receive them this far from the house.
She looked over her shoulder on instinct, then rushed over to
him. What are you doing here? she asked, keeping her
voice low.
Mississippi wasnt the most progressive state in the North
American territories, and newly mated males had a reputation
for being volatile. She doubted Nago would be prosecuted if he
came out here and gave Eric another beat down just for daring to
show up.
But Eric seemed unconcerned. He just sniffed and said,
Youre fully mated with him. Oh, dearIm too late.
She shook her head. Yes, its too late. Im sorry about how
this went down. But as you can probably smell, Im no longer in
heat now. So whatever youahhoped for, its not going to
happen.
But the Mississippi kingdom was supposed to be mine. Your
father promised! And that new mate of yours humiliated me!
There are stories and pictures all over WolfNet of him kicking me
out of my own mating night.
Eric sounded like a petulant child who hadnt gotten the toy
he wanted for Christmas. But Halle felt horrible. Eric, Im sorry.
I know my father promised you the throne, but you know you
could have just asked me for my hand in marriage. This Chivaree
business opened the door to Nago, and he won. Fair and square,
because you hadnt mated me yet when he got to the cabin.
But instead of seeing her logic, Erics face twisted ugly as he
said, He may have won, but it wasnt fair or square.
She shook her head at him. Are you accusing him of
cheating? Because I was there
But thats just it; you shouldnt have been there, Eric said.
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop with you. Kept telling
myself you were too good to be true. Above average looks, smart,
and pooryeahbut that wasnt anything a rich businessman
couldnt fix. Plus, you were a royal, openly seeking a husband.
There was no reason you should have still been available at the
age of 29I knew that. And then I had a little conversation with
your mate the night before the Chivaree, and I began to suspect
why you hadnt been mated before I came along.
She shook her head, a new pool of dread forming in her
stomach. What are you talking about, Eric?
Eric reached inside his car and grabbed an old-fashioned
manila file folder. Ive already sent this to five different
WolfNet writers. And they started running it this morning, so
its too late for the Nightwolf family to stop it. Nago Nightwolf
will feel the kind of humiliation Im feeling right now. But I
wanted you to see it, too. So here.
He shoved the folder at her, and she hesitated but in the end
took what he offered. What is this? she asked.
The damning evidence that proves Nago Nightwolf isnt the
nice guy everyone thinks he is. In fact, after you read that the
only thing youll want from him is an annulment.

T ruthfully, it was the best sleep Nago had gotten in ages.


Years. Ten to be exact. Free of nightmares. Deep and
restorative. As if hed finally broken the beast within.
Which was why he was so surprised to awaken to the
sensation of the wolf pacing around like a thing caged inside his
chest.
Shes gone! the wolf informed her as soon as he opened
his eyes.
Nago looked around, and indeed there was no sign of Halle in
the cabin. But the empty cabin didnt disturb him nearly as
much as the chair. Because her shiftthe one that had been
hanging on the back of the chair for three days nowwas
also gone.
Okay, okay, he said, trying to keep the thing inside him
calm. She got dressed and left. Thats probably a good thing. It
probably means shes preg
She IS pregnant. And now shes alone out therewith MY
pup, without my protection.
Fuck, hed been warned about this. By uncles, but also by his
father to explain how crazy he went after their mother
absconded back to Viking-era Norway with his progeny in her
womb. Male wolves felt compelled to protect their mates under
the best of circumstances. When they were pregnant, it went to
DEFCON five.
And the insane wolf inside him must have somehow sensed
she was carrying Nagos child because it was already banging
against the cage of Nagos body as he put on his cargo pants and
slipped on his Adidas running shoes. Find her, it yelled at Nago.
Find my mate. Protect her!
For once, Nago didnt disagree. He wanted to get eyes on
Halle as badly as the wolf. But he forced himself to walk, not run,
to the door as he assured himself that hed find her right
outside. That shed probably gone to the outhouse. He almost
had himself convinced.
But then he opened the door and saw them under the
magnolia tree.
Eric. With his arm around Halles shoulders as she cried, with
her hand covering her mouth. Another wolf. Touching his
pregnant she-wolf. And she was crying.
Nago saw this. And at that moment there was no logic to be
found. But a moment was all the wolf needed.
It took over before Nago even had the chance to think,
Dont.
20

MISSISSIPPI, 18 37

I t was a mighty odd way to begin a knowing. Shed think


that for years to come.
The wolf. The man. The tree. The breakfast. The saving.
Followed by the declaration that he would not be letting
her go.
It would seem shed run away from one circumstance, only to
fall right into another. But in truth, this circumstance felt much
different than the other.
For one, the Indian took her with him everywhere. To arrange
the canoe. Then to watch him tend to his farm work. He had a
whole field of corn on the grow. A few other vegetables and two
beehives, besides. Also a horse and an old cow whose milk had
dried up. Which was fine by her, because shed once tasted the
milk from a Briarleaf cow and it had done nothing but turn her
stomach to hurting.
The Indian pointed out a house in the distance and told her all
the land she could see, including his, belonged to the white man
whod visited earlier. There were cabins like his all up and down
the river, and they each shared a portion of their crops with the
king in exchange for living here.
She asked if there was any cotton being grown, and the smile
appeared behind his lips again when he answered. No, none of
that here.
That first morning the Indian showed her everything there
was to show her on the property, but the next he began teaching
her. First, they did all his chores together. Then he took her to
the river and taught her how to fish for their supper.
He taught her many things over the next four weeks. But not
how to hunt birds and rabbits as he did with a bow and arrow. He
carried the bow and arrow everywhere with him outside the
cabin but hid it away someplace she couldnt see when they were
inside.
Probably in the same place as the knives, which she had
scanned for but had yet to find anywhere but on the table when
he put them there himself.
He did not necessarily act distrustful of her. At least not in
the way of Massas wife who went about the plantation asking
the woman slaves pointed questions whenever anything went
missing for more than an hour or two in the main house. But the
feeling that he was always watching her was one and the same.
She thought of trying to sneak out at night. But they worked
together on the little farm from dawn to dusk. Less work than
picking cotton, but shed be lucky to keep her eyes open through
the last meal, much less longer than the Indian who always
seemed to have an after-supper project.
At first, it was another chair. Then when that was done, a
bigger table. In less time than she ever could have guessed, it
became a familiar routine for her to fall asleep while watching
him craft from her pallet on the floor.
She should have felt like his servant. More than that, like his
slave. He put her to hard work, and he did not pay her in
anything but food and shelter.
But she did not feel the slave when she was with him. For one
thing, he did not ever tell her what to do; he showed her how to
do it for herself. For another thing, there was the promise he
made her.
On the second full day of work, he walked her over to a patch
of dirt and drew in it with a stick. One line up and down on the
left. Then one up and down on the right. After that, he drew an
across line coming out of the left line. It started out straight, but
then it curved up, almost but not quite meeting the up and down
right line.
Last he drew a large circle at the bottom of the lines. Here is
the gulf. You cannot get across, he told her. He pointed to the
left up and down line. This is the Mississippi River. You can also
not cross this river without a boat.
His stick moved to the right line. This river is not the right
one for you to cross.
Then his stick moved to the top line. And here is the river I
live on. You can follow this river east and then keep walking
north. But there are more rivers on the way to the place you
seek. Rivers you cannot cross without swimming.
She followed his stick, staying quiet as he erased all hope of
escape for her. But then he said, After the full moon, I will
teach you to make a small raft. Then I will lead you across the
river and as far north as Illinois, if this is your wish.
Of course, that would be her wish in a month, she thought but
did not say. Why did he think a month would make any
difference?
And then there was the chair he made. So they could sit at the
table together, instead of taking turns. When it was finished, he
set it down for her with an apology. Sorry I did not have this
ready until now. Never expected company out here after my
people left.
That was how he described the Indian removals, as his people
leaving.
Why did you stay behind? she dared to ask him that night
as they ate supper together for the first time.
One of us must always stay with the kingdom gate. It is
important to my people, he answered. I had no mate, so I was
chosen to stay behind when the new king arrived.
I do not understand your meaning, she said
Another behind-the-lips smile, but his eyes struck her as
sad. I will explain it all to you after the full moon.
She came to realize the Indian talked a lot but was full of
secrets. The first day she was there, he introduced himself to her
as Joseph. That is my white man name given to me by the new
kings pastor. My Indian name I am keeping for someone.
For who? she wondered. And she almost asked, but before she
could he asked her, What can I call you?
She did not answer at first. But then when he showed himself
to be the kind of man who could wait a long spell for the answer
he wanted, she said, Aint no reason to call me nothing. Have a
mind to change this name I got soon as I get north, anyhow.
He offered her half his bed space the first night. But she said
she was fine on the floor. He did not argue with her but took all
the blankets he had off the bed and put them down on the floor.
For her! This act of unexpected kindness put her in an awful
bind. On the one hand, she did not want to owe him for
anything. On the other, she did not know how to protest
anything a man did.
It had been pinched out of her. First by the woman she was
given to when her mother was sold. Then by the other slaves
who finished raising her when she was sold down here to
Massas new plantation.
For this reason, she could not open her mouth to tell him it
was wrong for her to sleep on the blankets, while he slept on a
bare bed. So the arrangement was set.
Joseph did not seem to mind. And though she could
sometimes feel his eyes on her as they worked together on his
farm, he never touched her. Never pressed into her on purpose,
like a dog looking to get his rub.
But he did eventually get her into his bed. Not by force, as she
thought he might if he got the hankering one night, but by a
question. You read? he asked her one night after the bigger
table was finished.
No, she answered. She had heard of plantations where
slaves were allowed to read and in some cases, even taught how.
But that wasnt Briarleaf: We wasnt allowed. You?
It had become easier to talk to him over the past few weeks.
And to ask him questions. He seemed to like talking and kept up
a steady dialogue while they worked, even if she stopped
answering.
I read some good, he answered. Missionaries used to teach
us before the new king. I got a bible.
You a believer? she asked, having always heard his people
were godless heathens.
I got a bible the missionaries gave me, he answered with a
behind the lips smile that told her he was not giving her
question a full answer. Then he produced a pocket bible from
beneath his mattress, sat down on the bed with it, and patted the
space beside him. I can read to you.
She was a believer, even more so now. Truth told, God was the
only power she could think of to credit for her continued state of
existence. For that reason, she carefully set herself down beside
him on the bed. Not touching, but she soon fell asleep while
listening to his reading of Genesis and how God created the
world.
She woke to find herself sleeping beside him. Covered with
one of the quilts that had made up her pallet on the floor. Her
immediate thoughts went to advantages taken, but when she
looked down, her skirt was still on her skirt with no signs of it
having been pushed up.
They read together every evening after that. And during the
day, he taught her all the letters, writing them in the dirt with a
stick and helping her sound them out. Sometimes he put little
tests to her, and once he asked her, Make a word for me with T,
A, and C.
When she came up with CAT, he smiled at her with his
teeth, and his smile made her feel as if she were the cleverest
thing on earth.
The days with the Indian passed by quickly. Many times it was
easy for her to forget she was a runaway slave. And at times
whole hours passed without thought given to the demon wolf
who had tried to eat her alive during the last full moon night.
But sooner than she ever thought possible, she was forced to
remember. Tonight is the full moon, Joseph told her when
they woke one morning. We have some extra chores to do.
Extra chores turned out to be much stranger than the usual
doings.
Joseph guided her toward what shed thought was a simple
shed at the edge of the property, mostly used for housing feed
and other stores during the winter. But instead of getting out a
bag of feed, he pushed the stores aside to reveal a wall full of clay
jugs like the one he gave to the white man who came to the front
door on her first morning here.
Corn whiskey, he said, coming to stand beside her. Got a
distillery of copper pots set up in the woods. Going to have to use
it at next harvest, thats a certainty. Near the end of my
stores now.
Her mouth dropped open to see the rows of clay jugs. You
made all this? she asked.
I did, he answered.
This made her rethink everything she knew about the man
standing beside her. She had never seen him drink a drop of
alcohol while awake. But asleep was another story. Was Joseph a
drunk, like them Indians you hear about?
I do not drink it, he said at the same time she got to
wondering the question. But I sell it for a nice profit on full
moon nights.
His meaning became clear just a little after dawn when white
people started coming down the river path from both directions,
making their way over to the little shed.
As it turned out, this was the reason for the sheds split door,
which shed noticed but not fully countenanced before. However,
on this day Joseph closed the bottom half and turned the little
outbuilding into a service window. The white folks lined up, and
Joseph sold the varying sized bottles of corn whiskey one by one.
After the kings visit, she would have thought Joseph would
have sent her back to hide in the house. But no, he kept her with
him just as always. She was of no help with collecting or
counting the coins people dropped into Josephs metal bowl, as
that required sums and figures. But she could tote and get well
enough, and she proved herself likely while helping Joseph make
his sales.
Best to keep her head down though, she reckoned, not daring
to meet the eyes of the white people who came for Josephs
whiskey. Any one of them could take a tale of her down the river
to Briarleaf and collect their bounty.
That was unnecessary doing, however. Most none of the white
folk made any talk about her being there, and the ones who did
seemed to expect her presence already.
These white folks acknowledged her with a smile. Glad you
finally found someone to help you out round here, one
lady said.
And a pastor who evidently had no acquaintance with
temperance said, I have been praying for you, Joseph. Gods
blessing upon the two of you, before walking away with a small
pot of whiskey.
The king came by, too. He skipped to the front of the line, but
no one seemed to mind, and many called out greetings as he
walked past all the waiting people. Joseph handed him two large
bottles without exchange of payment. And the king tipped the
wide brim of his fancy hat at her before saying to Joseph, She is
likely, isnt she? Good hard worker and strong. The Queen and I
hope it works out for you, Joseph.
She stared hard at Joseph after both of these strange
statements, but he did not look at her. In fact, it felt to her that
he put great effort into not meeting her eye after those things
were said.
Any road, the white folks were a sight nicer than the ones at
Briarleaf. They smelled better, too. They carried a scent she
could not quite reckon, but she could smell it plain, and it was
similar to the one shed begun to notice on Joseph a few
weeks ago.
More people came throughout the morning. She and Joseph
had no time for mid-day dinner; the line stretched so long down
the trees. But with the both of them working, the line was
reckoned faster than she would have thought in the morning.
She and the Indian made a good team, she admitted to herself,
even if she was more confused than a duck in a hen house as
they went about their late afternoon chores.
These, too, had changed. Instead of feeding the cow and goat,
he led them to a pen and locked them up in the shed.
Do you afear them getting out? she asked, having never
seen them stray more than a mile or two before coming
right back.
I afear them being eaten. I try to keep them safe on full
moon nights, the Indian answered cryptically.
Then she watched as he tied two long lengths of rope. One
around the magnolia tree, and another around a thin oak down
aways from the magnolia. She knew. In the back of her mind,
she knew what the rope was for.
But when she asked after the one he tied around the oak, he
said, I will tell you after supper.
The Indian said they had to eat supper earlier than usual that
night before the sun went down and the moon rose. But it was
not the usual supper of salted pork and cornbread that he made.
Instead, he placed a stack of flapjacks tall enough for a Paul
Bunyan tale on the table between them.
She only managed a few bites but marveled as she watched
the Indian consume most of the stack.
You should eat the rest, he said, nodding at the few
flapjacks left on the tin plate.
I aint hungry, she confessed because both her mind and
stomach were aswirl with emotions.
Eat, he insisted. However this night ends, it will be long.
That is certain.
She ate two more pancakes, wondering about the night to
come. Wondering about him. Wondering about all of it so much
that the pancakes tasted like sweet ash in her mouth.
There, she said when she finished her portion. I ate.
His answer to her announcement surprised her greatly. For he
set both their plates at the side of the table and took her hand!
Before the moon rises, I got some words I need to say to
you, he said.
Then he said, I am sorry for hurting you on the last full
moon. You are a good woman. A real good woman. And though
you are young still, I can tell you have lived a hard life. I had no
wish to make your life harder. If I could not have done what I did
that full moon night, I wouldnt have.
Now he raised the other hand, so both of his palms cupped
her hand as he confessed, But I cannot say I am not thankful for
what passed. For waking up from the full moon and finding you
in that tree. This month has told me a tale of things to come. A
story we might make between us. And if those things are true,
you will be the moons true blessing upon my life.
I She could think of no tactful way to put it, so she told
him her truth. I am confused by most of what you are saying,
Joseph. But you truly
For this next part, she did not dare to raise her eyes from
where his hands covered hers on the table. You truly want me
as your woman?
If the moon blesses us, and if you will have me, yes. But if
the moon doesnt bless us or if you decide you would rather
continue north, I will guide you as promised. This I swear on
my wolf.
Again she didnt understand. But a warm feeling burned
inside her chest, as if her soul understood, even if she did not.
She and Joseph washed up the supper dishes. Together, as
they always did.
Then he took her by the hand and said, Come with me. I
must show you how to use the ropes before the moon rises
However, his words trailed off when they came out the
front door.
Three men stood between them and the magnolia tree. She
recognized each and every one of them. There was the overseer
who could always be viewed upon his horse from the fields where
she used to pick cotton, the rolled cowhide in his hand making
explicit promises about what would happen if any of them gave
him a reason to come down from his horse. And one of the white
men Massa hired on at the start of every harvest season.
Crackers they were called on account of how frequently they
used their whips.
And finally Massa himself, his jowly face a study of unchecked
fury. I knewI knew that nigger lovin dandy was lying to me
about you not being here!
Even in the setting sun of an old day, she could see triumph in
his muddy eyes. See it almost as clearly as she could hear the
sharp click of him readying his shotgun before he pointed it
straight at her and asked, Did you really think you was going to
get away with killing my son?
21

N ago awoke from a pitch-black dream to searing pain.


Silver pain.
He discovered why when he looked down and
found his wrists encased in silver cuffs, attached to the railing of
what looked like a hospital bed. Old school. The kind of cruel
binding system his Uncle Grady described his mange state father
using on him whenever his wolf got out of control.
Which meantNago groaned. If he was bound like this, the
wolf must have escaped. Again.
His thoughts immediately went to Halle. Pregnant with his
baby. Where was she? Were she and the baby okay? Had he hurt
herargggh!!!
He didnt realize his body had sprung into action until he was
dealt another searing silver rebuke.
Dont fight it. Youre in the Mississippi kingdom clinic. And
youre not getting out of those handcuffs until someone lets
you out.
Nago stilled. His mind reeling as he looked over to the man he
vowed not to call just a few days ago. But yes, there he was. His
dad, Rafe Sr., sitting in a ratty old guest chair that looked like it
had probably been bought used last millennium.
Dad, he rasped out. What the hell is going on?
Thats what Im here to ask you. The Mississippi King called
me as a courtesy. Told me I needed to come get you.
Technically, Im the Mississippi King now, Nago said,
fighting the urge to strain against his cuffs again. The wolf was
pacing back and forth inside him. But the silver kept him at bay.
Just like the fact that Halle was pregnant should have, but didnt
keep him from appearing.
Yes, technically, but as the Mississippi King not so subtly
pointed out to me, thats only until his daughter can file the
paperwork to get the Chivaree declared null and void.
Null and void? Whatfuck! Nago cut off when the cuffs let
him know hed moved again.
You need to calm down, son, Rafe said, voice clipped.
Even with your brothers help, were not going to be able to
convince them to let you go if youre acting like a psycho.
Im not a psycho, Nago answered. Im a male whose
pregnant mate is nowhere to be seen. How the hell does anyone
expect me to act right now?
I wouldnt know, Nago, his father shot back. Im not sure
I know anything about you right now.
Nago shook his head, not understanding why his father whod
always been so supportive ofand according to both his
brothers, the most indulgent withhis youngest triplet, now
regarded him with cold disappointment in his eyes.
But he didnt have time to get down to the bottom of this
mystery. His mate was missing, and that was way more urgent
than whatever his father was getting at. Halle! He had to find
her. Protect her. Shed chosen him, and he was her mate now.
Nago released a stream of curses when the silver burned him
again.
And this time his fathers large hand landed on his chest,
shoving him back down on the bed to stop Nago fighting against
the silver cuffs. Calm down, Nago. Calm down so I can talk
to you.
Despite the gray lining both his temples, his father was still a
very strong wolf. It also probably didnt help that Nago was
chained to a bed by energy-sapping silver handcuffs. Nago
forced himself to breathe. Dad, just tell me where she is, he
said, fighting to keep his voice level. I need to find my mate.
But his fathers face remained hard and unsympathetic as he
answered, Trust me when I say that boat has sailed. You need to
let that she-wolf go like you promised me you would the last
time I was called down south to clean up your mess.
I did let her go! Nago shot back. I let her go for ten years.
But then she tried to give herself away, and I couldnt let her do
that. She deserved better than some fucked-up mating ritual. I
had to break my promise. Im sorry if that pisses you off, but I
couldnt let her do that. And now shes pregnant with my baby. I
have to
The hand pressed into his chest again, pushing him back into
the bed before the silver could burn him once more. Nago. Do
not make this situation any worse than it already is. Let.
Her. Go.
How can you fucking say this to me, Dad?! Nago asked.
You went back in time to the Viking Age to find mom when she
ran away with your kids in her belly. And you wont even let me
out of these handcuffs?
Yes, I had to go back to the Viking Age to find your mother
after she ran away from me because I lied to her. Rafe Sr. shook
his head at Nago, disappointment and disgust writ plain across
his face. Knowing your parents history, I would have thought
youd have learned that lesson. I would have thought you would
never have been stupid enough to repeat my mistakes.
An unspoken accusation ticked between them in the long
silence that followed.
And this time his father didnt have to press him back into
the bed. Nago sank back on his own. Defeated. Not by his father.
But by himself.
She knows, Nago said dully. How much?
All of it, I think. But considering you kept this from me, too,
I couldnt say for sure. For all I know youve not only been
sabotaging all her relationships behind her back, but you might
also have orchestrated this whole Chivaree business yourself. I
cant put much past you anymore.
The disappointment in his fathers voice stung. But it didnt
stab. Not like the icicle of knowing the woman he loved the most
had just found out how much of an act his supposed nice guy
turnaround had been.
I would never put her up for a Chivaree. No matter how badly
I wanted her back, he assured his dad. Then he asked, Who
told her?
The Ohio prince. Your attempt to bribe him into going away
before the Chivaree gave him reason to do some digging. He
wont say how he came upon the information about all the other
men you bribed. Apparently, there are quite a few iron-clad
NDAs floating around all this business of you either paying off or
blackmailing any guy who got too close to her. But Eric is
perfectly willing to testify against you, and your mate was the
one who ended up having to put you down with a tranq gun when
you tried to attack him in wolf form. So, good job giving her
plenty of irrefutable evidence to use to sue for full custody and
make sure your mother and I never get to see our firstborn
grandchild.
Dad Nago started to say.
But his father cut him off with a vicious, What did I tell you
when I got you out of that Florida fiasco?
That I couldnt see her again, Nago repeated dully. I
couldnt have any more contact with her. That I had to let
her go.
Then why the hell are we here right now?! After your family
did everything in their power to help you recover, why the hell
am I standing in this room with you after being informed by
some mange state king that not only did you not leave his
daughter alone, you completely fucked up her life and yours! And
I wont go into the details of whats being said on WolfNet right
now. But needless to say, youve put the Nightwolf family name
and legacy in danger. Why would you do something this
stupid?
Because shes my fated mate.
Rafe Sr. stopped short at his sons quiet interruption.
But Nago only shook his head and said, I dont have proof of
it like you and mom did, but I know who she is in my soul. And I
know what I did was crazy, but like you needed to find Mom
when she crossed centuries to get away from you, I need to find
Halle. Right now. So please let me out of these handcuffs, and
tell me where she is.
Rafe opened his mouth, looking as if he had another angry
diatribe at the ready. But then he closed it. Ihell, son. I cant
say I dont understand exactly what youre going through. I
knew, too, and even after what happened I cant say I wouldnt
have done the same if it meant making sure your mother ended
up with me.
Okay, Nago murmured. Then let me out. Please.
He rubbed a hand down the back of his neck. I can let you
out. But as for your she-wolf, she was already gone by the time I
got here. She didnt tell her father where she was going. So I
cant say where she is because I dont know. Nobody does.
22

1 122 Berry Ave. You have reached your destination.


Halle squinted out the jitney cabs window at the
house the robotic voice just announced as her
destination. It was small with only a slice of grass between it and
the next house over, but neat and meticulously maintained. The
exact opposite of the large but rundown kingdom house where
shed grown up. Was this it?
The Louisiana address shed plucked from an old bio file was
so old. And there was a distinct possibility the navigation system
on her black market driverless rental car was even older.
She sat frozen in the car, staring at the house.
1122 Berry Ave. You have reached your destination, the
car repeated, giving her an emotionless nudge to get the hell out.
Add ten-minute delay to departure, she said, in case this
wasnt the right address. And then with a deep breath, she
stepped out of the car and started toward the house.
The path to the front door didnt stretch nearly as long as the
curved gravel driveway in front of the Mississippi kingdom
house. But somehow getting to this door seemed to take twice as
long and triple the mental effort.
It felt to Halle like she was walking the wrong way through a
wind tunnel. The forces of time and dread pushing against her so
hard, she wondered if shed be able to bring herself to knock on
the houses red front door.
But then it turned out she didnt have to.
It suddenly opened, and a woman appeared on the brick
doorstep. Small, dainty and prettier than a daffodil. She was
nearly twelve years older now, but, like before, you could see the
former Mississippi beauty queen shining through. It was in her
shoulders-back posture and the still slender arm she raised to
cover her mouth with a delicate hand.
To Halle it felt like a memory had appeared in front of her,
perfectly-preserved after all these years.
Halle? the memory called to her. Is that you?
Halles first instinct was to run. To cut out of this womens
impeccably manicured yard without ever being stupid enough to
look back again.
But she didnt. She just stood, staring at the woman who was
now a few inches shorter than she. So much time
Halle? the woman tried again, stepping off the brick
doorstep and moving a little closer in the careful way people do
when dealing with animals that may or may not be safe to pet.
What are you doing here?
I Halle had to stop because the prepared answer got
clogged in her throat, forcing her to swallow down a painful
lump before she said, Im sorry to show up unannounced, Keri.
But I dont have anywhere else to go.
Her mothers eyes widened. Ohyou want to stay here.
With Utibe and I...
Keri spoke with so much upward inflection that it sounded
like a question. And then she looked over her shoulder.
Halle followed her gaze to the small houses front window
which was flanked by darling dark green clapboards. Those and
the trim around the windows was painted the same color as
Halles kingdom house bedroom. Her mothers favorite color,
she now recalled. A man stood at the window. Tall and dark. Her
mothers new husband, no doubtno, not new, Halle reminded
herself.
It had been over 12 years after all. Keri was his and had been
for a long time. And he made no pretense of not watching them
from the window. Halle watched Keri noticeably tremble beneath
the mans hard stare.
Then she turned back to Halle and asked, How long?
Im not sure, Halle admitted, finding it hard not to look
back toward the window.
Another glance over her shoulder. But then Keri must have
made a charitable decision in her head because she said, Yes,
you can stay here with us. That will be fine. IllIll show you to
the guest bedroom.
23

H alle slept for a very, very long time.


She dreamed about Eric showing her what she
didnt want to believe. That Nago was a monster. A
psychopath whod refused to mate her when shed gone into
heat the first time, but had refused to let anyone else claim her.
Like a spoiled kid licking a piece of candy so no one else could
have it.
She slept so long that the knock on the bedroom door, soft
and delicate, seemed like maybe it was part of the same
nightmare. Which was why it took a few more knocks before
Halle sat up in bed and said, Come in.
Keri poked her head in. Breakfast is almost on the table.
Oh Halle sat up and tried to rub all the nightmare out of
her eyes with the balls of her hands. Okay, thanks. Im
coming.
She thought about possibly not taking a shower. With the
dark cloud hanging over her, shed be doing well just to make it
out to the breakfast table. But she remembered enough about
her mothers house rules not to risk it.
They might be poor, but they didnt have to act it. Halle had
been expected to come to breakfast showered and dressed for the
day with her hair perfectly coiffed when Keri had lived in the
Mississippi kingdom house. So Halle did her best. Took a quick
shower and pulled on a fresh pair of sweatpants and a loose tee.
There wasnt much she could do about the state of her braids,
which after a Chivaree and a sudden dash to Louisiana, needed
attending. But she pulled them back into a somewhat neat
ponytail before coming out of the bedroom to face her mother.
She followed a low murmur of conversation to a small kitchen
where she found Keri and her mate sitting on opposite sides of a
two-person table. Their heads snapped up when she came in,
the way peoples heads do when theyre so involved in talking
about you, they dont hear you coming.
But her mother, ever the former beauty queen, recovered
quickly, pasted on a smile, and said, Hello, Halle! Youre right
on time.
Halle glanced at Utibe, then quickly looked away when she
was met with a sour stare. But it was long enough to take in the
red work suit he wore, and the yellow patch on his chest that
declared him a proud employee of Cal-Mart. A shock,
considering some of her first memories had been of her mother
preaching to her about the importance of finding a
wealthy mate.
Guess she didnt mind being poor anymore. As long as she
wasnt poor with Halle and her father.
You sit down right here. Ive been keeping your breakfast
warm for you, her mother said, jumping out of her seat.
Dressed in kitten heels and a pretty yellow dress, she looked the
exact opposite of her sour husband. I hope you still like
waffles.
Who doesnt like waffles? Halle joked as she took a seat
across from Utibe. I mean, other than those criminally insane
puppy kickers.
Utibe gave no reaction, while her mother overcompensated,
placing a hand over her stomach as she gave the pretty version
of a belly laugh. I suppose thats true!
Utibe stood abruptly, then walked over to where Keri lingered
at the oven and dropped a kiss on her cheek. See you tonight,
my darling, he said in heavily accented English.
See you tonight, Keri answered, giving his arm a dainty
little squeeze.
The kitchen door swung open and closed, and then he was
gone, leaving nothing but the awkward silence between her and
her mother in his wake.
Keri made a graceful fuss out of setting a warm plate in front
of Halle: eggs and waffles with a few orange slices artfully
arranged on top. I got you some coffee, too, her mother said
going over to a little black enamel-and-glass set that looked out
of place in the colorful kitchen. Utibe went back to Cal-Mart to
pick up a coffee maker just for you since we only drink tea.
Oh, you didnt have to do that.
Of course we did! Keri replied as she poured the coffee.
You are our guest, and besides, Ive been meaning to get one for
years now.
Our guest. The description pinged inside Halles chest. Was
that all she was to her mother?
But Halle smiled and said, Pretty cup, when Keri set a cup
and a saucer with a purple-and-blue watercolor design down in
front of her
Her mother beamed. Thank you, Halle. But then she fretted
her hands, suddenly remembering, I forgot about the cream
and sugar. We dont have any because Utibes lactose intolerant
and I used the last of the sugar in the waffles, but I can go to the
store if youd like. Just let me order a car
No, this is fine, Halle assured her, going straight for the
coffee.
But then she winced at the strong taste. It tasted like
someone had dumped a whole bag of grinds into a pot that was
only supposed to take a cup.
Oh, I knew I was doing it wrong, her mother said, frowning.
That machine is so confusing! I swear I had to go through the
instructions five times just to turn it on.
Its okay. Seriously, it doesnt matter. I slept for hours and
hours anyway. I dont even need coffee. Its just a habit. All I care
about is breakfast. See...
Halle rushed to take a bite of waffle, prepared to pretend the
food meant more than it did. But then she didnt have to pretend
when the bomb of perfectly proportioned sugar, butter, and
homemade mix popped off inside her mouth. Oh wow, I forgot
what a good cook you are. These waffles are the best thing Ive
ever tasted.
And just like that, her mother was beaming again. Strange
what all you forgot only to recall it clear as day. Memories of her
mothers frets being stopped cold with the right compliment
came back to Halle. And she remembered thinking rather
unkindly in the ugly aftermath of Keris departure that her
mother had been nothing more than a pretty flower that
withered without the sun of compliments.
Her mother carefully perched in the chair her husband had
just abandoned. She seemed to want to say more or maybe ask
questions, but in the end settled for a silence filled with only the
sounds of Halles fork clanking against the beautiful china until
she was all done.
Halle ate everything on the plate, leaving only the overly
strong coffee behind.
Youre sure I cant make you another cup? her mother
asked on the other side of the table. I could try to figure out the
machine again.
No, Im good. Thanks, M she trailed off.
You her mother shifted on her perch. You can call me
mom if you want to.
Halle thought about it, but the M-word felt too intimate for a
woman she hadnt seen in twelve years. The woman whod
abandoned her and told her to move on with her life.
Im done, she said, deflecting to her empty plate.
Ill just
No, let me. Her mother picked it up and took it to the sink.
Any ideas about what you want to do this afternoon? she
asked as she ran water over the plate.
Halle glanced out the window. Oh wow, is it already
afternoon?
Yes, her mother answered somewhat apologetically. You
seemed exhausted when you showed up here yesterday, and I
didnt want to wake you.
I was, Halle admitted. Umthank you for taking me in.
Oh, honey, you dont have to Her mothers breath
caught. You dont have to thank me. Im happy to have the
company.
Halle crooked her head, wondering if company was how her
mother qualified her now. Not her daughter, but a visitor whod
showed up out of the blue. Someone new to throw southern
hospitality at. Well, I am grateful, Halle said anyway because
she was.
We could go to Main Street. They have a few nice boutiques
there. Maybe we could get you some things her mothers gaze
trailed down to Halles outfit, other than sweatpants.
And there it was. The disapproval Halle remembered so well.
Never being good enough or fashionable enough for the former
Miss Teen Wolf.
I think I might go back to sleep, actually, Halle answered as
another wave of depression washed over her. Ive had a
hard week.
A few ticks went by, and Halle wondered what her mother
knew. About the Chivaree and her pregnancy.
Maybe the former. Definitely the latter. Her mother might be
a delicate brown teacup, but she still had her shifter senses
under all that perfectly applied make-up. She could probably
smell the pregnancy on her.
As if to confirm her suspicions, Keri returned to the seat
across from her and said, Maybe now would be a good time to
talk about what brought you here. We havent spoken in many
years, but of course, I read what everyone else did on the
WolfNet about you and the King of Alaska
A knock interrupted her careful segway into meatier topics.
And like a pretty poodle whod suddenly been beckoned, her
mothers attention went to the door. Oh, I wonder who that
could be?
She rose from her seat and after smoothing her already
perfectly smooth dress went out to the front room.
Real talk, Halle was glad for the unexpected reprieve. And
nearly as soon as her mother was out of sight, she stood,
preparing to escape back to the guest bedroom while Keri was
distracted at the door
But then a voice called out, Halle?! Halle, where are you?!
No, noit couldnt be!
But it totally could. In the next moment, Nago slammed into
the kitchen, his face thunderous with rage.
24

T hey stared at each other.


Nago enraged. Halle aghast.
There had been a time when no matter how big
Nago got, she would have trusted hed never hurt a fly. But those
days were long gone. And the details Eric had shown her floated
back into her headnot just numbers, but accountings of ugly
deeds. Threats, blackmail, manipulation.
Her mother ended up speaking before either of them did.
Bursting through the kitchen door behind Nago and saying,
Now wait just a minute! I dont think Halle wants to see you
right now, to the King of Alaska.
You ran, Nago said to Halle as if her mother hadnt spoken.
As if she wasnt even there. You ran, and you never gave me a
chance to explain.
Halle blinked at him, thoughts tripping over fear. Fear
tripping over anger. How? she demanded. How did you find
me? My bioware is off.
Yeah, there are ways to access offline bioware, he answered
with an aggravated look. It requires huge oversteps you
probably dont want to know about.
But you took them, she pointed out, her voice shaking with
anger.
Yes, I did, he answered with no remorse. Halle, youre the
mother of my child! What did you expect me to do after you left
me chained up in that clinic bed? Just go home without knowing
if you were okay?
Im okay, she answered without an ounce of hesitation
because he didnt deserve to know how not okay she was. You
leaving now?
Nago stared at her for a tense second. Then broke off, his
handsome face contorting into an ugly frown. Dammit, Halle.
We nearly made it. If Ohio hadnt interfered
It still would have been wrong. What you didthe way you
sabotaged my life for ten yearsit was wrong!
And Im sorry for that. But
There should be no but after that sentence. What you did
goes beyond a simple Im sorry. How can you not see that?
How can I not see that? he repeated, throwing her question
back at her like it was the stupidest thing hed ever been asked
in his life. I cant see that because if any of those guys had been
remotely worthy of you, they wouldnt have taken the payoff!
Wouldnt have cared about their reputations more than they
cared about staying with you. If any of those guys had deserved
even an ounce of your love, they would have sacrificed anything
to be with you.
Oh, yeah? Eric didnt take your bribe, she pointed out. His
character is unimpeachable. So why didnt you just let him have
me and be done with it?
Nagos head jerked back as if shed punched him. Ohio? That
overreaching fuck was the worst of them. He only wanted you for
your title, Halle. Otherwise, he would have fallen into line, too!
I was okay with that! Totally okay with that! she yelled back
at him. Because you know what? Only wanting me for my title
is better than pretending youre in love with me before tossing
me out like trash. And then manipulating my entire love life to
the point that I felt like there was something wrong with me.
Like I was damaged goods who deserved to be left in that
hotel room
God, it had been ten years ago, yet hot tears sprang to her as if
it happened yesterday.
Halle Nago said, shoulders deflating. Theres nothing
wrong with you. But it was the only way I could
He broke off, shaking his head. Then taking a deep breath, he
said, Halle, there are things I have to tell you. About my wolf.
About why I did what I did
Theres something wrong with you, she guessed, cutting
him off. Something happened in the Marines that changed you
and made you unable to control your wolfeven after mating.
Thats the big secret youve been keeping, right?

N ago stopped. Completely taken aback by her


assessment of his situation, because YeahI
mean, yeah, thats exactly what happened.
He reset. Squared his shoulders and finished telling her the
flat-out truth. A mission went bad while I was in the Wolf
Force, and itit really messed me up. I thought I could handle it
when I got back Stateside, but I couldnt. This wolf inside me was
out of control He swallowed, thinking back to the hardest
time of his life. So I left. To keep you safe, I left. Even though
you were the love of my life.
He put it all on the table. Finally. But Halle only stared at him
before saying, You left me. To keep me safe. She threw his
words back at him like they were the most idiotic things shed
ever heard. Then she asked in a derisive tone, Did it ever occur
to you, King Nago, that the only place I ever felt safe was with
you? That I didnt care how damaged you were when you came
back, I just wanted to be with you. I would have done anything to
be with you!
But I couldnt be with you like that! I tried, and I barely got
through your first heat session without shifting. The whole time
I was terrified of hurting you, but I couldnt stop itcouldnt
stop my wolf from claiming you. And you saw what he was like.
Uncontrollable. I never wanted to put you in that position.
Which is why I stayed away. This whole time, Ive been working
toward one goal. Getting the wolf in line and getting you back.
Please believe me! What looks like lies and manipulations was
me doing the best I could with the shitty set of parameters I was
given.
Another long stare. And then she asked, Did you think I
wouldnt have understood what you were going through?
He flinched at the question, because couldnt she see It
wasnt about you understanding. There wasnt anything to
understand. I had a wild, uncontrollable beast inside me. There
was only getting it away from you. Learning to manage it, so I
could be the man you deserve.
The man I deserve is honest, Halle shot back. Someone
man enough to be with me even if theres something wrong with
him. Especially if theres something wrong with him. Dude, Im
a great fixer upper!
A joke. Somewhere on the edge of his reason, he got that. But
he yelled back, No, I was supposed to be your fucking prince,
Halle! Do you think I wanted you to take care of me like you have
to take care of your worthless father and that rundown
kingdom-town of yours? Do you think I wanted to be another
fucking thing on the list of shit Halle needs to fix? Hell, no!
Youre the one who needed saving, not me. That wasnt what you
signed up for. And Id be damned if I was going to let you waste
ten years of your life with a fucking invalid wolf
Is that how you see yourself? How you see me? she
demanded, cutting him off.
She shook her head at him. Like Im some tragic princess,
and youre this huge invalid, too imperfect to love? Well, fuck
you, Nago Nightwolf. I didnt want a prince and a fairytale. All I
wanted was you. I loved you. Unconditionally. And I wish you
could have loved me the same way.
Her words cut him to the bone. I do love you, Halle, he said,
his voice course with emotion. Im out of my goddamn mind in
love with youobviouslyor we wouldnt be here. Dont ever
say I dont love you.
But she didnt back down. No...if you loved me, like at all,
you would have trusted me. You wouldnt have consigned me to
this living hell without you for the last ten years.
Halle, let me he said, coming toward her. He couldnt
take it anymore. She wasnt listening to reason, and he knew if
shed just let him touch her, hold her, then shed see it from his
point of view. Choose him again as she did in the cabin.
But she held up a hand, staying his advance. No! Dont touch
me! Its over! she yelled at him.
Its not over, he ground out, not even able to comprehend
how she could say those words to him. I fucking love you and I
know you still love me. You chose me to be the father of that
baby youre carrying.
Yes, I chose you when I was out of my mind with heat. But
right now? Im choosing not to be with a wolf who lies and
manipulates me for my own good anymore. Were done!
She meant it, Nago realized. Every word that was coming out
of her mouth. She really meant it.
The wolf went strangely quiet inside him. Leaving nobody but
the human hed clung to for so long to say, Nono. This isnt
over. Whether you like it or not, Im still your states king. And I
won your hand by Chivaree. That means you dont have a choice
when it comes to this. You also dont have the resources to battle
me in court. And I know you still love me, no matter what you
say. So this is not over. Not until I say it is.
She lowered her arm, but the look on her face did just as good
a job of telling him to stay back. I used to love you, Nago. But
you killed it. With your lies and your schemes, you killed
everything good that we used to be. You took the person I loved
the most in this world away from me, and Ill never forgive you
for that.
She shook her head at him, disappointment radiating from
her now as strongly as her heat scent did a few days ago. Even if
you make me marry you, you cant make me live with you. So
yeah, go ahead and use this baby as leverage. Prove to me that
youre the asshole I thought you were all these years weve been
apart. Because the only thing we will ever share between us is
custody of this child. And this web of lies you want to call a
relationship? It is over. So until you have a court order to be
here, you need to get on out of this house.
For some reason he wanted her to hit him again. Because at
least that response showed passion. But she only stood there.
Cold and immovable.
And the wolf said nothing. It stayed completely silent as if it
was standing over the grave of his and Halles relationship.
Halle he started.
But then a voice said, Young man, my daughter asked you to
leave, so please do so. Right now.
Halles mother. Hed forgotten she was still there.
The woman whod abandoned her.
The other person shed loved whod abandoned her.
And suddenly Nago understood how badly hed fucked up.
That his plan not to return to her until he could be the mate she
deserved had in fact ruined any chance they had of a happily ever
after.
25

H alle watched Nago process her words.


Kept her face composed in a cold mask so he could
see she was one hundred percent sure of herself and
wouldnt back down. Ignored the wolf whimpering inside her for
her mate.
Hes not our mate, she told her wolf. The Nago we fell in love
with is dead. This guy was just pretending to be him.
Yet he stood there for moments on end. Looking like
something shed broken.
For a moment, it seemed as if he might argue again, but then
with one last dark look, he turned and stormed out of the
kitchen past her mother.
Gone. Finally. Halle could only hope for good.
At least thats what shed keep telling herself. Until both she
and her wolf believed it.
Halle? A hand touched her arm.
Her mother was standing beside her.
Would you? Her mother looked to the side as if scanning
through her etiquette books for how to handle the ugly scene in
her kitchen. Would you like to talk about it? What just
happened?
Halle stared at her mother for a beat, then said, You havent
been a mother to me for twelve years. Theres no reason to start
acting like one now.
Then without another word, she went back to the bedroom to
gather her things.
There was no reason not to return to the Mississippi kingdom
house now. Nago had found her which meant there was no way
or reason for her to hide anymore. Plus, the kingdom-town was
what she knew. What shed always known.
But instead of packing the few things shed taken out of her
suitcase, she sat down on the edge of the bed. Wanting to do
something, wanting to fix this, but unable to move for the ache
in her heart.
Why? she had to ask herself. Why did telling him to leave hurt
even worse than being left behind?
Because of the mate bond. Even stronger now after ten years.
Its biology, she reminded herself. Give yourself time. It
will pass.
So she waited. Sat there, trying to reconcile all the feelings
swirling around inside her.
Where is she?! A voice, low-pitched and angry, sounded on
the other side of the door. No, Keri, I will talk to her! I cannot
hold my tongue any longer!
Halle looked up just as Utibe shoved open the door with a
crash.
She rose to her feet, tilting her head to the side. Funny, she
thought. Canadian wolves had a reputation for being almost
comically polite in comparison to American wolves, but
apparently, Utibe hadnt gotten the memo.
He came to a stop directly in front of her, not even seeming to
feel the tug of his wife pulling back on his arm with both her
hands.
You brought danger into my house. After everything my wife
has gone through with you, you put her life in danger!
Honey, please dont make a scene. I told you it was nothing.
Im fine. Were both fine.
Utibe threw his wife a disbelieving look over his shoulder.
Maybe she is fine, but you are not. Then he turned back to
Halle with a vicious glare. You are the reason my wife calls me
at work, crying. Not because your mate might have hurt her, but
because you refuse to call her by her proper title. And tell her she
should not try to act the mother to you.
Wait, Im sorry Nago came here, but I dont understand why
youre so upset with me. I didnt mean for Keri to get scared
I wasnt, her mother insisted. I was just upset for you.
Thats all. Utibe is being silly
Do not put words in my mouth, woman! he said, turning to
face her. You are my fated mate, but I will not abide by you
pretending this girl did not choose to hurt you for many years
before showing up here and asking you to hide her from this
dangerous wolf she brought to our house while I was not here to
protect you. What if he had hurt you, my darling? Then what
would I have done?
But he didnt, Keri insisted. I am alright. Hes gone now.
And everyones fine. Including Halle.
Yes, Halle, he sneered. The girl who ignores you for twelve
years then takes advantage of your good heart.
Wait, what do you mean I ignored her? Halle started
to ask.
But before she could get the words out her mother shouted,
She had every reason to ignore me! I left her. And you dont
understand because you dont have kids, but I betrayed her trust
by going off with you. And it was up to her whether she wanted
to see me again. And it might hurt that she wont call me Mama
anymore, but Ill take her. Any way I can get her, Ill take her.
Shes my daughter, Utibe. And I wont apologize for finally
having the chance to be here for her in her time of need.
Wait, wait, Mama Halle started, only to stop when Keri
gasped, fresh tears pooling in her eyes. Just because shed used
the word. What the?
Halle extended her neck and said, I dont understand. You
were the one who didnt want to see me. I sent you so many bios,
and you never answered them.
What? No! For once her mothers expression didnt stay
perfectly placid. In fact, her entire forehead wrinkled as she said,
I sent you bio after bio, begging to see you. Your father got full
custody under shifter mate abandonment laws, which meant the
only way I could see you was for you to officially request to see
me. But you always wrote back that you hated me, and youd
never forgive me. I kept trying. Youre my daughter so of course,
I kept trying. But then right before your eighteenth birthday, you
sent me that bio asking me not to write you anymore.
Right before my eighteenth birthday? But thats impossible.
Two days before my birthday I got a message from you saying you
wanted to move on with your life and start another family, so I
should stop writing you.
Nono! Id never write that. I cant even have more
children. They had to remove all of that after I had you. And even
if I could
She shook her head at Halle. I would never write something
like that. Youre my daughter!
And youre my mother, Halle returned, shaking her head in
an identical way. I would never have said I didnt want to see
you again. Or stayed away if I hadnt thought you didnt want to
see me.
They stared at each other helplessly, twelve years of
misunderstanding falling away from their relationship like
ashes.
But how? Keri seemed to ask for the both of them. How
could this have happened?
Halle didnt know. Couldnt put it together.
But then suddenly she could.
Son of a bitch she whispered.
26

N ago, how many ways do Dad and I have to tell


you to let this girl go and return to your kingdom
in Alaska? Rafes demanded.
After appearing out of nowhere on the screen of the driverless
car Nago had rented to take him from the hotel back to Halles
mothers house.
Nago jumped in his seat. Rafes, how did you?
Motherfucking president of North America, Rafes answered
before Nago could finish the question. Why has everyone in this
family seem to have forgotten that?
Okay, alrightyou got me, Nago said, with a wry chuckle.
So hows it going, man?
Rafe flinched, probably taken aback by Nagos good-natured
response when hed been expecting another argument. But then
he reset and said, Poorly. In case you havent heard, Myrna,
daughter of the Fenrir, came through the North Dakota
time gate.
WaitValkyrie Babysitter??? Now Nago leaned all the way
forward. Crazy hot princess Valkyrie Babysitter is herenow?
A long silence, then, Though she does not understand it yet,
shes my fated mate, so you can refrain from calling her
Valkyrie Babysitteror referring to her as crazy hot.
Wait, wait, wait. Let me get this straight. Myrna, Princess of
the North Wolves, the girl moms been using as the poster child
of her anti-black box movement, the insanely hot shield maiden
who used to babysit usshes really here? In this time period?
And fatedto you?
Another long beat, then, Yes. And dont laugh. Nago, do
not la
But it was too late because Nago had already fallen to his side
on the cars arched seat, overcome with laughter.
Fuck you, Rafes said on the cars screen.
YouRafesson Nightwolfthe most uptight guy on earth
are fated to a bad-ass shield maidenI cantI cant breathe!
This is like hearing Wonder Woman hooked up with Lex Luther!
On screen, Rafes took a deep breath, steepling his hands and
pressing them into the bridge of his nose before saying in a
barely level voice. Im calling because Ive already logged over
2000 requests for quotes about you in the last twenty-four
hours. One reporter was so desperate she even managed to hunt
down Knud.
Wait, wait, Im sorry, Nago said, sitting back up.
I dont need an apology. I need to talk to you about
NoI mean Im sorry for not asking what Knud said about
you being fated to Valkyrie Babysitter. That should have been my
first question right off the bat!
Nago, I swear I will send a fucking drone down there to get
you if you do not focus on the topic at hand, Rafes snarled. I
thought we talked about you staying away from that woman! But
according to your cars coordinates, youre in Louisiana. And
since theyve already turned down our black box proposal, Im
assuming this has something to do with the Mississippi
she-wolf?
I am going to let her go, Nago assured his brother. As soon
as I make things right with her.
What do you mean by make it right?
1122 Berry Ave. You have reached your destination, the
car announced.
Im here. Gotta go, Nago answered.
Nagolisten to reason!
Nago started to ignore him like he usually did but then paused
before exiting the car to say, No, bro, why dont you listen to
me for once? I understand everything youve been doing as
president of the most powerful North American territory in the
world.
Good, because it doesnt feel like anyone does lately, Rafes
grumbled on the screen.
Nago shook his head. But bro, the job is turning you hard.
Youre calling me when you should be focusing on the fact that
the universe has handed you a fated mate! Thats crazy! Instead
of yelling at me about how I irreversibly fucked up the only
relationship I ever wanted, why dont you learn the lesson? Find
your mate. Compromise. Stop caring so much about whos
following orders and do something different for a change.
Handle your own business for once and leave me to me.
Before his brother could respond, Nago pushed the screens
off button. He loved Rafes, but he didnt have time to argue with
him. He had to find Halle.
However, this time a large black man answered the door.
No, he said when he saw Nago. And he moved his full body
into the doorway, filling it up.
Not an insurmountable obstacle, Nago noted. But getting past
him wouldnt be pretty. And it might make Halle angrier than
she already was. So he fell back on manners. Sir, I understand
youre probably upset after my earlier visit.
You barge into my house without my permission! Scare my
wife and threaten my stepdaughter! the tall man pointed out,
voice barely controlled.
Sir, youre right. That was wrong of me. But Im not here to
argue, I swear. I just want to apologizefor real this time, and
Im ready to talk about moving forward with a custody
agreement. But before I can do that, I need to explain a few
things to Halle, so nothing takes her by surprise this time.
Because no matter how she feels about me now, I will always
love her. Im done doing things behind her back and I need her
to understand what I just did wasnt meant to be manipulative.
There arent any strings attached. Im trying to make it right.
Please, sir, will you call her to the door so I can tell her this?
Halles stepfather glared down at him as if he were a fly on
his windshield instead of a fellow shifter begging to talk to his
stepdaughter.
But then a voice said, Utibe! Utibestop it. Let me
through.
Halles mother squeezed past her husband. That was a very
sweet speech, King Nago, but shes not here.
Then Keri frowned and said, What is it exactly that youre so
worried about her misunderstanding?
27

H e did WHAT?
You heard me! We no longer have to deal with
that Alaska king. We now own our kingdom free
and clear with a billion-dollar town restoration grant cherry on
top! That means well never have to worry about money again,
and you can marry Prince Eric!
So he Halle swayed, suddenly not feeling steady on her
feet. Shed come in with a head of self-righteous steam only to
deflate when she found her father in the act of popping a bottle
of champagne in their formerly grand kitchen. Hes just giving
up his Chivaree wins?
Thats what his lawyer said. Told me theyd be sending over
a contract stating King Nago is hes signing the kingdom over to
you. Hell also provide you a beta to protect your claim until you
marry the wolf of your choosing, and hes giving us a one-
billion-dollar grant on top of child support. Dont that beat all!
Halle looked around the kitchen with the mismatched
linoleum shed been patching up for years. And the 80s era
appliances shed been trying to keep going as best she could.
Then she watched her father pour two glasses of champagne.
Surprised, but not surprised he seemed to have completely
forgotten she was pregnant.
He signed the kingdom over to me?
Yes, and gave us a billion dollars on top! her father crowed.
To me, she repeated.
Yes, he threw her an irritated look. I know its hard to
believe, Halle, but thats what happened. You dont have to
worry about him anymore, and youre free to marry the Ohio
prince now
To me, she said again, then before her father could say
anything, she clarified. He signed the kingdom over to me,
not you.
Her fathers smile faded a bit. Well, yes, technically to you.
But youre my daughter. And what kind of daughter wouldnt
provide her father with a portion of her settlement? Youll house
me and pay me an allowance. Thats what Eric promised. And its
tradition.
Halle stared at him long and hard before asking, Is it also a
tradition to lie to your daughter?
He paused in the act of taking his first sip of champagne.
What are you talking about?
I went to see Mama. Thats where I was these last few days.
At Mamas house.
Her fathers face fell then morphed into an ugly frown.
Whywhy would you do that? That woman left us! She
destroyed me and abandoned you!
But thats just it, Dad. She didnt abandon me. In fact, even
though you got full custody because she left her marriage, she
tried to reach out to me.
Is that what she told you?
Yeah, thats what she told me. And know what, Dad? I
believe her. Because while you always did everything you could
to keep me here, you didnt seem to care about me one way or
the other. You needed me to keep this town runningor so you
claimed. But you were always after me to marry for money. And
as soon as Eric suggested putting me up for Chivaree, you agreed.
Like I was just a thing to you.
Halle shook her head, realizing the truth of it as she said the
words, Because thats all I ever was to you. A game token. You
never wanted full custody. You kept me here to punish her.
What seemed like a thousand different emotions flashed
across her fathers face before he burst out with, I raised you,
didnt I? I gave you a roof over your head. I stayed after she done
run off with that Shaka Zulu.
Yeah, you stayed for all the wrong reasons, and you lied to
me! she pointed out. You had the adult controls on my
bioware until I was eighteen, so you must have been intercepting
all my mail. Making it look like she hated me and I hated her.
Punishing both of us, becausewhy? Your wounded pride?
No! No! Shes the one who left. She didnt deserve a
daughter, Arnold insisted. She didnt deserve to be happy
after what she did! You think I was going to sit back and let her
claim you, too?
Yes! Halle answered. Because Im not a chess piece. Im
your daughter. And I deserved not to think my mother hated me
all these years!
Her father rolled his eyes. Fine, you lookin for a sorry, girl?
Im sorry your mama is a slut who I couldnt let get away with
abandoning usthere, you got it. Happy now?
She tilted her head at her father. No, Im not happy. Why
would I be happy about any of this? Youve been lying to me
She cut off when the gravel popped outside the kitchen
window. It was the recognizable sound of rocks crackling under
car tires. Who would be visiting now? Her heart leaped,
wondering if it could be Nago
But her father said, You know what, Halle? Lets table this
discussion for later. Right now, we need to explain to Eric how
this whole mess has been fixed and you two will be able to get
married after all.
What? She shook her head. Are you crazy? Im pregnant
with Nagos baby. Even if I wasnt about to begin custody
arrangements with him, I wouldnt get engaged to
someone else.
Her father licked his lips nervously. Pregnanciescan be
fixed.
Halle froze, her entire body going cold at the suggestion. No!
I would never get rid of this baby just to marry Eric. Thats
crazy!
Not really, dear. Its simply what must be done.
She whipped around to find Eric behind her in the doorway.
And thats when she realized: her father hadnt poured the
second glass of champagne for her. It was for someone else.
Someone he was expecting.
Just do what he wants, her father said behind her.
Halle turned back to face him. He longer appeared petulant
and unrepentant. Instead, he was visibly trembling as he looked
at Eric. Shell marry you. Shell get rid of the Nightwolf spawn
and marry you. I swear it. Just dont do anything crazy.
Eric didnt respond. But Halle looked over her shoulder to ask
her father, What did you do?
Her father just shook his head. I owe him a lot of money,
Halle. This is the only way to pay him back.
She blinked, not believing her father would even suggest
something like this.
Eric, whatever money my father owes you, Ill pay you back.
But obviously, I cant just get rid of this baby. Or marry you.
Thats off the table
She trailed off. Not just because Eric wasnt responding to her
offer to pay him back, but also because he looked
At first, she couldnt quite put her finger on it. He was
wearing what hed worn at the Chivaree: a white shirt, fatigues,
and a crossbow strapped to his chest.
But then it hit her.
The Chivaree was over.
So why did he need a crossbow?
Im sorry to hear I cant change your mind about this, Halle,
dear, the Ohio Prince said in those overly hokey tones of his.
Then he reached for his crossbow.
28

MISSISSIPPI 18 37

H er first thought was to raise her hands in surrender.


But her second thought kept them down. She would
not go out sniveling to the Massa. She would not give
him even an inch of her freedom or a spoonful of her pride.
So she stood there, chin raised, dignity her only shield as she
waited for him to shoot her down like a dog right here in front of
the Indians house
Before she could finish that thought, a ripping sound rent the
air. In the next moment, a wolf dressed in the torn remnants of
Josephs clothes leaped through the twilight, straight at Massa.
A gunshot sounded, and she felt the heat of the bullet as it
whizzed past her ear. But it was already too late. By the time she
looked back from the passing bullet, Massa was on his back. His
shotgun still up in the air. But he was past the point of shooting
it again because the demon wolf was tearing at his throat.
Without the Massa there to tell them what next, the overseer
and the cracker hightailed it toward the woods. But the wolf
launched himself into the air so fast that the cracker only got
about two steps before he, too, was down on the ground getting
his throat torn out.
Afterward, the wolf swung its large head toward her. She took
a step back, afeared that the thing would pounce on her next. But
it only regarded her for a tick, its eyes glowing in the dim light of
the setting sun, then it set off toward the woods. In the direction
the overseer had fled.
Screams came floating back to her ears soon after. High-
pitched and cut short by the sound of a vicious growl. The
overseer must have had a gun someplace on him because a shot
cut across the darkness before everything fell quiet.
Her heart sank. The demon wolf. Joseph. They were one and
the same. Had he been shot by the overseers gun? Heart
pounding wild in her chest, she started in the direction theyd
gone off. She was not certain what she would do once she found
the demon wolf and the overseer, but she was compelled all
the same.
She took a step forwardonly to stop when she heard the
crunch of dead leaves as someone approached from the woods.
Or something.
She took several steps back, remembering the last full moon
night. Prepared to run into the house if necessary.
But then she saw him. The Indian. Clothes torn. Covered in
blood. Truth told she had never in all her years seen such a
horrific sight.
And truth told she did not care.
She ran to him. Launching herself into his arms without fear
of whether he would or could catch her.
He did not catch her. But his lips received hers, even as they
tumbled backward into the grass beside the magnolia tree in a
frenzied heap of kissing and touching topped off by a strange
musk she could not identify.
Regardless, the smell filled her nose. And despite her lack of
experience and his bloody state, she soon became certain she
would expire if she did not have the blood-covered Indian inside
her immediately.
He seemed to have the same notion because without setting
any questions to her, he rolled her under him and pushed up her
skirts. His body covered hers, and thengood Lord, he was
inside her. The demon wolf turned back to angel was inside her,
sinking straight down into the damp crevice between her legs.
Over his shoulder, she could see the moon rising, the one he
had been so intent on beating when they first came out of the
house. But he seemed to care nothing of that now as his lean
hips circled into hers.
There was a difference in her. Her senses had heightened, and
something animalistic had erupted inside her. Something that
wouldnt allow fear, even though shed never lain with a man
especially one covered in the blood of men hed just killed.
Despite his recent violence, she ached for him, called out for
more, pulling on his lean hips with a wanton nature she didnt
know she possessed.
The Indian didnt protest. Didnt question her actions. Just
took her quietlyuntil on a strange instinct, she opened her
mouth wide and bit down on his shoulder.
It took only a tick more for her to glean hed been holding
back until then. For soon after her teeth found his shoulder, his
hips began moving between her legs in mighty, ferocious circles,
low snarls emanating from his throat, until
She cried out when a river of unexpected pleasure undammed
inside her. And she clawed at his shoulders, trying to hold onto
something solid as the pleasure all but took her under. She was a
slave who couldnt swim, and he was a dock in an otherwise
turbulent river.
But if she hurt him, he gave her no sign. There were only his
hips moving faster and faster until his seed flooded into her. His
own river undammed.
A new sensation for someone who had never lain with a man
before now. But then a much stranger sensation occurred. A hard
pressure appeared inside her as if his rod were swelling where
their sexes joined.
Joseph she started to say on a fearful breath.
It is the way of the wolf, Maggie, he answered before she
could fully reckon what she was asking him. I have knotted
within you and so are we joined as mates,
Maggie she whispered.
This was not her name.
But he kissed the confusion right out of her heart as he
explained, This is the name I call you in my head. After the
magnolia tree that gave you to me as a gift.
A gift. Shed been sold and traded. But shed never been
anyones gift before, and as if giving its approval, her crevice
began to tighten and untighten around the knot between its lips.
Squeezing it in the same way she used to squeeze the udders of
the cows at Briarleaf.
The sensation was strange, but in no way unbearable. Truth
told, it soon became too bearable as the strange river of pleasure
overtook her again, flooding her sensibilities anew.
Sleep, the Indian said. We are fully mated in heat now, so
we no longer have reason to fear the moon.
Mated? she repeated. What does that mean?
That you are mine and I yours.
The same as husband and wife? she asked, pulling back
from his kiss.
Deeper than that, he answered. Sleep, Maggie, and when
we wake, we will move this mating into the house.
Maggie, she thought to herself. She liked that name. Much
more than Lucy, the name her first Massa had given her.
More kissing from the Indian as his manhood throbbed deep
inside her clenching crevice. As if it had a heartbeat. I like this
name better than Lucy, too. Now sleep.
Only as her eyes closed on the sight of the magnolia tree
Joseph had named her for did she remember she had not spoken
the thought out loud. Or noticed that the Indian hadnt moved
his lips for the entirety of the conversation.
29

TWO CENTU RIES LATER

H alle had always loved the story of the runaway slave


and the Indian whod started their family line.
But when she found herself beneath the magnolia
tree after a blind run through the woods, the story instantly
turned into a tragedy.
Because where her ancestors met, the place where they
mated, would soon become the place where she died.
As if to emphasize how close she was to the end of her story,
an arrow whizzed past her head. Sinking into the tree she and all
the ancestors whod come from that original magnolia pairing
held so dear.
Everyone, including her, had been wrong about Eric. Oh God,
had they ever been wrong. He might be polite, but he was no
gentleman. Or a nice guy.
Hed made that much clear when he brought out the
crossbow.
Shed run, barely making it to the kitchen door before she
heard the metallic swish and hard plant of the first arrow hitting
the wall right beside the door.
Shed made it out of the house, cutting across to the woods.
But now Eric was stalking her like a big game hunter intent on
the kill.
Halle hadnt even planned to return to the cabin. Had just
arrived here after running in a panic through the trees.
But the devil had followed her into her old refuge
Another arrow whizzed by. This one so close, she could feel a
thin slice of air displace near her shoulder as it landed in the
beloved trees trunk.
Halle started forward again, only to hear her pursuer say,
Ive got my sight trained on you, dear. Take one more step, and
Ill put an arrow in your head without further discussion.
She froze. Believing him, but clinging to the word
discussion.
So you want to talk about this?
Not particularly, but I do want to see the look on your face
when I kill you.
She shuddered. But she sensed he wanted her fear. Craved it.
Refusing to give it to him, she asked, Why are you doing
this? Its not like youre going to get the kingdom if Im dead.
Well, its exactly like that, he answered, voice sing-songing
with glee. After I do this, Ill go back and kill your father in an
old-fashioned challenge fight. Luckily our overly-progressive
North American government still hasnt outlawed Alpha title
fights.
No, they havent, she agreed bitterly. But you cant simply
waltz in here and kill a defenseless man with a crossbow.
Oh, I challenged him all right, Eric insisted. And for some
reason, instead of calling his beta, he decided to take me on
himself. Maybe it was because of all his debt. Makes sense hed
want to go out fighting. Most kings would.
Not her father. Everyone around here knew the Mississippi
King was an inheritor through and through. Hed never fought a
title fight in his life. And he certainly would at the very least call
his Beta to fight on his behalf. In fact, the Mississippi beta was
her last hopeif her father even had the presence of mind to
call him. She had to keep Eric talking.
No one will believe you, she pointed out.
But Erics proud and petulant tone remained intact as he
sneered, Oh, I think they will, dear. Especially after that long-
suffering beta of his supports my side of the story. Ive already
made it worth his while.
She mentally cursed. Eric had gotten to Bill.
The thing is, dear, my becoming King of Mississippi was
always a matter of business. Big business. My father has plans
for this prime piece of waterfront real estate youve been
squandering all these years, and quite a few handshake deals are
already in place. Also, this is the only way Ill ever make any real
money as a sixth prince. But unfortunately, Im afraid this
means youll need to be sacrificed. For the greater good. My
greater good, to be exact.
Hed been planning this. For how long? Probably since Nago
tranqued him and threw him out of his own mating ritual. Which
put the information he wanted her to have in a new light. He
hadnt just been bitter
In Mississippi, couples usually waited two or three months
after mating to wed. But there were a few states where couples
married the very next day. Alaska was one of those states. If
shed married Nago yesterday morning, theyd be the official
Mississippi King and Queen and Eric would have to face Nago in a
challenge fight.
But because of the information hed given her, she hadnt
married Nago. Thereby giving Eric the time he needed to put his
plan in motion.
Halle fought the urge to turn around and curse him out. Not
because she was afraid of angering him more, but because she
realized he needed her to turn around. If she attacked him, he
could claim self-defense. But if he shot her in the back, not even
their disloyal Mississippi beta could talk him out of that.
So instead of launching herself at him, she cast her eyes
around for a weapon. Trying to see if there was any way to fix
this. She could find nothing but a single rock. Half-buried, and
hardly as big as the heel of her palm.
Youre probably pretty pissed I cut and run before you could
shoot me in the kitchen, she said, trying to buy more time. Me
coming all the way out here put a big ol crimp in all of your
commercial real estate plans, didnt it?
A beat of silence. Then: Turn around.
She could hear and smell him scooting closer behind her.
Nanh, I think Ill stand right here. Always loved this tree.
Did you know the woman who started my mothers family line
was a runaway slave who got herself bit and scratched by a
Native American werewolf? Hell of a story.
She could feel him getting closer... Turn around.
Halle suddenly dipped down and grabbed the sharp gray rock
and then spun to face him. But not because he commanded her
to. She whipped the rock as hard as she could at his face.
Hell, if she was going to be accused of attacking him, she
might as well make it look good.
Ow! You FUCKING BITCH!!!
Direct hit. Yes! But there was no time for her to rejoice.
Because though he was hunched over in pain, he hadnt dropped
the bow.
Her eyes cast about for more rocks, a stick, anything. But all
that surrounded her were wide, soft magnolia petals. Their
fragrance put her in mind of her mother. The mother shed
never see again.
Halle cursed and decided to run. But before she could, a hand
grabbed her by the braids and yanked so hard she fell backward,
landing on the ground at Erics feet.
Erics triumphant face appeared above her, blocking out her
ancestors beautiful magnolia tree.
This will do, he said, pointing his bow at her with a
cocky grin.
Hed won. She was going to die, Halle realized.
She thought of Nago. Of the baby theyd made. Of him never
knowing how much she loved him. Or that the moment he
finally let her go, shed decided to forgive him for everything
hed done.
But she did not cry. If she was going to die here, she wouldnt
go out sniveling. Shed stand in front of Erics crossbow like her
grandmother had stood in front of her Massas gun. Refusing to
back down. Better to face death than beg for her life from
someone who had no right to it.
Did you think Id let you get away with this? Humiliating
me? In front of everyone? In front of my father? Did you think Id
let you get away with living happily ever after with that maniac
you chose over me?
Her mother raised her to be polite. A gentle southern lady at
all times. But in this case, it didnt feel it at all inappropriate to
answer him plainly. Eric, to tell you the truth, from the
moment Nago beat you and threw you out of the cabin, I didnt
think about you. At all.
Erics eyes flared with rage. Oh, I am going to enjoy killing
you, dear
One moment he was threatening her and the next, a black
wolf took him out of her sightline with no more warning than a
low growl.
It was Nago! she realized on a gasp.
Eric was not so cocky now. In fact, she was sure his screams
could be heard throughout the little kingdom town. But only for
a moment. Because soon after, the wolf tore at his throat,
sending his voice box flying across the green grass.
Eric was gone in under a minute. He never had a chance
against a wolf that large.
Halle got to her feet with a relieved sigh. Until the wolf turned
its glowing brown gaze on her.
Oh crap! she breathed out.
Her legs found new strength and perhaps powered by the
spirit of that long-ago ancestor, she scrambled up into the
magnolia tree. Climbing and climbing until she was out of reach.
She waited in that tree like her many greats grandmother.
Wondering what would come next and how long it would take for
Nago to snap out of it.
Or if he ever would. She eeped with fright when the wolf
suddenly slammed its large paws against the tree trunk, shaking
the tree with the force of its hit.
All she could do was hold on to the branch and hope she
didnt fall out. It seemed the tree wasnt as strong as legend
would have it, because a few more knocks like that, and shed
definitely go down.
The wolf growled and hit the tree again with its massive
front paws.
In a fit of desperation, Halle screamed into his head, Nago,
please stop! Ill fall out, and if you hurt me, youll hurt
the baby!
The low, menacing growl abruptly cut off with a sharp yelp.
And then
Right before her eyes, the wolf transformed into a large man.
Nago? she said, pushing the name tentatively across their
mental link.
Halle? he said out loud, his huge chest pumping in and out
like hed just run a marathon. He gave me back the controls. He
didnt want to hurt you, so he gave them back to me.
Later, she would find out this was a massive breakthrough for
Nago and his wolf. Nago had spent the last 12 years trying to
keep his wolf under control and never once had it let Nago take it
back over without having to be tranqued.
But now, two hundred years later, Nago seemed to be
channeling her forefather when he looked up into the tree and
said, You can come down.
So she did.
And without thinking about it, she threw herself into his
arms. And for the first time in years, Halle had complete faith.
That he loved her. That she loved him. And that he would always
catch her.
30

N ago didnt just catch her, he picked her up and carried


her. Through the woods as if walking nearly two miles
with a heavy woman cradled in his arms was nothing.
On the way, he told her about the mission that had gone
terribly wrong in Alarus. How hed gotten caught by the leader of
a terrorist sect while installing surveillance under the guise of
putting in a long overdue BiFi line. Not only caught but tortured.
How it had taken every bit of his Marine and Viking training to
stay in control and not shift.
But hed broken after three days of torturenot because his
training failed him, but because of a baby. A baby had been
squalling in the next room nearly from the time they brought
Nago in. Nago had concentrated on the baby to stay sane. But on
the third day, the baby stopped crying. And when he asked his
torturer what happened, the man proudly told him that they had
killed the babys mother three days ago, and now the baby was
dead, too.
That was the last thing Nago remembered, he confessed.
Then he woke up naked in the apartment living room,
surrounded by bodies and blood. Fourteen men and two women.
Not only had Nago broken the first rule of Wolf Force, but hed
also killed every single person in that apartment.
Knud and Rafes were part of the unit that found me, he told
her, his voice barely above a husky whisper. At first they
thought I killed the baby because it was covered in blood from
the dead bodies. Ill never forget the way they looked at me. Like
I was a monster. I never wanted you to look at me like that. I
clung to the memory of you when they were beating me, trying
to get information. And I had this idea in my head that if I could
just see you, what happened wouldnt have happened. That this
thing inside of me would stop trying to take over and maybe
leave me in peace.
She remembered now how on edge hed been. How hed clung
to her in the Tallahassee drone field. But your wolf didnt leave
you in peace, she guessed now. That night in the hotel room.
What happened?
He shook his head and clamped his lips, and for a moment
she thought maybe he wouldnt answer. Eventually, he said, I
wish I could tell you for sure. You deserve to know. But two days
later, I woke inside a cage in my uncles Oklahoma kingdom-
town. And I can only tell you what Uncle Grady and Dad said to
me. That a human maid walked in and found a wolf standing
over the body of a naked woman. She screamed. The wolf
attacked her. And now she lives in a big house paid for by the
Nightwolf family and changes into a wolf at least once a month.
The only thing that kept it off the human news was that the
manager of the hotel was one of ours and my dad made lots of
payoffs.
Oh, Nago, she whispered, knowing how much pride he used
to take in not being one of those rich boys who had to be bailed
out by Mommy and Daddy. That was your worst nightmare.
No, my worst nightmare was hurting you, he answered
with a tortured look. Again, I had no recollection of it. No
inkling of what Id done, even after I woke. But one thing was
clear; it wasnt safe for me to be with you the way I was. In the
years following Tallahassee I lost time and had a few more
incidentsnon-lethal, but stillit took Grady years to train me
how to control the wolf.
He shook his head as if realizing the truth of his words as he
said them, I should have told you.
Yes, he should have. But coming just an arrow away from
death, Halle could see things more clearly now. I believe you
would have told me if you could. But you werent only wrestling
with your wolf. You were wrestling with the death of everything
you thought you were. And I was the only one you cared about
who still saw you the way you were before you joined the
Marines. Maybe you wanted to hold on to that? Maybe thats why
you couldnt let me in to help you deal with what happened.
He thought about it, and then asked, How the hell did I not
see that?
Sometimes it takes another set of eyes to see things, she
said. Like you knew what an asshole Eric was, and I didnt have
a clue until he pulled a crossbow on me.
Youre right. I got so caught up in the fantasy of getting back
to the guy who knew he deserved you that I cut out when I should
have been inviting you in. I let you go. Why the hell did I let you
go? he asked her, his voice dropping to a ragged whisper. He
shook his head. I was such a fucking coward. All those years,
watching you, too afraid to tell you the truth. I wouldnt blame
you if you never forgave me.
Nago, I forgive you, she said. Immediately. Easily. I
understand you were doing your best to cope with a shitty
situation, and I forgive you. But you gotta trust me from now on.
With everything. And you cant lock me out again, okay? No
more manipulating. No more secrets. From now on you dont
protect me from you or do any of that other crazy stuff behind
my back and call it helping me. Thats over.
I wont, Halle. And if you agree to be my queen, Ill be the
king you deserve.
I dont want a king, she whispered. Or a princethat was
my mothers dream. I want you. You and your wolf, no matter
what condition hes in. The both of you. All of you. Thats what
I want.
He looked down at her with a tender expression. I dontI
dont deserve you, but for some reason, you think I do. And from
now on, Im all about giving my baby whatever she wants. So if
thats me and this crazy-ass wolf of mine, then you have us. You
have all of me.
For the first time since he stepped off the drone-copter ten
years ago, she believed him.
Halle! Halle!
As they emerged from the woods, they both looked up to see
her father running toward them. Huffing and puffing and waving
his hands.
Youre okay! Thank God, he said when he reached them. I
was so worried about you.
From the safety of Nagos arms, Halle peered at her father.
The filters finally off her eyes, allowing her to see him for what
he was. He wasnt so much worried about her as he was in cover-
your-ass mode.
And as if to prove her point, he rushed to tell her, I tried to
call Bill, but he wasnt answering. Thank God youre all right!
But, ahwheres Eric?
A beat passed, then without another word Nago turned and
started making a diagonal line toward the bullet car hed left
parked at the front of the house.
Halle, are you all right? her father demanded, chasing after
them. Why arent you answering me? If this is about your
mother
Nago cut him off right there. Sir, you need to go pack your
bags and be out of our kingdom house by sunset tomorrow.
You cant threaten me! Halles my daughter. And youve
already signed over the kingdom to her! Halle, wheres Eric?
Dead, she answered. He tried to kill me, but Nago killed
him first. That was Erics plan all along. To kill me, then kill you
and pass it off as a challenge fight.
Her fathers eyes bugged, his mouth opening and closing like
a catfish. II didnt know. I shouldnt have trusted him, he
said to Halle, sounding apologetic for once in his life.
However, the effect was ruined when he glared at Nago
immediately after. But that doesnt mean you can barge in here
and start tossing around orders! Halles still my daughter, and I
refuse
Sunrise, Dad, she said.
Arnold blinked, What?
Nagos a really nice guy. He tried to give you until sunset
tomorrow, and you didnt take it. So now Im telling you that you
need to be out by sunrise.
Butbut youre my daughter! I dont have any money. And
you wouldnt be that cruel!
Yeah, as it turns out I would. After years of trying to fix all
your messes, Im done. So just be happy you had twelve years to
play me for a fool because those days are over now.
But where will I go? Arnold whined like a little boy, instead
of the man who was supposed to have been caring for her all
these years.
I dont know, and I dont care, she answered frankly. But
Nago and I will be back to check the housemy kingdom house
at sunrise. And if youre not gone, Nago here is going to kick
you out with nothing but the shirt on your back. Well give
whatever you leave behind to charity.
Arnold gasped like he was watching a movie in which some
unspeakable crime against humanity had unfolded. What kind
of daughter would do that to her father? he demanded.
They had reached the car now, and Halle found shed lost
interest in having this conversation with her father.
Okay, she said to Nago as the cars winged doors
automatically opened for them. Were all done here. Ready to
get on with our lives?
Nago grinned wickedly, even as he set her down like the most
precious of jewels on the car seat. Ive never been more ready
for anything in my life, he answered.
They left soon after, the car kicking up gravel as it drove away
from the soon-to-be-former King of Mississippi throwing the
senior equivalent of a temper tantrum.
But he might as well have been yelling at the wind.
Her father was part of her past now, and Halle was done living
thereor even looking back. All she cared about was the future.
Which shed be spending with Nago.

T here was a lot of fixing up to do in Nagos future. Not


just kicking Halles father out of the kingdom house,
but also installing a new beta who wouldnt be bribed
into turning a blind eye by the first megalomaniac who came
along.
There was also the matter of coming up with a plan to install a
BiFi tower and signing the executive orders regarding HeatAway
and HeatControl.
Alaska had been given to him fully automated to make
billions per year. He had a council he trusted to make most
decisions and other than hosting the annual New Years Party
and Eskimo Games, and he only used the kingdom house as
shelter.
But Nago found himself looking weirdly forward to the
challenge of turning around a mange state. And he and Halle
excitedly made plans during the trip to Tallahassee.
But first things first: they needed to get married.
A few hours after leaving the Mississippi kingdom house,
Halle and Nago were legally wed by the King of Florida himself.
Of course, because the king had been woken up for the
ceremony, Halle and Nagos official wedding photos would
feature them in jeans and the King of Florida in his pajamas
but as Halle put it with one of those smiles that never quite
reached her lips, Theyre already gonna think were crazy for
getting married after all that drama. Why not give them a
picture, too?
Then proving money really does trump everything, Nago took
her to spend their wedding night in the same room of the same
Tallahassee hotel where theyd had their first heat night.
He and his wolf were in full agreement about this. That for
Halle, they needed to rewrite what had happened here ten years
ago. To apologize and show her how much they worshiped her
from the moment they laid eyes on her.
That night they worked in tandem to make love to her,
pushing their she-wolf onto the bed and burying their face
between her legs.
Had they ever wanted anything more? How many nights had
they lain awake regretting that they never got to taste her this
way? Together they lapped at their female, giving her what she
deserved after being made to wait so long for their return.
And though his wolfs back went up, arching in pleasure
when her hands nestled in his dark curls, it didnt try to take
Nago over. Seemingly content to sit and lap as Halle became
more and more agitated around its humans tongue. Together,
they devoured her until she came apart. Until she called his
name and begged him to come inside her.
Nago and his wolf happily granted her wish, pushing her
further back on the bed so he could climb on top of her. But
when he tried to wrap her leg around his waist, his wolf stopped
him. Its need so specific, it spoke to him as opposed to growling
in a dark corner of his soul as it usually did.
Claim her in the way of the wolf, it begged Nago. Make her
truly ours.
After ten years and three heat days of holding himself back,
Nago was in complete agreement.
Turn over for me, baby, he said to their mate, flipping her
and pulling back on her hips, so she was splayed before him on
her knees. Beautiful, they breathed together.
He worked himself with one hand, testing his wolf to see if he
would break. But his wolf stayed patient, calm. Seemingly not
wanting to get shoved to the back of Nagos conscious more than
it wanted to take over this claiming.
If they did this, they would do it together, Nago sensed. And it
felt like he was giving his wolf a good boy when he finally
sunk into Halles sex.
He had to help his wolf then because her feral groan of
pleasure nearly made it lose control again. But Nago grounded
him in the experience, covering her back so his wolf could feel
her, real and alive beneath his chest. Intertwining his fingers
with hers so his wolf would understand. She was precious to
them, and shouldnt be frightened away.
Or let go.
His wolf seemed to understand. It settled within Nago and
soon lost itself in the experience of being inside Halle, of
dominating her, of rutting her with the twin purposes of giving
her pleasure and claim.
But the wolf could only take so much. When she started
mewing beneath him, her body bucking against his even as her
cunt squeezed down on his cock, his wolf couldnt hold back any
longer.
It bit into her shoulder, and all gentleness vanished as his
body pounded into hers from behind. She screamed out in
pleasurenot pain, Nago dimly noted as pressure built in his
sac, shooting straight up into his cock until
His entire body spasmed as he released into her. His fifth
time mating her, and she was no longer in heat. But there
seemed to be double the cum this time, everything spilling out of
himhis seed, his heart, his loveeverything he was, he gave to
her then.
And to Nagos surprise, his wolf released her from its bite.
Wanting her mouth, wanting to feel every part of her against
every part of him as he gave her its seed.
She passionately returned the kiss, thrilling both the wolf and
the man. But that passion soon turned into a scream as she
started to come again. The wolf didnt care. It continued to kiss
her as she screamed. Guiding her through the storm and
providing her with safe harbor until her body stopped bucking.
And thats when Nagos wolf knew as Nagos human had
never stopped knowing that Halle was his. And forever his she
would remain.
Halle? he said, as they lay together in the dark.
Hmm?
That story you started telling me at the cabin. About the
Native American and the runaway slave in his magnolia tree?
Can you tell me the rest now? I want to know how it ends.
Nago didnt have to see his new bride in the dark to know her
face wore an almost-smile as she said, Sure, and launched
into the rest of the tale.
31

MISSISSIPPI 18 47

M aggie Magnolia Nashoba had grown to love her


Indian husband, Joseph Nashoba, over the years. But
not so very much that night.
A full moon shone through the window of their cabin, and she
could hear the howls of their four wolf children as she tried to
push yet another child out of her crevice.
They were married, her and the Indian. Not by state official,
but in the eyes of her Lord. The pack preacher had come out to
the farm and performed the ceremony for them at the magnolia
tree. Joseph had said his Indian name then, and theyd taken it
as a last name so the preacher could have something to write in
his registry.
Now their marriage had gone on near ten years, and it was
known throughout Wolf Hills to be particularly blessed. None of
the other wolves in this kingdom town had more than three
children. But in ten years of marriage, she was on her fifth child.
The fourth pregnancy had made the town paper. This fifth one
had people coming out to the farm just to take a look.
A rumor started that Josephs whiskey would bless a male
wolf with many children. For Joseph had not only turned his
she-wolf and mated her but also seeded her five times. And so
his wolf whiskey started selling faster than hotcakes each full
moon night after the fifth pregnancy was announced. He had to
rent the next farm over to expand his field and make room for a
bigger distillery.
Hardly anyone knew Joseph did not drink his whiskey, or that
even if he did, the union between the left-behind Indian and the
runaway slave came down to more than potions.
For while Joseph might have seeded her five times, the fact
was Maggie had gone into heat five times. And if that was not a
testament to the deep and abiding affection they felt for each
other, she didnt know what was.
But this birth was unusual. The first baby born on a full moon
night. Maggie had trained the ten- and eight-year-old to help
tend to her, but both had been taken away by the moon, as had
the midwife who might have come to assist. Though she never
been needed before. Not until now. And though Joseph remained
at Maggies side, he became quieter and quieter as the night
went on.
The baby was taking a long time to come. Too long. At the
beginning of her labor, Maggie had been hot and pained. But now
the sweat had dried on her forehead, and she shivered as her
pushes got weaker and weaker.
Her mind was like a field of cotton, and she was beginning to
have a hard time responding to her bodys painful call to push.
As the evening pressed on, Joseph began to chant. The language
sounded ancientfrom a time long ago like the songs some of
the boat slaves had sung in their strange tongues before the
other slaves introduced them to the songs of Jesus.
Maggie had a sense he was praying to his gods and used some
of her remaining strength to open her eyes. She found him at the
stove, putting something together in a pot. She closed her eyes
again. Confused, but too weak to ask questions.
In what could have been minutes or hours later, Josephs tin
cup bumped against her lips. And something foul sloshed into
her mouth. It tasted of moss and weeds and mud. She would
have spit it out, but he tilted her head back, sending it down her
throat before she could think to do anything but swallow.
What was that??? she croaked.
You must drink all of it, he answered in grim tones. For
the pain.
Again, he brooked no argument. Her usually gentle husband
grabbed her by the hair and tipped her head back, forcibly
keeping the liquid there, so she had no choice. It was either
swallow or choke.
He did not let her go until the cup was empty. And then he
went to the bottom of the bed and stood there.
What are you doing? she asked.
Waiting, he answered
Waiting for what, she wondered. But then he morphed before
her eyes, his head becoming that of a hawk. The same as the one
that carried off one of their chickens last winter. You are a
wolf, she said. Why do you have a hawks head?
In response, he reached between her legs and pulled, and
despite the strong medicine hed given her, it hurt beyond any
pain shed ever known, including the whip. The back of her head
hit the pillow as she screamed in agony before passing out.
The baby boy had been turned round feet first. A dangerous
position for him and his mother.
But when she awoke the next morning, she found herself
under freshly laundered covers, the ten-year-old walking the
floor with the wailing baby.
Give him here, she said to the girl, reaching out on sleepy
instinct.
Oh, Mama, youre awake. Thank the skies. I didnt know
what to do.
But Maggie did. She took the squalling baby to her breast and
nursed it to peace. Shed seen the sadness of babies left behind
by mothers after childbirth in both the human world and this
one. But happily today, this boy would not be one of them.
She slept on and off for the next few days. But soon needs had
to be met.
Joseph offered to send their oldest daughter to the river to
fetch water and heat it up in the tub.
But Maggie found she did not want a hot bath on a hot
summers day. Can you help me walk to the river? she
asked him.
They bathed together, mother and son, while Joseph stood on
the river bank keeping a close eye. This would be her last baby,
she sensed. Their time of heat and miracles were done. But as
she cleaned the both of them off in the river, she couldnt
be sad.
She looked to the magnolia tree and stopped, crooking her
head. For a moment, the sun shone funny in her eyes, and she
saw three brothers in strangely cut white suits waiting on three
brides. Their little farm would be filled with chairs and people.
More chairs than any Indian could ever hope to build in one
lifetime. There would be happiness here on that day. Love even
brighter than the one she and the Indian shared.
Visions like these would visit her for the rest of her days. And
at one point the Indian would apologize, telling her this was
why, among his people, the medicine hed given her was never
given during childbirth. But Maggie did not mind the visions.
Especially those that told of freedom and change and better
things to come.
And anyhow, the visions only crossed her path for a tick or
two before fading back into the sun.
I think his bible name should be Moses, Maggie said as her
husband in the eyes of the Lord helped her step back onto their
small patch of glory.
This is a good name for a full moon baby, Joseph agreed
with a nod. Being born on such a night means he will go on to
become a great leader.
Which Moses Nashoba Nowamalata, or as the lupine history
professors call him, Wolf Walking Bright, did.
But that is another story for another time.
THE END

Dearest Reader,

I almost didnt write this letter, because I am so sad to let go of


these characters. Nago has been my secret favorite Nightwolf
triplet since Wolf and Prejudice (ssh! Dont tell Knud and Rafes),
and he waited super patiently for me to tell his story. I mean,
this dude was even cool when I told him Fensa had to go first.
What a sweetie! Im so glad he and the plucky Handy Princess
figured out how to be happy togethereven if he no longer looks
like a gummi bear.

But the real surprise of this story for me was Joseph and Maggie.
When I first realized that HER VIKING WOLF would spawn more
stories, the one thing I didnt want to write was any type of slave
narrative. Having grown up on them as a near exclusive example
of African-American history, it was important to me to tell
stories about black women that had nothing to do with one of
the darkest periods of American history. However, this story was
just there one day. It hit me like a freight train a couple of
weeks before I was slated to start work on the Nago romance,
and by the time I began to outline the book, everyone, including
Nago, was in agreement. For whatever reason, this story just
HAD to be part of this book.

In the end, the romance writer who vowed never to write about
slavery ended up loving this couple most of all. Family is one of
the most important themes in my work and my life, and these
two had their families taken away by two of the vilest
circumstances in American history: slavery and the forced
removal of Native tribes from the South. However, they
eventually triumphed and managed to carve out a unique family
all their own. Ive never been so happy to see a couple achieve a
happy ending as I was this one!

Seriously, I could go on forever about the magical experience of


writing this novel, but Ill just say I love Maggie and Joseph, and
Im so glad their descendant, Halle, got a happy ending with her
gummi bear, Nago. I hope you loved these couples, too. If so,
please do them the boon of leaving a review for their super
special story on Amazon.

Meanwhile, I look forward to delivering KNUD: Her Big Bad Wolf,


later this summer. Until then, heres the story that kept Nago
waiting a little longer than expected, HER DRAGON
EVERLASTING, after the jump.

So much love,
Theodora Taylor
H E R D R A GON EV E R L A S TI NG
I

Where am I? When am I? What the?


1

H er eyes opened to a river of blood.


She propped herself up on one aching arm, blinking
the world back into focus. Gaining perspective. Enough
to finally realize the river was more of a rivulet, oozing its way
across a patch of snow. But it was definitely blood.
Your blood, the side of her head informed her, throbbing and
burning hot with pain. She reached up. Felt something wet
seeping from what could only be a large gash across her left
temple. When she brought her hand back down to investigate,
her fingertips were damp and bright red. And hypothesis
confirmed.
She would have cursed, but her teeth chose that moment to
begin chattering. Ironically, her searing head wound was the
only heat she could feel. Aside from that, she was cold. Deeply
cold. The coldest she had ever been despite growing up in
Michigans Upper Peninsula.
Strange. Not only because she should be more or less
impervious to the cold after a childhood spent as close to Canada
as you could get in the lower forty-eight, but because of what she
was. A shifter. A werewolf to be exact. And thanks to her unique
body chemistry, temperatures above twenty degrees Fahrenheit
had little to no effect on her.
Which meant wherever she was, it was way the hell below
twenty degrees Fahrenheit. And a long way from where shed
started out this morning: just a few miles from the facility, in
Arizona. During one of the hottest summers on record.
You shouldnt be doing this
Ola, it will be alright.
Fenny, it wont be alright! If Im here, its not even remotely
alright!
WARNING! WARNING!
An urgent electronic voice shrilled in her
head, shoving the memory away, and yanking Fensa back into
the frigid present. Another point of warmth appeared on the
back of her neck where her bio-ware bleated, WARNING! OFFLINE!
MANUFACTURER WARNING!

Fensa fell back into the snow, her arm collapsing, and her
head exploding in pain as the microchip embedded in her brain
stem screeched straight into her cerebrum. Then came a second
sharp bite of agony as her cheek sliced across something. She
jerked up, scanning the ground nearby. A rockdark and nasty
beneath a formerly white blanket of snow. Probably the very
same rock that gave her the gash on her head, if the blood
splattered, winter-themed Jackson Pollock painting surrounding
it was any indicator.
Meanwhile, her bio-ware continued to bleat its dire warnings.
Your GoGen is currently out of the GoGen service area. You have sustained injuries that may include the
following: moderate to severe concussion, mild to moderately sprained ankle, severe contusions, and
approximately two minutes of unconsciousness. Your GoGen bio-ware is unable to connect to the server
for a full analysis. Please report immediately to a medical service bot or facility staff to receive a
comprehensive analysis.

Fensa couldnt agree more. She needed to find a doctor. Stop


the bleeding. Warm up. Because, as her papa used to say, by the
Fenrir wolf, it is cold!
Wandering around in sub-zero temperatures in nothing but a
pair of black Lycra fitness shorts, and one of the five thin gray t-
shirts issued to her by the facility was definitely not going to
work for long out here. The ensemble was perfectly suited for her
allotted twice-daily walks around the facility grounds in the
often blistering Arizona heat. But this was not a blistering
Arizona day, and the facility was nowhere in sight. Fensa felt
sure if she didnt solve the clothing situation soon, shed
probably lose a few toes and fingers to frostbite, like you hear
about in those human lost in the frozen wilderness movies. So
after she finally managed to pull herself up from the permafrost,
her very next priority would be to track down a decent change of
clothes. And then, like, full body hug a space heater.
Fensa tried to sit upbut nearly blacked out again from the
effort. A sharp, piercing pain stabbed through her head, and her
stomach lurched, threatening to expel the oatmeal shed been
issued earlier that day for breakfast.
She stopped, waiting for her body to catch up with her will as
she took in the scene in front of her. A mountain. She was on a
snow-covered mountainwhich made sense. Nearly all time
gates were located in kingdoms, small mountain towns or
villages with a local wolf population to monitor them, and
perhaps more importantly, keep the gates completely hidden
from humans.
The last thing she remembered was standing on a mountain
one made of red sandstone that probably hadnt seen snow in
over a millennium. But now she was on another mountain.
Apparently in the middle of a Game of Thrones level winter.
Brace yourself, girl, winter is already freaking here.
Fensa dragged herself forward through the snow, scraping
her pain-wracked body over the cold, unforgiving ground until
she reached an overhang. She propped herself up just high
enough to peer down the mountains steep slopes and was
greeted by a seemingly endless expanse ofwell, white. A valley
of snow, snow, and nothing but snow as far as the eye could see.
No, not just snow. Some of it seemed far too smooth, too solid.
To her untrained eyes, it resembled a vast plane of ice. Like those
massive ice sheets Greenland used to have before they all
melted. Andthere was something else, farther off in the
distance.
Fensa narrowed her eyes to squint at a collection oftents?
Igloos? A combination of both, maybe? Round, brownish
dwellings with tiny people gathered in small clusters in front of
them. They seemed to be staring up her, just as she was staring
down at them.
A kingdom village, she suspected. Based on the relative
proximity of the gate shed just come through. But that made
her stomach lurch again, this time for a very different reason.
A kingdom village made up of circular huts rather than
modern structures? This wasnt good. Not at all. Fensa was
forced to change her line of questioning. Now she was way less
concerned with where she was and way more concerned with
when she was.
Damn time gate
What are you going to do when you get there, Fenny? You
know the gate wont bring Papa back. Nothings going to bring
him back. Hes gone! Lets go back, Fenny. Please!
Fensa glanced around for her twin sister, Ola, but there was
no sign of her. She was no longer begging Fensa to return to the
facility before it was too late.
Where was Ola? One more mystery to be solved. A steady
trickle of blood dripped from her head down the side of her face.
Like blood-tinged sweat produced from the sheer effort she was
putting into trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Aunt
Alishas story about how shed damn near broke her arm
when shed gone through the Viking time gate didnt seem quite
as funny as it had when shed told it at the last Thanksgiving
dinner Fensa had been allowed to attend.
She had to get up. Find help. Find Olaand given the lack of a
medbot, find bandages for her head. She was pretty sure
bandages were what people used to stop the bleeding back in the
days before medbots. Pretty sure
Fensa diverted all her mental and physical efforts towards
pushing herself up to a stand, despite her throbbing head,
lurching stomach, andwhat had the GoGen chip said? severe
contusions. Oh yeah, she thought on a wince when she finally
made it to her feet, the GoGen called that one right. She felt like
shed been hit by a Zamboni, then rolled back and forth over
rocks for extra kicks and giggles.
Or spit through a time tunnel into an eff-ton of icy tundra.
One of those...
Shift! her wolf howled at her, wanting to escape its humans
pain. For a reason shifter scientists still couldnt quite explain,
changing into wolf form healed most non-mortal injuries.
Believe meI would if I could, Fensa answered. But that
option isnt available to me nowadays.
The facility had put Fensa on the heat control shot, the shifter
equivalent of human birth control, less than twenty-four hours
after shed been escorted through its doors. And much like how
human women used to gain weight while taking birth control
(the result of their bodies being tricked into believing they were
pregnant), Fensa could no longer shift into her wolf form at will
because her body was pretty damn sure it was pregnant, and
pregnant she-wolves didnt shift. Natures way of protecting the
future mother (and child) from their inner beasts during
gestation.
Now, normally this no-shifting thing wasnt a big deal if you
were stuck in a facility, and didnt want to risk adding more
years to your sentence by wolfing out every time a Ph.D. doctor-
splained why you had to let your beloved twin sister go. But heat
control had its drawbacks when you were trying not to lose your
extremities to frost bite.
And to think just a few hours ago, Fensa had been rebelling
against her miserable existence at the facility. Ha! It turned out
the joke was on her because this cold wasteland was giving that
place a huge run for its money. Shed never been so miserable in
her life. Not even that summer before she was due to head to
college when Papa shipped her off to her Uncle Grady and Aunt
Tus Oklahoma summer camp for teen wolves. Shed not only
been forced to give up her video games for a whole two weeks,
but she ended up getting sent to the facility halfway through her
stay. Fensa had thought the worst moment of her life was when
she walked through the facility doors with her disappointed
parents on one side, and Aunt Tu on the other. But no, the bone-
shattering cold of this place was way worse than that, for su
Fensa stopped, freezing in placeand not because of the cold.
A sudden upshift in the winds direction carried a new scent to
her nose, something other than blood and snow. She was being
watched. She could smell them behind a nearby pile of large
rocks. Male shifters. At least three or four. Lying in wait.
Fensa cursed inwardly, wishing shed paid more attention to
Uncle Gradys instructions in those hand-to-hand combat
classes hed insisted she take during that failed summer camp
experience.
Hi! she called out, striving to keep her voice light as if
shed just happened by on a carefree strollthrough the tundra.
In her fitness shorts and facility t-shirt. As you do.
Im Fensa Greenwolf, Princess of Michigan, and cousin to
President Nightwolf. I, uhI come in peace.
Typically, Fensa went out of her way to avoid name dropping
her lineage. Royal ties only brought shifters the kind of attention
they didnt need or want at the facility. Ask her cousin Knud
about that. It had been almost daily fights for him until he
finally left in a body bag.
But under the current circumstances, Fensa decided to quickly
reverse her keep yourself to yourself policy of the last five
years. If name dropping convinced whoever waited for her
behind those rocks to stand down, she was more than happy to
give them a long list of her royal connections.
And maybe it worked because four figures slowly rose from
behind the rocks. They all wore similar outfits: smock-like
garments made up of brown animal hide, with fur-lined hoods.
The wind shifted again, and she caught an unfamiliar scent along
with their wolf pheromones. The hides they wore smelled like
elephant? But somehow different. Which once more begged the
question, where the hell was she???
And when? her overwrought brain added. Because her current
problems extended way beyond head wounds and extreme cold if
she, like her Grandma Chloe, had landed in the Viking Era.
But no, these guys werent Vikings. They were relatively squat
and small in stature, somewhere in the region of four-foot-four.
Which was odd because most male shifters Fensa knew stood
above six feet or so. These guys were like the mini-versions of
just about every male shifter shed ever encountered. They had
weathered faces, and thin, dark almond shaped eyes, which
reminded Fensa of her great-uncle-in-law, the dearly departed
Inuit Alpha King of Alaska.
And speaking of
The former King of Alaska was my great-uncle. In fact, his
granddaughter, Koko, is my cousin...and close friend. We were
even making plans to move in together next school year...
Given the snow and the Inuit-like features of these shifters,
Fensa was beginning to wonder if maybe shed arrived
somewhere in present day Alaska, since a few of the Alaska wolf
tribes were, as her Aunt Tu once put it, keepin it traditional on
three-fucking-hundred. They not only continued to dress and
live like their ancestors, but they also had special permission to
catch one whale per year to feed their people and provide
villagers with blubber for their oil lamps. Though that still
wouldnt explain the strange elephant smell
Please God, let this place be part of some remote village in
Alaska, Fensa prayed. With a zooplease
But then the four shifters raised their right arms. And Fensa
immediately lost hope.
Each male held a weapon. Not guns, knives, or bows and
arrows. Because any of those would have been acceptable, if
equally unwelcome. Instead, these weapons consisted of long,
slender sticks that ended in very sharp looking, elongated off-
white triangles. Fensas gaze narrowed and then widened in
surprise. Bone. The triangles were made of animal bone.
Expertly carved and sharpened to jagged but deadly points, then
attached with thin strips of hide to tree branches stripped bare
of their bark to reveal the pale, smooth wood beneath.
Spears.
These people were aiming spears at her. Spears made of wood
and bone.
While there was the slightest chance shed stumbled upon
some sort of off-the-grid, traditional Inuit hunting group, Fensa
knew even the most hardcore Inuit preferred modern weaponry
like harpoon guns and rifles. And given the lack of any modern
trappings on these shiftersFensa figured now was as good a
time as any to go into full-on panic mode.
Oh, Fenrir Wolf! Oh, God!
Fensa prayed to both her mother and fathers gods as the four
male shifters began to advance on her with their spears
raised high.
2

Y ou shouldnt be doing this!


Fensa kept walking. Doggedly moving forward.
Trying to ignore the one person she never could:
Ola, her twin sister. But her hiking boots were becoming heavier
and heavier. Filling with sand, thanks to their lack of
shoestrings. The sun beat down on her, relentless and
unmerciful. Punishing her. Cursing her stupidity with its heat.
The only thing worse than the sun effing Ola.
Her sister matched her stride for stride. The desert trek was
super easy for her. She wasnt even winded. Which was too bad,
because she was using her every effortless breath to second
guess Fensa.
Girl, you are going to DIE out here!
Fensa didnt answer. Just kept moving forward.
Youre going to get caught, and all those plans you made
with Koko to move in with her and finally start college? Poof!
Gone like a damn magic showright before they send you
someplace even worse. Why did you bring me back here? You
were almost free! Olas voice, usually so Detroit cool, grew more
frantic by the minute.
Fensa couldnt reply for all the sandpaper in her throat. She
should have brought water with her. But shed honestly thought
she could make it, since the North American time gate was only
about four or five miles away from the facility. But as it turned
out, four or five miles was a damn long way to trek in sand-filled
hiking boots, and nothing to protect her from the vicious sun but
a thin gray t-shirt, and a pair of flimsy shorts.
She should have left at night instead of the middle of the day
when the sun was at its highest and strongest. But it wasnt like
shed had much choice. NoFensa had seen an opportunity, and
shed taken it.
Youre going to break Mamas heart with this, Fenny! Again.
Doesnt she deserve some peace after the divorce and Papas
funeral?
Fensa hated that she and Ola were divided on this. Before
Papas death, her twin had been her most loyal supporter,
defending even her craziest actions. But not today, which
admittedly gave Fensa pause.
But then, like a wish granted, the bottom of the mountain
range appeared. Red and stubby and dotted below with ancient
sandstone cave dwellings cobbled together by a shifter tribe
from long ago. Fensa glanced farther up the mountain to the
natural caves above. They were scattered across the
mountainside like moles on an otherwise dusty red face.
She couldnt see the time gate at all. But then no one could
actually see the gate. However, her wolf could sense it. And it
was her wolf that propelled her forward, quickening Fensas
previously leaden steps with the need to get to the portal on the
red mountains highest, sun-facing steppe.
What are you going to do when you get there, Fenny? Ola
demanded, striding right beside her on the mountain path.
Look at it. She only wanted to look at it. The gate had been
calling to her with its siren song ever since her parents and Aunt
Tu dropped her off at the facility four years ago.
Look there, Daughteryou can view the mountain the time
door sits upon from your window, her papa had pointed out.
When you look to it, think of your papa slipping from his time
into yours.
Bullshit, Ola answered her memory. Youre not just going
to look at it and think of him! You know going to that gate wont
bring Papa back. Nothings going to bring him back. Hes gone!
Please turn around, Fenny. Go backplease!
Ola, it will be alright, Fensa croaked out of her sandpaper
throat.
No, Fenny, it wont. If Im here, things are not even
remotely alright!
It will be alright! Fensa insisted, her gaze set firmly on the
time gate.
Really? How is any of this going to be alright??? Youre
dehydrated as fuck. And you can barely walk!
But Fensa was almost there. She couldnt turn back now. It
will be alright. Trust me, she croaked again, trudging forward.
But it wasnt. Not even remotely.

T he world was upside down, swaying back and forth


when Fensa came to. This time, rather than the stark
white expanse of snow and ice, she felt rather than saw
thick, scratchy fur. It was covering her. Her eyes slowly adjusted
to reveal a hairy, brown blanket that smelled strongly of the
almost-but-not-quite-elephant shed scented earlier. And
beneath hera horse. No, waitnot a horse.
She inhaled deeply through her nostrils. Then inhaled again
because she couldnt quite believe her nose. But the nose never
liesespecially when it belongs to a wolf. Which meant as
difficult as it was to imagine, she was almost certainly draped
across a type of reindeer.
What the hell was she doing on a reindeer???
From her dangling position under the rank-smelling blanket,
Fensa could make out a set of large black hoovescloven like
those of a deer or goatdeftly navigating the snow and ice
covered ground below. And beyond the hooves, she spotted the
fur-and-hide wrapped feet of two of the four shifters whod
jumped her with their spears. She assumed the other two must
be up ahead, leading the way.
At first, she thought to call out to them, but then
remembered what had happened the last time she tried
reasoning with this gang of spear-wielding thugs. So instead,
she focused her mind on more important things. Such as
Where were they taking her?
As if in response to her silent question, the reindeer came to
an abrupt halt. Fensa heard a sharp whistling sound and the
crunch-crunch-crunch of feet moving towards her through the
snow. And then the musky hide was whipped off her, thrusting
her back into the unimaginable cold. But before her teeth could
even begin to chatter again in protest, hands grabbed her and
hauled her off the reindeer like she was an oversized couch
theyd been charged with delivering.
Sadly, this wasnt the first time shed felt like oversized
furniture. Her mother was a 510 video game designer, and her
father was a ginormous Viking. Lucky her, shed inherited her
mothers awkward social skills and her fathers inability not to
stand out in a crowd. Which resulted in her morphing into a
huge nerdboth literally and figuratively. This had caused her
no end of trouble during her teen years becauseyay! the only
thing better than being a chronically shy adolescent? Being a
chronically shy, six-foot tall adolescent whos fatter than the
average she-wolf.
Her cousin Koko wore her height and curves proudly,
declaring, The softer the pillow, the better the lay. But ever
since puberty, Fensa felt less like an inviting pillow, and more
like the huge, unwieldy piece of furniture these male shifters
were treating her as.
What are you doing? Where are you taking me?! Fensa
demanded as soon as they set her down on her now considerably
less shaky feet.
Apparently, her second head-wound nap of the day had done
her well. Yay for that. But not reallybecause the male shifters
now surrounded her, their spears pointed towards her vulnerable
middle.
The largest of them shouted words at her.
her GoGen unhelpfully informed,
Unknown language. Unable to translate,

making her want to rip the damn thing out of the back of
her neck.
But it wasnt like she needed a translator. The big guy
(relatively speaking) brandished his spear and used the tip to
roughly prod and jab at her clothing, his message vicious and
precise: Strip. Or else!
He wanted her to take her clothes off? Here?!
Are you fucking kidding me!? Fensa asked, no longer
interested in diplomacy. Shed gladly let all four of them stab her
with their spears before she gave up even one stitch of clothing
in this intense cold. So they could just go fu
All thoughts disappeared when she glanced up mid-angry eye
roll and noticed the structure. Right there in front of her.
Completely tuning out the mini-shifters and their spears, Fensa
gazed up, awestruck. To think shed completely missed this
hugething.
What exactly am I looking at??? she wondered, taking an
unconscious step forward.
For one ridiculous moment, Fensa was nearly convinced shed
stumbled across the intimidating ice castle from that old Disney
movie, Frozen. Brought to life. Minus the angsty queen with the
blond braid and beltin 1000 singing voice.
It only took her a nanosecond to abandon that line of
thinking. Because although the resemblance was there, this
thing didnt look exactly like an ice castle, per se. The structure
was at least a hundred feet tall and loomed over her with the
massiveness of a glacier. A giant glacier that someoneor
somethinghad put a lot of time and effort into hewing and
carving to closely resemble...well, a beautiful building. Made of
ice. Fensa was no expert on architecturebut she was pretty
sure the two thrusting towers at either end of the structure were
turrets. And the walls glowed blue as if lit from within. Oddly
though, the structure had no windows.
Fensa had seen holo-pics of glaciers when she was a kid in
school. And shed visited the few remaining ice caves in Alaska
during her childhood. This structure shared similarities with
both, but it didnt fall easily into either geologic category. Her
thoughts bounced from the teacup-sized shifters wielding bone-
tipped spears to this elaborate, futuristic ice palace.
Seriously. Where the hell was she?! When the hell was she?!
It felt like her mind was exploding inside her head. Which was
probably why she didnt notice the four shifters closing in on
her. Again. But this time, instead of knocking her out, they
started ripping at her clothes.
In preparation, she would soon find out. Because they were
about to sacrifice her to whatever lived inside that ice fortress.
3

I f not for the high-pitched shrieks, Xenon would have never


exited his dwelling.
The Far Travelers Experiment Group 7, though a true
feat of bioengineering, had proven irksome in their need to
regularly bestow gifts upon him. He had explained to them
numerous times that he would only accept gifts of precious
metals and gemsaurum, adamas, and any other minerals he
could use to power his glacier station lab or replace the worn
parts on his conductors. This, hed told them time and again,
was what he considered good treasure. And to their credit,
they had swiftly begun bringing him regular deliveries of
precious metals and gems.
Unfortunately, they also seemed to be under the distinct
impression Xenon was in desperate need of female
companionship.
A little over five solars ago, hed come to this planet with a
team to investigate an appeal put in by the Royal Geneticist. The
older drakkon had been sent here on a mission to develop a
tracking beast that would provide ground assistance for the royal
hunts. To that end, hed completed his mission successfully.
However, it was not a complete win for the court because upon
returning to Drakkon, the Royal Geneticist submitted an official
petition to change the planets status to that of a protected
habitat.
As it turned out, the Royal Geneticist had grown close to his
creations during the 10,000 years hed spent designing and
developing the Kings half beast, half hominid hunting
companions. Perhaps too close.
Hed not only become a fervent opponent of the Millennial
Royal Hunt but went so far as to submit a second petitionthis
one a request to delay the upcoming hunt meant to celebrate the
inauguration of the new King, Xenons brother.
As the Royal Geneticist had admitted in his petition, both the
anthrohominids and his bio-engineered lupinhominids were
primitive and lacked higher intelligence. They were also only
slightly more evolveddue to their larger brains and capacity for
languagethan their primate ancestors. But the lupinhominids,
and at least one genus of the anthrohominids, had begun
developing tools, language, and rudimentary expressions of art.
The Royal Geneticist believed both species had the potential to
evolve into two distinct, civilized species, and should therefore
no longer be treated by drakkon as mere game or tracking
companions.
The petition had proven vexing for both Xenons brother, the
then Crown Prince, and his cousin, the Royal Huntmaster. For
various reasons, a few restrictions were added to the Kings
otherwise unchecked power when the Blue Drakkon line took
over the throne. Petitions by members of the court could no
longer be dismissed out of hand. Or simply ignored because the
Crown Prince wished his hunts to continue uninterrupted.
Which was why a hundred drakkon survey team had been
sent to this planet for a thousand rotation observational study to
determine if the Royal Geneticists petition should be granted.
As Royal Overlord (and a favored member of the court who would
keep the Crown Princes wishes in mind), Xenons uncle had
been appointed as head of the investigation. Xenons cousin, the
Royal Huntmaster and son of the Royal Overlord, had also been
named to the mission and given a security title. But given that
hed immediately started to oversee the training of the new
lupin species just in case, shortly after they landed, Xenon
suspected his cousins appointment had more to do with his
court title, than with any sincere interest in the missions
security.
Unlike his cousin, Xenon took his mission title and directives
seriously. And like any good scientist, he endeavored to reserve
judgment about the Royal Geneticists claims while he collected
data samples on his assigned group of lupinhominids. However,
he was beginning to have his doubts about the lupins
intellectual capacity. For despite Xenons explicit rejection of
their first female lupin offering, the Far Travelers Group 7
continued to offer him one of their puny females at least once
every moon cycle.
Of course, Group 7 didnt make these offerings to him out of
sheer altruism. Ultimately, they did it for the meat.
Per mission protocol, Xenon had never discussed his reasons
for being here with Group 7. Nor had he told them the real
purpose of the fresh meat he handed out to them from time to
timea boon for their mostly maritime village. Unfortunately,
the Far Travelers, hailing from so nascent a species, had
concluded he was a type of god, a deity to be praised with shiny
gifts and females. And perhaps even more practically, they
hoped for his aid in a new squabble with a hostile anthro tribe
whod recently migrated from the southor Zone 6 as the
Drakkon research group referred to it. And though the Royal
Geneticist had reported that this species had the potential to
shift without the moons solar power, they had yet to figure out
how to organize themselves against the much cleverer anthros
or give them good fight on shift nights when they became little
more than feral, unthinking beasts.
Xenon had been warned before agreeing to this assignment
that the Group 7 lupins might eventually begin worshipping him
as a deity. Apparently, the species of hominid theyd been
cultivated from had a genetic propensity towards theism in all its
various forms.
You can be their god, or you can be your brothers victim,
Xenons father informed him when he commanded Xenon to join
the thousand-year planetary research expedition. Whether he
wanted to or not. I would prefer you to be the living god of a
wild, primitive species than a dead Prince of Drakkon. And when
the thousand-year expedition has completed, perhaps your
brothers flame will be less red towards you.
So here Xenon was. Stuck on a half iced-over planet. With a
species at the bottom of the intelligence scale. Assigned to study
an experimental group of hybrids that continued to leave
females at his door, in spite of his protests.
In any case, when he first heard the Group 7 leaders
distinctive whistle over the labs outside security feed, Xenons
initial instinct was to ignore it. He had much work to do.
But the scream that soon followed the whistle changed his
mind. None of the Group 7 females had ever protested being
offered to him before. But that shriek had been one of protest.
So now he walked toward the tunnel to investigate, despite his
many reservations about fully engaging with the Group 7 wolves
on non-experiment days.
As he neared the glacier stations main entrance, the high-
pitched voice shrieked again, this time saying Lemehgo!
Dontfukeengtoshme! Lemehgo! And Xenon nearly halted in his
tracks in shock.
In all his time on this planet, hed never heard a language like
this. Not even on the observational videos the other science
teams had uploaded to the shared research database on the
group servers. After listening to the high-pitched voice shouting
in an unknown tongue, his curiosity urged him to increase his
pace until he was nearly running towards the open hatchway
that led to the outdoors.
But once outside, Xenon stopped cold at the sight
awaiting him.
Four Group 7 males. Tearing the clothes off a screaming
Xenon tilted his head, barely able to reconcile what he saw.
But yesit was a female. A female hominid with short hair and
brown skin, lighter than the homs in the origin lands, but much
darker than that of the Group 7 Far Travelers.
And she was nothing like any of the other females Xenon had
observed in the wild or watched on the endless amounts of
observational footage collected by the various research teams.
Why, this female was taller and bigger than any hed seen before
on this ice and water planet. She towered over the Group 7
hunters, and he guessed her to be only a hindfoot shorter than
himself. Her frame was broad and robust, with ample thighs and
two mounds of flesh protruding from her chest. In fact, those
moundsher nursing glandswere of such unusual heft that he
began to wonder if she might be with child
Xenons stunned mental observation of the female stranger
was cut abruptly short when she suddenly bolted toward him,
stripped completely bare of all but the strange shoes on her feet.
Ohmygod! Ohmygod! dont jus stan thayr. Help! Help!
Pleezhelpme! Her strangely inflected voice was just a volume
level or two above that which the Far Travelers used to
communicate while hunting the hooved tundra beasts. A loud
whispersomething else hed never encountered before during
his time on this planet.
The large hominid scrambled behind him, the visible whites
of her eyes expressing sheer panic as she grabbed onto the back
of his replica hide tunic.
Pleezhelpme! she cried again.
Xenon started. Something very unexpected had happened
inside his shift shell when the female touched him. His male
works stirred to life and began to feel heavy with an almost
painful ache.
What the mothers was going on!? Why was this unusual
looking female hiding behind him? And using him as a shield
between her body and the small group of male Far Travelers? Did
she not realize she had been brought to him as a gift?
You keep female, yes? the Far Traveler Group 7 King asked
coming to stand at a respectful distance in front of Xenon. She
gift come from you father.
As instructed by the Mission Administrators, Xenon spent
much time during his first solar in this region learning the Group
7 language, which consisted of clicks, short words, and hand
gestures. As a result, he typically had little trouble
understanding the Group 7 tongue.
Yet the leaders current words made little sense to him.
Perhaps realizing his confusion, the Group 7 leader explained,
Big sun come, she fall from sun. Big sun go. She on ice. Gift
come from you father.
Big sun? The Group 7 leader must mean the flash emitted
by the fating portal when it delivered a mate, Xenon realized.
Meaning this female had come through the fating portal as a
match for one of the Group 7 lupins. Which was strange,
considering five of the six gates had only just been built. And
none of them had been encoded yet. Nor had the bioengineered
lupinhominids cleared the thousand sun cycle species viability
requirement. In other words, none of the lupins should have
known the codes for the match portals.
He looked over his shoulder at the still crouching female.
Waytaminnut! Arrrthaylykgiveengmetoou?! she asked him,
her flame bright red with shock.
She good female. God Big like you, the Group 7 Far Traveler
leader pointed out at the same time. You keep wolf gift come
from you father, yes?
4

T his female was most certainly not a gift from his


father. Obviously. His father had died over five
rotations ago. And even more obviously, his father
would never have sent his exiled son a female lupin as a gift in
the first place.
That said, of all the females Xenon had been gifted with since
his arrival on this planet, this was the first he decided to keep.
Not for mating, as the Group 7 leader most likely assumed, but
out of sheer scientific curiosity.
For one thing, the leader was correct about the females
unusual height. She was tall. So tall, she could almost be
mistaken for a drakki. One who, like him, had taken on the
appearance of this planets dominant native species as her shift
shell. But he knew this was not possible. No drakki had been
sent on this mission. The females of Xenons species were far
too precious a resource to risk on missions off the home planet.
So no, this female was most certainly not drakki. Yet Xenon
had never seen a hominid so very large. Everything about her
was oversized in comparison to the other hominid species hed
seen on this planet. And in truth, even the pregnant female
hominids did not display such large, full nursing glands, he
noted to himself as he escorted her down the tunnel. They were
big to the point of being completely impractical when it came to
thriving and surviving in a cold and unforgiving region such
as this.
Also, rather curiously, she possessed little to no body hair. He
studied her carefully as she walked not behind, but beside him
through the tunnel that led toward the front staging room of the
glacier station. Her strong legs were completely bare, as was her
openly displayed sex. And her brows consisted of thin lines that
appeared to have been sculpted somehow, though hed yet to see
anyone in possession of much more than a rudimentary bone
hair comb among the Group 7 tribe.
Once again, he felt his male works respond strangely to his
observations of the differences between this female and the
other hominids hed encountered. There was a tingling
sensation in the lowest part of his belly, and the flesh behind
and beneath his stomach not only felt heavy, but larger. As if his
male works had swollen. To the point where the synthetic hides
across his mid-section began to feel tight and uncomfortable.
The female was speaking again.
Welligessthisizbetterthanthadoodswithspeers.
Buttharwillbenosacrifycingtoodayidontcayrwoturscriptsez.
Ugetthatryt?
Ohgodpleeztellmeeugetthatbeecuzurlykarobotryt? Ryt?
Xenon listened intently to the way her inflection raised at the
end of her many short sentences but still, he could not glean
even a fraction of what she was trying to say. So he gave her no
response. And when they arrived at the front staging room, he
merely indicated that she be seated on the pile of cream-and-
white polar bear furs he had fashioned into a replica staging bed
when he first set up his lab.
Ohmigodthankyoo! she saidthis time without the
upward inflection. Her flame changed from blue to light orange,
indicating an uptick in her mood.
Xenon carefully watched as she reached down with a dark
hand to pull one of the thick furs around her naked form. His
scientific curiosity was thoroughly piqued, but he had no idea
how to go about running diagnostics on her without breaking
protocol. Also, there was the matter of the gash across the left
side of her otherwise smooth forehead. It needed tending, or else
there was an excellent chance she would succumb to one of the
many viral and bacterial infections that ran rampant on this
water-and-ice planet, just as had happened with so many of the
other fragile hominids.
But at the moment, Xenon had no drugged meat available in
storage. And it was against protocol to reveal his handheld
scanner, or any other trappings of technology, to a native
species. Hed likely have to wait until she fell asleep upon the
staging rugs, and then use a sedation circle to knock her
out. Yet
He tilted his head at the unfamiliar feeling flaming within
him. Impatience. Xenon did not desire to wait to discover more
about this unique female.
Fensa.
His eyes flicked up, and he was once more distracted from his
thoughts by the sound of her voice.
Imfensa. The female touched her now fur-covered chest
with one hand, splayed wide. Was that? Yes, it was. she had
dark, glossy red tint atop the small keratin shields at the tips of
her fingers.
whassyoornaam?
Another inflection. Whatever language she spoke, it was
nothing at all like that of the Far Travelers. Her voice was clear
and melodic, he noted, with a wider vocal range than any
language hed heard thus far on this planet. Highly
sophisticated, and therefore, totally unexpected.
Xenon could not wait any longer. No, he could not reveal his
research tools to the female, but curiosity burned inside him. He
would investigate. However, hed have to do it another way.
He thought back to his schooling, and to the six necessary
steps of the investigative process. Something all research
scientists learned from the very beginning of their studies:
Observe. Note. Listen. Note. Smell. Note.
Hed studied her. Hed listened to her. Now it was time to
smell her.
Xenon carefully, cautiously (so as not to startle the creature)
lowered his head towards the flesh between her legs. He wanted
to start there to ascertain if she was with child. He deeply
inhaled her scent, taking his time to carefully absorb and analyze
her unique chemical signatures.
Strangely, it was this action that finally silenced her. In fact,
she went from fidgeting to completely still.
She was not an anthrohominid, he quickly discovered. He
could smell the strong lupine pheromone radiating from her
almost as soon as he began the exam. Along with a few other less
familiar scents. The signature hormones of foods he was unable
to identify, some that smelled of neither meat nor plant. She
must have come from a region with a substantially different diet
than this one.
Moreover, it was soon apparent the female was not with
child. Yet there was something unusual about her scent. She
fairly reeked of pregnancy hormones. But the more he took in
the scent of her womb, the less he could identify the usual
gestational hormones. What he did identify, however, was
infinitely more startling. There were the distinct signature traces
of an artificially created hormone mimicker, one designed to
trick the body into behaving as if it were pregnant even though it
clearly was not.
Bizarre. Perhaps she came from a region where Drakkon
researchers were conducting an unknown experiment? But why
would another research team wish to find ways to halt the
fertility of this species? Hadnt breeding these creatures for the
hunt been the whole point of the original mission? Well, at least
until the Royal Geneticist became overly attached to his
creations.
This female confused him. From his crouched position below,
Xenon looked up into her dark face. She was staring down at
him, her eyes round and wide, pupils oddly dilated, and her
flame burning a red and yellow he could not interpret.
Discomfort perhaps? Curiosity, like his own?
A strange but pleasurable tingling made its way up from the
base of his shells spine, and Xenons curiosity was further
stimulated. There appeared to be a strong correlation between
his current physical response, and this examination. Perhaps
because it had been eons since hed had the opportunity to use
the six steps of investigation in this wayespecially considering
the extensive suite of research tools in his lab.
But like any good scientist, Xenon continued. He was
especially intrigued by her bodys unusual chemicals, ones he
had most certainly never detected on any of the other lupins. He
muttered to himself, tilting his head to one side in a
contemplative fashion
Only to have his thoughts cut off once again when, without
warning, more words spilled from the females mouth, only to
just as suddenly cease with a large intake of air. Almost
immediately thereafter, her body began to convulse.
Xenons stomach dropped. A seizure! She was having a
seizure. Possibly the result of her head injury.
He had no choice but to act quickly. But that soon proved to
be a mistake.
5

W hat the hell?!?!


Less than a few hours ago, Fensa was running
away from the facility.
Less than thirty minutes ago, shed woken from a deep sleep
on the back of a reindeer.
Less than a few moments ago, she had been desperately
fighting off a group of miniature-shifters with spears who
seemed hell bent on ripping off her clothes. Unfortunately, it
hadnt taken them long to accomplish their disturbing goal. Due
to the disposable nature of most clothes, fabrics were thin as hell
these days. And Fensas shorts and t-shirt had given away to the
grabby hands of the males as easily as if theyd been specially
designed for a strip show. Leaving her in nothing but her sturdy
hiking boots.
Just as she was deciding if it was a good idea to indulge in a
full-fledged freak out complete with horror movie screams, she
spotted a very tall man emerging from the ice castle, glacier
whatever the hell it wasand it was as if her prayers had been
answered. The man wore an animal hide shirt and a pair of
leather pants. His eyes were of the same almond shape as the
savage shifters whod attacked her. However, relief surged
through her when she noticed his hair.
It was short and black, and neatly coiffed, and accompanied
by a well-trimmed beard. He reminded her a bit of that old actor
her mother liked. What was his name? Keanu Roberts? Reeds?
She couldnt remember. But this guy could have easily been that
guys way taller, less scruffy son.
His uncanny resemblance to actors asideat least this dude
hadnt cut his own hair with a fucking spear. It was evident he
had access to scissors and basic hair product. And he lived in a
sweet glacier fortressso yeah, right now the clean-cut actor
doppelganger dressed in animal hides was winning the
popularity contest over the feral assholes whod just ripped her
clothes off.
Thank the Fenrir Wolf, Papa would say. Based on the
appearance of ice castle man, Fensa felt sure she must be in
modern times. Or, at the very least, a period after the invention
of quality scissors and Vidal Sassoon.
She wasnt exactly sure what she expected glacier man to do
when he interrupted the assault. However, she was hoping for a
little more than him standing there as the four shifters tore the
very last shreds of her clothing from her body. Nor did she
expect him to stare openly at her and her assaulters like they
were mere curiosities whod just popped up on his front step.
Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Dont just stand there! Help! Help
me! Please help me!
In what she immediately recognized as a complete betrayal of
her badass Viking genes, and her even more badass Motorcycle
Pack upbringing, Fensa ran as fast her cold naked legs could
carry her, and hid behind the tall guy, clinging to him like a
damsel in distress from one of those old-fashioned silent films.
But in all fairness, she was cold and naked with an offline
bio-chip. Shed never felt so scared and vulnerable in all her life.
She would have loved to suddenly morph into a shield maiden,
like her Viking Aunt Myrna who, according to her father, had
fought their villages serpent enemy to the very end. However,
the truth was, Fensa was modern as hell, with a dislike of fitness
that bordered on the extreme. If a fight didnt come with a game
controller, Fensa was as good as dead.
And Glacier Man was huge. There was even a chance he was
carrying underneath the fur-and-hide shirt she was clinging to
for dear life
Fensa pressed pause on her racing thoughts and sniffed the
air. Because even though all she could see in every direction was
the blinding white glare of snow and ice, something was on fire.
Nowait. Not on fire. But burning. Like an old-timey hearth.
Wait, that wasnt it either. She raised her nose a little more
and inhaled as deeply as her panicked state would allow.
It was him. This seven-foot-something guy she was hiding
behind smelled like he was on fire
The mingled voices of the shifter thugs pulled Fensa out of
her musings, and thrust her right back into the situation at
hand. The leader of her former assaulters was talking to burning
glacier man in monosyllabic words with a short, stunted
cadence.
Unknown language,
her bio-chip informed her again. Please connect to a
server for more options.
Fensa really was thisfuckingclose to yanking
that goddamn thing right out of her neck, severe nerve damage
and pain be damned.
However, the big guy seemed to understand whatever the
leader was telling himand that was when she realizedWait
a minute! Are they, like, giving me to you?!
The answer to the question turned out to be a big yes. And she
soon found herself being escorted down a tunnel by burning
glacier man.
Yeahum, okay. Can I ask whats going on? Why did those
shifters just let me go? And where are you taking me? Fensa
peppered her new best friend with a litany of questions as they
approached what appeared to be a large tunnel with a small
stream flowing through it.
Burning glacier man merely glanced at her as he guided her to
the right of the stream, onto a kind of smooth walkway. And
then a new type of cold hit Fensa, one that was completely
unrelated to the temperature, and caused her stomach to seize
up into a tight ball of instinctual dread.
The mans expression, it waswell, there was no way to
describe it. Except to say it appeared utterly devoid of emotion.
Like the face of a robot garbed in a human overlay. The man
looked human, but something crucial seemed to be missing.
And his eyesthey were red. Dark red. Shed at first mistaken
them for brown. But now that shed calmed down from her
earlier ordeal and could take a closer look at her rescuers face,
she realized his eyes werent brown at all. The red was weird
enough to begin with, but what pushed this guy from mildly
unsettling into the hot looking demon spawn category was
that his red eyes seemed to be glowing. Like shifter eyes when
the wolf is far too close to the human surface-but red. So
unnaturally red.
Areare you a wolf? she asked him, her voice sounding
nervous and unsteady even to her own ears.
She was almost positive this guy wasnt close to being a wolf,
especially because she couldnt smell anything coming off him
but fire. But she desperately wanted him to be one. Because it
would explain a few things. And it would mean she could finally
relax, and not be forced to leap to even more bizarre and
dramatic conclusions.
But per usual, Mr. No Talk didnt respond. Just stared. Much
like those shifter guys from earlier, but somehow his gaze was
way more unsettling. At least those animals blinked
occasionally. However, Burning Glacier Man put her in mind of a
reptile. Fensa felt clinically scrutinized, as if he were trying to
decide what to do with her.
Once they stepped into the dark tunnel, her suspicions were
confirmed: the guys eyes didnt just look like they were on fire.
They really were glowing. So much so that for a little while, the
only light source she could see as they walked through the pitch-
black entrance were the tiny, dark amber pinpricks of light from
his pupils.
Maybe hes a robot, she thought to herself. That would
explain the haircut and the crazy red eyes. Fensa recalled a few of
the animatronic parks humans were so wild about these days.
Even her cousin Koko had visited one in Alaska. And apparently,
the gameplay experience was so realistic, Koko hadnt even
realized she was in the game until a man in a leather jacket
grabbed her on the way to the bathroom, and told her she had to
help him pull off a three-billion-dollar Serbian mafia heist.
According to Koko, shed had the time of her life which
eventually culminated in what her cousin described as some
serious robot mouth action in a stylish bedroom inside what
looked exactly like a swanky Brooklyn high-rise apartment.
Yes, that would explain things. Maybejust maybe...this
whole mess could be sorted out with a simple call to the parks
front office.
Well, I guess this is better than the dudes with spears. But
there will be no sacrificing today; I dont care whats in your
script. You get that, right? Oh God, please, tell me you get that
because you are like a robot, right? Right?
Big surprisehe didnt answer. Okay, well
Neither of them spoke again as they navigated the remainder
of the dark tunnel; him seeming to know exactly where he was
despite being surrounded by utter darkness. And Fensa forced to
depend on her companions glowing eyes, and heavy footfall to
make her way to a large, dimly lit cavern at the end.
Upon closer inspection, the cavern appeared to be a kind of
front room. It was hugewith a ceiling that doubled as the very
top of the glacier. The room also had glowing blue walls and
floors, which, based on the increase in temperature, seemed to
provide a type of heat source.
Whoa! she said, taking it all in.
The small stream of fresh water from the tunnel made its way
through this room, too, eventually veering off to the right and
vanishing around the corner of one ice wall. Rectangle seams
were cut into it. The top one so high, she guessed the rectangle
had to be at least fifty feet tall. But it didnt strike her as
decorative. Was it a door maybe?
Burning Glacier man got her attention then, waving his hand
toward
Yes! Yes! The choir sang a-freakin-men. As pretty as the vast
cavern looked, nothing was more welcome to Fensa than the
sight of a pile of off-white furs scattered across the floor in front
of her. She rushed over and pulled one around her body. She
quickly wrapped herself up in it like she was making a fur
cocoon, and
Strange, the blanket looked and smelled exactly like polar
bear (though it couldnt be real polar bearnot even the richest
animatronic park could afford to decorate its stunning glacier
habitat with the hides of a critically endangered species).
Still, the skins were incredibly realistic, right down to their
scent. Fensa had to ask, Did you guys spray these hides with
actual polar bear pheromones? Because if so, thats some serious
commitment to authenticity
Of course, the robot with the weird eyes said nothing, fixing
her with his super intense gaze. And as grateful as she was for
the warm blankets, Fensa once again felt deeply unsettled.
UmI cant wait to tell my mom about all thisyou might
have heard of her? Tee Greenwolf, the head of She-Wolf Games?
Shes been considering a few offers from park corporations like
yours. They are all really interested in making an animatronic
version of her classic video game, Viking Shifters. Maybe you can
take me to the park director now, and I can discuss it with
himor her?
Fensa waited patiently, hoping her third name drop in as
many hours might at least spark some interest in whoever was
monitoring the parks current game play.
But the robot gave no sign he understood or caredhis
piercing, unblinking gaze making her feel more and more like a
specimen under a microscope.
Maybe he didnt speak English? But seriously, what kind of
bullshit animatronics park wouldnt program their bots to speak
English?
Wishing shed bothered to learn a few other languages the
old-fashioned way, rather than always depending on her bio-
chip to translate, Fensa tried a new tactic. Okay, look. Im
pretty sure theres been a huge mistake. Im not even supposed
to be a guest here. Do you have some sort of emergency alert
button on you? Some way I can contact park services or my
family or, I dont know, a medbot? You may have noticed Ive got
some head wound business that needs tendingum, what are
you doing?
The robot had crouched down, his strange unblinking gaze
intent on a particular patch of white fur. A funny feeling welled
up inside Fensa when she realizedhe was staring right where
the polar bear hide draped directly over her naked sex.
Whoaseriously, theres been a mistake, she rushed in to
say. Look, Im not a guest! I- Im not here to do that!
Too late. Her suspicions about the robots intentions were
immediately confirmed. Ice cold air hit her mounds bare skin.
Heydude! Thats really not something Im interes!
The cold air was nothing compared to the sight of his tongue
flicking quickly from his mouth. All Fensas protests died a rapid
death becausewhat the hell?! It sure looked to her like the
guys tongue was forked at the end. And that was some freaky
ass shit. But before she could ponder the possible implications,
his forked tongue shot out again with a speed she wasnt at all
prepared for.
No, wait!
Fensa broke off with a gasp as the robot mans serpentine
tongue licked up her mound, wet and hot. Like literally hot. It
felt like the paraffin wax used by the facility salon staff during
her manicure a week ago, the one she received before Papas
funeral. But it was also wet, dangerously wet. And it delivered a
sensation that was like nothing shed ever felt before.
Which was why Fensa was so very unprepared when his
tongue pushed between her folds without so much as a Hi, how
are you? and then proceeded to explore her wet slit until it
found the tunnel previously untouched by any fingers but
her own.
What is happening? Why is he licking me? With a forked
tongue??? What in the hell?! Her mind screamed silently as she
sat on the soft bear fur, her face frozen in a rictus of horror. His
tongue was in her so deep, Fensa could feel it snaking around at
the back of her canal. Lighting up all sorts of nerve endings she
never even guessed she had inside her.
Including one in particular that sent a sharp jolt of pure
electricity through her womb. What happened next was beyond
all comprehension.
Oh, Godoh God! she gasped out loud. Then an impossibly
luxuriant and warm sensation arched her back as she came on
his forked tongue.
Okay, yeah, that confirmed it. This was obviously not one of
those family-friendly animatronic parks her mom was
considering for her video game build.
Theyve got these hot robots that will, like, take you on an
adventure, or rescue you, and then bring you back to their
place. Kokos recap of her naughty animatronic trip slipped
back into Fensas mind as she floated back down to earth after
her intense orgasm. She recalled Kokos racy description when
she visited Fensa at the facility after her recent spring break trip.
The guys dont have dicks, but they will go down on you for ten
minutes to an hour, depending on your package. And let me just
say, theyre programmed very, very well.
At the time, Fensa was pretty sure Koko had to be
exaggerating. But now she didnt doubt a word of what her
cousin had told her. Not one word.
And she really hoped to God whoever paid to receive the
service shed somehow stumbled into hadnt purchased a sixty-
minute package. Because this twenty-three-year-old virgin had
just climaxed all over this freaky sexbots hot tongue in what had
to have been under five minutes
Fensa snapped out of her thoughts when she felt the bots
tongue suddenly retract from her slit. She watched it slip
effortlessly back into his mouth like a measuring tape.
Uh, sorry if I came too fast, she mumbled, not sure what
else to say.
He continued to give her the silent treatment, rising to a
stand, his otherworldly red eyes intent on her forehead. Then in
another instance of serpent-like grace, he curled one large hand
around the back of her neck.
Oh, hes going to kiss me!
Koko, who tended to be wildly graphic and giggly when
describing her various hook-ups, hadnt mentioned any kissing.
But who was Fensa to deny this sexbot his kiss? If he was
programmed to kiss clients, then he could go right on ahead.
Excepthe didnt exactly kiss her. Not even close. Instead, he
brought his lips to the gash on her forehead, the one shed all
but forgotten about, and
Fensa screamed as the robots forked tongue swiped across
her wound. Hot and stinging. It was like getting licked by a red-
hot poker. And when she tried to squirm away, he held the back
of her neck in a grip that felt like a band of steel.
She was beyond confused, and not a little terrified. Was this
some kind of medical procedure? But how was that even
possible? It was against the law for non-medical bots to provide
medical services without security clearance and voice activated
approval. And even the medbots were frequently programmed to
only provide service with the verbal consent of the patient, or
consent from the patients designated stand-in. In fact, thered
recently been a story in the feeds about some snake bite guy
dying right next to a camp medbot because he lost consciousness
before he could give consent.
But here she was, struggling against what felt like the
complete cauterization of her head wound. Fensa was unable to
extract herself from the procedure, even though her hands were
on the robots chest, and she was pushing at him with all her
wolf strength.
Which also didnt make sense. Most bots were manufactured
from super lightweight titanium that put even the largest bot at
no more than sixty pounds. This was a deliberate design choice
meant to reassure the public that animatronic park bots would
be easy to restrain in the unlikely event they went all Westworld.
In other words, this bot shouldnt be any stronger than a
human child, and he for damn sure shouldnt have been able to
restrain her against his large body with nothing more than a
hand around her neck, and what felt like a minimal effort to
keep her in place.
And thats when she felt it. A very hard, very big protrusion
right where there should be nothing but the genderless smooth
metal expanse of a Ken doll.
Real junk on robots were still very much against the law.
Thered been a huge court case and everything, which resulted in
every major animatronics developer agreeing to keep all robots
gender neutral below the waistline. So why then was Fensa
standing inside a glacier castle with a robots enormous erection
pressed against her?
As suddenly as hed grabbed her, he let her go, leaving her
reeling and so very confused.
Then he took a step back, his unblinking red stare traveling
down the rest of her body. Like he was looking for another place
to lick.
Who are you? she demanded. Where am I? And why
did you?
She stopped as her face heated at the memory of his forked
tongue slipping inside her. Wh-why did you do that to me?
she demanded. And WHAT is going on with your tongue?
He tilted his head at her. Studying her carefully with his
distant, emotionless stare. The one that put her in mind of a
reptile. A reptile in a man suit and beard. Oh, dear Fenrir Wolf
Talk! she screamed at him.
Nothing.
A wild, panicked fury began to rise in her. You tell me where
I am! When I am! You tell me right now, goddammit! Before I
completely lose it!
Againnothing.
And that was when she flew at him. Wolf first, her hands
extended like claws as she let out a savage Viking yell she hadnt
been aware was inside her.
Whoever or whatever this guythis thingwas, she was
going to hurt him. Claw off his face, then get the answers she
needed while he bled out on his goddamn polar bear throw
However, her fierce Berserker cry abruptly ended in an ugly
choking sound, as the not-robot caught her in the air. By her
neck. By her effing neck! Fensa gurgled in a combination of
outrage and frustrated disbelief as he held her suspended a few
feet above the floor.
As if at six-feet tall and nearly two hundred pounds, she
weighed little more than an antique Raggedy Ann doll.
Fensa could do nothing but dangle above the floor, slowly
choking as the not-robots head tilted back and forth. Studying
her dispassionately. How easily hed overpowered her! Then
Another scent rose between them. Momentarily distracting
her from the chokehold, and from her rapidly decreasing ability
to breathe. It was the scent of arousal. Her arousal.
Well, shit. This was one of the many things that made having
a wild animal trapped inside her body so inconvenient. It was the
way he was gripping her neck. In a tight choke hold that
wouldnt necessarily kill her, but unequivocally kept her under
his complete control. Allowing him to dominate her with little
effort on his part.
Her human most definitely did not care for this position. Like,
at all. But her wolf had seriously misread his intent and
responded to his grip as if it was a claiming hold. A promise of
things to come. And after being held back for so long thanks to
the regular regimen of heat control shots, the wolf inside her
wanted this promise fulfilled. Wanted him. Despite his freaky
red stare. And reptilian demeanor. And the somewhat
inconvenient fact that he was holding her suspended in mid-air.
By the throat.
Fensas core began to pulse like it had a heartbeat of its own
at the mere thought of being mated by this man.
But hes not a man, she reminded herself. Or a wolfnot
with those glowing red eyes. Andmaybe not a robot either. She
didnt have the slightest idea what in the hell he was. Or if he
was even real.
That last thought stabbed through her like an icicle in the
chest, scaring her right out of any primal lust she might have
been feeling.
Let me go, she choked out, giving him her best facsimile of
her papas fierce Viking stare.
A beat passed, during which he studied her so coldly, she was
scared he might be weighing whether or not to kill her. And he
couldright here and now. He could easily snap her neck with
nothing but a flick of his huge wrist.
Fensa was still contemplating her imminent demise when he
abruptly opened his fingers, releasing her from his grasp,
dropping her back down to the polar bear furs below as if she
were nothing more than a sack of dirty laundry.
Now, and only now, did he speak. And Fensa immediately
wished he hadnt.
His voice was little more than a sharp hiss of syllables.
Sounding as vicious as it was unintelligible, though she vaguely
recognized the guttural language used by the wolves whod
assaulted her.
However, despite the shared language, he did not sound like
those shifter thugs. Not even a little. Fensa recoiled
instinctively. And then again when he started towards her, his
stare as hypnotic as it was unblinking. She continued to take
small steps backattempting to keep him from invading her
personal space more than he already had (and dude, hed been
all up in it!) when she spotted something in his left hand. A
small white circle, only slightly bigger than a quarter. But unlike
a quarter, it was covered in short, silver needles.
Fensa didnt recognize the object at all, but shed been
sedated enough times at the facility to know what was
coming next.
No, wait! Hold on. Ill be goodplease dont do this, she
begged, just like shed begged the staff at the facility the first
time they caught her trying to sneak out. Ill be good
But like the facility staff, he didnt listen.
Fensa stopped begging with a cry when several sharp pin
pricks punctured the skin of her upper arm. What if she hadnt
been drugged? Maybe shed been poisoned. Whatever it was, it
burned going in, and she could feel the chemicals crawling
through her blood vessels.
Good night, Fensa.
Her thoughts slurred, and she threw a helpless look at the
man whod pricked her. Not surprisingly, he stared back.
Showing no emotion at all. Same as when he brought her inside
his ice fortress, same as when he made her come with his forked
tongue. Yeah, she thought drowsily to herself, theres a pretty
good chance none of this is real. None of it.
Fensa tried to speak, but found her tongue thick and heavy in
her mouth, no longer capable of forming words. Then the plush
fur of the polar bear skins seemed to rise to meet her. And that
was the last thing she remembered before the darkness
overtook her.
6

T hese results cannot be accurate!


His uncles words, not Xenons. Yet they
echoed the exact thought hed been having for the
past three day cycles of this planet. Ever since he read the initial
report on the lupinhominid hed titled Female 7-133 in his
study.
I performed the scans twice. Then I ran a lengthy system
diagnostic, before putting her bloodwork and DNA samples
through a third time. But the results came back the same every
time, Xenon answered. I assure you on my brothers throne,
they are correct.
But how can they possibly be correct? The Royal Overlord
shook his head at Xenons assurance. Her carbon date is nearly
that of a twenty-rotation female, but she has no history of
severe infection, and her skin graphs show minimal scarring and
weather damage. She has traces of DNA from every single lupin
genus we have observed thus far, as well as plant life from every
continent and several varieties of vegetation not included the
Lead Agriculturists initial report. And how can she have such a
high percentage of fatty tissue throughout her body? It is
unfathomable!
His uncle opened his glottis to make a skeptical hiss in the
back of his shells throat. But his gaze remained intent on his lab
wall as if the results would morph into something he could
comprehend.
The confusion in his uncles flame sparked guilt in Xenons
own. Hed temporarily put aside his fathers advice to allow no
others into his confidence or lab while on this trip, to seek
answers with the Royal Overlord. But he had not completely
forgotten his fathers warning that he should trust no one on
this mission as it could impact his survival.
So lest Xenon somehow be blamed for a match arrival coming
through an un-encoded portal, he had given his uncle Female 7-
133s scans without the full backstory. Instead, hed claimed her
as a non-experimental or control group anomaly who had
somehow wandered into the Group 7 village.
This lupinhominid is an impossible construct. And you say
she is nearly as tall as an average drakki?
Xenon nodded. She is an outlier in every way, and I cannot
comprehend how she could be possible amongst this species.
This is why I brought the scans to you,
A second opinion. That was what he decided he needed after
running the giant lupinhominids genetic sample through his
computer three timesa feat, considering each scan took nearly
a quarter of this planets day-to-night cycle to complete.
In truth, he felt somewhat validated by his uncles shock
upon reading the results. And he hadnt even told the older
drakkon what hed found while analyzing the females odd
footwear. A reddish-brown sediment, the kind that could only be
found in the hottest areas of the origin lands.
And these undocumented chemicalsincluding one that
seems to be suppressing her ability to shift. The older drakkon
shook his head at the green scan results Xenon had uploaded to
his lab wall. The Zone 6 glacier station was nearly two times as
large as Xenons, with not one, but three labs and a staging room
big enough to house all one hundred drakkon on the mission
team. And thanks to his uncles mission title of Lead
Investigator, the glacier station had ten times as many analytical
tools as its Zone 7 counterpart. But none of those tools could
help either of them understand how a genetically engineered
hominid came to have such comparatively sophisticated drugs in
her system.
Mind you, the chemical makeup is rough by our standards,
his uncle observed, seeming to speak more to himself than
Xenon. But it is eons beyond what this species has at their
avail.
His uncles flame remained a neutral dark blue, but then older
drakkon were better at controlling their flames than younger
ones. In any case, Xenon could tell his uncle was genuinely
disturbed by the angry hiss of his esses as he spoke.
Xenon thought back to three day cycles ago when the
females attack angered him so much he could not control his
glottis. Hed hissed at her much like his uncle now hissed at the
data on his lab wall.
She also carries no species tracker as the rest of the Royal
Geneticists hybrids do.
Like most drakkon assigned to their research team, his uncle
had opted for a beard when designing his native shift shell.
However, instead of the short and bushy styles like those Xenon
and his cousin, the Royal Huntmaster, chose, the Royal
Overlords was silky like the lupinhominids of groups 6 and 7. He
stroked his shell beard as he asked, Is it possible she hails from
somewhere outside this planet as we do?
No, Xenon responded after a moment of thought. She
might not have one of the Royal Geneticists tracking systems in
place, but the DNA from his experiments with Group 3 is evident
within herthough strangely, she has absolutely no jackal or
lion tracers in her DNA. Its as if a Group 3 lupin found an anthro
from the origin lands, turned that anthro into a lupin with a full
moon bite, and then a lupin descendent from that pairing
somehow mated with a lupinhominid from Group 3.
Were not even three generations into The Royal Geneticists
first viable experimentation groups! There hasnt been enough
time for such a thing to occur.
I am aware of this.
So then how is this female possible?
I do not know, Xenon confessed. Again, that is why I came
to you, Lead Investigator.
With a grim flame, his uncle spent several more wing beats
staring at the females scans. Perhaps, he suggested, the ban
you have imposed on Zone 7 could be lifted? Just for a quarter
moon or less? So I might observe this female with a few other
researchers.
The Zone restriction had been the last edict his father made
from his death pallet. Xenons curiosity would not trump that.
Even if his father had quite literally banished him to the frozen
wasteland to keep him safe. Xenon shook his head
immediately at the suggestion. No, whatever zone I reside in
remains off limits to other drakkon. That rule will remain in
place
Even an old drakkon like his uncle couldnt keep the
disappointment from showing in his flame. But then he seemed
to shift gears, and declared, Then she must be brought here. To
my labs. I must run the tests myself. After all, my lab has more
equipment, and I am the one with the advanced training. You are
but an underling on this mission.
Before he could attempt to stop it, his uncles words spiked
Xenons flame. As a prince who was second in line to rule, he
wasnt used to being addressed as an underling by any drakkon.
Even his brother, who bothered not to mask his red and black
flame when it came to his younger brother, had never addressed
him as such.
His uncle, however, was correct. Xenon was technically but an
assistant to the Lead Investigator on this trip. Also, if anyone
could solve the females genetic mystery, it would be his uncle.
He had studied all manner of sciences before and after being
given the title of Royal Overlord. And during his last speech to
his people, Xenons father had claimed that his youngest son
had inherited his brothers curious mind, which was why he
decided to accompany his uncle and cousin on this expedition.
Those words had been mostly untrue save for the curious
part. And in this case, one curious mind could not deny the
other. Especially when said curious mind was technically in
charge of this trip.
In the end, Xenon agreed to bring the female anomaly to his
uncle with a sharp nod.
But then his uncle said, As soon as you can, Prince of
Drakkon. Like many on the trip, his uncle insisted on using
Xenons royal title as opposed to the one assigned him for the
mission. This might prove the Royal Geneticist performed
experiments not included in his initial report, and if that be the
case, we can declare this investigation null and void.
His uncles flame colored in a way that suggested the idea of
ending the investigation before it had even begun appealed to
him. Yes, I will make my own study of her. And if necessary, I
will cut her open to ensure the Royal Geneticist didnt splice her
genes to ensure a false positive result for a civilized evolution in
his report.
Cut her open. That meant his uncle would euthanize the
female anomaly to conduct a thorough autopsy. The thought did
not sit well with Xenon. And it continued to distract him even
after he took wing. Flying north and then east, back toward his
glacier habitat.
The sleeping drugs he tubed into the female would wear off in
less than half a days turn of the planet. And hed already risked
much by letting her remain alone in his lab while he flew to
consult with his uncle. It wouldnt do to have Female 7-133 wake
up on her own.
Not that it mattered, he thought grimly. He was under explicit
orders to bring her back to his uncle. She would spend the
remainder of her days being poked and prodded on a Zone 6
examination tableand that was only if his uncle decided not to
euthanize her from the start.
After all, if she were an outlier side experiment belonging to
the Royal Geneticist, as his uncle suspected she might be, that
would be it for their thousand-year study. The Royal Geneticists
claims of having successfully created a shifting sub-species with
the utmost of scientific care would be summarily dismissed. And
royal ships would be dispatched to the planet to begin the
long-delayed hunt.
Xenon should not care how this study turned out either way.
Unlike his brother, he did not consider anthros such a rare
delicacy. Nor did he appreciate that they were something only
royal drakkon could eat. This hunting business struck Xenon as
elitist and silly. He was much more interested in conducting his
research and experiments on Group 7, which could lead to
fertility breakthroughs on his home planet. But other than that,
he had no interest in the Royal Geneticists spliced hunting
beasts.
Indeed, he should be relieved at the chance to return to his
planet, where he could study the research he had gathered.
Quietly, and without the nuisance that came with living in
proximity to Experiment Group 7. He should be happy his uncle
might be that much closer to truncating this trip. And yet
The thought of the large lupin female being euthanized, so
the drakkon on this mission might return home earlier, turned
his flame a strange mix of colors.
His thoughts circled back to his first examination of her. As
they had so often over the last few day cycles. Mostly he was
perplexed at how his male works had responded to her. They had
never stirred so before. Not on this planet, nor the one he
called home.
He could not help but think how the formerly dormant flesh
beneath his soft underbelly had risen. Seeming to swell, much
like that of the advanced primates hed been studying. The ones
who seemed to have only two prime directives: eating and
breeding. Indeed, though the Royal Geneticist had claimed these
lupins a worthy species, Xenon had yet to observe them do
anything that didnt pertain to those two imperatives.
Still, the glacier station had seemeddifferent from the
moment hed escorted the female into it. Better somehow. Less
isolated. Even after hed put her to sleep. After the initial
consult, he was certain he would be the one to run further
experiments on her. In truth, hed been excited at the prospect
of keeping her there for a little longer before handing her over to
the Group 7 wolves for mating.
Also
He shook his head, not liking the direction of the latter
thought much. But his dislike did not change the truth of it. And
he had the distinct feeling when he reshelled and went back into
his lab, hed find his male works swollen with the sweet pain he
could not quite identifybut also could not say he disliked.
Either way, he suspected the problems with his long dormant
male works would abate once hed delivered the female anomaly
to his uncles cave. I should be relieved to almost be rid of her,
he thought, when his glacier lab appeared over the horizon.
Yet, he wasnt. In fact, the closer he got to the Zone 7 lab, the
more dread pooled in his belly.
Eat. He should eat, he thought to himself when he saw a pack
of hooved tundra beasts sipping at the small stream hed
redirected to flow through the station. They were but a few feet
from the entrance, which was strange. Not as strange as the
female anomaly, of course. But usually the pack animals did not
veer so close to his station, perhaps sensing something strange
and unnatural about both the stream and the structure it ran
through.
But he had not hunted while so focused on his study of
Female 7-133, and real meat would be a welcome diversion from
the peculiar emotions upsetting his flame.
He dived toward the sure to be delicious midday snack, neatly
cooking one of the bigger hooved tundra beasts before he
touched ground.
However, even as he ate, he couldnt stop himself thinking of
her. He found himself wanting to both rush back into his glacier
habitat, and delay his meal so it would be that much longer
before he was compelled to wing her back to his uncles lab.
In fact, so distracted was he by the dilemma, he did not sense
the group of anthrohominids sneaking up behind him with
raised spears. Not until it was too late.
7

T hank God youre okay!


The facility nurse barely had time to announce
Fensas visitor before Koko pushed past her. She
ran over to Fensas bed and grabbed her hand. I was so worried
when I got the call.
The usual guilt rose inside of Fensa as her cousin scanned her
with worried brown eyes.
The only reason shed been assigned as Fensas emergency
contact was she was quite literally her closest living relativeat
least in terms of proximity. She lived only a few blocks away in
student housing. Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in history at
Arizona Mountains University, Koko hoped to follow in the
footsteps of her famous historian aunt, Alisha Ataneq-
Nightwolf.
However, with one call from the facility, Koko had dropped
everything to check on Fensa.
Im okay, Fensa assured her.
You have fifteen minutes, the nurse said, before slamming
out of the room.
Tu Wulfkonig had made a handsome donation to the facility
to get Fensa a last-minute room here the summer after she
turned eighteen. But it wasnt like the nurses saw any of that
extra bribe money. To them, Fensa was just another pain in the
ass patient whod tried to escape from the facility a record
sixteen times in four years.
Youll have to lay low for a while, Ola advised Fensa behind
Kokos back. She was standing in the corner since the facility
didnt allow Fensa to keep a chair in her room. Theyre going to
be watching you like a hawk from now on.
What happened? Koko asked after the nurse was gone. I
thought we talked about this after the last time you tried to run
away. You were going to stay on your meds. Work with the
doctors so you could finally start at U of A with me. I was hoping
we could look for apartments together next summer.
I know, Fensa answered, guilt curdling her stomach.
Because Lord knew shed rather be living in an apartment with
Koko, her favorite cousin and best friend, aside from Ola. But...
Is this because of what happened with Knud?
What happened with Knud.
She hated how the facility personnel and everyone whod
visited her since the incident refused to call it what it was.
Knuds suicide.
And yes, shed stop taking her meds shortly after finding her
cousin hanging from the ceiling of his room, with no explanation
but, IM SORRY written on the wall above his cot with a soft
tipped marker. Nothing like watching your dead cousin swing
from a belt hed stolen off a facility worker, unable to feel real
horror because of all the emotion modifiers in your system, to
make you second guess your medication.
You know how sensitive she is, especially when it comes to
you. If you tell her that, shes going to make you talk about it,
Fenny, Ola pointed out before Fensa could answer her cousins
question with the truth.
So Fensa replied with a sort of truth. I justthe drugs make
me so drowsy. And I hate
She trailed off, knowing the way she wanted to finish that
sentence would only worry Koko more. Instead, she said, I hate
not feeling like myself.
I bet, Koko answered, her tone sympathetic. But the drugs
are the only thing that will allow you to live a normal life. If you
just stick with the program, theyll let you out of here with only
six more months of observation. Then you can pursue your
theoretical physics degree. Maybe even get married someday
no, dont roll your eyes at me. Im serious! There is so much life
for you beyond these walls, Fensa. You have no idea how great it
could be if you just stopped running away, and started working
with the doctors.
Just tell her youre sorry and shes right, Ola said behind
Kokos back. Thats all she wants to hear.
Im sorryand youre right, Fensa repeated dutifully. Ill
try harder.
Good, Koko said. Maybe I can bust you out of here for
spring break, and well visit my sister in Alaska. Shes been
telling me all about this crazy new animatronic park King Nago
invested in. Theyve got these sexbots, but check it out! Instead
of tongues, they have vibrating dildos! Like eeeee-eeee
eeenh!
Both Fensa and Ola fell out laughing when Koko waggled her
tongue around while making an electronic vibration sound.
Fenny, that sounds like fun! Ola said, cackling behind
Koko. You need to ditch my ass and go see about that!
But Fensa suddenly stopped laughing, a new memory coming
back to her.
Whats wrong? Koko asked off of Fensas stricken look. I
know youre a virgin, but really this is just a few steps up from
getting yourself off with a vibrator. Seriously, nothing to be
afraid of.
Fensa shook her head, honestly confused. But maybe the
facility hadnt told Koko the details of her latest escape attempt
when they called her.
Koko, I actually stumbled into an adult animatronic park
yesterday, she confessed. That was where they found meI
think. I just gotI dont knowlost, maybe? Really lost. In this
weird theme park with these little Inuit shifters with spears. But
heres a story youll love. They had this weird sexbot. It totally
went down on me, and he had a forked tongue!
Kokos forehead scrunched. A forked tongue, she repeated.
Thats a strange customization.
I know, right?! Fensa agreed. And get this! He had, like, a
dick. Like a real and GIGANTIC dick. I could feel it against my
stomach. I couldnt believe it!
Fensa expected Koko to act just as shocked as shed been, but
she only stared at Fensa, her face upset to the point of looking
haggard.
Koko? Are you okay? Fensa asked.
But Koko shook her head, and Fensa could now see tears
brimming in her eyes. Koko, whats wrong? Tell me, so I can
fix it!
You cant fix it, Ola said behind Koko, her face suddenly
just as grim.
Robots dont have dicks, Koko whispered at the same time.
What? Oh thatyeah, thats what Im trying to tell you,
Fensa explained. This place was so freaking weird and illegal.
Youve never seen anything like it.
No, Fensa, youve never seen anything like it, Koko said,
dropping her hand.
And then a nurse appeared in the doorway. Its time for you
to go, she informed Koko. Her annoyed eyes then landed on
Fensa. And its time for you to wake up.
What? Fensa asked, so confused, she wondered if she was
having a weird reaction to the meds theyd forced her to start
taking again.
But no, Ola was still there. Still standing in the corner. Her
face as grim as an undertakers. Its time to wake up, Fensa,
she repeated after the nurse.
But started Fensa. Then she remembered: Ola was
missing. Ola, where were you yesterday? Why couldnt I
find you?
Its time to wake up! Ola shouted. Wake up, Fensa! Wake
up right fucking now!
ensa woke with a start in a hot, dark roomonly to choke on her

F
own gasp as what felt like a slimy tentacle snaked out of
her mouth. What came next was even worse.
Her hips jerked in shock at a strong, but painless,
tugging sensation as another tentacle slid out of her nether
regions.
What. The. Fenrir. Wolf?
Where am I? When am I? she wondered, trying to make sense
of the pitch black. And why is it so damn hot? Was she sick? Had
facility workers finding her at the time gate, and native shifters
with spears, and the Keanu-esque giant been nothing but a fever
dream?
She sat up, naked and more than a little afraid. But then
bright blue lit up the lab walls, and she could finally see
An outfit? Yes, an outfit. It hung from a hook on what looked
like a standing rack made of gold. A knee-length hide shirt and
leather pants. And right below them on the glowing blue ground,
a pair of furry boots that looked like a pair of Uggs and
traditional moccasins had a baby. But they didnt smell at all like
the material they appeared to be made from. More like
industrial chemicals, but not the same ones shed smelled on
fake leather and suede in her own time.
Whateverthe clothes and boots looked warm enough, so
shed wear them. Even though staying warm was less of a
priority in the overly warm room. But never mind, she needed
something to cover her naked body, and these things were better
than nothing.
After dressing, Fensa took some time to look around, trying to
figure out where she was exactly. Apparently a lab of some sort
with the same glowing blue walls as the ones shed seen in the
probably-not-a-robots outer room. The bed shed woken up in
was most likely an examination table, she realized. It was made
of an unusual shiny red metal and stuck out of the wall under a
row of five, quarter-sized holes.
Fensa peered closely at the holes, shutting one eye to get a
better view inside. However, she still couldnt see much. And an
ancient form of self-preservation wouldnt allow her to stick a
finger inside. She thought back to the feeling of something
slithering out of her when she first woke upand put two and
two together. Maybe these holes housed medical tubes of some
sort? Maybe they retracted when they werent down a patients
throat andshe shiveredup her hoo-ha?
Okay, enough about the tubes, she decided with a grimace,
moving on to the next wall. This one featured a row of hanging
green devices, all glowing and arranged neatly about a foot above
her head. They resembled jade versions of the smart phone
her mother had once taken out of a memorabilia box to show her
when she was a teen. Except the bottom of each rectangle
extended into a large-ish hand grip that reminded her of the
handle of a ping pong paddle. Ill call them iPaddles, she
decided, laughing at her pun.
But Fensa quickly sobered, realizing she had no clue what
they were. In fact, shed never seen anything like them in her
life. The metal used on the examination table and the devices
was so smooth, and so blemish-free, she couldnt be 100%
certain any of it had been made using a machine.
Fensa recalled a Clara Quinn sci-fi novel set in a future where
all metal objects were constructed at the atomic level, binding
the elements of the various materials together using a magnetic
field, rather than melting them down and casting them. The
metal in this room was a close match to how shed always
imagined the authors poreless, non-reflective metals
would look.
And then there were the items she discovered in the way back
of the gigantic room. A huge pile of golden rocks, and what
appeared to be mounds of precious gems the size of fists. Shed
never seen anything like itexcept she had. In movies featuring
treasure hoardsof the sort that typically existed in caves or,
her mind eagerly filled in, lairs.
More than a little unsettled, Fensas eyes kept moving
nervously around the room, only to stop short yet again when
she spotted a pile of blankets. These looked but did not smell
like the ones in that other room. That first pile had been just big
enough to sleep a seven-foot person. Whereas this one was
much larger in diameter. Large enough to comfortably
accommodate seven seven-foot men. For the life of her, Fensa
couldnt imagine why anyone would need a sleeping palette that
large.
Panic rose anew within her chest. Seriously, where the hell
was she?
WARNING, WARNING! Your GoGen device cannot connect to the local server. Please check your
hosts settings and try again.

Well, at least she knew she was somewhere with a local


server. That was a relief. But her bio-chip couldnt connect. Not
great.
Enable emergency mode, she subvocalized to the chip.
Enabling

But then a moment later, the bio-chips voice came back.


Unable to access. Please provide access codes.

Yeah, shed totally do that if she could find someone to ask.


And you know, if that person spoke a language she understood.
Or understood the language she spoke.
Where am I? she asked the chip out loud.
Unknown location. Unable to connect to server.

Yeah, I got that partokay, what time is it?


10 a.m., Mountain Standard Time. Day, month, and year unknown.

How long has it been since my first loss of consciousness?


86 hours, 22 minutes, six seconds.

Holy crap. Shed been here for nearly four days. No wonder
shed had that dream! Even her subconscious knew Koko would
be worried sick about her, especially with her disappearance
coming so soon after her fathers funeral. Her second funeral in
as many years.
Fensa needed answers.
Apparently, shed been zapped into the future. Way far into
the future, if her bio-chip couldnt connect to the servers even
in emergency mode.
She stopped mid panic spiral, realizing something else. Why
arent you screaming at me to get to a medbot? she asked
her chip.
All biological systems are in good condition, her bio-chip answered. Current medical status:
Concussion isHEALED. ContusionsHEALED. Bladder and bowelsEMPTY. Sustenance Levels
GOOD. Acceptable sustainability for48 more hours. HygieneGOOD. You areCLEAREDto move
about.

Fensa narrowed her eyes, understanding but not quite


believing her ears. Wait, are you trying to say someone fixed me
up, cleaned me, fed me, and emptied my bladder and here
she grimaced, bowels?
Yes, an unidentified medical device oversaw all bio-functions while you slept.

Fensa looked again at the holes above the red examination


table. Well, that answered any remaining questions she might
have had about the bizarre tentacle porn experience from earlier.
So then. Where the Fenrir Wolf was she? Fensa made a very
deliberate decision to keep that question foremost in her mind.
She could handle investigating where she was. But when was
becoming too scary to contemplate. And Olas whereabouts
might very well drive her insaneokay, more insane than she
already suspected she was.
Because those instruments on the wall The tubes had not
only fed her, but cleaned her, taken care of all her biological
needs, and apparently repaired her concussionwhich she
didnt even know was possible. Really, everything in this glacier
castle or science lab or whatever it was, was at least fifty to a
hundred years ahead of her time.
Which meant when shed arrived at the gate, and saw the
people from the facility coming after her When shed uttered
the same set of words that had brought her now-dead father to
the first century of the new millennium When shed gotten
sucked into the time gate Shed been transported somewhere
no other shifter from her time had ever gone before: the future.
But how far in the future? She could only pray the answer
was: not too far.
Because honestly, those crazy shifters with spears didnt bode
well. Nor did the robot with the illegal genitalia. Had she landed
in the middle of a post-apocalyptic scenario?
Action, Fensa. Not fear.
Thats what her papa would have advised in this situation.
Fensa went over to the wall furthest from her bed. Embedded
in it were the same three connected grooves shed noticed
yesterday. A door. She reached out a tentative hand to touch
what had to be a seventy-foot high rectangle, wondering why
anyone would need a door that big. But then, hot damn! It slid
open. No problem.
She walked through the large opening into the caverns main
room. The one shed been escorted to by Tall, Hot, and
Expressionless a few days ago. This room was just as sweltering
as the lab. Had the maybe-robot cranked up the heat? She knew
it wasnt just the clothes because shed been feeling hot even
before she got dressed.
Weird? Definitely. But she was grateful. At least she had a
warm shelter, snow boots, and clothes. Which was way more
than she arrived with four days ago.
Do you still have compass functions? she asked her bio-
chip when she entered the dark tunnel. Thankfully she could see
some light in the distance, and the tunnel was much brighter
than when shed first arrived with the sun at her back.
Yes,
the bio-chip answered.
Okay. I want to head south, she said, walking swiftly
towards the mouth of the tunnel. Can you guide me?
Yes,
the bio-chip answered.
Great. Ill need you to download that survival book to my
fingers, she said, placing both of her fingers into an L shape,
only to realize she no longer had the damn connector thumb
rings that turned the space between her fingers into a view
screen. Shit.
Fensa remembered dropping them outside the facility so
security would have to access her bioware to track herwhich
would mean getting clearance from GoGen. That little trick had
gained her a good hour she wouldnt have otherwise had, but it
unfortunately lost her the ability to download valuable materials
onto her finger screen.
No Connector Rings available, her bio-chip answered, confirming her fear. Would you like the
audio version?
Ye she started to say. Only to stop short when she
reached the mouth of the tunnel.
About a yard away from where she stood, was a small hill that
hadnt been there before.
No, not a hill.
She blinked in confusion beneath the weak morning sun.
It was a creature. One shed only heard about in her fathers
stories. And, of course, in various human fairy tales.
A dragon.
A dark blue dragon.
There was a dark blue dragon sleeping right outside the ice
castles front door.
8

O kay, okay
Fensa stood motionless as a scared bird in the ice
caves main entrance. Waiting for the dragon to attack.
Just like the ones that had slaughtered her fathers entire family,
right before he managed to slip away, using the time gate spell.
But it didnt attack her. The dragon remained exactly where it
was; its long body splayed out sideways, putting her in mind of a
hill composed entirely of scales of such dark blue, they could
easily be mistaken for black from a distance.
But she wasnt at a distance. And with her 20/20 wolf vision,
she could easily see the angry spikes running down the
creatures back in a pattern that suggested a spine. It also had a
tail, so long and thick it could probably be used as a club if
wielded in just the right way. But it lay still, tooas dormant as
the rest of the body.
Was itdead? she wondered as some of the tension left her
still frozen body. But then the wind picked up, and she smelled
it. Death. Humans. Barbecuewait, what?
Fensa got the answer to her question and the surprising mix
of smells when her eyes shifted downwards.
Bodies. Two of them, on the frozen ground just beyond the
dragons tail. Burnt to a crisp.
And suddenly, there wasnt just a dragon outside the cave.
There was clear evidence of an aftermath.
With a would-be scientists morbid need to know, Fensa
looked around and found two more bodies. One resting near the
dragons head in a burned hunk, the other slumped against the
glacier caves front wall, its neck at an odd angle. It had a spear
still clutched tightly in its hand, but the point was little more
than a jagged piece of bone. Misshapen, and no longer pointed
as if it had been broken off.
Or shattered, she thought, remembering her papas tales of
how the warriors swords cracked and clanged off the armored
skin of their serpent enemies.
Either these unlucky humans had surprise attacked the
dragon, or the dragon had surprise attacked them. Regardless, at
least four bodies lay scattered before her, and she strongly
suspected the dragons massive body might be blocking her view
of even more.
By the Fenrir Wolf
Fensas gratitude for the nutrients shed been tube-fed went
right out the proverbial door as her stomach lurched. And that
was before her next thought dropped down like an anvil. She was
going to have to walk throughthat. Past the dead dragon, past
the deep-fried humans, to begin what she knew would be a long
journey south.
Oh, help me please, she whispered to her mothers God,
sending a let me be strong, shout-out to the Fenrir Wolf, the
Norse demi-god whose rain of angry tears had created
werewolves. She prayed to both for strength as she scurried
across the narrow expanse between the dragons sinister crown
of horns and the edge of the glacier.
Just half a yard, she told herself. Then shed be on her way
The dragons head suddenly lifted. And Fensa leaped back
right before it released a tortured yell, somewhere between a
scream, and the screech of an old eight-wheeler truck braking
hard. The sound waves were so strong, she could feel them ripple
through her, the bass shaking her chest as the creatures cry
echoed across the tundra.
Again she froze, this time in a rictus of fight or flight. She did
not want to be burnt to a crisp, but she also had nothing but her
hands to defend herself. No way to fight a flying, fire-breathing
armored beast that had already killed four armed humans.
Fensa opted to remain in place, her life flashing before her
eyes in a bittersweet scroll of family, facility, and funerals,
followed by the fervent wish things had ended almost any other
way but this.
But thennothing happened. For seconds on end. And when
a full minute of not getting turned into a pile of ashes went by,
Fensa dared to look uponly to stumble back.
Her heart rocketed up into her throat when she saw the
dragons face. Above two flared nostrils were a pair of red eyes.
Exactly like the maybe-robots.
However, while one eye stared directly at her, wide and
unblinking, the otheroh God. Her stomach lurched again. The
other eye had a spear embedded in it.
And that was how Fensa discovered the true meaning of, I
wouldnt wish X on my worst enemy.
Dragon or not, eyes were a funny thing. On an empathetic
wince, Fensa closed her own eyes against the painful sight, only
to open them again unable to stand the thought of the dragons
suffering.
Are you crazy, bitch? Run!!! Her human practically screamed,
nearly as soon as the sympathetic thoughts popped into her
head. These things slaughtered your fathers entire family!
But it was already too late.
The dragon might be a monster, but Fensa wasnt. She
crossed the expanse of snow toward where the dragon was
dripping blood out of one eye.
Is thatyou? she asked it softly.
The creature made a wretched sound, and soon its head and
neck collapsed back down to the ground. As if it were not only
too weak to answer her question but had also used up its entire
store of energy just to look at her. Despite the tremendous roar
from earlier, the dragon now seemed feeble. At deaths door,
thanks to that spear. In its eye. In its effing eye!
Oh, crap. She was going to have to do this, wasnt she? She
was going to have to
Catching her breath, Fensa reached up with both hands and
wrapped them around the long shaft end of the spear. Then
before she could think too much about what she was about to do
to an eye, no lessshe yanked back as hard as she could.
Shed thought the roar from earlier had been bad. This time,
the sound waves coming from the pained dragon literally
knocked her off her feet.
Fensa landed flat on her ass as the dragon reared back,
coming to its feet in a furious whip of scales and claws. Had she
mistaken him for a hill before? No wonder. Because even on all
fours, he towered over her. Even more imposing than a hill, he
cast a cold dark shadow over where she crouched, cowering in
the snow, grasping the broken spear shaft.
Okay, Fensa decided right then and there. Kindness, despite
its good reputation, was way overrated. What the hell had she
been thinking? Because thanks to her kindness, she was now
likely to die exactly how she thought she would right before she
decided to re-enact that old mouse and the lion fable with a
goddamn dragon!
But once again, nothing happened. In fact, a moment later,
the only heat she felt on her back was from the sun. Fensa rose
her head slightly and saw that the shadow was gone. As was the
dragon.
Instead, a few meters away, lay a naked man collapsed in the
snow. Fensa stood, as unable to let a hypothesis go unchecked,
as shed been unable to walk away from a deadly predator with a
spear stuck in its eye. She dropped the spear shaft to the ground
and moved gingerly toward the figure up ahead.
Curiously, the man, from what she could see, had no
genitalia. Just several horizontal rows of pale scales where a
human mans abs and penis would be. He looked kind of like a
Ken doll. But you know, with scales.
So what the fuck was he, then? A dragon shifter? A robot? A
dragon shifter robot? If so, then what had she felt yesterday
when his body pressed up against hers?
Fensa scanned him for more clues. His eyes were closed,
though one now sported an ugly gash where smooth skin used
to be.
Had he died from shock? But no, she could see his torso lifting
with the effort it took to breathe. It wasnt the most hearty
breath shed ever seen, but at least he was breathing. And that
would keep his organs goingwhile he slowly died of
hypothermia in the snow.
Which wasnt her problem, she reminded her sentimental
wolf. She needed to be on her way. Put as much distance between
her and this dragon as possible, and head south toward hopefully
warmer weather, and friendlier natives. Yes, thats what she had
to do. It was the most logical plan of action
Okay, who was she kidding?

A fter what her bio-chip stated as nearly thirty grueling


minutes later, shed finally managed to drag the dragon
mans body into the lab. With her wolf strength, she
was stronger than any muscle-bound human male. But it had
still been some serious hard-going because, even in his reptile
Ken-mode, the dragon still weighed a metric ton.
Fensas arms were incredibly tired by the time she reached
the ice castles inner lab; she settled for getting him as close as
she could to the red metal examination table. And she didnt
bother attempting to heave him up onto it.
But thank the Fenrir Wolf, the labas shed hopedwas
smart. Almost as soon as she got him near the table, the blue
wall above what she assumed were medical tubing holes lit up
with glowing letters that resembled a cross between her papas
runes and Korean.
And. yes! Shed been right about the holes. After a bunch of
flashes from the blue wall, the medical examination table
retracted, and a handful of tubes descended. With a little squick
of discomfort, she watched them enter his body in several
places, including between the scales covering his lower torso,
and up his nose.
So yeah, this would be a good time to cut out. Shed done her
good deed. Got Mr. Dragon Man back to his lab, and hed most
likely be all fixed up in a jiffy. Better to be long gone when
he woke.
Fensa lingered, though, looking around the lab because she
still didnt understand All the tech in the lab was beyond
anything shed ever seen before, but the men whod attacked
him had been wielding spears. Again, with the damn spears!
What could it possibly mean? Her thoughts drifted back to an
earlier hypothesis, about this being some sort of post-
apocalyptic era. She thought of that old Einstein quote, I know
not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World
War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
Yeah, time to go, she decided after a few unsettled seconds of
peering at the high-tech room. Fensa grabbed a few of the shiny
rocks from the pile, but that was it, since she wasnt even sure
what counted as money in this time period. Time to get on the
road. Go find some answers. And hopefully whatever was left of
her civilization. Would Michigan be a better bet, walking from
what she hoped was Alaska? Or should she try to get back to
Arizona? Michigan was where shed grown up, but walking to
Arizona would be an easier, warmer walk. Assuming the entire
world wasnt covered in a radioactive winter or something
God, it was hot in here Seriously, why had he turned the
heat up so high? Even if she were still naked on the exam table,
this room would feel unbearably warm.
Fensa swayed a little and fought the urge to strip out of her
new clothes. No, no, she had to go. Get on the road.
She forced herself to walk out of the lab, and start putting as
much distance between her and the dragon as possible. The lab
door whispered closed as soon as she stepped both feet into the
outer room as if delivering a quick good-bye. However, she only
made it as far as the pile of polar bear furs before she fell to her
knees, her entire body weak. The clothes shed been so grateful
for less than an hour ago had gone from practical to suffocating.
She tore them from her body, desperate to have them off, all
the while cursing. Had she come down with some kind of
infection? Wolves were supposed to be immune to most human
ailments, but that had been in her time. Who knew what this
post-apocalyptic future held?
But then she peeled off her pantsand the scent hit her.
Hard. The pants must have had a built-in odor eliminator, or
else she would have known right away. As it was, by the time she
got her pants all the way off, the room had filled up with the
smell she was emitting. Pungent and dark, with a sharp, acrid
undertone. A scent so strong, even a human would have sensed
it if he or she were standing close enough. And depending on the
level of infrastructure, it could be scented by a wolf up to ten
miles away.
With a grim plunk, the memory of the bio-chip going over all
her missed events after the funeral came back to her. Youve missed
Appointment with Dr. DonegalScheduled visit with Koko Lonewolf Monthly check-up with Sanpha

Sanpha Bhediya, the med student who came to the facility


Bhediya.

each month to administer mandatory heat control shots to all


the she-wolves. Those who hadnt received their monthly heat
shots werent allowed to remain at the facility. For obvious
reasons.
But Fensa had an excellent reason for missing her shot. Shed
been in Michigan, attending her dear papas funeral.
But that excuse didnt help her out much now. Shed missed
her heat control shot.
The Ancient Norse dirge that had played at Papas funeral on
Lake Superior began to fill her head. Instruments made of sheep
and cow bones blaring over the realization: Im in heat oh
God Im in heat!
9

X enon woke to the sound of the room quietly


alerting him.
Patient Female 7-133 requesting access. Patient
Female 7-133 requesting access, it informed him as the tubes
pulled out of his body.
He sat up, disoriented but otherwise in good health. Thanks
to the tubes. But why was he on the tubes in the first place?
The answer came back in a flash of memory. The fight with
the anthros outside his glacier station. The unexpected spear to
the eyeone of the few places his kind was vulnerable to
something as rudimentary as a spear.
He had managed to take the attackers out with a roar of fire,
before clubbing the remaining anthro into the station wall with
his tail. But his victorious feeling had been short-lived. Hed
soon come to the realization that the spear was much too small
to pull out with his claws. Yet he couldnt shift without
grievously wounding himself. A spear through the eye was bad
enough, but if he changed back into his anthro shell, the spear
would lodge inside his brain. A fatal injury to be sure.
So hed been forced to remain outside. Waiting patiently for a
death he knew he could not avoid. Until she arrived. The female
anomaly. Dressed in the clothes hed left for her before
departing for the Zone 6 lab, with the intention of untubing and
dressing her upon his return.
Xenon had little hope of her helping him. But she had, and
now he was healed. Well, partially. He bent his head, scanning
his full medical report on the wall above the tubing holes. While
the lab had done its best with the medical tubing, hed need to
visit a reconstructor as soon as he returned to Drakkon.
Translation: hed have a hideous scar running vertically down
one eye for the rest of his solar rotations on this ice-and-water
planet. He could live with that. Also, one less thing for his
brother to be jealous of. He could only imagine how his brothers
flame might yellow with glee when Xenon returned marred in
such a manner. Not nearly as handsome as when he left.
Patient Female 7-133 requesting access, the room gently
reminded him, nudging him from his thoughts.
Oh yes, the female anomaly was at his lab door. Most likely
with more questions he wouldnt be able to understand because
her strange tongue could be found in none of the dictionaries
supplied by the Mission Linguist from the Royal
Geneticists tour.
Xenon had been alone for so long, hed forgotten about the
labs safety locks. He had coded them himself to prevent curious
natives from gaining access. As a result, his lab was fully secure
when he was inside.
Showing labs to conscious outsiders was strictly against
protocol. But in this case, hed allow it. For one, the female had
already seen the lab. Woken up in it, and found her way out to
help him. Also, he would need to put her to sleep again for the
return trip to the Group 6 lab.
Perfectly logical reasoning, yet his flame turned a shameful
red in his chest. True, she meant nothing to him beyond the
research possibilities. And though shed technically saved his
life, anomaly or not, she still hailed from a species only a
fraction more advanced than the pack animals theyd been
spliced with.
No, he decided as he pulled a new pair of leather leggings and
hide shirt out of the replicator. He had been effectively exiled to
this planet; his life put on hiatus with no chance of a DNA match
or advancement in his chosen career path.
He wanted nothing untoward on his record when he returned
to Drakkon. Therefore, he would do his job as promised, and
dismiss the odd burn of shame as nothing more than a recovery
symptom. His mental functions were most likely still fragile at
best, after being trapped in the snow for nearly an entire day
cycle with a piece of wood and bone lodged in his eye.
If anything, this proved what worthy game these hominids
would make for royal hunting trips. They were small but clever.
And as he palmed the labs door, he pondered how hed almost
been mortally wounded by one of them.
Pondered the question so deeply, he was knocked off balance
when the female anomaly flew at him.
She was naked again but seemed surprisingly oblivious to her
nude state despite her obvious discomfort with it the day before.
Her heavy breasts swung as she put him beneath her, her thick
thighs straddling his body. And by the mothers, she was aflame
with fever!
Her skin burned almost as hot as a drakkons, and he could
feel the heat coming off her as she undulated her naked sex over
the groin area of his shell. What was this about, he wondered,
looking up at her with curiosity.
Xenon might have simply tossed her off if not for one thing:
he had that heavy feeling again. For the second time in his 2000
years, his male works threatened to descend without consent.
He could feel her hands on his leg coverings. Tugging at them,
trying to make them give way. But he wore smart clothes. And
they could only be removed by command. Tears of frustration
started spilling from the females eyes as she rubbed herself
against his swollen male works.
This could not continue. Xenon reversed their positions,
placing her under him on the labs heated blue floor. The tubes
were right there. He should strap her to the table, and run
another diagnostic. That was protocol. But
His tongue extended with a mind of its own, seeking the
answers he wanted without asking his brain for permission. The
female screamed, her hips bucking upwards as soon as he
entered her canal. Yet her thighs fell open shortly after as if
inviting him to probe deeper.
Xenon needed no such invitation. He explored without
reservation or restraint, smelling her hormones, demanding
answers. Soon her body began to tremble in the same manner it
had during that first examination. But this time, instead of
screaming out, trickles of water streamed from her eyes as she
babbled, notanuff notanuff in her strange language.
He could not comprehend her words. However, he no longer
needed a translator to know why she acted in such a manner. She
was in a mating heat.
By the mothers
The mating heat had proven to be one of the more curious
things about the hybrids created by the Royal Geneticist. The
addition of this bio-engineered estrous cycle seemed to add an
extra layer of vehemence to the hominids already considerable
obsession with replicating themselves.
According to the Royal Geneticists hybrid design notes, when
the female of the species went into a mating heat, she released a
pheromone that sent her and any male who made attempt to
seed her, into a mating frenzy that would not end until the
female was either impregnated or dead.
At first, the Royal Geneticist had been quite pleased with this
feature of his creation. Infertile she-wolves would die if they
didnt breed, keeping the population of she-wolves (who were
only needed for breeding, not hunting) down. Also, because all
non-related male wolves were affected by the scent, despite the
small number of wolves in his seven experimental groups, it
guaranteed species biodiversity.
Or as the Royal Geneticist had explained to the non-scholarly
Drakkon court: because most male wolves in a pack would be
taking turns with any she-wolf in heat, the group would avoid
some of the genetic problems that had plagued the
anthrohominids.
However, a few times the frenzy had been so ferocious,
perfectly healthy she-wolves had died during the mating process
due to the overly vigorous attentions of too many fervent males.
Not to mention, as the Royal Geneticist himself admitted, it had
been a mistake to assume only males would be useful for
hunting. As it turned out, the females of the species were often
equally, if not superior to, the males when it came to overall
tracking skills and fearlessness.
Xenon retracted his tongue, his flame taking on a heavy, dark
color.
He could not deliver her to his uncle in this state.
She was large of body. Sturdy. She might very well survive
being mated by the Group 7 wolves. And since shed come here
through the Zone 7 match portal, there was a high probability
her fated mate was among the Group 7 males.
Yes, he must give her to them.
Xenon knew his reasoning to be sound. He scooped her up,
knowing what he should do. Knowing he should take her to the
village below the Zone 7 fating portal.
Yet
The female sobbed into his chest, her words coming out so
fast, he doubted he could have understood her even if he knew
her tongue. She needed relief. She needed the village wolves.
And yet
His male works refused to stop straining, pressing heavily
against his soft under scales. Pulsing, as if his three-chambered
heart were located there rather than his chest.
Xenon could now see the arousal fluids secreting from the slit
between the females legs. And though he already had all the
data he needed, his tongue banged into the back of his teeth with
the overwhelming desire to smell her again.
He walked faster, suddenly afraid of what he might do if he
kept her here for another moment. But then he stopped short.
Entering the glacier stations outer room were five of the
Group 7 lupins: Male 7-39, Male 7-43, Male 7-46, Male 7-49, and
Male 7-32the leader of the Group 7 Far Travelers. The one the
tribe had labeled King of Us, in accordance with the Drakkon title
system that the Royal Geneticist had imprinted upon their
genes.
Male 7-32 usually spoke for the group, eyes cast downward so
as not to offend the drakkon god. And he and the rest of the tribe
never ever entered Xenons abode without permission, which he
had yet to give.
But here they stood. All five sets of eyes fixed upon the
female in his arms, as Male 7-32 said, She need mate. Give
her us!
Pause, Xenon answered, controlling his glottis to speak
their language without hissing. I no want her hurt. You give
promise.
No promise, Male 7-32 growled. She is us. She have heat.
Give her us!
Give her us! Give her us! the others grunted, chanting and
signing the words in unison.
Much like the primates all hominids (only barely)
evolved from.
Xenon was suddenly distracted as the female anomalys arms
wrapped more securely around his neck. More babbling and hot
tears as she clung to him.
U, she said, over and over again. onlee-u
Despite the language barrier, he found he needed no
translation. She was scared. She did not want to go with these
wolves. She wanted him to mate her. Him. And only him.
The suggestion should have been anathema to him. But his
male works throbbed at the idea of it. Even though she was little
more than a slightly evolved animal, and their mating had no
chance of producing offspring.
Give her us. We baby put! Male 7-32 yelled out as if
somehow reading Xenons thoughts, despite his limited
intelligence.
This was deranged.
Xenon unlocked the female anomalys arms from around his
neck. Set her down on her feetonly to catch her hands again
when she immediately tried to wrap them back around him. No,
he would not, could not give into this unnatural temptation.
He must hand her over to the wolves. He must.
Even if she didnt survive the mating, he might still be able to
take her body to his uncle for study afterward. And if she did, the
Lead Investigator would be over the moons. Not only would he
have the anomaly, but also a fetus to study. He might even keep
her alive longer.
It was a perfectly reasonable decision. Logical. Scientific. The
very best example of logical thinking during a moment of
heightened emotion. A quality his race valued in their royals.
And yet
That was the last rational thought he had before his drakkon
unshelled.
10

F ensa was beginning to wonder if and when shed ever


stop saying What. The. Fenrir. Wolf???
But in this case, it was, like, super warranted. One
moment, she was begging the dragon shifter not to give her over
to the pack of post-apocalyptic wolves who looked about ready
to play out some Mad Max fanfiction on her virgin body. Begging
him to mate with her instead.
Not her best moment, considering 1) he was a dragon, and 2)
he seemed to have no problem handing her over to not one, but
five wolves. Like something out of the most messed up porn
scenario ever.
But she begged him nonetheless, unable to stop. Because she
was in heat, in complete thrall to a wolf whod been held back for
over five years. And her wolf, for reasons Fensa couldnt begin to
comprehend, wanted this dragon.
Only him, only him! it chanted inside her soul.
So Fensa begged. Humiliated herself, even though she could
see he had no plans to grant her request. When he set her down,
pretty much pushing her off him, she knew it was over.
But then
With a noise that sounded like a rusty Transformer declaring
a street fight, he morphed right before her eyes. Fensa couldnt
figure out those magic pants of his, but in the next moment,
they became three times their size. Perfect fabric expanding as
the seven-foot giant whod just been refusing to fuck her snaked
out of his skin and shifted into a twenty-foot tall dragon.
Oh, so thats why he lived in a glacier with 100-foot high
ceilings, Fensa thought, ogling up at him. It made total sense
now, as did the overlarge sleeping palette of fake polar bear furs
in the lab.
But then the dragon let out another ear-curdling roar. Okay,
the time for putting two and twos together was way over. And as
for her heat thrallwell, that was put on instahold by the
primordial need to fucking run like hell when Godzilla suddenly
shows up in your city.
Her bare feet slipping on the slick blue floors, Fensa managed
to dash back into the lab where she proceeded to slam her palm
onto the blue wall next to the open door until it slid back shut.
The last thing she saw before it closed was the dragon
dropping to all fours in front of the Mad Max shifters. She didnt
need to see what happened next. Because the stench of
methane, and the screams that followed were all she needed to
know how things played out.
Fensa didnt know what was scarier: the one-sided fights
burning smell-o-vision, punctuated by infuriated roars, or the
dead silence that came almost immediately after.
Several whispered curse words spilled out of her mouth as she
ran over to the wall of iPaddles. Not only was she nakedagain.
But none of the devices hanging on the wall looked like they
could provide any sort of protection, or serve her well in a fight
that didnt involve a small white ball. How would she protect
herself? How could she get free?
The lab door slid open on a whisper. But it might as well have
been thrown open with a bang. Fensa jumped like a monster had
crashed into the room, when the now-naked dragon shifter
walked into the lab, his eyes glowing a bright red.
She had no weapons. Neither did he.
She was naked. So was he.
Two shifters. In their human shells.
Except their shells had a few distinct differences.
While her eyes glowed brown, his glowed red.
While her torso sported full hips and a rounded stomach
covered in soft brown skin, his torso tapered into a hard V with
pale white scales where another mans pelvis and abs would be.
And as it turned out, his scales werent even the wildest thing
to set their bodies apart in that moment. Not by a long shot.
There was one other very, very important distinction. Or
rather, two.
Dragon Mans Ken doll effect had completely vanished.
Instead, two penises now hung from his groin. Two very large
penises.
11

O kay, time to go in on a fourth What. The.


Fenrir. Wolf????
You know what, make that three more.
WhattheFenrirWolf!
WhattheFUCKINGFenrirWolf!
WhattheFenrirWolf!

Fensas wolfthe one who had been so insistent on fucking


this dude just a few minutes agotook a giant mental step back.
Seeming to say, in a distinct Detroit accent: You know what,
brah? Im tight. I do not need to have nothing to do with none
of that.
As for Fensas human, she choked a few times before finally
opening her mouth to say
Nothing. And that was because, before she could even make a
sound, Dragon Man and his two penises were across the room.
With the lightning speed of a predator, he grabbed her around
the waist, his hands like vice grips as he spun her, and pushed
her into the nearest glowing blue wall.
Before Fensa could so much as gasp, her huge breasts
smashed into what turned out to be a frigid wall, her body
crushed between it and the burning weight of the male behind
her. However, the sting of the icy wall was soon outdone by the
bite of sharp teeth.
Wolf shifters had canines, but apparently, dragon shifters had
a full set of razors in their mouths. Not just two, but all Dragon
Mans teeth sliced into her neck with vicious ease, locking down
right above her clavicle.
Fensa screamed, her human going primal in its instinct to
buck this beast off her back. But all attempts to move were soon
proven futile. The hold of his jaw was unbelievably firm, as sure
as a steel vice. And any movement she made only served to sink
his teeth in deeper.
Fuck, another domination position. While her human was
screaming bloody murder, her wolf went into a complete heat
frenzy. Releasing a wave of heat so strong, Fensa could feel
liquid arousal oozing out of her sex, and down the insides of her
bare thighs.
She didnt understand what was happening. How her wolf
could so want something her human could barely comprehend,
let alone stand.
Fensa could feel her wolf pushing forward, trying to force a
takeover. Wolf mode, her Aunt Tu had called it, the time her deaf
mate, Grady, had been taken over by his at leadership camp.
Triggered by a bullys threat against their son.
But Fensa had been raised by her papa to coexist with her wolf
peacefully. Taught to keep her human in the drivers seat, even
during full moon shifts. She wouldnt simply roll over and cede
control. Going for that option felt like the equivalent of saying,
Yeah, sure, Ill go insane. Why not? Feel free to take over not
just my body, but my mind, too.
But no matter how she felt about it, the release of heat
drained Fensa. She didnt have the strength to fight off the
dragon anymore. Her body went soft and pliant beneath his,
even as tears streamed down her face at the thought of being
taken like this.
She waited, eyes squeezed shutonly to open them again
when the pressure on her neck suddenly eased up. No, not just
eased up.
She wondered what was happening as the dragon unhinged
his jaw and took a step back, giving her space to turn around.
Which she did
Only to be surprised by the sudden protraction of Dragon
Mans forked tongue. It swiped across the wound on her
shoulder, right where hed bitten her.
The bite healed, just as her head wound had. Fensa touched
the side of her neck and found it cauterized, if somewhat numb.
Her brown eyes flew up to his red unblinking ones in question.
But Dragon Man only hissed. No, wait, he wasnt hissing. She
watched closely as he began signing the way those other shifters
had, to indicate the wall of tubing. He was trying to tell her
something.
Something she somehow understood. The wall. It contained
drugs. Drugs that would put her out of her misery. Permanently,
if she so wished.
Oh God, Fensa thought as realization set in. He understood
her situation even better than she did. When she-wolves went
into heat, they didnt just want to mate; they needed to mate.
Getting pregnant became their primary imperative, with all
other biological functionslike hunger, thirst, and pride
taking a big back seat.
The consequences of a she-wolf not mating were dire, verging
on fatal. The list of what could go wrong began with complete
mental breakdown and ended with total heart failure. Before the
heat control shot was created, she-wolves in heat had two
choices: get fucked, or die from not getting fucked. Sometimes a
she-wolf could be sedated if doctors reached her soon enough,
but Fensa was so deep into her heat, she was already leaking
arousal down her leg. There was no going back from this one.
She cursed inwardly, then looked from the tubing to the
dragon shifter in front of her. The one whod killed every
available shifter male she could have mated with.
There was nothing else for it. If she wanted to live, she had to
let him mate her. No matter how extreme their biological
differences. But did she want to live that much?
Fensa thought of Knud hanging from the belt in his room.
Thought of her father, walking drunk into oncoming traffic after
his fated mate left him. Not a suicide, but
What side did she fall on?
As if in response, her body released yet another wave of
pulsing heat scent.
The dragons tongue flicked out, seeming to catch the scent
the way her nose did. His entire body shuddered, his matched
penis set swellinghow was this even possiblelarger. Then he
turned his red glowing stare back to Fensa in a very silent, but
very intense question.
And thats how after spending years at the facility, Fensa
Greenwolf came to find out in the most unbelievable way
possible that she did want to live. Consequences be damned.
Breath hitching, she turned and faced the wall. Trembling,
but determined to endure. Head down like a sacrifice. A
surrender. One she hoped the dragon could understand
He was at her back again, hot breath on her neck. She could
feel, but not see, his jaw unhinge. Dont cry, dont cry, she
begged her human as the points of his teeth grazed her neck.
But this time the biting action didnt happen quite so fast.
Instead of chomping down viciously, his teeth sank into her soft
flesh in an almost sensual claiming. Then a foot pressed into the
front of her thigh. Large andoh, Godwebbed.
Fensa breathed hard, short breaths, trying to keep her human
from completely freaking the fuck out. However, neither her
human nor her wolf fully realized what was happening. Not until
one large leg bent at her hip and pressed down. The action
effectively holding her in place with his webbed foot on her right
side, while his teeth kept her trapped on her left side.
He was mounting her.
Mounting her like an animal.
An animal that wasnt a wolf. Or a human.
There was no way she could stop herself from freaking out at
this point. But she couldnt move. He had her pinned so tightly
to the ice wall, Fensa could only whimper as his hips dipped
behind her, then came up in a sharp strike.
Her eyes went wide with the shock. Shed expected many
things to happen. But none of them did. Only one penis was
inside her. Not two. And it wasnt hard and cold like a dildo, but
warm, verging on hot. Radiating inside her, like a cozy fire.
Shed heard and read so many stories about the pain of
hymen loss, but there was no pain. Just an overwhelming surge
of relief, as if shed been searching for something all her life and
had finally found it. At that moment, the only thing she knew
was hunger. A craven wolfs hunger to keep this flesh inside
her. To
Somewhere in the distance, someone made a pained sound.
But it wasnt her.
She was the one stretched beyond belief around one of his
two penises, but his sharp groan made it sound like he was the
one being pushed past all his limits. Dragon Man once again
unhinged his jaw, and the next thing she felt was his forehead on
the back of her neck. His breath hit the skin between her
shoulder blades in short, panicked bursts of steam. As if he was
trying to get ahold of himself. As if he was as afraid of her as she
was of him.
Its okay, she found herself saying, in a weird reversal of
positions. Just start moving. You can do it.
Suddenly she could move. With a strength she hadnt
possessed before, she made a few experimental circles, hoping
maybe hed
But in the end, she didnt have to hope for shit. With his
forehead at her neck and his foot in her thigh, his hips started
rolling beneath hers. Fucking her impossibly slowly, as
something lodged into the top of her wet slit. A finger?
No, not a finger, she realized when the end of it pressed
directly into her clit.
Definitely not a finger. It was the other penis. Stimulating her
pussy while the first penis stroked into her. So unnatural. So
wrong. So
The orgasm shut down her mind without warning. Like a
vintage computer suddenly switched off after a full system
crash. Fensa lost all sense of time, her mind wiped of anything
but pure pleasure for eons on end.
And when she finally rebooted, it was to the sound of the
dragons big body slapping frantically into hers. Moving faster as
he made a new sound in the back of his throat, somewhere
between an animals chuff, and a human sob.
And thena near boiling ocean of seed flooded her insides.
Crash. Restart. Crash. Restart. It was a struggle to stay
conscious because she couldnt stop coming, couldnt stop
quaking around his dragon cock as he spilled wave after wave of
his seed into her.
Fensa desperately milked him, even though she knew,
scientifically speaking, it was an impossible request. Her she-
wolf was dumbly trying to get him to knot inside her, but her
human knew dragons most likely didnt work like that.
Then
A voice inside her head: It has worked. In truth, I did not
believe it could. This seeding is the one outcome I did not
expect.
Me neither, Fensa answered, pushing the words into
his mind.
Pause. Did youdid you just speak in my mind?
Yes, when wolves mate, thats what we
Her explanation cut off when something weird happened
where they were joined. It felt to Fensa like the hood of the
dragons cock suddenly exploded inside herwith dozens of soft
spikessoft spikes that rubbed against every inch of her vaginal
walls. Rubbing, stimulating
And, okay, that was it for Fensa. Buh-bye, dignity.
She screamed as another orgasm racked her body. And this
time, there was no crash and reboot.
Just crash.
12

T he female anomaly never answered his question. Most


likely because she had lost consciousness. Her almost-
drakki body little more than limp dark flesh inside his
arms, despite her healed concussion. But even in this
unconscious state, she continued to milk the penis hed used to
seed her. Curious
However, his other penis was not quite as interested in the
females still clenching sex. It remained swollen in a painful way
that he now realized must signal arousal. He could feel it at the
front of her. Writhing, but unable to reach the other available
hole because his first penis was embedded at an angle in the
females vertical slit.
MY fated mate, the non-seeding penis seemed to shriek on a
drakkons caw, wanting little more than to also sow its long pent
up seed inside this female.
But how could this be? She was of an entirely different
species. A far inferior species, at that, with barely enough IQ to
hunt dumb beasts with rudimentary handmade weapons. Yet,
here he was
Xenon knew not which was worse. That hed just rutted an
animal. Or that he wanted to do it again. With an intensity so
fierce, he knew, protocol or none, hed seed her once more as
soon as she passed another round of heat. Because one thing was
certain: lupin or not, hed wanted her. To the point that she was
now his mate. And when she next released her pheromones,
hed take her again.

F ensa thought of nothing. Dreamt of nothing. Then woke


alone on the red metal examination table. This time, she
was covered in a heavy blanket, but there soon came the
tug of tubes withdrawing. Pretty much erasing any comfort she
might have taken from waking beneath a warm and cozy fake
polar bear fur.
When she sat up, lights came on, revealing the dragon. He
was seated naked atop the pile of polar bear blankets, but at the
edge farthest from the examination table. As far from her as he
could get without leaving the room. And Fensa couldnt help but
notice, hed gone back into reptile Ken doll mode.
His gaze was trained on her, and nothing but her. Giving the
impression hed done nothing but sit there and stare at her all
night. Or was it all day?
What time is it, anyway? she asked, pushing the thought
into his head without even thinking about it. Growing up with
parents who spoke two different languages, shed seen them use
their mental mate bond frequently before the divorce. It didnt
even occur to her not to use the one she shared with the dragon
as soon as she had access to it.
But the dragon appeared to recoil as if hed been invaded. In a
way, she supposed he had.
Sorry for intruding, she said into his head. I didnt mean
to upset you.
I am not upset, a dark, resonant voice replied in return.
But how is it possible I can hear your words in this fashion?
Um, well its like an ESP thing wolves can do once theyve
formed a mate bondkind of like talking mind to mind without
speaking words aloud.
Drakkon have a similar link with their mates, as well, the
resonant voice replied. However, I understood your language
not before you spoke into my mind. How is it you have come to
speak my language now? Or understand me as you did not appear
to understand the Far Travelers?
Oh, this happened to my parentsand my grandparents, for
that matter, she said, finally understanding his real question.
I guess the mate bondit doesnt just let you speak mind to
mind, it also acts as a translator, too. It doesnt work like that
where you come from?
No, the deep voice answered, heavy with disquiet. There is
no need for this as we all speak the same tongue.
An awkward pause. Then Fensa felt compelled to ask, So, ah,
where exactly do you come from?
That is classified, he answered, so quickly, his response
seemed to slap her like a sudden gust of icy wind in the
otherwise warm room.
Is everything about you classified? she asked carefully.
Because I have so many questions.
He tipped his head in that way of his, the one that put her in
mind of a king cobra. You havequestions.
Yes, questions. Of course, I have questions! Who wouldnt in
a situation like this?
Another snakelike shift of his large head. This is another
surprise. I was not expecting questions. Most of your kind, as our
sociology team has observed, draw their own conclusions
without asking for more information.
She grimaced, thinking of some of the less introspective
wolves in her Detroit pack. Having been little more than an
incredibly rich, but incredibly unsophisticated motorcycle gang
since the latter half of the previous century, they tended not to
ask a lot of questions. A few even wore Shoot First patches on
their leather jackets.
You are not like the other lupinhominids in Far Travelers
Group 7.
You mean the Post-Apocalyptic Bunch outside? No, not at
all. Are youdid you guys do this to us?
I do not understand your question.
What happened to those shifters? Like, Ive heard of some
pretty primitive Inuit tribes up in Alaska. But those guys
stripped me naked. And handed me over to you. Like a
sacrifice. Why?
It is because they believe me a god and wished to curry
favor, the dragon shifter answered. You do not believe me to
be a god, Female 7-133?
Fensa blinked, too stunned by the question to answer right
away. Of course, her answer was no, but then their mating came
back to her. So intense. Unlike anything shed ever heard
described.
Are you a god? she asked the dragon carefully.
A beat passed as if he were running the question through a
protocol filter. Then he answered, No.
So. Many. Questions.
She opened her mouth to ask another but was rudely
interrupted by the scent of her arousal filling the air.
You are in a state of arousal again, he said.
Then his eyes lifted to the wall above her head in a way that
made her curious. And when she followed his gaze, she gasped at
what she saw there.
That strange glowing runic Korean script from before was
scrolling across the blue wall above the tubing holes.
What is that? she asked, trying to ignore her
incoming heat.
Your medical statistics, he replied, in a tone that made it
seem as if the answer to her question was obvious. How else
could I have known you had once again entered a state of mating
fever?
So you cant smell it? My heat?
Another crook of his head, then the voice inside her mind
replied, I keep forgetting your species carry scent receptors
inside your nostrils. Ours does not.
Then how do you smell?
As if in answer, his fork tongue flicked out. All our olfactory
receptors are located on our tongues.
Oh. Then a bigger, OH!!! hit Fensa when she realized, That
first day. When you licked me down there? That was why Her
eyes dropped to the blue floor in embarrassment. You were
trying to, what? Smell me? Is that the way you conduct
examinationswhere youre from?
Yesbut it is a very rudimentary method. One we only apply
if we dont have the correct tool at our dispos
His words suddenly cut out inside her head. And Fensa
finished for him, Disposal. But why wouldnt you just get
a tool?
No answer came.
And when she looked up, she found the dragon crumpled over
in pain.
13

T he world went black. His biological shells response to


his bodys distress. A call to pass out or stop struggling
against the basic instinct to descend his male works.
It was the hardest fight hed ever waged inside himself. Much
worse than the urge to evacuate his bladder, which had
overtaken him once or twice while his father delivered long
speeches at court.
However, that pain had been minor in comparison to this.
Almost unbearable for the hours shed slept. As it turned out,
continuing their conversation upon discovering she was once
again in heat soon proved too much.
He doubled over in pain.
Dragon! Whats wrong! he heard in the darkness.
Footsteps approached. Then came the feel of her hand on his
skin. No, dont speak to me. Dont touch me
But it was too late. In the next moment, his male works
descended, mutinous and insistent.
The females soothing hand instantly retracted. But after
that, the pain of holding himself inside his scales began to ebb.
His muscles unseized, and the ability to open his eyes was soon
restored. Yet, the physical pain was replaced with another kind
when he saw the color of Female 7-133s flame. Dark red with an
orange strip upon her heart and throat. Horror.
He horrified her. And as they both watched his second penis
twitch and writhe, while the first penis once again swelled with
the demand to seed, he felt his flame blacken with deep shame.
He thought she might scream and run. The fight or flight
instinct within this species was near on par with an animals.
Just one of the many reasons the Royal Overlord continued to
refer to them as upright primates in his State of the Mission
team reports.
But then she asked, You were holding that up inside you the
whole time we were talking?! The words appeared inside his
head, saturated in what sounded like shock and distress.
I did not wish to scare you with my need. Or hurt you while
you slept. For this reason, I forcibly rescinded my male works.
Okay she answered after a very long silence. Butthat
looks super painful. Why didnt you just rub one out?
Rub one out?
You know, masturbate.
I have no idea of what you speak.
Umokayheres a trick my papa used with Mom when his
English was too taxed.
He understood little of that statement. Before he could ask,
however, a sudden image invaded his mind. So powerful, it felt
like watching one of the videos the other team members often
sent along with their reports. But this particular video featured
him. On the polar bear rugs andhis flame flickered with
confusion as he watched himself move both hands up and down
both rods of his male works.
Ahwhy would I do something of this nature? he asked.
A strange orange rippled over Female 7-133s dark yellow
flame. Because from what I hear, it feels really good.
I do not understand.
Oh, for goodnessIm sorry, I cant watch it squirm around
like that anymore.
He started to ask for clarification. But his words were cut
short when she reached out and wrapped a hand around the
writhing hemipenis. And then his three-chambered heart
stopped beating altogether when she began to stroke it up and
down. Just as shed suggested he should do with the image shed
pushed into his mind.
But that image had been perplexing, while her hand upon his
male works was
Unbelievable. Unlike anything hed ever experienced before.
Such pleasurable sensations. Despite not having entered her
mating slit, he soon felt a pressure inside his second seed sac.
And then another biological function gave out.
His heart had stopped pumping, and it would seem his lungs
had stopped processing air. He could no longer breathe. Yet, he
didnt care.
In those next few moments, all he knew was her hand. All he
could see was the way it slid up and down his formerly writhing
length, her thumb occasionally swiping the viscous liquid that
had gathered at its tip, and using it as some manner of
lubrication.
Soon it became too much, and he found his eyes not closing,
but rolling back inside his shells sockets, as his second penis
erupted, shooting seed across the polar bear fur.
The relief that came as he spurted was once again,
indescribable.
Yet
It wasnt enough. Even as he was coming, the other penis
began to writhe. Demanding a turn.
Oh God, the female anomaly breathed, her voice little more
than a ragged whisper inside his head. Mistakemistake! That
was a huge mistake!
Dont run, he pleaded. Not just because he was desperate to
be inside her, but because he truly had no idea how hed keep
himself shelled if she did. A horrific image of him running her
down like prey invaded his head.
But she answered, Not running. Cant run. Please, I know
you were some kind of weird virgin, and I was trying to take it
slow. But Im sorry, my heat wont let mecan I mount you?
What is mount?
Before he could finish the question, she was swinging a leg
over him. And then
Sweet mothers. His head fell back because this sensation was
even more glorious than the last. The feel of her closed around
his first penis, her female sex already milking as her hips rode
him hard.
But this was unheard of. Females could not mate males. Hed
not even seen this on the hominid vids. Yet, here did it happen,
above and around him.
Im sorry, she cried out in his head, even as she brought his
hands up to her large breasts. Seeing you release seed outside
of me. I should have known my wolf wouldnt stand for it. Shes
going crazy. Oh, God, oh, God
Xenon watched in fascination as she bounced up and down on
his male works. Too hard. Because neither he nor she was
prepared for what happened next.

O h, God. What was she doing? Mounting a male, who


apparently had never even heard of masturbation, like
he was her sex toy. But her wolf moved her hips up and
down on his large shaft in a sexual frenzy, screaming at Fensa for
giving him a hand job and wasting semen that should have been
inside her. She could not reason with it. Could not stop fucking
the dragon.
Im sorry she pushed into his head again, fearing her
previous explanation just wasnt enough to clarify why shed
mounted him like this without permission, and with very little
warning.
Mine, mine, mine, should have been mine, her wolf screamed
full-on Gollum style inside of her. Give me his seed! Give me
a baby!
And Fensa sobbed. Because she was so out of control. Because
her heat was splashing out of her as she rode the dragon.
Because she didnt even know if she could breed with a dragon.
For all she knew, this was how shed die. Here lies, Fensa, the
post-apocalyptic grave marker would read. Fucked to death by
her wolf.
But then all guilt and worried thoughts cut off when she felt
it. Something thick at her ass. What theshe started to wonder,
right before she got her answer, precise and hard.
She stopped apologizing on a choked gasp as the second penis
plunged into her, pushing her forward as it embedded itself in
her ass.
And then came his teeth. Once again, far down on the right
side of her neck as if he had some instinct about not risking a
direct hit of her jugular.
Fensa screamed. Not because of the invasion from behind, or
the pain of his teeth slicing into her neck. But because of the
instant orgasm.
It ripped through her without warning or grace. Announcing
itself with an explosion, and leaving her little more than
trembling jelly. Weak and no longer able to move. Even as her
wolf continued to milk the first penis. Still demanding,
more, more
And oh, God, as if hearing her wolf, the dragon began to move
underneath, his hands holding her by the thighs. Keeping her
spread open as he carefully rotated his hips on an upward stroke,
both dicks working her in tandem in two different holes.
But apparently, he couldnt get off in this position. With a
huge heft of his large body, he flipped her onto her back. His
powerful hips rolling into her, pinning her to the polar bear furs
as he continued to drive both cocks into both holes.
Fensa could only lay there as he fucked her. Only to re-
animate with a ragged gasp when he suddenly seeded her with a
coarse roar.
That was when Fensa the ragdoll came again with a violent
thrash. So. Much. Cum.
It flooded her insides. And then splashed out between them.
Making her so sticky and wet, she wasnt sure both his penises
wouldnt slip out of her in the deluge.
But as if sensing the possibility, the two dicks spiked inside
her. Andoh fuck! The pleasure. It bordered on pain to have her
G-spot activate just as she was coming down from the second
orgasm. Yet her wolf continued to milk that first penis, sending
new orgasms trembling through her as the spikes rubbed up and
down her vaginal walls.
She was lost. Couldnt stop the milking, even as it sapped
every ounce of energy she had. And, cue her second trip to Pass
Out City
14

W ake, female. It is time to wake now.


Fensa blinked her eyes open only to find
herself in yet another dream. Standing over
her was an incredibly handsome man. Neat dark hair with a jaw
so strong, it couldnt be obscured by the dark beard that clung to
it. He had almond-shaped eyes that put her in mind of the Inuit
people in her cousins Alaska kingdom. But he stopped short of
being pretty, thanks to a painful looking scar that ran in a jagged
line down his right eye. Wow
Her sex dreams had become a lot moreahem, explicit as she
got older without any prospect of a mate to be seen. But this was
the most specific composite shed ever come up with, and way
more piratey. Not bad. Not bad at all for a 23-year old virgin.
And if this was a dream, that meant she was free to do what
she did in all her sex dreams. She reached out and tugged the
sexy dream man down for a hot kiss, going in tongue first.
To her surprise, though, the man didnt kiss her back or
unlock his teeth to receive her tongue.
Just stood there, bent over her body, stiff inside her arms.
Wait a minute
She pulled back, confused.
Only to find the man staring back at her with similar
confusion. Except, unlike her, he only had one eye to look
confused with. And it was glowing red.
Just like that, it all came flooding back. Going through the
time gate. Ending up in some kind of weird, post-apocalyptic
future. With a dragon man.
And, oh, godoh, god. Shed mated him. Twice. Even though
they were of two different species. And even though his species
was her papas worst enemy.
She looked around her. Apparently, she was back on her old
friend, the exam table. However, when she woke this time, she
hadnt experienced the tug of tubes removing themselves.
As if reading her mind, a voice suddenly explained, You have
been unconscious for nearly three rotations. I decided to take a
chance and remove the tubes, in the hopes the lack of food, and
bladder evacuation, would wake you. I would have used drugs,
but I did not wish to harm the fetus.
Okay, what? Fensa immediately shot into a sitting position
on the table. Did you say fetus? Does that mean Im pregnant?
Yes, the lab has confirmed early gestation.
She couldnt believe it. Im pregnant. Like, with your baby?
You didnt have me gang bred or something while I was asleep?
He regarded her for a long moment with that eerie, one-eyed
unblinking stare, before saying, Even with the translator, I
understand very little of what you say, Female 7-133. But yes, the
fetus has half my DNA. I was surprised to find you had gestated
as well. In truth, I was not sure such would be possible between
our species. Moreover, I considered terminating your life as a
mercy while you slept, knowing as I did what would happen if
you continue to go into mating fevers without a resulting
pregnancy. But then, in the course of making my decision about
whether to extinguish your flame, the wall alerted me you had
gestated.
Her brow furrowed because it sure sounded like Wait, are
you saying you were all set to kill me because you thought Id
keep fucking you until I died, and you didnt want me to go out
that way?
Again, Female 7-133, I understand little of
Okay, thank you for not killing me, I guess. And Im
pregnant, so I guess that means our two species can cross
breed.
Well, yes. It would seem this is a special case. I ran several
analyses while you slept, and it appears you put in a DNA request
code that led you not to one of the Far Traveler Wolves, as I first
assumed, but to me. This was a shocking discovery, to say the
least.
For both of us, she assured him. Im sorry, but my father
fought you guys during the Viking age. It never even occurred to
me Id get matched with a dragon.
Once again, the translator fails me. Of what fight and age do
you speak of?
Fensa started. But then realized, You probably werent
around for either of them. It happened a long time ago. How old
are you anyway?
Very young. Still in the building embers of my life.
Okay. Hoping to the Fenrir Wolf she hadnt just cougared a
sixteen-year-old, she asked, And, uh, exactly how old is that?
Two-thousand and twelve.
Whoa.
So then ? You said you cant tell me where you come from,
but can you at least tell me what happened? How we ended up in
this situation in the first placeI mean, humanity? Did you guys
come back and somehow decimate us into the Stone Age with
your superior technology?
I do not know the Stone Age to which you refer, but currently
your planets land masses are half-covered in ice sheets. It is an
epoch of cold. Several of your planets species have disappeared
during this period. But my species had nothing to do with their
extinction or your planets lack of civilization.
Oh, Fenrir Wolf, were in another ice age? But that doesnt
make any sense! I thought the planet was getting warmer.
I would need more data to verify that hypothesis, but many
of your planets native species have come and gone over the
course of this ice age as you call it. In fact, when our team
returned here, we found your species numbers much reduced
from our previous accounting, through no fault of our own.
Okay, okay Fensa dropped her head into her hands, trying
to process all this new information. So shed landed in a post-
apocalyptic period. And now the dragonsalienswhatever this
thing that impregnated her waswell, they were back. But why,
exactly? To take over the earth for good?
She raised her head to ask the dragon one of the many
questions now swarming around in her head. But his eyes were
on the wall above her. Your head is burning red and black, and
your cortisol levels have risen to undesirable levels. We will
speak of something else.
Something else?! How could I possibly want to speak of
something else when I have no fucking clue where or when I
am??? she demanded.
To her surprise, the dragon simply stepped back andbowed.
Which was not at all the response shed been expecting. Also, it
seemed weirdly formal, given what had gone down between
them the last two times she was awake for more than five
minutes.
Forgive me, Female 7-133, came his voice inside her head.
On my planet of origin, it is customary to refuse to speak of any
subject that might upset a pregnant female. And though you are
not of my species, you are in fact, pregnant. With my offspring.
So until you lay the youngling in three moons, I will not speak of
upsetting matters with you.
Fensas mind just about shorted out with competing
questions. Questions like, it was the custom in his culture for
males to refuse to talk to pregnant females about upsetting
topics? And he really thought he could pull the same shit
with her?
But in the end, one question won out. A clear winner in the
battle of Things Fensa Needed Clarified Right Fucking Now.
What do you mean, lay???
A long pause. And then his eyes flicked back up to the wall.
You have need to relieve your bladder. I will provide you escort
outside.
Oh, for Fenrirs sake! Will you turn that thing off? she
demanded.
He started, his eyes slicing back to her face. That name you
just employed? How did you come upon it?
Very confused, she attempted to answer the question she
thought he might be trying to ask her. Im sorry for getting so
angry. I just dont need you monitoring every aspect of
my body.
His expression didnt change. And of course, he didnt blink.
Yet, somehow the room felt ten times colder as he answered
inside her head, Then you fail to understand our circumstance,
Female 7-133. You are gestating my first child. Drakkon births
are very rare. Near impossible between our own kind in these
times. Yet, you of all would-be mates have managed to take
my seed.
He came in closer, his voice hissing inside her head, Ssssso
no, there issss no quesssstion of whether or not youll be
monitored. While the pregnanccccy is viable, your every need
will be met, your every heartbeat registered. There will be no
turning off thissss labhold, Female 7-133, where do you go?
What are you doing?
Fensa didnt bother to look back as she replied, I am Fensa-
motherfucking-Greenwolf, granddaughter of the Fenris,
Princess of the Viking wolves. And I am done with being told
what to do, by you or anyone else!
Then, with a swift palm of the door, she stormed out of
the room.
Female 7-133? Female 7-133?! Both his voice and body
followed her out of the labbedroomwhatever it was. Where
are you going?
To relieve my bladder! And then to find someplace to live
where I wont constantly be monitored or spoken to like Im a
child!
That makes no sense. Children cannot lay children.
This time she didnt answer, only hopped over the small
stream and bee-lined toward the glaciers exit. And her brain
formulated furious plans as she stormed out of the smart glacier.
At least she didnt need his eyes to light her way this time. It
must be a full moon because the tunnel was soaked in bright,
opalescent light. Too bad she was pregnant. If she hadnt gone
into heat as soon as her control shot wore off, she could have
shifted and spent the rest of her time in this icy wasteland as
a wolf.
Come back here, Female 7-133! It is not good or proper for
you to exert yourself in this manner. I would carry you rather
than risk your over-taxation.
Do. Not. Touch. Me, she answered with all the menace she
could muster, given that they both knew he could easily
overpower her with his superior strength.
But it must have been against custom to lay hands on a
pregnant female because she managed to get all the way to the
mouth of the tunnel without him forcing the issue.
However, her triumph was short-lived. As soon as she got
outside, she stopped cold. Because shed just stumbled across
her second two-where-there-should-be-one surprises of
the week.
Hanging low in the night sky were not one, but two moons.
15

I must not have to pee.


Strangely, that was Fensas first thought. Because if she
really did have to pee. If her bladder was anywhere near as
full as shed previously thought, she would have evacuated right
then and there.
Female 7-133
The voice came to her from a distance, though it was
technically inside her head.
No, no she said out loud, not caring that he couldnt
understand her spoken language. She didnt understand
couldnt understand what she was looking at.
Female 7-133. Come back inside, or at the very least, return I
may at least replicate a warmer coat for you. It is very cold
outdoors for one in your condition.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she recognized this as a
false invitation. She could just see him locking the lab door for
good once she went back through it, and forcing her to pee into a
replicated bucket for the rest of her pregnancy.
But she didnt bother to call him out on his bullshit invite.
Because she could only stare in horror and wonder at the two
moons. One a rusty red. The other, the gray one, familiar and
shining white like the one shed known all her life.
Female 7-133
Why are there two moons?
She felt rather than saw him come to stand beside her. His
bodys superheat filling up the air to her right as if someone had
placed a radiator next to her. I do not understand your
question, he answered inside her head.
Why are there two moons?
A terrible thought occurred to her then. Did you guys bring a
space station when you returned? Am I looking at, like, the
Death Star or something?
Oh, God! Oh, God! she thought, remembering all those alien
invader romances Koko loved to read.
Female 7-133, calm yourself. There have always been two
moons here. Once there were three. But two of the moons
collided to create the bright one.
No, no! Theres only one moon. One fucking moon! So why is
there a second red moon? I dont understand! Where am I? Who
the hell are you?
Female 7-133
MY NAME IS FENSA! she screamed, her voice tearing across
the double-mooned night. FENSA! AND WHY THE FUCK ARE
THERE TWO MOONS IN THE FUCKING SKY?
All sorts of scientific explanations started speeding through
her mind. But there was only one that made any sense: Earth had
caught a moon. An asteroid, like made of iron oxide, had fallen
into the planets gravitational field.
Which would explain the new ice age. And the new moons
reddish tint. A new satellite would have fucked the planet for
sure. Even caused a few of the manufactured satellites to come
crashing down. She remembered a G20 Climate Conference she
had once watched on the wall TV of her room at the facility. One
of the speakers had raised concerns about the number of
satellites now hovering above the planet like a second metal
atmosphere. The speaker had stated for the record that only a
few computer algorithms stood between an earth city being
destroyed if any of those satellites fell from the sky.
Things were bad before. But somehow, staring at two moons
made it that much worse.
The divorce spell dropped from her lips without warning.
Another inheritance from her papa. One hed never used, of
course. Though ironically, in the end, it was her mother whod
cast their final divorce spell. With papers and lawyers, instead of
magical incantations.
But Fensa recited the Old Norse words now. Shouting them
over and over and over.
Nothing happened. Oh, God. Oh, Fenrir Wolf.
Fensa didnt realize she was trembling until the dragons face
appeared in front of her. Female 7-133, you burn extremely
upset. Please, let me help you. Tell me how to cure this.
There was no cure. No cure for finding out your getaway car
from this post-apocalyptic madness never showed up.
Hold me, she whispered into his head.
Hold? he asked.
And she instantly knew that like handjobs and kissing,
hugging was another thing the dragon knew nothing about.
This, she told him, wrapping her arms around his large
body. This is a hug. A form of holding someone close to give
them comfort, love, or greeting.
I know comfort and greeting. But the word
Fensa closed her eyes. Her heart icing over with dismay, even
as she pushed her face into the heat of his chest. Trying to get
warm, even though it felt like the cold was a disease that went
bone deep.
You dont know the word love? Where you come from, they
dont even have the concept of mates being in love, do they?
Again, I do not understand this question. This mind link
offers no translation. Perhaps you could give me a picture?
The borderline-hysterical urge to laugh came over her. Here
she was, hugging an alien under two moons in the post-
apocalyptic world her planet had apparently become. Okay. Why
not? Why not just go ahead and explain the concept of love to
him, like they were reading a childrens picture book together?
So clinging to a dragon man in the cold under the light of two
moons, she showed him. All the acts of love she could recall: her
hardcore grandfather taking off his motorcycle pack jacket to put
Neosporin and a band-aid on her boo-boo her parents smiling
secretively at each other over their morning cups of coffee Tu
and Grady holding hands as they welcomed all the teenage
Royals to their summer camp Gena Rowlands and James
Garner dying at the same time, in the same bed in The
Notebook her Aunt Alisha dancing to Michael Jackson with her
triplet sons her twin sister, Ola, pulling Fensa into her arms as
facility workers rushed up the side of the mountain towards
them, holding Fensa tight as she whispered the incantation that
would bring her here love oh God, love
Something this manshifterserpentas the Vikings had
referred to his kindhad never heard of. Couldnt even
comprehend. Oh God, oh Fenrir Wolf
With a profound realization, Fensa thoroughly understood the
meaning of a word shed read but never experienced: wept. She
wept against the dragons chest under the two moons of an ice
planet she no longer recognized. Pushing the same questions
over and over into his mind.
Where am I? When am I? Where is Ola? Where the fuck
is Ola?!?!
16

W here am I? When am I? Where is Ola?


These were three questions Xenon could not
answer for Female 7-133Fensa. The memory of
her screaming that name at him in the snow haunted him while
she slept.
Drakkon had names but only used them to refer to
themselves. For example, Xenon often referred to himself as
Xenon on his reports. However, it would never occur to him to
call his uncle, or even his nearly same-aged cousin, by their
given names. So her demand that he call her by this strange
name, even though it seemed to be neither title nor label,
continued to disturb him long after her voice gave way to the
liquid streaming from her eyes.
The Far Travelers also did not have a naming convention, and
when they did, it was often along the lines of labeling. Whale
Killer. Son of Big Fish Hunter. He thought briefly of one of the
Far Travelers hed killed to assert final claim on the female
anomaly: King of Us.
And he once more did not understand. The female was not
merely an anomaly, but an impossibility. The images she had
flashed into his head. Her talent for mating. Almost as if she had
somehow made study of the practice beforehand, and rendered it
into art.
On his fire planet, mating served as a simple biological
process. A necessary activity to implant a drakkons seed in a
drakkis womb. In fact, the operation was so distasteful to some
drakkon, Xenons great-grandfather commissioned a task force
of doctors and scientists to find a solution to the problem when
his sons male works refused to drop to mate the Queen.
For this purpose was the fating portal created. Designed for
perfect DNA matches that would almost guarantee a live birth. If
a drakkon were lucky enough to be fated, or matched,
intercourse was no longer required to attach his gametes to his
fated mates egg. Xenons own parents were DNA matched. And
though they had been lauded throughout their planet as the first
king and queen to produce not one, but two male heirs in as
many generations as could be remembered, he doubted his
parents had ever touched one another for any reason beyond
reverence.
Fenrirs experiments still had similar problems reproducing.
The numbers werent as drastically low as on Drakkon, but with
the brutal multi-male matings followed by an exceedingly long
nine-month gestation period, less than half the Royal
Geneticists experiments survived childbirth. Which was another
reason the observation team would need to wait a thousand
years to determine if Fenrirs latest experimental groups of
hybrids were viable.
However, the images the female anomaly had pushed into his
head had been mind-blowing. A lupin mother with dark skin
who had not just one, but three children. Apparently, the female
anomaly had a twin sister. They looked nothing alike, beyond
their skin color and height, but had shared a womb together.
Twins!
Supposedly in early Drakkon history, such double births had
occasionally occurred. But never in current times, and such
layings had become the stuff of legends. As far as Xenon had
read and seen, none of the Royal Geneticists experiments had
produced more than one live birth at a time.
Also, neither the lupins nor the anthros had exhibited
behavior remotely resembling the images Fensa pushed into his
mind. Much holding and pressing of lips. Intimacy without
mating. For the seeming sake of intimacy itself. For this, Xenon
had no frame of reference.
Even more startling, the clothes these people wore in the
female anomalys mind pictures did not seem to come from
animals. They looked to be made from a fragile material, one he
had not heard tale of on this planet or on his own.
The female anomaly was either delusional or had a history he
could not fathom. Still, as he watched her sleep on the red
examination table in his lab, he could not believe her delusional.
She spoke at a level that was, if not exactly polite or formal,
near the same complexity of thought and word to his own. She
claimed to be a princess, which went with the monarchical
instincts the Royal Geneticist had implanted in the core DNA of
his new species. And of course, she had somehow gestated
his baby.
Then there was the other evidence
The way his male works continued to respond to her, despite
the cessation of her mating fever. He could feel his hemipenis
swell inside his lower pelvis. Aching with a pain so sweet, he had
to turn away from her sleeping form for fear of what he might be
compelled to do.
This was the female anomalys strangest effect by far. The
way she rendered him near incapable of controlling his shell.
The wall started to scroll above her head. Her nutrient levels
were again low. But tubing wasnt advised for pregnant drakki,
and Xenon was too scared of the effect it might have on the
fragile hybrid fetus gestating inside her to attempt to use the
tubes on his pregnant lupin.
Hed need to hunt to keep her well-nourished. And
soon. But
He did not want to leave her alone while he hunted. He
thought of the Far Travelers whod tried to claim herand of the
hostile anthros who had somehow found their way to his glacier
station. What if she woke before he returned? And wandered out
again?
Instead of leaving directly for the hunt, he reprogrammed the
lab not to keep her confined inside for twelve hours. Only twelve,
hed decided, because the thought of her trapped inside a room
filled with a large quantity of technical equipment longer than
that did not sit well with him.
Now he could go. But once again, he did not.
There was a theory swirling inside his head. An implausible
but perhaps not impossible explanation for the lupin. A single
line from the Royal Geneticists court presentation echoed in
Xenons head. This species has the promise to evolve, to indeed
develop a civilization as prominent as our own, the old drakkon
had told them. Hunting them as game would deprive them and
the universe of this opportunity.
And only then did Xenon finally understand what had
unsettled him so about the love concept the female anomaly
had pushed into his head. Civilization. Many, if not all, of those
images had shown the unmistakable signs of a level of
civilization this species was many thousands of years away from
achieving.
Thats when he decided to wall-hail the Mission Geneticist
who was currently replicating the Royal Geneticists work in
Zone 4. He kept the view screen off, of course, to avoid questions
about his eye woundor the pregnant lupin on his examination
table in the background.
Prince of Drakkon. The Team Geneticists voice answered
Xenons hail in the way of their people: by title as opposed
to name.
Geneticist, Xenon answered in kind, thinking how much
simpler this form of address was for all parties. Another reason
he could not understand the female anomalys desire to have
him address her as Fensa as opposed to her title: Female 7-
133. I have a theoretical question about our mission fertility
gates that I require help to debone.
Of course, Prince. I honor you here as I do on our home
planet, the Team Geneticist answered.
Well, that was one thing this green drakkon did not have in
common with his blue uncle, Xenon thought to himself darkly
before continuing, The missions fating portals, to my knowing,
are the same ones we use throughout our planet. Is that
correct?
Yes, Prince, that is correct. Are you having problems with
the codes on yours? I believed testing is not scheduled for
another 50 solar rotations, but if you wish to begin your
experiments now, I can fly there to help youthat is, if youre
willing to lift the Zone 7 restriction.
Xenon wondered then if he hadnt created an unintentional
challenge with his ban. It seemed a conversation did not pass
where other drakkon did not find some way to ask him to lift his
zone restrictions.
No, thank you, he answered, trying to keep the edge out of
his voice.
Truly, Prince of Drakkon, I would burn happy to help you
with this endeavor.
To be a royal on this trip was apparently to be thought
incapable in every way possible. First, his uncle doubted his
results, and now the geneticist assumed he could not do
something as simple as encode a portal. I can handle the
encoding, I assure you. As I said, my question is theoretical. The
portal is designed for our kind, a species with a lengthy life span
in comparison to the lupinhominids, a species which
He searched for the right words. And the Geneticist offered,
Most likely wont survive one-hundred years, much less the
thousand were trying to achieve with the help of the fated
gates.
Yes he agreed, despite the distaste that now arose upon
his tongue at the thought of the female anomalys species not
surviving the 1000 years it would take to conduct their study.
But if we use this anti-matter technology with this species,
could there be a possibility that a wolf from, say, another era
might be a match with one of this era, no matter the time
frame?
A thoughtful pause. I have never considered this idea as this
is the first time weve ever attempted to employ this technology
with such a short-lived species, but yesI suppose the fating
portal could be turned into a sort of time mechanism, as it were,
if the computers determined two individuals from two different
time frames were a match. Would you like me to include this as a
noted risk in the official report to the royal court?
Ah, no, that wont be necessary, Xenon answered after a
moment. This was just bit of theory I was unknotting. No need
to put such fanciful conjectures in the official report without a
mission physicist to verify it.
Yes, better not to. But when we return to Drakkon, I will visit
with a few physicists I know to discuss this possibility, and then
might I provide assistance.
You do honor me with your attention, Xenon replied. Then
as was customary, he made his farewells with a simple,
Geneticist.
Prince, the Mission Geneticist answered.
Xenon stood at the wall for some time after the call had
ended. Thinking about his current situation. Then about his
uncle. After some thought, he sent another message. This one
communicated by Drakkon text rather than a wall-hail. He cared
not to answer any further questions from his uncle.
Do you ever sleep?
The female anomalys voice filled his mind, and he turned to
find her sitting atop the examination table. Staring at him
through eyes still hooded with sleep.
Yes, I do, he answered. For a very short time during
daylight hours. After the baby is laid and has reached adulthood,
I will hibernate for one thousand or so moons.
Moons? I think you mean months. Thats what they call it
where I come from.
Xenon didnt answer. Did not know how to without upsetting
her. So he remained silent, only to be met with yet another
difficult question.
Did you sedate me again? To get me to calm down?
No, he answered. As I told you before, pregnant dra He
paused, not knowing what to call her. Lupin seemed wrong on
his minds tongue now, given the precious gift she carried inside
her womb. But still, she was not drakki, not one of his kind.
Future mothers cannot be given drugs that might harm the
young they carry. Youyou released water that contained trace
amounts of several biological compounds from your eyes. This
eye water seemed to have some kind of sedation effect on you.
Confusion flitted across her face, followed by a very small
upturning of her full lips. Okay, Im pretty sure youre referring
to my tears. Youre trying to say I cried myself to sleep?
Tears, he repeated, not liking the sound of the word, or the
memory of them streaming down her face. They are a
sedative, yes?
More like a byproduct of extreme emotion. Anger, sadness,
sometimes relief and happiness.
But you were not relieved or happy to see your planets two
moons.
No, more like angry and frustrated.
He analyzed the heat coming off her body. Her flame
remained neutral. Even though she spoke of past upset. He
confessed, I understand you not, Female 7-133.
Yeah, I get that, she answered with another slight upturn
of her lips. I think I think were misunderstanding each
other. Youre saying you dont want to upset me, but I dont
think you realize the only thing that upsets me more than those
two moons, is the not knowing. I have no idea what a female
dragon is like, but for me the not knowing is worse than
anything you could tell me.
Now he became quiet. I find it very hard to believe the
knowledge would prevent your upset, Female 7-133.
And I find you very hard to believe.

o Fensa, these words were as good as a confession, akin to


dropping a truth bomb into their conversation. But the dragons
expression didnt change as he said, I understand you not,

T
Female 7-133. Again.
No, of course he didnt. How could he when he had
no idea who she really was? Even though they were
now technically mated through the child she now carried.
She didnt want to go there. Really didnt want to go there. If
you took out all the fear and crazy discovery and severe
confusion, it had been nice not getting treated like a complete
freak for a few days. But she had to tell him, didnt she? Had to
explain why she, of all people, couldnt handle not knowing who
he was or where she was orall the rest.
With a sigh, Fensa started pushing words into his head.
Telling him a story shed never told anyone, even when the
therapist tried to extract it from her.
I have a twin sister. Her name is Ola. Shes named after my
papa, whos called Olafr. We both have the same coloring and
brownish red hair, but other than that, we look nothing alike.
Shes bold and gregarious, and Im quiet and shy. She hated
every moment of school, and I loved it to the point that I wanted
to become a theoretical physicist. Were complete opposites, but
she is one of the best people I know. Shes the first person I
remember. I hugged her in my crib, and we slept in the same bed
until I was eighteen. Shes my best friend, and my main
confidante. I tell her everything, and she knows everything
about me. I couldnt imagine my life without her. Until I was
eighteen, we did everything together. Went everywhere
togetherI think you get it.
Xenon nodded. She imagined he must be relieved to finally
understand what she was saying. And what passed with this
sister upon your eighteenth solar? Did she die?
No, Fensa answered on a wince. You see, my Aunt Tu
really shes my cousin, but in my family, we call everybody old
enough to be your mom aunt no matter how theyre related to
you. Anyway, Aunt Tu and her husband have this leadership
camp, and though I didnt want to go, my papa made me because
hes a Viking. So I did. And one night, Ola woke me up to go to
the latrine with her. We got to talking afterward. I thought I was
whispering, but I guess Aunt Tu and Grady were still up and they
saw metalking with Ola. They watched me with her for over an
hour. I guess they were trying to figure out what to do about it.
I do not understand. Though my brother has little familial
feeling for me, and I for him, I cannot imagine it being
considered a terrible thing to converse with ones sibling well
into the night.
Fensa clamped her lips, finding it hard to push out the next
words. But somehow, she managed to force them out of her head
and into his. The thing is, no one can see Ola but me. She
started off as an imaginary friend of sorts, but when my parents
started to get worried about me still talking with her, I began
pretending I couldnt see her anymore. But I did. I always did.
Until I was eighteen. With Aunt Tus help, my parents
committed me to a mental facility. And I was diagnosed with
well a bunch of stuff. But the main label that counted was
schizophrenia. They gave me drugs. And Ola went away. So I
guess they had a point. But then I missed her, so I stopped
taking the drugs. And after I stopped taking the drugs, Ola came
back, and I got caught up in a new obsession. Arizona has a time
gate. I had this feeling I should go there. I cant tell you why. But
it was like Ola: undeniable to me, crazy to others. So after like a
thousand escape attempts, I finally made it to the gate. I wasnt
going to say anything, I swear. I only wanted to look at it, to try
and figure out why it was calling to me so insistently. But then
the people from the facility caught up to me. They were running
up the mountain toward me, and suddenly the words my papa
had given me, but only for emergencies, slipped out. And now
here I am.
Xenon was quiet for a long time. So long, Fensa feared he
might never ever talk again. But then he asked, And this twin
sisterdo you see her now?
Fensa shook her head. No. But that might be a bad thing.
Im afraid. Like, really afraid Ive had a full-blown mental
breakdown. That youre not real. That none of this is real. I
mean, with my history, how can I be sure?
Another digesting silence. Then more words appeared inside
her head, Perhaps you should ask.
Im sorry?
My father suffered from similar delusions after my mother
passed. It is not uncommon on our planet, and is referred to as
The Widowers Madness. Often did he think he saw my mother.
Admonishing him for not being reverent enough. Cursing him
for giving her a second babe so that she should die after
miraculously surviving my brothers birth. My mother would
come to my father with these accusations, not only when he
slept, but also when he was awake, making it hard for him to
perform his duties as king. After receiving his diagnosis, the
doctors advised my father to ask his delusion if she were real.
You see, delusions can make suggestions, and they can talk to
you, but they cannot lie. If you ask them a question such as this,
they will either deflect or be forced to tell you the truth. I would
give you this same advice. If you fear I am not real, then
ask me.
She blinked. Mind a little blown by his acceptance of her back
story, and his solution. Youre saying I should ask if youre real?
And if you say yes, that means you are?
And if I attempt to distract you onto other subjects, that
means I am not, he added.
Okay Fensa said, both her heart and voice tentative. Then
she met his unblinking gaze and asked, Are you real?
Yes, he answered, almost immediately. Yes, I am real. I
have many titles, including Prince of Drakkon, Brother of the
New King of Drakkon, and Son to the Old King of Drakkon. I
cannot be chased away by drugs or reason. This, Female 7-133,
you can believe as truth.
With those words of reassurance, Fensa let out a deep sigh of
relief. Believing in his existence outside her mind in a way shed
had not been able to believe in Olas.
These words you believe? he asked inside her mind. At
least, it sounded like a question. His voice had a dark monotone
quality that made it hard to tell question from statement of fact.
Yes, she answered. I dont know why I believe you, but
I do.
Good. It pleases me to know you no longer have question
concerning my reality.
Her, too. Her, too. Especially because at long last, she had the
answer to the question that had haunted her for years: where
was Ola?
Ola, as the doctors had been telling her for years, was not
real. Therefore, Olas whereabouts didnt matter any longer
becauseshe didnt exist.
Fensa missed her sister, of course, but an odd solace stole
over her. Her spirit lightening because this dragon, unlike the
wolves shed left behind, not only didnt judge her but had just
given her the first clean bill of mental health in her adult life. Of
course, this still left two other questions still unanswered
Where am I? When am I?
Please. Please tell me whatever you know. That was the
thing. She couldnt stand the not knowing. Fensas tone took on
a throaty quality as she begged the dragon to tell her everything
he knew. Even if the answers to her questions might horrify her.
He looked away. It was a simple act. But on an otherwise
unblinking, expressionless dragon, his slight gesture seemed the
equivalent of a clear statement that he was torn about how to
proceed.
Sensing a weakening in his resolve, Fensa took his hand in
hers. Thankfully not webbedlike his footand without a scale
in sight. Really, it was the most human thing about him. And
well designed, as if hed taken the best things the human body
had to offer, but ignored the other stuff like feet that didnt help
one swim or fly faster, and genitals that left a males baby
makers exposed and at risk of injury, or worse.
Of all his parts, she found she liked his hands one most of all.
And she pressed that oh-so-human hand to the side of her face,
seeking comfort in it. In him.
Please, she whispered again. Youre the father of my
baby, and I dont even know your name. Just give me something.
Anything. Please.

J ust give me something. Anything. Please.


The begging was his undoing. The same as when she
begged him to give her claim instead of handing her over to
the Group 7 males. Female 7-133 sat naked upon his exam
table, her chest flame burning with anxiety as she pressed his
hand to the side of her face. He had no idea why she would do
such a thing, yet this simple act of physical contact made him
feel powerless to resist her.
As if hed ingested a truth serum, Xenon found himself
speaking. My given name is Xenon, as your given name is
Fensa. However, on my planet, I would not be referred as such.
There, we use titles alone. For most of my life, my title was
Second Prince of Drakkon. But shortly before I arrived here, my
title changed. I am the second son of the former King of
Drakkon. However, he died a few rotations ago, and now my
brother, the former Crown Prince of Drakkon, sits upon our
throne. He is the King of Drakkon, and I am now the Prince of
Drakkon.
He paused to see if any of his words made sense to her.
Although she seemed to hail from an advanced civilization, he
still found it hard to believe an upright primate would be capable
of understanding advanced ideas, much less more complicated
concepts like a line of succession.
And indeed, her eyes lowered, her chest flame reddening over
with sadness. But when her eyes returned to his, instead of
expressing confusion, she said, Im sorry for your loss. My
father recently passed as well. Losing a father is hard. Im sorry
you lost yours.
I did not lose him, as you say. He died. After a very long life.
And he left behind two sons. Most would commend him for
living a more excellent life than most.
He said these words because they were true. Yet at the same
time, his chest flame suddenly flared with anger. Yes, my
father lived a long commendable life. But he sent me away on his
deathbed for worry of what my brother might do to me after his
death. And then he died before our ships reached your planet,
he confessed to Female 7-133.
Xenon remembered, then, the ugly flame that had lit his
stomach and chest for his first few rotations on this planet. A
strange loneliness overtook him because both he and his father
had known this trip was more exile than opportunity.
Sometimes my flame burns with anger toward my brother.
Resentment, she supplied. Because he was so busy
playing Cleopatra, you never got to say goodbye to your father.
I do not know this Cleopatra.
Shes a queen from long ago. One of the last Egyptian jackal
shifters. Famous for being a great seductress, but even more
interesting, I think, is that she was the lone survivor of a bloody
sibling rivalry for the throne. Im pretty sure she was exiled for a
while, too, but its been so long since Aunt Alisha told me that
story, I cant be sure.
The female must have sensed his confusion because she
broke off and said, Tell me more. About you. About
your home.
You have my title, so there is little more to know about me
save my home. I hail from Drakkon, a planet about one-
hundred-and-eighty thousand wing hours from here
He stopped when her flame sparked with confusion. You do
not understand the concept? Hed been afraid of this; that the
female anomaly, despite her high level of intelligence, would
still be unable to fathom things like planets, or space travel.
But then she said, I understand everything but the term
wing hours.
He thought about this and reluctantly confessed, I have no
way to explain this to you. It is a unit of measurement based on
the average speed of drakkon flight. However, we came to this
planet in ships that also used that unit of measurement. I am not
sure how to put it in terms a non-drakkon would understand.
Her lips turned down at his words, but her flame did not
change color. And he realized she was trying to puzzle the issue
out when she asked, Does your planet share the same sun as
our planet?
Yes, he answered.
Then youre in our solar system. And is your planet hotter or
colder than this one?
Much, much hotter. We call it the fire planet. It has a
daytime temperature more than eight times this planets
highest temperature. And at night it drops to nearly three times
the coldest cold of your planet.
Does it have an atmosphere?
Yes, of course.
Female 7-133s brow creased at his answer, but her flame
continued to burn bright with more curiosity than confusion, so
he continued to what would certainly be the more upsetting part
for her.
Our planet has always used yours asI suppose you would
call it a sort of hunting ground. A place to cull fresh meat, since
we possess no animals on our planet. Only nutrients, like those
in the tubes. And the anthrohomonids are the most desired meat
of alland now does your flame burn upset. This is why I had no
wish to tell you these things, Female 7-133.
Well think about it. You just told me you guys come to this
planet to hunt and eat us, she answered. Can you blame me
for being at least a little upset?
Not you, he felt compelled to correct her. His stomach
turned at the thought of eating one of the lupins. Your hybrid
species is one we dont find appetizing. However, our Royal
Geneticist experimented with a few anthrosplices. Your species
was meant to be a gift to my father. To assist in the royal hunts.
Now her eyes open and closed, so rapidly, the action felt more
deliberate than biological. Okay, are you trying to say you came
back here to use my people as hunting dogs?!
Much as hed anticipated, he did not like the turn this
conversation was taking. Her flame burned offended and
appalled. Which was why he rushed to inform her, No, that is
not the reason my team returned here. This Fenrir you
mentioned before. Can you tell me whom you believe him
to be?
Her head jerked a bit, and her flame sparked with surprise.
Um, ok. Fenrir. Hes the Norse god of werewolves. Hes also my
fathers godone of many. My mother believes in a single deity,
though.
Xenons flame flared triumphant, a few more hypotheses
falling into place. Yes, its just as I thought. Your father has
been god-spoken.
God-spoken? she repeated.
Yes, god-spokenwhich was just as easy to explain to
another with no concept of drakkon culture as wing hours.
Instead of trying, he said, On Drakkon, Fenrir is drakkon for
Royal Geneticist. It is possible your father hails from the original
experiment group the Royal Geneticist worked with in Zone 2. As
I said, he created your kind as a gift to the King. However, over
time, the Royal Geneticist came to feel much the way you do
about our hunts. He has petitioned the Drakkon court to give
this planet sanctuary status which would permanently eliminate
it from the hunt. He believes if left to your own devices, your
species, both the anthros and lupins, have the capacity to evolve
into a civilization on par with our own. And because of this, he
feels our hunts would irreversibly disrupt a native species
capable of higher thought.
Irreversibly disrupt, she repeated.
Yes, and for this reason am I here with a team of about one
hundred other drakkon. We have been tasked with conducting a
1000 solar rotation study of your species.
She shook her head. But I dont understand. Why would you
need to study us? We already have a civilization. At least we did,
beforewhatever turned Earth into a frozen post-apocalyptic
wasteland.
Now, it was his flames turn to burn with discomfit. Hed
known some of his explanations about the origins of her species
would confuse and anger her. But he imagined what he was
about to tell her would truly distress her, without a flame of
doubt.
Female 7-133. Do you understand that my species has a
longer lifespan than yours?
Yeah, I got that when you told me you were over 2000, she
answered.
But again, it should be noted I am relatively young by
Drakkon standards, he explained gently.
The female repeated the deliberate opening and closing of her
eyes. Then said, So you guys live a really long time. I guess that
makes sense. My fathers time feels like a long time ago. But if
your Fenrirs still alive
He resisted the urge to sigh steam. She was proving herself
not to be unintelligent. But Female 7-133, my advanced tools
have confused you, he told her, keeping his voice as calm as he
could. Even if speaking to her about these matters broke almost
every mission protocol hed been given for interacting with the
native population. Please, show me several images as you did
before. Show me a day in your life.
She hesitated. But then he began to see the pictures again. An
alarm of some sort was buzzing. From his mates point of view,
he saw himself wake to a hot drinking vessel of brown liquid on
top of a small box. He took a sip, then disappeared into a room.
This part appeared to be censored because his mates thoughts
lit with embarrassment before the minds image emerged, fresh
and clean, in a simple short-sleeved shirt and a pair of what
looked like short pants. He then walked through the door of a
single room with a bodily evacuation facility, down the hallway,
to a room filled with other lupin hominids. They were gathered
around what looked like long examination tables, set low to the
ground with platforms for sitting. But instead of undergoing
medical procedures, they ate what looked like meat, an unknown
yellow substance, and a food composed of some manner of
brown plant. After this, he and a few other lupins gathered in a
group with a man wearing a white coat. This being her
viewpoint, he could not see anyones flame, but he sensed
through her knowledge that the man in the white coat was not
flesh-and-blood real, but something called an avatar. One
who visited with this group because he charged with overseeing
their mental health.
This avatar confirmed Xenons hypothesis. That is
satisfactory, he told her.
Then because it had seemed to give her some comfort before,
Xenon placed a hand on her cheek. What you showed me is
clear evidence of an advanced civilization. Not one as advanced
as my own, but an advanced one nonetheless.
Great! Then you have your answer to Fenrirs petition. You
can go back and tell the others were a viable species.
I could, but they would not accept my word as truth. Because
according to our early calculations, it will take nearly half a
drakkons lifetime for the advanced lifeforms of this planet to
accomplish the level of sophistication you have shown me.
Half a dragons lifetime, she repeated. He could see the
fear and panic burning in her chest, as bright as when she was
first brought to him. Exactly how long do dragons live?
Approximately twenty thousand of your planets revolutions
around our sun.
Oh, God
And though he braced himself for her flame to redden with
distress, it cooled instead, as if something unfathomably cold
had washed over her.
I cannot tell if you are upset, or do not understand my
words.
Both.
Do you wish for me to explain this to you more slowly?
The female shook her head. Sorry. Where I come from, we
say we dont understand something when what we mean is we
dont want to understand. But yeah, I get what youre saying. I
didnt go forward in time; I went back. Like, so far back, my
fathers Viking Age divorce code doesnt work on the gate.
Because it hasnt even been created yet. And thats why you
dont get half the stuff I say. Most, if not all, of my references
happened a hell of a long time from now. Including poetry and
sarcasm and videogames and books and just about everything I
love. And so, yay! I havent had a complete mental breakdown. I
dont have to worry that my civilization was blasted back into
the stone age. Im in the actual Stone Age. My aunt, the
historian, would be totally freaking out if shed landed here. Like
totally gassed. Too bad
She made a strange chortling sound in her chest as her lips
lifted in the way anthros occasionally used to indicate happiness.
But Xenon could see by her flame that she was not happy. You
are upset, he said again.
No, she insisted. Im justprocessing. Its okay. I wanted
the truth, and I got it.
Yes, but I can see you are very upset. I would make you
happy during these coming, as you called them, months. Happy,
not angry or frustrated. Please, Mother of My Drakkon, tell me
how I can return your flame to bright orange.
Her brow furrowed, lips turned down again, as new sparks of
confusion lit up her head flame. Umwhat? What exactly do
you mean by make my flame return to bright orange?
Finally, an answer he could give without upsetting her. Your
flame is dark now. Blue. I seek to return it to a brighter shade, so
you burn pleased with all I provide.
Another downturn of her lips, then, Okay, when you look at
me, what exactly are you seeing?
Due to my injury, I confess I cannot see your outer skin as
well as before. But I can make out your facial movements, and I
have no problem discerning your flame.
My flame she repeated. Tell me if Ive got this right: you
can see my heat signature using only your eyes?
Before Xenon could express confusion, she provided a mind
picture of a male glowing red with fear. He appeared to have an
advanced weapon in his hands as he looked around for an unseen
attacker.
Yes, that is how I see you, as you put it. But who is this male
in your image? And why is he so afeared?
She let out a long breath, before answering, Hes afeared of a
huge alien whos come to our planet to hunt humans like
trophies.
At her words, Xenons fire went cold. Yet she gave another
chortle. That was, like, my papas favorite movie. Now Im
fated to it! If he could see me now
More chortling, but her flame
Your heat signature is now as distressed as when you were
crying.
Its okay, she assured him again. Im processing. Just
processing it all in my own way. Eventually, Ill accept this, but
right now
The female anomaly stopped speaking. So he offered, Do you
require holding?
No, you dont have to hug me. Im justprocessing. Just
Another unfinished sentence. And instead of arguing with her
further, he did something he would never have dared if shed
been drakki. He wrapped his arms around her without
permission and held her close. Tucked inside his arms so tight,
he wondered if she could hear the suddenly rapid beating of his
three-chambered heartor feel how his flame warmed to have
her near.
You dont have to do this, she said, even as she burrowed
her head further into his chest.
He didnt answer.
And she didnt pull away.
He stood there in this strange position, listening to the
distant booms of the shifting glacier ice, and the gentle trickling
of his drakkon-made stream.
Perhaps they would have stood there in this way until her
flame returned to good color. But his male works soon
interfered.
The female stiffened inside his arms. Is that?
He stepped back. Quickly.
I apologize, he said with a formal bow, trying to ignore the
sudden swelling of his male works as they grew against the
binding of his webbed skin, threatening to descend. I am sorry
to fail you in this way. Despite your having already quickened
with my seed, I find I am still unable to control my male works in
your presence.
He backed away. Determined to remove himself from her.
But she held up a hand to stay his retreat.
Really? You still want me that way? Even though Im already
pregnant? And not awhat did you call female dragons?
Drakki, he supplied. His tone stiff. But perhaps not as
much as another part of his body. And again, I apologize. I do
not know why my male works continue to react in this fashion. It
might be our biological differences. Perhaps my body
understands not that you have already been seeded.
Mentioning this turned out to be a mistake. With one flash of
memory, his second penis went from swelling to moving
beneath his clothes. Seeking Female 7-133s wet sex like a
predator scenting its prey.
He could no longer hold on to his reserve. I am abjectly
sorry. I will remove myself. From this room. From this station, if
that is what it takes to gain control of myself.
Xenon. She said the word out loud.
He stopped short at the surprise of hearing his given name
upon her lips. Hed never been called by it before.
She moved off the table and walked over to his polar bear
furs, stopping at the edge closest to where he stood.
Itsohkay. Again, she said the words out loud. In her strange
tongue. Which he could not understand.
Yet
Xenon watched in a state of arrest as she began to remove the
clothes from her large body. After the last fabricated boot came
off, she held out her hand to him.
Itsokay, she repeated. Then inside his head, she said,
Its okay.
But it was not okay. He started to tell her this, but before he
could protest again, she fisted the front of his shirt and pulled
him down. Again, she pressed her lips to his. But this time her
tongue did not try to part his lips to seek entrance.
Instead she pushed her entire body into his, jutting her hips
so her lower half pressed into him.
And that was it for nobility. Or reason. The feel of her body
against his overwhelmed his senses, and suddenly they were
both on the floor. His body covering her back as he pushed her
into a kneeling position, and pulled his fabricated pants down.
His male works did not merely descend but sprang forth. Violent
in their need to be inside this woman.
Calm down, she said, coming out of the kneel hed just put
her in, and turning to face him.
He sucked in a breath when she reached back, taking his
second penis in hand, stroking its rigid length. Somehow
calming, but not nearly sating it, with her touch.
I did this to you? She posed the question with a soft voice
inside his head.
He answered with the rough nod of the Far Travelers, unable
to push words into her when her hand was around him like this.
Then she leaned forward. And took his other penis into her
mouth.
His breath didnt just catch; his respiratory system stopped
working altogether. Xenons body lit up with a flame so hot; he
was certain it could easily burn him alive. Melting his insides as
surely as an enemy drakkons roar of fire.
He supposed he might die. Supposed and did not care.
But when he felt the now familiar pressure building up inside
his seed sacs, he somehow managed to push the words into her.
I am calmer now, he said gravely. I would prefer to seed
your sex.
She seemed to be deciding how to answer. But after a few
more indolent sucks and strokes, she removed him from her
mouth.
Okay, fuck me then, she said, holding his gaze as she laid
herself back on the fur, her luscious milking mounds in the air.
Fuck me. Make me forget who I was. Who you are.
His brain understood little of what she said, but his male
organs easily found their way between her legs, his hands lifting
her by the hips to better receive him. As if having agreed to take
turns, his second penis entered her birthing canal, while his first
snaked up behind her. Tight. Dry. He might hurt her.
In response, his penis oozed a viscous substance from its tip.
A lubricant of some sort, Xenon realized when the tip swirled the
thick substance around her other opening. And with an instinct
he had no idea he possessed, he grabbed her around her full
thighs and circled her legs around his waist. Opening her
backside up to him and consequentially, allowing him to sink in
ever deeper.
By the Mothers! It felt amazing to be inside her like this
again. Able to gaze upon her as hewhat had she called it?
Fuckas he fucked her. It was like a homecoming, and a
discovery at the same time. Though that made little sense.
Poetry, he remembered her saying earlier.
Being inside of her felt like poetry.
Poetry he didnt get to enjoy for long. Before he could give her
his claiming bite, she began to babble aloud in her language
again. Ohgod! Ohgod!
Her wet, vertical slit squeezed down so hard on his second
penis, it began the seeding process before Xenon could think to
command it otherwise. But the rush of pleasure up his spine
obliterated any regrets he might have had.
In that blinding moment, he better understood the upright
primates. Why they spent so much of their time attempting to
breed. What he could not understand was his own race. Why they
made no attempts to mate outside of breeding. Why they never
sought this pleasure out.
She was the mother of his hatchling. He, her acolyte, mating
her as he was bid. But in that moment, he felt selfish. Like he
would fuck her and fuck her until they both ceased to exist. Until
they both turned into etherantimatter.
At least that was how he felt until another sound broke
through the haze.
She was leaking water from her eyes again. Or as she had
called it, crying.
Did Ihurt you? he pushed into her mind as he quickly
pulled out of her. The mere thought nearly extinguished his hot
flame with heavy guilt. He would never perform the mating act
with her again. He would sleep elsewhere if he had to
No, the opposite. You made me feel something other than
overwhelming sadness for what I have lost. Thank you.
But still, she continued to cry.
I will lie with you upon the furs, and hold you while you cry
yourself to sleep.
No, you do not have to.
Not wishing another argument, he did as he was learning to
do with her: followed through on his decision without listening
to her spoken request. As good as his mate was at breeding, she
was rather odd when it came to expressing her true flame.
Masking her desires behind strange noises and denials of the
obvious.
Observing her flame, instead of her words, he gathered her in
his arms and tucked her head into his chest as she continued
to cry.
Strange. Only a few rotations ago, his flame had been a cold
blue. Hed been alone by choice, but far lonelier than he cared to
admit, even to himself.
Yet now his flame burned bright and warm as he held the
drakki-sized wolf hybrid. The mother of his young. His flame
was turbulent with worry and change. He was, after all, a
drakkon in violation of nearly every protocol created specifically
for this trip. Yet sleep stole over him quickly in this position.
And as his eyes closed for a much-needed rest, he found himself
wishing he could keep his new treasure for longer than three
moons.
17

P rocessing. Thats what shed called it. This processing


went on for several days and nights. After the first night,
Xenon decided to match her sleep cycle so he might be a
better acolyte to her. However, he soon found this meant he
rarely got a full nights sleep with his mate.
From the very first night cycle they spent together upon the
furs, he would awake to the sound of her mumbling, calling out a
name. Ola. The delusion shed left behind in her time still came
to her in her dreams. Those mumblings, however, werent as bad
as when she spoke with someone she called pahpah in her
civil tongue. These conversations most often made tears leak
from her eyes, as her flame burned dark red and blue. Shame.
But why?
He did not understand. And she seemed to have little desire
to talk about her night fires, which she referred to with a word
their mate bond translated as a night demon.
Nightmares are another form of processing, she explained
the first time he pulled her out of one of her close-eyed
arguments with pahpah. Im trying to reconcile a lot of things,
she assured him.
Then before he could ask further questions, shed reach
inside his scaling and pull down his male works. As if this act
was the only thing that could erase the night demons from her
mind. His male works happily responded to her request. They,
like he, seemed to lament that he wouldnt have his treasure
for long.
But even the wondrous feelings she gave him afterward
wasnt enough to make up for what her unrest did to him. He
was her sworn protector, yet he could not protect her from the
night demons. Or the quiet pall that often fell over her during
their days spent together in the lab.
What would happen if we walked directly south from here?
she asked one morning.
We would come to sea ice in less than a wing hour. And then
several wing hours of sea before we reached a land of ice where
nothing but flightless birds the size of Far Travelers live.
Silence. Then, Antarctica. We call that place Antarctica.
Which I guess means were on the wrong side of the Bering
Strait.
Again, he had little idea what had caused her flame to darken
so, but the pall lasted until they rested upon the furs again that
night.
He found himself burning with a strange, paradoxical rage.
One that made him feel helpless and frustrated, even as he
began to treasure her for reasons that went beyond the new life
she carried.
But then one morning, like a wish granted, she woke him
with a gentle shaking during the early morning hours.
Yes, Female 7-133. How may I honor you? he asked, a strip
of bright surprise burning in both his voice and head flames.
I have to go, she explained, her cheek flames brightening
with embarrassment. I know you dont like for me to do it
alone, and Im not sure where to find the collection cup, or how
to make the clothes I need to go out in the snow
Yes, it was time for the morning urine sample for the daily
test he ran for the baby. Since much of his equipment emitted
trace amounts of radiation, which Drakkon scientists discovered
could lead to mutations in gestating young, hed been forced to
go to rather unorthodox measures to monitor the females
pregnancy. He not only conducted exams with his tongue, but he
also collected urine and blood samples to ensure the baby inside
her was thriving.
To his surprise, the gestation process had gone well so far.
The first moon was said to be the hardest milestone among
drakkon. And she was already two full moons in.
A fact she did not seem as happy about this morning as she
dressed. In freshly replicated clothes, since the previous ones
hed made her less than a quarter moon ago no longer fit.
Are you sure the babys okay? she asked. This baby seems
really huge already. Like, impossibly so.
He kept his eyes on the wall he programmed to check Female
7-133s vital signs every morning. He still had not happened
upon a way to tell her about the near certain-death drakkon
births entailed.
The scientist in him could see no reason to tell her. At best,
shed spend another week crying, her flame paling to gray.
Yet the strange emotion she so often brought forth in him
told him he should say something to her. As soon as possible, so
she could process it.
He snorted steam. I believe the time has come to discuss an
important Drakkon custom.
His eyes were trained ahead so he could not see her face, but
he sensed her pause in her dressing as she answered, Okay,
inside his head.
If the fetus you carry survives laying, it would be of unknown
potential. A hybrid born to a genetically modified species; a
wonder of modern science. Also, you will have granted me the
boon of a hatchling. For this, I have no words to express my
gratitude. In fact, on my planet, a drakkon who has been
honored with a child will spend the rest of his life honoring the
female who did bestow this gift upon him. Because of the young
you carry within your womb, I will revere you for the rest of my
breathing days without mating with another. That is the
Drakkon way, and we even have a formal set of customs to go
along with this tradition. We call this Reverence.
Okay, she said, in a tone that seemed to imply she found it
necessary to process the information hed just conveyed. So
youre happy to be having this baby? Even if its not full
dragon?
He started at the notion that he might be anything less than
happy to have a hatchling on the way. One that was becoming
more viable by the day, according to this mornings wall
readings.
And he turned to face her, rushing to say, I am a drakkon
exiled. I would have never dared to hope for, much less believed,
a mate and child would be possible for me. This is truly nothing
less than a wish fulfilled.
Thatsgreat to hear. Umso tell me, why do I feel a but
coming on?
Because, Fated One, I am afraid the tradition of Reverence is
rooted in a period of mourning. You see, we revere our mothers
forever because most drakki do not survive childbirth. When one
is mated, when one volunteers to take her mates seed so his line
might continue forth into future generations, it is with the
understanding she will most likely not survive the laying. Our
reverence practice is a direct result of this knowledge. The
mothers of our race are our most exalted heroines, and this is
why males only mate once.
Let me get this straight. What youre saying she
smoothed a hand over her round belly is that you dont think
Ill survive birthingwhatever is inside of me.
He answered with a short nodand watched her visibly
swallow, her neck flame waxing a deep red with fear as it rolled
down her throat. And behold, even the voice inside his head
quavered as she asked, You keep saying lay. Does that mean
Im going to, like, lay an actual egg?
It seemed a strange thing to be frightened of given hed just
told her shed most likely die in childbirth. But he assuaged her
fears as best he could. At first I assumed this would be the case,
but now I do not believe it so. I can smell no shell in your womb,
so I must assume this babe will come out in the mucous shell of
this planets hominids.
With his words, the fear diminished from her flame. And she
gave a short chortle, before saying, Okay, well, not having an
egg crack open inside me probably increases my survival odds by
at least a thousand, right?
You have told me already of this joking your civilization
engages in. Is this one of those jokes, or do you not have the
intelligence required to calculate the odds?
Wow
Because in either case, your odds are still very low. Then
remembering his manners, he added, Reverence.
Yet though his words were true, she shook her head and said.
No, noI just cant believe this is how God wanted me to go
out. I mean, I dont. Believe it, that is. Especially if Im not
expected to carry this baby for nine long-ass months, which Im
suspecting is the case since you seem more closely related to a
lizard than a human.
A lizard, he repeated, the reverent tone slipping from his
voice. You would compare a great drakkon to those specks that
scuttle about your planet?
Calm down. Im just saying lizards usually have two to
three-month gestation periods, and Im hoping its the same for
this birth, even if there are no hard shells involved.
He waited for his flame to cool a bit before admitting, Well,
yes. A typical drakkon birth only lasts about three of your
moons. However, already the babe gives you painful carry. I
doubt you will be able to walk in a few weeks. Or, as I already
mentioned, survive the laying.
She appeared to brush his predictions aside. But were
fated mates, right? The best DNA link possible in, like, the
universe, or at least on this planet. My cousin, Koko, and my
Aunt Alisha have been working on a theory about the time gates.
They believe the gates provide an improved fertility system,
which accounts for the high birth and survival rates of those
mothers who found their mates via the gates.
Is this always the case?
Well, no she admitted. My mother only had me. But she
got through the birth just fine. And my grandmother survived
three childbirths during the Viking age.
He remained silent, not wanting to dash her hopes, but still
too much of a scientist to encourage her belief.
Look, she said, as she took his hand and placed it on her
chest, right above her heart flame. Do you want me to survive?
Of course. The question caused his flame to crackle with
desire for that very outcome. However, Wanting and probability
are not related when it comes to childbirth.
Is that a yes or a no?
He looked at her for a long time before saying, Yes, I wish for
you to survive the laying and to raise this hatchling with me. I
have wish to pay you living Reverence, not mourning
Reverence.
Okay thenliving reverence sounds nice. Lets go with that
option, she said.
Her lips were quirked upward, and he couldnt tell if she had
once again engaged in joking. But his flame burnt with a
strange emotion. One he was beginning to recognize as hope.
Xenon had come to this planet in exile. Hopeless hed ever
find a mate, not daring to so much as imagine a life with any
companionship. But now, for the first time, he was not alone. He
had a companion. Not just that, but conversation beyond the
crude gesture-based language of the Far Travelers. And the
mating. Constant and nightly, despite the female being so heavy
with child. How it delighted him. No, he could not forget the
mating. He feared he might never forget the mating. Or her.
Even though drakkon lived long lives, and by the end of them
forgot more than they ever knew, he had the feeling this fragile
female of his would be in his mind until the very end, no matter
how short their time together might be.
Come, we will journey outside, he said, going to the door so
he might palm it open for her.
She nodded, and they walked through the exit tunnel in
silence. He thanked the mothers when he saw that the two
moons did not linger in the sky this morning.
Female 7-133 hated the moons, once confessing they ashed
her flame with an emotion she called the heebie-jeebies.
However, once outside in the brisk air, he found the need to
empty his bladder as well. So he shifted, as he still found it
easier to perform his biological functions outside his shell.
But when he looked down from his now increased height, he
found his mate wide of eye, her flame burning dark orange with
fright.
You have no need to fear me in this form, he told her. I
would never hurt you inside nor outside my shell.
Still, she continued to look at him in a way that sparked her
flame with black spikes of disgust. Which gave Xenon pause.
He revered her for the chance at continuance she had
bestowed upon him with their mating.
Yet he disgusted her. Injured pride and reverence tangled
inside him as he studied her flame.
In the end, reverence won. He reshelled himself, and though
he had much pondered morphing back into drakkon form as it
was the one he preferred for sleep, he resolved to remain shelled
for the little time they had left together.
As if to reward his decision, the lupine clasped his shell hand
in hers as they walked back into the tunnel.
Im looking forward to my morning examination, she told
him, resting her face briefly against the side of his arm.
Her words cheered his fire. This was a coded compliment of
sorts since frequently her examinations resulted in more mating
between them.
His Reverence. Usually, a drakkis new Reverent titles were
withheld for the mourning period after birth, or on very rare
occasions for the days of celebration after her survival. But
Female 7-133s blanket rejection of her certain death prognosis
gave him a strange, tentative hope. And in his mind, Xenon
began to refer to her by her mated titles: Fated Mate, Reverence,
Treasureeven though theyd had no ceremony declaring
them such.
O
ver the next moon, they fell into a routine. Despite her grim
prognosis, she seemed to sleep through the night
more easily. In the morning upon waking, hed often
escort her from the cave, then bring her back into the warmth of
his lab for a thorough examination that would end with her
shuddering beneath his forked tongue.
However, one morning when they stepped out of the glacier
stations entrance, they both stopped short. For what looked to
be the entire Far Traveler Experiment Group 7 village had set up
camp outside his glacier station.
Whatthahhellisthis?!?!
His mates native tongue, spoken out loud, interrupted his
surprised musings.
Xenon did not understand either, but soon more lupins began
to emerge from the mammoth fur and bone huts. And what
seemed to be every male and female lupin, adults and children
combined, in the village came to stand before him.
King of Us! King of Us! they chanted in their Far Traveler
tongue, tossing hunks of gold and jewels at his feet. King
of Us!
What are they saying? his mate demanded inside his mind.
She moved closer to him, perhaps remembering her last
encounter with these people.
I am unsure, he answered. Perhaps they are upset about
the deaths three moons ago. They chant King of Uswhich was
the title of one of the men who tried to give you claim.
Wait, she said. You mean you killed this packs alpha?
Yes, he was their leader, he admitted. But his eyes stayed
glued to the chanting group, watching them for any sudden
movements. You must away to the lab, Fated Mate. I can deal
with this alone. And I would not have you hurt.
No, wait, hear me out, she answered. They wouldnt be
chucking gold and gems at your feet if they were here to kill you.
They probably also wouldnt have set up camp, and brought their
kids along.
Then why are they here? And chanting? he demanded. He
wanted very much to protect her. But he was afraid to shift for
fear of hurting her in some way.
Yet her voice registered no such fear. Instead, she made that
odd chortling sound again before asking, Are you the kind of
guy who reads the manual on how wolf culture works, or are you
like my papa and just sort of bang around until you figure it out
for yourself?
Though he would never have described himself in this
manner, he confessed, I did not read the Royal Geneticists
report in its entirety. It wasexcessively long. And I had much
work to do with regards to setting up my station.
So what youre saying is you never got to the part of the
manual about how if you kill the pack alpha, that makes you the
new pack alpha?
At first, Xenon failed to understand her meaning, and then
quite suddenlyhe did.
Hed killed the King of Us, and now these chanting wolves
had given him a new title.
KING OF US! KING OF US! KING OF US!
With one kill, hed gone from being the Prince of the
Drakkon, to the King of the Lupin.
18

Y ou called, Blue Father? Damianos asked as he


strode into his fathers lab in Zone 6.
He found his sire standing before his second
labs computational wall. It contained readings from the local
lupin population, Damianos noted with a glance. But he did not
bother to observe more than that.
His fathers mission to assess the spiritual capacity of this
population annoyed his flame. As someone tasked with readying
the population for the hunt in the event the entire planet wasnt
declared a sanctuary, he cared little for his fathers directive,
which conflicted with his own.
You did not ask permission to enter, Blue Son, his father
noted, without turning from the Drakkon words scrolling down
the wall. However, his eyes flicked to the anthro whod followed
Damianos into the lab. Nor did you ask permission to bring one
of your hominids into my abode.
Damianos own eyes flicked down to the accompanying
anthro. Hed almost forgotten about the two-legged primate
hed godspoken into making this journey with him. The squat
hominid looked about the glacier lab, babbling in his North
Traveler language about the wonders of the ice cave. Asking if
this were the home of all the gods. If
Quiet, Damianos commanded in the North Traveler tongue.
The anthro immediately complied as if the command had come
fromwell, a god.
Then to his father, Damianos replied, He is but meat, Blue
Father. A walking, talking midday snack who cannot understand
our tongue. And if you wished me to ask permission, you should
not have coded me into the door. Now shall we speak upon the
matter so urgent that I was commanded to abandon my post and
meet you here, so far from my assigned territory?
The Second Prince made the door coding decision. Not I.
Is that so? Damianos asked. I must give the Prince of
Drakkon my thanks if ever he lifts the ban on access to his work
zone. At least he seems to have a care for not wasting my time.
He chose to use his cousins new title, as opposed to the one hed
held when they departed for their journey to this water and ice
planet
His fathers flame colored a vexed orange and red, though in
truth, it was Damianos who had the most right to be vexed.
But instead of chastising his son for his impudent attitude,
the older drakkon let out a long-steamed breath. I find myself
in need of your counsel, he admitted. Ive been secretly tasked
with what is proving to be a very difficult mission. My first
attempt completely failed.
What followed was quite a story. Shortly after arrival, the
newly crowned King of Drakkon sent his uncle an encrypted
message with a predictable, but by no means simple, mission.
His uncle was to ensure the Second Prince never returned from
this planet.
Apparently, much had happened on Drakkon since the new
kings inauguration. Though he had received the best mate the
matching device could provide, their first attempt at a child had
ended in the deaths of both the egg and its drakki mother. Which
meant the Blue Kings line would end, unless the Prince of
Drakkon produced an heir. The same prince who had been all but
exiled to not just another part of their planet, but another planet
altogether. Still, it should have been a simple matter of calling
his brother back to Drakkon to take a mate, and hopefully ensure
an heir to the throne.
However, instead of doing that, the King, in a rather public fit
of petulance, declared that the fating portals should be recoded
so royal drakkon, and those in the upper echelons of Drakkon
society, could take two wives to matethereby increasing their
odds of breeding. In the Kings opinion, this announcement
should have been met with much fanfare, since drakki now had
that much more chance of marrying above their status.
It was not.
In fact, there had been so much protest among the poorer
classes (not to mention those who truly believed in the sacred
rites of Reverence), that a small but powerful Second Prince
following had arisen.
According to the new king, these drakkon, without having
much knowledge of the Second Prince, had cast him in the role
of the most ideal ruler imaginablea title which technically
belonged only to the King of Drakkon. And the King feared the
Second Princes popularity would only grow during his absence
over the next nine-hundred-plus years. Therefore, the King had
asked his beloved uncle to deal with the oblivious usurper.
Quietly, speedily, and discreetly.
The Royal Overlord, being a loyal subject, had immediately set
about godspeaking an anthro band of hunters with the task. Had
even provided a shuttle so they could set up camp as close as
possible to the Zone 7 Experiment Group without giving any
cause for suspicion. Hed spoken to them about the evils of the
Group 7 wolves and had told them to not only attack the village
of evil skin-shedders, but that they also should take the red eye
of the blue serpent demon. Hed told them this eye had much
power, and the warrior who captured it would possess
immortality.
Complete smoke, but Damianos could easily see how a species
whose lifespan lasted barely as long as a drakkon hibernation
could be compelled to such an act.
As soon as the Second Prince announced his unexpected
arrival outside the glacier station, the Royal Overlord had
godspoken his anthros to the Zone 7 Glacier Lab to lie in wait.
But the hunters never reported back. And though the Royal
Overlord had some hope of using another set of godspoken
hunters to attempt another assassination, the Zone 7
observation camera had quite suddenly shut down. A few days
later, the Prince of Drakkon sent him a message stating that the
female anomaly hed been meant to deliver had gone into heat.
He had given her to the Group 7 lupins, per protocol, and
unfortunately, she had not survived the mating.
This was even more unfortunate for the Royal Overlord
because it meant he wouldnt have another opportunity to use
his godspoken hunters to kill the Princeespecially without a
functioning camera to track his movements beyond the glacier.
He made no mention of the attack? Damianos asked, his
flame consternating with black.
He did not. The offline camera also went without mention.
When I sent him another message about no longer having eyes
in his zone, he said he was aware of the problem and would fix it
anon. But anon has yet to come.
The camera was of little surprise to Damianos. Things went
here as they went upon his home planet. Those who did not
understand the technology remained at the mercy of those who
did. And if they attuned their powerful antennae to their fire
planet at this very moment, they would most likely pick up the
static of many an irked drakkon complaining likewise about the
universally slow technical drakkons failure to fix their technical
problems.
Your first mistake was using food to do a drakkons job, Blue
Father. I care not for the new king myself, but I am also not so
deluded by his brother. I will pay him a visit, and finish the job
your godspoken meat could not.
But this you cannot do, Blue Son.
Damianos flame chilled at his fathers words. Little did he
like being told what he could or could not do, and as one of the
largest drakkon in living history, few drakkon dared do so. And
what would stop me? he demanded of his father, the one
drakkon in the position to question his decisions.
The King asked us for discretion. If the Prince is found killed
by another drakkons roar, on a mission led by the Kings most
trusted advisor, there will be questions. It could come back to
you. To us!
Damianos passed his fathers argument over his cooled
flame and found it to be fireproof. He was right, blast him. Never
mind Damianos could easily best the princeling. Theyd be put
on a trial they could not be sure of winning if they returned to
Drakkon without him. But if they didnt complete this secret
mission, the Kings retribution would be severe, but not swift.
This was another reason the lower classes roared for The
Second Prince, even before he left the planet. His flame burned
ever dark blue and neutral. Partly, it was said because hed been
raised away from his father and brother. On the other side of the
planet. While his brother, the current King still had the doctor
who attended his dead mothers birth locked away in a dungeon
over two-thousand years later, many drakkon believed The
Second Prince incapable of such torture.
Damianos, however, was not of the lower class. And
moreover, he didnt necessarily believe his cousin fit to lead
simply because he didnt share his brothers penchant for
torture. And perhaps most importantly, hed rather not have his
father in the position of either murdering or be murdered. The
old drakkon vexed him so, yet he was still family. But how could
they complete this mission without being found out?
Why should the Royals have this power over us? I am the
strongest drakkon our planet has ever known, yet here I sit,
subject to the whims of a spoiled king. And unable to protect my
own fathers life.
In a sudden blaze of rage, Damianos took the human at his
side by the hair and flung him across the room. There came the
sickening rip of skin as the males hair and scalp detached from
his skull. But the anthros pitiful screams lasted less than a wing
beat. His neck snapped as soon as he hit the lab wall.
However, the action brought no relief to Damianos flame.
Yes, he would feast upon a human before he returned to Zone 2,
but the meal would be flavored with the bitter spice of
subjugation.
Most drakkon would have found a way to excuse themselves
from the large, flaming drakkons presence just then. But his
fathers eyes only flicked down to the broken meat before
returning to his son. He then stepped forward with no fear
whatsoever in his flame.
In fact, he lowered his head and opened his glottis, so his
voice carried an extra hiss as he said, What you see as giving
myself over to the spoiled kings command, I see as an
opportunity, Blue Son. Because while the temporary King of
Drakkon trusts me above all others to carry this mission out, he
should not trust my silence. I am fairly certain a spoiled king
who has never had to work a day in his life for anything
including rule of our planetwill be unable to outwit the
younger brother of a former king, one who is many times craftier
than either his brother or his nephew. In fact, Im fairly certain
when we return it will somehow come out that the King was
behind his brothers death. And I am fairly certain he will be
deposed. I am also fairly certain, in his permanent absence, the
country will happily accept the next drakkon in line to the
throne. Not myself, as Ive aged out of the crown. But my son. A
great hunter. A cousin, and loyal ally to the Second Prince.
Someone who can say without shift of flame that he had
absolutely no hand in the Princes death. I am fairly certain you,
my Blue Son, will be the greatest king Drakkon has ever known.
As you can see, there are many things I am fairly certain of. But
there is only one thing I am fully certain of: if you wish to
assume your rightful place as King of Drakkon, you must learn to
control that temper of yours. And you must come up with a
solution that will make what I am fairly certain of an absolute
certainty.
Damianos gave his father a sharp look. King of Drakkon. He
would never have guessed his father had such plans within him.
But yes, it made sense. Their family was strong. Well connected.
They could guide the planet forward in ways neither a spoiled
prince nor his more even-tempered brother ever could.
Many emotions sparked his fire as Damianos considered his
fathers words: anger, surprise, pride, contempt. But in the end,
his fire settled, burning a steady blue-tinted orange.
Resolve. Determination. Both flames burned inside Damianos
as he announced, I see your point, Blue Father. And I have a
plan. It will take but two solar cycles to complete, and at the end
of it, I will be in position to become King of Drakkon.
With that, Damianos relayed the plan to his father, who
flamed with approval upon hearing it unfold.
As it would turn out, Damianos was right about his plan
rendering him King of Drakkon. But little did the Royal
Huntmaster know how imperfectly his plan would unfold.
II

Lamour, lamour, America!


19

TWO SOLA R ROTATIONS LATER

X enon perched upon the collection of boulders, waiting


for the perfect moment to strike. With the focus of a
trained laser, he watched the herd of hooved tundra
beasts approach the small patch of grass beneath the rocks. They
were nearly within firing range. And with precision timing, he
could roast the entire group in a single roar.
Look me! Look me, Dada! a voice chirped far beneath him,
yelling out in his mothers strange tongue.
With only that warning, Golden Son shot across the icy
expanse beneath Xenon in his shell form, naked as the day he
was laid.
Cease! Xenon roared down to his son in Drakkon, a
language only the two of them used in Zone 7.
But Golden Son had a way of, as Fated Mate put it, hearing
what he wants to hear.
Before the words could reach his hominid ears, Golden Son
shifted into a wolf of such vibrant yellow, his glossy fur threw
light back at the sun. Golden Son was much faster in wolf form,
at least as far as running was concerned. Also, while in wolf
form, he could not understand his fathers words. Which meant
he could rapidly cut the distance between him and the hooved
tundra beasts without having to deal with his sires pesky
commands.
However, this form did not last long. The wolf leaped into
the air
And never came down.
Soon after, the tundra beasts issued collective bleats of alarm
when a small golden drakkon suddenly appeared above them.
However, most of them neednt have worried. His sons roar was
little more than a torch as this point, and he set but a mere few
tails on fire as the herd made a hasty retreat in every direction
but the one Xenon had strategized for.
And so was his plan to roast the herd for the Half Moon Feast
thwarted. In fact, Xenon barely managed to roast one of the
beasts for their evening meal.
If Golden Son felt at all guilty for ruining his fathers efforts,
it did not show when he joined him in the air for the flight back
to the glacier lab station. His chest burned bright yellow with
glee, and Xenon suspected if the boy had still been inside his
hominid shell, he would have chortled in the same manner as
Fated Mated. In fact
Did Great Wolf Mother put you up to this? he asked his son.
Their wings beat at the same time, with a similar primordial
instinct for staying in flight. But Xenon lifted his pectoralis
major muscles only slightly to remain at the same speed as his
much smaller son while he awaited his reply.
No, his son answered in Drakkon. Wolf Mama speak null
of you to me now.
Though his son spoke Drakkon in a confusing patois of Far
Traveler, and his mothers syntax, Xenon understood his
meaning. And it blued his fire.
Do you want me to survive? Okay then lets go with that
option,
She had survived. Against all the odds, she had survived. Yet
since their argument nearly three moons ago, it felt like the
outcome had been the same either way.
Blue Papa, you okay?
Golden Sons voice pulled Xenon out of his troubled thoughts.
I am disappointed we did not have a more successful hunt.
We will make a midday meal of this meat with Great Wolf
Mother, then try again, Xenon said. Answering Golden Son, if
not his actual question. We must gather at least ten to fifteen
more tundra beasts to feed all of Group 7 at the next Full Moon
Feast.
Me eat feast, too?
No, he answered, flame darkening at the thought of his son
eating the drugged meat. You will leave with your mother as
you always do.
Another wing beat. Then Golden Son asked, Me not part of
Group 7 because me drakkon?
Again, his syntax made the question hard to understand. Yet
Xenon did understand it. Understand it, and ignore the real
question being asked to remind Golden Son, A fathers duty
passes to his son. Thus, must you attend to Great Wolf Mother
when I can no longer.
And Fated Mate never participated in Half Moon Festivals.
Unlike the Far Travelers, shed easily deduced the real reason for
his monthly offerings. And she liked it so little that during most
feast nights, she took Golden Son to the mountain where the
Group 7 pack went to shift on full moon nights, rather than stay
in the comfort of the station while he conducted his work.
But why Great Wolf Mother always leave on Feast Night? Me
want feast, too!
Fortunately, the glacier station came into view before Xenon
had to answer. And before Golden Son could ask him any more
difficult questions.
As was so often the case when they landed, several small
furry wolves ran up to greet Golden Son. As one of her first acts
as queen of the Group 7 Lupins, Fated Mate decreed there would
be no more multiple matings or matings without consent from
any female lupin in heat.
Xenon suspected this would reduce the packs number of live
births, and it had, but only by a little. Moreover, the decree had
brought the number of mating deaths down to zero, while also
increasing the number of female lupins who survived birth. And
so the Lupin village now had something he had never before
seen on this planet or his own: plenty of new pups with living
mothers whose flames burned brightly.
In truth did these results make him reconsider the mating
practices of his own people. Though drakki were revered
eternally by their mates, they had never been allowed to choose
their mates. A male drakkon would speak code into a fating
portal, and then the drakki would be blinked from wherever she
was upon the planets surface to whatever portal her fated mate
had used to put in his request. The truth was, drakki had very
little choice in the matter at all. But after seeing how the Group 7
lupin thrived under his mates laws, Xenon couldnt help but
wonder how the low fertility rates on Drakkon would fare if they
made a similar rule there.
In any case, the Far Travelers had fared well under monitored
birth, and Golden Son enjoyed the company of the increased
number of village pups. They danced around Golden Sons feet
now, begging him in barks and yips to return to his wolf form so
he might play with them.
Can I? Golden Son started to chirr in their shared
language.
You must give Great Wolf Mother reverence first, Xenon
reminded him before he could finish the question.
Great Wolf Mother might not have adapted to the custom of
Reverence, but Xenon had vowed from the beginning that his
son, no matter his strange nature, would.
They both reshelled and Xenon shifted the tundra beast to his
hominid shoulder, before entering the glacier station tunnel
beside his son. They found Fated Mate in the outer room, where
she and Xenon now slept, having ceded to their son the furs in
the secure inner lab.
She sat upon a pile of fursnot the ones they slept on, but
another pile on the opposite side of the stream, which she
referred to as the livingroom. Her head and back bent over
Xenons flame chilled when he saw she was drawing upon a
sheet of replicated animal hide again. A rabbit lay cut open
beside her, and she dipped into it with a writing instrument
whittled from animal bone.
He did not ask what she did. He could see the rendering of
land masses, which yes, he reluctantly admitted, looked an awful
lot like the ones hed spotted from the Great Star Sea when
approaching this planet. As if by design, she seemed to be
putting the finishing touches on what he could only conclude
was some manner of map when they came in. However, her head
lifted, and her heart flame turned to bright yellow when she
finally noticed them standing there.
Well, not them, precisely. Fated Mate gave Xenon no
acknowledgment whatsoever, as she said, Hey, Baby! greeting
their offspring in her tongue as if the child was the only one who
had entered the structure. Did you have a good hunt?
Yeah! Golden Son answered. I try cook reindeer but only
make tail fire.
A poor showing, in Xenons opinion, yet Fated Mate chortled
as she so often did when their son failed to perform up to
standard. Well, youve got to start somewhere!
Unlike Xenon, she cared not in the least that Golden Son was
behind his Drakkon milestones in every conceivable way. Too
small. Too immature, and seemingly without the ability to take
anything seriouslyincluding his father.
But Fated Mate was of a different opinion: Dude, hes nearly
three times as big as all the other wolf pups in the village
thats big, even for my day. And he speaks better than most
humans twice his age. Ill take that. And dont you think you
have enough people taking you seriously? I mean, youre an
Alpha King, worshiped as a god. Take your deity status, and leave
our son alone.
She had responded to his worries in that chortling way of
hers. Then pressed her lips to his face as she pulled his male
works out with the suggestion that they talk about
something else.
But that had been during happier times. When she still
welcomed mating without breeding with him. When she still
spoke inside his head.
What draw you, Wolf Mama? Golden Son demanded, all
thoughts of Reverence seemingly forgotten.
Golden Son Xenon reminded him with a barely
contained hiss.
Ssssorry! Golden Son dropped his head into a quick bow,
rushing out, Honor onto you, Wolf Mamawhat draw you?
Its a map, Fated Mate answered before Xenon could
censure Golden Son again. She held it up so their son could see,
and pointed to a land mass labeled S-I-B-E-R-I-A in her civil
alphabet. Heres where I think we are. She then pointed to a
much narrower mass with the words B-E-R-I-N-G-I-A L-A-N-
D B-R-I-D-G-E written above it. And heres where we would
need to cross to get back to where I came from She traced a
finger over the narrow strip outlined in dried rabbits blood to
another land mass labeled N-O-R-T-H A-M-E-R-I-C-A, then
down to a symbol with five points, beside which was written the
word A-R-I-Z-O-N-A. And thats where Im hoping well
eventually end up.
We leave? Golden Son asked excitedly. When?
We honor you with this meat, Fated Mate, Xenon pushed
into her head before Fated Mate could reply. He lay the tundra
beast down before her with a reverent bow.
Her eyes flickered up to him. As if just now realizing he had
entered the cave. Then she said to Golden Son, So you burned
the tail clean off, huh?
Yeah, I did! You should sssseee it. Me go drakkon. Reindeer
like Golden Son made his hands into antlers, and then
proceeded into an extended pantomime of the hooved tundra
beasts he and his Great Wolf Mother called reindeer.
Often, Xenon enjoyed the interactions between Fated Mate
and Golden Son, having never had a relationship with his own
mother. But now his fire burned watching her chortle at Golden
Sons antics as if Xenons offering meant nothing. As if Xenon
meant nothing
Blue Papa, why flame so dark? his son asked.
For the third time that day, Xenon did not give true answer.
You may play with your friends, he said instead.
Which caused Golden Son to yell, Yaayyyy! in his mothers
tongue, before morphing into his lupin form as he ran to the
tunnel.
Fated Mate, Xenon said with a bow. With Reverence, these
are not ideas to put into Golden Sons head.
Her mind remained quiet, with not so much as an image in
return. Just as it had remained quiet since she first brought up
her land bridge theory, nearly three moons ago.
It made his flame sicken to think of that conversation now.
The one that had ended with her yelling inside his mind, So
youre just going to dismiss what I want? Say no without even
considering it? Like youre my keeper now? And this glacier is
my prisonmy facilityfor the rest of my life?!
The idea of leaving the many comforts of the glacier lab had
seemed patently ludicrous to Xenon. With Reverence, hed
gently explained his word was final, and hed entertain no
further argument on the matter. And even though he could see
how her flame darkened at this announcement, he figured this
would turn out like every other small disagreement theyd had
over the course of their otherwise peaceful mating. A gust of cold
wind, easily quelled by a conversation without words upon their
mating furs.
But to his surprise and disappointment, there had been no
such intimate conversation in the moons that followed. And this
day, he could see her anger and resentment still burning inside
her flame, nearly as hot as when hed first forbidden further talk
on the subject.
The Second Prince Even-Flamedthis was how he was
sometimes referred to in the Drakkon court. But at this moment,
he felt very undeserving of that title, so vexed did his
flame burn.
You realize this is not your home, he tried again, nodding
toward her crude map. It is just a placeon a land mass upon
which a very few hominids have settled. Your home, as you knew
it, does not yet exist.
No response.
And he found himself once more at an angry burn, even
though her silence and refusal to mate outside breeding should
not have affected him thus. He was Drakkon, after all. On his
planet, neither mating nor conversation was expected from
ones mate. In fact, his father had built his queen a separate
residence. And though he held her in great Reverence until her
dying day, never did they congress in such fashion, even after his
fathers male works unexpectedly descended a second time.
And yet
Xenon found he missed their mind talk. And their nightly
congress. Greatly. She still lay beside him upon their polar bear
furs, but he missed her. The way she used to turn upon her side
to receive his male works. The sound of her quick gasps, and
sharp mews when she found release. Those times when she
closed her mouth around one penis while stroking the other with
her hand
Yes, he missed her greatly. So much so, that in the moons
since their argument, his flame had ashed cold with a seemingly
infinite case of discontent. Yet at the same time, it continued to
simmer longingly for the way it had been between him and Fated
Mate before their disagreement.
He could not give in. Of course, he could not leave behind the
comforts of the station. Even Reverence didnt require such
foolishness of him. Yet her continued silence sparked him with a
desperation he could not ignore.
And anger. So much unreverent anger. You would really
have us abandon the comfort and relative safety of the lab
because you have wish of warmth? he demanded inside
her head.
To his surprise, this question was the one that finally
compelled her to answer. Yes, she replied without reservation
or embarrassment. I dont want to live in a tundra for the rest
of my life, and seeing how rough the wolves have it here, Im
pretty sure they could really thrive in America. Is that so hard for
you to understand?
He gave her words consideration, his flame eating at him to
do whatever it took to end this argument. Especially if it meant a
return to the way things were before she made her unreasonable
request to disrupt their lives and leave the station. If you wish,
Fated Mate, when Golden Son is older, I will carry you to this
place in my claws. We will visit for a time, then return to the
station after you have warmed your flame.
Her flame cooled, and she gave visible shudder. Presumably
at the thought of being carried anywhere by him in
drakkon form.
But inside his head she said, No, no, Xenon. I dont need a
vacation. I want to leave here. Permanently. I want us all to go.
Eos, and the Far Travelers, too, since youre theyre king and Im
theyre queen. We cant just leave them behind. Were
responsible for these people.
Xenon resisted the urge to turn his eyes skyward in irritation,
as she so often did. The commitment of Fated Mate to the Group
7 Far Travelers was, at times, vexing. She not only insisted on
taking her role of Queen seriously shed also taken it upon
herself to invite the Far Travelers to seek her out for counsel.
They frequently exited the domain to find several Group 7
lupin waiting with problems they wished her to solve. Stolen
hides, stolen mates, a daughter who wished not to be given to
another wolf by her father. Over all of this did she render
judgment, claiming such petty matters were their
responsibility.
Still, she was his Most Revered, so he struggled to keep both
his eyes and his tone the opposite of his flame as he explained,
We cannot simply leave this place, Fated Mate. My lab is here.
And I must have my lab to do my work.
Oh, you mean the work of drugging our people every month,
and running experiments on them like theyre fucking mice?
He disliked when she used crude language outside their
mating furs, but he ignored it to point out, These experiments
are the sole purpose of my mission, Reverence. And more
importantly, any data I can collect will help me to prove your
species is a viable race. I should not have to remind you of this.
His uncle, the Royal Overlord, had been particularly
demanding as of late, requiring more and more findings and
research numbers for his first report back to the Drakkon court.
To be fair, Xenon had managed to use all the extra work as a
good excuse for not repairing the broken station cameras all
these moons. But the fact remained if he failed to deliver the
work his uncle tasked him with, and if he did not answer every
message and comply with every data request, the Royal Overlord
might ignore his Zone 7 ban and come to the glacier station
himself. And if that happeneddisaster.
Do you prefer the cease of experimentation on the Far
Travelers, or sanctuary for your entire species?
A good point, he thought. But Fated Mate merely made that
sucking sound with her teeth. First of all, I dont think
DUNH!
A hard sound, muffled but booming, cut Fated Mate off.
Xenon went completely still. What was that? he wondered,
tongue reflexively flicking into the air, even though whatever it
was would be too far away for him to smell. It sounded like
something had been dropped into the snow. Right outside the
glacier station
Another dragon, Fated Mate whispered inside his head.
And when he turned to look back at her, he found her eyes
wide with shock, her flame burning a fearful red. I can smell
him. Also, thats the same sound you make whenever you
come home.
Was it? Hed never thought how it must sound to have one as
large as him in drakkon form land outside the glacier station.
But no, the arrival of another drakkon was not possible. Hed
declared a solitude ban at the beginning of his trip, just as his
father had advised. And he was Prince of Drakkon. No one would
dare go against his decree.
Perhaps your nose deceives you, he suggested to
Fated Mate.
No, I sleep with a dragon. I know what one smells like.
He opened his mouth to assure her that even if there were
another drakkon outside their abode, said drakkon would not
dare enter without Xenons permission. But then he cut himself
off, realizing
Golden Son was outside.
Without another word to Fated Mate, he hurtled toward the
tunnel, his wings bursting from his back. And by the time he
emerged from the glacier station, he was in full drakkon form.
However, things were not as bad as he thought they would be.
They were much, much worse.
His son, having returned to his drakkon form, was now
gaping up at a red drakkon. Smaller than Xenon, but much,
much bigger than Golden Son.
And now he knew who would break his solitude ban. It was
the Mission Therapist, charged with monitoring the mental
health of the team members. As such, he was the only one on
the team with permission to ignore Xenons ban.
And right now, he was staring down at the little golden
drakkon as if he were a hallucination.
Blue Papa! Blue Papa! Look! Another Drakkon. He red.
Look! Golden Son chirred happily in their language.
Look, indeed
Go back to the cave, he commanded, voice as quiet as the
Group 7 natives peeking out from inside their mammoth hide
and bone tents. Lock yourself in the lab with Great Wolf
Mother.
But
Remember my words from this morning. When I cannot,
you must.
Golden Son must have, for once, sensed the seriousness of
the moment. Because instead of arguing, he swiftly disappeared
into the glacier station tunnel.
Only when he was out of view did Xenon give the red drakkon
greeting. Therapist.
Prince, The Mission Therapist answered with a bow of his
great head. But his eyes stayed rooted to the place where Golden
Son had been standing. As if still trying to make sense of what
hed just seen.
Why have you come here, Therapist?
He was a lupin youngand then he became drakkon, right
before my eyes. He called you father. In our language.
Only then did the Mission Therapist finally turn his eyes to
meet Xenons. This I do not understand.
It is not for you to understand, Xenon answered with an
officiousness he had not employed in many rotations. It is for
you to answer. I will query again: why have you come here,
Therapist?
The Mission Therapist was only a thousand years older than
Xenon, yet his fire burned as weak and confused as a drakkon in
the last flames of his life as he responded with weak chirr, The
Royal Overlord is worried about you. He has decided to declare
this species unviable for civilization.
What? But I have sent the Royal Overlord report after report
proving the viability of this species! How has he reached such
decision?
The Mission Leader feared you would feel this way about his
directive, which is why he sent me to tell you the mission is
complete. You must melt your station, and rendezvous with us at
the Zone 6 station in two moons time.
No! Xenon answered, no longer chirring, but roaring. This
is unacceptable.
Yes, this is why I was sent. To help you manage your flame
during this process, but...
His eyes went back to the spot where Golden Son had stood,
then returned his gaze to Xenon. Why did he call you by
fatherly title?
Xenon didnt answer. But his flame turned a cold, cold red.
Is he? The red drakkon shook his head as if the
possibility were beyond his comprehension. Are you his sire?
What did you do? What kind of experiments have you run to
create such a thing?
Xenon did not answer.
I must report this to The Royal Overlord. You realize that,
yes? How could you done it? Mix drakkon seed with that of the
hunting beasts? It is highly unethical. It is si
The Therapist never finished his sentence because Xenon
threw himself at the red drakkon with an ear-piercing screech.
20

I t was a fight the Far Travelers would talk about long after
both the Great Wolf Mother and the Great Serpent King
were gone from their lands. For years to come, they would
tell of the red serpent demon landing in their village. Of the fight
that happened after. Glorious and terrifying.
But as for Fensa, she witnessed none of it.
She, too, had dashed toward the glacier station entrance,
though not nearly as fast on her human feet as Xenon had been
in his dragon form. But before she could reach the light at the
end of the tunnel, a small body hit hers, its arms wrapping
around her waist.
Go back, Mama! came her sons human voice. Papa say
lock us in lab. He no like red dragon.
So shed been right about another dragon landing outside the
glacier they called home. And it didnt sound like he was a
friend.
Fensa wanted to argue with Eos. As the daughter of a Viking,
she felt terrible about leaving her mate to fight an enemy by
himself. And a dragon enemy at that.
But shed seen what a dragon was capable of when she pulled
that spear out of Xenons eye. Shed also grown up listening to
her fathers drunken fireside tales about the slaughter of his
family.
Also, there was her son to consider.
The one her mate had named when shed been too out of it to
do herself. Later, shed find out it was a tradition on Xenons
planet for the males to name their children. Not because of some
lame patriarchal ideal, but because most often mothers didnt
survive childbirth.
Aurumessssss Eosssss, Xenon had called him in his strange
language as he handed her to him to nurse. And she found she
loved the name, immediately adopting it as if shed come up
with it herself.
So Eos he was, even after Xenon explained more than once
that he hadnt named their child. What shed heard was their
sons title: Aurumessssss Eosssss, or Golden Son. And half a
title at best the way she said it.
But she called him Eos anyway. And her love for the name
translated smoothly into her love for the child. Which is why she
did as her mate commanded: she ran with Eos into the station
lab, quickly locking them both inside.
There they held one another on top of Eoss bed of polar bear
furs, listening with wide eyes to the conversation raging outside.
It was an argument. Fensa could tell, even if she couldnt
understand the collection of shrieks and hisses that made up
Xenons language. The shrill back and forth screeches cut
through the air like giant chainsaws.
Eos did his best to translate, but he was only two. He
understood little of what the two dragons were yelling at each
other. Only that it had something to do with him, the son who
had been so eager to meet a new dragon.
A new red dragon.
That color detail would haunt Fensa for a long time to come.
Meanwhile, the argument outside soon ended in an unearthly
scream. Followed by the heavy THWUMPS of huge dragon wings
displacing air.
And that was the last they heard from either dragon before, a
few minutes later, the entire structure shook with a popping
boom. It would take her months of listening and re-listening to
the Far Travelers fireside retelling to realize the sound had been
an explosion. An honest to God explosion like those she used to
see all the time in human action movies.
But in the moments following the sound, neither she nor Eos
had a clue what they had just heard. Only the certainty that one
of the dragons had not survived.
Wolf Mama? Eos whimpered, curling his head into her
chest.
Sshh, it will be okay, she answered, even as her heart beat
thunderously.
Even as she whimpered inside for her sister Olas comforting
presence. She may have been a delusion, but she could always be
counted on for support when Fensa hit rock bottom.
But Ola only visited Fensa in her dreams now.
We have to be strong, Fensa said. To both Eos and herself.
Then the glacier shook with the familiar muted cannon sound
of a dragon setting down outside. But behind the sealed lab door,
she couldnt tell if it was her dragon or the other.
The sound of heavy footsteps followed. A dragon. One who
hadnt bothered to shift, as Xenon always did before he entered
the station.
Fensas instinct to run was strong. However, reason
prevailed. The lab was encoded, so only members of their family
could enter. If the wrong dragon had won the fight, he wouldnt
be able to get in. Maybe. Shed learned the hard way that nothing
was infallible. Everything that could be hacked had...and
security doors were little more than constructs, installed to
make the people inside feel safe.
The dragon footsteps were getting closer.
Mama Eos whimpered again, this time not bothering
with the Wolf part of her title. A sign that his humannot his
wolf or dragonwas currently in the drivers seat of his terrified
brain.
We have to be strong, Fensa whispered again, holding her
son even tighter as they waited to discover who was on the other
side of the door.
A long pause. And then the doors slid open to reveal
Xenon in his humanoid form.
Quicklygather your things. Yours and Golden Sons, he
pushed into her head without preamble or explanation. We will
begin the journey to Arizona at sunrise.
21

F ire and ice


Damianos hissed when he saw the burnt husk as he
approached Zone 7. The remains were far too charred
and mangled to identify, but they were most likely that of the
Mission Therapist. His father had opted to send the red drakkon
to deliver the news to the Prince of Drakkon about their
impending departure. A necessary intervention, the Royal
Overlord had told the only drakkon cleared to ignore the Princes
solitude ban. Meanwhile, Damianos had planted a micro-bomb
in his bag. Set to go off precisely twenty minutes after the
drakkon landed in Zone 7.
The bomb should have killed them both. Conveniently
framing the Mission Therapist as an operative for the spoiled
king. The plan had been near fool proof, with little chance of
escape for either drakkon.
Yet Damianos only found one body on the ice.
Again he hissed. He knew he should have come sooner. Two
moons had been far too long to wait. But Blue Father had pointed
out it would look less suspicious if Damianos waited until the day
of the Rendezvous, and then was sent by the Royal Overlord to
check what was keeping the Mission Therapist and the Prince.
Otherwise, there might be questions as to why Damianos had
gone against the Princes decree before the day of the
rendezvous.
But it would seem his investigation had come too late. Where
the Zone 7 station once stood, there was now only a mound of
melted ice. Glittering, and glowing blue under the high sun.
Perhaps the bomb had gone off inside the station, somehow
throwing the Therapists body?
However, that small flame of hope died upon further study of
the rubble. The mound was far too small to house a drakkon
underneath its melted waste. Which meant while Xenons lab
had been destroyed, Xenon himself might very well be alive.
There was also the question of what had happened to the Group
7 wolves who, according to one of Xenons reports, hadagainst
his wishesset up their camp outside his glacier, and declared
him their king.
Damianos downshifted his tail, pulling his body upright so he
could stay aloft as he scanned the area.
No heat signatures to the south or the eastor the west. But
waitin the distance, to the northhe spotted a large patch of
orange, six or seven wing beats away.
Damianos aimed himself in that direction, flapping hard as
he bore down on his prey.
So it was etched. He would need to do this the difficult way.
Kill the Prince himself, and figure out how to pin it on the red
drakkon afterward. The glacier was long gone, and the cameras
had not worked for over two solars. That meant there was no
longer any way to track what happened in Zone 7. He could do
whatever he wanted to Xenon. Kill him, and return to tell the
tale of the turncoat healer with no one the wiser
He stopped short once more, his triumph dying a quick death
inside his stomach.
The orange flames belonged not to the Princes Far Traveler
tribe, but to an even dumber herd. A pack of steppe bison.
With a growl of frustration, Damianos scoured the entire
zone. There was specific protocol in place regarding which
anthro and lupin groups should be allowed to see them or know
of their existence. But in the hours during which he searched,
Damianos cared not who saw him. These hominids would once
again be deemed meat upon their return to Drakkon, in any case.
But they could not return to their home without the Prince.
For without a body, he and his father would have no explanation
for why they would leave a member of the royal court behind to
return to Drakkon. No, Xenons corpse had to be found. There
was no way around it.
However, his cousin was nowhere to be found. Damianos
spent the next two days scouring the ice sheet for him, but
alasnothing.
And so he was forced to return to the remaining mission
team, still gathered at the Zone 6 station. Upon landing, he
found a camp of sorts. A collection of the small rovers the team
had used to transport their equipment and few possessions to
the Zone 6 Rendezvous point. These rovers should have already
been loaded onto the shuttle. But the failure of the Prince to
arrive on the assigned day had made it necessary to start living
out of the small vehicles, since the shuttle was only meant for
short transport, and had no living quarters. From what
Damianos could see, many of the drakkon team had reshelled to
fit more comfortably inside their small vehicles/less-than-ideal
lodging.
Damianos solo return was greeted with much lament.
Lament that turned to despair when Damianos told them of the
Therapistwho had apparently been an anti-Royal agentand
the vanished prince. There was some chance, he told the
drakkon (and himself), that the betrayers bomb had thrown the
Prince into the sea, but they could not return to Drakkon without
knowing for certain.
And so did the mission drakkon turn their efforts to search
for the Prince across land and sea. They found him in neither
place, however. And there was even worse news. Apparently, the
Prince had not only disappeared but removed the trackers from
Experiment Group 7. Which meant the Prince was hiding.
Perhaps among the lupin.
I do not understand, one of the drakkon said when they
gathered again nearly a moon of fruitless searching later. Did
he think we were all in on the Therapists plot? Is he hiding from
all of us?
Perhaps, Damianos allowed, intensely aware of his flame.
The less he said, the less risk of exposure. Which makes it even
more important to find him. We must continue our search. Find
him, and reassure him we are here to help.
But how? another drakkon lamented. The upright
primates are few, but there are still too many to track without
trackers available to help us. He could be any flame upon the
planet floor!
True, Damianos allowed, his flame burning red with an
irritation easily attributed to frustration. Yet still must we find
him. We cannot leave without him.
All understood this imperative. They would risk almost
certain death, including the Kings uncle and cousin if they
returned to Drakkon without the Prince.
Perhaps, he has gone to the uninhabited lands, one of the
red drakkon suggested.
But why would he go there? another drakkon asked. There
are no animals of note there. Just a very few hominid groups, and
grasslands of little use to us.
And gold. The original surveyors report the coastline of the
uninhabited lands has enough gold to replace the entire
conducting system in three of our rovers.
Hes an encoder. What would he need with that much gold?
That was when the Royal Overlord, who had been silent up to
this point, joined the conversation. Yes, he is an encoder,
their leader pointed out to the mission team, his flame suddenly
sparking brighter. So then where is the Zone 7 fated system?
Damianos turned to his father, only barely remembering to
incline his head in patriarchal reverence before addressing him.
What fated system? he demanded, not understanding why a
fertility portal would be referenced in a conversation on this
distant ice planet.
Did you not read your cousins reports? his father asked
him, his flame flaring orange with vexation.
In truth, Damianos had not. He had been too busy training
the hunting beasts to read anything as dull as his cousins
chosen field of study.
Is it possible he used the fated system, and then found some
way to shut it down? a black drakkon, one of the Technicals,
asked. He and I had a strange conversation once.
Once, Damianos repeated. When, exactly?
A few moments later, they gathered around the Mission
Geneticists rover to listen to his retelling of the conversation he
had with the Prince two solar rotations ago. Damianos was so
intent on discovering a possible clue that his flame radiated a
dark blue of focus.
However, what followed was nothing more than a theoretical
conversation. The kind young drakkon frequently had. Right up
there with, Are there drakkon-like civilizations on other
planets? and Who designed our solar system?
The kind of questions with many possible answers, none of
which were conclusive.
Still, Damianos could not shake the flame of an idea that this
conversation might somehow be more important than it at first
seemed. Especially after combing through every report Xenon
had uploaded to the mission server.
As it turned out, two things were true.
One: there had been a fated system in Zone 7, and now, for
some reason, it was gone. Shut down or destroyedwith even
less of a trace left behind than Glacier Lab 7.
Two: Though it was philosophical in nature, Xenons question
about the fating portal was unusual, especially when one
considered some of the other research his cousin had been
performing. And so as silly as the question had been, it
continued to haunt Damianos as the days they could not find
Xenon stretched into moons, and then into solar rotations. If his
question had been so trivial, so beyond any provable point
Why, then, had the Prince asked it?
22

B lue Papa is back!


Fensa shielded her eyes against the setting sun
and looked up. But as it turned out, she neednt
have bothered. The sun was soon blocked out, and a shadow fell
over the group, as the Great Serpent King passed overhead.
Soon after, the snow-covered ground shook with the impact
of an overly large prehistoric bison.
When I get back to Arizona, maybe I should major in
Anthropology, Fensa thought to herself with a laugh. Id have all
my ice age papers on lock.
But then her laughter died.
Mama, why your flame weird red? Eos asked.
Before she could respond, Xenon descended in that way of
his. Shifting as he got lower to the ground until he stood before
them, a man in a simple pair of smart pants. Reverence, I do
honor you with this meat, he said, indicating the bison, only to
startle when he saw the pack of Group 7 wolves, including Eoss
overlarge pup, already tearing the flesh from the animals bones.
I see you have succeeded in your efforts to teach the Group 7
Wolves to shift on command, he said, tone as polite as ever,
despite the wolves animalistic display.
She shrugged at him apologetically. Its been a while since
they had meat, and the mountain passage was hard.
That was the understatement of the millennia. Only a few
days ago, theyd been set upon by a strange black-furred, cat-
like creature. What appeared to be a missing link in the
evolutionary chain between sabretooth cats and the American
bobcat. Or maybe it was a sabretooth tiger?
As shed been forced to remind herself over and over on this
long journey, what people in her time took for granted as correct
about this era, was at best the result of a series of educated
guesses based on scant fossil evidence and even rarer preserved
remains. Fauna remains from this period could not survive
without the help of amber, tar, or ice. And when you think about
it, thats a pretty shitty cataloging system. So yeah, maybe
sabretooth tigers did have dark black fur, contrary to how they
were frequently depicted by museums and prehistoric animal
documentaries in her time.
In either case, Xenon had made short work of the thing.
Setting it on fire with a primal roar. But not before the overlarge
cat delivered a mortal wound to one of their youth. Not quite old
enough to be a father, but just coming out of his boyhood. A
precious life cut short.
All because shed insisted they go to Arizona.
You think still of the boy, Xenon guessed.
How can I not? she answered. I feel responsible for
everyone on this trip.
Hed never know how much. Not just because he was a dragon
who looked at the Group 7 wolves as just a few steps above lab
rats, but because he didnt know the real reason she was risking
all their lives to go to Arizona in the first place.
In that case, youll be glad to know what I found on my
southward survey
He was right about that. Less than two days later, they came
to the most beautiful sight shed ever seen in all her years on
this planet.
Green. Grass as far as the eye could see. And, beyond that
The opening strains of an old Petite Meller song suddenly
sounded in her head, the French ingnue singing, Lamour,
lamour, America! as loud as Fensa could see.
Shed made it back to America. Which meant Arizona was
only a few months away.
Your eyes have become wet, but your flame remains yellow,
Xenon observed inside her head. Are these tears of happiness?
Yes, they are
She looked up at the man standing beside her. Her mate. And
forced a smile to her face. Thank you, Xenon. Thank you for
bringing me here.
He looked at her for a very long time before saying, You do
honor me with your thanks, Reverence.
Reverence. The usual awkward feelings stole over her when
he called her that. And as they set off into the green expanse,
she wished, not for the first time, that the red dragon had never
come to their village.
III

I was wondering when Id meet you. The dragon beneath all


that good sex and reverence.
23

NEA RLY A YEA R LATER

T he danger of being discovered always lurked in the


back of Xenons mind as they continued their journey
to Fated Mates Arizona. The other drakkon would
certainly be searching for him. And urgently given they couldnt
make the return trip to Drakkon without him. Which meant he
had to remain ever vigilant.
For that reason, he chose to walk beside his mate and child
with the Far Travelers, even though he could cover significantly
more ground in his drakkon form. He only hunted in drakkon
form when the group was in dire need, such as when theyd
passed through the snowy mountains to get to the green of the
landmass Fated Mate called America. And even then, he made a
circular surveillance flight, scanning the horizon in all
directions, before he took to the air to hunt for meat.
Most often, he and Golden Son hunted smaller game
alongside the male Group 7 wolves Fated Mate had insisted they
bring on their journey. The animalsespecially the herbivores
had become both smaller and less dangerous the farther south
they traveled. He and the other Group 7 hunters had found a
more gracile version of the hooved tundra beasts, what Fated
Mate called deer in her language. Theyd also come across
smaller versions of creatures Fated Mate referred to as sheep and
goats.
However, size had not mattered as much as it had in Zone 7.
For the further south they migrated, the more plentiful the
animals became. They found meat roaming in abundance nearly
everywhere they went.
Not only that but the rivers they walked along teemed with
both fish and birds. There was so much sustenance to be had in
this land Fated Mate guided them through, that the Group 7
children soon began participating in obtaining food alongside
the adults. They gathered berries and nuts to accompany
communal meals and climbed trees to pluck eggs from nests. At
one point, one of Golden Sons fast friends, a male lupin older,
but smaller, than Golden Son in humanoid form, even managed
to kill two tree birds with the throw of a single stone.
Fated Mate had grinned, much amused when Golden Son and
his friend returned to the camp with tale of the boys deed. So
youre where that saying comes from! she had said to the
confused boy, laughing.
It had been an arduous journey, but a successful one as far as
Xenon was concerned. They hadnt been found. And the Group 7
female lupin continued to thrive and breed well, despite having
gone from a seaside village of fishermen to a nomadic tribe of
hunter-gatherers.
This was thanks, in part, to his fated mate, who the Group 7
Wolves called Great Wolf Mother. Early in the journey, she had
established a collection of female-centric ground rules: a quarter
moon stop whenever a female went into heat, and a half-moon
stop whenever one gave birth. She also examined the pregnant
female lupin weekly, and if she sensed a gestating baby was in
distress, she put the pregnant lupin on what she called
bedrest. Which meant the female would be carried by Golden
Son and the strongest boys in the group on a stretcher of bison
hide and sticks.
For these reasons, along with the relative ease of keeping all
pregnant lupin well fed, they had yet to lose either a baby or
mother in childbirth. Which pleased Xenon, even if he no longer
had the tools or means to upload the valuable data he was
collecting to the drakkon survey group.
A few day cycles before Fated Mates day of birth, an
anniversary she insisted on celebrating every year for both
Golden Son and herself, she gathered their traveling group for
two announcements.
Firstly, they would set up camp for a quarter moon along the
river because Female 7-84 could walk no further due to her
advanced state of pregnancy. Secondly, they were only a day
cycle from their destination. She pointed to a mountain just a
few wingbeats away and told the group this would be their new
home, where they would set up the new village they had left
behind at the glacier station in Zone 7.
The second announcement flickered Xenons flame. Before
her announcement, he had not been aware they were walking
toward a specific destination. Just the state of Arizona as
Fated Mate had called it. But they had entered this tropical
jungle terrain many moons ago, and Fated Mate had continued
guiding them further west, and then south, often subvocalizing
to her now rarely used bioware. He had thought she sought
warmer climes. Or perhaps a less mountainous area, since the
mountains became smaller the farther they walked.
But no, it would seem his mate had a specific destination in
mind all along.
He found her soon after the announcement, with the Group 7
females, setting up a special birthing shelter for Female 7-84.
Seeing her construct such shelters during the journey had
become a familiar sight and just one of the reasons her title had
quickly gone from Queen of Us to Great Wolf Mother toward the
beginning of their reign.
The Group 7 females had built a god story around Fated Mate,
the same as they had around Great Serpent King. Just a little
while after Fated Mates unexpected full recovery from Golden
Sons birth, Female 7-74 and her mate, Male 7-80 appeared at
their glacier entrance, carrying an infant too sickly to shift into
wolf form to heal itself. Theyd brought the sickling as a sacrifice
to the Great Serpent King in hopes of more provisions for the
village after their hunters had come back without meat or fish.
Fated Mates flame had gone deep red with disgust, but
instead of letting her mate explain that he would never eat one
of their young, nor take it as sacrifice, she mentally asked Xenon
to go find this poor woman some non-drugged meat as she
washed her hands in the station stream. Then, she took the baby
from its mother, kissed the wan thing on its forehead, and
carried it into the station. Three days later, she walked out with a
pup and handed it back to its now well-fed motherfully healed.
Xenon could have told her what would follow, even before he
agreed to let her use the station tubes to help the youngling.
Maybe if she had not washed her hands in the stream, or kissed
the baby before taking it away, the Group 7 wolves would not
have deified her for her compassionate act. But who knew.
It all unfolded as if they had been looking for an excuse to
declare the mate who was delivered from the sky for their
serpent god a goddess in her own right. And the Group 7 lupin
had started referring to her as Great Wolf Mother after she
handed the lupin mother her magically healed pup.
After that, every woman in the village brought their child to
her to hold soon after birth. And over the course of their long
journey, Fated Mate had somehow become the lupin in charge of
overseeing all births.
Fated Mate took her duties very seriously. By Xenons
calculations, the journey would have taken much less time
without her specific heat and birthing rules. But these rules only
made the female lupin adore the Great Wolf Mother that
much more.
Adore the Great Wolf Mother, if not necessarily the Great
Serpent King. As usual, whenever he came within a wingspan of
the female Far Travelers, they all seemed to find other things to
do. In other parts of the camp. Parts much further from where
their serpent king currently stood.
Fated Mate had once tried to explain it to him as smelling
wrong. You smell like fire. And lupin have an enhanced sense of
smell, so when you get too close, the primal feeling is that they
should get farther away.
But the males do not respond to me in this manner.
Men set the fires and use them. I think theyre less afraid as
a result.
Yet you did not run when first we met, he answered.
Yeah, because I was naked and afraid, and a fire was better
than spears.
And now? Do you still feel afraid of me?
No, she answered. I guess Im used to fire now, too.
Oh, good, youre here, she said, when she noticed his
presence. Shes going to pop this baby out by nightfall, I just
know it. I think we should have a feast to celebrate. Do you mind
searching for a larger animal or two? A bison if you can find one.
I know theres a smaller version living on the plains to the east
of hereat least, I think there are plains. I wasnt exactly
expecting to find a jungle when we reached Arizona. But
whatever, we need to find them and start gathering their hides.
The wooly mammoth skins arent going to cut it much longer in
this climate. We should find a herd as soon as possible.
These were all good ideas, but he did not like the way she
fluttered about. Giving close attention to smoothing the
mammoth hide over the structure, even though it was, to his
eye, already set up.
Of course, I will honor you with this extra hunt, but first I
would talk with you about your plan to make our home at the
next mountain. Why did you not tell me of this plan yourself?
Oh, well you know, it never came up. And I kind of knew
where I wanted us to settle, but I wasnt sure if I could find it
again, considering I had no real map and my offline bioware
cant deliver coordinates. It only tells me what direction Im
headed in.
So you were looking for this mountain all along, then? he
asked.
Kind of. Yeah, I guess She then suddenly broke off. You
know what? I have a mother in labor here. How about we have
this conversation later?
Of course, Reverence. As you wish, he had answered, as an
acolyte should. But he could not help but note she had not once
looked at him directly during their short conversation.
He took the unexpected hunting opportunity to make a scan
of the sky. No drakkon. Also, no bison. But he did find one of the
small, slope-headed mammoths Fated Mate had referred to as
mastodon the first time their group happened upon a herd of the
smaller beasts. This one must have been an adult male because
he grazed alone, oblivious to his impending death by drakkon
fire until the very last moment.
Upon returning to the camp with his kill, he found Fated Mate
had been right. The woman had delivered a babya healthy one
if the hearty squall of its wails could be used as a determinate.
After dropping the mastodon next to the river with a ground-
shaking thud, he reshelled and went in search of Fated Mate
only to find her still embedded inside the birthing tent with the
new mother.
Now was it nightfall. His belly was full of mastodon meat, but
he did not feel satisfied as he watched Fated Mate. She stood
outside the birthing tent, rocking the newborn pup as she talked
with a couple of other Group 7 females. Within sight, if not
hearing distance.
Often when he looked upon his mate in this fashion, she
would suddenly glance up, as if she could feel his gaze upon her.
But not this night. Her gaze strayed not once to him, even
though her cherished Golden Son sat beside him.
Strange, he thought to himself, just as his son said, Maybe
you should talk with Wolf Mama behind a rock.
Xenons flame started at the suggestion. Talking behind a
rock was the code he used with Fated Mate to signal his mating
wish. They had not enjoyed nearly as much privacy on this long
journey as they had back at the Zone 7 station, and so it had
become necessary to hide behind a large rock whenever he
wished to be with his mate in this manner.
An inconvenience to be sure, but a much better alternative to
what would have happened to them all if they had remained at
the glacier station.
Why do you say this? he asked his son now, though his
male works swelled with immediate approval of the suggestion.
Everybody happy because she say we almost there. She talk
happy and say everybody dance. But her flame
Golden Son did not finish, but he did not have to. Xenons
eyes once more found where Fated Mate stood. Towering over
the group of older female lupin she was speaking with as she
rocked the newborn pup.
She smiled and nodded, often bending her neck forward to
brush her lips across the top of the pups head as she so often
did with the Group 7 babies. To others, she would appear
animated and just as joyful as the rest of the Far Travelers. But
the Far Travelers could not see what Xenon and his son saw. The
dark red and black swirl of Fated Mates head flame, agitated and
obviousbut only to drakkon eyes.
You are correct, Golden Son, he decided out loud, rising to a
stand.
Once again the Group 7 females scattered like small vermin
upon his approach. But in this case, he did not mind their fear,
as it left him alone with Fated Mate and the newborn she held so
close.
I do honor you with this feast, Reverence.
Her eyes shifted left, then right, in that odd way of hers,
before she answered, Um, thank you. Im sure the Far Travelers
appreciate it after that huge journey.
Have you eaten?
Yeah, totally.
Then why do you not appreciate it?
Oh. She rapidly blinked. And it seemed to Xenon that her
head became even more enflamed. I do. I do appreciate it. Of
course, I do. Thanks!
No gratitude is necessary, Reverence. It is your honor due.
She tilted her head but did not say anything further.
And though she had been nothing but accommodating during
their long journey, he found his chest flame, agitated with
awkwardness as he pointed out, It has been many moons since
last we did congress. Would you like to talk with me behind the
rock? I believe it might help with the agitation you experience.
The agitation? Oh, youre reading me again.
Yes, his readings of her flame had come up more than once in
inflamed conversation. She made her feelings about disliking
when he did so plain, and she had forbidden their hatchling from
doing it at all.
Out of Reverence, neither Golden Son nor his father pointed
out that it was biologically impossible for them not to read her
flame. And usually Xenon tried to keep himself from referring to
the emotions he could so easily discern, as it seemed to vex her
greatly.
I only point this out so I might help with whatever has
upset you.
Im not upset. Im stressed. And you know, I should
probably get some sleep. So
She trailed off, but he understood her unspoken message.
After each birth, the Great Wolf Mother always slept with the
mother and young. To keep an eye on things, Fated Mate had
told him privately, but of course this, too, had been turned into
ritual by the Group 7 lupin.
So he was being dismissedalong with his request for
congress.
A few wingbeats ticked by, then Xenon said, Reverence?
Uh, yes?
I would have your eyes.
With what seemed to Xenon much effort, she looked up to
meet his gaze. But before he could say anything, she rushed to
tell him, Now that were here and weve stopped, theyll
probably be fine if I step back a little from overseeing their
births. But now probably isnt the time to end the tradition.
That said, her eyes shifted back to the pup.
Many unreverent thoughts filled his head. He imagined
commanding her to give the baby to its mother and come away
with him. He thought of peppering her with more questions
until she told him what truly caused her head flame to agitate so.
However, in the end, he walked away. Back to Golden Son.
Tonight, we will sleep as drakkon upon the ground, he
announced to his son. A rare treat as they were both deeply
aware of how little Great Wolf Mother cared for their drakkon
forms.
Tonight, he would let her have her way, he decided. But
tomorrow
Tomorrow he would get his answers.

X enon was right about that, as it turned out. But the


answers he sought did not come in the form hed
expected.
The next morn, he gave early rise and found his son in wolf
form beside him. He, like his mother, was larger than any of the
other pups his age. Over twice as large in Golden Sons case. But
unlike the other pups and his mother, Golden Son still did not
have much control over all his forms. And he often shifted from
wolf to drakkon, or drakkon to wolf over the course of a night.
But after Xenon shook him awake and his son morphed into a
drakkon to receive his fathers message, Xenon couldnt help but
think how small he appeared. What would have happened to him
if the red drakkon had been able to tell the rest of the group of
his existence?
Pushing that dark thought out of his head, Xenon told Golden
Son of his plan, and that he could be found to the east upon the
plains if such need arose. His son agreed, and fell back into his
sleeping wolf form so fast that his drakkon wings remained
folded upon his furry back.
Golden Son was the greatest honor Xenon had ever received,
yet even he knew not what to make of his strange hybrid nature
at times.
No matter. Xenon would do whatever it took to keep him
alive. Including kill any drakkon who found their camp and tried
to label Golden Son an anomaly.
Any and all of them, he vowed, as he launched himself into
the air and gave the surrounding areas a dark patrol.
But so far, there were no other hominids he could see in this
area. He had spotted a few tribes during the northern part of the
journey, and he suspected if he went south, there might be more
hominid tribes gathered closer to the equator.
But for now, without knowing it, Fated Mate had found the
perfect place for them to hide. So far from Zone 7 that the other
drakkon might not think to look this deep into the unsettled
lands. And in a mountain range, which provided good cover,
making them difficult to see from above.
He flew east, determined to find the steppe bison Fated Mate
assured him lived in these lands, even though they had yet to
come upon a herd. However, she should not have doubted his
clever treasure. He soon found what looked like a pack of furred
tapirs without long noses, grazing upon a grassy flatland east of
the mountain she wished to call home.
However, just as he decided to set his course back, another
drakkon call rent the air.
Bringing his tail, he turned to see his son zooming toward
him. Blue Papa! Blue Papa! Come quick! Wolf Mama need you!
He followed his son, but only for a short distance. For as it
turned out, she was not back at the camp she had commanded
the Far Travelers to set up, but at the mountain she had told
them they would soon call home.
By rote reverence, he shelled in the air, converting from
drakkon to his hominid form so hed set down on two feet
instead of four. He found her kneeling on a long ridge of land on
bent knees, screaming sobs issuing from her mouth as she
rocked back and forth.
Calm her. Protect her. Help her. Those were his first and only
thoughts upon finding her. For she was crying much harder than
the night she came upon the two full moons.
But what had upset her so this time? He looked around for
answers.
Beside him, his son set down, too distressed to reshell as was
their habit. She tell me make myself drakkon, and take her to
new mountain after you go, he told his father, as if in answer to
his unspoken question. She say we must go now. So I take. But
after we come she hug me and say strange words I no
understand. I know not why, but strange words make her cry. I
no understand. She yell strange words, and also say they should
be working on the gate many times. What is a gate, Blue Papa?
Gate Wasnt that the term she had used to describe the
fating portal?
Xenon looked around again, but this time his answers came
like an icicle falling upon his head. An empty ridge, too high to
be seen from the valley floor, but in direct contact with the suns
bright light, no matter the time of day. It would be, if he were
choosing, the perfect place to install a fating portal.
Understanding chilled his fire blue. The story coming
together as if she had told it herself. Her crying not because of
something she had found, as had been the case with the two
moons. But because of something she had not found.
And now he suddenly understood why she had been unable to
look him in the eye last eve. Why she had denied his request to
talk. She had been planning to leave this place. And Xenon
With the help of the only gate she knew for sure had worked.
And she would have taken Golden Son with her.
If her plan had worked, she would have left him without his
son or his mate.
But it had not worked. And now she would be forced to deal
with the mate she had just attempted to leave behind.
Go back to the camp, he chirred to his son.
But what is wrong with
Go back to the camp, he repeated. And do not return until
I caw for you. Tell the Far Travelers this as well.
24

X enon had never known such rage.


Shortly after Golden Son flew off, he grabbed Fated
Mate by her arms and unshelled. With no reverence
whatsoever, he lifted her into the air, ferrying her to a high cave
that sat flush with the mountains rock wall.
He threw her into the dark space without so much as a
whisper of reverence.
And then he waited. Waited for answers.
Her sobbing ceased nearly as soon as she found herself stuck
in a dark cave with Xenon in drakkon form.
Yet no words pushed into his head.
I would have your explanation.
No answer.
If you think you can manipulate me again by taking away
congress, and your voice, you are sorely mistaken.
And that was when he finally got an answer.
Oh, you want to fuck? she asked inside his head.
Then she yanked the hide dress over her head in one furious
motion, before tossing it aside. Okay, then, lets fuck. Im all
for it! Lets do it!
Such crude words, which sometimes he liked. She knew this,
and he could feel a new manipulation rolling off her.
But then she did the thing she knew turned his fire to
tempest. Found the nearest wall in the dark cave, and braced
herself against it. Presented herself for mounting. Bottom stuck
so far out that he could see the heat of her arousal smoking the
air between her thighs.
He was reshelled and on her before he could stop himself. His
foot in her thigh, both penises finding their homes in an instant.
So many moons, and the hot relief of being back inside her wet
heat caused him to lose his original intent for several moments
as he mated her hard against the caves rock walk.
She began to moan, and a new frenzy overtook him. Wanting
to mate her. Wanting to melt her. Wanting to punish her for
trying to leave.
Which made what he did next that much harder. Yet he did it.
Pushed deep inside her, and forced himself to remain there,
heavy against her back, without movement.
You will tell me why, Female 7-133. Why you tried to leave
me. Why you tried to take our son, he pushed into her head.
You will tell me now!
25

Y ou will tell me now.


His question cut through Fensas haze of lust and
confusion and frustration and anger. So much anger,
she didnt know where hers began, and his ended.
The mate bond became stronger over time her mother had
once confided to her after Fensa helped her haul Papa onto the
nearest couch after hed passed out on Christmas Eve with a
bottle of vodka. Vikingfjord Vodkaha-hahad become his
poison of choice. And as for Christmas Evethough Norway had
not become Christianized, his time-displaced mother had
started a tradition of a private family gift exchange during their
villages annual winter Jul festival, followed by her telling her
three children and husband a Santa-fied version of Odins
wild hunt.
It had been a lovely time, anticipated by the children and
their pagan father alike. And Olafr had enjoyed the story and gift
exchange more than anyone else in his family. That is until they
were all slaughtered shortly after that years jultide celebration.
As a result, the Christmas tradition he held most dear made it
impossible to enjoy Christmas in the years to come with his
mate and daughter. But that Christmas, something snapped
within Fensa.
Goaded on by Ola, the twin sister her mother could not see,
she had demanded to know why Tee allowed this every year. Why
not send him away at Christmas instead of letting him ruin it
repeatedly for them both?
Youll understand when youre mated, shed told Fensa as
they pulled off his boots. Sometimes the bond can be sweet as it
was with her cousins marriages, shed explained, and
sometimes it could be toxic. Like the one that kept her mother in
the Upper Peninsula house with her drunkard husband, rather
than allowing her to escape with her daughter to celebrate with
their more stable cousins in another state. And that toxic bond
only becomes stronger over time.
Fensa had not understood her mothers words then. But oh
did she understand them now. She shifted her body, trying to get
her mate to fuck her. Desperately needing him even as hate
swelled inside her chest.
But there was no movement from behind. He had her pinned
against the rock. Female 7-133, hed called her. Switching from
her reverent titles to the one hed labeled her with when shed
been nothing more to him than an unusually large mouse on his
atomically-flawless examination table.
She didnt respond to his command for answers. How
could she?
I have been nothing but reverent to you. Your most faithful
acolyte.
I didnt ask for that! she snarled back at him inside her
mind. I didnt ask for you to put me on a goddamn pedestal.
Yet can you not deny I have done everything you ever asked
of me?
No, she couldnt. And if he only knew how shed struggled
with the decision to leave him. Shed seen what a late divorce
had done to both her parents. Hollowing out her mother. Killing
her father.
It wasnt about reverence or respect or anything else you
hold dear.
Silence. And then with a very deliberate action, she felt him
pull out of both holes. To her embarrassment, her sex
immediately began clenching at the air. Wanting him back.
Missing him, despite her attempt to leave.
But next came fingers on her shoulders, turning her to
face him.
Why? She didnt know. She couldnt see his face in the dark,
as he said, On my planet, we do not allow drakki to leave those
to whom they are bonded. The punishment for such attempt is
death. Understand then that you have committed the gravest
crime a drakki can perform against her bonded mate where I am
from. And you have perpetrated this great wrong against me,
your most reverent acolyte.
In case you havent noticed, this isnt your planet, she
pointed out.
And though his expression didnt change, she could feel the
intense spike of rage across their mate bond. I am your fated
mate. You will keep no secrets from me. Tell me.
Fensa clamped her lips tightly. Which was silly because they
only spoke over the mate bond outside of bed.
To her shock, his voice boomed inside her head, TELL ME!!!
Or I vow to you, Female 7-133, I will lossse all reverencccce.
Thissss cave will become the only home you know for the resssst
of your life. Ssssso you will tell me, or you will die here. Alone.
And as for Golden Sssson, he will be told he no longer hasssss a
mother. We ssshhhall give you no mourning reverencccce, and
over the nexxxxt millennia will he eventually forget the
duplicitoussss female who gesssstated him!
Fensa stared at him. Then stared at him some more. Before
an ugly smile broke out across her face. And there you are, she
said, her voice tight with bitterness. I was wondering when Id
meet you. The dragon beneath all that good sex and reverence.
His hand slammed into the wall beside her head. Do not
sssay that ssssacred word upon your lipssss. After what you did
attempt, it hassss become apparent to me you have no
understanding of it, primate, and despite your civilization
claimssss, no ability to ever learn. You are jussst as incapable of
reverenccce asss you are of understanding my language.
Okay, Fensa was intelligent. And before she came here and
got mated into becoming Queen of the Group 7 wolves, she was a
huge nerd, with like zero percent ability to boss anybody.
Especially considering shed spent all but a few months of her
adult life in a mental facility being treated for severe
schizophrenia.
So yeah, she might be a nerd. A huge, certifiably crazy nerd.
But fact: she was still from Detroit, a member of what her
grandfather had called, the baddest muthafuckin wolf gang on
the planet. Shed be damned by both her Detroit and Viking
families if she was going to let anyone speak to her like that.
Okay, what you need to understand right now is the only
thing I want to learn less than your fucking rules of reverence, is
your goddamn language. Guess what that means, lizard? You can
go fuck yourself. I tried to forget youre a dragon. I really did. But
now I know who you really are. You ruined my life, even before I
got here! And now youre going to ruin the rest of it, now that
Im stuck here! Go ahead and do that. But dont try to act like Im
the motherfucking barbarian in this situation and youre the
civilized one, right before you leave me up here to rot, and
fucking traumatize our son because I didnt live up to the lame-
ass standards you cling to from another fucking planet. Fuck
your planet! Fuck your whole fucking crew! And especially,
especially fuck you!
Silence filled the cave. She couldnt even hear the birds
outside as if by agreement, nature had decided to stop and stare
at them wide-eyed. And though she couldnt see his face, she
could feel the rage radiating off him. Huge and killing, to the
point that she wondered if his next action would be to grab her
by the neck and hurl her wingless body out of the cave. Leaving
her to die a broken death on the rocks below.
But once again, he surprised her. What mean you by this
accusation? That I ruined your life before you came? No, do not
look away, Female 7-133. I would have your eyes upon me so I
may assess the truth of your next words. I would like to see if
they burn as bright as the anger you have somehow been
keeping from me this entire time.
Her eyes lifted but only slightly. Not the entire time, she
mumbled, feeling not nearly as self-righteous now that hed
effectively taken the wind out of her sails. My original plan was
to move somewhere warmer where the Group 7 wolves could
thrive. I didnt even know if I could find the Arizona gate without
a real map. But then your fight with the red dragon happened.
His rage didnt ebb so much as become muted by his
confusion. I understand not what this fight has to do with your
anger. For had it not occurred, I never would have granted your
wish to come here.
Fensa clamped her lips again, folding her arms tightly over
her naked breasts. It was so hard to decide what to do, what to
say. She could feel her own confusion offsetting her anger. But
in the end, it became clear she owed himsomething. And the
truth was all she had to give. The stories the Far Travelers tell
about your fight with the other dragonhe was red.
Yes, this is true, he answered carefully, confusion muting
his rage even further.
This means your kinddragonstheyre not all blue like
you? she asked him, just as carefully.
Yes, he answered. This is correct. My species comes in
many colors. Blue is the current royal color, and the one most
associated with the upper strata of Drakkon society. Yellow
belongs to that of the lowest class. But since the introduction of
the fated matching system, we have enjoyed more color
diversity. My father was a blue drakkon, and my mother black.
There are more dark blues in our family, also a few purples, and
even some greens.
But how many? She stopped and swallowed hard, even
though she wasnt using her voice box to speak. How many blue
dragons are here with you, on this mission?
Three, he answered. The Royal Overlord, who is my uncle.
His son, the Royal Huntmaster, who is my cousin, and me. The
rest are red, black, and green He suddenly cut off, noting,
Your flame has iced over, Female 7-133. Why do my words upset
you so?
What color are your cousin and uncles eyes? Are their eyes
red, too?
A ripple of irritation came over their mate bond, but then he
replied, No. I have my mothers eyes. They, like my father and
brother, have eyes the color of aurum. Slightly darker than
Golden Sons scales.
And at that moment any last shreds of hope Fensa had been
clinging to vanished. Oh, God. I told myself it wasnt you.
Thats what I said before the red dragon. It couldnt be you
because you were so polite and reverent. Because weve only ever
gotten into one real argument. And youre the only person other
than the sister I freaking made up who believes Im not crazy.
She looked up at him sorrowfully. You think trying to leave
you was easy. But it wasnt. I made plans to leave, but all the
while I felt so guilty. Because maybe it wasnt youthats what I
kept telling myself. Maybe it wasnt you at all. But I guess in the
back of my brain, I knew. I think I knew all along what was
lurking beneath that super formal, one-eyed shell of yours. I just
didnt want to admit it to myself
Fensa trailed off and dropped her face into her hands as a
flood of overwhelming emotions rushed through her,
threatening to collapse her mind again. Threatening to drive her
just as crazy as she used to be.
You require holding.
She shook her head, inside her hands. Refusing to cry.
Refusing to lose her mind again as she had with the two moons.
And for most of her life before that.
But his arms came around her anyway. And he held her. He
held her in that quiet cave until the feelings stopped battering
her, and it felt like she was once again standing on solid ground.
Then he said into her head, Reverence, I believe the time has
come for you to tell me everything.
26

X enon would wish afterward that he had not asked.


In halting breaths, she told him the story of her
fathers Viking village. How one morning, thousands of
years from now, when the sky had been lit purple by what the
people in her time called The Northern Lights, three drakkon
attacked her fathers village. Three blue dragonsone with
eyes of red, and two with eyes of gold. Three drakkon so
powerful, they slaughtered all but her father, whod only
escaped with his life because he was in wolf form and because
his father had told him the spell needed to make use of the fated
mate portal device. Hed escaped forward to her time, but the
drakkon attack had its effect.
According to Fated Mate, her father had never fully recovered
from his familys death, and thus had become a drunk. He had
what Fated Mate called an undiagnosed post-traumatic stress
disorder with a shitload of survivors guilt on topwhich he
treated with a fuck ton of drinking.
Her father felt he should have been slaughtered with his
family, and that it had been both wrong, and cowardly of him to
use the fating portal to escape his true destiny. Eventually, her
mother could not take it anymore and did something that had no
translation in the drakkon language. Divorcedor left the
matingwithout permission from her mate. Two months later,
while high on the liquid chemical called alcohol, her father had
walked into a path of moving vehicles called traffic and had been
struck dead, thus ending a life that had supposedly been saved
by his escape through the fated matching portal.
By the time Fated Mate finished her tale, tears shown in her
eyes. But not for the reason he thought.
All this time, I told myself you were different. You had to be
different. You couldnt be like those dragons who attacked my
fathers village. Maybe you were from a different group. But
heres what I know for sure. We do not have two moons in my
time. And there were never two moons during my fathers time.
In fact, there is zero evidence of two moons in my civilizations
recorded time. Andthere really, really isnt any life on the
planet Mercury.
Mercury. That is how she referred to Drakkon in her civil
tongue.
Xenon stopped trying to processas Fated Mate would say
all she had told him. Yes, he and his two relatives were the
only blue drakkon on the trip. But Perhaps your civilizations
telescopes are not strong enough, he proposed.
No, thats not it. We sent a probe to your planet. More than
one, in fact, and from all the evidence we could gather, your
planet is not only uninhabited, its virtually uninhabitable
without space suits because it doesnt have an atmosphere.
Fated Mate tilted her head in a way that somehow conveyed
sympathy even as her flame continued to burn with anger and
sorrow. Do you understand what Im saying, Xenon? Something
is going to happen. Something that makes it impossible for you
to return to Mercury. Something thats going to make you want
to kill every man, woman, and child in my fathers village.
She spoke in such riddles, and he could understand little of
what she told him. However, one unspoken confession did come
through. You hate me. You have hated me from the beginning
of this journey for this murder you think I will commit.
For the murders I know three blue dragons with eyes
matching you and your family will commit.
But it could be anyone! He scrambled for an alternative
hypothesis. Once every Drakkon millennium, we have a royal
hunt. Mayhap it was my brother who did this to your fathers
village. Perhaps he brought with him another red-eyed blue for
the hunt.
Fated Mate shook her head, folding her arms again over the
nursing glands he so admired. Everyone, including my papa,
thought dragons were myths before they showed up in his
village. In my civilized time, as you call it, theyre considered
mythical creatures, something people made up long ago to
explain dinosaur fossils. And we have only one moon. Also,
Mercury had zero signs of life when we senteventually send
that probe!
She shook her head again, her chest flame sparking with
pain. As much as I want to believe those three blue dragons are
your brother and his cronies, or three other blue assholes, I cant
shake this terrible feeling. I dontI dont think youre going
home like you think you are. And judging by the lack of evidence
that dragons even exist, I dont think any more of you are
coming back here. I dont know whats going to happen in the
years between now and when you guys attack Papas village, but
my gut tells me this: you will be one of the dragons who
slaughter my Viking family.
Xenon could see her logic. The combined evidence, if not
damning, was suspect. And indeed, that explained her mood
during this journey. Why she accepted, but no longer initiated
congress with him. Why she seemed unable to so much as glance
at him in drakkon form, without having to look away.
Then why not kill me? If you have been dreading what I
might do to your fathers people, why did you not kill me in my
sleep while we traveled?
Fated Mate stilled and without warning, her flame turned a
bright yellow. Much like the happy yellow she burned upon
seeing Eos first thing after a long hunt, only richer and more
vibrant.
It was a beautiful color, unlike any he had ever beheld. Yet
inside his head she said, I should. As the daughter of a Viking
you have wronged, I should kill you as you killed everyone my
father held dear.
She said this, yet her flame continued to burn a rich yellow.
So why not kill me now? Perhaps stab a spear in my other
eye the next time I am in drakkon form?
She looked away from him. Im still Eoss mother, she
answered. I cant hurt him by killing his father.
A half-truth at best, he decided, studying her rich yellow
burn. But he decided to accept it if only so he might gaze upon
her flame a little longer. The color, so unlike any he had ever
beheld, mesmerized him.
Do you want me to survive? Okay then lets go with that
option,
Remembering her promise to him, he cupped her face. Fated
Mate. You honor me with the decision to spare my life, he
informed her in a grave voice. And for this, I will vow to never
lay claw or fire upon you, or any other member of your family.
You have my sworn oath.
He thought the words would assuage her, but instead, her
flame darkened back to orange, and she pulled his hand from her
face. Flinging it like entrails from her body. What had he said to
upset her? The answer came to him swiftly, obvious as a burn.
Ah. You do not believe my words.
Fated Mates flame darkened even further. I cant believe
your words, she answered. I tried to forget. But that fight
this conversationI cant ignore it anymore! Youre a dragon. No
matter how much I lo She broke off with a sharp shake of her
head as if reprimanding herself for something she was about to
say. I cant ignore it anymore. I cant forget if anything
happens between us, you stop being polite, and start making
very real threats against my freedom, my motherhood, nearly
everything I hold dear. I wonder what youll say to get me to talk
the next time I make you mad? What will it take to turn your
solemn vow into some sort of sick revenge against me when you
attack my fathers village? His family? How can I believe you
wont try to finish the job this time and make sure my dad
dies, too?
Her words chilled him to the bone, and at the same time, he
felt his flame spark with such rage he had to take a step back.
She did not know, he told himself. She could not know. About
his family. Or its reputation for cruelty. That what she accused
him of was exactly what his father or brother would have done if
betrayed by their fated mates.
The Even-Flamed Prince. He pondered his title. He was not
called this because he was especially temperate, but because he
didnt completely lack a moral compass like his brother and
father, and many of the blue kings who came before them. And
yet despite his even-flamed reputation, Xenons deepest and
most secret fear was that his familys cruel streak lurked deep
inside him as well. Embedded in his genes, waiting for the right
circumstance or opportunity to switch it on and unleash itself on
him, like some lethal and irreversible poison.
No, no. You will not turn the direction of this fire, he said
more to himself than her. You started this. You pushed for me
to bring you here. And then you did attempt to abscond with
our son!
Attempted being the main word, she answered, her voice
weary but unapologetic. Tracking down the Arizona gate was a
long shot at best. I always knew it, even if I let myself put too
much faith in it. You might have lost the argument in Siberia,
but you were always going to win this war.
He did not answer her this time. Instead, he took another step
back. And then without another word, he leaped from the caves
ledge.
Xenon had won this war, had he not? But it was as if his
three-chambered heart had turned to stone, the heavy weight
dragging him down to the rocky outcrop below before he finally
unshelled and his wings found good current.
He had won. And Fated Mate had lost. He was a practical
drakkon, and he knew she would but occupy only a speck of his
life. And likely the life of their only child, too. Fated Mate could
rot in that cave for her crimes. He could lead the Far Travelers to
a different mountain, and in a thousand years or so, Golden Son
would have eventually forgotten she even existed.
So why did he not feel victorious?
27

X enon flew away.


He flew away. And he did not come back.
It took only two seconds or so after he disappeared
over the horizon for Fensa to feel like shed lost everything.
Stupid mate bond. The love gets deeper and deeper, her
ever-cheery Aunt Janelle had often told her. But now Fensa
figured her mom had gotten it right when she used the word
worse to describe the impact of the bond.
Watching Xenon go felt like suddenly coming down with a bad
case of food poisoning. But in her heart, rather than her
stomach. And it only took a few hours before she quite literally
felt like she was dying. Not from hunger. Or even thirst.
Honestly, Fensa found she could no longer feel the urge for food
and drink that should be nagging her by the time night fell. All
she felt was heartbreak. Only heartbreak.
Eventually, Fensa shifted into her wolf to curl up on the hard
cave floor. This was the natural healing instinct for her kind.
Also, wolves didnt cry.
Her wolf kept her comfortable throughout the night. Arizona,
as it turned out, was nowhere near as dry and hot during the ice
age as it had been in her time. The current Arizona climate
reminded her of that time she and her parents had gone to
Florida for a week in February. Ostensibly to escape the bleak
winter of their Michigan home, but most likely a last-ditch
attempt by her parents to save a rapidly failing marriage by
throwing Disneyworld at it. Hey, if Disney couldnt fix it, nothing
could! The trip had been a bust as far as her parents marriage
was concernedbut Fensa could still remember the relative
strangeness of the Florida winter climate: way warmer than
Michigan; way wetter, the air heavy with humiditylike
stepping out of a hot shower into a steam-filled bathroom. And
yet surprisingly cool at night. It was the same here in prehistoric
Arizona. At night the temperatures dropped significantly, so
much so that for most of the journey, she and Eos often slept in
wolf-form, snuggled together beneath Xenons ever-warm arm.
Dont think about him.
Or the argument.
Or that he left you here, and most likely wont be
coming back.
Thats what she told herself as she fell into a restless sleep.
28

G She woke to the sound of


OOD MORNING, FENSA. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

her usually dormant bioware bleating inside her furry


head. You haveZERO events scheduled for today!
By the Fenrir Wolf, was it really her birthday? How old was
she now?
26, the answer came back, dark and depressing.
She must have slept way past sunrise because the day was
already damp and hot. So warm, she shifted as she sat up and
put on the loose hide dress she had tossed aside last night before
inviting Xenon to fuck her. Definitely not the Arizona she
remembered, she thought as she swung her feet to dangle her
long legs over the caves small bottom lip.
Lush green vegetation covered the mountains. Mostly
inedible, she presumed, but the huge leaves might make for
good makeshift umbrellas when it rained. Also, instead of the
dry valley floor she remembered, the ground below was snaked
through by a generous river. Raging so noisily, she could almost
hear it from here. Almost.
Fensa wondered if the people camped out beside it would be
able to hear her if she called out to them
Wait a minute, she thought, a penny dropping through her
usual morning fuzz. There were people below. Actual specks
moving about! Another tribe? Or were these the Group 7 wolves
Xenon had threatened to lead to another mountain?
As if in answer, the air filled with the familiar smell of a
burning fire. And then with a suddenness that nearly knocked
her onto her back, Xenons drakkon appeared in front of her,
flapping his insanely large wings to stay aloft.
Fensas stomach leaped and curdled at the same time. Leaped
because hed come back to her. Curdled because hed done it in
dragon form.
Hi, she pushed into his head carefully. Not knowing what
else to say after yesterdays knockdown, drag out fight.
Silence, during which she could only hear the heavy flap of
his wings, treading air. Then, You will come with me. Turn
around.
Okay, yes, Fensa had her pride, but it wasnt like she had
anything else to do. Plus, she really needed to pee. She did as she
was told. Turned her body so Xenon could lift her into the air. At
least she didnt have to look at his dragon during the process.
But after they landed, just out of eyeshot of the Far Travelers
camp, he didnt bother to reshell.
Instead, he said, I have found something resembling the
bath of which you once did speak. I will give you escort there.
Xenon indicated she should move forward by extending one
clawed hand in front of them.
Okay, she thought before answering, Ive got to pee. Can I at
least do that first?
He seemed to think about it for a moment before giving her a
sharp nod of his great dragon head. Then came the really
awkward part where she got to feel his eyes burn a hole into her
back while she crouched somewhat precariously behind a
small bush.
Fensa thought about running but she couldnt leave Eos
plus, it would be way too easy for Xenon to catch her. Especially
in dragon form.
She eyed him warily when she returned from her port-a-
bush, and reluctantly began walking in the direction he
indicated. He soon fell into step beside her.
It felt like walking next to a building, or a dinosaur, the
ground vibrating beneath his enormous feet as he strode
purposefully forward. His pace was almost comically slow since
it took roughly ten of her steps to equal one of his.
Fensa peeped up at him, then quickly back down at the
ground. Um, dont you think youd be better off if you shifted
back to your other form?
You do honor me with your concern, Fated Mate. However, I
prefer to remain unshelled. You may shift if you wish to walk
faster.
She did, but her wolf despised the tropical weather. Not
nearly as much as her human had hated the arctic cold, but it
was a close second. Which was probably why the richest wolf
states in North America were almost always those with real
winters. Wolves naturally migrated to colder regions. Almost like
theyd been created during an ice age or something, Fensa
thought to herself with a wry chuckle.
Im fine, she said over their mate bond. It was just a
suggestion.
Silence once again enveloped them as they continued to walk
in this awkward fashion. Fensa did her best not to appear
uncomfortable, to pretend that walking beside a fire-breathing
dragon wasnt completely freaking her out or anything, but she
had no doubt her flame was giving away all her feelings no
matter how hard she attempted to mask them.
I have failed you, he said, eventually. By Drakkon
tradition, I should have built you a home of your own shortly
after Golden Son was laid. Another glacier where you could have
lived without our nightly congress. This is what my father did for
my mother. He built her a dome of such grand scale that it could
be seen from our ship, long after we set off on the Great Star Sea.
And though he was my mothers most reverent acolyte, he
restricted himself to only two visits a day cycle. In truth, I
thought of doing the same. I found a glacier a few wingbeats
away, and started to make the necessary renovations so you
might live there with Golden Son.
His tone became quieter. But after two day cycles of work, I
found I had not the flame to finish the project. I flew away from
the glacier and never returned. In truth, I enjoy sharing furs with
you. And sharing a home with you and our son.
I, umenjoyed it, too, Fensa admitted. You didnt ask me,
but if you had, I would have told you I didnt want to live apart
from you. The relationship you and Golden Son have is so
special. I wouldnt have wanted you to
She trailed off realizing how damning her words must sound
in the aftermath of trying to take Eos away.
And into her guilty silence, Xenon said, Do you know I had
plans to fly to the south of our ice land where Id heard tell of an
animal similar to your cow? A true drakkon would have done this
for his Most Revered. Would have flown to retrieve such a gift if
only to place it upon your altar. But I, as I have so often found
over these past three rotations, am incapable of being a true
drakkon when it comes to you. For I want too much to be in your
presence. I often find myself facing this contradiction. I want to
feed you with meat, but I also do not want to be apart from you
for longer than a day tide. At times, not even that. I want to
please you, and make your flame bright. But I could not bear to
do the things that would have been considered the most
reverent.
I never asked for any of that from you. I never asked you to
praise or revere me. I didnt want a cowor a pedestal. I just
wanted
She trailed off again.
Tell me, he said.
How much further? she asked, instead of answering his
question.
Approximately ten more wingbeats, he replied.
Whatever that meant.
Fensa tried again, How is Eos? Is he okay?
He fares well. I sent him ahead with the rest of the advanced
team to set up a temporary camp for the Far Travelers.
That was a good idea. I should have thought of that.
You will come to find I am full of good ideas, he answered.
Voice level, but she clearly felt like hed just issued another
threat.
Fensa pondered whether to press him for more news about
their son but then decided against it. That subject had way too
many minefields. Probably best not to piss him off again. But it
gave her comfort to know her son and mate were right below the
cave Xenon had imprisoned her in.
Here we are, Xenon said after what had to be at least two
hours of walking.
Fensa gasped out loud because here turned out to be an
actual hot spring. Which shouldnt have surprised her, since
wolves also tended to settle next to hot springs. What surprised
the hell out of her is she recognized this place from the day trip
Koko had insisted they take together, when Fensa and her mom
came down to tour the college. At the time, the hot spring had
been about eight-by-eight-feet wide and only ankle deep. But in
this day and age, it was huge! More like a small lagoon than the
wading pool she remembered.
At that moment, all Fensas serious concerns about her future
and her freedom were overridden by the prospect a hot bath.
But then a voice behind her said, Remove your clothes.
And with the suddenness of a light switch, that Orange is
the New Black feeling flipped right back on. Yup, she was still
his prisoner, wasnt she? His to be commanded now that shed
so blatantly betrayed his trust.
But to hell with all that. She was at a hot spring! An actual hot
spring! And it had been yearsnot monthssince her last hot
bath. So Fensa ignored the voice in her head telling her not to
give in to this dragon, and did as instructed, all the while trying
to ignore the feel of his unblinking gaze as she did so.
Fensa pushed words into his head, You know, if this is the
place I think it is, it still exists in my time. Only its way
smaller.
A large splash answered her comment. When she looked up,
she saw Xenon was already in the water, sunk all the way down,
so she could only see his eyes, one scarred, one glowing, above
the steaming surface.
You will join me, he said, his voice dark and seductive
inside her head.
Fensa hesitated, not quite as eager to take her first bath in
years as she had been a few moments ago. There was something
a littleoff-puttingabout hopping into a deep pool of water
with a known predator. Even if said predator was her fated mate.
Come, Reverencejoin me, he said again.
She took a few awkward steps forward but stopped just at the
springs rocky bank.
It is so difficult for you to look upon me in this form?
She thought about lying, then decided it was best to stick with
the truth. Her flame would give her away, anyway.
Yes.
Tell me why this is.
Well, uh, all that stuff I said about dragons being my fathers
sworn enemyyou know, because you guys kind of slaughtered
his whole family and all his friends. So theres that.
Your fathers enemy. Do you understand I would never hurt
you? Even when my flame was at its most heated, as it was the
day before, I would never raise claw or tail or roar to you.
Yes, she knew he wouldnt hurt her. Technicallyat least not
physically. But that didnt keep her stomach from twisting at the
thought of getting in there with him. Could you maybe just
come back up out of the water a little? she asked. Youre
giving off some, like, serious lake monster vibes right now. And
Ive seen way too many horror movies to ever be comfortable in
this kind of situation. So, yeahits really not helping.
A beat. Then with a great cascade of water, he granted her
request, moving closer to the shore until only his lower half
remained submerged. Only to say just a second later, Your
flame has gone even darker now that I have granted your
request.
Can you please stop tracking my flame?! she asked, her
tone as irritated as she presumed her heat signature was. Just
because you can read me doesnt mean you should.
But it also does not mean I can simply shut it off. It is, after
all, how I see.
Well, you dont have to report back on every damn thing you
see, do you?
No, I do not. I am sensing you now wish to have another
childs argument on this matter, Reverence?
A childs argument. Thats what he called it when they got
into a back and forth discussion like this. One neither of them
could win.
Her defiant eyes rose to meet hisonly to find she still
couldnt look at him in this form. She dropped her gaze with a
mulish, Ill wait until youre done in the water, and then Ill
get in.
A long silence followed. Then: Look at me, Reverence.
Fensa couldnt. Instead, she stood with her arms crossed,
eyes glued to the ground.
Another long silence. Then a huff of steam from his great
nostrils, the dragons version of an impatient sigh. I see. You
arewhat is the word you used to describe how rose-colored
hominids treated brown-colored hominids in your civilization?
Racist?
At that, her gaze shot up, and her eyes narrowed. I am not a
racist.
The other lupin respect and honor me in this form, yet you
do not.
Yes, but the Group 7 wolves werent raised by someone
whose entire family was slaughtered by your crew!
His great dragon head turned slightly as if he was giving her
response some serious thought. I see. Your father was racist.
Then before she could defend Papa, Xenon asked, What
would he think if he knew your mate was drakkon, I wonder?
Fensa didnt wonder at all. She knew exactly how her father
would respond, and she was frankly glad his grave was so far in
the future, that he couldnt possibly roll over in it. But instead of
admitting any of this to the dragon, she said, Well, I doubt your
dad would be happy about you being mated to a wolf.
No, he would not, Xenon answered, his tone thoughtful.
But I am not mated to a wolf. I am mated to a hominid whose
long ago ancestor had lupin spliced into it by Drakkons Royal
Geneticist. This is all to say there is a difference, Reverence. One
I fear you do not fully comprehend.
I understand my nature. I get what youre saying, she
answered.
No, it is not your nature, I speak of, but my own. You
misunderstand my nature, and that stops here and now.
He tilted his head, spearing her with his good eye. I am
drakkon.
I know youre a dragon.
Not a dragon. Drakkon. I am not a hybrid, like you. My shell
is simply an exoskeleton. Technically biological. But designed
specifically for this trip. My shell is not me. It is merely a house
for my true self. Because what I amwhat I really amis
drakkon. You are not truly a wolf, though youve been genetically
altered to take the form of one. However, the form you see
before you? This is me. My true self. Do you understand,
Reverence?
Fensa did. She didnt want to. With her fathers backstory,
how could she want to? But she did.
I would have your words so I know you truly understand.
Youre a dragon. Not a shifter, like mebut a dragon, she
repeated dully. Thats the real you.
And my shellthe form you prefer?
Thats not really you, she admitted. Less surprised than
she wanted to be by this news. But the truth, now shed been
forced to acknowledge it, made it obvious.
Her kind passed for normal every day, with nothing more
than a slight alteration of their biochemical signaturesaka
scentto distinguish them from their human counterparts. But
Fensa had always been aware of something more foreign, more
alien about Xenon than just his scent. Something so other, shed
recognized him as non-human from the very beginning.
Assumed he was a robot, way before it occurred to her he might
be humanwhich, as it turned out, he wasnt either.
This is the real you, Fensa conceded.
I would have your eyes, Reverence.
She made herself lift her eyes, and tried hard to ignore the
way her heart sped up with terror as she gazed up at the great
beast. The real Xenon.
Maybe he sensed her fear. Or more likely read it in her heat
signature. Because her mate stood as still as a paused video game
screen, letting her take him in. Really take him in for the first
time since she pulled that spear out of his red eye.
He was Well, when she removed the admittedly biased filter
of her fathers backstory out of the equationXenon was
incredible. Powerful and muscled, and of such a deep shade of
blue, she could almost mistake him for black in some places.
Unlike with his human counterpartno, not counterpart, she
reminded herself. Unlike with his humanoid shell, she couldnt
see the slightest evidence of his male works. But she guessed
they were tucked safely inside the pale blue vertical scales of his
soft underbelly.
A sudden image of the fight her father had described flashed
through her head. Olafrs brother stabbing the blue dragon
through its soft neck with a special sword. Then dying a few
minutes later, when another blue dragon fire-balled him in a fit
of rage.
Come back to me, Reverence.
Fensa returned with a blink to find the dragon staring down at
her. His expression the same blank screen of Xenons usual
unemotional mien. Tell me, where did you go?
She shook her head.
The air displaced above her, and when she looked back up, the
great beast had turned his head to the side, apparently in deep
thought.
Reverence, you realize there is no match portal in this land.
I do, she replied, looking down at her bare feet.
I know what you know, but I no longer assume what you
understand. So now let us review the basics: you will spend the
rest of your lifespan with me, your fated mate. Understand
you this?
Yes, she said, fighting against the rising tide of grief in
her soul.
I am your final destination. You will never return to your
civilization. You will never again see the family you had in that
time. Because you are my fated mate. Understand you this?
She nodded, too overcome with unspeakable grief to push
words into his mind.
I would have your words to assure me you understand this to
be true.
Why? she demanded on a choked sob. Why do you need
me to say I understand?
Because I thought you understood this before, but you did
not. So now I will be assured, he answered, his voice as remote
and cold as the Siberian tundra theyd left behind.
Fensa would not cry again. She would remain Viking strong,
Detroit fierce. Of course I understand Im never going to see my
family again. That all hope I had of ever returning home is gone,
along with that damn gate. Youre crazier than I once was if you
think I havent figured things out by now.
Fensa hoped to get a rise out of him. To make him feel even a
tiny iota as bad as she did right now. But Xenon only continued
in his same dispassionate tone. I am your drakkon. I give you
honor for the child you bore me. And even more honor for
surviving his birth as you foreswore you would. For these past
few rotations, that reverence alone has been enough to keep me
inside my shell as you wished. But no longer. You are now aware
your portal does not exist in this time. You are now aware you
will live out the rest of your life with me, and with our son. We
he and Iare the only family you have left.
I know that, she spat back. I understand! However you
want me to put it, I get it. You dont have to keep rubbing it in!
You misunderstand my intent. I do not speak these words to
cause you further pain and suffering. I merely wish to help you
understand. We are all you have. Just as you and Golden Son
you are all I have.
Now thatshe didnt understand. Wait a second. I meanI
thought you said you brought, like, a one-hundred dragon crew
with you.
I did say this. And that crew was called back to my home
planet more than a rotation ago. We were meant to return, and
report that the most advanced species here was unworthy of
sanctuary. That they were little more than beasts.
Butthats not true! Fensa said, her mouth dropping open,
even though she spoke no actual words outside the mind link.
We go on to become a civilization! I told you that. You
know that!
Yes, Fated Mate. This I know, but there was no way to convey
any of these details to the Royal Overload without negative
consequence.
I dont understand.
Reverence. You honored me with a son. However, on my
world, this honor is deeply forbidden. I am drakkon. To be
specific, I am Prince of Drakkon, second in line to the throne of
all Drakkon. This means Golden Son is also now in line for the
throne. And in many ways, he is more eligible than I. If my
brother fails to produce an heir, the throne will pass on to the
next worthy drakkon under the age of 15,000. I am only two-
thousand solar rotations younger than my older brother, so it is
unlikely I will be eligible for the throne when he dies. This
means it would pass on to Golden Son. The throne of Drakkon is
his birthright. His due. Buthe is only half drakkon.
Ok. So what youre saying is its against the law to mate with
someone outside your species?
Not against our laws. Laws are made for things that can be
fathomed. Our mate bond, even our precious sonthese are
against everything the drakkon know to be true. It is
incomprehensible, like mating with food. It will take Drakkon a
very long time to understand, and even longer to accept.
Are you saying Eos is in danger?
No, he answered decisively. Our son is safe. I will keep
him safe. I vow this to you, Reverence. But keeping him safe
means he and I must stay hidden here with you in these
unsettled lands where the other drakkon will not so easily locate
us. Yet the mission cannot return to Drakkon without meso
like you, I find myself without a civilization, far from my home
of origin. Possibly forever. After your heart ceases to beat, I will
not return to Drakkon with Golden Son. I will remain here,
where I know he will be safe from those in court who would cast
their lot against him. Yet despite all this, my fire is not blue.
But why not? Fensa demanded, her heart tearing at the
thought of all hed given up for her, and all he would continue to
give up to protect their son, long after she was gone. You were
the prince of an advanced civilization, for gods sake! And
because of me saying some stupid words at the Arizona gate,
youve lost everything. Your home. Your mission. Everything!
At that, the dragon turned his giant head to gaze down at her
again, his usual expressionless countenance softening as he
answered, Reverence, I would rather spend one hundred solars
with you and our son, than another 18,000 as a lonely Royal. I am
incapable of the love of which you once described to me, but be
that as it mayI am your drakkon, Reverence. Yours.
Understand you this?
It was strangely the most heartfelt, moving thing anyone had
ever said to her.
Understand you this? Xenon repeated.
Yes, she replied. And she truly did.
Then give me your touch. I would feel your hand upon my
true form, as I never have before.
Fensa really didnt want to. But she felt she had to. As if this
one act, rather than a formal apology, was the truest test of
whether their relationship could recover from all that had
passed between them.
He was her mate. Not her husband in the technical sense as
defined by the social norms and laws of her time. But in this
place, in this timethey didnt need some ceremony or legal
documentation to formalize their union. He was also the father
of her child. A new kind of hybrid. Half-shifter, half-drakkon.
The best of us both, Fesna thought to herself as she finally
stepped into the warm water.
Yet her hand trembled as she lifted it to touch one huge
scaled knee gingerly. It feltimpossible to explain. Like a cross
between steel and vulcanized rubber. Giving, but impenetrable
and cold to the touch. Fensa felt the burning weight of his
dragon gaze on her as she moved her hand over his scales.
Towards his huge underbelly, which turned out not to be nearly
as soft as it looked. Unyielding to sword, she remembered Papa
saying when hed described the battle. And so hot it felt like
touching a stove window. To her surprise, Xenons stomach
rippled, and he let out a rough snort.
She looked up at him sharply.
Forgive me, Fated Mate, he said inside her head. You do
honor me with your touch. But that is a very sensitive area of my
body. It sits directly above my male works.
Fensa snatched her hand away as if shed been burned.
Have no worry, Reverence. Drakkon are well-evolved.
Nothing inappropriate will happen while I am in this form. It is
not possible for me to...respond as such with any but a drakki.
Well, thank the Lord for that, Fensa thought to herself,
almost giggling out loud at the combination of sheer relief, and
sense of the ridiculous that washed over her. This whole exercise
was frightening enough without having to contend with a giant
dragon penis. Make that two giant dragon penises, she corrected
herself.
Do you have wish to touch my crown?
Nope, not really. But Fensa quickly brushed those thoughts
aside. She should at least try. And its not like shed have the
chance to decline because Xenons body was already on the
move. Gallons of warm water displaced, sloshing onto the dry
ground surrounding the spring, as he stepped back, and back
some more, until he was once again nearly submerged.
Turning his head fully to the side, the dragon stretched his
neck out with his cheek hovering over the water. Fensa waded
forward, one hand outstretched towards his crown. The water
reached up to her shoulders before she was finally able to rest
her palm against the top of Xenons huge head.
His crown spikes felt like rough wood, but with the same
imperviousness as his skin. Fensa found herself rubbing down
one of the spikes, seeking out cracks or splinters with her
curious fingers.
Xenon emitted another raspy snort, and the resulting steam
hit Fensas bare skin with the heat of several Swedish saunas.
You honor me with your touch, he began in the overly
polite tone he usually employed before issuing a correction or
pointing out a mistake. But my crown is also very sensitive
Uhok. Wow. And once more, Fensa thanked god Xenons
huge size, and biological programming made it impossible for
him even to attempt to get with her in dragon form.
Fensa was in the process of casually removing her hand from
Xenons spike when she felt something slide over her naked
mound. Something hot and wetwell, more hot and wet than
the luxurious waters of the hot springand forked. She could
feel her eyes go wide with shock. What the?
Before she could step away from Xenon, or even formulate
any of the obvious questions that immediately sprang to mind,
he said, You will allow me to honor you in this way, Reverence.
You will prove you understand I am your drakkon.
Whoawhoa! Paralyzed with shock, Fensa stood rooted to the
spot while her mates large forked tongue gently explored her
vulva, her slit, and her various openings from front to back.
Exploring, she reminded herself. Hes just exploring. He hadnt
done anything like this to her since their very first months
together at the glacier station. But no need to freak out. Nothing
at all unusual oror unsettling about having one wide tip of a
dragons forked tongue probe her pussy. Dragons. Tongue.
Inside. Her. Pussy.
Fensa closed her eyes against the single red eye that watched
her intently, while the long tongue continued to work her below.
You may close your eyes if you wish, Reverence. Perhaps it
will help you to feel more comfortable. But soon I will ask you to
gaze upon your drakkon when he honors you in this way.
Oh, God. As wrong as his tongue feltnasty, abrasive, way
too thickFensa could not control the rising tide of her orgasm.
Soon her legs trembled. Not with the contempt of natural born
enemies, but with an orgasm as huge and as strong as her
dragon mate.
By the time she finished, her face was covered in a sheen of
sweat that had nothing to do with the hot spring. Only then did
Xenon withdraw his tongue tip from her. Warm water rushed in
to fill the now-empty space, lapping caressingly against her still
pulsing vagina.
I do honor you with this bath, Xenon informed her,
scooping up water and pouring it over her head like a blessing.
Voice formal, but calm. As if he hadnt just fucked her into an
intense orgasm with his dragon tongue. I will remain
unshelled, and we will return here tomorrow. And then every day
after until you burn for your drakkon as you do for his shell.
Until you believe my solemn vow. Until you come to understand
your drakkon as I understand my wolf
Understand? She could barely talk after that, much less
comprehend how shed managed to come so hard thanks to the
admittedly talented tongue of a fucking dragon! A dragon who
could very well slaughter all whom her father held dear.
Shame, he observed, voice laced with curiosity.
Fensa stiffened.
And nowpride. His tone was more disappointed than
curious now.
Xenon, I cant help how I feel she started to protest.
Reverence, he interrupted.
Yes? she asked.
No, Reverence. I address you not. Instead, this is how you
shall address me going forward. Not by my name, but by those
titles available to you as my mate. My Revered. Reverence.
Treasure. Prince. Fated. Fated Mateany of these titles may you
use. But I will not hear my name cross your lips again. You will
understand my nature. You will properly address my nature. And
you will learn to revere me as I do you.
What? she demanded. But I thought that was something
only males do on your planet!
A beat passed, and then he reminded her, Only when our
females die in childbirth. If they live, then does a female owe her
male Reverence, too. I did not demand such honor from you
before because you are not drakki.
And I am still not drakki, she reminded him bluntly.
No, you are not, he agreed. But as you pointed out,
Reverence, we are not on my planet. And here will our mateship,
unorthodox though it be, adapt to new rules.
IV

Forgive me, Treasure


29

S o that was how Fensa ended up dating a dragon.


At least, thats how it felt. They were already mated.
And both he (in dragon form), and Eos (in whatever form
he decided to take), slept in the cave with her wolf every night.
But each morning, before he and Eos left to hunt, Xenon
escorted her to the hot spring. Hed set her down at the bottom
of the mountain, and theyd walk the two-hour journey
side-by-side.
To Fensa, it felt an awful lot like how shed envisioned the
traditional Viking courtship, thanks to the detailed descriptions
her papa had once shared with her. Having always preferred his
wolf to his man, Papa hadnt managed to connect with any one
village girl. So he never took part in such rituals. But Fensas
grandmother, Chloe, Ever the Wise, frequently sent her son in
wolf form to escort the young wolves on their courtship walks
to the villages local hot spring.
In fact, the only reason Olafr survived the morning dragon
attack that had killed his family, was because hed been
escorting a young couple back from their courtship in wolf form.
His wolf had jumped into the fight without thought of shifting,
since he didnt have a sword nearby anyway. And his wolfs
speed and dexterity was what kept him alive, even as burnt
corpses began to pile up in the large field where the people of his
village had gone to fight the serpent enemy.
But then hed been struck by a silver arrow, and effectively
turned back into a man. And the last thing he remembered was
his beloved brother, FJ, shouting at him to run up the mountain
toward the gate, so that he could say the words that would send
hurtling him through space and time to his fated materight
before he made a killing blow at one drakkon, only to be burned
alive by another.
Her papa would disown her and never speak to her again if he
knew she had not only mated a dragon but bore his child. And
yetthe feeling of being courted by the dragon during their
dawn walks was impossible for Fensa to ignore.
Their first few strolls were mostly silent. But sooner than
expected, Fensa began sharing things with him. Little things, at
first. Stories from her childhood, descriptions of future
technologies. Foods she missed, along with numerous failed
attempts to describe concepts Xenon didnt understand, like
video games, spices, and reality TV.
In turn, he described his first two thousand years on Drakkon.
Which to Fensa sounded like a cold, antiseptic, motherless
affair. It mostly involved training, and servants, and Game of
Thrones-level palace intrigue. Xenon did a much better job of
explaining Drakkonian concepts like how his kind derived
nutrients from a planet devoid of animal life, the label system,
and their stunningly low infertility rates.
It was funny. Though theyd been mated for over three years,
theyd never really had much time to talk with one another. Life
in what she still referred to as Beringia had beenwell, very full,
very active, and very cold. When he wasnt hunting for food,
Xenon worked. And shortly after Eos birth, Fensa had fallen into
the role of weirdest stay-at-home mother ever. Which meant
handling all the child rearing, and eventually focusing on her
own work of figuring out where the hell they were, andmore
importantlyhow to get the hell out of there, and down to the
Arizona gate. Then thered been that epic walk/escape into
hiding towards the west, across the remainder of the land bridge
they called home. Through Alaska, down the California coast,
before cutting east when she spotted the Channel Islands.
Fensa had been far too busy navigating, and
praying/hoping/pleading to engage in much chit-chat with
Xenon. And truth be told, the thought of making small talk with
the mate she would eventually betray felt like a pretty shitty
thing to do, even though she had her reasonsvery good
reasons, shed thought at the time. But over the course of the
first three months in their new Arizona home, Fensa and Xenon
talked to one other more than they ever had in the past three
years.
Of course, all good things must come to an end. And thats
what eventually happened with their long walks together. By the
fourth month, instead of walking awkwardly beside her, Xenon
began setting her down farther and farther from the cave.
Gradually flying them both closer and closer to their hot springs
destination, until one morning he carried her the full distance,
and set her down on the bank next to the spring, neatly reducing
their two-hour trip to mere minutes.
At the hot spring, Xenon the dragon would honor Fensa
with a sizzling underwater orgasm. But as promised, he only
allowed her to keep her eyes closed for a little while. Less than a
week after he began flying her the full distance, he commanded
her to sit on the bank of the spring and watch. Observe what
your drakkon does to you.
The sight should have repulsed her. And as she watched his
long, oversized tongue extend forward, and push into her sex,
she felt a sudden urge to grab it with both hands, and shove it
away from her.
But that didnt happen. Instead, she sat with a dazed, lust-
filled expression on her face, watching the forked tongue work
its magic in her pussy with helpless fascination. Until she was
hit with the biggest orgasm shed ever had outside her heat. And
though she didnt black out this time, stars still radiated at the
edges of her vision as she watched the dragon clean the milky
white release from her dark pussy
Oh fuck, she cried, throwing her head back, and coming a
second time, just from the cleaning.
It wasnt enough. After the first few days of watching him
fuck her with his tongue, she begged him to shift. You cant be
happy with this arrangement! she pointed out. Please shift,
and fuck me. Please!
But he wouldnt give in. Only invited her to bathe with him in
the hot springs before they returned to the village.
After her bath, he did exactly as hed done every morning
prior: dropped her off with the other women at the bottom of the
mountain. To sew and, depending on the season, gather various
plants, nuts, and berries to go with whatever the males brought
back from the hunt. Although the food was far more plentiful
here, they ended up having to hunt more often, since they could
no longer rely on ice and snow to make otherwise highly
perishable food last for long stretches of time.
I must away, Reverence. Thank you for the honor of your
company this morning. Xenon bent his head slightly, and then
held up a massive, taloned forepaw.
Andah, thank you for the honor of yours, she answered
awkwardly, holding up her hand and moving her palm forward to
touch his.
Other way, Reverence, he reminded her.
Fensa stopped the forward motion of her hand, holding it still
and elevated until Xenons much larger dragon palm pressed
into her way smaller hand.
The whole concept of reverence continued to stymy her.
Which meant she was frequently at the receiving end of lessons
on how to accept address in a reverent manner, and how to
initiate address in return. Fensa now knew she should cast her
eyes downward when making a request, but always meet his gaze
directly when asking a question. They must touch foreheads
upon seeing each other if more than a few wing hours had
passed since they last spoke. And press palms when parting.
Unless, of course, they were parting for more than a few wing
hours. In which case, they were supposed to touch forehead and
palms together. Or something like that.
It was seriously more confusing than that one year of high
school German she took before wisely deciding to switch to
Spanish. The little details kept tripping her up. For example, if
they met in the heatwhich meant during the day in drakkon
speak, he touched his forehead to hers. But if they met in the
coldat nightthen she touched her forehead to his.
However, the hand thing was the complete opposite. He touched
her palm when he left for the hunt; she touched his before she
left to shift with the moon. And she still couldnt say for sure
when she was supposed to use her right palm, and when she was
supposed to use her left.
But Xenon remained patient. Resolute in his insistence that
she learn his customs, even if shed eventually die in what to
him would seem like the blink of an eye. Assuming he ever
blinked.
Farewell, Reverence, Xenon said before taking off for the
hunt with a great downward flap of his huge wings.
Note for next lifetime, she thought to herself as she watched
Eos burst out the cave to join his father. Never get into a fight
with somebody whos going to live fifteen to eighteen thousand
years longer than you. Just dont.
Xenons patience game was beyond tight. And though Fensa
knew what she knew, she found herself wondering how long it
would take before she cracked.
Months and months passed, and though Fensa was getting
tongued down in the sexiest way every day by a dragon who no
longer repulsed her, she became increasingly less satisfied.
Until one fateful morning when she woke to her mostly
useless bioware bleating, GOOD MORNING, FENSA. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
A year. One whole year had passed since he gave her the trust
ultimatum! Fensa looked over her shoulder at the dragon, still
sleeping soundly. The one she couldnt even lie to about trusting
because hed see it in her damn flame.
You know its my birthday, she told Xenon as he flew her to
the hot springs that morning. Where I come from, usually the
mate gets the other a gift.
What gift would you have of me, Reverence?
Sex, she answered without pausing to think about it. Hot
penises in holes action. Thats what I want, all I want for my
birthday. Give it to me, please.
It would give me great pleasure to grant your request,
Reverence, but you have not yet given me the words that will
allow me to shell my dragon and mate without breeding
with you.
Questionisnt letting you tongue me down, like, every day
enough?
If it were, we would not be having this conversation,
Reverence. Until you truly trust your drakkon, drakkon I will
remain.
This was crazy. He must get how crazy it was. How could she
trust him when there was no way to prove he wouldnt kill her
fathers entire family?
But she said nothing, already knowing his answer:
Nonetheless, Reverence, that is the condition.
Theyd had this conversation before. Far more times than she
cared to admit.
But Fensa was never one to give up easily. So she came at it
from another angle. You know, you wont have much longer
with me considering my short lifespan and all. You said dragons
only mate once. Arent you afraid of wasting what little time we
have left together?
Your lifespan is short, but I find my time stretches longer
whenever I am in your company, Reverence.
Ugh. What youre saying is time doesnt fly when youre
with me? You know, thats considered an insult where I
come from.
Interesting. It is regarded as one of the highest compliments
where I come from.
Scratch that tactic off the list, she grumbled to herself a few
minutes later, as she stripped off her clothes, dropping them
haphazardly on the rocky shore.
All this intimacy only made it worse. She had never been
courted. Never felt so close to anyone besides her fictitious twin
sister. And Xenon had oh-so-patiently taken down the wall
shed built around herself. Dismantling it brick by brick. Healing
the wounds left over from their argument. Bridging the rift.
Healing them with his insistence that she get to know his
dragon.
Ok. She was used to his dragon now. Cared for it, even, as she
had the man she hadnt seen in a year. And even better, shed
totally accepted her fate. Accepted she would live here and die
here. Somewhere between this birthday and the last, shed
become totally okay with that. But something was still stopping
her from writing happily ever after on this story. Something
dark blue, big as the buildings she hadnt seen in years, and
maybe stubborn enough to let her die without ever knowing
normal consensual sex with his human form again.
Your head burns a strange red today, Reverence. What has
you so enflamed?
You, she thought in her most private mind, where he had no
chance of hearing her. Because why spend her birthday arguing
with the dragon she l
Its getting hotter and hotter out. Im wondering if the hot
spring will feel too warm today, she said, interrupting her inner
thoughts before things got out of hand.
In my natural form of drakkon, I do not feel temperatures at
either extreme, but I can fly you to a lake if you have wish of
cooler waters, Reverence.
No, thanks. It was just an observation.
Silence. And she could tell he was watching her as she folded
her now much shorter hide dress carefully, analyzing her flame.
But in the end, he walked into the hot spring, sinking to his
torso in the warm water. I would hear another tale of your time
traveling family while we bathe, Reverence. Perhaps of your
Viking grandfather.
Yes, her Viking grandfather. One of the first to fall, defending
his kingdom against the dragon attack.
And now does your flame burn distressed. Forgive me,
Reverence, for my request.
Putting more effort into controlling her emotions, she
stepped into the water and pasted on a smile. No, its okay. I do
have a story about him, and a hot spring, if you can believe it. My
grandfather was desperate for my grandmother to return with
him to the past, and to his village. But she was having none of it.
One day, he decided to change strategies, and he tricked her into
saying the spell that would bring her back to his time.
Spells. This is how you call the codes that trigger the fated
matching portals?
Yes. Anyway, my grandmother was, like, Donkey Kong angry
with my grandfather for bringing her into his time without her
consent.
Indeed, such behavior shows a complete lack of reverence.
Exactly. Then you wont be surprised to hear how pissed she
was at him. She refused to talk to him for, like, weeks. My
grandfather didnt know what to do. In the end, and even though
they were technically already mated, he began to court her in
earnestgiving her gifts, and showing her things only she would
appreciate. Turns out, one of those things was a local hot spring
where she could take a warm bath, the first shed had inwell, a
long time. According to legend, and my papa, three months later
they declared their love for one another.
Love, he repeated, using one huge forepaw to scoop water
over himself. Like that yellow flame you feel toward Eos.
Yes, but different, she answered, unable to look away from
how the water snaked in silvery rivulets down his gigantic, dark
blue body. Not the love a parent has for a child. But romantic
love. The kind of love one she hesitated for a moment before
deciding to hell with it, one mate might have for the other.
There was a long pause, and then he looked directly into her
eyes. Romantic love. You mean the way your flame yellowed
when I asked why you had not killed me for the crime you
thought I would commit. And the way it burns for me now as you
watch me bathe.
His sincere question punched her in the gut. Fensa found she
didnt have the words to respond, even through their mind link.
Why has your flame darkened again, Reverence? Are you
ashamed of burning this way for me?
Her eyes dropped to her new best friend, the steaming water.
I would have your eyes, Reverence. And your answer.
But Fensa couldnt look at him. Couldnt explain how
shameful this felt. Not just because he was a dragon, but because
shed known all along that he couldnt, and therefore wouldnt,
return her feelings. After all, hed told her this himself. She
would always have his reverence. But his love? No, love wasnt
possible for a being like him.
I cant, she explained on a mind whisper.
A sigh somewhere between a breath and a sharp screech
sounded above her, and she felt something flexible, yet pointed,
push into the soft flesh beneath her chin. Like an arrow made of
rubber, strong enough to lift her head. It was his tail, the very
tip, she realized as it continued to raise her chin so she had no
choice but to look the dragon directly in his one good eye. It
glowed red, the vertical pupil widening and narrowing as the sun
flitted in and out of the clouds overhead.
May I now give you a gift in honor of your day of birth,
Reverence?
Fensa felt too intimidated to respond. Mostly because she
wasnt at all sure how to answer without breaking one of
Xenons many reverence rules. In fact, she was almost positive a
lesson covering this precise situation had never come up.
As if sensing her dilemma, the dragon continued without
waiting for her answer. If you ever wish to harm me without the
use of a weapon, clasp my tail just below the tip and squeeze. The
underside of a drakkons tail is one of the most sensitive parts of
his body. It is also one of the few places on our bodies equipped
with both nerve and olfactory arrays. Apply pressure there, and I
will be completely at your mercy and will most surely agree to
anything.
For a split second, Fensa imagined her hand lifting to grasp
the underside of the tail that still nudged her chin up. She
imagined what might happen, and what she might ask of him.
Then her actual hand rose to gently rest against his tail before
she dropped it to her side.
Why? Why would you tell me this? she asked him, the
unexpected mixture of emotions making her inner voice sound
unusually hoarse. Why make yourself vulnerable to me?
Another steamy sigh wafted from his snout. Fensa watched as
the curls of smoke seamlessly intermingled with the plumes of
steam rising off the hot spring. When we are in these forms, I
am big, and you are small. I would have you know you need never
fear me. I gift you with my trust in the hopes you will one day
gift me with yours.
His words touched her someplace deep. Someplace shed
been trying hard to keep walled off from him, ever since she
accepted that she would never return home.
The dragon tilted his head in a way that came off as both
curious and bemused. Though technically his outward
expression never changed. You burn yellow again. This gift has
pleased you, it seems?
Another genuine question, but she couldnt help the smile
that lifted her lips. Yes, she admitted. It has pleased me a lot.
I like that you have given me a way to trust you.
Hmmm, He lowered his great head even closer to hers, and
peered deeply into her eyes. You say like. Yet what you truly
mean is love. You love that I have given you a way to trust me.
You also burn with romantic love towards me, he corrected.
Only to ask a moment later, And now you once more burn with
shame. What is it about this situation that upsets you,
Reverence?
Now it was Fensas turn to sigh as she answered, In my time,
its considered pretty damn stupid to love someone who doesnt
love you back.
Doesnt love you back, he repeated as if the words were
part of a foreign dish hed never heard of, or tasted before. But I
revere you, Treasure. Is this not enough?
Fensa shook her head, not bothering to try to mask her
sadness. No, unfortunately, its not. I realize this all probably
sounds stupid to you since youve told me your kind isnt capable
of feeling emotions like love. But you must see how
embarrassing, and ridiculous it feels for me to have these
feelings towards you. And Im not sure Im ever going to be able
to reconcile it.
Her revelation was followed by a long, heavy pauseand then
he dipped his head to look away from her. Suddenly the
steaming water of the hot spring had become his best friend.
Look, can we please leave? Im tired, she said, unable to
bear any more.
And though she didnt squeeze his tail, she didnt use her
gentlest touch to push it away from under her chin. She also
didnt wait around for permission, or touch his paw, or do any of
the dozens of other reverence shit hed taught her before she
headed off to collect her clothes on the shore.
To her relief, neither his footsteps nor voice sounded
behind her.
Fensa cursed herself out six ways to Sunday for saying
anything to him at all about her feelings. She should have stayed
silent. Kept her own counsel, as the ghost of a dead king and
father had once advised his princely son in the famous play by a
long-dead (or more accurately, not yet born) English playwright.
Fensa missed her pretend twin sister. Wished she had
someone else to talk to about all this. Wished for the sometimes
good, sometimes bad advice her delusion used to give her.
Shocking but true: she missed being a psycho. Someone
whod had to be locked away for the good of herself and others.
When Fensa had finished pulling on her clothes, she found
Xenon exactly where shed left him, still gazing intently into the
water. As if hed suddenly become enraptured by his own image
ormore likelybecause he could no longer look her in the eye.
And thats when Fensa decided shed rather walk the two
hours back to the village alone than ask him for a ride.
I need to clear my head. Im going to walk back, she pushed
into his head.
No answer.
Shed never seen him go so still, not even when that red
dragon landed outside the glacier station. A frisson of alarm
interrupted her rejected she-wolf spin out.
Is everything thing alright? she asked the dragon shed
been so determined to leave behind just a few seconds ago.
His large dragon body jerked as if it were coming out of a
trance. Dont you see? he asked. But then he shook his head.
Oh, of course. I sometimes forget that you cannot see. Your
flame, or mine.
Whats going on? she asked, now genuinely alarmed. Are
you okay?
I amconfused, he replied, his tone less measured and
more perplexed than shed ever heard iteven during their
earliest days together in the glacier lab before Eos joined them.
I was contemplating your yellow flame, and pondering what it
meant to you. I then glanced at my reflection in the water and
saw my flame mirrored there. It no longer burned red and orange
as it has for so long in your presence, but a deep yellow. The very
same yellow you burn for me. This Ido not understand. Can it
be this feeling I have when I think on you, the way my flames
warm to yellowcan it be the love you speak of?
The dragons great head finally turned to look at her, as if
seeking a diagnosis for a new and rare condition. Treasure, is it
possible I feel the same love for you, as you do for me?
Fensas heart caught in her chest. She might not be able to
see the revealing images Xenon saw in the steamy hot spring
waters, yet she somehow knew by the sheer confusion and
distress in his voice as he asked his questions that...Yes. Yes, I
think you might love me. Oh, my God
Butbut how can this possible? Xenon swung his deep
blue head from side to side, peering through the steam rising off
the spring with his one good eye as if he might somehow find the
answer to all his questions buried inside. I was so angry with
you. In truth, I am still angry with you when I think of what you
attempted to do to me, and to our son. Yet this angerI cannot
reconcile it with the love you speak of. I understood it to be a
pleasurable feeling. You often wear a smile upon your face when
you glow with it for Golden Son. So how is it that it can make me
feel so
Ugly? Confused? Awful? All of the above? It didnt take
Fensa long to run through just a few of the negative side effects
of love. She gave him an empathetic smile. You arent the first,
and you definitely wont be the last to notice the double-edged
sword of love. Theres a reason so many artists have written and
sung about the very thin line that exists between love and hate.
I do not understand. Please explain, Reverence.
Its a saying from my time. More poetrya way of
explaining how two individuals in love can feel a deep
connection, and care for each other one minute, and burning
anger and disappointment the next.
I see
But then his head suddenly whipped back to focus on her.
Treasure, he said quietly in her mind. You now flame the
same yellow as I. My words match the emotions you feel inside?
Talk about a real language barrier. How could she possibly
describe the feeling that had made her so despondent only a few
moments ago, but now made her feel almost light with
giddiness? Yes, I suppose they do. Your flame. Is it really
burning yellow? For me?
It truly does, he replied. And the longer I observe the
answering yellow of your flame, the less I mind my flame, and
theconfusion it brings me.
Fensa laughed, though she knew he wasnt making a joke. It
was justso like her dragon to use his skills of frank observation
to cleanly slice through something as complex as love to better
understand and define it. Including that its a lot easier to handle
how vulnerable love makes us when our feelings are returned,
and you know youre not alone on this sometimes bumpy
journey.
She smiled up at him. And although he was unable to return
her expression in his current form, she could feel the intent of
his smile as surely as if his huge dragon lips had pulled back into
a sharp-toothed dragon grin. There they stood, partially
immersed in the warm, steaming waters of their secret hot
spring. A woman and her dragon. A dragon and his woman.
Staring at one another in wonder. Smiling their shared, secret
smiles.
And then the fragile moment was abruptly smashed to pieces.
30

I t happened so fast, it took Fensas brain several seconds to


catch up and process the situation. There was an intense
rush of heat through her entire body as if shed come down
with a sudden fever.
And then everything stopped. The world went offline, and
when it came back on, Xenon was gone. And the only thing she
could hear were the sounds of wolves howling in the distance.
Howling that was soon cut off with a painful whimper. What
happened? What was going on?
Youre in heat, her wolf told her.
And that was the last coherent communication from her wolf
before her body began to scream for mating. Every nerve
receptor erupting with a lust so abject, it brought her to her
knees, right beside the hot spring.
Why had Xenon left? How could he possibly leave her at a
time like this? He was her mate. The only one who could help
her. The only one who could make this all-encompassing ache
go away.
Xenon! Xenon! Where are you? her wolf screamed.
Then as if in answer, the world went as dark as her misery. It
wasnt night though. But a shadow. A shadow so huge, it blocked
out the sun.
Fensa lifted her head to see Xenon hovering in the sky above
her. Oh God, her dragonhe was here.
But then he was no longer her dragon. He descended in the
old waythe way she hadnt witnessed in over a year. Becoming
smaller and smaller, until he landed with a muted thump beside
her, once again a very tall, but human-like man.
And that was the only glimpse she got of him before she was
lifted into his arms, and carried her to the grassy bank just
beyond the rocky shore of the hot spring. There was nothing
romantic about any of it. More like being hauled off her feet,
unceremoniously dumpedstomach-firstonto the grass, and
effectively covered by Xenons large, and very welcome, body.
Had she not been deep in the throes of the most intense heat
ever, Fensa would have laughed at how shed had to come travel
all the way back to prehistoric times to finally understand the
meaning of the term caveman sex. There was nothing
remotely reverent about what Xenon was doing to her. His sharp
teeth found the side of her neck, biting down so hard, she
screamed out in pain. But her scream ended abruptly when the
sole of his foot pressed into the outside of her thigh, and two
hard, hot penises plunged into her with no warning whatsoever.
As it turned out, Fensa didnt need a warning.
Wet, nasty heat spilled out of her in cascades of warm oil,
coating her thighs, and her butt. Lubricating everything within
reach, and making it so she couldnt hear or feel anything but his
penises sliding in and out of both holes in a sloppy, urgent
frenzy.
It felt so good. So very good, she didnt care how sudden and
wild it was. Her and Xenon, after all those months of lessons in
manners and etiquette, fucking rough and nasty in the grass and
dirt and heat of tropical Arizona. Shed have happily continued.
However, Xenon must have regained some sense of purpose
because he abruptly released his bite on her neck, and moved his
free hand down beneath her front to find the small protrusion of
engorged flesh shed taught him about so long ago.
Fensa exploded. And then she couldnt remember how to
perform the simple act of breathing as Xenon pumped hard into
her after light. With a suddenness that was only rivaled by the
onset of her heat, Xenon stilled behind her, and a snort of warm
steam hit the back of her neck before he released a river of hot
semen into her womb.
Pure, blissful relief. But only for a secondbefore he spiked
inside her, and her cunt squeezed down so hard in response,
several more mini-orgasms besieged her while her pussy milked
his dick, not caring what it might be doing to Fensas mind.
Maybe if the whole thing hadnt been so suddenand hadnt
happened after a year of no penis whatsoever. In any case, Fensa
didnt stand a chance of staying alert and awake under these
conditions. And she soon passed out with one ultra-wry thought
ringing through her head, Xenon finally said he loved me! And
it sent me straight into heat.
31

T hree days later, Fensa was beginning to wish hed


never told her he loved her.
It had only taken them two full sessions of heat sex
before she became pregnant with Eos.
But for whatever reason, this time was taking longer. Way
longer.
Fensa was only aware three days had passed because
somehow, in the midst of all this, Xenon had been diligently
tracking the time. And finding food somewhere. Likely from the
tribe, she suspected, if the size of the offerings were any
indication. Rabbits and birds. Plenty for her. Not nearly enough
for poor Xenon.
Nevertheless, he handed over the most recent small animal
offering as soon as she opened her eyes. You must eat,
Reverence. You cannot afford to become hungry in your
condition.
Fensa ravenously stripped and ate the flesh from an entire
rabbit, leaving nothing but the bones. (Until her dying day, shed
remember how good that damn rabbit tasted). However, when
her hunger was finally satisfied, she remembered her poor mate.
But what about you? she asked, reaching up to push a lock of
his now super long, glossy black hair behind one ear.
Hed reminded her of a pirate before, but not anymore.
Whatever hed been using to trim his hair had been left behind
at the glacier station, and thanks to two years of unchecked
growth, Xenons dark hair now hung in long, straight curtains
past where his nipples would beif he had them. Missing
nipples aside (and webbed feet, and glowing red eyes), he looked
resembledwell, the classic image of a Native American.
But then his overly formal style of speaking reminded her
how not Native American he was. You honor me with your
concern, but Golden Son honored me with a sheep while we did
sleep.
She stilled, He didnt see us
Forgive him, Reverence, for not honoring your belief that
children should not see us in our naked forms.
Its ok, she answered, feeling both emotionally and
physically drained. Only, sometimes I wish he lived in my era.
Where he could have access to an actual childhood, and be
protected from knowing too much about adult life, too soon.
You speak of childhood in a way my kind do not. Golden Son
has been a child for nearly four solars, and perhaps at this
delayed rate of growth, he will enjoy another four or five
rotations before he is ready to make his transition to adulthood.
On Drakkon, childhood is but a very short phase of our lives, one
which lasts a mere five solar rotations. It is so short a time that I
rarely think on it.
Her eyes widened. Wait, Eos is only going to be a kid for less
than ten years?
Shed seen how fast he grew and noticed his closest friends in
the tribe were boys twice his age. But she had no idea his
childhood would be so fleeting. Or that Xenons had been even
shorter. And you were only a kid for five years?
I do not intend insult, Reverence, but your species is poorly
designed. Although Fenrir did the best he could with his genetic
splice, he wasnt able to reduce the time your species spends in
this weakened state.
Weakened state? she repeated, realizing he thought she
was protesting because she envied his much shorter youth.
Butchildhood is one of the best times of our lives! Its the
only time we get to truly play and explore. She thought of how
everything fell apart after her imaginary sister decided to stick
around long past the time when the adults in her life deemed it
acceptable. Everyone deserves a childhood. Im just sorry yours
was cut so short.
Please do not burn sad for me, Treasure. I cannot miss what I
did not experience. What no drakkon has ever experienced
before Golden Son.
But
But nothinganother burst of heat erupted between her legs
and buh-bye to any further conversation about cultural
differences.
Fensa barely had time to get clear of the leftover rabbit bones
before Xenon was covering her back again, with his foot planted
firmly against her thigh.
Three days had passed, and that conversation was about twice
as long as any theyd had. This heat was different. More intense,
more demanding. Shed often pass out while coming, only to
awaken to a fresh heat, and the feel of Xenon sleepily fucking
her from behind. For three whole days, all theyd done was fuck
and eat. And when the sun rose on the fourth day, Xenon tiredly
said, I will mount you for one more day cycle, Treasure, but only
one. If we wake to another sun and your heat has not left you, I
must take myself away from here and never return.
In an instant, Fensa went from weak and spent, to upright on
one elbow beside her giant mate. What? Why?!
The first day of your heat when I heard howls moving toward
us, I flew into the air and spotted some Group 7 males coming
this way. Without you there to manage them, their primal
instincts took over when they smelled your heat on the wind.
His gaze darkened. Two of our best hunters are now dead
because they attempted to answer your mating call as the Royal
Geneticist designed them to do. But I have no excuse for my
mating rage. I am afraid I am little more than an animal when it
comes to you.
Oh, God Im so sorry! I know you must feel terrible. But,
well, this is wolf nature. Much of wolf history is littered with
stories of wolves fighting to the death for the right to first mate.
And right now, the species is still very young. Plus, like you said,
if Id been there that wouldnt have happened. Its as much my
fault as it is yours.
He shook his head. You honor me with your words of solace.
But it does not change my mind. I cannot stand by while you
suffer from this mating heat. If I must go away from this place so
another of your species can mate you, I will. Even if the thought
of living without you burns my flame the reddest of black.
Xenon she started, then stopped and for the first time
said, Reverence, no. You are my mate. My treasure. I will have
no one but you. I will die before I mate with anyone but you.
His usually expressionless face softened. Treasure, you have
no idea how it yellows my flame to hear you call me by this
title. But
Dont but me, Reverence. I wont let you hand me over to
someone else cuz you feel bad. Thats not a call you get
to make.
She could feel his next words about to push into her mind, but
she cut them off my mounting him in a swift, decisive motion.
Even though another heat wave hadnt taken her over yet, she
impaled her pussy on his first dick, and spread her butt cheeks
as she eased back onto his other penis.
Reverenccccee, he hissed inside her mind. Both a
chastisement and a plea for mercy.
Neither of which she paid attention to.
Mine, she hissed back in her speaking voice, attempting to
match his dragon accent.
Though she couldnt understand what he was saying, when
Xenon hissed back at her she felt sure it was Drakkon for
mine. And as if it had been called forth by their mutual
claiming, her heat came down just as his body began to move in
tandem with hers.
The heat, or maybe the idea of him leaving her, turned Fensa
into a crazy woman. She shoved her hips into his, over and over,
bouncing above him with abandon. All the while, a series of
unbidden images flooded her mind: her parents leaving her
behind in that shitty Arizona center leaving her together, but
returning separately. First her mother with the news that they
would be divorcing. Then her papa, stinking of alcohol and
looking emaciated and gray where he used to be muscular and
thick.
No no
We do not give up on each other. We stay together! Fensa
shouted at her mate. I love you. I revere you. You are MY
DRAGON, and I am YOUR WOLF. If I die fucking you, so be it. But
do not ever try to pull this bullshit with me again. Do you
understand? She paused momentarily, straddling his hips,
panting and slick with their combined sweat and fluids.
I I he croaked as if trying to find the words. She began
riding him again, and as their hips rolled together, he reached up
and curved a large hand around the back of her neck. Pulling her
forward and down. Towards him.
His kiss was hard and sharp with teeth. Unreverent as all
fuck, and Godshe was sure it drew blood. But Fensa was too
crazed with lust, love, and heat to care. They kissed, and then
kissed again. When the orgasm finally overtook her, she released
a muffled cry into his lips rather than let him go. And perhaps he
was in a similar state. Because soon after she came down, he
deftly flipped them both over, their bodies still joined, and began
fiercely driving his hips between hers in a fast roll.
Xenons voice appeared in her head, as dark and unhinged as
hers. Yess, Fenssa. Minemine to matemine to holdmine
to ssseed. My one and only lovemine everlasssting!
Then he emptied himself into her in one hot gush, spiking
just moments after. The pleasure blasted through Fensa, once
again doing its level best to make her lose her fucking mind
before knocking her right the fuck out.
But this time, Fensa refused to let the back-to-back climaxes
overpower her. Hanging on to her consciousness, if not her
sanity, she did something shed only heard about from other
mated wolves. She bit into his shoulder and hung on to her
dragon by her teeth. Hunkered down hard inside her mind, as
she weathered the blizzard of pleasure that came at her when
her hungry cunt began furiously milking his spiked penis.
She hung ononly to be shocked a few moments later when
he simply rolled out of her and fell onto his back beside her.
Wait, you can just pull out? Whenever you want?! she said,
hardly believing what had just happened. A male wolf was
usually forced to remain embedded in his mated female
anywhere from twenty minutes, to an hour after knotting.
I am drakkon, not lupin, he reminded her. We do not stay
within our mates after the seeding is done.
Wow. I guess I would have known that if Id ever managed to
stay awake.
Xenon shifted beside her, then said, I am sensing an unusual
response to your words. Its as ifair is pressing upon my lungs,
trying to push out.
Fensa slid him an amused look. Huh. Either youre about to
burp, or laugh at me. Im hoping for the latter, in case youre
wondering.
Laughter, he repeated, ignoring her burp comment. The
chortling sound you and Golden Son often make. Yes, perhaps
that is it.
Xenon let out a sound, somewhere between that noise people
make when they clear their throats, and a gasket blowing. She
winced, grimacing. Uhthats your laugh? Did it hurt? Because
it sounded painful!
He responded with another throat clearing gasket blow.
Which made her giggle, even as she snuggled her face into his
chest and murmured, I require holding.
Before she dropped off into a contented sleep, she couldnt
help but think, Maybe a burp wouldnt have been so bad
32

S he woke with a start many hours later.


Well, not with a start. But with a tongue. A giant
tongue.
A large dragon was once again hovering over her, the tip of its
forked tongue all up inside her business.
Oh, God, she thought. Here we go again
What are you doing? she groaned, even as her eyes closed,
and her hands began running over her breasts. Had all that heat
sex with Xenons shell been nothing more than a dream? An
incredibly long and nasty birthday dream?
But then Xenons dark voice said, You have taken my seed,
Reverence. I am merely tasting the pregnancy.
And, how is it? she asked breathlessly.
It is good, he answered, voice pleased. Not so faint as with
Golden Son. The seed is well planted this time, and very strong.
Well, thats a relief, Fensa said, trying to keep her voice as
casual as his.
A beat passed, then, Are you wishing for me to continue with
this, Reverence?
And despite Fensas sore everything, she nodded frantically.
I would have your words, Treasure. I find I much like of the
sound of you begging for my honor.
Apparently, she was too damn tired and sex drunk to bother
with pride because she immediately answered, Oh, God, yes,
Reverence. Keep going. Please, keep going.
So he did. And soon after, her hands clawed in the grass as a
fresh new orgasm washed over her.
Like a brand new day, she couldnt help but think, even if
technically this one wasnt over yet.
So I guess youre not bound to your human when your mate
is pregnant like wolves are, she said a few minutes later while
they both cleaned off four days of intense sex in the hot spring.
Recall, Treasure. My human form is merely a shell, not a
binding as it is with you.
But what I mean to say isyouve decided to remain a
dragon?
It was strange how much easier it was for her to look upon
him in this form now. She watched him carefully as he stilled.
Then something wrapped around her waist. It was his huge
tail, pulling her forward until she stood in front of his massive
dragon body. I told you what it would take for me to return to
my shell, Treasure.
Her trust. All of it.
Now it was her turn to go completely still.
Do you believe I am your drakkon? he asked. That I burn
yellow for you as I never thought a drakkon could?
Fensa nodded.
Then why do you continue to refuse to believe my
solemn vow?
As so often happened between the two of them, she tried to
look away, but he wouldnt let her. His tail arced up, blocking her
cheek before she could turn her head any further. It then slipped
back gently under her chin, forcing her eyes to remain on his as
he said, Treasure. I am your dragon. I protect you. I revere you. I
would never break a promise to you. And I vow I will not ever
attack your father, his family, or his village.
Fensa crooked her head up at him. But dont you see? My
father only said the fated mate spell to escape dying like his
brother did. If what youre saying is true, wouldnt I have
disappeared from this timeline? I mean, if you never attack the
village, the logical conclusion is my father would not have
chosen to flee into the future, where he subsequently met and
mated my mom. But Im here. Still. So I can revere you. I can
even love you. Yet no matter what you promise me, I dont think
She paused, closing her eyes against the conflicting
emotions she hadnt known were lurking while she spoke. I
cannot trust you.
A heavy silence fellfollowed by the removal of her dragons
tail from beneath her chin. Hed effectively withdrawn his tail to
withdraw from the conversation.
Fensa wasnt surprised, but she was surprised to feel a hand
cup the side of her face. A human hand. She opened her eyes to
find Xenon reshelled in his human skin, his Native American-
meets-pirate gaze soft on hers. I, too, have wondered why you
are still here, he said. But this I vow: I will make no attack on
your fathers village. My vow is binding, unbreakable.
Understand this.
A new feeling washed over her. One shed never had before.
With him, her parentsnot even with Ola.
Your flame burns a new strange color. Tell me, Reverence,
what new feeling is this? Xenon asked inside her head.
Fensa swallowed as if bracing her mind to push back the
answer. Quite possibly the most elusive, and most easily
damaged emotion of all, at least where Im concerned. Trust,
she answered. I believe you, Reverence. Despite all evidence to
the contrary. I believe you.
And that was when Fensa made another surprising discovery
about dragons. That despite her past assumptions, and under the
right circumstances, dragons were quite capable of facial
expressions. Because hers smiled. Like a real smilebefore
dipping his head down for a kiss. One that all but guaranteed a
happy ending for them both during this lifetime, and the next.
33

T his would not end happily for him. That much was
clear.
Reverence? Is everything ok?
Xenon looked up to see his fated mates worried face above
her bent legs. Hed allowed himself to get lost in the dark
thoughts again. Something he wished to avoid doing in her
presence.
During this pregnancy, his examinations always ended with
him honoring her before pulling her atop him so she could more
easily ride his male works in her increasingly large state. But
today hed let his flame go blue with the thoughts of what he
must do in a half moons timetwo weeks, as Fated Mate would
call it.
And that thought had turned what should have been a sexy
examination into something bittersweet.
Forgive me, Treasure, he murmured quietly inside her
head. I ponder the next moons feast. The closest bison herd is
growing thin. I should begin a search for a new herd with Eos
this morn. Then shall I return to help the Far Travelers with the
construction of the ground caves.
Xenon stopped when her flame turned bright yellow, and her
chest rippled orange with laughter. Why flame you thus? he
asked.
Because for someone who claims not to care about the
hunting beasts, youre sure putting a lot of thought into this
next moons feast and helping them build cave dwellings.
For not the first time during the four rotations theyd spent
together, he gave thanks his flame was not visible to her. That
she could not see the blue tinge when he answered, I suppose it
is fair to say they have grown to my liking.
Reverence? she asked him with a soft smile.
Yes, Treasure?
I know youre anxious to leave, but do you think we might
have a little time to honor each other before you go? Im getting
so big, as you may have noticed. Lord knows how much longer
Im going to be able to honor you in any way until the baby
arrives.
Once more, Xenons flame blued at her words. He could no
longer trust himself to respond. So instead of giving her words,
he gave her his hands upon her waist. It seemed his male works
were not as occupied as his mind because both penises stood
ready to receive her wet heat as soon as he pulled her above him.
However, rather than embedding each penis in her front and
back per usual, he allowed her womanhood to engulf one while
pushing the other up against her swollen clit. This was a position
he used only rarely because she often came too quickly for their
liking.
But this morning was different. Not only did his heart fill with
stark relief when she found her honor a short beat later, but he
spilled into her soon after. Happy to be done. If not with the act,
then at least with the lie.
Xenon looked to the cave entrance. The view had changed
from sky to river since their time at the hot spring. Not only
because Fated Mate had met his condition of trust, but because
he had no wish to restrict her freedoms further. He did not want
her to remember him as a jailor
Another dark thought.
I will return for the midday meal, he told her, giving her
forehead short press before he rose to his feet.
Okay, bye, she answered.
Xenon made a great effort to ignore the dark spots of
confusion upon her otherwise yellow flame.
He turned and rapidly made his way to the mouth of
their cave.
But instead of going toward to the encampment as he usually
did when Golden Son slept apart from his parents, he
immediately launched upwards. Unshelling as he sprung from
the entrance, crying out for his son to join him in the air.
Golden Son responded to the summons with proper haste.
The year had matured the boy in interesting ways. He still did
not stand as tall as a drakkon of similar age. And he remained far
from adulthood, despite nearly four solar rotations having
passed since his birth. But Golden Son was now as tall as a wolf
of ten rotations, and though he still had what his mother
referred to as an impish sense of humor, his pranks were far
more carefully orchestrated, often taking days to execute.
However, he did not attempt light conversation with his
father as they flew toward the north side of the mountain. To
Xenons bittersweet surprise, his son had taken to their secret
project with the zeal of a maker born. As it would happen, he and
his hybrid son were not as different as he had once thoughta
discovery that made Xenon both happy, and sadfor reasons he
could not yet impart to his son or his mate.
Which is why he reminded Golden Son of his most important
duty as they worked together at the site where his Most Revered
had hoped to find her Arizona gate.
I will remind you of this again, Golden Son. Though we keep
this secret from your mother, you will protect her after I no
longer can.
Yes, of course, Blue Father. A fathers duty passes to his son
when the son leaves the family cave, and when the father leaves
the world. You have told me many times. I understand.
Golden Sons voice had taken on a somewhat churlish tone as
of late. One Fated Mate professed, not to love. But in that
moment, Xenon already missed his sons voice, churlishness and
all, with a bittersweet longing he doubted would ever cease.
Perhaps Fated Mate had been right all along about the value of
childhood.
Another dark thought.
We could make more of these, Golden Son pointed out.
Xenon once more turned his attention back to his son. No,
Im afraid we cannot, he answered.
Blue Father, I know this is your last one. But I was thinking
more on Mamas story about how hard it was for her father to
track down her mother from the one North American gate. You
said these mountains are much bigger than the ones on
Drakkon. So maybe the system doesnt have to be as big here. If
we gather enough gold and find the right conditions, we could
probably break this down to make several dozens more of these
if we wanted to.
This is not a bad idea, he said to his son. More would
certainly make it easier for the lupin. Ive also had an idea to
change the encoding, so that one does not have to stand directly
in front of a fating portal in order to make use of it
Maybe he had grown as fond of the Royal Geneticists
experiments as Fated Mate claimed this morning. Because for
the next few minutes, he and his son hypothesized how the
device they were working on might be broken down and
multiplied. It was a good conversation. Filled with possibility and
ideas.
Yet for the thousands of the years that followed, it would be
this conversation he blamed.
It was the only explanation he could give for what came to
pass. How hed failed to keep his project hidden for the two more
precious weeks hed promised himself before doing what
he must.
But as it turned out, both he and Golden Son had been so
intent on their discussion, neither of them noticed anyone
coming up the natural trail that led to this bit of outcropping.
Not until it was too late.
What are you two doing up here? a voice suddenly asked
behind them, cutting the conversation short. Fated Mates voice,
he realized, his flame darkening with shame.
And then, before he could turn to her, she said, Oh, my God.
Is that? Is thatthe Arizona time gate?
34

F ensa suspected it wasnt going to end well when she


followed Xenon and Eos up here. As soon as she spied
her son and mate working together on the northern side
of the mountain when they were supposed to be out hunting, she
knew nothing good would come of her hauling her hugely
pregnant butt up that mountain.
But she guessed cats werent the only creatures made dumb
by curiosity. Shed stealthily followed Xenon for two reasons:
onebecause she sensed hed been keeping something from her
for weeks now. She might not be able to read heat signatures,
but hed become more and more distracted as this pregnancy
progressed. She could feel him becoming more agitated and sad
over their mate bondrather than more and more excited, as
hed been during her first pregnancy. And though they
continued to have sex regularly, it wasdifferent. More
desperate, somehow. And always forward facing, often with
Xenon staring intently at her as they moved together, as if he
was trying to memorize her face.
And twoshe was already so huge that her sneaking days
were numbered. It could very well be today, or never. Shed
known something was amiss when the two dragons circled back
around the mountain rather than away from it.
But never in her wildest dreams did she guess what shed find
when she followed her mate and son up to the location where
shed broken down crying. By the Fenrir wolf, had it been over a
year ago already?
Time passes when youre falling in love, she thought to
herself, even as she shook her head at Xenon and asked, How
did this gate get up here?
The only acknowledgment he gave her question was a slight
stiffening of his dragon shoulders. Then he said something to
Eos in their hiss-shriek language and without so much as a
glance at his mother, the boy flew off.
Leaving her alone with Xenon on the mountain. Next to a gate
that had definitely not been there a year ago. Or, as she strongly
suspected, even two months ago.
Xenon turned so very slowly that it was like watching a slow-
motion scene in a movie.
Treasure came the word in her head. Followed by silence.
Fensa stared up at her twenty-foot dragon. Waiting. Not
wanting, but still needing to know.
Finally, he spoke. I must beg your forgiveness, Treasure. I
did not lie to you, as an acolyte must never lie, but there are
things about myself that I did he trailed off, before coming
back with, keep hidden.
Things like what? she asked, even though her wolf was
screaming at her in the back of her head. Run! Do not continue
with this conversation. Do not ask more questions. Run!
Yet, she found she couldnt obey her wolf. Couldnt do
anything, in fact, but stand there with her hand on top of the
belly already so heavy with his dragon baby. Waiting to see how
hed answer.
He continued, his eyes turned downward, his head bent low.
The reverent position for imparting bad news, she remembered
from some lesson long ago. Finally, shed instantly recalled a
fact from the Reverence protocol, but wouldnt you know it
didnt bring her any joy.
Whatever it is, well get through it, she found herself
promising. You are my dragon, and I am your wolf. Well figure
it out. I promise.
Reverence, you honor me with your loyalty, and I will
treasure your words until my dying day. But this issue can only
be figured out in one way. I will start by answering your original
question. How did this fating portal appear in this place? The
answer is the lie of omission. I built it, Treasure, with Golden
Sons help. You see, I misled you by only telling you a few of my
titles: Prince, Reverence, Treasure, Your Drakkon Everlasting
these titles are important on Drakkon and here on this planet.
But for the purpose of my mission, there is only one title that
counts: Royal Fate Maker.
Royal Fate Maker, she repeated. Not understanding. Not
wanting to understand.
Yes. Fate Maker is the title given to those charged with the
making and encoding of the fertility DNA matching systems. The
Royal Geneticistthe drakkon you do call by the name of Fenrir
felt a DNA matching system would increase your species
chances of viability since you do not reproduce nearly as easily or
as fast as the humans. Also, there are so few hybrids that he was
afraid of homozygosity within the groups. This is when the genes
from both parents align so identically it creates undesirable
outcomes in their offspring.
Inbreeding. She pushed past her shock to supply the word.
You were afraid of inbreeding, which would potentially thin
your hunting dogs.
I do not like your tone, but yes, your meaning is correct. Your
species is already at the bottom spectrum of intelligence. We had
no wish for you to become less intelligent because of, as you call
it, inbreeding. For this reason was I brought along on this
mission to set up a matching system which might prevent such
poor outcomes. I was charged with installing a system in every
major Zone occupied by lupin hominids. To give your species the
best chance possible to become a fertile species that would
provide us with good hunt. I had built all but one of the systems
and was making plans to construct another in Zone 8, which is
how we refer to this landthis North America. A few of the
anthros had already started following herds across the land
bridge, Beringia, and I hypothesized the lupins would soon
follow. Id even planned to fly here four rotations ago and do
some reconnaissance work. But then you arrived at the Zone 7
portal, and my plans wereabandoned.
He stopped there. Waiting for her response.
But her brain was still processing what hed just told her with
the sluggishness of a circa 1990s computer. You made those
gates? Not the original geneticist, or wolf god, or whatever hes
called. But you?
Well, the Royal Geneticist made a small system of three
fating portals for his original experiment group in Zone 2. But as
for the rest yes, it was I who made those, he admitted with a
solemn nod. It is all very complicated, Treasure, but the
simplest explanation is I am a systems programmer and an
engineer. I earned the title of Fate Maker through rigorous
schooling. And I failed to share this information with you for
fear of what you might ask of me if you knew.
Oh, my God, Fensa realized out loud. You could have sent
me back?
Yes.
At any time?
Yes.
But you didnt.
He once again lowered his head. No.
She digested the news. It felt like someone had shoved a huge
chunk of mammoth steak into her mouth, and she had to chew
and chew before it could be fully swallowed.
But eventually, she did swallow. And her first words after
doing so were, I dont care.
Treasure
I dont care. You were right not to let me return. Were a
family. You, me, and Eos. You were right, we shouldnt be apart.
Im glad you didnt tell me. Im glad you didnt send me back.
With a strength she didnt think she possessed, Fensa
grabbed his huge dragon paw and placed it on her belly. Now,
lets go home.
Treasure
No, dont argue with me. Lets just go home. Back to
our cave.
She pulled at him again. Tugging with all her might.
But he didnt budge. Treasure, there is more. During my last
examination...
Fensa abruptly stopped pulling. Oh, God! Please tell me you
didnt lie about that, too! The baby isnt okay?
There is not one hatchling, Treasure, but two. That is the
reason you are twice as big this time around. You will recall you
barely survived the birth of Golden Son when we were in the
glacier with a full suite of medical tools at our disposal, and the
wall to guide me through the birthing. I feel certain you would
not survive the birth of two hatchlings. It would have been a
high-risk birth at my lab. But hereit is a death sentence for
you and for the babes.
Fensa shook her head, even as she realized the truth of what
he told her. The pain. The blood loss. The memory of waking up
in his arms weeks later, dazed and feeling like shed gone to hell
and back to keep her promise not to die.
For you and our hatchlings to survive, you must return to
your time, he told her. Where you will have access to the best
medical care, and medicine specifically for your species. And to
give you reverent protection, II will send Golden Son
with you.
Fensa shook her head, her heart filling with horror. What he
was proposing was beyond unacceptable. She couldnt return to
her time. Leave him here, alone. For the rest of his ever.
No, she whispered. Xenon, you must come with me. You
come with us! Well say the return spell together, and we can all
go back together!
Treasure, there is one thing a Fate Maker cannot do. And
that is to travel through his own fating portal. In order that we
might be given the credentials to become a Fate Maker, we are
stripped of the vital nucleotides that allow any fated portal weve
encoded to read our DNA code. This is done for ethical reasons.
A comment Aunt Tu once made came to mind. From that time
when she accompanied Fensas mother on a tour of the Arizona
facility. During the tour, the nurse went through a list of the
rules, many of which seemed arbitrary on the surface.
After hearing that the patientsor residents as the nurse
referred to themwerent allowed to wear shoes with
shoestrings, Tu quipped, You got to wonder what happened to
inspire a rule like that.
Tus words came back to Fensathe memory stinging like
lemon juice on a cut.
But she pushed the memory away, determined to find a
solution that she could not find for herself when her parents left
her at the facility. Okay, okay, but you said there were some
gates you didnt make in Zone 2!
Yes, but those gates are on the other side of the land mass
we used to call home. Too far for Golden Son to travel.
Then well take breaks on our journey there. You can carry
me. And we will stop along the way.
And what would happen if you began childbirth while en
route? I never encoded the other portals, so you and our
offspring could very well die while we tried to reach the portal
made by the Royal Geneticist.
So youre just going to send me away? Back to my
own time?
Xenon jerked as if her question had stabbed him with the
same force as a spear in the eye. Treasure, if there was any
other way...
There is another way! Im not willing to risk these babies
youre right about that. But I am willing to risk myself. Ill die
having these children right here if thats what it takes to keep us
together.
No, I cannot allow that.
He was no longer looking at the ground, his red gaze found
hers with a shake of his great head.
No, you dont understand. Id rather spend another month
with you than the rest of my life without you.
You know not what you say! he all but snarled inside her
head. What you ask of me.
You thought Id die with Golden Son, didnt you? she
pointed out, spreading her arms to both sides. And you let me
have him anyway. Whats so different now?
Do you believe watching you almost die was easy,
Reverence? he suddenly roared inside her head. The memory
haunts me like one of your night demons to this very day!
He gave his dragon head another angry shake. And I knew
not this yellow flame then. It was hard enough when I merely
treasured you. Do you think I could let you die now? When I know
there is an excellent chance to prevent it?
Its my choice! she insisted, standing her ground. My
choice whether I live or die. You took my choice away from me
for years. Now Im taking it back. So, no! I wont go! I love you
with every fucking thing I have, and Ill die before I ever let you
send me away for my own good. Just like my parents did.
He said nothing. But he didnt have to.
Shed seen that kind of stillness before. Like that time when
shed been caught talking with Ola at camp.
Her Aunt Tu standing there, so still her thoughts were as loud
and clear as if theyd been spoken aloud. Youre crazy. Youre
crazy. Youre crazy.
Im. Not. Crazy, she told him with tears shining in her
eyes. I just love you. More than this life. More than my survival.
Please. Oh, God. Oh, Fenrir Wolf, please dont send me away.
Her dragon. Her dear, dear dragon looked down at her for a
long time. And then
He was a giant man, cupping her face with his fingers. And I
love you the same, Fensa. My Fensa. We drakkon treasure not
our names, but your name will forever be writ inside my heart.
Our love will be embedded in the stars, even if, as you say, a
moon falls from the sky. And though I have known you for but a
wingbeat of my life, I will die with your name upon my flame.
This I promise you. This I vow.
Then he took her hand, laying it over his cheek as he pressed
his forehead to hers.
His words, so beautiful, so sincere, so poetic, ripped open her
fucking heart. Because nothing he said to her could cover up the
real meaning of a male pressing his forehead to his mates.
Goodbye. He was telling her goodbye. But this time it would
be for way longer than a few hours.
He was saying no, she couldnt stay here with him. Couldnt
die in his arms after having their babies.
He stepped back and returned to his dragon form, before
throwing out a caw she recognized well. It was the one he always
used to call their son to his side.
Then her dragon raised his huge forepaw, palm facing forward
to receive her goodbye. Her final goodbye.
But no, NO!
He wouldnt get it.
Fensa turned on her heel and started making her way down
the mountain.
Shed hide, she thought desperately. He wouldnt be able to
send her away if Eos couldnt find her. She threw a hasty glance
over her shoulder to make sure he wasnt following.
And what Fensa saw nearly stopped her cold. Xenon with
their son. The large blue dragon pressing his forehead to that of
the much smaller golden dragon. And the golden dragonhis
shoulders shook. Not with laughter, she knew, but with the
human tears hed inherited from his mother.
Fensa stood there, mesmerized. The goodbye spoken in a
screeching language she could not understand. But then she
realized her folly. Because in the next moment, Eos shot into
the air.
She watched him go up at an angle, then descend, landing in
front of her a boy with a set of golden dragon wings.
Mama he said sadly, in her native language. It is time
for us to go.
No, she said, shaking her head
But when she reached up to push him away, he grabbed hold
of her. Both hands wrapping around her wrists like manacles.
Let me go! she screamed. Please dont do this, Eos. Im
your mother. You have to listen to me. Please!
She cut off when a tunnel like the one her father had
described opened behind her resolute son. Nooooo!!! she
screamed, only to have the tunnel instantly suck her and Eos
into its confines.
35

O nce inside the tunnel, Fensa and Eos traveled in a way


she could only describe as slow motion-fast. It was
dark, but she could see clearly. As if another sense had
kicked in, something beyond mere sight.
The girl whod hoped to become a theoretical physicist if she
could just keep her delusions under wraps, looked around, her
curious mind overriding the heartbreak. If only for a moment.
Was the tunnel made up of dark matter? Anti-matter? Layers of
time? Multiverses?
But before she could ponder the nature of the tunnel any
further, everything stopped. Or at least she and Eos stopped,
hovering in the deep, endless black. Fensa looked around with
wide eyes.
They seemed to be at a kind of crossroads. In the middle of
several tunnels, or paths, converging in one place.
Mama? came Eoss worried voice.
His hands were still wrapped around her wrists like manacles,
but his eyes were darting around everywhere, as they did when
he sensed a predator nearby.
Its okay, she assured him, even though she wasnt sure of
that at all. Apparently, she was back to being the parent now
that her bid to die keeping her family together for as long as
possible had failed.
Why did we stop? Papa said wed go straight through back to
your time. He said it would only take a few wingbeats.
The mention of their last conversation stabbed Fensa through
the heart. But for the sake of her son, she kept it together.
Decided she had to stay sane, if only for him. I dont know why
were hanging out here, but Im sure it will be alright
She stopped because Eos was no longer listening to her. His
eyes had gone to a spot just over her shoulder, and they were
now saucer-wide.
Fensa followed the direction of his shocked stare and saw a
woman coming toward them through one of the tunnels. She,
too, seemed to be traveling at an impossibly fast speed. But then
like Fensa and her son, an unseen force brought her to a sudden
stop. The woman hung in the black next to them, looking just as
surprised to see them as they were to see her.
She was brown, her skin the same raw umber as Fensas. She
wore her hair in long curls that looked well cared for with regular
salon visits, and expensive hair product. The young woman wore
a pair of smart shorts, and what appeared to be a self-cooling
tank. Fensa had seen those on television and knew they were not
inexpensive. The clothes were made of a very stretchy material,
which meant they were forbidden at the facility for fear of
patients using them to hang themselves.
This girl wore her shorts and stretchy tank top well. She had
curves for days, and she was young. Very young.
But no, now that Fensa studied her more carefully, she could
see the girl wasnt that young at all. She only appeared young
because her skin lacked the weathered appearance of someone
whod spent a lot of time outdoors. She might even be the same
age as Fensa, but it was evident she hadnt spent the last four
years living in caves and glaciers without sunscreen, basic
grooming tools, and moisturizer.
Oddly, even after Fensa had noted their similarities, she still
didnt see it. Not until she heard Eos say, Wolf Mama? He was
using her formal title, but he wasnt looking at her. His gaze was
fixed on the newcomer.
Fensa shook her head in confusion. The other woman did
the same.
I dont understand, they both said out loud.
In the same voice.
The newcomer asked, Where am I? When am I? Two
questions Fensa recognized from a very long time ago.
But before she could even begin to formulate a response, a
bright light exploded between them.
V

Except it wasnt okay.


36

15, 000 YEA RS LATER

A nd though we know very little about the tribe who


once lived here, my aunt, the renowned historian,
Alisha Ataneq-Nightwolf, and I have extensive
evidence that they were descended from a pack that may date all
the way back to Ice Age Siberia. And my cousin, Fensa, is working
on a theory that Arizona might have been home to the very first
of the fifty time portals located across the U.S.
Excuse me, I have a question.
Koko Lonewolf tried to suppress a flare of annoyance as the
birthday girl interrupted her lecture. Again.
Perla Deslobo, the twelve-year-old princess of the Arizona
pack, had requested this guided tour and was accompanied by
two members of her private staff. A security guard, and a squat
woman only a few inches taller than the Princess herselfKoko
assumed she must be the long-suffering nanny.
Koko was well-acquainted with security guards and nannies
after growing up as the Princess of Wyoming. However, she
distinctly remembered asking for a Harry Potter-themed roller
skating party for her twelfth birthday. Princess Perla, on the
other hand, had requested a guided tour of the original kingdom
town, a collection of wolf-made cave dwellings, still in-tact after
all these centuries. For the second year in a row, according to
their Advanced Wolf Studies department head whod given her
this assignment.
As an anthropologist, Koko usually loved giving tours. But in
this case, Princess Perla seemed more interested in asking an
endless ream of questions, than in listening to Kokos prepared
lecture.
As I explained before, Princess, there will be plenty of time
after the tour for questions
If those early shifters were from Siberia, how did they
get here?
Well, if the kid was going to keep interrupting, at least she
was asking good questions, Koko thought before answering,
During the last major ice age, a land bridge connected North
America to the Eurasian continent, specifically to the area we
now call Russia. Its believed that many, if not most, of the
human and wolf First Nations people crossed the bridge to get
here. In most cases, they were following elk and other herd
animals, and stopped along the way, settling in Canada and the
northernmost parts of the U.S., before later generations
eventually made their way to Arizona. However, unlike those
other groups, our shifter tribe didnt stop along the way.
According to the pictograms and carvings they left behind, they
were led here by a giant female, and a serpent god. We cant be
sure exactly when
You mean a dragon.
Im sorry? Koko said, trying to hold on to her shit as Perla
interrupted her for what felt like the hundredth time.
My grandma says the First Tribe was led here by a dragon
man who fell in love with a giant wolf woman. But then she left
him, and the dragon was so sad, he went to sleep for a long time.
The tribe eventually forgot about him because hed been gone for
so long. But then one day, over a thousand seasons later, a cave
wall broke open and he reappeared. The people were surprised
because theyd always assumed he was just a story. But he
wasnt, and everybody saw him. Then he flew up into the sky,
and the people were sad because he was never seen again. Ever.
Wow! the other security guard said, looking extremely
impressed with Perlas native version of the story.
Well, if thats true, its an excellent example of a myth,
Koko inserted, trying to steer this collective car back into reality
land. In fact, this tribe is the source of some of our most
enduring North American myt
Excuse me, I have another question, Perla said again, this
time raising her hand in the air.
And once more, I want to remind you that the time for
questions is at the end of the
My grandma says it is a true story, Perla said aloud.
Grandma says her grandma passed it on to her so they would
never forget they used to have a dragon. And Im supposed to
pass it on to my granddaughter since Im the Princess of
Arizona.
Yes, youre the Princess of Arizona, which means I cant
strangle your little neck, Koko reminded herself as she gritted
her teeth behind her tight smile. Typically, an inquisitive child
wouldnt push her buttons so hard, but this one reminded Koko a
little too much of her older sister. Sarah Lonewolf, Queen of
Wyoming, and self-professed know-it-all from birth. This kid
was like a walking trigger for the many childhood arguments
shed had with the sister who always thought she knew better
than Koko. Still did, in fact
Thats not a question, and perhaps your grandmother should
lead your next birthday tour, Koko suggested between gritted
teeth.
She has a bad hip and cant get up the mountain anymore.
Oh, thats too bad.
But I liked Miss Fensa. She gave me this tour last year. Why
isnt she here this year?
Kokos irritation was suddenly replaced with sadness.
The only reason Koko was guiding the childs birthday tour
instead of her cousin, Fensa, was because Fensa had disappeared
from the apartment they shared two weeks ago. Nobody knew
for sure where shed gone, but everyone was freaking out that
the she-wolf who was supposed to be taking over the Michigan
throne after grad school, had disappeared without a trace.
Including Koko.
Which was why the head of the Advanced Wolf Studies
department had suggested she lead this special favor tour for
the Arizona royal family. Do something with your mind other
than worry about your cousin, hed suggested.
As if. But shed been giving it the literal college try. Until the
Princess brought up Fensa.
Are you alright? the nanny asked Koko.
Koko shook off her worry, and pasted on a smile she could
only hope didnt look as false as it felt. Hey, speaking of
pictographs, lets go back down to the caves and take a look at
some of them. Inside are some of the earliest samples of cave art
in the world, and theres even a few examples of what many
scientists think may be one of the earliest forms of writing in
North America.
Its the dragon gods language, the literal little princess
said with the authority of a historian whod gotten her Ph.D. at
Oxford. Grandma says
The girl suddenly stopped talking, but not because of the
killing look Koko shot her way. The portal they stood beside
suddenly erupted with a massive burst of light. Muted but bright,
it looked like the small space had quietly exploded, then
immediately imploded, leaving behind only the sound of heavy
thumping.
And when the light cleared
Koko and the Princess gasped.
There was a dragon. A ten-foot-tall dragon with golden scales
hovering in front of them. And that thumping sound? That
would also be him. Or more specifically, his large golden wings
beating against the air as he kept himself and the woman he
carried aloft. Then Koko gasped again.
Because the woman wasFensa!
Fensa, in her typical modern Indiana she-wolf uniform of a
self-cooling tank and smart shorts. But her sun hat was missing,
as were her shoes. It was as if shed been snatched from her
apartment wearing nothing but her lounge clothes. Her head
lolled to one side, and she appeared to be unconscious.
She also appeared to be pregnant. Like, super, super
pregnant.
The security guard gaped, then remembered to pull out his
gun, just as the nanny fainted dead away.
But the talkative little Princess only said, WOW! Wait till I
tell Grandma about this!
37

T here was a story Fensas papa used to tell about her


grandmother. The same story Fensa had once told
Xenon. How her grandmother was tricked by her
grandfather into returning with him to Viking Age Norway.
According to Fensas father, though shed been pissed off at
first, Fensas grandmother soon learned to love her new home,
and her Viking mate. But then shed been attacked by a wolf
during her seventh month of pregnancy, and against her wishes,
Fensas grandfather sent her back to her time, promising to find
her again.
Soon after her return, Fensas grandmother woke in a room at
the Arizona clinicthe closest one to the North American gate,
no longer pregnant.
It was only a family story, told by her papa to amuse and
amaze at bedtime.
But many decades later, the exact same thing happened to
Fensa.
Except instead of what used to be the Arizona clinic, she
recognized the pale green walls of what had been turned into the
Arizona State Sanatorium. Thanks to having the only gate in
North America, the kingdom town had upgraded to a hospital,
while its old clinic had been converted into a home for mentally
ill wolves after her cousin Tu, Queen of Oklahoma, made a huge
bequest in the hopes of helping her troubled nephew, Knud.
Oh, noFensa shook her head at the sight of those familiar
walls. Only to regret it. For once her bioware stayed quiet, but
what felt like the worst headache shed ever hadeven worse
than the concussion shed scored after going through the time
gate the first timepulsed inside her head, topped off with a
faint ringing noise.
Youre awake. Good.
The words were spoken by a deep voice, so close she at first
thought they were coming from inside her head. That Xenon had
somehow joined her after all. But no, this wasnt the voice of her
mate. It was deep, but not dark and resonant. And when she
gingerly turned her head in the direction the words had come
from, she found not Dale Nightwolf, as her grandma Chloe had,
but his grandsonher cousin
Rafes she croaked.
President Nightwolf, he corrected. Reminding her of his
title.
Oh yeahher mother had mentioned something at Papas
funeral about him becoming President of the North American
Lupin Council, the governing body that oversaw the North
American wolves. But why was he now insisting the crazy cousin
hed watched get carried screaming out of teen wolf leadership
camp call him by his title?
Youve obviously had a mental breakdown of some sort, he
told her, as if in answer to her question. You disappeared two
weeks ago, only to show up here in this condition. Do you have
any idea how scared your family was? How scared we all were?
Fensas headache swelled, and tears filled her eyes. Not
because of the pain, but because of what she was beginning to
realize had happened.
Her grandmother had gone back to Viking Era Norway. But
Fensawell, shed once more been the victim of her delusions.
An episode so severe, so big, shed honestly thought shed been
transported to Ice Age North America for the past four years. It
had felt so real, so very real, but it wasnt. Of course, it wasnt. A
dragon? The love of a lifetime? A happy family? These were all
things schizophrenics like her didnt get to have.
Im sorry, she whispered. Tell my mom Im sorry. Im so
sorry. I wish I could control these episodes, but I cant.
Tell her yourself. Your family went back to the Arizona
kingdom house, but I promised Id call as soon as you woke.
Another knot of pain pulsed inside her head and Fensas eyes
dropped like lead curtains, desperately wanting to close. As if her
body still had important work to do and needed her to go back to
sleep to do it.
But Fensa fought against the tug of exhaustion to ask, How
long have I been out?
Almost three days, RafesPresident Nightwolfanswered
brusquely, as if this wasnt information she needed to know.
Now, before your family arrives, tell me everything you know
about Damianos Drkon.
Waitwho? she asked, shaken to hear him say something
that sounded a lot like drakkon so soon after waking from her
delusion.
Damianos Drkon. The businessman whos been buying up
dead kingdom towns, and appears to have designs on our gate
system. But perhaps you know him as Anos, since thats what
his friends call him. Look, I need you to tell me everything you
know about him, right now.
Fensas head pulsed again. And for some reason, a word
suddenly appeared in her mind. Enemy. As in Rafes was
somehow not to be trusted. No, he wasnt her enemy, per se. But
he was the enemy of a cause she cared passionately about. It was
right on the tip of her tongue
I dont know she began but had to stop because another
sickening wave of pain pulsed through her head, blurring the
world so badly she was forced to close her eyes.
Papa OlafrMamaOlaFatherFJgrad schoolXenon
Eostwins KokoViking Shifters video gamehappy family
theoretical physicsMyrna GrandpaBig Daddy
Words that were both nonsensical, yet somehow familiar,
flooded her brain as the headache mercifully subsided. And
when she opened her eyes once more, she found Rafes standing
over her bed with a frown on his otherwise young
presidential face.
Look, Im not the enemy, he said, as if hed pulled the word
out of her mind. I know you and your family like to think I am,
but Im only trying to do whats best for us. Whats best for our
kindnot just your family. Now youve obviously been in
contact with Damianos Drkon, or one of his cohorts, so I need
to know everything you know before this gets ugly. How many of
them are there? Is he the one you had relations with? Did he tell
you anything about their plans?
I dont understand these questions. Or why youre
asking them
Dont play with me, Fensa. Obviously, you understand. How
did you think this would play out when you returned? Did you
think your royal status would protect you when we found out you
were in league with that asshole this whole time? Why were you
pretending to be one of my mothers staunchest supporters? Are
you one of his minions? I know for a fact he has them planted
throughout our community. Are you the reason Anos Drkon
knows so much about the gates?
Information? What information? I dont understand what
you mean about the gate.
Yeah right. Fensa Greenwolf, the foremost authority on gate
physics, doesnt understand. Sure
He leaned low. You think this is a game, Fensa. You think
you can act dumb, and use your position as the future Queen of
Michigan to play me and everyone else in our family for fools.
But I am the fucking president of North America. I can put you in
a cell for the rest of your life, so your poor fathers never see you
again. You think I wont do it? Then say you dont understand to
me one more time!
Fensa stared at her cousin in shock. Hed never been what
shed call nicenot like his brother, Nago. But hed also never
been like this. Intense. Scary. And hed certainly never
threatened her before. The last time shed seen him, hed barely
been able to look her in the eyes. Maybe because she reminded
him too much of his brother, Knud
What the hell is going on here?!
As if called forth by memory, Knud Nightwolf, one of Rafess
triplet brothers, stormed into the room with a medical tablet
under his arm. He wore a white doctors coat, and he was glaring
at Rafes like he was the scum of the earth rather than a beloved
sibling.
Oh no. Oh, God. This is bad. Rafes was right. She must have
had a complete psychotic break. Because Knud was dead. Hed
committed suicide in a room just down the hall over a year ago,
less than five years after finishing his stint with a special wolf
division of the human Marines. So how could he be here? In her
room, wearing a doctors coat?
Fensa cast her eyes away from Knud, carefully ignoring the
walking and talking delusion lest Rafes start asking even more
questions she couldnt answer about her psychotic breakdown.
But when she tried to return to the conversation with Rafes, she
found him arguing with the brother shed thought was a
delusion.
What the hell do you think is going on here? Rafes
responded to Knud. Im questioning Fensa about Drkon.
You have got to be fucking kidding me. Did you even contact
her parents? Or Ola?
WaitWHAT?!?! Did he just say parents and Ola?!
Before Fensa could open her mouth to ask, another pulsing
headache hit her. MamaPapa OlafrFather FJ or Dadwe have
three parents now, a voice inside her head told her. But wheres
Ola? She should be here.
Meanwhile Rafes looked away from Knud with reluctant guilt
written across his face. I was planning to text her parents as
soon as I finished questioning her. And youre the one who told
Ola to get some sleep in the on-call room.
Because that was the only way she would get any sleep. And I
promised to wake her as soon as Fensa regained consciousness.
Yes, shed heard that right. They were talking about Ola! Ola,
her biggest delusion. No, not a delusion, the small voice insisted.
Real! Real! Shes real, and shes your best friend! She should
be here!
Fine, then wake her up! Rafes commanded Knud with a
dismissive sweep of his hand.
And leave our cousin here with you? I dont think so. What
kind of bastard grills a woman who just woke up from an
emergency C-section anyway?
Youre acting like shes a fragile flower when shes obviously
some kind of sleeper agent!
Shes obviously nothing but our cousin, man! Our family
member whos just given birth, and needs some time to recover
before getting the second degree from you, or anyone else.
Already got a second degree, and Im working on my third as
we speak, thank you! the voice said inside her head.
Fenny! another voice shouted outside her head.
Rafes cursed, but that was the last Fensa saw of him before a
huge woman with huge hair and huge eyes and hugewell,
everything filled up her vision. The next thing Fensa knew, she
was being crushed into the tightest hug shed ever received. Not
reverent at all, but so full of love, she could almost feel it rolling
off the other womans body like a yellow flame.
It was Ola! Her Ola! The one from her delusions. Oh, God, how
bad had she lost her mind out in the Arizona desert? But no, the
new voice kept insisting. Real! Real! Real!
Are you real? she whispered, remembering the test Xenon
had suggested as a way to differentiate between what was real,
and what was purely delusional.
Ola jerked back from the hug as if Fensas words had burned
her. Of course, Im real, Fenny.
She glared over her shoulder. What the hell did you say to
her? she asked Rafes.
Nothing! I just asked her a few questions, questions shes
pretending to be too dazed and confused to answer.
Im not pretending, Fensa said just as Ola said, Shes not
pretending.
Fuck, and now theyre back in twin-wolf stereo. Good job,
Rafes. Because that shit wasnt irritating enough when we
were kids.
Hey! Ola said, taking offense on behalf of them both. Im
sorry my sister and I agree about most things, and dont argue all
the time like you and your idiot brothers. Its not our fault we
love each other and dont have our heads up our asses.
Rafes steepled his hands, then tapped them against his nose
as if praying for patience, before saying, Ola, you think youre
safe because youre my cousin
And the future Queen of North Dakota, Ola reminded him.
But you really dont understand how close I am to ordering a
hit after what you pulled in North Dakota, and now this, Rafes
finished as if Ola hadnt interjected.
Okay, thats it! Knud yelled. Im kicking you both out of
here. Look at her! Youre obviously upsetting my patient.
Your patient only because our lovely fucking president
abused all his powers to get you assigned to her case! Ola
pointed out. Dont act like youre not working for him, Pretend
Doctor.
Ola, Ive about had it with this Pretend Doctor bullshit,
Knud said, glaring. I dont work for my brother anymore, and
for your information, Im an actual medical professional.
Oh, is that something they taught you to say at the human
school you snuck off to, instead of going to one of our med
programs like a legitimate shifter doctor?
Before he could answer, Ola turned back to Fensa to say, So
yeah, like crazy-ass Knud is a doctor now. For kids! He oversaw
your delivery. And did I tell you Rafes tried to black box my time
gate like a week after you disappeared? And, oh my God, youll
never guess who came through the North Dakota gate before he
could
EVERYBODY OUT!!!! Knud roared before she could finish.
She. Just. Woke. Up. From. A. Major. Operation. What part of
that do you two fucking animals not understand? She hasnt
even seen her newborns yet. If you do not get out, I swear I will
kick both your asses out of here myself.
And there was the Knud she remembered. The wild kid who
turned every argument into a fist fight and more often than not
got sent to his room before Thanksgiving dinner was done.
Doctors coat or not, he was still the other crazy cousin she
recalled.
Except he was alive. How was he alive?
Before she could open her mouth to ask all the questions she
had, the rest of what hed said dropped down on her like an
anvil.
Wait, did you say newborns?!?!
38

G ina Goodwolf watched as the super-hot Dr. Nightwolf


kicked the super-hot President Nightwolf out of the
cliniceven though they were super-hot brothers!
From what shed read when he was running, President Nightwolf
was the oldest of triplets. The Miracle Triplets theyd been
called, when their mother first returned from the Viking Era
with not one, but three four-year-olds who turned out to have
been sired by the then King of Colorado. But in that moment, as
Dr. Nightwolf shoved the president toward the door, they looked
more like opponents than brothers.
Get out! he yelled at his much more clean-cut brother.
Get out, and stay out!
President Nightwolf whipped around, and he didnt look
nearly as composed as he usually did on TV as he snarled, I
dont see or hear from you in over two yearsnot until you need
my help. I give it to you. And this is how you repay me?!
The way I figure it, the help you gave me was you repaying
me for years of doing your dirty work.
That statement brought President Nightwolf up short. And
his eyes slid to Gina, who, like the other nurse on duty at the
clinic, didnt even make a pretense of not hanging onto every
word of their argument.
Dr. Nightwolf followed his brothers eyes to the nurses desk
and smirked. So you want to talk some more about who owes
who in front of your constituents, Mr. President? Or would you
rather get the hell out of here?
President Nightwolf threw another glance toward the nurses
station. And it looked to Gina like the smooth politico was
seriously considering calling his brothers bluff.
But in the end, he drew back his shoulders and straightened
his tie, which probably cost more than what Gina made here in a
week. Possibly a month. (And she wouldnt even try to guess
how much his well-tailored three-piece suit had set him back).
Fine, Ill go, President Nightwolf said, peering down his
nose at his slightly shorter brother. I can always pay our cousin
a visit when shes out of the hospital. And believe me, I will.
Dr. Nightwolf answered with a stare so dead-eyed, Gina had
to wonder exactly what kind of dirty work hed done for the
president before he became a doctor. Why did she have the
feeling blood with a whole lot of death on top had been involved?
Real Indian, as her dad used to call it when lamenting what
the Native Wolf Tribes were like before the European wolves
came to their lands.
From what she understood, the triplets were a quarter Latino,
a quarter black, a quarter Inuit, and a quarter Native American.
Not technically Native, but Real Indian was the term that
sprang to mind as she watched Dr. Nightwolf stare down the
most powerful wolf in North America.
In the end, President Nightwolf looked away first. But he
called out, You two stay here! to the two guards flanking the
door to the clinics nursery.
Typically, newborns were kept in the same room as their
mother whenever possible. But in this case, the mom had been
brought in unconscious and had stayed that way for nearly three
days after the delivery. Dr. Nightwolf had been called in as soon
as the Arizona Alpha King and the Wyoming Princess brought
the unconscious mother through the door. And after arriving
here in record time, hed delivered the babies himself, refusing
help from Gina or the other nurse.
After the delivery, President Nightwolf showed up with two
guys shed assumed were his personal security detail. Right up
until they kicked the nurses and the town doctor out of the
clinic, less than an hour after Dr. Nightwolf kicked them out of
the O.R.
And when theyd finally been allowed to return the next
morning, the nursery was on lock down. Blindfolds pulled
closed, with a guard on each side of the door. Gina was dying to
peek inside the room, but only family was allowed in the
nursery. And so far, only the twin sister and her mother, the
Queen of Michigan, had gone in to visit. Sadly, even with her
wolf hearing at full strain, Gina had only managed to pick up,
not yet and give them some time as the twin sister walked
the new grandma out. Which might have explained why the
Kings of Michigan hadnt yet visited their grandkids. Maybe
In any case, she could only wonder what would happen if
either of their kingdom towns two pregnant she-wolves decided
to give birth earlier than expected. Why did she have the feeling
theyd be transported to the nearest clinic in Nevada before they
were ever allowed to give birth on the same premises as the
precious future Queen of Michigan.
The whole situation pissed her off. That these royals could
come into their town clinic and take over everything like they
were the boss of them.
For that reason alone, it felt good to watch Dr. Nightwolf
stand up to his brother. Even if, he was technically royalty
himself.
But President Nightwolf didnt exactly go quietly.
First, he came over to the nurses station and said, Thank
you for your continued discretion. I expect a call if anything else I
should know about arises. No matter what Dr. Nightwolf tells
you. In this matter, my authority supersedes his. Do you
understand? he asked Gina and the other nurse, Nell. As if they,
like the guards, were under his command.
Yes, sir, Nell answered for them both. The total opposite of
Real Indian.
God, I dont like that wolf, Gina thought to herself as she
watched him leave. Sure, shed voted for him. Because hed
sounded intelligent, plus he was freaking hot. She remembered
joking to her friends that she wouldnt mind having a handsome
quarter Indian to look at for the next four years, rather than
another one of those ancient wolves who headed up the North
American Lupine Council for all the decades Gina had been alive.
But that had been before hed announced the Black Box
project. Also, before hed stormed into her clinic, tossing orders
around like he owned the place.
For that reason, and for the money that had been regularly
deposited in her bank ever since the representative of an
interested party had visited her a few years ago, she didnt feel
so bad about what she did next.
As soon as President Nightwolf was gone, and Dr. Nightwolf
returned to the she-wolfs room, and the guards seemed to be
looking elsewherethough who could tell with those damned
reflective glasses of theirs?she covertly pulled out the old-
fashioned burner phone shed been given, just in case she ever
needed to send a message to her contact. Just in case, as it turned
out, was now.
39

F ensa had a lot of explaining to do. Not just to her people,


but also to herself.
However, the latter began to fall into place as soon as
she stood up with Olas assistance and looked in the mirror.
There she found a fresh-faced woman, who looked neither
like the wiry weather-beaten cavewoman shed become, nor the
oversized schizophrenic whod accidentally landed herself in the
Pleistocene Era. No, this woman looked more like Ola than like
the helpless girl Fensa remembered. She was Detroit-thick, as
her Great-Aunt Wilma liked to call her side of the family, with
curves for days.
Yet, her faceit was 100% hers. As was her mind.
Well, at least partially. Ola was no longer a delusion, and
Fensa seemed to have gained a second inner voice. One that
wasnt her wolf
Are you real? she asked it. Once again thinking of
Xenons test.
A small silence. ThenI used to be. But now Im you.
And youre okay with that?
It doesnt matter because soon well be me. The universe is
processing us. It wont be long now
Fensa had no idea what that meant, but she had a couple of
newborns to visit, so she began the laborious process of getting
out of bed. A catheter was removed by a dark-haired nurse who
all but stared poison daggers at her as she did her job. So much
fun. Thank goodness Knud dismissed her as soon as it was done
with a, Weve got it from here, Gina.
Painful didnt even half describe what came next. More like
face set to permanent wince as Ola and Knud helped her out of
the hospital bed.
Shed done nothing but lie unconscious in a bed for three
days, after Knud cut her open to get the babies out. Not one, but
two babies.
Two beautiful babies, Ola said in a bright, careful tone that,
according to Fensas delusional memory and the voice inside her
head, didnt remotely match her personality.
Yeah, as beautiful as two lead weights can get, Knud said
with a lot more candor, as he tugged her arm into a robe. Nearly
dropped the first one when I went to pull it out. Turns out they
each weighed over twenty pounds! Youre lucky youre tall and
strong and Detroit-thick, or you probably wouldnt have
survived the birth.
Strong? Fensa? Ola said with a confused wrinkle of her
nose. Then: Oh, my gosh, Fenny! Did you finally start a strength
training plan like Ive been telling you to? Ola asked.
No! Never! the voice inside her head answered.
Sort of, Fensa said out loud.
Tall and thick and strong
But shed only been two of those things back in prehistoric
times. Shed become muscular with very little body fat thanks to
her 100% paleo diet of the past four years.
The universe is processing us
Apparently. Because shortly after getting put in the robe, she
discovered she now had not only plenty of body fat, but enough
core and glute strength to hold herself upright after a C-section.
Wow, Knud said, when she informed them she was sure she
could walk to the en-suite bathroom by herself without
assistance.
Seriously, what workout plan have you been doing? Ola
demanded. Cuz, girl, Im about to get on it!
The closer Fensa got to seeing her newborn babies, the more
things fell into place both literally and figuratively. In the
bathroom, the headache began to slowly recede as if whatever
had melded her to the Fensa from this timeline was done
syncing.
And shockingly, the new confusion of having two different
timelines in her brain was what gave her the answers she was
looking for. In this life, in this timeline, she was a theoretical
physics grad student. In fact, she was just starting her doctorate
paper about the Arizona time gate, partly based on her cousin
Kokos doctorate, which argued that the wolf tribe that had
formed the original Arizona kingdom town in prehistoric times,
might have also been the first native shifters to enter North
America. Koko was not just her roommate in this timeline, but
also an associate professor at the Arizona Mountains University.
And even though Fensa hadnt earned her Ph.D. yet, she was
considered one of the foremost authorities on time gates, and
had done a college thesis arguing that the gates might be an
advanced fertility system, and not simply a magical portal, as
had been surmised in a few romance novels set in the larger
shifter community.
With both timelines now implanted in her brain, Fensa could
see why the other Fensa wasnt all that broken up at having her
life suddenly turned upside down. A bright but lonely woman,
Other Fensa had dedicated the past ten years of her life to
satisfying her curiosity with the understanding she had limited
time in which to do so. In only a few more years, shed be
expected to take over the Kingdom of Michigan per her
birthright.
Which was a total whoa of a thing to find out for Original
Fensa. A single woman taking over an alpha throne hadnt ever
been done in her timeline. But apparently, in this timeline, it
was, if not commonplace, no longer unusual. And much of the
credit could be given to Fensa and Olas mother, whobrace
yourselfhad not only not divorced Fensas papa, but was
mated and married to him and his brotherthe uncle Fenris
shed been named after. The uncle who had not, as it turns out,
been killed by dragons. It made a weird kind of sense, Other
Fensa assured her. Their parents wildly different personalities
balanced each other out. And after getting off to a gnarly start,
which included a five-year break while the two brothers went
back in time to fight in what was now called the Viking-Dragon
War, the threesome reconnected to make a parenting trio for Ola
and Fensa.
Also in this timeline, not only had Olafrs entire family and
village not been slaughtered by three dragons, but both Fensas
fathers and her grandfather led the Vikings to defeat what they
still referred to in bedtime stories as the Serpent Horde.
And five years after that, her parents, all three of them, lived
happily ever after with their very real twin daughters, Fensa
and Ola.
Ola had been born into the role of queen and relished that
shed soon be taking over the throne of North Dakota where
yet another whoaher Uncle Clyde, the King of Michigan in
Fensas timeline, ruled with his husband, the King of North
Dakota, in this one. Which probably explained a lot about the
incredibly butch, but perpetually single king Original-Fensa
remembered from her timeline.
This timelines Fensa also loved video games and theoretical
physics, but shed be leaving the Arizona grad program at the
end of the year to take over the Michigan thronemostly out of
duty. Unlike Ola, she had little interest in the role that would
stop her from seeking out the answers to her most burning
questions.
For this reason, getting blended with a Fensa from another
timeline was like a dream come true. The lonely grad student
now had the answers to all the questions her thesis and
doctorate investigation had put forth, with twin babies to boot!
Ill take it, the voice told her as they smiled at each other in
the bathroom mirror. In this timeline, this room and ensuite
bathroom still belonged to the Arizona kingdom towns clinic
not the hastily rebranded Wulfkonig Facility of Mental Health.
Yeah, Ill take it, too, Original-Fensa replied to the voice
inside her head.

L ess than an hour after waking, Knud and Ola escorted


Fensa through a door flanked by two large wolves in
sunglasses and suits.
They offered no identification, but Other Fensa recognized
them as the bodyguards the council had forced Rafesoh sorry,
President Nightwolfto take after hed announced his plan to
seal off all the time gates with black boxes on the wolfnet.
Thered been so many protests, many of them spearheaded by
his outraged historian mother, Alisha Ataneq-Nightwolf, that
the council had forced the guards on Rafes, ignoring his protests
that he could take care of himself.
Apparently, he still felt that way. Rafes was nowhere to be
seen after Knud pulled rank and kicked him out of the town
clinic altogether. And hed left his guards behind. To protect the
babies? Or to keep them hidden?
Fensa guessed the latter, as she shuffled into the room with
both Ola and Knuds hands under her elbows. As not fun as her
first vaginal birth had been, shuffling around after a C-section
and a freshly removed catheter wasnt a barrel of laughs either.
Knew we shouldnt have let you go to the bathroom alone,
Knud said. You totally overdid it.
Yeah, maybe we should wait until tomorrow to see the
twins... Ola suggested.
As if. Fensa shook their hands off and surged forward when
she spotted the two clear plastic bassinets. And all thoughts of
overstepping presidents and residual C-section pain disappeared
when she set eyes on her two babies, sleeping on their stomachs
inside.
Twins, she vaguely recalled from Other Fensas memories of
her and Ola, were often placed in the same bassinet. But these
golden-brown babies each had a tub of their own.
Most likely because of the large pair of dragon wings that lay
folded on top of their backs. The wings were golden and almost
ten times bigger than the babies themselves. It would take at
least six months until the twins would be able to fold them into
their scaled backs as their father and Eos often did.
See, I told you they were beautiful, Ola breathed beside her
as if giving voice to her own thoughts. She wrapped an arm
around her sisters shoulders, pulling her in close, and placing
her head on hers. A familiar affection Other Fensa remembered
well. Ola was technically younger, but shed gotten those couple
of minutes back with a couple of inches. Theyd stood this way
many times before. At funerals, weddings, and everything in-
between.
They were sisters. Real sisters. On one anothers sides. No
matter what. And apparently, not even a separate timeline in
which Ola had never been born could break that bond. But Fensa
could feel their bond stronger than ever now as they stood
looking at the little hybrid miracles her union with Xenon had
produced.
I know everyone else is upset about them, Ola whispered
into the awed silence. But seriously, Ive never seen anything
so beautiful as these babies in my life.
Me neither, Fensa said out loud. Me neither, Other Fensa
agreed inside her head.
Theyre in perfect health. Thriving even, Knud informed
her, coming to stand on the other side of the bassinets. But
ahwhen will they start shifting into wolves like the rest of us?
They dont shift until they can retract their wings, Fensa
answered.
And how long does that take? Knud asked, typing the new
information into his notes.
Around six months, Fensa answered, her tone carefully
neutral.
But as if picking up on her vibe, her twin demanded, Why are
you asking her this?
Because with those scaled stomachs of theirs, Im having a
hell of a time figuring out if theyre boys or girls, Knud replied,
still frank as hell despite being a lot less bat-shit crazy in this
timeline.
And thats when Fensa burst out laughing.
Because when she thought about it, really thought about it,
this whole situation was ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. Here she
was, over 15,000 years from where shed been three days ago.
Shed combined consciousness and bodies with an alternate
version of herself. She had two living fathers, instead of one
dead one. And her parents were still married. Oh, and shed just
given birth to two babies, who, due to their dragon-wolf hybrid
nature, they wouldnt be able to sex for at least another six
months.
Fensa was no longer crazy. At least not in this timeline. But
this situationit was
This is insane! she said, laughing hysterically. Yesterday, I
was climbing a prehistoric mountain and todayIm the single
mother of three wolf-dragonstwo of which are still gender
undetermined!
She laughed and laughed, but Ola and Knud didnt laugh
with her.
What? she asked, her laughter ending abruptly when she
noticed their stricken looks.
Um, what do you mean by three wolf-dragons, Fenny? Ola
asked.
My son, Fensa answered. He came through the gate with
me? Hes about five-feet tall. Has a huge pair of dragon wings.
And is probably freaking out
She stopped abruptly when she saw the looks Ola and Knud
exchanged across the bassinets.
Oh, my God, where is my son? Tell me! Tell me right now!
40

W hat the hell are you doing, Dads? Fensa


demanded after Ola and her mother
reluctantly guided her to the pens behind the
Arizona kingdom house.
The structure would have looked like it housed a row of jail
cells to any human who happened upon it. Or maybe a well-
appointed doggie day care, with its large indestructible satin
pillows scattered about, and titanium water and food bowls. But
the primary purpose of these pens was to provide visitors with a
place to shift in private on full moon nights.
Fensa had lost three days, but there was still over a week to go
until the next full moon.
So why was her son, in dragon form, locked inside a changing
cage with her two dads standing on the other side?
FJ, the taller of the two, wore a suit and wingtips with a sword
in a scabbard slung across his back. But her stockier, more
muscular father, Olafr, was leathered up from head to toe and,
according to Other Fensa, was packing iron of another kind
underneath his DETROIT WOLVES MC motorcycle jacket.
This should have been the best reunion ever. The last time
shed seen her papa, Olafr, was four years ago. And hed been in
a casket. Even before that, her sweet but alcoholic father hadnt
looked remotely like the hale and hearty man who stood
before her.
But as it was, Eos roared at the first sight of her, which caused
her father to draw his sword and her papa to reach into his jacket
for a gunwhich he trained right on Eos!
No! Stop! Apparently, a recent C-section was nothing in
the face of a mom in fear for her childs safety. With a strength
she didnt know she had, Fensa ran over to the cage and threw
herself in front of the ten-foot dragon with her arms
spread wide.
Put that thing away! she screamed at her very much
alive Papa.
Fensa, Daughter. Move away, FJ commanded, his voice
harder than the steel of his sword. We will deal with this
serpent. Ensure he never hurts you again.
Never hurts me again? What in the hell is wrong with you?
Hes only a child!
Olafr, whose face had been set to resolute stone just a
moment ago, faltered. A child, he repeated in his
Schwarzenegger-esque way. I dont understand what she is
saying. Varra?
Varra was their fathers cutesy nickname for their mom,
Other Fensa informed her. The mom who was currently looking
from her mates to the ten-foot dragon inside the changing cage.
Yeah, about that. Apparently the dragon the King of Arizona
tranqed and took prisoner is a boy.
A four-year-old boy! Fensa added. Who also happens to
be your grandson!!
Now Olafr immediately lowered his gun. Other Fensa
remembered him as being the more reasonable of the two men:
more patient, and less quick to violence, even if he didnt look it.
As if to prove Other Fensa correct, FJs eyes remained sharp
on the dragon, only slightly lowering his sword to say, I find
this claim hard to believe, Daughter. For I smell nothing of the
wolf on him.
Thats because the burning smell overwhelms everything
else big time, Fensa answered with more patience than she felt.
If he be partly our kind, why did he not shift as soon as he
smelled us? FJ shot back. Does he not have the nose to know
we are related?
He didnt make that super logical leap because hes only four
and scared to death! His natural instincts are to take the form of
his biggest predator whenever theres trouble. And as for
knowing youre related, Im assuming he does, or he would have
turned the both of you into Viking kabobs as soon as you pulled
weapons on him. Now open the damn door!
Both men hesitated, their eyes shifting to the ten-foot
dragon.
I said open this goddamn door before I take that gun and use
it on you myself!
Guys, just open it. She wouldnt be talking like that if she
wasnt its mother, trust me, Fensas mother, Tiara Greenwolf,
said to her two mates.
Still glaring at the dragon, FJ put his sword back in its
scabbard and opened the door.
Okay, baby, Fensa said, squeezing into the cage with Eos. I
know youve got to be crazy scared right now, but I need you to
shift to human so we can all go home. Can you do that? For me?
Please?
The ten-foot dragon let out a huge snort of steam, which
caused FJ to once again bring his hand to the hilt of the sword
hed used in the Viking-Dragon War.
But before he could slide it all the way out, a five-foot-tall
boy appeared in the cage with Fensa. Mama! he cried throwing
his long arms around her. I wassss sssssooo afraid for you. Are
you alright? The babiessss, too?
Yes, Im fine. Im okay. So are the babies, thanks to you,
she assured him, hugging him tight.
Thank the motherssss. I misssss Blue Father, he said. Then
he began to sob.
She understood exactly how he felt. All too well. And before
she could stop the incoming tide of grief, she was sobbing, too.
Huge irrational tears. For the life shed lost. For the dragon she
missed like a vital organ.
Oh, honey, she heard Ola say.
In the next moment, her sister was in the changing cage with
them, pulling them both into her arms. Giving the kind of
comfort she never could when shed only been a specter living
inside Original Fensas mind.
Strange. In this life, she had everything Original Fensa would
have ever wanted. But it wasnt enough. Would never be enough.
Not without her dragon.
Hes not dead, she whispered to Other Fensa inside their now
combined mind. I know hes not.
She knew her words didnt make sense. Even to Other Fensa,
who now technically knew her better than anyone. But that
didnt matter. They made sense to her.
If he was dead. If he hadnt survived until now, she would
know. Her body would feel hollow. Just the way her great aunt
described after her husband, King Tikaani, died. If he were really
gone, shed just miss him. Not ache for him like a held breath.
Shed believed in Ola, even when she had no evidence she
existed anywhere but in her head. And even though her parting
from Xenon had contained no promises like those of her
grandparents, she hadnt been lying to him at the hot spring.
She trusted him. Then, now, and forever.
Ill find him, she promised her sobbing dragon-wolf child.
Ill find him.
While Ola soothed, Its okay, little buddy. Well figure this
out. Everythings going to be okay. Youre okay. Its all going to
be okay.
41

E xcept it wasnt okay. Funny that it took people not


thinking she was crazy, for Fensa to finally feel really
and truly like she was going crazy.
Things went bad within three months of her return to the
Upper Peninsula Kingdom House, the place where her father,
FenrisFJ for short, and the King of Detroitpreferred to
conduct business during the summer months.
Her fathers had been kind enough. Sweeping her up in great
big hugs when all the confusion was cleared up, and welcoming
her back into the Michigan packs original kingdom house to
convalesce.
But Other Fensa noticed there was no longer talk of her
apprenticing for the kingdom as Ola had done for two years in
preparation to take over their uncles North Dakota throne.
Fensa was twenty-seven. The perfect age for it. But unlike the
many harassing ells Other Fensa had gotten before disappearing
from this timeline six weeks ago, her parents hadnt even
brought it up.
Nor had the usual celebrations been thrown on Eoss
birthday, even though he technically would be the one to inherit
the throne when Fensa retired from the post.
Again, her fathers said nothing about any of it. Had only
expressed how happy they were to have her back from
wherever shed been.
Yet, whenever she tried to talk to them about where shed
been. Tell them about the dragon she met who might have had a
hand in this timelines alternate layouttheyd gone silent, and
either her mother or Ola, who was staying on in her old kingdom
room while Fensa recovered, changed the subject.
As happy as they claimed to be to have her back with her
family where she belonged, both her fathers seemed to have
trouble looking her in the eye at dinner. And even worse, they
also changed the subject whenever it turned to that of their three
unexpected grandchildren.
Fensa was happy to be back. Grateful to have not only her
papa, but also an additional father, and a much happier version
of her game designer mother, in her life. But living here began to
feel like shed signed not only herself, but her children, up for
minefield sweeping duty.
Which was why she probably shouldnt have been surprised
when one night a bomb finally went off beneath the dinner
table.
It all started with an innocent question from Eos, who had
turned five the week before, but looked and spoke like a boy of at
least 12 or 13. Why arent Golden Ssssissssters allowed to eat
with ussss?
Golden Sisters. Thats what he called the twins, so sure was
he that they were girls. Actually, they might find out if he was
right sooner rather than later. The twins appeared to be growing
even faster than their brother, whod had to get by with a diet
that consisted of only proteins and veggies with the occasional
handful of berries thrown in as dessert. They were only three
months old but were already standing in their cribs. Cribs that
didnt exactly work as designed, since their wings allowed them
to go anywhere they wanted in the room at any time.
In fact, even though it was past their bedtime, she had no
doubt they were probably whizzing around the bedroom. Cooing
and giggling the way only human babies three times their age
should.
But as it always did whenever Eos dared to talk in his dragon-
accented English in his grandfathers presence, everyone went
deathly quiet. And tension rose like an invisible storm cloud over
the table.
Fensa hated it. Hated that even her mother, who claimed to
love her three new grandbabieseven if they didnt know the
gender of two themwent still whenever Eos dared to speak in
his hissing accent at the dinner table. As if a live mine might go
off every time he said, Passss the peassss, pleassssse.
But she did her best to act as if the sudden quiet wasnt as
unnatural as it felt. Keeping her face as neutral as she could, she
answered Eos, Because its past their bedtime, and theyre still
breastfeeding..
But we alwaysss ate around the ssssame fire in old Arizona.
Well, we didnt exactly have rooms in the cave, did we? she
answered.
Ssssooo it isssss not becausssse the Kingssss of Michigan
hate usssssss?
No of course not! Shed been telling the truth about the
twins not needing to be up past their seven oclock bedtime to
have dinner with them.
But when she looked toward her fathers, they merely sat
there. Stony-faced. Not saying anything, not denying anything.
Forcing her to speak for them. Your grandfathers dont hate
you. They just dont know you yet. And they havehistory. Bad
history with your fathers kind. A group of dragons attacked
their village when they were young men.
Our entire land actuallyevery village that hosted a gate,
her father corrected, finally adding his words to the
conversation.
At that, Eos turned his unblinking stare upon FJ and gave him
what had to seem to all gathered around the table a rather
dramatic bow of his head. My father did disssshonor you. For
thissss, I apologize.
No need to apologize, Fensa rushed in to say. Your father
wasnt involved in the dragon attack.
That we know of, came a quiet voice.
And Fensas eyes flew to Olafr. The papa whod never been
anything but gentle and kind to her. Other Fensa could still
remember meeting him for the first time in this timeline. Five
years after her birth. The way his large arms had completely
enveloped her small body when he picked her up. The salt of his
tears as he whispered Old Norse words she couldnt understand
into her ear.
And instead of the sweet memory it used to be for Other
Fensa, it now turned her stomach sour. Actually, Papa, she
said between clenched teeth. I can say for certain he wasnt one
of the dragons. He promised me
Oh, he promised you, you say, FJ interrupted, his much
more sophisticated Old Norse accent laced through with scathing
sarcasm. Well, then we should believe him, since serpents are
so honorable. So honorable they attack innocent villages without
warning. They slaughtered half my soldiers with their fiery
breath before we could so much as raise sword.
But Im sure he wasnt there, she insisted. And if youd
just sit down and talk to me about whats happened, maybe
youd understand
Oh, you have wish for me to understand? FJ cut her off with
a rise to his feet, so abrupt it knocked his chair back.
Understand why you have not only lain with our greatest enemy
but also born its hissing spawn?
FJ! her mother gasped.
But the Alpha of Michigan turned on her. No, Varra. I have
done everything you asked of me. Kept my counsel. Even let her
bring her serpents spawn into my home. This I cannot abide.
Our home, Tiara reminded her husband, rising from her
chair. And youre not exactly keeping your mouth closed
right now.
Because she forced his hand, Olafr shot back, standing up,
too. She would have us believe this boy is not half-demon, to
declare what we know not to be so. We lost our sister for so very
long. And now that we have her back, it feels as if we have lost
our daughter
Ola, as usual, jumped to her sisters defense even before
Fensa could. Oh, God, Papa. Shes sitting right there. With your
grandson, who is only a child. An innocent child. I cant fucking
believe you two! You basically raised us in a goddamn public
threesome, and now youre trying to judge her?! Like one fuck-
up means she cant be your daughter?
FJ glared at Ola. I would remind you, Daughter, it was two
fuck-ups, and that is with a generous forgiving because surely
she did not know the second breeding would lead to not one, but
two more abominations upon our household.
Ugh! I cant believe you! How dare you fucking saying that to
her! Ola started, once again coming to Fensas defense.
But this time she didnt have to because Fensa rose slowly to
her feet. Ill say this once, then I wont burden you with this
subject again. Xenon wasnt a serpent. He was my fated mate.
And I didnt just breed with him for shits and giggles. I loved
him. My flame burned yellow for him, even knowing what he
was. And despite having no knowledge of what love was when we
met, he somehow came to love me back. But we didnt just love
each other, we revered each other. And I consider the four years I
spent with him the luckiest of my life. In fact, I would have
stayed with him forever if I could have. I would have died having
those two miracles you dare call abominations if it meant we
could stay together. But he loved me too much to let me stay.
She had to stop for a moment, warding off tears with a fierce
shake of her head. No, she had to finish this story, had to let
them know, He sacrificed our love, gave up everything, his
mate, and his only son, so I could live. So you know what? Fuck
you and your judgmental bullshit. If you cant accept me, accept
your grandchildren, then you can keep your throne. I dont need
it. And I wont let anybody talk that way to or about my son
who if you just took the time to get to know, youd realize is one
of the funniest, brightest, most wonderful grandsons anyone
could ever wish for.
Fensa her mother started againprobably just as
shocked that her soft-spoken daughter had language inside of
her even more foul than their wild child, Ola.
No, Mom. They dont understand like we do. Theyll never
understand how heartbreaking it is to be divorced for your own
good. To be ripped from the mate you love more than life.
Literally, in my case, more than life.
She turned her tear-filled eyes on her two fathers now. And
now my heart is breaking. Again. Because I didnt just lose my
fated mate, it looks like Ive lost my fathers, too. Cmon, Eos,
well get the twins and then were leaving. Im sorry your
grandfathers couldnt do better by you.
The last thing she saw before she turned to walk out with her
son was a guilty look passing across FJs face.
It should have sparked a feeling of triumph. But instead, it
only made her sad.
Fensa her father called behind her. And she could hear
his footsteps following her toward the stairs.
But when she turned to tell him it was too late for apologies,
she found a ten-foot golden dragon standing between them.
Eos. He had turned so fast, she hadnt even seen it happen.
And as he let out a roar that shook the house, she had to wonder
just how long the dragon had been lurking beneath his surface,
wanting to unshell. Probably since he asked his first question.
Maybe from the first moment he stepped foot in this kingdom
house.
Her father reared back, a long-ago instinct making him reach
for the dragon-slaying sword he used to wear across his back.
But Ola. Brave Ola, just came right up to the golden dragon
and said, Calm down, little boy. Didnt your mama tell you
shifting inside the house is against the rules?
A pregnant pause.
And in the next moment, her son once again stood in front of
her. Unlike the smart pants his father had replicated for him
before leaving the glacier station, the modern clothes Eos had
been given were now shreds upon his oversized body.
Yet, despite his appearance, his voice was surprisingly level as
he said, King, you have dishonored my mother and failed to
treat her with reverencccce. Thisssss I will not allow a ssssecond
time. Next time, you will feel my fire breath!
42

S o that happened, Ola said an hour later, spinning


the large wheel of her early century vintage Escalade
with one hand as they turned out of the Detroit
Kingdom Houses long driveway.
Most women these days, including Other Fensa, had self-
driving cars, but Ola had eschewed them as soon as she was old
enough to get a license. I like being in control, shed told her
dads while putting in her pitch for why they should give her one
of the Escalades from the kingdoms old fleet for her sweet
sixteen. Plus, itll make me look bad ass.
I guess we should just be happy she didnt ask for a
motorcycle, their mom groused before handing over the keys.
But Ola didnt look nearly as bad ass as usual as they drove
away from the kingdom house with Eos and two dragon babies in
the back seat.
Usually, the twins hated driving anywhere in their car seats,
since it required not only folding down their wings, but also
getting strapped down. But tonight, they seemed to respond well
to the sound of the old-school engine and fell asleep before they
were even halfway to the airport.
Thank you, Fensa whispered after the babies were sleeping
soundly behind her. I dont know what I would have done if you
hadnt been there.
Girl, we twins 300. You know you dont ever have to thank
me for shit, Ola said with a grin.
StillI know this is going to make things awkward for you
with Mom and the dads.
Oh, that? Dont even worry about them, Ola said, waving
off the dinner table scene as if it had been the equivalent of the
time she ran screaming, I hate you!!! to her room because
their parents wouldnt let her go to a Troit Badwolf rap concert
without taking Grif, their Beta, as a bodyguard.
Besides, Im taking over North Dakota in only a few more
months. All you need to do is hang out in the guest house until I
can get you guys officially moved in to the main one. You can live
with me as long as it takes Dad and Papa to come around. Which
Im sure they willsomeday.
No.
Ola blinked, seeming not to understand. What?
No. My children deserve more than this. More than living in
the North Dakota guest house until Mom convinces the dads to
tolerate us. They deserve a family. Our family.
Sure, sure, I understand. But why cant you guys be a family
with me? Ola kept her eyes on the road but reached over to take
her sisters hand. I missed you after you went away to Arizona
for college, you know. This could be our chance to, I dont know,
get us back. Be twins again. Ill help you raise these dragon
babies up, and well be our own weird kind of family, okay? Dont
say no. I love you.
Godshed never get used to all the feelings that came with
have a real twin sister.
I love you, too, Ola. Youll never know how much Ive loved
you all along. So much so, I couldnt let you go even after they
put me into an insane asylum.
Whatwaitthey had insane asylums in prehistoric
Arizona?
Noits a long story. Ill tell you all about it when I
get back.
Now Ola blinked. Back from where? she demanded.
At the same time, her son said from the backseat. Wherever
it is, Im coming with you, Wolf Mama.
VI

Are you real?


43

S till no thoughts on the return of your dog?


Damianos asked from the door of the dim room.
Naught but a candle gave relief to the pitch black,
and the vents that did allow cool air into this room had all been
covered. To make the room blistering cold in the winter, and
blistering hot during the solstice.
In truth, Xenon found it quite comfortable. It reminded him
of his former planet. But that planet was no more. Yes, the orb
still hung in the heavens. But his brother, their subjects, and the
entire civilization had been obliterated by a dark matter bomb.
One the Royal Geneticist had set off soon after the King, having
received recommendation that this planet not be awarded
sanctuary status, announced his much-delayed royal hunt to his
court.
God of the wolves. Fenrir had turned out to be just that.
Sacrificing himself and his entire planet so his creations might
live free.
But Damianos, and the most of the drakkon who had been
stranded here on this planet, had not felt the same. Ecoterrorist,
those drakkon most likely called him today. Hed heard the word
once upon the small box Damianos had installed in his room a
few solars ago. Just a few. Mayhap 40 or 50. He no longer kept
track.
Damianos had put it there not as a luxury in the otherwise
completely bare room, but to drown out Xenons fights with
Fensa. At least that was what he claimed before turning the dial
to the highest volume setting.
In any case, Xenon appreciated the gift. He and Fensa often
watched it together, with her commenting occasionally, Oh, I
loved this song. Remember I used to hum it when I washed our
clothes on the rocks?
It had been so long ago. That life in Arizona. That family in
Arizona. There were so many things he could no longer
remember. Luckily, he had Fensa there to remind him.
But tonight, Damianos, not his aged human servant, came to
the door.
Hed been doing this foroh, nearly three moons now.
Seeming to want something from Xenon. Something Xenon
could no longer give.
You truly have nothing to say about the return of your dog?
No questions? No curiosity where she might be after waiting for
her for so long?
His cousin set a plate piled high with meat in front of Xenon,
just close enough for him to reach out and eat with one hand
since the other was chained to the wall with a manacle forged
from an Uthbert sword used in the Lupin-Drakkon War. The
portion size upon the plate had been carefully considered by the
few remaining drakkon after they charged him with a long list of
war crimes, including treason, and stripped him of his crown.
The amount of food was enough to keep him from starving to
death. But not enough to make Xenon feel anything close to full.
For this reason, over a thousand rotations into his
imprisonment, he was little more than skin and bones.
Do you wish me to have something to say? he asked
Damianos, impressed to a small degree with his latest torture
tactic. After all, his cousin would know nothing of Fensa, if not
for overhearing their many angry exchanges here in his attic
prison.
Damianos didnt answer. Instead, he looked at Xenon, his lips
turned down like a humans until, in a sudden burst of fury, he
kicked the plate in front of him. The meager bit of food went
flying across the room, and the plate hit the wall with a metallic
clang before falling to the floor in a sad slide of meat and grease.
Tell your dog to fetch that for you, Damianos snarled.
Then he left the room, once again not bothering to turn the
small box back on. He hadnt allowed him this small luxury for
months now. Or, as he used to call it in Arizona, moons.
The door slammed closed, leaving Xenon once again in the
dimly lit room. With his real torturer.
Man, hes really not going to forgive you for double-crossing
your dragon crew in that fight for the Zone 2 gates, Fensa
observed in his wake. She then turned her contemptuous sneer
on him. And he really doesnt seem to understand Id never do
anything for you. I hate you. Ill always hate you for what
you did.
Yes, shortly after gaining her trust hed betrayed it. Hed lost
everything in the blink of her human eye, including his son. But
for some reason Fensas words didnt cut him like they
usually did.
What was it the Drakkon king said again? he asked her.
He keeps attempting to tell me something. He seems to think it
of great import.
Never mind him, Fensa answered, coming to stand over his
body where he sat naked upon the floor with legs bent. She
lowered herself down to sit upon his groin like she used to
during those few months when their flames had burned yellow
for each other. Do you have desire for me? Would you like me to
take out your male works and put them inside my wet heat?
A trick. He knew it was a trick, but nonetheless, his male
works became steel inside his stomach at just the thought of
having her again.
Fensa laughed, low and husky, Oh, I can feel how much you
want me, Xenon. What would you do to have me again? To be
inside me? What price would you pay?
Anything, he swore, his voice little more than a whisper. I
would give anything. Pay anything.
Would you beg? Id like to hear you beg for my forgiveness.
He begged. And apologized. And begged some more. Begged
and begged her forgiveness, until his voice gave out with a croak.
Mmm Fensa made a considering sound in the back of her
throat, pressing her forehead into his as he had taught her. But
it wasnt reverence. He knew this. Had been taught this lesson
by her so many times. Still, his breath caught. The longing so
poignant, it vibrated within him like a plucked string.
However, it came as no surprise when she withdrew. Too bad
your anything is worthless to me, she spat. Before retreating
into the darkness.
NoXenon thought, his flame returning to its usual blue.
Damianos tricks were worthless. As much as his cousin would
like to be the foremost benefactor of his pain, no one could
torture him as perfectly as his Fensa.
And no one else ever would.
44

O f all the ways he thought his long-held plan to punish


the Prisoner for his traitorous acts might end,
Damianos never imagined it thusly. All these years of
watching the girl, Fensa. Millions spent to infiltrate her
Michigan household and track her every move from afar.
Only to have his cousin not believe him when she finally came
back from the shared past hed been talking about with the
delusion in his room for hundreds of years. Perhaps that, too,
had been a delusion. Perhaps his cousin had been mind sick from
the start of their ill-fated journey.
Wouldnt that explain it? Why their former king had spent so
much time obsessively building portals across the land now
called the United Statesonly to refuse to help his few
remaining drakkon subjects when Damianos came up with the
plan to use the DNA match portals as a time traveling system to
return them to their destroyed civilization. Perhaps even save it
before the Royal Geneticists dark matter bomb went off. Why he
had secretly plotted against them in the war for the Zone 2 fating
portals, instead of doing whatever he needed to save their
planet.
This Fensa of his could have been the mere delusion of a
lunatic king.
Thats was what Damianos had been inclined to believe when
the arguments started about five hundred years into the former
kings imprisonment. But then, a child by the name of Fensa had
been born into the family of his sworn enemy, and she was even
named after the Viking who had killed Damianoss father
His cousins begging interrupted his contemplation. Again.
Please, Fensa. I beg of you. Love me again. Let me love you. I
am sorry for what I have done. Please forgive me!
The sound of the prisoners pleas echoed through the old
castle. Seeping down from the floor above to his study.
Would you like me to turn on the television in his room,
sir? Colby, his longtime manservant asked, appearing in the
studys doorway.
Yes, do, Damianos answered irritably. And, close the door.
Ive a call to make.
With a deferential bow, the small human did as hed been
instructed. Yet somehow the action still rubbed Damianos the
wrong way.
He remembered his halcyon days in Rome, when he used to
take human slaves as servants. Any human he wished. Hed once
destroyed the life of a centurion simply because he thought he
would make a fine gladiator for his house. Now he paid the latest
in a family line of English manservants who had waited on him
since the late 18th century a monthly check, which included a
generous pension plan.
Hed rotted most of his life on this planet, and though his
true home was seared into his memory, Damianos had become
more like the upright primates than he cared to admit.
But he had gotten his wish. His fathers wish, as well.
Damianos had become the King of Drakkon shortly after
surviving drakkon of the Lupin-Drakkon War had stripped the
Prisoner of his crown.
Hed only had to lose his true home, his father, and imprison
his only other living relative to gain it.
Strange, it still did not feel much like a victory.
Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, as the human
saying went.
But that would change soon. He had plans. Big, vengeful
plans. Percolating in the back of his shelled head.
And these plans compelled him to open the drawer in front of
him. He pulled out a quaint little piece of history that used to be
called a burner phone. Just about everyone used the biosystem
these days. But like cash, criminals tended to hang on to
technology that could not be tracked. And though both cash and
these little gadgets had been declared illegal in many countries,
including the one he currently resided in, they had not in the
United States, which made the phone call he was about to
make a somewhat gray legal area.
Not that he cared. Damianos Drkon was and would remain
for the duration of his reign, above all human laws.
Report, Damianos said when his man in the States
answered with a lo?
Hey, boss, I was just getting ready to call you. Im still
watching the house like you said, even after they kicked all us
out. By the way, I complained about that and got a few other
Detroit Wolves to do it, toobut they still aint letting nobody
in, except the pack doctor, and I couldnt interrogate her without
blowing my cover.
Yes, yes, get to the point of why you were going to call,
please, Damianos said, already impatient with the man. These
humans never seemed to run out of excuses for their
inferior work.
So Im watching the house, and last night, the target came
out with her sister and they got into the sisters car.
I followed them, but they didnt stop til they got to a small
airport. And by the time I got around security, theyd already
taken off in a private jet. Had a hell of a time getting a flight plan
for one of those old jets, let me tell you that.
Are you trying to tell me theyve left the state? On a plane?
And I had to call you to receive this information?
Not just the state. The country. Like I said, I had a hell of a
time getting the flight plan. Youll never guess whos plane
they used
Imbecile. Where is she?! Damianos roared, cutting him off.
Where is the she-wolf youve been charged with tracking?
She went to Greece. Set down on the mainland, then
chartered a boat to some island I aint never heard of. Not sure
how to pronounce it, since its in Greek. It starts with a swirly
upside down q, then theres a p.
It had been a long and hard road to teach himself to blink in
order to better blend in with the human race. Yet at that
moment, Anos found himself blinking on instinct. Are they
going to Drakonisi?
Nanh, that cant be it. This place has got a p and a v in the
name. Ill put it through the translator, but main point is you
need to get a man on the ground wherever this place is as soon
as possible so we can figure out why they flew out of here like
bats out of hell.
But
Anos faltered. Because of course the man would respond in
this way. He had no idea the person he was reporting to was
located in Greece. Was, in fact, standing in his castle estate on
the island of Drakonisi as they spoke. Or that all the strange
letters hed mentioned were, in fact, in the Greek spelling of the
islands name. But why would the daughters of his sworn
enemy come
A sharp tap sounded on the door, followed immediately by
Colby entering the room. Sir, sorry to disturb you. However,
there are two young ladies and a boy here to see you.
Boss, bossare you there? the voice on the other side of
the line asked.
Damianos hung up without answering. Because in the end, he
hadnt needed to send a killer in after Fensa Greenwolf. Shed
come right to him.
45

D amianos Drkon lived in a castle. Of course, he did.


Knuds contact had called it an estate when hed sent
her the address, but Ola pretty much spoke for them
all when she said, Estate my ass. Hell if this aint a straight up
castle.
Eos whod spent most of his life in a cave up until a few
months ago, goggled up at the fifty-foot high ceilings. The foyer
they stood in stretched up three floors, showcasing landings
with ivory columns, and what Fensa suspected might be pure
gold railing. Art had never been Fensas thing, but the paintings
peeping out from the arched alcoves surrounding the room
screamed long ago. As her eyes rose to join her sons on the
beautiful ceiling mural, she had to wonder if Michelangelo had
received a secret commission he hadnt told anybody about back
in the day.
Have you ever ssssseen anything so wondroussss? Eos
asked beside her.
I mean, yeah, Ola answered. But it usually comes with
museum security. I cant believe this is Drkons crib! I always
figured he lived inside a black crystal mountain, or in some
underground cavern, or some really evil-looking place.
Im sorry to disappoint you, Ms. Greenwolf.
The distinct smell of smoke hit Fensas nose even before she
looked up to see Damianos Drkon descending the stairs. Shed
only heard stories about him. Bad stories, told to her by Rafes in
another attempt to extract information she didnt have.
And her first sight of him was kind of a surprise. Shed been
expecting a slinky supervillain. Bowiesque, tall, and skinny.
Maybe holding a cat or something.
But this man was strikingly handsome, with a face so
symmetrical, it made her recall Xenons perfect beauty before he
lost his eye.
The comparisons stopped there, however. This dragon was
even taller than Xenon, but instead of one red glowing eye, his
were brown. Completely standard, save for the hard glint in
them as he approached. He also wore a suit, crisp and tailored.
The kind of classic design that could have passed for current in
any decade from the 1930s to now. No not classic. That was the
wrong word. Timeless, rather. He struck her as timeless.
Damianos stopped in front of them and silently took them in.
Fensa. Eos. And finally Ola.
To her shock, he blinked when his dark eyes reached her twin.
Another difference between him and Xenon. Nor did she clock
anything but a round tongue and straight, blunt teeth inside his
mouth as he asked in a smooth, faintly accented voice, To what
do I owe the pleasure of this visit, daughters of Drakkon
murderers?
We prefer the term slayers if you gotta, Ola answered. Her
default zero fucks tone on full display. But if you want to go
there, sure, why not?
Fensa swallowed, the urge to run already stronger than shed
thought it would be. But she couldnt run. Instead, she put on
her best facsimile of a brave voice and answered, Im here
because I need your help. Im looking for one of your kind. A
dragon named Xenon.
Who, may I ask, is Xenon? he demanded.
Oh shitdragons dont bother with names, she suddenly
recalled. Xenon. The Second Prince of Drakkon. Brother of the
King. Son of She Who Did Birth Two Princeswait, no, I think it
was just Queen of Drakkon.
Ah, Damianos Drkon said. I had forgotten his name.
Howoddthat you should know it. May I ask how?
He was again she had to swallow before meeting his
intimidating stare.
Hed killed so many. Including her fathers villagers. It was
like showing up at the bogeymans doorand asking for his
help. He is my mate. We were split up because he feared for my
life. But now were once again in the same time. And I want to
find him. I need to find him. Ill even deal with you to find him.
Damianos Drkon studied her for so long, it felt like he might
never answer. But he finally said, Im afraid I have no
knowledge of the whereabouts of this Xenon, as you call him. Or
any idea what should prevent me from killing both daughters of
my fathers murderer right here where they stand.
Fensa took a step back, grabbing Eos by the arm. But before
she could call out to him and Ola to run, her son said. He issss
lying. Hissss flame burnsss as falsssse as his words.
How do you know this? Damianos demanded, his head
snapping to regard the boy down his long egalitarian nose.
So you know where he is? Fensa asked Damianos before her
son could answer. Please, tell me!
But Damianos continued to regard Eos with a suspicious light
in his brown eyes. Who are you? And how are you able to see my
flame?
I am Eossss. Golden Ssson of the Great Blue Sssserpent King
and the Great Wolf Mother, Eos answered as if they were still in
their prehistoric village and not in a dragons grand castle.
Where issss my father?
Damianos was quiet for a very long time. To Fensa, it looked
like a number of calculations were being made in his head.
Until Colby, he suddenly called out.
A man in an old-timey butler suit appeared in the foyer as if
conjured from thin air. Sir?
You may give the Drakkon Murderers daughter escort to our
guest. Provided her son and sister stay behind with me.
The protests came immediately from either side of Fensa. But
she quieted her sister and son with a loud, Hold on!
Fensa pinned Damianos with her fiercest stare. If I go to
Xenon, do you give your word you wont hurt Ola or my son?
Damianos flinched as Ola said, Like you could really trust the
word of a dragon.
In fact, I can, Fensa answered her sister, without looking
away from Damianos. Eos can see his flame. If he says he wont
hurt you, Eos can tell us whether hes lying or not. So what will it
be Damianos? Are you going to give us your word or not?
He flinched a second time.
And Fensa cast her eyes downward to say, If I knew your
title, Id call you by that instead.
He started, but nonetheless answered, I am Damianos
Drkon. Anos to the business associates who count me amongst
their friends. But my official title is King. I have served as King of
Drakkon ever since your
He openly sneered before coming up with the word, Xenon
was deposed for betraying his kind in the war with the lupin. For
that reason, his crown is now mine. And my home is now his
prison.
Now it was Fensas turn to flinch. She so badly wanted to ask
what had happened. What Xenon had done to be deposed of his
crown. She knew it had to have something, if not everything, to
do with the vow hed made her.
Hed somehow managed to fix her entire life, while in turn,
shed completely ruined his.
But in the end, she didnt ask, because this drakkon, didnt
care about vows. Or love. She could tell. He was everything her
fathers despised, and she doubted explaining Xenons
motivations would change his opinion in any way.
Close. Xenon was so close. Both her wolf and her human
could feel it.
Do I have your word, Dragon King? she asked Damianos
again, bringing the subject back around to him not killing her
sister or son.
You are in no position to ask this of me. You are nobody to
me, save the daughter of Drakkon murderers.
Fensa pulled herself up to her full height, even though at six-
feet-tall, he still had nearly a foot on her. I am Fensa
Greenwolf. The Great Wolf Mother. Mate of Xenon, the Great
Serpent King. Mother of Eos, the Golden Dragon Son. And Im
asking for your word. Will you give it to me or not?
Damianos expression didnt change. But his eyes strayed
back to Eos. As if drawn by magnets. You are really drakkon
born, boy?
Eos opened his mouth, but in a moment of cunning beyond
his years, replied, If you give Great Wolf Mother good answer, I
will sssssshhhhhow you thisssss true.
You still have your Drakkon accent. How can this be?
Doessss sssshhhhe have your word?
Damianos glanced over at Fensa, as if just now remembering
she was there.
Yes, she has my word. Colby, give her escort please.
And with that, Colby stepped up to the stairs. Right this way,
Ms. Greenwolf.
Fensa was in such a rush, she didnt ask any other questions.
Just sprang forward to follow the older man upstairs.
However, Damianos cold voice followed her. Have your see
of him. But I will give the grace of a warning, Great Wolf Mother.
He is quite mad.
46

D ragons didnt joke. Or laugh. Or kid around. It wasnt


in their makeup. One of the many reasons Xenon had
viewed their impish son with such consternation.
Yet Fensa found herself praying this was no longer the case as
she walked up the stairs. That like blinking, joking was a skill
Damianos had acquired over the years.
Unfortunately, as soon as she cleared the landing of the third
floor, she knew he had been telling the truth.
There came the sound of a blaring TV, and then a stench hit
her with the force of a slap to the face. Foul and rancid. Like
something that hadnt been properly washed in weekspossibly
years. Her stomach pitched, and not because of the smell. Like
most wolves, she didnt necessarily distinguish between good or
bad smells unless food was involved. She flinched because of
what the smell contained at its bottom most layer.
Her mate. The acrid burning scent she still associated with
him faint and weak.
Fensa rushed forward past the human escort to the door
where the strong smells emanated like wafts of green smoke. It
wasnt locked.
But she had only a moment to appreciate the easy access
before she flipped the switch next to the door
Because there was Xenon. In his human-like shell, but little
more than a tall skeleton with sunken cheeks and eyes, sitting
on the floor. He was naked and attached to the wall at the
farthest reach of the room with a manacle. One made of steel,
she guessed. The only substance on earth that could slice
through a dragons skin.
One would think he would have immediately looked up when
she crashed into the room, but no
Xenon seemed to be in the midst of a full-blown argument.
His face wretched underneath a wild beard and his hair, oh God,
his hair.
The silken waves she remembered had been replaced with a
tangled rats nest of knotted hair that extended all the way down
his waist.
Prehistoric Keanu dragon had turned post-apocalyptic.
For some reason Fensa would never be able to explain, the
first thing she did was go over to the TV and calmly turn it off.
She could hear what he was saying more clearly after that. But
she still could not understand it. It was in his dragon language.
Hissing and clicking over syllables that only had a passing
resemblance to what she knew as words. And he still didnt look
up at her. Just kept talking. To the invisible person
How long? How long had he been here? Hundreds of years?
Thousands? Ever since the Viking-Dragon War?
She shuddered. Oh, God. Oh, Fenrir Wolf.
For a moment, Fensa was overwhelmed with the feeling shed
arrived too late. That though shed circumnavigated the world,
and gone into the dragons den to find him here, against all
odds, she was too late.
Because it was very, very obvious that the father of her
children was gone.
Gone, and replaced with a stark, raving madman she barely
recognized.
47

X enon was fighting with Fensa again. Pleading with her


to understand why hed sent her away. Imploring her
for the forgiveness she hadnt granted him in nearly a
thousand years of entreaty.
I am begging you, Fensa.
Begging me? she answered with a hissing scoff. Begging
me as I begged you before you spoke the words to send
me back?
Reverence? A voice appeared inside his mind, along with a
cherished memory of how his title had sounded upon her
tongue. The voice almost sounded like
He shook his head. It could not be. Fensa had learned his
drakkon language, and even if she hadnt, she hated him too
much to engage in mind speak with him.
I sent you back because I loved you, he continued out loud.
Because I needed to give you and our son the best chance of
survival.
Reverence! The voice-memory said again.
But then Fensa interrupted the voice-memory with her
sneering reply, Hmm, was it that you wanted me to live, or were
you just too cowardly to watch me die? For all you know, Im
locked away in a mental asylum now. If I survived the birthing of
twinsand thats a big ifmy babies were probably taken
from me. Youre not even sure what year I returned to, or what
year it is right now. For all you know, I could already be back,
living in a hell you consigned me to!
REVERENCE! This time the call was accompanied by a fierce
shaking of his shoulders.
The feel of anothers skin on his startled him more than the
shaking. Fensa sat on him. Often, shed let her lips hover over
his, mercilessly taunting him. But she never touched him in any
real or unnecessary way. However, these were hands. Real
hands, which he hadnt felt in hundreds of years.
Inside his mind, the voice-memory said, Look at me,
Reverence. Look at me!
Xenon looked at her. Only to start. Because he found a woman
squatting down in front of him. A woman he might have
mistaken for Fensa, except she had long, flowing curls and was
not nearly as thin as Fensa had been when he saw her last.
You mean when you sent me away! Fensa corrected, still
standing her ground in her favorite place to argue with him.
Close enough so he could see every line of her face, but not close
enough to touch. Dont act like parting was such sweet sorrow
when youre the one who sent me away!
I did it in the hopes that you might live! Please forgive me!
He turned his head to plead with her againbut a hand gripped
his chin, yanking his head back to face the woman squatting in
front of him.
The womans head came forward and rested against his in
reverent greeting, as the voice in his mind said, Reverence, its
me, Fensa. Do you remember me? Know who I am?
Of course, he remembered Fensa. But this woman could not
be her. Fensa hated him and spent all his waking hours telling
him so. This woman was looking upon him with shining eyes,
her yellow flame sparking with both fear and pity.
No, you are not her, Xenon informed the woman. You are
but a cruel trick. An actress my cousin has paid to torture me
further.
I dont understand your dragon language. For me, its only
been three months since I saw you last. Youve got to speak into
my mind. Who are you talking to, Reverence? Tell me. Let me
help you!
Fensas chortling laugh sounded then. Oh, isnt this fun?
Now you will have two of us to help you remember what a
terrible acolyte you were.
He turned back to the angry Fensa. I tried to be a good
acolyte to you, Fensa. I wanted your happiness more than my
own. I loved you above all others. Dont you see?
The woman squatting in front of him jerked, her flame
flickering with confusion. What that my name you just said? In
Drakkon? Do you think theres more than one of me in
this room?
Y-yes. Two of you. But you are new. The other Fensa has
been with me in this chamber for centuries, he answered in
Drakkon.
But despite her claims not to understand his language, her
head flame flooded with sudden understanding.
Widowers madness she whispered inside his mind. Is
this whats going on, Reverence? You have the same thing your
father had?
Xenon hadnt heard the term in so long, it took him several
moments to remember back to that time. When he and Fensa
had spoken of his fathers suffering.
Which was not the same as his ownwas it? Fensa hates
me. She has hated me for 15,000 years, told the newcomer in
Drakkon. Maybe more.
Yes, exactly! Angry Fensa hissed in his language. You wish
I could ever forgive you! But I will never forgive you for what you
did. Do you hear me? I will never forgive
Is she real? the voice inside his head abruptly cut Angry
Fensa off.
And he found himself once again looking at the woman in
front of him. Her flame burned so prettily. Exactly as hed
remembered from that fateful morningbefore his
announcement had turned it red with anger and reproach. His
cousin had chosen well. He much preferred this pretender to the
Fensa who had been haunting him for centuries.
You dont think Im real, she observed, looking deep into
his eyes. But is she real? Did you ask her? Like, actually
ask her?
This question gave Xenon pause as he realized he never had.
Ask her, the woman demanded now. Ask her if
shes real.
He shook his head. He couldnt trust this pretender. Didnt
know how long his cousin would allow this cruel trick to play out.
But hed rather be haunted by the ghost of Fensa than left alone
in this room by the one pretending to be her.
Oh, Reverence the voice said inside his head. But then a
note as hard as the steel that bound his wrist entered her tone as
she asked, Where is she? Point her out to me. I want to talk
to her.
Xenon thought about this. Then raised his free arm to where
Fensa always lingered.
The woman stood. Pointed. Over here? she asked, coming
to a stop directly in front of his tormentor.
Angry Fensa gave the pretender a wide smile that in no way
matched her cold blue flame. Isnt this priceless? He thinks
youre real! Like, you would ever come back to him after what
he did
Fensa ceased speaking when the pretender suddenly
produced a sharp knife. A womens dagger from the Viking era,
Xenon vaguely recognized from a time when he still walked free
upon the earth.
Im confronting you, was all the warning his tormentor got
before the pretender stabbed her in the gut. Again and again and
again, like a movie about prisoners hed once watched on the box
Damianos brought him.
Fensa shrieked in what sounded like abject pain. But then she
was gone as if shed never been there at all.
Something you told me once before, the voice said inside
his head as the woman whod stabbed Angry Fensa walked back
over to where he was sitting. You have to confront delusions. I
mean, not necessarily stab them, but I happened to have my
grandmothers knife, and I figured why not give it a try while she
stood there, trying to talk greasy, as my Michigan grandpa says.
Speaking of grandparents
Fensa reached up to a medallion around her neck. What
appeared to be half a wolf and half a man, cut at a jagged angle.
He soon found out why when she manipulated both the wolf and
the man, and broke the circle into two distinct pieces. False key
disguised as a necklace. This is what my grandfather used to
break out of a jail cell when he came forward in time. Nowadays,
most changing cells are on electronic locks, but if this manacle is
as old as I think it is
A muted clank sounded then. It was the sound of the lock
disengaging. A wingbeat later, for the first time in years, his arm
fell to the side of his body, limp with atrophy.
The pretender took his arm and immediately began to
massage it. In a way that felt so good, he didnt have the heart to
remind her as he had once or twice back in the ice age that his
shell was also his medical suit. With a few sleep hours, his shell
would take care of all healing, including the muscle atrophy.
Remind herhe shook his head. The confusion beginning to
fade, now that Angry Fensa had been stabbed out of the room.
And maybe out of existence.
He began pushing words into another mind for the first time
in thousands of years. Are you? Are you real? Really my
Fensa?
A beat passed. And she once again filled up his vision. Though
her eyes were shining bright with tears, the voice inside his head
somehow sounded sunny and bright as it answered,
Reverence.
He stared back at her, confused by her answer.
You may call me by any of my titles: Reverence, Fated Mate,
Great Wolf Mothereven Female 7-133. Because I am real. I am
not a delusion. I am your wolf, and you are my dragon. And I will
not hear my given name upon your lips ever again. Do you
understand?
Yes, he pushed into her head after a long, confused
moment. I understand.
Good, she said, cupping his cheek. And are you still my
dragon?
He nodded and used his non-atrophied arm to cup her cheek
as best he could.
And just like the mate he remembered, she nuzzled into it,
giving his palm a soft kiss, before placing it over her heart.
Good, she said again. But now her throat flame, like the one in
her chest, burned yellow with emotion.
They kept this position for several minutes. Him sitting, her
squatting, neither of them wanting to look away for fear of
losing each other again.
Then she said, Next question. Can you still fly?
Yesyes, I can, he replied in her head. This is but a shell,
remember? It is also a medical suit of sorts. While my arms, legs,
and wings atrophied over the centuries, this suit has been busily
repairing those muscles, making them good as new.
Okay, good, good, good, Fensa said with a nod. Now last
but definitely not least important question: what are we going to
do about him?
Fensa turned, and Xenon followed her gaze to where his
cousins elderly manservant stood in the doorway, mouth
hanging open.
48

T he biomessage appeared on Olas mind screen just as


Damianos was escorting her and Eos into his parlor.
After six weeks of bio-silence, the message came as a
shock. No offense, but Fensa hadnt exactly been the Fensa she
remembered. For one thing, shed tripled the number of
nephews and nieces Ola had in less than two weeks. For another,
she had a feral look in her eye. Like shed let go of the cave, but
the cave hadnt let go of her.
Ola hadnt been certain Fensa still knew how to bio. She never
wore her Bluetooth rings to receive ells, and back in Michigan,
Ola often watched her outside with children. They stayed in the
forested backyard from sun up to sun down, as if the house was a
prison theyd escaped. Bio-messaging seemed like one of those
skills that might have been lost in the winds of her weird four
year-two week time travel adventure.
But then came the message inside her head. A request written
in all caps.
Jesus. Was she serious?
When Colby returns, he will make us tea, Damianos
informed them.
He glanced at Ola, but then his eyes bounced right back to
Eos. Like Ola made him nervous.
Which was strange. As mafia as hed been in the foyer, in this
smaller receiving room he seemed twice as big but way more
nervous than she would have suspected, given they were in his
home. And technically at his mercy.
Until he returns, well discuss how you came to exist, young
drakkon. I have many questions for you. Questions I fear your
father is no longer mentally stable enough to answer
Fensas message flashed in Olas memory, even though it had
faded from the mind screen.
Okay, okay, youre the wild one. Earn your rep, twin. Earn
your rep! she thought to herself. Then with a deep breath, she
crossed the room.
Cover your eyes, Eos! She would have told him to close his
eyes, but real talk, she wasnt even a little percent sure he could,
given how hed yet to blink in the entire three months theyd
been living under the same roof together.
Eos obeyed without question, which was a good thing.
Because in the next moment, Ola grabbed Damianos by his
Ken doll
Actually, I was thinking wed talk about this
She abruptly cut off. Because what was supposed to be as
smooth and flat as an animatronic park sex bot, swelled beneath
her hard grip.
In fact, it felt like two somethings. Two extremely hard
somethings that were caught in her grip.
What.