Chapter One

He sat in a bar nursing a drink that would exit his body before ever making it to his head. All it would leave behind was the desire to become more aggressive. He could control it – barely.

He’d taken this assignment as a way to keep Aran and Niko home with their mates. The worry in his new sister’s eyes when they realized it was out of state had touched him. They shouldn’t have to worry about their mates after all that had transpired recently.

He’d taken this assignment in hopes of getting one step closer to the male who had placed a target on all of their heads. All he’d accomplished so far was to be left alone in a rundown bar, waiting for his contact.

The General, with whom he and his brothers did occasional work had called, asking them to take a special case. One that involved children.

Normally Aran his eldest brother would’ve turned him down, but his mated brothers looked like they would jump at the chance to save the children. If this is what happens when a male mates, then it was good that he’d been spared.

The General wasn’t the altruistic type. He wasn’t concerned about smuggled children in general. He was concerned with one particular missing child. She’d been swept up by the child abduction ring while playing in an area that her father, the Prince of a country he’d never heard of, wouldn’t have condoned. Unfortunately, the Prince was away and the young child slipped her guards in search of friends her age to play with. Sergey was sure those guards would never work again in that country, if they survived the wrath of the prince upon his name.

According to the General, a show of good will in returning the Princess would go far in making sure the Prince was beholden to the U.S. Government and the General in particular.

Sergey scanned the bar again, looking for the informant who was late. It was the smell that hit him first. It was subtle, reminding him of the floral scent on the planet from whence he’d originated.

The soft smell tickled his nose, making him seek out the source. He spotted her immediately. She wasn’t beautiful by human standards, but she called to him.

She was petite, standing around five three, with short brown hair cut close to her head with a well-proportioned body. She stood straight with the at ease posture of a soldier.

 

He watched intently as the woman slid onto the bar stool next to his and ordered a drink. She looked at him and gave him a small smile. Her blue green eyes took him in, starting at the top of his head and sweeping down to his feet.

“Hi.” The sound of her voice affected him, making him shift uncomfortably.

“Hello,” he replied.

Her drink was placed in front of her. He inhaled deeply to analyze it. It wasn’t liquor, but one of the various soft drinks humans insisted on drinking. She hadn’t come to the bar looking to lose herself in the bottom of a glass.

Was she his contact?

“What brings you here?” she asked, her voice part warm and sultry and part military precision.

“I was hoping to meet someone here,” he replied, sticking as close to the truth as possible. “What brings you out?”

“I was looking for a male.”

Her words beckoned him. His heightened aggressive state demanded that he get closer, and find out exactly what she needed. It was the sight of her lying broken and still before him that stopped his beast cold. He feared the only female strong enough to take him would be a mate. A mate he wasn’t destined to have.

He pulled away. He had a job to do. Then he would return home to the comfort of his family.

“You’ve come to the right place. There are many males around. I’m sure you’ll find one to your liking.”

She glanced around the bar, dismissing all she saw, until her eyes landed on him.

“I’m looking for a specific male. One who may know about missing children.” Her voice had lowered on the last part.

“Why would that male be interested in you, knowing you aren’t his contact?”

She didn’t answer immediately. Instead she swept the room again, letting her intriguing eyes pin everyone for a few silent seconds before looking back at him.

“Because I know what you are and who you are and I don’t care. All I want is to make sure the children are taken to a safe place.”

She was military. He was sure of it. He looked at her hands. They were reddened from being stationed in a hot, dry climate. The creamy paleness of her face was broken by a few blotches of sun damage that the normal eye wouldn’t have seen.

Her short brown hair had spent too many days under the beating sun. She was military, but no longer serving. Her demeanor was a shade too relaxed and even her caution spoke of someone who hadn’t been actively hunted in a while.

Her body was gaunt; he was sure she’d missed some badly needed meals. It was obvious to him she’d struggled like so many others after having left the military, yet she was concerned about the children more than herself. She’d intrigued him.

“What am I?”

She looked down, not meeting his eyes. Until that moment, she’d been bold and confident. What could’ve happened to change that?

“You aren’t human.”

“Do you tell that to every male you meet? A casual pick up line?”

“But you’re good. You blend in well. You rarely drink alcohol because it makes you aggressive without the benefit of getting drunk. You and your kind don’t need any help in the aggressive department.”

“Many males become aggressive without the benefit of having alcohol to blame it on.”

She nodded her head in agreement.

“No human male I know harbors a beast inside, one he’s not only able to call on, but able to become.”

“You’ve read too many fairy tales.”

“I’ve spent too much time in the hot desert, seeing things that are impossible and being the good little soldier. I’ve bit my lip at injustices I couldn’t fix, even the ones that happened to me. I can fix this. I can make sure these little ones, who have done nothing wrong but play carefree, are taken care of. All I need is your help.”

“How did you know where to find me?”

“Your former informant talks and he drinks too much. A pretty face was all it took to sway him.”

He nodded. He’d seen more than one informant unable to hold onto his information.

“Where’s the informant now?”

“Sleeping it off in a motel.”

“What information did he pass along to you?”

She slid off of the bar stool, landing next to him. She lowered her head and spoke softly, giggling as if she was trying to impress him.

“He said for the right price, he would tell you that a boat was coming in tonight. That in the cargo hold you would find the package you were looking for.”

“Did he have any more useful information? A time, a berth, the name of the vessel?”

She nodded her head.

“Are you interested in the fee he would’ve been paid for this information?”

“Keep the money. I’m in it for the safety of the children. All of the children.”

“Then I need the rest of the information.”

“How can one male keep all of those children safe?”

“According to you, I’m more than human. That should make it easy to keep them safe.”

She moved her head in a disapproving shake. “There will be too many people there with guns and orders to shoot to kill for any one person to keep the children safe.”

She was tough. He found himself liking that about her. She would fight to the end, even if it meant sacrificing her own life.  She reminded him of his brothers and himself, and even their mates. They were willing to put the family first.

“What would you have me do if I’m not enough to save your precious children?”

“Accept help.”

“Who would want to help?”

“Me.”

His lips twitched. That should only happen around his brothers with their bickering or his new sisters who were out to make them all laugh, when they weren’t driving them crazy.

“As you pointed out, it will be dangerous. A mission from which I may not return.”

He was baiting her, he acknowledged. He would definitely return from the mission with all of the children whole.

“Tell me where you can be reached, and once they’re safe, I’ll call you to come collect them.” How many of them could there be?

She shook her head, her stubborn blue green eyes alight with fire. He was captivated by her eyes. Again he felt his aggressive side reach for her. He pulled himself in. He mustn’t hurt the frail human.

“I’m going with you.” Her slender finger stabbed him in the chest as she said each word.

 

 

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