Jace had a bad feeling about this planet the minute he touched down.
There’s definitely something wrong here.
“Are you quite certain this creature you’re hunting—”
“Fugitive.” Jace glared at the prince’s steward. The wiry man wrung his hands, clearly unhappy about Jace’s presence.
“Er, yes, of course. Are you quite certain he’s inside the palace?”
At Jace’s narrowed gaze, the man stammered on. “While Prince Gafar’s royal house would never deny a soldier of the Universal Guard, er, it just seems such an unlikely place for a fugitive to hide.”
“Don’t be fooled,” Jace muttered. He’d found the chamelionidas’s crash-landing site not far away. The tropical climate of this region, and the high population of fertile females in the palace, proved a perfect lure for the fugitive.
The steward led him into a wide, tile-floored hall. The open archways let in a balmy breeze that stirred the lush fronds of alien palms.
Several women in filmy, alluring attire stared unabashedly at Jace as they passed. He supposed his seven-foot frame was as unusual to them as their watery blue eyes and white hair was to him.
“I understand the need to capture all criminals, I certainly do,” the steward stammered on. “I just wish the royal family were present at this time. Of course they would want me to bestow whatever assistance I could...”
Two guards entered the hall dragging a struggling female. The steward’s voice drifted away.
Her attire seemed more opulent and slightly more revealing than the other females he’d seen since entering the palace, but it was this girl’s unique beauty that caught and held his attention.
Even at a distance he could see her blue eyes were darker than the other Rendarians’, making her appear half human. Her fair skin had a pinker glow than the pale people of Rendaria Omega, and the blond hair that reached her waist was a deeper gold, with silvery highlights that caught the rays of the two suns slipping through the open archways.
But her difference in coloration was only half of her stunning appearance. She was a remarkable beauty, with noble bone structure and full pink lips that beckoned a man to kiss her. Her captivating eyes were edged with dark lashes that made a vibrant contrast to her creamy skin. She was almost as tall as the two guards holding her arms, with a lush, curvy body and long, muscular legs.
No wonder this planet had such strict landing regulations.
The female fought against the guards holding her arms. Full, round breasts bounced with her struggles, and the opalescent swaths of her sheer gown shimmered as they moved over her like water. The fabric had a translucent quality, and as the guards dragged her past, Jace glimpsed the dark circles of her nipples and the patch of hair atop her thighs.
“Oma si veka. Gan! Sooba gem tak vikka. Oma si veka!”
Even without understanding a single word, he read the panic in her tone. She threw her gaze at him, recognizing him as an outsider, and the desperation in her voice grew.
“Oma si veka! Sooba vikka. Help me!”
A chill skittered over his nape. Ignore it. You’re not here to interfere in this planet’s affairs, no matter how abhorrent they are. The chamelionidas was his first--and only--concern.
But even as he vowed to mind his own business, the question slipped out of his mouth. “What was that about?”
The steward stopped stammering and looked up at Jace with a surprised expression. “Nothing, nothing at all.” He gave a dismissive wave. “Some of the harem girls need more training than the others. The prince is very particular about his females. Ah, here we are, the royal study. I’m certain there is a schematic here that will aid you in your, er, pursuit.”
Jace glanced back down the hall in time to see the guards shove the girl through a set of double doors decorated with ornate scrollwork. She toppled inside with a shrill scream that grated across Jace’s every nerve ending. The guards secured the doors with an electronic device and moved on.
Jace gritted his teeth. The sooner he captured the bastard chamelionidas and got the hell off this nasty rock, the better. He always felt out of place when terra-side, but this was one of the worst planets he’d ever visited. All this foofy elegance made him itchy, and any society that enslaved its women made him want to punch its leader in the nose.
The steward disappeared inside the study. It was as opulent as the rest of the castle, but with no windows or doors other than the one entry, it was dark with shadows that made him uneasy. He glanced at his tracker device, oddly comforted the chamelionidas didn’t register. The shape-shifter was a cunning creature without scruples, and would slice his throat as calmly as it would pluck a pava melon from a branch.
The steward rifled through a shelf of disks. “Ah, here we are, the royal schematic. This is highly classified information, as you know, but we’re only too happy to help the Universal Guard—”
The alarm on Jace’s tracker went off. “No time.” He turned into the hall and set off at a run, following the beeping green dot marking the chamelionidas. Jace was right on top of it. Or rather, it was right on top of him! A hidden shaft? Or upper floor?
The indicator veered right, but there was only solid wall on Jace’s level. Almost immediately it cut to the left. Dammit, he was going to lose it!
Jace kicked open the ornate double doors, surprising the thirty or so scantily clad females inside. Initial cries of alarm turned to coos of approval. Directly in front of him, the unwilling slave girl slapped the hand of a female trying to powder her skin with a fluffy pompom.
The indicator light pulsed slowly, no longer moving. The chamelionidas was in this room. Jace advanced slowly, drawing his stunner. He nudged the lever up to red. Kill. There were too many females in here to risk an escape with a hostage.
The chamelionidas was here to find a host. Jace couldn’t let that happen.
The women in the spacious harem stood frozen, staring at him with cautious arousal. The only sound was the trickling of water from an indoor fountain and delicate notes streaming from a violute played by a robodroid in the corner. Pheromones clogged the air. Several of the women were in heat.
“Officer! You cannot enter here,” the steward hissed behind him. “This is the prince’s private harem!”
Jace scanned the opulent chamber for the tell-tale ripple of the chamelionidas. There were so many multicolored fabrics and flowery plants in the room, it would be impossible to detect the camouflaged creature.
“All of you. Move to the center. Slowly.”
No one moved. Of all the females, only the unwilling girl he’d seen in the hall held wariness in her eyes. She knew something was wrong.
“They don’t understand.” She turned and gestured to the women. “Soombala, kan. Viyoho!”
The women shuffled toward her, confused.
A silvery shimmer wriggled in the far corner of the room. The scaly green chamelionidas appeared, clinging to the ceiling, glaring at him upside down. Jace hadn’t thought the creature could get any uglier, but this angle certainly did it.
Jace brought up his weapon. Several of the women on that side of the room screamed, thinking he was aiming at them. They turned and ran, one of them headed directly for the chamelionidas. She saw the creature too late and froze, horror-struck.
Jace finally got off a safe shot, but it missed the chamelionidas by centimeters. The creature dropped from the roof and grabbed the woman, using her as a shield.
It hadn’t needed to. Pandemonium erupted. Panicked women ran into his path. Jace couldn’t get a clear shot off, but the chamelionidas fired at him, red pulses set on kill, heedless of the women in his line of fire. Jace dropped behind a fur-covered lounge and checked his weapon. He changed the setting to stun. Not only would he face a shitstorm of trouble if he killed one of the prince’s harem girls, he couldn’t live with himself if he did.
The steward threw up his hands and hurried off. “Veka! Oy, veka!”
A red pulse hit the edge of the lounge, narrowly missing Jace’s face. The fur smoldered, sending up an awful stink. He leapt up and leveled his aim. A frightened girl ran in front of him. The chamelionidas hit her with a kill pulse. She crumpled, dead before she hit the floor.
“Cease fire and surrender!” Jace shouted. “You won’t escape alive, Rolk. I guarantee it. Give up now, or face no mercy.”
“You should know by now you’ll never catch me, UG!”
He hadn’t thought more chaos was possible, but the chamelionidas’s raspy voice caused the women’s panic to double. Their screams bounced off the polished stone walls and sliced into his eardrums.
The harem girl in the creature’s arms twisted and thrashed, literally coming out of her flimsy clothes as the chamelionidas grappled to keep hold of her. Thankfully, her struggles threw the creature’s aim off.
“Ahhh! Onga-sing!” he growled at her.
Jace’s stun pulse hit the creature in its long, narrow earlobe. The flesh scalded, bringing another shriek from the chamelionidas.
“Bastard UG!” He cupped a hand to the burned appendage, releasing his hostage, and turned his aim on the colored windows. Two rapid-fire pulses shattered the glass.
The unwilling harem girl Jace had seen in the hall leapt from her cover behind a large potted plant and ran for the yawning hole.
“No!” Jace shouted.
She ignored him, so intent on escape she never broke step.
The chamelionidas grinned, using this moment of surprise. He fired through the path between two fleeing women. The pulse ricocheted off a stone column and hit Jace square in the chest.
The breath rushed out of his lungs and the back of his head rapped on the polished stone floor.
* * * *
Tamara Obian froze at the shattered window. She hadn’t realized the prince’s harem sat at the top of a five-story drop to an impossibly narrow ledge. Beyond it, a sheer cliff looked over the valley floor below. She wobbled in the broken frame, staring down at jagged rocks as a warm breeze taunted her with unattainable freedom.
The green creature grabbed her around the waist and jumped. She screamed, her heart in her throat, as they plunged straight down.
With a squishy rustling sound, leathery wings unfolded from the creature’s back. They soared forward, clearing the ledge, but were still plummeting straight for the jungle below. He couldn’t fly carrying her. Tamara screamed again and again as the jungle rushed toward them.
“Unga tai, Rendar woman!” They pitched, out of control, gaining speed by the second. At the last moment, the creature flapped its wings furiously, increasing their arc. They crashed through the canopy of a dense halla tree. The cool, moist leaves slowed their trajectory, and Tamara tumbled onto the mossy forest floor.
She was free of the palace!
Her joy was short lived. The creature grabbed her arm and jerked her to her feet. A swath of her harem wrap caught on a thorny bat bramble and tore.
“Let me go!”
The creature was hideous, a half-man, half-lizard with an ugly snout and a row of barbs running down its long neck. He turned and dragged her deeper into the jungle, walking upright with a limp in its right leg.
“Tau unag baha, Rendar woman.” You come with me.
That was not good. It occurred to her that if the creature didn’t want her as a hostage, it would have thrown her free and landed itself safely.
She jerked against its solid grip. “You understand me, I know you do. I am Princess Tamara from Rendaria Alpha. Any punishment you faced before will be ten times worse if you do not unhand me!”
“Prin-cessss,” he hissed. “Heh heh heh.”
She didn’t know why the Universal Guard soldier was hunting this creature, and she didn’t want to. The Interplanetary Alliance clearly favored Rendaria Omega, and could evacuate themselves into space for all she cared, but Tamara experienced a flash of cold dread as she realized she might be in very bad company.
He dragged her through the jungle, easily negotiating the thick vegetation like a true lizard. Palm fronds slapped at her, and her thin slippers provided no protection against the rough detritus-strewn floor. Tamara stumbled and nearly went down. The creature slowed, jerking her upright. She used it to her advantage and purposely fell again.
“Ahhhh! Goonumbo woman!” He turned, hissing at her with his long, forked tongue, and hefted her over his shoulder as though she weighed nothing.
“Ooh! Let me go you foul-smelling beast!” She pounded on his back. “My father is King of Rendaria Alpha. He won’t take kindly to your manhandling me. Let me go!”
He smacked her rear with his large, scaly hand.
“You insolent beast!”
Had confessing her royalty been a mistake? The creature had successfully escaped the soldier, but seemed intent on keeping her as a hostage anyway. “My father does not deal with criminals, and you must know, he’s already sold me to Prince Gafar, where I am nothing but a harem toy. You’ll get no ransom for me.”
“Heh heh heh.”
Cold fear sank into her stomach. She tried to convince herself she’d successfully escaped Rendaria Omega, but something told Tamara her situation was now much, much worse.
© Crystal Kauffman
Author: Crystal Kauffman
Publisher: Liquid Silver
Genre: Space opera
When Commander Jace Weston of the Universal Guard tracks a fugitive into the harem of a royal palace, he never expects to find an ally--and a lover--in the nubile princess of the rival kingdom. Forbidden to marry or even dally while on duty, Jace doesn’t dream about things he can never have. But when he meets the courageous princess condemned to a loveless marriage who dreams of nothing but finding love, he learns some things are worth wishing for.
Political climates change like the direction of the wind, and Princess Tamara understands someday she will have to marry the unpleasant prince of her neighboring kingdom. But when she is rescued from a grotesque alien fugitive by a drop-dead sexy soldier, Tamara seizes the opportunity to choose her first lover. The three-day journey back to her kingdom filled with scorching sex turns into more than just astounding physical delight, and Tamara fears she cannot live without the touch of the strong soldier who has stolen her heart.