Last Chance for Love
By Brenna Lyons
Susan Braedan has no idea when she goes to bed one spring night that she will never see her home on Earth again. Susan is not a normal woman. She is not quite Human, not Human enough to reproduce with Human men. Susan is the last desperate attempt to save a dying world, and she has been chosen as Cross-Mate to Prince Jole. Raised by his Cross-Mate mother, Jole knows better than any man on Kegin how an Earth woman should be treated to win her love and respect, but can he accomplish that before his younger brother, Mik, can claim her for his own?
Jole Hi, prince of the Keen Republic and heir apparent, stared out across the hills surrounding his retreat home. It was the home of his childhood, the home he'd shared with his mother, until his father had taken him by virtue of their contract. Now, it would be the home of his marriage.
The lizors were in full bloom, and the fragrant purple flowers blanketed the landscape. Normally, Jole found that comforting. The flower had been his mother's favorite, and the finest cosmeticists had fashioned a scent for her from it. The scent was haunting, a distant memory of home and family, of the mother he hadn't seen for twenty years.
Today, Jole found the scent of lizors terrifying. It meant that summer was nearly over, his twenty-eighth summer.
The day he had trained for since birth had arrived. His bride would be brought to him soon. It was a day Jole had looked forward to since he was five, and the announcement had been made that she'd been born. It was a day he had dreaded since he was fifteen, and he'd learned how hopeless the match was.
He sighed. She'd hate him for taking her from her home and family, as each cross-mate had hated her husband. She would never share his bed. None of them had ever done so.
It had to be different this time, and not simply because she was to be his cross-mate. Bio-fertilization produced less viable embryos than true mating. The female children, typically thought to be the stronger sex, did not survive the Keen mechanical implantation process. A mate, who could have three or even five children over their years together, was unlikely to carry more than one child. The lack of mate-touch and the stress of their imprisonment made pregnancy a difficult process for them.
The project would fail and their civilization be lost, if he couldn't convince his cross-mate to accept him. Worse, he would have to watch his mate suffer. If he could make her happy, any cost would be worth it.
His mother— "Jenneane," he whispered the Human name forbidden by Kell Ri.
Jenneane had taught him what she felt would help him most. Jole knew the language his mate would speak. He knew her culture and her pride. Knowing her son would face his own test with a cross-mate, Jenneane had educated him in all the ways Kell had failed with her.
Pyter bowed as he entered the study. "She will be here soon, Highness."
Jole nodded, gritting his teeth at the thought that Pyter was assigned to him again. The last thing he needed was one of his father's most loyal supporters underfoot now, but he had no choice in the matter.
"What can you tell me about her, Pyter?" The chief of security would have monopolized gateway time to study the new cross-mate, looking for potential problems in handling.
"She is a small woman." Pyter's tone was snide.
"It makes no difference. Kell's woman was only half his size and presented him with two sons."
"True," he conceded.
"She has hair like golden iri flowers and eyes like mature lizors."
Jole smiled. He had always wanted a cross-mate with eyes that were undeniably not the eyes of a Keen woman. "Perfect. Have you done what I ordered?"
"Yes, Highness. This has never been tried before. The men are not happy. It balks all the traditions."
"I know. Perhaps that is why we have always failed."
Pyter shook his head. "We fail, because they are barbarians. We had no choice but to seed among them, to use their strengths. Perhaps if we took them younger and raised them here—"
"Enough! You will never refer to my cross-mate as a barbarian." Jole relaxed the tension in his jaw.
They weren't barbarians. They had a fine culture, not as old or advanced as that of Kegin, but it was culture. Despite what Pyter had taught him at his father's command, Jole knew they had culture.
Moreover... "And you know full well that the laws of sanction do not allow for taking children, even children of our seed, before their twentieth year. Be mindful, Pyter. Such talk is treason."
He bowed, his cheeks a vivid red at the reminder. "Many pardons, Highness." A red light blinked on his belt. "It is time."
Jole nodded and followed Pyter to the gateway chamber. The technicians were busy pulling boxes away from the gateway. The crew chief bowed deeply, and Jole waved to him to continue with his work.
He looked at the boxes in amazement. The most prized possessions of his cross-mate were being hastily passed through the gateway.
It had never been done this way before. Cross-mates were typically presented to their husbands with no possessions but the clothes on their bodies. Thus, they'd failed, again and again.
The women faced exile. Exile with nothing of their former lives was cruel. Even if Kell Ri was right and she was a barbarian, the possessions were her own.
A yellow light blinked on over the gateway, and several boxes came through in the hands of soldiers. Jole prayed they hadn't missed any of her most prized possessions. What was left now could not be retrieved later.
A woman's scream echoed through the gateway.
Pyter restrained him, as Jole surged toward his mate. They had orders. They were not to harm her. Jole hadn't wanted her to be traumatized this way. Pyter tightened his hold at her second scream.
"No! Let me go, you bastard." Her voice warbled through the gateway, taking on a musical quality, despite her anger.
Jole ached to take away her pain and fear. No wonder they hated their husbands.
"Still, Highness," Pyter breathed. "She'll be in your arms in a moment."
Jole nodded, his eyes riveted to the gateway.
A soldier stepped through with one final box. His cheek was an angry red, where he had been struck with formidable force.
Jole stilled in amazement. My cross-mate did that?
The moments ticked away. A third scream ripped through the room...then silence.
The captain stepped through, just as the light turned green. He marched to Jole with the woman cradled in his arms and offered her to her husband. The captain didn't look at her. She wasn't his to gaze upon. It was an honor for him to be allowed to touch her at all.
Jole stroked at her cheek with shaking fingers. This was his cross-mate, the woman he had waited twenty-three years for.
He furrowed his brow. She was still and silent in the captain's arms. "What have you done to her?" Jole demanded.
The captain blanched, sweat breaking out on his upper lip. "She fought the band like a jaglin, Highness. It was necessary to render her unconscious. It was the only way to—"
Jole silenced him with a glare, fighting the urge to strike him. If he did, the captain might drop his mate. Instead, he took her from the man's arms. "If she has been harmed, in any way, it means your life."
The captain bowed and moved away.
Jole carried her to her room, while Pyter gave commands to relocate the gateway.
That would be Pyter's greatest fear, that she would try to escape with no knowledge of how the gateway worked or its limitations. It would mean her death, a very painful way to die, at that.
He laid her on the bed he'd had prepared for her. Jole pulled the quilt over her bare legs to her hips then touched her cheek again.
Her lizor eyes were closed to him, but he stroked her iri gold hair, a cap of curls the length of his own. She was soft. Her skin and hair were like silin, like the sheets and dresses prepared for her.
Jole switched to his long-disused English, a language he'd ordered Pyter to practice with him in preparation for this day. He'd muttered to himself for more than a year, making translations of everything he thought and uttered in Keen, even checking the electronic scans of Earth media when his vid-like memory of his mother's voice and language failed him.
His mate deserved at least a few people who could understand her; she deserved the answers his mother hadn't been given. He'd made a decision to speak only her language in her presence, unless he had a reason to speak Keen...and then he would explain it to her. It was better that way; it was the best he could do for her.
"I am sorry, love. It was not supposed to be this way. I wanted to explain to you. I wanted to be there for you, when you came through the gateway. I will do my best to make you happy. You have my vow."
Pyter cleared his throat. "Highness, the men are ready to arrange her possessions."
Jole furrowed his brow, matching Pyter's Keen with his English, knowing the guard had learned it sometime before Jole's eighth birthday. "What is my mate's name, Pyter?"
"Highness, it is not usually—"
"Her name," he demanded.
"She is called Susan Braeden, Highness."
He smiled sadly. "Welcome to Kegin, Susan Braeden."