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“Dark, visceral, and perversely romantic!” -NYT Bestselling author Anna Zaires
I have won the battle and claimed my bride.
- Dubious Consent, Non Consent
- Why Choose? (Not that she has a choice. They are all going to have her.)
- Breeding Kink
- Abduction, Imprisonment
- Unrelenting, Obsessive Love
- Forbidden Dark Romance
- Over the top jealous possessive lead males
- Badass Heroine. Only female of her species
- Power Dynamics, Power Imbalance
“Dark, visceral, and perversely romantic!” -NYT Bestselling author Anna Zaires
I have won the battle and claimed my bride.
Under my watchful eye as king, my brothers share her, lavish her with attention, and offer Sigil her every heart’s desire.
We lie to her, lie with her, calm her when she rages, and lure her ever deeper into our absolute control.
The last female of our species is our obsession, our love… yet one of my trusted brothers thinks to take her from her family and keep precious my Sigil to himself.
Intro into Chapter 1
Intro into Chapter 1
Waves breaking against rocks and the crisp rumble of vast water stole through dreams of ripping metal and hissing gasses. It was not easy to wake, to find that each breath smelled slightly of salt and not of stale recycled atmosphere.
Brightness muddled sight when lashes parted and Sigil found the proverbial vision of heaven.
The side of her face pressed to cloth the same color as Que’s flesh. Facing open gates of glass that offered blue sky, she felt nothing but the torments of hell. A growing sob crushed her heart, and she shut her eyes so tight her skull ached.
Long ago, before her name was Quinn, she had cried like that—like a dying animal. Alone, cut off from sentient life after she’d eaten the last of her attackers on that wild world she’d crashed into as a child. There she’d howled pitifully after ages of solitude.
That same horrible emptiness hollowed her out now.
The only life that mattered to her was lost.
There was no Que to guide her. She’d been deserted, left in a palatial room with walls that glowed as if carved from opal. There was no Que because his battered head had been cut off and placed in a cryobox.
There was no Que because she had utterly failed him.
This was all her fault.
Her cries distorted into muffled screams against the soft foreign mattress, each breath more painful than any blow she’d ever taken. Howls built until she could hardly breathe, until the pressure behind her eyes brought piercing pain to her skull.
Blood dripped from her nostrils. She ignored it. After all, the covers had already grown damp from her outburst. The whole of that great bed may as well have been broken glass.
Quinn bawled until there were no more tears.
The subsequent exhausted numbness deadened a bit of the grief.
Staring dumbly out those huge open doors to a balcony drenched in sun, she willed her heart to stop beating.
Her body denied her. Sleep came instead.
The next time she woke, what had been almost blinding whiteness had altered to soft gold sunlight. Aching as if she’d slept too long, hungry, confused, she pressed up from the vast bed.
Her wrists were circled by etched gold, the bracelets’ decoration of ancient design jingled when she moved. Her nails had been shaped, cleaned. There was no crust of dried blood on her face or grainy remnants of salty tear stains on her cheeks. Someone had cleaned her, dressed her.
Ignoring the odd decoration, disinterested in ornamentation, she untangled her legs from the pleated, translucent gown knotted at her throat and stood.
The ground was warm as if it had been heated by sunlight, her feet, painted gold, a similar shade.
Stiff, stepping toward the nearest gaping view, all that was to be seen was ocean. Vast, endless turquoise lapped at the side of the rounded cliff her gilded cage had been carved into. There was nothing to swim to, no sign of hovercraft or spaceship, only birds circling, and water creatures playing near the milder break.
The single interior door was the only other available route.
There was no electric panel or vid display to help her navigate its unbolting, only an archaic lever. Under her fingertips, ancient mechanics etched into the wood gave way when she pressed down.
The door was not locked.
Sliding it open, she found a circular anteroom as bizarre as anyone might imagine. The visual curio was segmented into quadrants depicting the seasons of old Earth. She was standing in Summer, gazing up to find a fresco painted on the ceiling above her—cartwheeling gods from a culture she did not know smiled down in their glory.
In the center of the room, a fountain spouted crystal clear water, but that was not what drew her attention. It was the walls of gilded mirrors and the stranger reflected in them. Gone were the dyed lavender eyes, and in their place the icy vibrancy of a glacier. Gone was the sheared skull. Instead, waves hung past her waist. All the pigments Quinn had used to alter her hair into any shade but her own had been leached away, displaying the ethereal brilliance of pale silvery blonde—a shade she had not seen herself since she was a child.
She touched the cool glass.
Nothing looked familiar. The woman reflected was a ghost, an alien.
“Is it so strange?”
Red-rimmed eyes cut to the reflection across the room. She offered the smallest of nods, her attention returning to her image.
No sound accompanied his approach, only the growing size of the uniformed male dwarfing her figure in the mirror. Sovereign was so much taller, boasting a body that spoke of great strength, while her pale reflection was lissome, a wraith with a face of misery and disorientation.
Where she was fragmented, he radiated wholeness, authority.
Eyes far deeper than the ocean she’d glimpsed from the window tracked over her appearance, full of that same unwelcome tenderness she had first seen years ago.
He asked, “Is there any lingering pain?”
Voice low and lifeless, she pointed to her heart. “Here.”
Tears slipped over her cheeks, collecting at her chin to fall on the floor. “Where have you brought me?”
“Somewhere secure. A palace where you can find rest.” Voice gentle, mind calm, Sovereign added, “There was a great deal of damage to your brain from the psionic burst that even your rapid healing could not fully counter. You’ve been asleep for forty-seven years. During that time there were operations, gene therapy, augmentation.”
Large eyes burned, filling with hate. “Trying to rectify the mistake you made while I was in gestation?”
The man reached out and brushed the back of his fingers down her long tangle of silvery hair.
She could sense his intention. He was goading her on purpose, testing to see how close she might be to losing control. But he was not completely false. She could feel the oddest heat against the left side of her skull. They had put something inside her. “It’s a pity you could not cut out my memory too.”
His emotions projected agreement, though Sovereign did not voice his opinion aloud. “The psionic centers of your brain have been fitted with suppression technology that will disperse overload. With practice, tailored psionic ability will be available to you now.”
Looking to the warming line atop her skull, she imagined where a long circular scar would have developed had she been human. Unimpressed, numb, she muttered, “I have never slept so long... It doesn’t feel as if so much time has passed.”
Sovereign’s fingertips tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, his voice thick with sentiment. “I felt every hour.”
She would feel every last painful crawling hour without her companion, and that thought was awful. “There is no sort of life worth living without Que.”
The heat of his hand settled on her shoulder, a thumb dipping under her hair to gently stroke her nape. “I would never have killed him. I want you to know that. I would never have willingly given you such pain.”
The sincerity of the Emperor’s soft spoken words scorched her. Visibly cringing, wanting to dump the blame at his feet, she accused him of his greater slight. “You should have let me die.”
“Quinn did die. Sigil was reborn—the past burned away.”
Forlorn, her voice broke. “I don’t want to be Sigil...”
Poisoned words were softly offered. “Do you want to be Quinn without Que?”
It felt as if he’d ripped straight through her ribcage. As if Sovereign brutally squeezed her heart as she’d once pulverized Drinta’s. “No.” Her face contorted into one of pain. “Quinn could never survive without him.”
The rich compulsion in his voice made the answer seem so simple. “Then they both must be mourned and set aside. As it is now, you have so many reasons to live.” He applied more pressure, parting her vertebrae gently. Sovereign purposefully fostered her comfort until the female’s shoulders relaxed. “All these years, your Brothers have kept vigil. All the love you seek awaits your recognition.”
“Had I the energy, I would kill you, Sovereign. I would move room by room through wherever you’ve stashed me, slaughtering every remnant of Project Cataclysm that crossed my path.”
A gracious smile was offered, Sovereign seemingly pleased with her threats. “I have a gift for you, something that will require a gentle hand.” He turned toward the segment of Winter. “Come forward, child.”
Another mirror displayed the shy flash of yellow scales. The boy, her Tessan boy she’d left in the cryotube on Pax, ambled nervously forward.
From his anxious expression, he’d heard her threats and openly feared her.
Guilt found a way to worm through her grief. Memories of Pax, of her outburst... of all the life she’d squelched bubbled up.
“The boy has been in full cryo, waiting for you to wake and decide his fate.” Sovereign gestured for the child to come closer.
Mincing steps of a born slave obeyed the summons, his obvious terror softening the horrified expression on Sigil’s face.
She took the smallest step toward the Emperor, using his body as if to shield the child from herself. “Do you know me, boy?”
There was no answer. The little one was frightened, more than unsure, his tail making little flicks behind him against the cool Winter floor.
Her imaginings for him had been simple: a warm home in an outlying Tessan colony where fresh life was needed. Not this.
The young male looked up at her and she sensed what he truly desired. He wanted his mother.
And Sigil had killed her… had been the cause of the deaths of tens of thousands on Pax.
“The Imperial Consort asked you a question, Jerla.” That was not a tone Sigil had ever heard Sovereign employ. It was the tenor one used to guide children. It was a voice of reason and comfort.
The Tessan child shook his head no.
Grief of another sort welled until Sigil felt pinpricks behind her eyes. “I know you, Jerla, son of the slave Ragi.” Sovereign dared to slip an arm around her as she spoke, as if to restrain her, to hold her, all the while his terrible mind echoing feelings of reassurance while she spoke. “I have known you since you were birthed. I was the one who hid billop eggs near your sleeping mat when you were good.”
His vertical eyelids blinked, the child excited by the mention of his favorite treat. “I liked that game.”
“So did I.”
Another touch from the Emperor, gentle fingers threaded into her hair. Sigil wanted to retaliate, to shove him off, but was too busy staring at the child.
She forced the smallest of smiles. “Have you been happy since you woke?”
Those shining black eyes blinked at her, the male too young to understand. “I get to eat whenever I am hungry.”
A slave’s version of bliss.
“When I was only a little older than you, I was trapped on a world alone for many years, very hungry.”
Innocent, Jerla asked, “Why?”
Sigil’s smile faded, sadness returning. “My ship was shot down by bad men. Do you know the difference between bad men and good men?”
How could he? All he had ever known was Pax, drudgery, and neglect. Even so, Jerla nodded in agreement.
“I killed all of those men and lived in the ruins of their outpost until a stranger found me… a good man. The first I had ever met.”
The boy’s tale swished in interest at her tale. “How did you know he was good?”
Sigil swallowed. “He was the opposite of me in every way.”
“You were not good?”
“No,” Sigil shook her head, expression grim. “I was not good.”
Fear crept into those pitch eyes again.
Sovereign held her tighter, a warning that she must desist from her path. “And she seeks to atone, Jerla. That is why she saved you from the destruction of Pax.”
That is not why she had saved him, but Sigil was not going to damage the friendless thing further.
Gentleness leached from Sovereign’s voice, replaced with deep-voiced authority. “Thank her quickly, Jerla. The Imperial Consort requires rest.”
Shifting foot to foot, his bare little toes clicking on the stone floor, Jerla looked unsure. “Thanks.”
Already pulling Sigil toward the Spring segment of the circular anteroom, Sovereign instructed, “Off with you now. You can play with her when she is feeling better.”
Where the Tessan child went, Sigil did not see. She was simply glad he was gone. It had been too much, she was too empty, and so she let Sovereign lead her through an open arch into another room.
The sleeping chamber had been Summer, but the dining hall—walls laden with edible growing things and latticed windows overlooking that same endless sea—was clearly Spring.
Food already waited on the table, the dishes beyond Sigil’s experience to recognize. Placed in a chair, Sovereign was wise enough to only hand her water. “What made you chose that child over all the young ones on Pax?”
She didn’t answer. Cup at her lips, she swallowed, eyes locked on a round deep purple fruit growing nearby.
“That is a mangosteen. According to old Earth legend, inside the shell is something soft that tastes of extinct berries. It is an extreme rarity in these times.”
Resigned, Sigil sighed. “With all your planets, you could find a climate to host forests of any fancy fruit you wanted.”
“Ecosystems, like politics, are tricky things. New plant life can unbalance whole worlds in less than one human generation.”
“So can Irdesian forced Conversion.”
Sovereign had the gall to laugh. “True.” Reaching past her, he plucked a mangosteen as if the table before him was not already ripe with food.
There was an art to opening the fruit, to revealing the soft pale flesh hidden behind its thick shell. He showed her this before offering a piece. “Here.”
The odd segment smelt of nula milk, a thing she’d once craved. “No.”
Shrugging, Sovereign took the flesh and ate it, leaning back in his chair to watch his female pretend she was not crying. “You have to eat to stay strong. You need to eat so you might guide Jerla’s path.”
“He doesn’t belong amongst humans.”
“Why? They have shown him more care than any creature on Pax did.”
Insulted, Sigil’s head swung toward the irritation snacking at her side. “I cared for him on Pax.”
Meeting her eyes, Sovereign conceded. “You did. And he will see to you here in return.”
She knew what he was about. “Jerla is only a child. It is wrong for you to use him in such a way.”
The man shook his head, his dark hair shifting like the waves outside. “You killed his mother. You exterminated every last lifeform on Pax. He’s all that’s left.”
She thinned her lips to stop them from trembling. “I didn’t mean to.”
There was a trace of pity reflected in the hardness of his expression. “I know.”
He held up what remained of the fruit in offering.
Sigil took a slimy sliver, chewed and swallowed, tasting nothing. “I know what you’re doing.”
Any creature who has survived torture understood the stage where their assailant built rapport. Sovereign nodded. “I know.”
“Are you going to rape me now?”
Those eyes, those deep, strange eyes looked unbelievably sad. “You were not cured of your compulsion. Such a thing was ingrained into your very thinking and chemical response to various stimuli. Do you want to be left feral in a cage with no future? Or do you want freedom and life?”
She let him see how weak she’d become. “I want to go home...”
“Que is dead. You have no home.”