When Ryan gets an unexpected message from an old enemy, asking to see him, Mikos is outraged and forbids the meeting. Like most of Mikos’s orders, this one infuriates Ryan and makes him even more determined to find out what John Matthews could possibly want from him after so long.
When Ryan arrives at the notorious Beatik prison, he steps into a nightmare he can’t seem to awaken from. After he and his guards are brutally attacked, Ryan is hurtled into a world he doesn’t fully recognize—a place where nothing is the same. He’s back on Earth, unmarried, working at a low-paying police job, with a Tygerian son. Things begin to unravel even further when he’s called into police commandant Renard Dimitru’s office and warned that Dimitru is watching him because of his history with terrorist resistance groups. Recent bombings in the area have caused the police to look at anyone who was ever involved in such movements on Earth, and that definitely includes Ryan, the former and disgraced mate of the tyger prince, who was sent back home after being involved in a plot to kill Prince Mikos and his younger brothers. Dimitru isn’t interested in Ryan’s protests that he was completely innocent of the crimes he was accused of.
Over the next chaotic week, Ryan finds himself face to face with people from his “past,” including a confrontation with Blake and a fiery and passionate reunion with Mikos himself. But King Davos is unforgiving and wants Ryan to stay out of Mikos’s life.
When Mikos and Ryan meet again, their fierce and fated attraction to each other defies all logic or reason. Their feelings for each other make it impossible to part again, though if they stay together, Mikos has to be willing to face down his father, give up his claim to the throne and possibly sacrifice his own life. If he can pull it off, however, and keep Ryan by his side, he might just get everything his heart desires.
It was raining the day Ryan went to the prison to visit the man who tried to kill his husband.
Huge, fat raindrops fell from the stormy, leaden canopy of clouds overhead, with lightning backlighting them and adding unnecessary drama to the dismal day. Dismal to Ryan, at least—for the Tygerians, it was just another day and considered to be not all that bad. After all, their weather forecasts rarely varied, and it wasn’t supposed to storm for too long—just most of the day.
“Omak! Hurry or you’re going to be late. If you don’t get to the prison soon, then you’ll miss your takeoff time, and if you don’t leave on time, then you can’t hurry back for the meeting,” said his son, fourteen-year-old son, Mikol.
Ryan frowned at his son’s circular and strangely comprehensible logic.
“And if I don’t make the meeting? What then?”
“No! You can’t miss the meeting. Nothing will be the same if you do.”
Mikol’s voice rang with exuberance throughout the corridor as he ran toward Ryan, his red-gold hair, so like his father’s, streaming out behind him. A shaft of cold air shot down Ryan’s spine and made him shudder. The words were typical of the young teenager these days, with his usual flair for drama, which Ryan was pretty sure came directly from Blake. Even though Mikos had only inherited bits of Blake’s DNA, those bits he passed on to Mikol must have been powerful ones indeed.
As for Ryan’s shiver, his grandmother would have said not to worry about it, as it was only from someone walking over his grave.
Come to think of it, that didn’t help a bit.
“Don’t worry about me, Mikol. It’s not a big deal to me at all if I miss the king’s council meeting tonight. I’ve been to dozens of them, and they’re all boring as hell.”
“Boring? How can you say that, Omak? Davos is going to speak, and Father might say a few words to the council too. There are bound to be arguments and there could even be arrests.”
“Arrests? For what?”
“You know, those religion people. Besides, the king has just refurbished the council room for the occasion, with new flooring and new hangings at the windows. New chairs too! It will be my first time to actually sit at the council table.”
“And I’m thrilled for you, Mikol, though I think you’re still a little young for all that.”
“Young? I’m fourteen. Father said he was only twelve cycles old when Davos took him to his first council meeting. Besides, they’re going to be discussing those dead priests.”
The dead priests. A dreadful and no doubt gory subject that fascinated his son. Usually, there was a strict separation between the Tygerian temples and the business of the state, and that was the way King Davos liked it. But recently, a small religious sect had been causing trouble and had actually bombed a few temples in the capitol city, killing two high-ranking priests. King Davos had been beyond furious and had vowed to get to the bottom of it all.
Tollol was the main religion on Tygeria. Smaller, individual Tollian sects, with slightly different versions of the teachings of the priests, had sprung up over the years, with one group in particular, the Anatollians, gaining a large following. The differences between the Tollol and the Anatollians seemed fairly minor in Ryan’s opinion, but to some of the Anatollians, they were important enough to literally go to war over.
Though the Anatollian leaders protested their innocence in the deaths of the priests, Davos had threatened them with arrest. He and Mikos had agreed to hold an emergency council meeting to discuss the terrorist attacks and decide on punishments.
The meeting promised to be a contentious one, and Ryan was glad to miss it. Davos had talked about public executions of anyone found guilty, and Mikol was fascinated by it all.
Ryan groaned. “You’re as bloodthirsty as your grandfather. I think you’re hoping for those executions. Anyway, be sure and let me know how it all turns out.”
“It won’t be decided tonight, Omak. That’s not why I’m excited anyway. You can be so ridiculous sometimes,” he said, bending over to wrap his arms around Ryan and press a kiss on his cheek. Ryan pushed impatiently at his chest, irritated by the impudence of his words.
“I was only teasing, Omak,” he said quickly, trying a smile and wide, innocent eyes to charm him. The problem was that like his father, he really was kind of charming, and Ryan found it hard to stay mad at him.
“All right, but don’t be disrespectful.”
“Omak,” he said, slipping an arm around Ryan’s shoulders and kissing him again, this time on his forehead. “You know how much I respect you.”
“Hmm. Okay, I’ll bite. Why are you so excited? And why do I have to be there?”
“To watch me, of course. It will be my first council meeting as the heir apparent to the throne. I’m going to be introduced to the council members.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I’m suitably impressed at hearing the news. I don’t have to be there to see it. Now stop it, Mikol, and let me go.” Mikol immediately dropped his arms and stepped back, and Ryan’s heart gave an odd little thump in his chest and a strange feeling swept over him. Maybe Mikol was right—maybe he was being silly and taking his bad mood out on his son. He shook the strange feeling off.
He’d had a rough couple of days, that was all, with frequent arguments with Mikos over this trip he was taking today.
“Ryan,” Mikos had said with that smug tone that made Ryan want to mash his face in. Mikos’s words were dripping with that long-suffering, “I’m-explaining-things-to-a-simpleton” tone he used that never failed to get Ryan’s blood boiling. “The idea of you going to see John Matthews in prison is out of the question. It’s totally unseemly for you to be in such a place.”
That speech had made him furious. First of all, unseemly? What was he supposed to be—some kind of Victorian maiden? He would have asked that of Mikos if he’d thought there was any chance Mikos would understand what Ryan was talking about. Considering his total lack of education regarding Earth’s history, or anything at all, really, other than Tygerian battle tactics, he wouldn’t have had a clue.
Besides, when exactly had Ryan allowed Mikos to get the idea that he was “the boss” of this relationship and made the rules? Mikos had always been arrogant. That was par for the course with Tygerians, but Mikos used to at least pretend he didn’t think he was in charge and the only one whose opinions mattered. Now he no longer seemed to even bother.
Mikol shifted his feet in impatience while he waited for Ryan to speak, being polite, but dying to get away and go brag to his friends about how important he was to be included—and introduced—in the meeting later that evening. He wasn’t quite brave enough to just walk away when Ryan was still standing there staring at him, lost in thought, but Ryan could literally feel the impatience rolling off his son.
Soon enough, he’d be saying goodbye to Mikol for much longer, when he left for his probably inevitable battle training that all young Tygerian boys had to go through. Ryan didn’t like to think about that. In fact, he wouldn’t, because that fight wasn’t over yet, by God. He still had plenty to say about it. It might not do any good. Even the indomitable Blake had failed in his attempts to keep his sons out of the camps, but he was going to give it a shot anyway. To paraphrase some ancient Earthan leader or other, he had only just begun to fight.
Ryan straightened his robe, stopped frowning at his son, and impulsively stepped forward to pull him back in his arms and kiss him on the cheek. Because, as he’d noted before, the boy was just like his father, and Ryan was crazy about him. What was worse, both Mikos and Mikol knew it, and used it against him.
“Omak, please. You need to go so you won’t be late getting back.”
“How much do we pay your tutors? If that’s the kind of logic they’re teaching you, I think we’re getting ripped off.”
“What do you mean?” Mikol asked, frowning, but Ryan sighed and let him off the hook.
“Just go meet your friends. I know you’re dying to brag to them about tonight. And I’ll try to get back in plenty of time for the council meeting. Just to see you.”
Mikol gave him a huge smile and took off running down the long corridor. He turned though, just before he went through the door, to give Ryan a sweet smile. “I love you, Omak!” he said, and rushed out, slamming the door behind him.
“I love you too, baby,” Ryan whispered to himself. He shook his head, rubbing his chest as that odd little pang hit him again. He went to get ready for his own journey, the one that made his and Mikos’s arguments over the battle training camps seem like a lover’s tiff. In fact, the fight they’d had over Ryan’s journey today had caused the worst estrangement between them since those long ago “bad times,” as Ryan always thought of them, right after their marriage, when Mikos had divorced him.
Strangely enough, the fight was over the same man who had caused things to spiral out of control back then too. He hadn’t figured in their lives since those early days, but the mention of his name had brought it all racing back to both of them. John Matthews had reared his head between them like a treacherous serpent in the Garden of Eden. He was the former Alliance general who had been Ryan’s commanding officer, and the man who had been languishing in a Tygerian prison for the last fifteen years. He was the man who had almost destroyed everything, all those years ago, although it was still as fresh in Ryan’s mind as if it were yesterday.
Matthews had led the secret Alliance Resistance operatives who had tried to assassinate Mikos just weeks after Ryan’s marriage to him. He was the mastermind of a terrible plot that had wounded both Mikos and his little brother Larz, while managing to almost kill Mikos’s youngest brother Nicarr, only six years old at the time. The operatives who carried it out had drugged and kidnapped Ryan, making it look as though Ryan was complicit in the plot. Tygerian officials were led to believe Ryan had set the whole thing up and then escaped Tygeria with the would-be murderers. It had come close to ending not only Ryan’s marriage, but his life, because if it hadn’t been for Mikos’s intervention when the whole lot of them were captured trying to escape, Ryan would almost surely have been executed for high treason.
As it was, Mikos divorced him, and it wasn’t until Ryan had been sent back to Allied Command in disgrace and discovered that he was pregnant with Mikos’s child that Mikos had come after him again. They had reconciled, and John Matthews’s sister Lara had later confessed to her part in the plot and cleared Ryan’s name. Not only that, but his own sister Allison had also tried to kill Ryan a few months later and her role in the plot was then uncovered. She had been sent to prison and Ryan’s father had managed to secure her release after six years, but she had died a couple of years later. Ryan and his father had been estranged for years because of Ryan’s inability and unwillingness to forgive her.
It had taken years for the general public to completely believe in Ryan’s innocence, and Ryan suspected some were still not totally convinced. Not that anyone would dare say a word—they feared and respected Prince Mikos far too much, not to mention the king, but he still felt the silent disapproval at times.
And now John Matthews was dying and word of that, along with the fact that he’d expressed a dying wish to speak to Ryan, had finally reached Ryan quite by accident. Just a week or so earlier, he’d received an announcement from an old Army friend back on Earth, Colonel Tom Benson, of his upcoming retirement. Ryan’s friend had been an officer alongside Ryan in the Allied army. He had stayed in the service after the war, but now he was planning to take an early retirement for some new business opportunity and had sent Ryan an email to let him know.
Ryan had put through a call to his old friend to congratulate him, and it was Tom who’d told him about John Matthews being on his death bed.
Ryan had brought it up to Mikos that same night during supper. “I spoke to my friend Tom today.”
“Tom Benson. My old Army buddy. I know I’ve mentioned him before.”
“Mm. Maybe,” he said, reaching for his wine. “What about him?”
“He told me that John Matthews is dying in prison. Did you know about this?”
Mikos shrugged. “Of course.”
“Why didn’t you mention it?”
“Why should I? That man is nothing to you or me. Other than being the one who kidnapped you and tried to have me and my little brothers assassinated. I shouldn’t think you’d care at all about that scum.”
“I don’t care about him, Mikos. I hate him, but I would have been interested to know. Actually, I kind of thought he’d died years ago, and you’d just never told me.”
“I wouldn’t have. But the bastard has spent years appealing his death sentence and lived far longer than I would have believed possible. Tygerian prisons aren’t pleasant places.”
“I know that. Although Blake has insisted on a lot of reforms in the past few years. Anyway, I just thought you might have mentioned it.”
“Under no circumstances. Nor did I tell you the stupid man asked to see you.”
Ryan, who had just taken a big sip of his own wine, spluttered over the remark and set his glass down with a clatter. “He what?”
“He asked to see you. Said it was his dying wish and begged the commandant to relay the message.”
Ryan’s hand was shaking a little as he pushed his cup away. “I… I see. But I never got any message.”
“Of course not. You’re my nobyo.”
Ryan took a second to digest that non sequitur—not that it was surprising at all, but infuriating? Hell yes.
“You didn’t receive it because they properly sent the message to me first. It’s not hard to figure out, Ryan.”
Ryan fought to keep his voice level and calm when he answered, thinking of and rejecting several responses. When he thought he might be able to speak normally again, he said, “And, might I ask, why haven’t you mentioned this to me before now?”
“I decided you shouldn’t be bothered. Especially since there was no chance I’d allow you to attend such a ridiculous meeting anyway.”
There was another brief silence while Ryan considered whether or not he’d misheard his husband. He couldn’t have said what he thought he did, could he? Then Mikos threw down his napkin and removed all doubt from Ryan’s mind.
“Ryan, don’t get that look on your face. Surely you know better than to think I would ever allow you to go to a Tygerian prison to meet with that scum.”
“I’m sorry. Did you really just say you wouldn’t ‘allow me’ to go? Twice now?”
“You know perfectly well what I said. And please don’t take that tone my omak takes with my father just before he…what’s the human expression? Oh yes, before he ‘flies off the handle.’”
“What tone might that be?”
“That one—the one you’re using right now, like you’re gritting your teeth and trying hard not to throw your wine in my face.”
“But that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
There had been times over the years since Ryan came to Tygeria that he’d thought Blake’s arguments with Davos had been a bit over the top—times when he wondered if Blake just liked drama. But Mikos had just removed all doubt from Ryan’s mind. All the times he’d thought Blake had overreacted faded from his memory and he was left with only one question. How in the world had Blake had the inner fortitude to keep himself from doing Davos a serious injury? Especially considering all those times Davos had been so patronizing, so arrogant, so fucking condescending. Just like his son was being now.
Ryan left the table. Mikos tried to stop him, and there followed a fight of epic proportions. They argued so long and made so much noise that the king himself had sent someone out to admonish them to calm down, and the servants scattered to the far corners of the palace. Mikos had finally tackled Ryan as he’d been about to storm out again and carried him slung over his shoulder to their bedroom, where they had angry, wild—and it must be said—mind-blowingly good sex for most of the night. Not that Mikos had been forgiven—not by a long shot.
Neither of them had brought the visit up again, but Ryan had quietly made plans the next day to go to the prison, located high in the Tygerian mountains, to see John Matthews. Not because he wanted to, but because Mikos had forbidden it. And when he thought he might be able to carry on a calm conversation with Mikos again after some time had passed—say a year or two—he planned to revisit the issue of Mikos making such high-handed decisions for him.
Mikos had always been a wonderful husband to him. Ryan loved him with everything he had. But he wasn’t always easy to love. From time to time, usually when Ryan was angry or irritated with his husband, he had to admit he wondered what might have happened if they’d never reconciled fifteen years ago. If he hadn’t learned he was pregnant with Mikos’s child until after he got back to Earth, or if that doctor from Allied Command hadn’t told him he’d surely die without Tygerian doctors helping in the birth process. What if that hadn’t been true? Or what, if anything, might he have done differently if he’d gone back to Earth? Would his life have been radically different?
It wasn’t that he didn’t truly love Mikos. Frankly, he couldn’t imagine his life without him and didn’t want to—99.9 percent of the time. But there were times when he missed Earth. When he wondered what would have happened if he’d never come back to Tygeria.
Mikos always said he would have come for Ryan sooner or later anyway because he couldn’t stand being separated from him. But Ryan wasn’t totally convinced. Mikos was stubborn and he could be totally unyielding. There was a little part of Ryan that wondered what if? What if he had taken his chances and gotten himself down to Earth and found the best doctors available? His mind shied away from the thought of just not having Mikol at all because he could not—would not wish his son away, not ever.
But what if he hadn’t told Mikos he was pregnant? The doctor said he would have died without the Tygerian doctors’ intervention, but what if that doctor had been wrong? If Ryan had simply gone back to Earth, managed to survive Mikol’s birth, and started his life all over again? Would things in his life have been better, or maybe far worse?