Turbulent times are in store for the Royal Family on Moravia. The wedding of Prince Vannos to Moravian King Stephan is imminent but with all the power struggles and palace intrigue taking place, will the wedding be able to proceed as planned? High King Davos, Prince Mikos and Commander Tallon have arrived for the celebrations but also to reclaim their Mates. And even though the Commander is still fighting is overwhelming attraction to Redmond, Vannos’s aide, he has a devious and intricate plot to resolve all their situations once and for all. But how will Ryan react to Prince Mikos’s dictate of having another baby to calm him down and keeping away from causing problems? And how will the gorgeous Blake react to King Davos laying down the law over his disobedience in sneaking off to Moravia on his own? Mating with a Tyger Prince is always a challenge, especially when that Tyger is a gorgeous, powerful Royal, who is determined to have his own way. Can Ryan, Blake and Redmond not only outlast but also outwit their Mates to find happiness or will the challenge prove too great? A shocking wedding rehearsal and a tense showdown during the wedding reception has not only serious, but potentially life-threatening consequences for some. And as if that’s not enough, Blake is having flashbacks and remembering the time he first met Davos and how their tumultuous relationship first began. It’s going to take all the humans’ ingenuity, courage and determination to come out on top but also to remind their Mates why they fell in love with them in the first place.
Huddled in the cage they’d put them in, Blake and Staff Sgt. Arrington, a man he’d known only by sight before last night, clung together tightly for warmth. This godforsaken planet was one of the coldest he’d ever been on, and the Tygerians had stripped them of their clothing before they put them in these cages, for no other reason than humiliation. The cages were so small there had been no way all night for them to stretch out their legs or even raise their heads. It was total misery for both of them with no relief in sight.
As near as Blake could figure the time, the Tygerian vessel had appeared suddenly in front of them around nine hours earlier. Their ship, a Warrior Class troop carrier, had been on their way to Lycanus to put into port. Blake was only a second lieutenant, fresh out of the Academy and on his way to his first duty station off planet when the transport he was on was captured. He was going to join a unit on Lycanus and maybe check out some of the Lycan women to see if they were as sexually adventurous as rumor had it. They were a little large for him—he was only five feet nine and not overly muscular. From what he’d heard about the Lycan women, they were big chunky hunks of burning love. It wasn’t as if he weren’t proud of his own body, as he’d worked hard since his induction into the Army to build himself up, and his broad shoulders and lean muscles would attest to that fact.
It had been six long months in space, with a strict non-fraternization policy on board the ship, and he wouldn’t object overly much to being manhandled a little by a big, curvy Lycan female. His mother used to say, “Half a loaf is better than none,” which hadn’t made much sense at the time, but his mother loved her old, stock phrases, and he’d been raised on them. He figured out that this one meant a person in need should be grateful for whatever they could get rather than complaining about what they wanted instead. That really broke it down as far as he was concerned. He wanted sex—so he’d take what he could get and not complain.
Blake had only arrived back on the bridge a few minutes before the attack began, having just taken his meal break. He’d just sat down at his console when the Tygerian vessel had uncloaked itself right off their port bow. The captain tried to outrun them, but the effort was doomed from the start, because they were woefully outclassed. A hail from the Tygerians had come over telling them to surrender immediately or be blown apart. The captain had reluctantly surrendered and all hands had been taken as prisoners of war without even a single shot being fired.
All things considered, it was good that Blake had gotten the chance to eat dinner. They hadn’t been given either food or water the entire time they’d been in this fucking cage, and he was about ready to bite his arm and suck the blood just to get some moisture in his mouth. Sgt. Arrington, who was probably twenty years older than Blake, was in much worse shape though. He’d been struck on the back of the head when he hadn’t moved quickly enough to suit one of their guards and had been going in and out of consciousness all night long.
The sergeant was awake at the moment though, and moaning softly. He was carrying a few extra pounds and Blake tried to scrunch over as much as he could against the bars to give him more room. Arrington raised his eyelids and gazed over at Blake, his expression bleak.
“You know what they do to Alliance prisoners, don’t you, sir?”
“Make them fight in some kind of stupid gladiator type games? Yes, I’ve heard about it.”
Blake had heard stories about the Tygerians for most of his life—about their savagery, their foolhardy bravery, their strange customs. Some said they were shapeshifters, and had the ability to turn into huge, terrible tigers when they were under dire attack or in imminent fear of their lives. Nobody knew for sure. The Alliance had been at war with Tygeria and the Axis of Planets for as long as he had been alive and for many years before that. Tygeria was a planet on the far reaches of the Milky Way and shrouded in mystery, along with thick clouds of gas that obscured the planet and shielded it from their sun’s rays to some extent, so that the weather was usually overcast and cold, or at least it was by human standards.
Blake had learned in school about the start of the war, but he hadn’t paid all that much attention to his teachers back then. He’d never liked school much and went to college only at the insistence of his parents and to avoid being drafted into the Alliance army. They got him when he graduated anyway, but at least, his mother had said, he had been allowed a chance to grow up. Which meant that the war was not going well for the Alliance and hadn’t been for some time. Alliance casualties were at an all-time high the year he graduated from college, and he’d been taken for the Army almost as soon as the ceremony was over.
“They’ll take you for a love slave, you know,” Arrington was telling him. “Not me. Too old and fat. These big bastards will make short work of me in the ring.”
Blake didn’t know what to say to that, so he didn’t say anything, just gave Arrington a pat on the knee. About the only place he could reach with his arm jammed up against his side. Then a soft sob came from Arrington’s throat, and he knew he had to say something. Anything. They’d lost enough men to this war. And Arrington had a wife and three children at home. Not that these heartless assholes gave a rat’s ass.
“Look, when they come for us, let’s try to go together. Fight back to back and at least take a few of them with us.”
Arrington looked dubious. “They may take it easier on you because of the way you look. These Tygerians don’t like women. Don’t even live with their females—they keep them in a different region altogether.”
The big Tygerian guard standing nearby their cage said something loud and harsh in Tygerian and banged on the side of their wire cage. Blake figured he was telling them to shut up and managed to get his arm up enough to stick his middle finger up through the mesh at the top. The Tygerian saw it and must have been familiar with the gesture because he laughed, a harsh, surprised sound, and motioned toward his groin, shoving his hips out at Blake a few times.
“Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you, you big bastard? Well, fuck you!”
The Tygerian laughed again, like he understood English, or maybe he just figured it out from Blake’s tone. He moved on past their cage, though, with only one more obscene gesture toward Blake.
“Don’t make them angry,” Arrington said softly, avoiding the gaze of the Tygerian.
“Why not? They’re just going to kill us anyway. May as well get it over with.”
Arrington moaned again and Blake cursed his own big mouth. He couldn’t think of a thing to say to make it better, so he just shut up and sent up a quick prayer that he’d been right and it really would all be over soon. Hopefully, due to his low rank, they wouldn’t torture him for information, since he really didn’t have much to give them. He wasn’t too sure how long he would hold out under torture.
It wasn’t too long after that they arrived on Tygeria. The bay doors opened abruptly after they landed and big Tygerian males began to swarm onto the ship and move through the hold. Two of them came over to their cage, accompanied by the same guard he’d insulted the night before. He said something to them in their language and they opened the cage they were in and began to drag both Blake and Arrington out of it. Blake didn’t fight them—it was useless and there was no way he could overpower them. Even if he could, what then? The aforementioned taking as many of them with him as possible sounded good, but when he was actually faced with it, he decided that living as long as he could was a better idea. It was his duty to resist interrogation and endure torture, but none of that had started yet, so it was better to save his strength for when it did.
They manhandled him out of the cage and threw him down on the floor next to a filthy smelling fur of some kind, then gestured at it as they yelled at him. It was freezing with the door open, so Blake wrapped the thing around himself and looked back for Arrington, but they were dragging him off in another direction.
“Hey!” he yelled at the huge Tygerians dragging Arrington’s feebly resisting body away. “No! We go together!”
The guard from the night before came over to squat down beside him. “No,” he said in heavily accented Earthan. “He’s for fighting.” He leered at Blake. “You for fucking.”
That’s when the fight started. Although, truthfully, it wasn’t much of a fight. They had him down with his hands tied behind his back in only a matter of minutes, but still he managed to hit one of the big guards under the chin with his head and kick another in the balls, before they wrestled him to the ground. He called them every name he could think of and a few he’d made up, when they suddenly hauled him to his feet and pushed him roughly down the ramp that led to landing dock. He stumbled getting off the ramp and fell hard to the rough surface of the dock. A little stunned, he still managed to head butt one of them again when one of them reached down to help him to his feet, he told him to kiss his ass. The guard looked confused, then incensed, yelled something and drew back his hand to slap Blake with enough force that it probably would have broken his jaw. A sharp order barked at him stopped the Tygerian and made him drop his hand and flush bright red.
It wasn’t difficult to figure out that the man who’d yelled at them was some kind of superior officer. All the Tygerians blanched with fear when he strode over toward their little group and they quickly stood up, their backs straight as they raised their fists in the air. The Tygerian salute. Blake stared up at him, noticing first how damned tall he was. He was wearing an emerald robe, trimmed in gold. Blake had no idea what that signified. For Tygerians, their robes often indicated their rank or their status.
As the officer drew closer, Blake noticed how muscular he was too, even for this planet, where the males were all huge. He had a neat, well-trimmed beard on his face. His hair was red, like all of them, but he had his pulled back behind his head and tied with a cord. Despite his youth, the guards were wary of him and immediately bowed to him after their salute. But what was most amazing to Blake was how young all these soldiers and guards actually seemed to be. There were older people around, of course, but not that many. The soldiering seemed to be strictly the province of these young men, but that was always the way with war, it seemed. Old men started wars and young ones died for them. Wilfrid Owens, an ancient Earth poet he admired, called it The Old Lie—Dulce et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori. And though Blake was as patriotic as anyone else, it didn’t seem sweet or right to die for his country, and he doubted any of the young men he was fighting thought so either as they were drawing their last breaths. Necessary, maybe, if it came down to protecting his family, but far from sweet.
The big Tygerian knelt down beside him, his gaze direct and steady. He spoke to him in Earthan, a dialect developed by the Alliance that was a combination of several Earth languages, and taught to every new recruit. His Tygerian accent was strong. “What is your name?”
Blake turned his head sullenly away and a strong hand gripped his chin and turned him back to face him. “What is your name?”
“Second Lieutenant Blake Cameron, 4223895.”
His lips quirked a little at one corner. “I see. You have numbers as part of your name? I wasn’t aware of that custom with Alliance soldiers.”
“It’s my name, rank and serial number, asshole. That’s all the information you’re getting from me!”
“Do you have much information? I believe Second Lieutenants don’t, as a rule.”
“Second Lieutenant Blake Cameron, 4223895.”
“Yes, I heard you the first time, little warrior. Can you at least tell me why you’re fighting with my men?”
“Don’t call me that name! Just because I’m not a big ape like you and your men doesn’t mean I can’t wipe the floor with all of you—if it’s a fair fight, one on one. And I want to go with my soldier, Sgt. Arrington. They took him away for the fighting, and I demand to go with him and the rest of my men.”
The Tygerian’s eyes lit with amusement. “Prisoners don’t get to make demands. You’ll have to go with my soldiers to be processed.”
“I know that captured human prisoners are given a chance to defend themselves in the ring against one of your soldiers.”
“Some are, yes. Not all. Someone like you is rarely wasted on the ring. You’re destined for a softer life, if you cooperate and do as you’re told. The bidding would be high for a beauty like you—only the richest warriors will be involved and you’ll find a luxurious home. You can spend the rest of your days as a pampered pet. Wouldn’t you like that?”
Blake snarled at him. “I’m not some kind of dog. I demand my right to fight and die like a soldier!”
“Even if you fight in the ring and acquit yourself well, you won’t be allowed to die. You’ll still be taken as a love slave.”
“No! I’ll find a way to kill the man who tries to take me, and then I’ll kill myself. Nothing can stop me."
The Tygerian gave him a long, assessing look. “I believe you might try to at that.” He stood abruptly and said something in his own language to the soldiers, who were still bowing to the guy, bent over at the waist with their heads lowered. Who was this guy anyway? The guards scrambled to take hold of Blake and pull him to his feet, then shoved him back up the ramp to go inside the ship again. Blake looked back one last time at the Tygerian officer in his emerald-colored robes, who nodded at him and then slowly raised his fist in the air. A salute from one soldier to another? Or a challenge accepted?