"‘Mounting the Catapult’ is a story of contrasts, and turned out to be quite different from what I expected. Despite a serious and quite deadly setup, the author swings the story around about halfway and veers off into a different direction. In a way, you get two stories in one: that of Ris surviving to be trained as a soldier in charge of a deadly machine, followed by that of Ris as a man, once he has found his mate. This makes for a space-opera-like feel rather than hard science fiction, but I enjoyed it all the same once I had suspended my disbelief and switched on my sense of humor, so to speak. Ris is a Howler who cannot shift into his sand wolf form and is left for dead when he is ten. An alien race picks him up, trains him to be a soldier, and fifteen years later the mysterious Catapult, an artificial intelligence in charge of a powerful warship, selects him as its pilot. But while Ris is good at what he does - following orders and fighting - he also knows that he has a mate somewhere out there, and decides to find him or her as soon as he can. But just like the mate he finds is not who or what he expected, his reaction to being mated is very different from anything he could have imagined. Mates, after all, are far more important than fighting some war Ris never really had a stake in to begin with… If you like space operas with their slightly unscientific and sometimes fun story lines, if two men falling into insta-lust and getting quite kinky are your thing, and if you’re looking for a short, entertaining read with a futuristic setting, then you might like this novella." -- Serena Yates, Rainbow Book Reviews
“You’re playing with fire, Caru,” Ris warned, tongue flicking downwards again to the mark he made.
Each lick of Caru’s hot flesh further imprinted the Nixan’s scent and taste on him. It was maddening, knowing how he’d marked and claimed Caru as his according to Howler customs, of the people who’d abandoned him and his other foster brothers. Still, he couldn’t just feel the intense psychic connection he’d formed with Caru. Ris could also taste it, and it tasted sweet and dizzyingly addictive.
Even though Caru didn’t know it, every other Howler in the vicinity would know he was taken.
“I know what I’m asking for, Ris. I’ve heard how Howlers like it rough.” There was a note of fear in Caru’s voice, fear unmistakably colored with excitement.
“Not just Howlers. Apparently a certain Nixan spy likes the way we Howlers fuck too.”
Caru’s eyes suddenly grew alert and his entire body tensed, but before his mate could flee Ris caught his hands again. Shit. Did he really just say spy?
“You knew?” Caru whispered, his voice gaining heat. “You knew I was a spy, and you still hit on me and invited me out here? Is this some kind of sick game to you, Ris?”
“I don’t play games.” Ris’s harsh words came out as an impatient growl, nearly making Caru jump up with surprise. He could feel the change in the air, the sudden spike in Caru’s heartbeat and the quickening of his breathing. The last thing he wanted was to frighten and make the Nixan hate him. Ris took in a deep breath, trying to put a leash on his rising anger.
“You’re hurting me,” Caru whispered.
Ris looked down at his large hands, and realizing he was gripping the other’s man’s wrists tight enough to leave bruises. He let go of Caru.
The Nixan fearfully scrambled away from his lap, landing with a painful thud on the floor. Ris watched Carus’s head wildly swerve around the tiny cabin, probably in search of weapons, but he’d find none. The whole ship itself was a deadly and thinking weapon and would act on instinct if there was a hostile threat on board the craft.
The warning lights flickering on the console in front of Ris conveyed to him the Catapult’s displeasure. The ship was practically telling him to sort out the situation. Was it reacting to Caru’s fear?
The Nixan would’ve said it was ridiculous. A ship with an independently thinking AI was one thing, but one capable of feeling human emotions was an impossibility.
“Caru, if I really wanted you dead, I’d have shoved a plasma gun right at your head the moment I knew you were a spy.” Ris watched the other man process those words.
Caru stopped looking for possible escape routes and settled for glaring at him. The Nixan had probably realized he had no way of escaping in deep space.
“If you’re intending to seduce me and then milk me for information, then think again.”
Ris stood from the pilot’s seat, crossing his arms. Caru crawled away from him on the floor, only stopping when his back hit the wall.
“Aren’t you going to pelt me with lame explanations?” Caru finally demanded at his silence.
“Only one explanation matters. See the mark on your neck? It’s a Howler mating mark. Do you know what that is?”
Caru grew pale at his words. His hand immediately flew to Ris’s bite mark.
“You’re lying. Isn’t a Howler mating mark permanent? Hell, isn’t it even more binding than any legal document in the galaxy? Oh Gods, is it true males can get pregnant after being bitten by a Howler?”
“Oh, it’s more than any legal document, Caru. I’ve just claimed you for life.” Ris took a breath to calm his nerves. “But you can’t really claim the unwilling can’t you? Some part of you knew I was your fated mate, Caru. Just like how I knew instantly you were meant to be mine.”
At Caru’s stunned silence, Ris continued. He had to let out the entire truth if he intended to build any sort of relationship with Caru. “As for your other question, yes. A Howler’s bite can modify and restructure the body of his mate, but they have to mate a few times for the seed to catch.”
“It can’t be,” Caru whispered. “Stop fucking lying to me.”
“I’ve never once lied to you, Caru, but you’ve lied to me at every turn. You’ve lied about your intentions and about who you really are.”
Ris watched the other man chew on his words for a moment before continuing. “My superiors and their cybernaticists and scientists don’t know everything about the Catapult. It’s basically stolen technology from a dead civilization long gone.”
“W-why are you telling me all this?” Caru asked uncertainly, his initial anger giving way to confusion.
“Because I want you to understand, this ship wasn’t meant to be operated by just a single pilot, but by two. You’re the Catapult’s second rider, Caru, whether you like it or not.”
Pregnant silence followed. He could almost hear the wheels of the Nixan’s brains turning.
“Either you’re one hell of a liar, or you’re telling the truth.” Caru looked away from his gaze. “But you’re right. I’ve been trying to deceive everyone, including myself about what I was feeling towards all this.”
When Ris approached and knelt down at Caru’s eye level, the Nixan didn’t run. He lifted Caru’s chin, forcing the other man to look back at him.
“I know it’s a lot to take in right now, Caru. I imagine it must be difficult for you to tell the truths from the lies coming from an enemy, but you can trust one thing though. The only thing that’s real.”
“Oh yeah?” Caru challenged, familiar fire back in his gaze.
“Us. This heat between us.” Ris watched Caru’s eyes drop from his face to his body. “Am I wrong?”
Caru swallowed, and Ris could feel all the Nixan’s frustrations, anger, and confusion giving way to his baser and simpler emotions.
“No, you’re not wrong, Ris.” Then Caru surprised the hell out of him by locking his lips with Ris’s.
“I can’t hear you, Caru.”
“On the floor. I want you to take me on all fours.” By then, Caru’s entire face was red. Ris stood, unhooking him from the safety bar
“On all fours then, and you better thrust your little bottom at me.”
Ris watched the other man scramble on all fours, his hands still bound and dangling in front of him.
Ris then retrieved the lube in one of the pockets of his clothes. He’d been anticipating this and he had a feeling Caru had too. Ris wouldn’t be surprised if the Nixan shyly kept a lube handy in his clothes as well.
He began to palm the smooth, unmarked flesh of one of Caru’s globes thoughtfully. “You’d look good with some stripes on you, Caru.”
“I’m not into that kind of thing.”
Ris mutely answered him by delivering a loud and resounding smack on his left cheek. Caru shrieked, but Ris could tell by his squirming body he damn well liked it. “Liar. Didn’t I tell you never to lie to me again?” Ris delivered another swat and another until Caru groaned.
“I’m sorry, Ris. Oh Gods of the galaxy, you’re hitting all of my wrong buttons.”
“I’m hitting all your right ones, but it’s nothing to be ashamed about. I like a little bite to my mating too.” Ris palmed the flesh. “Safeword?”
Ris tried to smother his laugh. He cleared his throat.
“Start counting. I’m going to give you two sets of twenty today, because it looks like you need it, baby.”
“Yes, Ris,” Caru whispered.
“I can’t hear you counting, Caru,” Ris warned, delivering a warning slap that made the Nixan yelp.
His hand began to grow heavy by the time they began the second set, but it was worth it hearing all the groans and pleas from his mate.
“That’s it, Caru. Let everything out. It’s just the two of us out here. There aren’t any eyes watching.”
Ris felt frustrations slowly ebb away from the other man’s body. By his tiny reactions, he knew Caru was beginning to loosen and truly surrender his control to Ris. It was exquisite seeing the other man slowly being undone under his hands.
Ris might not know what it was like losing his planet to another overseer. To him, being under the leash of one empire was the same as being under the next one, but Caru must’ve felt strongly about it enough to risk his life. It was too much of a burden on anyone, and if Ris had enough power, he’d make sure Caru didn’t have to worry about the fate of his entire planet anymore. He’d just have to worry about pleasing Ris. By the time the second set was finished, Caru was practically thrusting his welted ass at Ris.
“Do you have something to say to me, Caru?”
“Thank you, Ris.” Caru’s soft voice made him aware of his rock-hard cock. Ris trailed back to Caru’s waiting slit, immensely liking the sound of his mate’s whimper.
Caru had ceased fighting Ris, and his willing submission made everything much sweeter. He seemed more relax and subdued now, more willing and open to Ris’s attentions.
Caru seemed to sigh at his praise. Ris applied lube to his fingers and circled Caru’s waiting hole leisurely until the other man began to grow discomforted and needy against his teasing.
“Ris, please. I want…” Caru trailed off, groaning as Ris experimentally slid one thoroughly lubed finger in.
“Yes? What do you want?”
“I want you in me, Ris. Please.”
Ris applied more lube into Caru’s waiting hole and nudged a second finger in. His noisy mate squirmed on his lap, eager for him. Ris scissored his way in and began to prepare Caru for his access.
“How do you want me to take you, Caru? Should I take you on all fours, like horny little sluts like you should be taken? Or do you prefer I push you on the ground and make you offer your ass to me?”
By the time Ris finished speaking, Caru’s face was burning bright red. Familiar defiance colored his features, but what little defiance Caru ignited died away as Ris inserted a third finger in.
“I-I want to see your face while you fuck me. After that.” Caru’s face was still pink. Ris guided him back to sit on his lap, and tilted his chin up.
“Gods of the galaxy, Ris. You’re demanding,” Caru hissed furiously. He yelped when Ris administered another sharp swat to his marked bottom.
Ris leaned in close to whisper in Caru’s ear. “Is your little act of defiance turning you on, Nixan? Because if it is, we can continue playing this game. I can torment you all day.”
Ris bit hard on Caru’s earlobe, aware the other man’s cock was thickening against his belly. His mate’s leaking and needy prick needed tending, but Ris was going to have his pleasure first.
“No. I can’t. I want.” Caru breathed hard against him. “After you can fuck me in any position you want.”
“Good.” Ris easily hefted the Nixan in his arms and carried him back to the pilot’s seat. “Let’s do comfy first, then hard and dirty.”
Caru gulped, but didn’t resist. He let Ris arrange him on the seat and spread open his legs. Ris applied more lube and, holding Caru’s legs firmly in his arms, began to nudge a few inches of his prick in.
“Gods, Ris. You’re so huge. I’m not sure if you can fit,” Caru whispered, gripping the hand rests of the seat.
“I’ll fit, Caru. Don’t worry your little head off. I’ll split you, fill you up, and make sure you’ll no longer want.”