With a frightened whinny, the horse skidded to a complete stop.
The light faded, and a seven-foot-tall medieval knight, complete with black horned helmet and armor, stood there.
The horse took one look the knight and started bucking. I flew off and landed on a prickly bush. “Yeow!”
Sam sailed over the horse’s head and crashed into the knight. He, she, or it just stood there. The black armor seemed to absorb the light until all we saw was its glowing yellow eyes.
“Sonvabitch! That smarts.” I yanked a thorn out of my ass and very carefully climbed to my feet. Was the knight in cahoots with the Tai-Kok or the Coletti? Either way, it was bad for us.
Sam stared up at the knight and asked mentally, “Am I seeing things, or is that a medieval English knight?”
“It does look like one, but medieval knights don’t carry laser pistols. It’s alien. Got any weapons?”
“A knife. You?”
I eyed the knight. “That armor looks pretty heavy. We should be able to outrun him.”
“My thoughts too.”
Sam got to her feet.
A deep growly voice asked in my head, “Do you belong to the Jones clan?”
I said out loud, “Oh my God, it’s talking to me, Sam.”
“Me too, and psychically.”
“The vibes I’m getting from it are definitely male.” Goose bumps skittered over my skin. It was like my entire body was being stroked with a feather. “And he’s horny,” I added.
“You think he’s looking for Kaylee?”
I shrugged. “Who knows?”
The knight pushed an emblem on his gauntlet. The helmet shrank away, revealing an alien nightmare. Tentacles squirmed about his snakelike features. His black skin had armor-plated scales. He cocked his head to one side and bared some evil-looking fangs.
“Is that a smile?”
“Could be. I think he’s trying to look friendly,” my cousin said incredulously.
“Friendly?” I chortled. “That smile would send most sensible people running for their lives.”
“Yup. Good thing we aren’t sensible.”
The alien’s red forked tongue slithered over his lips.
We both took a step back. Sam pulled her knife. “If he tries to eat us, I’m slitting his throat.”
The knight’s compelling yellow eyes studied us as he asked again, “Do you belong to the Jones clan?”
Sam sidestepped the question with one of her own, “Who are you?”
“I am called Tihar.”
I could see why Voss had picked him to be my interrogator. Tihar was damn scary looking. “He’s working with the Coletti,” I told Sam and switched to mind talk, “You’re an Askole?”
Tihar said proudly.
I casually glanced around for something I could use as a weapon. Nothing but rocks and cactus. “What do you want?”
“I seek females from the Jones clan.”
The Askole suddenly picked Sam up.
My cousin stabbed him in the neck with her tactical knife. The blade didn’t even break the skin.
Tihar disarmed Sam and sniffed her. “You smell like Kaylee. Do you share her talent in bed sport?”
Sam squawked in outrage.
Good God, Kaylee’s mental broadcast of her bedroom activities had the entire male population of the galaxy wanting their own hot-to-trot Jones female.
“Hey, knock it off, you pervert.”
Sam smacked wildly at the tentacle slithering over her chest. “How do you know Kaylee?”
“We had many adventures on the planet Roma.”
Tihar dropped Sam and reached for me.
I ducked under his outstretched arm and took refuge behind a Saguaro cactus. “You do not want to smell me.”
Moving faster than the eye could follow, Tihar zoomed around the cactus and scooped me up. I gasped as he stuck his nose in my armpit.
Tihar inhaled, and his tentacles stood straight up. “Gak. You stink worse than Davit blood worms.”
“I do, don’t I?”
I couldn’t resist touching Tihar’s face. His skin kinda felt like a rattlesnake’s. Dry and scaly. “Put me down. C’mon, big guy, I don’t like being manhandled.”
One of Tihar’s tentacles stung my neck. “Ow!”
“Clever little female, you are disguising your scent.”
His tentacle crawled down the front of my jumpsuit. “You are a Jones female with fine breasts.”
Shit! It was like being groped by an octopus. I gripped the silky tentacles and yanked them off my breasts. “On Earth, you don’t put your hands on a woman without permission.”
“Askole mating rituals allow us to touch a chosen female.”
A tentacle caressed my face. “So soft.”
Without any warning, Tihar spun me upside down and jammed his face in my crotch.
Sam had the gall to laugh. “Is that romance Askole style?”
God, I hoped not. I punched him in the jaw and shouted mentally, “Stop that!”
I rubbed my knuckles. Damn. It was like hitting a brick wall.
The Askole flipped me around. “How else am I to determine if you are fertile?”
“A medical scanner,”
I retorted and swatted at another tentacle. “Why do you need to know if I’m fertile?”
“I am looking for a strong female to mate with.”
Oh, hell no. I squirmed frantically. “Put. Me. Down. Now!”
“I will offer three times the bride price for you and the other female.”
“No! We are not for sale,”
Tihar totally ignored her. “Who is the head of your clan?”
“The Overlord. Release her,”
Voss growled. Blood covered the left side of his face.
Oh, thank God. I couldn’t believe how happy I was to see the Battle Commander. Voss, on the other hand, looked like he wanted to throttle me. It wasn’t my fault he forgot to duck.
“I came to this world to find and claim a Jones female. You will not stop me,”
“You can have a Jones female. But not these two. Give Sarah to me.”
Voss bared his fangs.
I shot Voss a venomous glare. “You’re giving away Jones women like prizes now? Become our allies and win a hot-to-trot mate?”
“I will fight you for Sarah.”
Tihar’s gaze was full of deadly resolve.
Sam rolled her eyes. “
Should have known. Testosterone is universal.”
Seizing handfuls of Tihar’s tentacles, I jerked them as hard as I could. “Hey! I’m a warrior. I have killed over eight hundred Tai-Koks in battle. You will treat me with the respect I deserve.”
I gave him my best batshit crazy stare. “Got it?”
“Yes, lady warrior.”
“Put me down.”
To my utter surprise, Tihar obeyed. I eased away from him.
“I will give the Overlord four times the bride price for this one. She is worthy to be my mate.”
“Lucky, Sarah,” Sam quipped.
Out of nowhere, Rho popped in, seized Sam, and poof. They were gone.
Damn. That was one sneaky move.
His gaze never leaving the Askole, Voss commanded in his perfect English, “Come to me, Sarah.”
I willingly took a step toward the Battle Commander.
Tihar’s enormous armored hand clamped down on my shoulder. “I have claimed this one.”
“Like hell you have,”
I snarled. “Let go of me or I will hurt you.”
The Battle Commander tensed and bellowed, “Do not attack Tihar, Sarah. It will signal your interest in mating with him.”
“What? You’re joking? Right?”
“I am not,”
A cackling laugh broke from Tihar. “She has already struck me.”
Voss spat something that sounded like a curse word. “Do you know what you have done?”
“He was sniffing my crotch,”
I yelled in exasperation.
Tihar taunted Voss. “The mating dance has begun, and not even the Overlord can stop it.”
“No! It hasn’t,”
I interjected. “I’m human, and your rules don’t apply to me.”
“Your world is now part of the Coletti Empire. The Battle Commander knows our customs and failed to properly protect you. As a warrior, you can challenge me to combat.”
Tihar’s rather toothy grin was alarming. “Do you dare duel with me?”
I opened my mouth to respond.
Tihar bellowed a terrifying war cry.
I bellowed back and gave myself a mental head whack. I had watched that minion movie with my five-year-old cousin way too many times.
Voss and Tihar stared at me in utter disbelief.
“What was that?”
Voss’s mouth twitched as if he was struggling not to laugh.
Putting on my best poker face, I replied, “My battle cry. Why?”
“The purpose of a war cry is to frighten your enemies. Not reduce them to laughter,”
“I’m a fighter pilot. I seldom engaged in hand-to-hand combat.”
“As my mate, you will need a proper war cry,”
“Thanks, but I’ve got one. Now prepare to get your ass kicked. Mwah-hah-hah.”
Tihar’s tentacles curled tightly. “It is foolish to think you can beat me, lady warrior. Surrender now.”
My temper flared to life. “Surrender? Not in this lifetime.”
“Think hard before you challenge me.”
Tihar touched his gauntlet, and his armor simply shrank away. “Do you think you can subdue me?”
He stood perfectly still, allowing me to inspect him.
Not a chance in hell, which was why I planned on cheating. A sigh escaped me. Tihar’s torso was sculpted perfection. Thick muscles corded his arms and legs. Who knew black scales could be sexy?
Another tap, and Tihar was completely nude. “Can you refuse this?”
My eyes bugged as I stared at Tihar’s super-duper hard-on. Holy cow! Askole had humanlike penises, humongous balls, and no pubic hair. Huh? Would you look at that? Even his man parts had scales. I linked with Sarah. “Get a load of this.”
“Kinda busy. Talk later.”
“Okay, but Tihar is hung like a bull elephant.”
Voss threw his hands up in disgust. “Quit staring at his body. You are only encouraging him, Sarah.”
“He is an eyeful.”
“I am also a master of the thousand delights,”
Voss crossed his arms and declared, “The only way to become a master is to have had sex with a thousand females.”
“You’re a man-whore?”
Had to admit I was a bit disappointed.
“No, a teacher. I have taught many females in the pleasure houses these techniques.”
Tihar held out his hand. “Surrender, and I will begin your lessons.”
“How about I teach you a little-known fact?”
Tihar’s tentacles flared warily. “What would that be?”
“Never underestimate a Jones.”
Reaching out with my mind, I mentally grasped Tihar’s balls and twisted them viciously. “We might be small, but we make up for it in pure meanness.”
The Askole let out a wheezing gasp and dropped to his knees. “She is a cunning and ferocious female.”
“Without a doubt,”
Voss agreed. “Know this. All females of Kaylee Jones’s lineage have been pledged to Coletti warriors. Taking Sarah will violate the treaty your father signed with the Overlord. Do you wish to start a war?”
“Sarah is mine.”
Tihar’s voice was a still a bit raspy.
I tightened my grip. “I belong to no one. If—or when—I decide to mate with a male, it will be my choice. I won’t be forced.”
“There are many benefits to being my mate. I am the commander of my father’s western battle fleet. I have never been defeated. My holdings are vast, and you will be one of the wealthiest females in the Askole Empire. Plus, I have much experience in bed sports,”
Tihar informed me.
Like that made it all better? Okay, maybe a little. I released Tihar’s balls. “Stay away from me, or next time I will unman you.”
“You did not win the challenge, lady warrior.”
Tihar’s armor reappeared like magic, and I didn’t like the determined glint in his yellow eyes.
“Arrgh! You’re an alien. I’m a human. Our parts won’t fit.”
“You think only Colettis can alter DNA?”
Horror rocketed through me. Oh, dear God. Me with black scaly skin and fangs? How did I stop this madness? Could I? One way or another, I would be converted, and when that happened, I would no longer be human. I turned to Voss. “Can Tihar modify my DNA?”
“Yes, but he won’t. His father, the High Commander, will not allow it,” the Battle Commander responded. He grasped me around the waist and teleported.
“Fear not, little warrior, I will come for you.”
With Tihar’s promise still ringing in my head, Voss and I were abruptly standing in a demolished sick bay. A Coletti wearing a medic’s red jumpsuit was sprawled on the floor and appeared to be unconscious.
A scanner whizzed by my head and hit the wall with a loud crash.
Whoa! Aunt Tess had Rho in a headlock and was doing her level best to choke him out.
The Battle Commander tightened his grip until I had trouble breathing.
Samantha ducked Rho’s attempt to grab her and jabbed him in the hand with a pressure injector filled with a sedative. The big Coletti swayed unsteadily on his feet.
Voss pulled his laser pistol and calmly stunned Sam. She collapsed to the floor as violent muscle spasms contorted her body.
Rho fell backward on top of Aunt Tess. Her arms and legs wriggling frantically under his heavy weight. “Help!”
I summoned every ounce of psychic power I had and hurled it at Voss.
The Battle Commander grunted and shook his head as if to clear it. “With the proper training, your psychic battle skills will be adequate.”
Adequate? I’d give him adequate. I threw another mental punch.
Voss blocked my blow easily. “The Jones clan’s battle with us is over. You have been defeated.”
“As John Paul Jones once said, ‘I have not yet begun to fight.’”
The Battle Commander’s voice was low and dangerous. “Once we reach Tanith, you will be mated to Lothel, and you become his problem.”
“I think Tihar will have something to say about that,” I blustered.
“The Overlord will never permit that.” Voss picked the pressure injector off the floor and thrust it against my neck. “Now you join your clan in the stasis chambers.”
Everything went black.